'Someday a Bird Will Poop on You' and other funny life lessons for kids

It’s hard to put a finger on what makes a great title, and like everything else about reading, it’s a matter of taste. Among the classics are the biblical ("East of Eden"), the ominous ("For Whom the Bell Tolls"), the elegant ("Beloved"), and the just plain weird ("Wuthering Heights" ... what does “wuthering” mean, anyway?).

My favorites tend to be titles that make universal pronouncements in complete sentences, like "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," "Things Fall Apart," or "You Can’t Go Home Again."

So I was pleased to see a new book arrive at the library that has as its title the grandest, truest statement about the human experience I’ve ever heard: "Someday a Bird Will Poop on You."

Sue Salvi and Megan Kellie’s picture book breaks this sad news to children and provides advice on how to deal with it. “You can get really mad and cry and stomp ... or you can remain calm, wash it off, laugh about it, and think to yourself, ‘Chances are I won’t have another bird poop on me for a while, and if they do, what a hilarious story that will be.’”

Most people do have a story about getting pooped on by a bird. My own was not so hilarious, at least not to me, but it was to my mom, with whom my 7-year-old self was picking a bratty bone when justice fell from the sky in the form of a stinky white blob of goo. I was horrified even before she stopped laughing long enough to explain what it was.

At the time I didn’t appreciate her reaction, but now that I have kids I understand the therapeutic value of a little parental schadenfreude every now and then. I had a dose the other day as I placed an order at McDonald’s, listening with one ear to my kids behind me critically assess this month’s Happy Meal toys, my blood pressure rising with each ungrateful word I heard. Suddenly, their whining ceased. When I glanced back I saw something had shocked them into a terrified silence: A grown man in bright red wig and giant red shoes, his face covered with white paint, kneeled to engage them at the level of their own eyes, from which now brimmed tears of panic.

It was Ronald McDonald in the flesh, handing out a little instant karma along with his fun-filled activity booklets. A blessing in a clown disguise. Or a serial killer. Either way, he backed off and left them a quivering mass of good manners, which put me in such a fine mood we were all soon eating ice cream cones.

Reversals of fortune like this recall one of the best picture books ever to tackle the ups and downs of life, Remy Charlip’s 1964 classic, "Fortunately," in which alternating mishaps and miracles “fortunately” or “unfortunately” befall a boy on the way to a party. Unfortunately, his plane is about crash. Fortunately, he finds a parachute. Unfortunately, it has a hole in it. Fortunately, he’s headed straight for a haystack. And so on.

After 32 pages of this, kids may be ready for Jon Muth’s "Zen Shorts," which evens the keel by presenting a Taoist fable, “The Farmer’s Luck,” in which a farmer refuses to label events lucky or unlucky at all. His horse runs away only to return with two more wild horses. His son breaks his leg, only to be spared the next day from joining an army headed for war. All the while, his neighbors comment, “Such bad luck!” or “Such good luck!” to which the farmer simply responds, “Maybe.”

Fortunately, kids can be certain of at least one thing. Unfortunately, it’s that creepy clowns, or something else unexpected, can appear at any time. Fortunately, there are books to read before bed to help make sense of it. Unfortunately, half asleep dads confuse matters when they mumble advice like “Life hands you bird poop, and all you can do is make lemonade.” Fortunately, the kids don’t even hear it, because they’re already asleep.

Author’s note: No kids, birds, clowns or lemons were harmed in the writing of this story.

— Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.

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