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9 Wacky Facts from the National Geographic Kids Almanac 2019

Big welcome to Angela Modany, the editor of the National Geographic Kids Almanac 2019! To celebrate the brand-new guide, Modany answers a few Mixed-Up Files questions for us, and shares some wacky factoids from this year’s Almanac.


Mixed-Up Files: What goes into creating the National Geographic Kids Almanac? How many people and how much time does it take to get this project done?

Angela Modany: We start working on the Almanac about a year and a half before you can buy it in stores. (We’ve already been working on the 2020 edition for several months now!) It takes a big team to make sure the book is ready on time. We have a main writer, contributors, fact checkers, editors, photo editors, and designers, all of whom do a lot of work to make sure the Almanac has the greatest stories, information, and photos that will appeal to kids. And we stay busy updating news, trends, and facts up until press time.

 

 

MUF: What’s the most fun part about working on the Almanac? 

AM: The best part about working on the Almanac is reading all the stories and facts. I learn something new every year and it reminds me that there’s so much in our world to explore. I also love seeing what photos are chosen for the Cutest Animals section!

 

 

 

9 of Angela’s favorite, wackiest fun facts from this year’s Almanac:

There is a hotel run by robots in Japan. An automated velociraptor greets you at the front desk!

A lion can eat 40 pounds of meat—the same as 160 hamburgers—in one sitting.

There is a laser that can produce gas that is hotter than the sun.

Barbershops in India will close on Tuesday because a Hindu superstition considers Tuesday haircuts bad luck.

The Hubble Telescope has traveled more than three billion miles.

The Dorcas gazelle lives in the Sahara and doesn’t drink any water. It also doesn’t ever pee.

“Berserkers” were Viking warriors who wore bear and wolf skins and bowled in battle like wild animals.

South Koreans say “kimchi”—a pickled cabbage dish—instead of “cheese” to smile for photos.

The Statue of Liberty has a 35-foot waistline and wears a size 879 shoe.

Find out more about the all-new Almanac over at National Geographic. 

Are You There Judy? It’s Me, Melissa

Anyone who’s crossed my path knows how I feel about Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 classic, Harriet the Spy. If not, I’ll tell you this: I’ve read the book at least 300 times, collect vintage editions, and have more Harriet paraphernalia (journals, coasters, framed prints, pins) than most sellers on eBay. And if I were to get a tattoo…?

Yup.

Yes, my love borders on obsession (“I’m your number one fan!”), but I will grudgingly admit that I have room in my heart for other middle-grade books. Or, to be specific, a middle-grade author: The one and only, Judy Blume.

For many readers of MG fiction, particularly those who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, Judy Blume is an author of iconic proportions. She’s a rock star. A legend. The woman we all want to know. The woman we think we do know, because she knows us. Our darkest secrets, our wildest dreams. Judy just…gets it.

A 2009 collection of essays entitled Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume corroborates this theory. In the book, twenty authors wax poetic about their childhood literary idol, sharing fond reminiscences and quoting lines from Blume’s books verbatim. Clearly, there’s something about Judy Blume that touches readers profoundly, and it’s easy to see why. Making the awkward leap from childhood to adolescence—along with the physical and emotional changes that accompany puberty—is unspeakably difficult. But again, Judy gets it. Every time.

The first Judy Blume novel I read, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was purchased at my local bookstore, in midtown Manhattan, with my allowance. My purchase set me back $1.25, which in those days could buy you a pack of gum and a Dynamite magazine. But still, I wanted that book. How could I not? The word ‘period’ was printed on the back cover, in black and white, for all the world to see! Not only that, the novel was about a flat-chested only child whose name began with the letter M. Sold, and sold!

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The minute I got home, I raced into the living room, curled up in an overstuffed armchair, and began to read. And then I got to page 85: Norman Fishbein’s party. Philip Leroy was blowing mustard through a straw (“Watch this, Freddy!”), when Mrs. Fishbein came downstairs…. And then Laura went back to work.

Wait. What…?

Yes, pages 86-116 were missing. My carefully chosen book with the word ‘period’ on the back cover was defective! But what was I supposed to do? I needed to finish that book!

Naturally I begged my mom to let me go back to the bookstore, and naturally she said yes. (This was the late 1970s, remember, when kids were as free range as organic-farm chickens.) I returned with a perfectly intact copy, resumed my position in the overstuffed armchair, and finished the book. (Spoiler alert: Margaret gets her period.)

After Margaret, more Judy Blume titles followed: Deenie, which deals with scoliosis, first crushes, and a frank discussion of masturbation (which, most likely, would never make it onto the page today); Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, about 12-year-old Tony Miglione who has wet dreams and out-of-the-blue erections (ditto); It’s Not the End of the World; which centers on divorce; Iggie’s House, which addresses the ugliness of racism; and Blubber, which tackles bullying. I read Blume’s other titles—Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself; the Fudge books—but they didn’t grab me the way Margaret and the others did.

And then I read Forever.

Whoa! This is a young-adult title, so for the purpose of this post, I won’t dwell. Let’s just say this: After reading the book, I knew I could never name my kid Ralph.

Over the years, I read hundreds (thousands?) of middle-grade books, but I always returned to Judy Blume. I returned to her again while I was writing my debut MG novel, Kat Greene Comes Clean. Not to steal Judy’s ideas (heaven forefend!), but to learn from the master. No one writes dialogue like Judy Blume or gets into a character’s head the way she does, with pitch-perfect authenticity. And she makes it look so effortless! How does she do that? I longed to ask her.

And then I got my chance… at the ophthalmologist’s office.

I was sitting in the waiting room with a dog-eared copy of Time, when who should walk in but the Queen of MG herself! As Margaret would have said, I almost died. My first instinct was to grab Judy (or should I say, Ms. Blume?) in a bone-crushing hug, but that would have bordered on Annie Wilkes territory. No, I needed to exercise restraint. So I watched her every move from behind my magazine. First, she checked in with the receptionist. Then she sat down. Then she rifled through her purse, searching for her phone or maybe some Tic-Tacs. But why would Judy Blume need a Tic-Tac? Chances are, she brushed—and flossed—with great care before her appointment. Maybe she just needed a tissue.

Stop, Melissa, I told myself. You are being exceptionally creepy. Why not go over and introduce yourself? Tell Ms. Blume how profoundly her books have influenced you, as a reader and a writer? Or simply say, “I love your work.” That’s what you’re supposed to say to famous actors, right?

But I couldn’t do it. Invading Judy Blume’s privacy was not something I was willing to do, no matter how much I loved her. Even literary icons need to get their eyeballs dilated in peace. So I left her alone, even though it killed me.

Maybe I should have said something—or given her a Kat Greene bookmark (now, that’s not creepy!). But disturbing my childhood literary idol in the ophthalmologist’s office? Not happening.

 That’s not to say I’ll never see Ms. Blume again. Chances are, I will, especially if my eye allergies are acting up, or if I have conjunctivitis or a stye. And when that day comes? I’ll smile and thank her for everything she’s done for the kidlit community: as a writer, as a bookseller, as a crusader against censorship, and as someone who just… gets it.

Then again… Maybe I won’t. 🙂

MELISSA ROSKE is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge, 2017) is her debut novel. Visit Melissa’s website, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Fond Farewell

Once upon a time, there was a school librarian who retired to care for aging family and to celebrate books and reading outside the classroom.

Along with some middle grade writer folks, she had time to create her dream of many years: a regional history resource site for MG teachers and their students.

She sought other ways to celebrate reading, too, and when the perfect opportunity to cheer about books for her favorite age-range arose at From The Mixed Up Files, she jumped at the chance to join in.

She met many wonderful people and rejoiced in the new ways she could be a cheerleader for children’s literature. It was an honor to help to build the team and make things hum there, too.

Time passed, and things changed. The history website became the children’s imprint of the publishing company she had inherited from her father, and her path was clear. The school invited her back to work on making the library collection, system, and spaces better. Celebrating books had a different face for her once more, and it was time to bid farewell to this particular Middle Grade home.

I’ve had a wonderful time in this vibrant community of kidlit champions. I look forward to seeing what’s next for From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

Happy reading!