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

Granted by John David Anderson

What the book’s about: Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy-in-training in the magical land of Haven. Her job, should she be deemed worthy of it, will be to grant humans the secret wishes they whisper to stars, birthday candles, and pennies thrown into fountains.

Being a Granter is one of Haven’s most important jobs. Granters generate the magic that makes everything fairies do possible, and that keeps Haven itself safe and tucked away from prying human eyes.

Of course there’s a catch. Worldwide magic is at an all-time low, which makes it really tricky for a young fairy-in-training to figure out how to grant wishes. Ophelia’s going to need more than just a bit of fairy dust to get this job done.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old Likes It: “It’s an interesting engaging read about fairies. What could possibly go wrong?”

Fairytales From Around the World by Andrew Lang

What the book’s about: Andrew Lang’s collection features 100 fairy tales from 50 countries around the world, with illustrations by H.J. Ford.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old Likes It: “The fairytales range from cool, not very scary, but intriguing to frighteningly good writing that gives you chills.”

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50 States of Public Art: The SPACES Sculpture Trail in Huntsville & Madison, Alabama

As you know, I’ve been doing Wordless Wednesdays for a few years now. Posting a photograph of something or other but not saying much about it has been a nice way to mark the middle of the week. But I’m bored with that format now, and want to use Wednesdays for something more useful.

You may have heard I’ve got a book or two out on viewing public art with your kids. Public art is everywhere, and this is the season for getting out and viewing it. While I was out hunting for public art in Mesquite, Texas with The Eleven-Year-Old earlier this month, it occurred to me that it would be nice to use Wednesdays on Caterpickles to highlight public art projects happening right now in various parts of the country. With luck, I’ll highlight one in a town near you. 

Obviously, The Eleven-Year-Old and I can’t visit all these places in person, so we’d love to know if you have. Send us your photos or leave us a comment telling us what you saw and what you thought about it. Or if you’d like us to hunt down some public art near you, just leave a note in the comments and we’ll happily see what we can find. 

With that, let’s take a quick trip to Alabama. 

SPACES Sculpture Trail in Huntsville & Madison, Alabama

(Photo Source: SPACES iOS App by ARTS Huntsville)

Title: At Home With Higher Thoughts

Artist: Charlie Brouwer

Location: Southside Square, Huntsville, Alabama 35801

Photo Source: SPACES HSV iOS App

Associated Public Art Project:

At Home With Higher Thoughts is part of the SPACES Sculpture Trail in Huntsville and Madison, Alabama.

Begun in 2010 by Arts Huntsville, Alabama A&M University, Huntsville Museum of Art, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment Center, and UAH, SPACES is a large-scale public art installation that has grown to include 39 works from 22 artists living in 12 U.S. states as well as Toronto, Canada.

The sculptures are installed across Huntsville and Madison, and will remain in place through at least January 2019. Many, if not all, of the artworks in the SPACES Sculpture Trail, are for sale.

Want to see it yourself?

There’s an app for that. ARTS Huntsville has developed a free iOS and Android app filled with information about the works on exhibit and the artists who made them. You can learn more about the app here.

Already seen SPACES but want to explore other public art in Huntsville? 

The Purple Cup is hosting a free Secret Art Walk event this Friday, July 13, from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. The walk kicks off from Green Bus Brewing at Eustis Ave SE 206 in downtown Huntsville. You find more information about the event via Facebook.

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Wordless Wednesday: The Endangered Species Mural at Juana Briones Elementary School

One of the things I love about the public schools here in California is that the buildings are often covered with murals painted by the students.

The following pictures are of portions of the Endangered Species Mural at Juana Briones Elementary School. The mural was painted by the school’s fifth grade class of 1994. (Check the last picture for the list of artists.)

Tiger from Juana Briones Endangered Species Mural. (Painted by one or more fifth graders.)

This koala is shocked that I have a 6th grader in the house. (Painted by one or more fifth graders.)

Panther. (Painted by one or more fifth graders.)

Monk seal & list of mural artists. (Painted by one or more fifth graders.)

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

The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem

What the book is about:

I was more than a little surprised to see The Eleven-Year-Old pick up this book this summer. Lem’s Star Diaries seems like a rich read for adults, much less eleven-year-olds. And yet, there she sits, by turns giggling and absorbed, in a book I didn’t read until well into college.


Written as the memoirs of star-pilot Ijon Tichy, The Star Diaries is a collection of space adventures that range in length from vignettes to novellas, and in tone from playful, satiric, and philosophical.

I don’t know how many of the references The Eleven-Year-Old actually understands, but there’s no doubt that something about this book is working for her. The humor in the “Seventh Voyage” is particularly approachable. In it, Tichy gets caught in a time loop which causes multiple versions of himself to start crowding his ship. It’s full of giggle-inducing and mildly mind-blowing sentences like:

“That Friday me by now was the Saturday me and perhaps was suddenly knocking about somewhere in the vicinity of Sunday, while this Friday me inside the spacesuit had only recently been the Thursday me, into which same Thursday me I myself had been transformed at midnight.”

The book’s format lends it to being enjoyed in small, bite-sized doses. As far as I can tell, that’s exactly what The Eleven-Year-Old is doing. Which is fortunate, because seeing her read it has made me want to reread it myself.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old Likes It: “It’s a really weird, yet seriously deep look at humans and their flaws.”

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Wordless Wednesday: Sailboat off Treasure Island

(Photo: Shala Howell)

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

Summer is in full force here at Caterpickles Central, and someone’s reading list this week reflects it. See if you can figure out The Eleven-Year-Old’s summer goals from the books stacked on her desk.

How to Be a Wildflower by Katie Daisy

What the book is about: 

Artist Katie Daisy’s field guide to nature, How to be a Wildflower, encourages readers to get outside and into nature. Recipes, a place to press flowers, meditations, and tidbits from natural history share space with Daisy’s own paintings.

There’s plenty to ponder, wander through, and savor about life outside, and Daisy’s How to be a Wildflower provides a road map for doing it.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old likes it: “It’s a very fun read full of tips on getting out and into nature more. Great for summer.”

How to Keep Dinosaurs by Robert Mash

What the book is about: 

When she hasn’t been outside looking for flowers to press between the pages of How to be a Wildflower, The Eleven-Year-Old has been tucked up on the couch learning everything she can about the care and feeding of dinosaurs.

How to Keep Dinosaurs by Robert Mash is a treasure trove of dinosaur care facts. Feeding, breeding, housing, availability, weight, territory, and size are all covered, of course.

The Eleven-Year-Old, however, appears much more interested in a dinosaur’s ability to adapt to domestic life. Which breeds get along with children? Which breeds eat them? Exactly how large of a shovel do you need to clean up after your velociraptor? Your T. Rex?

Which dinosaurs adapt well to life in an average household, which are better suited for zoos, and which really should remain free and in the wild? There’s even a section for the aspiring dinosaur farmer on keeping dinosaurs for their meat and eggs.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old likes it: “It’s a hilarious take on what might happen if dinosaurs coexisted with modern humans.”

Uh-huh. Sure. I’m certain our cat has nothing to worry about.

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Wordless Wednesday: The buttons of summer

Photo: Michael Howell

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Posted in Can we do that sometime?, Crafts, Wordless Wednesday | 1 Comment

“There’s a mouse in my pool. Is it time to freak out?”

The house we’re renting in California comes equipped with a pool. It’s been too cold to swim in it so far, but it has still been a source of lots of excitement. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard have regular date mornings in it.

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard taking their morning constitutional in the backyard pool. Forgive the graininess. I had to take the photo from a distance through the pool fence so as not to disturb them.
(Photo: Shala Howell)

This morning when I came downstairs for the necessary cup of coffee, I spied a bedraggled brown lump floating on the surface of the pool. I’ll spare you the picture of that, and simply say that on closer inspection, it proved to be a dead mouse.

Bummer. (Also, eww…)

Which brings us to today’s question: “There’s a dead mouse in the pool. Is it time to freak out?”

The 30-second response (“tl;dr” )

Apparently the answer is no. I do not need to swear off swimming forever.

According to the CDC, most dead animals found in pools do not pose a health risk to humans. The germs those animals carry mostly affect their own species. And most of the germs that can affect humans are killed off within a few minutes’ exposure to chlorine. (The important exception to this rule are raccoons, dead calves, and lambs, which I’ll discuss briefly at the end of this post.)

Still, the fact that the CDC maintains a page on how to disinfect your pool after finding a dead animal in it tells me two things:

  1. It’s fairly common for wild animals like skunks, birds, mice, gophers, rats, snakes, frogs, and bats to drown in pools.
  2. It’s pretty important to clean your pool properly after.

In the 3-minute answer, I’ll tell you how to do that.

The 3-minute answer (or, How to disinfect your pool after a small animal dies in it)

According to the CDC, here’s what you’ll need to do if you find a dead animal in your pool.


  • Disposable gloves
  • Net or bucket
  • Two plastic garbage bags
  • Pool chemicals, including chlorine


  1. Close the pool to swimmers.
  2. Put on the disposable gloves.
  3. Remove the dead animal from the pool using the net or bucket.
  4. Double-bag the animal in plastic garbage bags.
  5. Clean off any debris or dirt from the item used to remove the dead animal, and dispose of it in the plastic garbage bags.
  6. Remove your gloves and place them in the garbage bags.
  7. Close the garbage bags and place them in a sealed trash can to keep wild animals away from the dead animal.
  8. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately.
  9. Disinfect the pool by:
    • Raising or maintaining the free chlorine concentration at 2 parts per million (ppm) for at least 30 minutes
    • Maintaining a pH level of 7.5 or less for at least 30 minutes
    • Raising or maintaining the pool temperature at 77°F (25°C) or higher
  10. Confirm that the pool’s filtration system is working properly during this time.
  11. Disinfect the item used to remove the dead animal by immersing it in the pool during the 30-minute disinfection time.

The very important exception to this rule: Dead calves, lambs, and raccoons

If you find a dead calf, lamb, or raccoon in your pool, it is perfectly reasonable to freak out. You will need help dealing with the aftermath of this incident, because the germs and worms those guys carry cannot be dealt with by simply increasing the chlorine levels in the pool.

Calves and lambs

Pre-weaned calves and lambs are often infected with Cryptosporidium, a chlorine-tolerant parasite that can infect humans, resulting in a nasty bout of diarrhea that can last anywhere from 1 – 4 weeks in humans with healthy immune systems. You do not want this.

Unfortunately, since the parasite is protecting by an outer shell, it is remarkably resistant to chlorine. So if you find a dead calf or lamb in your pool, you will need to call your local health department for advice. Disinfecting a pool after a calf or lamb dies in it requires a hyperchlorination protocol that most residential pool owners can’t do on their own.


Raccoons can be infected with a worm called Baylisascaris procyonis. Typically spread through the raccoon feces, the worm itself is quite chlorine-resistant, and can infect humans, especially children, causing severe neurologic illness. You don’t want this either.

So, if you find a dead raccoon or raccoon feces around your pool, you will need to have Animal Control or your local health department test the feces or raccoon for the worm. If the test comes back positive, then you will need to either filter your pool for 24 hours or drain the pool, clean it, and then refill it.  The CDC website provides instructions for testing the raccoon remnants and cleaning the pool after.

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Wordless Wednesday: Summer? Is that really you?

Photo: Shala Howell

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You’re invited to my first official book event!

I’m headed back to Dedham, Massachusetts for my first book signing on Saturday June 16th from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., and I couldn’t be more excited about it!

Event Details


  • My first book signing! It’s for What’s That, Mom?: How to use public art to engage your children with the world around them… without being an artist yourself.
  • The debut of my new public art journal, What’s That, Mom?: Field Notes from Your Encounters with Public Art out in the Wild. 

Mother Brook Art Center’s 5th Anniversary Festival
Mother Brook Arts & Community Center
123 High Street, Dedham, MA 02026

Saturday, June 16th from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (I’ll be there all day.)

My Hosts:
The Blue Bunny Bookstore (Dedham, MA)

Rain or shine:
If it’s sunny, we will be on the lawn.
If it rains, come look for us inside. 

Festival Highlights

As of this writing, other events of the festival will include:

  • The return of two of the original Dedham bunnies from the 2012 Public Art Project
  • A visit by best-selling children’s book author and illustrator Peter Reynolds (author of The Dot), who will be painting another bunny on site
  • The results of the community-wide competition to design and paint a brand new bunny
  • The latest news on the GuitArts public art project happening in Norwood, MA this summer to raise money for Norwood music programs

And of course, I’ll have a little something to keep the kiddos entertained while you and I catch up.

Hope to see you there!

BONUS: Cover reveal for my new book

Sculpture: Isis (c) 2009 Simon Gudgeon. Photograph: Michael Howell. Sketch: The Eleven-Year-Old Howell.

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