Lincoln Peirce is a cartoonist/writer and the creator of the comic strip Big Nate. It appears in more than two hundred U.S. newspapers and online daily at comics.com.

Lincoln Peirce lives with his wife and two children in Portland, Maine.

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Snow Day

I'm writing this at about 9:00 pm on Monday night, but I don't know if you'll be reading it on Tuesday or not.  For my entries to show up on bignatebooks.com, my friends at HarperCollins in New York City have to post them to the blog.  And I don't know if anyone will be at the HarperCollins offices tomorrow.  There's going to be a big snowstorm blowing through the Northeast tonight and tomorrow, and plenty of businesses  -- not to mention schools, airports, and so on -- are closing until the storm is over.  So if you're reading this entry on Tuesday, it means that some intrepid HarperCollins employees made it to work!
 
I chose two pictures to go along with today's entry:  a wintry Big Nate Sunday page, and a picture of the aftermath of a memorable blizzard.  The first is about ice, and the second is about snow.  Lots of snow.
 
Ice is obviously hazardous in many ways.  It's treacherous to drive on, it can do all sorts of property damage, and icy sidewalks and driveways are accidents waiting to happen.  (In fact, a number of years ago, my wife slipped on some ice and cracked a bone in her elbow.)  But I think it's mostly adults who view ice in a negative light.  Kids LOVE ice.  There's nothing more fun when you're a kid than getting a running start and sliding across a long, smooth patch of ice.  That's certainly how Nate and Teddy feel about it in the strip shown here.  To them, the icy sidewalk in front of P.S. 38 is an opportunity for fun.  To the school custodian, it's a safety hazard.  Therein lies one of the ongoing themes of Big Nate:  the different ways that kids and adults view the same situation.
 
The second picture was taken the day after the historic Blizzard of '78.  I think I've written before in this blog about this amazing storm, so I'll provide just a few details.  In Durham, New Hampshire, where I grew up, we got hit with almost three feet of snow.  The storm began on a Monday, and school was canceled for the rest of the week.  It was the only time I remember a storm causing more than one "snow day."  But we got off easy compared to the folks in Massachusetts.  Hundreds of homes were destroyed, especially along the coastline.  And the snow fell so fast that some people who were driving through the storm were trapped in their cars.  Remember, this was long before the age of cell phones.  If you were driving, and your car got bogged down in the drifting snow, you had only two choices:  stay in your car until a snowplow came along; or leave your car and try to make it through the howling wind and snow to safety.  Many folks ended up trapped in their cars for DAYS.  And sadly, some folks did not survive the storm.
 
Up here in Maine, everyone's preparing for a whopper.  All the schools had already decided by mid-afternoon today that they'd be closed tomorrow.  And when I stopped by the hardware store this morning, the snow shovels were nearly sold out.  But it doesn't sound like this upcoming storm will match the one shown in the picture above.  It's been almost 40 years, and nothing has approached the Blizzard of '78.

Tue, 01/27/2015

Sportsmanship

Today's subject:  football!  If you're a sports fan, or even if you're not, you're probably aware that the New England Patriots, the team representing the AFC in the upcoming Super Bowl, is being investigated for using under-inflated footballs during the first half of their 45-7 win over Indianapolis last weekend.  Footballs used in NFL games must meet certain specifications for air pressure; a ball with less air in it is theoretically easier to grip, throw, and hang onto.  So those who believe that the Patriots intentionally deflated some of the footballs used in the game see this as a clear violation of the rules, and believe the team should be punished in some way.  The two highest-profile members of the team, the coach and the quarterback, have both claimed to have no idea how the balls became slightly deflated.  The National Football League is conducting an investigation.  What will happen?  I have no idea.  But as a Patriots fan, I will be dismayed and disappointed if it's determined that they deflated the footballs in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage.  That's poor sportsmanship.  Perhaps it's not quite as obvious an example as Lucy pulling the football away before Charlie Brown can kick it (shown above), but it still amounts to trickery.

I write about sports a lot in the comic strip and the books, and themes like sportsmanship, cheating, teamwork, and fairness vs. unfairness all come into play.  Here are a few highlights I've written about over the years:

• In Big Nate Strikes Again, Nate's fleeceball team goes against Randy's in the championship game.  Nate is knocked out of the game when Randy -- very intentionally -- stomps on Nate's foot during a close play at first base.  Randy is not punished for his transgression, but justice is ultimately served when Nate's team wins the game (thanks to a very unlikely hero).
• In the comic strip, Nate's soccer team is beaten by a team that hasn't won a game in several seasons.  The problem is, they score the winning goal when a ball deflects into the goal off a player's hand -- a clear violation of the rules.  But the referee doesn't see it, and the result of the game stands.  Nate is outraged, but is told in no uncertain terms by Coach Calhoun that P.S. 38 must respect the referee and abide by his decision.
• This isn't exactly a sporting event, but it's definitely a competition: In Big Nate Goes For Broke, Nate and his P.S. 38 classmates challenge their arch rivals from Jefferson Middle School to a snow sculpture contest.  Jefferson cheats by simply molding snow around a second-hand suit of armor.  Fortunately, integrity -- and creativity -- win out.

When you play and watch sports, you want to believe that two opposing sides are facing each other on a level playing field.  Neither has an unfair advantage over the other.  Unfortunately, that's not always the case.  In college, coaches illegally recruit players, or cut academic corners so that gifted athletes can remain eligible.  In the pros, players use performance-enhancing drugs or commit crimes for which they're not punished due to their status as famous athletes.  It can be very disillusioning.

I try to make sure that Nate plays by the rules.  He does have his moments, such as his ham-handed attempts to cheat at Monopoly every New Year's Eve, but when it comes to school sports and Little League games, I'd rather see Nate's team lose honorably than win by doing something dishonest.  And if his team happens to win in the process of following the rules?  So much the better.

I'm sure I'll still be rooting for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, but some of the shine is already off the game for me.  If the Patriots win, many people will assume that they cheated their way to victory.  If they lose, it will be ammunition for those who claim that the Patriots are incapable of winning without cheating.  The Patriots are, almost literally, in a "no-win" situation.

If teams would simply promise to play by the rules, and then lived up to those promises, the sports world would be a much simpler place!
 

Fri, 01/23/2015

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Remember a blog entry from a year or so ago, when I discovered drawings someone had posted on the internet of what they imagined Nate and Jenny might look like as teenagers?  That came about when I was looking around for something to write about and decided to conduct a google image search for Big Nate.  Whenever I do that, the first several pages consist of Big Nate stuff from the books, comic strip, and sometimes the musical.  But as you scroll down further, you start finding other images, like logos for "Big Nate's Barbecue," pictures of Big Nate (the hip-hop artist, not the cartoon), and re-imagined versions of some of the characters.  As you've probably guessed, I did a google image search again tonight...and look what I discovered!

These renderings of Artur, Francis, Gina and Teddy were all done by the same artist and, like those earlier drawings, appear to be slightly older versions of the characters.  Instead of sixth graders, they look closer to eighth graders, or maybe even high school freshmen.  Must be the broad shoulders that add a few years!  Anyway, they have sort of a manga or Japanese animé look to them -- dainty noses and large, expressive eyes.  The aspect of their appearance that most clearly differentiates the characters is their hair.  So let's do a hair critique:

•    ARTUR - When I created Artur for the comic strip, I gave him a "mushroom top" haircut.  This was a style popular among young men in the late eighties and early nineties.  The hair was very short on the sides and back, and the long hair on the top was all cut to the same length, creating a clear line between the long hair and the short.  In the above drawing, Artur's hair has a much more "blended" look, and the mushroom quality isn't as pronounced.  But you can still see the line of his bangs continuing around to the sides of his head.

•    FRANCIS - The way I draw Francis, he has four "bumps" of hair on the top of his head, and the shorter hair on the sides is indicated by horizontal stripes.  The artist of these drawings is clearly trying to make Francis's hair a bit more realistic. His bumps looks more like waves across his forehead, and his hair looks longish on the sides and back.  To me, this is the least convincing of these four character studies -- he just doesn't look that much like Francis.

•    GINA - From a hair standpoint, there are two big differences between this Gina and my Gina:  my Gina doesn't have side locks that fall in front of her ears; and my Gina's ponytail rides much higher on the back of her head.  Having said that, I like this Gina.  She looks tense and humorless, just as Gina should.  (Special bonus nose critique:  In the books and comic strip, one of Gina's most prominent features is her sharp, beak-like nose.  Here, her nose is almost delicate.)

•    TEDDY - Of all my characters, Teddy's hair is probably the least complex.  He's got a classic fade, and it's easy to draw.  I give him a simple "skull cap" of dark hair on top, and indicate that the sides and back of his head are shaved by using small dots.  The artist here has done almost exactly the same thing, which is why I think the Teddy shown above is the character who most closely resembles the one you see in the books and the strip.

I have no idea who made these drawings, but I congratulate her/him for the effort.  As Charles Caleb Colton said:  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  And if you don't know who Charles Caleb Colton was...google him!

Tue, 01/20/2015

Big Nate: First Class

Way back on October 3rd, I blogged about a new (but in its own way, old) venture:  Big Nate:  First Class, the entire archive of Big Nate comic strips, presented from the very beginning thanks to my friends at gocomics.com.  The original plan was for First Class to go live in October, but a number of technical and archival issues caused a delay.  As it turned out, this past Monday, January 12th, was when First Class began appearing on its own page at gocomics.  That seems somehow appropriate, since it was also in January, twenty-four years ago, that Big Nate began running in newspapers.

The strip shown here is from January 10th, 1991, and marks the first appearance of Nate's dad in the strip.  I've always liked this joke, but that doesn't mean I like everything about this particular strip.  In fact, there are a number of things I DISLIKE about it, most of them involving the way it's drawn.  Here's a list:

•    First of all, I don't like how bare the strip looks.  There are no items in the background to suggest where this conversation between Nate and his dad is taking place.  There's no wall, no floor, no furniture...nothing.  Based on the lack of visual information I've provided, it could be happening anywhere.  Were I to draw this strip over again, I'd definitely add some background elements, like a picture on the wall or part of a sofa, to make it clear that Nate and Dad are inside their house.
•    I'm wondering why, in panel #1, Dad's arm is cut off by the border.  It certainly would have been easy enough to fit his entire body in the panel.  If I were granted a do-over, I'd make sure Dad's whole body was seen.  And I'd probably make him walking instead of standing still.  If he were walking, it would suggest that he'd just been in another part of the house (the attic) and has now come back downstairs to show off his basketball uniform.
•    Why is Dad's shirt blank?  If this is his old high school basketball uniform, wouldn't it have a name and a number on it?  Like Wildcats across the chest, and 13 down below?  What sort of lame high school would give its basketball team blank jerseys?
•    Not crazy about panel #2, either.  I don't like the curved bottom of Dad's speech bubble.  If I were doing that today, I'd just make the bubble a simple rectangle.  I also hate the way there's no border in the lower part of the panel, so Dad's body just stops.  These days, I avoid doing that at all costs.
•    Panel #3:  LOOK AT THE SIZE OF NATE'S FEET!  Holy cow.  That's ridiculous.  
•    Panel #4:  I think Nate's standing too close to his dad, which means the space between them is too small to accommodate the words PAT PAT and the motion lines between Nate's hand and his nose.  Back then, I'm sure I thought it looked fine; but today, it looks cramped.
•    And finally:  my signature is much too big.  I sign my strips nowadays at about half that size.

There are other things, too, like the shape of the speech bubble in the first panel, and the fact that Dad's head is too big and his legs too short.  There also aren't any of the decorative flourishes I like to include in the strip now, like vertical lines or dots.  But why be so hard on myself?  I was just starting out, and there are always bound to be growing pains when you first start something.  I feel much the same way when I read Big Nate:  In A Class By Himself.  I love the story, but when I look back on it today, I find myself wishing I'd done a couple things differently from a drawing standpoint.  Maybe I'll tell you about some of them in a future entry!

Fri, 01/16/2015

Lunch Boxes

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that the packaging of McDonald's Happy Meals makes them resemble colorful lunch boxes.  That got me thinking about a gift I received for Christmas last month:  a fascinating and nostalgic book called The Fifties And Sixties Lunch Box by Scott Bruce, a self-described eccentric who has apparently spent much of his adult life collecting and researching vintage lunch boxes.  The book contains dozens of pictures of "designer" lunch boxes.  In other words, these boxes weren't just gray metal containers, like your great grandfather's lunch box.  These lunch boxes were for kids, and were decorated accordingly -- with pictures of superheroes, TV shows, movies, comic strips...you name it.

I'm pretty sure that there aren't too many kids carrying metal lunch boxes to school these days.  Lunch boxes of today are much more liable to be plastic -- SOFT plastic, probably so they can more easily fit in backpacks and book bags.  But back when I was growing up in the late sixties and early seventies, ALL the lunch boxes were metal, including mine.  Your average grade school kid probably had a lunch box from first grade through fourth or fifth grade.  (You didn't need a lunchbox for kindergarten back then, because there was no such thing as all-day kindergarten.  You either went for 3 hours in the morning or 3 hours in the afternoon, and you ate lunch at home.  By grade 6, you were too old for a lunchbox.  Grade 6 was the first year of middle school in my town, and no 6th-grader would be caught dead with a lunch box.  You brought your lunch to school in a brown paper bag, unless you wanted to be labeled a total weenie.)  

Anyway, I can remember two of my lunch boxes from back in the day.  They weren't part of Mr. Bruce's very entertaining book, but I found these pictures of them on the internet.  The first is decorated with characters from Walt Disney's 1967 musical animated film, The Jungle Book.  I loved this movie.  One of my prized possessions (besides my lunch box) was a Jungle Book album that I played over and over again on my parents' record player.  In this picture, you can see Mowgli, the jungle boy raised by wolves; Bagheera, the conscientious black panther whose job it is to return Mowgli to the "man village"; and Baloo the Bear, a singing, dancing jungle bum whose carefree, fun-loving personality provides most of the movie's entertainment.  Also depicted is the beautiful village girl who eventually tempts Mowgli into living with his own kind.  This is the exact lunch box I owned, with one exception:  the handle of my Jungle Book box was green.

The other -- and this is no surprise if you've been reading this blog for any length of time -- is a Peanuts lunch box shaped (more or less) like Snoopy's dog house.  Near the handle are the words Have Lunch With Snoopy, and down below, Snoopy reclines on the grass, eating a sandwich.  (On the other side of the lunch box, as I recall, is a picture of Snoopy lying on his stomach, reading a book underneath the words Go To School With Snoopy.)  Also shown in the picture is a thermos, which I used only when my mom packed chicken noodle soup in my lunch.  The appeal of this lunch box, to me, was its unusual shape.  It immediately set it apart from the more pedestrian, rectangular lunch boxes, and made me feel cooler than the other kids.  Who knew a lunch box could have such power?

While flipping through Mr. Bruce's book, I saw several lunch boxes I recognized -- not because I'd owned them myself, but because my friends had.  Among those I remembered immediately were a Josie & The Pussycats box, a Banana Splits box, and one decorated with Dr. Seuss's Cat In The Hat.  I have no idea how Mr. Bruce found so many 40, 50, and even 60 year-old lunch boxes in such good condition.  By June of each year, my lunch boxes looked like they'd been through a mine field!

Do you -- or did you -- have a lunch box?  

Tue, 01/13/2015

Get a Big Nate Book with your Happy Meal!

I have a confession to make:  I've never eaten a McDonald's Happy Meal.  Back when I was a kid and ate at McDonald's more frequently, there WERE no such things as Happy Meals.  They didn't come along until I was no longer a kid.  So, even though I've known about Happy Meals and seen them advertised on TV, I've never purchased one.  That might need to change, starting today!

Happy Meals, as you probably know, are sort of like the "kids' menu" items at McDonald's.  The food comes inside a cheery container that looks sort of like a colorful lunchbox.  And each Happy Meal comes with some sort of extra premium.  It might be an action figure associated with a a movie or TV show.  It might be a puzzle or game.  It could be a sheet of stickers, or a mini-toy, or a party favor.  Or, as I recently learned, it could be a book.  Not just any book -- a BIG NATE book!

From now to January 22nd, when you purchase a Happy Meal at your friendly neighborhood McDonald's, you can get one of four HarperCollins children's books.  The first three are:  

•    “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond
•    “Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses” by Kimberly and James Dean
•    “Flat Stanley Goes Camping” by Jeff Brown, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan

And the fourth book, as you might have guessed, is an abridged version of BIG NATE:  IN A CLASS BY HIMSELF.  Because all the Big Nate novels are over 200 pages long, it wouldn't have been possible to include the entire book in a Happy Meal.  So my friends at HarperCollins and McDonald's fashioned a mini-story using the first couple chapters.  That means it's shorter than the actual book, and it's smaller, too -- about the size of a compact disc case.  But it's got everything you expect in a Big Nate book:  good jokes, funny drawings, and a special gift/activity as well.  If you've already read the book and see the Happy Meal version, you might be inspired to go back and revisit the very first Big Nate novel (which was published back in March of 2010).  And if the Happy Meals book is the first time you've ever seen Big Nate...well, maybe it will encourage you to check out all the Big Nate novels.  There are six of them so far, and the seventh, BIG NATE LIVES IT UP, is only two months away!

The best part is, Happy Meals books are a creative way to get kids reading.  Over the course of the next two weeks, McDonald's, working with Reading Is Fundamental and HarperCollins Children's Books, will distribute about 17 million books to families in the US.  That's phenomenal.  And as an added bonus, you get to eat tasty food while you're reading!  Remember all the poor unfortunate kids out there who have to eat EGG SALAD!

Oh, the horror!  

Strike a blow against egg salad!  Go out and get yourself a Happy Meal TODAY!

Fri, 01/09/2015

Starting the Year with Hank Williams

I've been writing this blog for quite a while now, and I usually try to write about things that are connected in some way to one of three things:  Big Nate; cartoons/comics; and children's books.  But occasionally, exciting or important events occur that I feel compelled to write about, like our daughter being accepted to Bowdoin College, or the Red Sox winning the World Series.  And sometimes, there are days like today, when I just can't think of anything to write about.  When that happens, my go-to strategy is to just write about some aspect of my day.  So here goes:

On Monday mornings, I host a radio show on WMPG in Portland devoted to vintage country music.  I call the show "South by Southwest," and on an average Monday I feature honky tonk and western swing music from my own collection.  But today wasn't an average Monday; it was the first Monday of the new year.  That meant that I dedicated my entire show to one singer, as I've done on the first Monday in January every year for the past 16 years.  That singer's name is Hank Williams, and I pay tribute to him in January because it was on New Year's Day in 1953 that he died, at the age of 29.  He was then, and remains today, a towering figure in the history of country music. 

My parents didn't listen to country music while I was growing up, so I knew almost nothing about it.  Then two things happened.  The first was that a show called Hee Haw appeared on television.  It was a musical variety show featuring prominent country musicians of the day, some of whom were regular cast members (like Buck Owens and Roy Clark), and others who were guest stars (like Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.)  I was fascinated by Hee Haw and never missed a show.  Even though it was incredibly corny, the musical performances were great, and I became a fan of some of the music.

The second thing that happened was that K-Tel, a mail-order record company, started running TV commercials advertising a Hank Williams Greatest Hits album.  This was the first I'd ever heard of Hank Williams.  I didn't know any of his songs, and certainly wasn't aware that he'd already been dead for 20 years by the time I started to learn about him.  But each time I saw that commercial, I wanted to hear more of Hank's music and find out more about his life.

It was a short life.  Hank was a troubled person, physically and emotionally.  He was born with a painful deformity in his spine that caused him a lot of pain as he grew older.  His father was hospitalized and estranged from the family for most of Hank's childhood, so Hank essentially grew up without a father.  He attended school only through about 8th grade, and couldn't read or write particularly well.  And, as time went by, Hank developed a crippling dependence on alcohol.  He became a country music star in his early twenties, but his career lasted only about six years. 

During those six years, though, he recorded some great music -- classic songs that have had a profound influence on every country music performer who's followed.  Most of what we know of Hank comes from his recordings, the handful of interviews he gave during his lifetime, and the remembrances of friends and family.  There's very little film footage of Hank in existence, and much of that isn't of the greatest quality because of the audio and video limitations of the age.  But here's a clip of Hank performing one of his best-known tunes.  Be warned:  it's a sad one!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQrpsDKukD

Tue, 01/06/2015

New Year's Traditions

Today's blog entry will be my only one this week because of the upcoming holiday, so I'll take the opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy New Year.  I was looking for a fun image of Father Time to use in this blog and came across this one from the TV special Rudolph's Shiny New Year.  That's a show I haven't seen in many years and don't remember much about, except that I believe the voice of Father Time was none other than Red Skelton.  And I have a vague memory of Ben Franklin being involved in the story somehow.

As I think I've written about before (maybe last year at this time), it was a tradition when I was growing up for friends and family to gather on New Year's Eve and play Monopoly.  I've kept that tradition going in the comic strip by presenting variations on this theme over the years.  Some years, it's been just Nate, Teddy, and Francis playing.  Other times, they've had a guest (or guests).  If there's any sort of unifying theme from year to year, it's Nate trying to find creative methods to cheat his way to victory.  Here are a few Monopoly strips from years past:

These first two are from January of 2002.  Poor Artur was playing Monopoly against Nate for the first time, and had no idea what he'd gotten himself into.

In the third strip, a year later, Dad crashed the game.

Nate's uncle Ted is aggressively dorky, not unlike School Picture Guy.  But I didn't see any way of getting School Picture Guy into the Monopoly game without it seeming weird.  So I settled for Ted in a series of Monopoly strips from January of 2009 in strip four.  By the way, I have no idea why I named him Ted, since I already had a character named Teddy in the strip.  I must not have been thinking straight that day.

Strip five: New Year's Day, 2011.  Nate's up to his old tricks.

Strip six: This one's from a couple years ago.

Strip seven: And finally, from last year:  Nate has zeroed in on Chad's weak spot.

I decided not to do any Monopoly strips again this year.  When it was time for me to do New Year's strips (which was almost 3 months ago), I was in the middle of a storyline all about Nate's jealousy that Gina got a dog for Christmas, and he didn't.  Maybe I'll return to the world of board games a year from now!

Tue, 12/30/2014

My Top Five Christmas TV Specials

In recent entries, I've made mention of a couple of classic Christmas TV specials, because -- well, because it's that time of year.  So today I decided to give you a Top Five list featuring my own personal favorites. 

5.  THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (1974): 
Frankly, this Christmas tale (a Rankin Bass stop-action production) isn't all that great.  Mickey Rooney as Santa Claus sneezes and snorts his way through the show, Shirley Booth's voice starts to get annoying, and the buck-toothed Thistlewhite family needs to go away.  But this special is saved by two of the all-time great supporting characters, Snow Miser and Heat Miser.  Their respective musical numbers (The Snow Miser Song and The Heat Miser Song) are two of the best moments of any Christmas TV special.

4.  SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN (1970):  Hosted by a genial Fred Astaire (as the mailman) and featuring a memorable cast of characters including the Burgermeister Meisterburger, Winter Warlock, and Topper the penguin, this stop-action animated special (another Rankin Bass Production) tells the story of Kris Kringle becoming Santa Claus and explains how many Christmas traditions came to be.  It ranks higher than "The Year Without A Santa Claus" because a.) Fred Astaire is a WAY better narrator than Shirley Booth, and b.) it's a better story, plot-wise.  But I'm not quite sure about that young Kris Kringle and his ginger Dustin Bieber hairdo.  Kind of sketchy.

3.  A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (1965):  Surprised that this isn't higher on my list?  Well, it was a tough call.  Obviously, I love Peanuts.  And this special has some magical moments, from the ice-skating sequence to the rollicking dance scene to Linus's quoting scripture to explain what Christmas is really all about.  And Vince Guaraldi's musical score is second to none.  BUT...the unfortunate fact of all the Peanuts TV specials is that the animation is not good.  I understand that this is a beloved TV special.  I understand that it's become iconic.  But the animation keeps it from being a masterpiece.  Plus, one year when I was about 6 or 7 I was watching this while snuggling with my mom, and I threw up all over the couch.  So -- some not-so-merry associations there.

2.  HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966):
  You want to talk animation?  This classic adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book was directed by the legendary Chuck Jones, who won multiple Academy Awards for his Looney Tunes shorts featuring the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc.  The man was a genius.  THAT'S animation.  You know the story:  the grinch is bad.  He tries to steal Christmas from the little village of Whoville.  When he realizes what the true spirit of Christmas is, he's transformed.  Add to this the fact that the narrator is none other than Boris Karloff (Dracula!!), throw in one of the best Christmas special songs of all time ("You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch"), and you've got an absolute classic.  From a sheer narrative standpoint, this is the best story on this list.

1.  RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964):  Not even the Grinch can top this.  It's probably the first Christmas special many of us remember watching, and it's chock-full of memorable characters.  Besides Rudolph himself (who, frankly, is a bit of a wet blanket), there's Sam the Snowman (voiced by Burl Ives), Hermey the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowman (the "Bumble") and the whole crew on the Island of Misfit Toys.  (Whoever created the character of Charlie-In-The-Box deserves some sort of honorary Emmy Award.)  Plus, there are some great songs here:  "We're A Couple of Misfits," "We Are Santa's Elves," and of course, "Have A Holly Jolly Christmas."  It's the oldest of all the specials on this list (50 years old this year!), and it's never been surpassed. 

SPECIAL BONUS PICK:  CHRISTMAS SPECIAL THAT IS GOOD, BUT NOT QUITE GOOD ENOUGH TO CRACK THE TOP 5

•    THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY

SPECIAL BONUS LIST:  5 CHRISTMAS SPECIALS THAT TURN UP ON MANY TOP TEN LISTS, BUT WHICH ARE ACTUALLY OVERRATED AND BORING
•    FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
•    T'WAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
•    MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL
•    JACK FROST
•    MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL

Tue, 12/16/2014

Bowdoin College

Tonight our daughter Dana received a happy email she's long been hoping for: a message from the Bowdoin Admissions Office that she's been accepted as a member of the class of 2019. What great news!

And now, inspired by this exciting turn of events, I offer you a few fun Bowdoin facts:

 

- Bowdoin, located in Brunswick, Maine, was founded in 1794. It was named for former Massachusetts governor James Bowdoin. (At the time, Maine wasn't a state. It was part of Massachusetts.)

- There are currently about 1,900 students enrolled at Bowdoin.

- At the time of its founding, Bowdoin was the easternmost college in the United States.

- In the Niche ranking of Best College Food (a very important category), Bowdoin is ranked #4 in the country, behind only Virginia Tech, Washington University of St. Louis, and UCLA.

- Harriet Beecher Stowe, "the little lady who started this big war," began writing her influential anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin in Bowdoin's Appleton Hall while her husband was teaching at the college.

- Bowdoin was all-male for the first 177 years of its existence. It went co-ed in 1971.

- Distinguished Bowdoin alumni include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and Franklin Pierce. (I should note here, however, that Franklin Pierce is widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in US history.)

- The school colors are black and white.

- Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first-ever Olympic gold medalist in the women's marathon, is a Bowdoin graduate. As a senior in 1979, she entered the Boston Marathon as a virtual unknown and won while wearing a Bowdoin t-shirt.

- Bowdoin's newspaper is called the Bowdoin Orient.

We have a lot of ties to Bowdoin in our family. My wife taught there for a couple of years. Our son is a senior there. We have many dear friends on the faculty. I attended hockey camp there in the 1970's, and Dana attended lacrosse camp there a few years ago. So she'll feel right at home.

Fri, 12/12/2014