April Fool’s Part 1

I’ve done at least ten system-wide April Fool’s jokes at work over the years. I must have a reputation now, because one coworker just passed me in the hall, wagged a finger at me and said “I haven’t looked at the computer yet, Steve, but I just know you’ve been up to something today!”

Unbeknownst to her, I was lucky enough to set two spoofs in motion this April Fool’s Day. One was for our staff on my library’s intranet page, and one was for the public on Twitter. Here’s the staff prank first.

For the last two years, my library system has chosen a book brimming with social context and discussion possibilities for a county-wide reading program. Copies of the chosen book are purchased by the case, programs surround the topics, and everything culminates with a big author event. Today on our intranet site, using the program’s official logo and colors, I proudly announced next year’s title with an over-the-top intro:


Announcing the book everyone in Pierce County will be reading and discussing next year for our third annual Pierce County READS:


Inside, Outside, Upside-Down by Stan & Jan Berenstain

You may have thought this was a simple children’s picture book, but its provocative manner of plunging the depths of the human experience has kept it in print for more than 40 years and led to translations into 22 languages.

Tucked within the spare, Hemingway-esque language of this classic 32-page book, lies the remarkable struggles of living in a changing world. The protagonist, a humble cub, represents the yearning of the everyman; a soul seeking its place within the greater society – nay, the universe. “Readers often identify with the cub,” Joseph Campbell once wrote, because “he is unnamed; a cipher; a blank slate onto which even the most casual audience surrenders his identity, experiences, and emotions.”

The novel challenges us with its first two action-laced words: “Going in.” The significance of that phrase alone has led to countless academic papers and chat room flame wars. Google lists it on more than 23 million web pages.

Like the book’s main character, you may sometimes find yourself cramped inside a box, only to stand liberated outside that same box during another phase of your life. “It’s like looking in a mirror,” said Las Vegas magician’s assistant Rhonda Goldblum, who re-reads her well-worn copy every year.

Your emotions may be raised highest during the passage in which the cub is tumbled upside-down. The parallels to scenes from Shakespeare, Kafka, and Seinfeld are breath-taking. The culmination of this roiling experience is a long spiritual journey involving freight transport and – we suspect but never know with certainty – hefty D.O.T. fines for roadway debris.

Alan Crawford, a Seattle pharmacy tech, runs one of the many fansites of the book. “Is it a coincidence that the title’s initials are I O U?” he asked rhetorically, pausing to sip his chai tea. “Not a chance! This book’s a life-changer. I owe you everything, little bear.”

Oprah Winfrey, who considers this one of five quintessential novels of the twentieth century, choked back tears when she spoke about the book to Pierce County Library this week. “We become that little bear. Inside the book, we truly become him. And after we turn that last page, we discover that we are that bear outside the book, too. The journey of self-discovery simply turns us upside-down.”


Contrary to popular belief, Inside, Outside, Upside-Down was not written by Stan & Jan Berenstain, but by the Berenstain Bears themselves. The ursines adopted human pseudonyms during a sad era when bears (and woodland creatures in general) were not considered worthy of publication.

The authors will appear for Pierce County READS in the No Fences Amphitheater at Northwest Trek, March 27, 2010.* Attendees will be encouraged to bring huckleberries to the event because huckleberries have become symbols of the social issues entwined with the book’s narrative … and because bears like them.

*Tentative date. The author event may be delayed up to two weeks if hibernation schedules change.

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