Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sticker Collections

Note: Sorry for the sporadic posts as of late, I've been in the process of moving and have had limited time for reminiscing. Fresh material is on the way, it might just pop up a little more slowly. Check back often for new posts!

In the 80s and 90s, no single possession could rocket a child to the top of the elementary school social stratosphere quite like a thoughtful, well-balanced sticker collection. Whether kept on their original backings or stuck carefully within the pages of an attractive sticker book, these collections were some of the most coveted items one could own during our grade school years. A new sticker afforded its owner not only the thrill of a new belonging but also recess bragging rights to the latest in sticker trends and technology. An image of two kittens playfully wrapped up in a high top sneaker or a three dimensional googly eyed dinosaur was usually more than enough to earn you a spot at the cool table in the cafeteria.

If ever there was anything to which to trace the overabundance of perfectionism and type A behavior amongst children of the 90s, sticker collections have got to be one of the major culprits. Like other forms of collecting, forming sticker collections required patience, self-restraint, and the ability to enjoy something that both serves no use.

In order to maintain the pristine condition of our most prized stickers, it was critical to not touch or handle your collection too roughly; in short, it was necessary to treat them llike a signed first edition being brought to appraisal on Antiques Roadshow. Doing anything to compromise the alleged inherent value of the following items was the equivalent of social sticker suicide.

Lisa Frank

Lisa Frank were among the most coveted designs in school supplies during the 80s and 90s, so it’s no surprise her stickers were considered fairly high-end in the classroom trading market. The bright colors, whimsical designs, and schmaltzy characters turned Lisa Frank stickers into virtual currency for elementary school girls. Innumerable hours were lost to swooning over the cuteness of a panda wielding a paint-laden brush or unicorn leaping majestically across a rainbow. For the record, the current Lisa Frank designs are generally considered to be subpar and inferior to our colorful cuddly originals.

Scratch n' Sniff

I’ve been told technology yields progress, and I can imagine no greater example than the leap from ordinary, smell-free stickers to the odoriferous sensory explosion of a scented sticker. The patented technology gave us a simple two-step process to nasal bliss, executed as follows:
1. Scratch
2. Sniff
It was that simple. You saw a strawberry, you scratched a strawberry, you smelled a strawberry. Sticker technology at its most useful.


Textured stickers were also a popular addition to any collection, though their fuzziness often made it difficult to keep them in their original condition. Repeated rubbing wore down the fuzz, leaving us with bald puppies and hairless kittens. Tough break.

Puffy/Googly Eyes

Also a major contender in the textured category were the puffy and/or googly eyed stickers, giving us a decidedly creepy three dimensional experience that would not stop staring. I don’t care how functional it may seem to infuse a triceratops image with its very own googling eyeballs--no one wants that much shaky eye contact with a prehistoric sticker.

It’s a scientifically proven fact that children love shiny things and the existence of multiple dimensions, so it’s a no-brainer that we all went crazy over a shimmery combination of the two. These mysteriously three-dimensional holographic stickers sold in science museum stores and other such vaguely educational shops, ensuring that each trip there with our parents would inevitably end with an ear-plugging, breath holding, foot-stomping tantrum over these stickers.

Mrs. Grossman's

Andrea Grossman’s infinite wisdom and business savvy saw fit to sell her rolls of stickers by the yard, hence exponentially expanding their welcome additions to any child’s sticker collection in a single shopping trip. Featuring designs like cleverly posed animals and background scenery elements, Mrs. Grossman’s stickers could be arranged into scenes complete with storylines and characters. Posable stickers made for exciting Storybook Weaver-esque sticker book pages, shaping turtles, picnic baskets, and other assorted items into a coherent scene.


Fuzzy koala bears and sparkly rainbow fish? Where do I sign up? Glitter or texture made Sandylion an attractive addition to any well-rounded collection. With the right combination of shimmery dolphins and fuzzy ghosts, you could easily corner the market of your local underground sticker trade.

Sticker Books/Boxes

Of course, the most important element in any worthwhile sticker collection was a specially created (re: unnecessarily expensive) book or receptacle by which to transport it. After all, what good is a sticker collection if you can’t carry it around and show it off? You could choose to stick yours in a book with special non-stick pages or cut each sticker individually with its backing to ensure easy trading.

That said, actual sticking of the stickers onto surfaces such as notebooks and Trapper Keepers was generally frowned upon. Such behavior was the equivalent of supergluing a dollar bill to the front of your Yikes pencil case. Stickers were veritable elementary school currency, so improper usage was akin to destruction of of US-minted money--it may not have been illegal, but it certainly wasn’t acceptable usage.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gym Class Parachute Day

Ah, parachute day. Whether you were a budding star elementary athlete or one of the designated indoor kids, the parachute was a universally appealing gym class apparatus. Something about those glorious primary colors had the power to put children under some sort of enchanted parachute spell, mesmerizing them with its rhythmic movement and waves of red, blue, and yellow. Throw in the fact that we each had our very own handle and this was a participatory physical education dream. The responsibility was great, sure, but the excitement of playing a role in the billowing of the giant parachute was infinitely greater.

It just goes to show that it doesn’t take flashy or expensive equipment to delight a child and pique his curiosity. These parachutes were extremely simple in design and use, yet they rarely failed to entertain us during a vigorous physical education hour. Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to label it as actual exercise, but maybe all that arm flapping gave us some sort of low-level workout. As long as it tired us out enough for naptime, our caregivers were more than satisfied.

Just in case you haven’t brushed up on your gym class parachute activities in a few years, here is a handy guide to some of the many magical games offered by this overhyped nylon bedsheet with handles.

Making Waves

Even the youngest Gymboreers can take part in this one, assuming they have the ability to grasp the handle and wave their arms maniacally. To create waves, all the children in class simply have to pick up a handle and shake vigorously. The parachute billows back and forth, the kids ooh and aah in amazement, and the teacher sneaks out back for a smoke.


I actually believe we may have called this maneuver “Mushroom Cloud,” but that’s probably just a tad too morbid to fathom for five-year old children. “Hey kids! Isn’t this just like an atomic explosion?”

In this exercise, all children have to obediently pull their handle up and over themselves to retain a bubble of air in the center. It’s like a little fort, only much more colorful and slightly awesomer. Plus all your friends are there. I kind of want to stage a Jellyfish right now, it sounds 100% preferable to a day at the office.

Variation: Washing Machine

Make a Jellyfish/Mushroom configuration, but allow the kids to shake crazily while inside. If it’s not realistic enough, feel free to put them in an actual washing machine.


Insert sports ball in center of parachute. Grab handles, shake like maniacs. Commence in delight at rubber balls popping in air. Repeat ad nauseum. Seriously, children never tire of this. You could do it forever.

Shark Attack

The details on this one varied from school to school, but the game universally included screams of bloodcurdling terror. Two children are selected as sharks, the equivalent of “It” in a game of tag. All the other children place their legs under the parachute as the sharks attempt to pull them under in Jaws-like attack mode. Good news is, once you were eaten, you magically became a shark who got to eat swimmers, too. You know, just like in real life.

Merry Go Round

This activity leads me to believe our teachers were fairly sadistic and all had a good laugh in the breakroom at making us dance like obedient trained monkeys. Everyone grabs the handles and the teacher calls out a movement, like “Skip!” or “Run!” The kids run wildly in a circle until they collapse in a pile of heavy-breathing exhaustion.

All Change/All Switch

Here’s a good way to check if your students know their birthdays or which letter of the alphabet begins their name. Make them all hold the chute tightly above them, then call out a command like “Everyone with June birthdays, switch!” The idea was to allow everyone to switch before the parachute fell, but there was always some kid without a June birthday who’d tackle the parachute to the ground before they had a chance to try. Jerk.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you ever want to truly terrify your child and ensure they lose at least a week or two of sleep, I advise buying them a copy of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Don’t let the name fool you, either--you could tell these in the light and still be scared to the point of mild hysteria. Oh, and if the written word alone isn’t enough to get you, don’t worry; Schwartz has conveniently packed these books with the one-two punch of horrifying tales and gruesome, grisly illustrations. Well played, Schwartz. Our parents may not have been able to convince us to use a nightlight, but you ensured we wouldn’t fall asleep until we’d switched on every bulb in the house. Truly, well done.

Schwartz’s Scary Stories titles included Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories III: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. Released between 1981 and 1991, these books scared a generation’s worth of children with their fast-paced story telling and spooky unresolved mysteries. Schwartz derived most of his stories from urban-legend type folktales, taking decades-old stories and weaving them into bone-chilling narratives punctuated with eerie sketches by Stephen Gammell.

To this day, I find I can hardly endure a basic Google Image search of Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark--the pictures are just that memorable and that creepy. If you think it’s gross to read about a man whose face is slowly dripping off, imagine having to endure image after image illustrating his unfortunate and gruesome fate. Yech.

It’s unsurprising that Schwartz’s Scary Stories titles are among the most frequently banned of children’s books. After all, Harry Potter contains enough sorcery and magic to get parental watchdog groups in a tizzy, so just imagine the ante upped by adding all manners of severed limbs and hatchet-wielding headless ghosts. These anti-Scary Stories groups allege that the books’ content and imagery is too mature for its intended audience of mid-to-upper elementary students. Other common reasons for the ban are its preoccupation with the occult and the commonplace use of bloody violence. The same adults crying out over R.L. Stine’s tongue-in-cheek Goosebumps series were up in arms over Schwartz’s collections; according to the supporters of the ban, these books were just too scary for children.

Of course, the more something is shunned by adults, the more instantly attractive it becomes to children. Though the original book is nearly 30 years old, it still shows up frequently in current-day top ten banned children’s books lists. Despite its critics’ best attempt to have the book removed from libraries and bookstores, the Scary Stories series maintain an enduring popularity with children itching to test their scare limits.

Schwartz’s simple storytelling and skill for building suspense made these books a thrilling read, encouraging children who may not otherwise show interest in reading to pick one up for the sheer fear factor. Many of the stories even come with handy guides for scaring your friends around the campfire while bottom-lighting your chin with the eerie glow of a flashlight. What could be better than a book that tells you when to raise your voice or to pounce on your friends? I don’t know about you, but I prefer a book with some dramatic stage directions.

While the stories may not be in the realm of adult-geared horror novels, they do have a certain creepiness that resonates with readers even past the intended 7-12 year old audience. The content alone isn’t always particularly terrifying when held against the test of time, but anyone who read these as a child is sure to remember the way that they felt when they heard it initially.

Monsters under the bed or zombies in the closet once seemed not like a fanciful story but as a viable option for children with overactive imaginations. For those with regularly active imagination, there were always illustrations to push you over the edge. I’ve tried to include some of the less grisly ones in this post, but conduct a Google Image search at your own risk. I’m warning you, though, they will lodge themselves somewhere in the innermost depths of your cerebral cortex and haunt your dreams. Just as a caveat, I’m not to be held accountable for your ultimate stomach-heaving reaction to the guts and gore. That one’s all on you.

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