What’s The Eight-Year-Old reading this week?


Our mostly-weekly survey of the tidbits that cross The Eight-Year-Old’s desk. Spring break season is upon us, which means lots of time to sit around pouring through some of The Eight-Year-Old’s favorite reference texts. This week, The Eight-Year-Old takes a refresher course in dinosaurs, fancifully illustrated mechanical objects, and natural disasters.

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Wordless Wednesday: The Eight-Year-Old’s writing nook

The Eight-Year-Old's writing nook. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Eight-Year-Old’s writing nook. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Eight-Year-Old has been typing up a storm on her manual typewriter lately. Sometimes her writing is a pure flight of fancy. More often, it’s inspired by her reading. Her latest work, based on Calvin & Hobbes by the look of her writing nook, is still top secret, but she did give me permission to share with you two haikus she wrote last week from the perspective of Snoopy, the World War I Flying Ace.

Zinng! Bullets whiz by!

I am flying fast and high,

But they whiz by me.


I fire at “ol’ Red”

He tries to escape. He can’t.

He is mostly caught.

–The Eight-Year-Old Howell

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“How do you make apple cider vinegar?”

The Eight-Year-Old has adored pickles since she was a mere Four-Year-Old. In fact, long-time readers of this blog will not be terribly surprised at all to find that today’s question dates from the Before Times when The Eight-Year-Old was a mere Four-Year-Old. (Have I mentioned lately that I have a backlog of 226 unanswered questions? I really should get on that.) Fortunately for us today, I not only took time to jot down the question but also the context in which it was asked.

One fine summer day, The Four-Year-Old was appalled to find her self-serve jar of pickles contained only pickling juice and a few floaty pickling bits.

The Four-Year-Old, sloshing across the kitchen with her jar full of pickle juice: “Mommyo, can you make me some more pickles?”

Mommyo, rescuing the jar, but not the kitchen floor: “Not today, The Four-Year-Old. We’re out of apple cider vinegar.”

The Four-Year-Old: “Can you make some?”

Mommyo, decidedly: “No. Making vinegar takes months.”

The Four-Year-Old: “Why, Mommyo? How do you make vinegar?”

Making vinegar turns out to be one of those activities that sounds daunting, but is actually perfectly suited for the sort of benign neglect that characterizes my cooking.

Basically, you chop up some apples, let them turn brown on your counter, then dump the pieces — cores, peels, and all — into a wide-mouth mason jar. Pour enough water into the jar to cover the apple scraps, and cover it with a scrap of cheesecloth. Put the covered jar in some dark warm place and forget about it for one to six months, depending on how strong you want your vinegar to be and whether you started with just scraps (the peels and the core) or with whole fruit (whole fruit takes longer).

Now, here’s the icky bit. When you check on your vinegar, you’ll find a grey scum on top. While icky grey scum is not normally a good sign on food, in this case, it apparently means the fermenting is well underway. Taste the vinegar, and when you’re happy with its potency, strain it through a coffee filter and bottle it.

This is just an overview of the process. You can find more precise instructions for homemade vinegar almost anywhere else on the web. Here are two recipes that The Eight-Year-Old and I would like to try (one day):

Finally, I am embarrassed to admit that not only did I fail to answer The Four-Year-Old’s question until today, I also never made her pickles. But if I were to make her pickles one day, this is the recipe I’d try: Quick and Easy Pickles by Alex Guarnaschelli of Chopped fame (recipe via the Food Network website).

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What’s The Eight-Year-Old reading this week?

Our mostly-weekly survey of the tidbits that cross The Eight-Year-Old’s desk. This week, The Eight-Year-Old blends her love of folding paper and Star Wars. 

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Wordless Wednesday: Tile

I nearly canceled Wordless Wednesday altogether today, because we are thinking about renovating our 1920s-era bathroom (finally!), and the only new pictures I have are of plumbing fixtures and tile.

(Photo: Michael Howell)

(Photo: Michael Howell)

I have to be more interesting next week, for both of our sakes.

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“What do stormtroopers read?”

This week, in a shocking reverse of the usual procedure, our question went from Mommyo to The Eight-Year-Old.

Mommyo, curiously: “The Eight-Year-Old, what do stormtroopers read?”

The Eight-Year-Old went away for a while, and came back with this:

(Art: The Eight-Year-Old Howell)

The Daily Imperial, First Edition. (Art: The Eight-Year-Old Howell)

Who knew The Eight-Year-Old had a pen name?

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What’s The Eight-Year-Old reading this week?


Our mostly-weekly survey of the tidbits that cross The Eight-Year-Old’s desk. This week, The Eight-Year-Old tags along with Horrible Harry on his trip to the moon, with Harriet Tubman as she frees 300 slaves on the Underground Railroad, and with Emmy as she explores the mystery of her incredible shrinking rat.

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Wordless Wednesday: The Eight-Year-Old’s Homage to Bill Watterson (Marker on Cardboard, 2015)

(Art: The Eight-Year-Old Howell after a cartoon by Bill Watterson. Cardboard box by Amazon. Photo: Shala Howell)

(Art: The Eight-Year-Old Howell after a cartoon by Bill Watterson. Cardboard box by Amazon. Photo: Shala Howell)

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“Who was John Harold Johnson?”

The John H. Johnson Forever stamp. (Photo via USPSstamps.com)

The John H. Johnson Forever stamp. (Photo via USPSstamps.com)

It’s always hazardous to boil someone’s life down to a blog post. You can never be certain that you’ve really represented them properly. You can only be certain that you’re going to miss something important.

But knowing something about a person is definitely better than knowing nothing at all, and nothing at all is what I knew when I walked into the Hyde Park Post Office last year to buy some postage and walked out with a sheet of twenty Black Heritage John H. Johnson Forever stamps.

And that’s a shame, because it turns out that John H. Johnson was both a major American publisher and a key figure in the civil rights movement. His weekly news magazine, Jet, was the first nationwide magazine to publish the photographs of the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955. (A smaller magazine, The American Negro: A Magazine of Protest, published the images first, but it didn’t have the broad reach of John H. Johnson’s Jet.) 

According to Chris Metress, editor of “The Lynching of Emmett Till,” Johnson’s decision to widely publicize the brutal aftermath of a 14-year-old boy’s decision to whistle at a married white woman had a transformative effect on the African American community. Metress says that the images changed “the way [blacks] felt about themselves and their vulnerabilities and the dangers they would be facing in the civil rights movement.”

In a statement that will come as no surprise to anyone who read my opening paragraphs and who has ever glanced at my author photo over there on the right, Metress also goes on to say that those same photographs in Jet had a much less powerful impact on the white community at the time, because “white people didn’t read Jet.” If I had grown up reading Jet and Ebony, no doubt I would have known in a heartbeat who John H. Johnson was. 

Publishing the images of Emmett Till’s death was just one of many remarkable moments in Johnson’s career. As he proved with the launch of the Negro Digest/Black World in 1942, Ebony in 1945, and Jet in 1951, Johnson was the rarest of all publishers in post-WWII America: someone who portrayed African-Americans in a positive light. As the civil rights movement grew in strength, Johnson expanded the focus of his best-selling magazine Ebony from describing the lives of the rich and famous in the black community to include accurate reporting on the issues of desegregation, discrimination, African-American militancy, civil rights legislation, and of course, the freedom rides and marches taking place across the nation.

Johnson broke ground on a personal level as well. He was the first African-American to develop and build a major building in Chicago’s Loop. Because African-Americans were barred from owning land in downtown Chicago at the time, Johnson hired a white lawyer who bought the land for him in trust. Built to appear staid and conservative on the outside so that it would match its Michigan Avenue neighbors, the Johnson Publishing headquarters at 820 Michigan Avenue were anything but staid on the inside. As this 2013 article on the WBEZ91.5 website shows, the interior was an exuberant homage to the same elegant, fearless, afrocentric modernism that defined Johnson’s best-selling magazines.  (The building has since been sold to Columbia College.)

Interior of the Johnson Publishing headquarters on Michigan Avenue. (Photo: Lee Bay)

Interior of the Johnson Publishing headquarters on Michigan Avenue. (Photo: Lee Bay)

As you might expect, Johnson won several awards during his lifetime. The honors came flooding in pretty early, starting with the United States Chamber of Commerce making Johnson the first African-American to be named Young Man of the Year in 1951. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded him their Springarn Medal, the organization’s highest honor, in 1966. In 1972, his fellow publishers named him Publisher of the Year.

Bill Clinton gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. Harvard University awarded him an honorary doctorate, as did the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the University of Southern California, Carnegie Mellon University, Eastern Michigan University, and Wayne State University.

Johnson was the grandson of slaves. He was the son of a man who died in a sawmill accident, and of a mother brave enough to move her family from rural Arkansas to Chicago at the height of the Great Depression in the hope of finding work and to give Johnson a chance to attend high school. He was also the first African-American ever placed on Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

Clearly, John H. Johnson is a person whose influence on American culture and society can’t be summed up in a single blog post. If you’d like to know more about him, a good place to start may be his 1992 autobiography, Succeeding Against the Odds: The Autobiography of a Great American Businessman.

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In which The (then) Five-Year-Old absolutely is not crying

One afternoon, Daddyo and The (then) Five-Year-Old were talking about emotions. Somehow, Daddyo found himself caught up into a not-exactly age-appropriate conversation about extreme depression.

Daddyo, backpedaling hastily: “One day you might be really sad like that too, but who can you always talk to, no matter what?”

The (then) Five-Year-Old: “You and Mommyo.”

The (then) Five-Year-Old begins to cry.

Daddyo, distressed: “You don’t have to cry.”

The (then) Five-Year-Old: “I’m not. You are filling up my eyes with tears of happiness and one of them is streaming down my cheek even now.”

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