Happy Birthday to You

In honor of the three guys who guided my growing.

I was raised on a pop-culture commune. I woke up to the Tanner family uncles singing “Teddy Bear” around my bed, spent every afternoon at the Sugar Bowl with Arthur and co., and said goodnight with the Von Trapp siblings as they climbed their grand staircase to later be tucked in by one of my secondary moms, Julie Andrews. I had tons of secondary (and tertiary, and … whatever the fourth one is) dads, too, and three of them happen to have September birthdays. 

1) Roald Dahl (September 13th)

Look at this smug little mastermind.

I was drawn to Roald Dahl’s child-empowering messages early on, especially from Matilda. This means either that I had always believed in speaking out against unfairness, or that I liked thinking that if I focused my energy on scrunching my face up hard enough without getting distracted after two seconds by a graham cracker, I could control everyone around me just by looking constipated. Plus, make Bisquik without moving from the couch!

Luckily for the world I would have otherwise taken over with my face, Roald Dahl’s books also maintained a strong sense of moral fairness, and so his tiny geniuses did not do evil, but what they believed was right. George and his medicine got some well-deserved revenge on his cruel aunt. That little dude in The Witches became a rodent so he could spy on the witch who was organizing a mass child murder by selling them chocolate that would turn them into mice so their teachers would kill them. (In retrospect, a lot of these stories were pretty weird.) Charlie Bucket ends up the only kid in Willy Wonka’s secret contest who gets to take over the chocolate factory for a day — Mr. Wonka chose a child because he believed adults would screw it up — just because he was so good-hearted and selfless the whole time. Obviously what I’m trying to say is, ADULTZ SUX N KIDZ ROOL!!!! GO ROOKIE!!!!!!

Roald Dahl recognized how funny and weird and smelly and fascinating children are and handed them the power in his stories. He also taught me an appreciation for bizarre humor. I will never shake from my mind that image of Mr. Twit having a corn flake stuck in his beard.

2) Jim Henson (September 24th)

Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock were also so important.

Jim Henson came into my life a bit later. Maybe embarrassingly later. When I hung out (I think we still called it “playing” at that age??) with school friends in the fourth grade and would somehow (but, as I always knew, inevitably) find myself following everyone down to someone’s wood-paneled basement for the day’s activities to turn to kissing, I abruptly pretended I had to leave for a crucial family dinner. The walk home always held an air of defeat, but I just tried to think about how I would soon be cozied up watching a rented VHS of second mother Julie Andrews singing the “Lonely Goatherd” song with an ensemble of friendly fuzzy faces. (Other favorite episodes include Gene Kelly’s and Elton John’s.)

I don’t know what it was! Not nostalgia, because these were my first experiences watching it. Not irony, because I was too young to understand the idea of pretending you like something only because it shows you understand cultural context or whatever. I think I was just really, genuinely delighted by the Muppets, and much preferred smiling alone at things on our TV that made me happy to how suddenly important it was to train my tonsils for the mouth edition of Wimbledon. (I ask that you do not read into the psychology behind this.)

3) Shel Silverstein (September 25th)

Just take a moment to look at that shiny lil head and then think about how many genius ideas went on in there.

I took a really awesome self-defense class at school freshman year. By that time, my teenage angst had me thirsting more for bewitchingly wordy descriptions of symbols representing dangerous themes representing societal issues representing the modern world than for good, simple writing. Complexity! Passion! The Virgin Suicides! We’d been talking about all these things in that class, and it was totally different from anything I’d ever known school to be. It made me think.

On the last day, our teacher pulled out a book that I recognized from hazy memories but couldn’t quite place. It was The Missing Piece. The rest of the period was spent with her reading it aloud, and at the end we discussed its message about independence, codependence, and relationships. In less bewitchingly wordy terms, love. And that … made me feel. (And now you know: I maybe secretly somewhere have a soul.)

Making things aimed at children is difficult. (Just ask us here at Rookie!) (Just kidding. You are a strong, bold, female woman.) Somehow, these guys got it right, at least for me. Happy happy birthday!


  • Maddy September 15th, 2011 7:09 PM

    Here, here. It’s cool they all have September birthdays. And yes we are strong and bold and [still watch Arthur...]!

    So every time you post a new story you have to edit the code? There should be some auto feature for that.

  • Lucas September 15th, 2011 7:11 PM

    The Twits was just a masterpiece… I still remember the first time I read them at class when I was 11.


  • broguishrogue September 15th, 2011 7:17 PM

    man, i love all these beautiful men.

  • burn-your-flesh September 15th, 2011 7:25 PM

    I love these guys, especially Shel S.!

  • annagracie September 15th, 2011 7:27 PM

    haha, I love Roald Dahl too. When I was 10, i even joined his website. (–check it out, it’s cool!). i remember REALLY wanting to know the recipe for the chocolate cake eaten in Matilda, but I never found it :( anyway, great post! and so funny and accurate about “playing” turning into kissing games… I wish I had left early to watch the Muppets!

  • curiouscurl September 15th, 2011 7:50 PM

    Wild… I just finished my college essay on Matilda! The universe is workingin my favor

  • EveyMarrie September 15th, 2011 7:53 PM

    Shel Silverstein is the epitome of my childhood until I was 10<3 I used to go to the library and reread his books over and over and OVER again haha

  • Whatsername September 15th, 2011 8:09 PM

    I do believe that was the first time I’ve been called a “female woman”.
    Shel Silverstein was the one who really got me into poetry, which I’m extremely grateful for. I had no idea all of their birthdays are coming up/recently passed!

  • AmandaLouiseHobba September 15th, 2011 8:22 PM

    Yet another very entertaining read!
    My favourite line – ‘I could control everyone around me just by looking constipated’ LOL – I believe I actually tried that on a few occasions, I would have given anything for magical powers!
    In reference to ‘ADULTZ SUX N KIDZ ROOL!!!!’ – I’m 25 years old and getting younger every day! I don’t ever plan on becoming a GROANup!
    Yes indeed – ‘GO ROOKIE!!!’ I regret not having been able to read this mag in my teens! I was stuck with the Aussie versions of 17 magazine – with names like ‘Dolly’ and ‘Girlfriend’ you can imagine the kind of messages they were sending me!

  • Vikki September 15th, 2011 8:34 PM

    To this day Arthur is still my favorite show… from D.W.’s raids against the sunshine to Buster’s belief in aliens, I love it all.
    Oh, and let’s not forget the time Arthur blew up at that infamous pep rally…

  • Sunshine September 15th, 2011 8:57 PM

    Matilda was totally my favorite book when I was little. =D

  • surim September 15th, 2011 9:12 PM

    But!!! Did you know Roald Dahl was a….


    I am so sorry to make you weep inside as much as I did when I read the above article.

    • Tavi September 15th, 2011 10:07 PM


      And now that I have collected myself, I will say that I can appreciate his literary contributions but recognize that he was maybe a secret dickhead.


  • Angie Bitchface September 15th, 2011 9:23 PM

    haha, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein and Arthur were all ESSENTIAL components of my childhood. I’m in a hazy nostalgia bubble now. I miss Arthur! but once I randomly encountered it on TV and they had changed the voices of all the characters from some reason and it made me sad/freaked me out.

    you guys were kissing in the fourth grade?! yikes! I guess my friends and I were really REALLY late bloomers then.

    also the “whatever the fourth one is” is called “quaternary.” yayyyy education.

    • Tavi September 15th, 2011 11:09 PM

      I don’t know why so many 4th graders were kissing! I had nothing to do with it! I just wanted to watch Kermit!

  • junebuglove September 15th, 2011 9:39 PM

    Oh the nostalgia. When I was little I watch The Dark Crystal (directed by Jim Henson, also on Netflix now..) & The Bugaloos instead of barney. And I used to sit behind this tree in my back yard and read Shell Sylverstein. It’s weird when you hear someone else talking about their childhood, and it makes you think of your own.

  • Angie Bitchface September 15th, 2011 9:40 PM

    oh no! I just read the Roald Dahl article! what a douche. my childhood memories will never be the same :(

  • writeranddreamer September 15th, 2011 9:46 PM

    Oh my goodness. Roald Dahl is my idol. Jim Henson is awesome, too of course, but Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl basically ARE my childhood. I love love love this.

  • Ginny September 15th, 2011 10:11 PM

    Ever read Boy by Roald Dahl? It’s pretty upsetting, but it explains a lot about his writing and the whole “evil adults and genius children” thing.

    • Tavi September 15th, 2011 11:08 PM

      I think I started it? I remember reading it in elementary school but I don’t have too much of a memory of it. I should pick it up again.

  • stephaniejean September 15th, 2011 10:20 PM

    Tavi, I totally had that Roald Dahl cookbook too! I was OBSESSED with Wonka’s “candy-coated pencils for sucking.” But I don’t think I ever successfully made them. It was always a sugary goopy blob.

    Love all these guys. Very formative to my childhood as well. My dad used to read my Shel Silverstein every night. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Love it.

  • puffytoad September 15th, 2011 10:25 PM

    Woah, playing = kissing? I missed that.

  • kelsey September 15th, 2011 10:55 PM

    Yes! Yes! Okay! Roald Dahl still rules my world, I occasionally watch a clip from the Gene Kelly episode, and The Giving Tree was the first book I ever cried in. Happy birthday to the extra dads indeed. I love this magazine.

  • Rena September 15th, 2011 11:07 PM

    Ohhhh Roald Dahl. Easily the best/most influential English children’s book author of my childhood since before JKR. I realize this is an overly narrow superlative. Whatever. Love them all.

  • September 15th, 2011 11:12 PM

    Hi Tavi! Just when I was starting to think that I couldn’t like you any more than I already do – you go and write this! Now my heart’s starting to hurt :-) [seriously]

  • rayano-banano September 15th, 2011 11:50 PM

    I’m going to pretend that you’re saying Happy Birthday to me since mine’s on the 17th.

    Thanks Tavi! Wish we could spend it together playing Ouija in the woods or going to fashion week together!


  • necroticbird September 16th, 2011 12:00 AM

    Shel is the man! I checked out Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book from my university library last week (no shame). If you haven’t read it I suggest you do, it is incredibly morbid and totally Shel.

    Also, quaternary comes after tertiary.


  • juliette September 16th, 2011 12:06 AM

    I haven’t met a Generation Y-er or Z-er (or whatever the fuck we’re supposed to be) who doesn’t have a similar passion for Roald (.. I always did have difficulty pronouncing his name)
    I guess you’re right, in hindsight ‘The Witches’ is pretty damn weird, but man I loved that book. I’m afraid to re-read it in the off chance that it won’t live up to my nostalgic expectations!
    I was rather distressed upon reading one of his, what I then called “adult books”, mistakenly given to me by my grandparents. It crushed my 9 year soul to read ‘fucking’ in a book that I’d hoped to be about chocolate/foiled child masacres/a spider who lived in a massive peach

  • joenjwang September 16th, 2011 12:26 AM

    Tavi, you’ll have absolutely no problem writing your college essay. If only I could exude as much personality and quirkiness (and adorable cuteness!!) into my writing. Sigh. School suX (with a huge X).

    I love these people.
    I just love childhood. I’m going to have a picture book/ children’s book library when I grow up. ALL FOR ME. MINE!
    Also, my house will be a pseudo-greenhouse-planetarium-library-glass thing. It’ll be awesome.


  • Julia September 16th, 2011 11:25 AM

    I have the Roald Dahl cookbook as well! Me and my brother would try to make all these funny recipes with my mom… great memories… And Matilda was totally my favourite book when I was little! And Roald Dahl was my favourite writer. I remember being so captivated by The Witches that my teacher let me read it all day… awesome times :D

  • WitchesRave September 16th, 2011 12:17 PM

    I loved how roald dahl didn’t dumb down his books for kids, unlike alot of children book writers who think that children’s imaginations aren’t as complex and well, imaginative as they really are…

  • ReneeRevolution September 16th, 2011 2:36 PM

    Jim Henson will always hold a special place in my heart. He was so brilliant, and I will never stop loving the Muppets.

    I never knew his birthday was September 24th. I am going to a wedding that day. Is it inappropriate to dress as my favorite Muppet?

  • nico September 16th, 2011 4:40 PM

    When you grow up, “adult” issues force all the intricate details of childhood out of your mind. The importance in the arrangement of a teenage book shelf, the taste of a home made chocolate cake with rainbow star sprinkles, the curious and entrancing appearance of an eccentric stranger, the bumps of your tires matching a metronome beat along an unfamiliar city highway… all these overwhelming memories are so important to keep. And keeping them is almost impossible if the demands of life distract you.

  • rhymeswithorange September 17th, 2011 8:27 PM

    For my English class we have to do a presentation on the most important books we’ve ever read, and one of mine is going to be The Twits. It was the first time I remember reading something so fantastically creepy! And the end where they get the shrinks… ahhhh.