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“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild,

To pick up a book and read to a child.”
― Dr. Seuss

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation [image credit: makeagif] http://makeagif.com/t15aen

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [image credit: makeagif]

I have no idea how they tell that the holiday season has officially arrived in the UK. In the States, it comes in two clearly defined steps. Step One is the lead-up, which starts in July and consists of everyone bitching piously about how stores now seem to take down the bathing suits and swim toys and start decorating for Christmas and it’s not like when they were kids and the Holidays Meant Something. Step One finishes with Thanksgiving Day, the signal for American men to validate their testosterone by blanketing their entire house and yard with blinking lights and any decoration that lights up and (preferably) moves. (The one who uses the most electricity wins.)

That ushers in Step Two: Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, in which Santa arrives in every single Mall in America to terrorize small children. Parents—who would normally call the police if a paunchy, oddly-dressed old guy with a beard picked up their children and started offering them candy and presents—are urging the kids to smile at the camera. Yes, it’s the official harbinger of the season: the traditional heartwarming picture of children screaming in panic on Santa’s lap.

I remember the first time I attempted this yuletide assault. My daughter was almost a year old, and she had finally agreed to sit on Santa’s knee so she could get a closer look at the fluffy little balls of pompoms and jingle bells dangling invitingly from the end of his hat. She got a firm grip and began to pull.

One of Santa’s camera-toting Elfs started to scream. “She’s pulling Santa’s little balls off!” Santa had to go feed his reindeer immediately.

But Santa certainly got his revenge many times over. There was the turtle superhero accessory, “The Wacky Action Toilet Taxi” which boasted the detachable bowl blaster, toilet paper mud flaps, a (sanitized) sewer toilet seat, an emergency flush switch, and a siren that could wake people who’d been dead a week. Although the Taxi’s life was brief (thanks to a stealth mercy-killing by my husband armed with needle-nose pliers), it was by no means the worst toy “Santa” and his helpers [cough-grandparents-cough] inflicted.

There were dolls whose main functions seemed to be to convince their little owners to become serial baby killers. For example (and I’m NOT making this up) we were gifted with Baby Uh-Oh, whose PR said something like “Give baby a drink and uh-oh! After you feed her, she wets her diaper and a diaper rash appears!” Or poor little failure-to-thrive Baby Shivers—”Your love will keep her warm!”. Or Baby Tiny Tears—”She cries real tears when you squeeze her little hand.”

Then there was the Doll from Hell, a chilling reminder of the danger of letting microchip technology fall into the wrong hands. She screamed in a voice so obnoxious that nearby alley cats were phoning in nuisance reports. The screeching could only be stopped by stuffing her pacifier down her throat, an educational touch designed to prepare the doll’s owners for future parenthood or perhaps a career as a porn star.

But Santa did redeem himself. For all the nightmare toys he dropped off at our house, he also brought peace offerings in the form of children’s books, both those read aloud and those they read themselves as time went on. Favorite lines from some of them entered our everyday lives and became part of our family language. And the one that had the greatest staying power was “Beats me, Claude.”

When I was visiting my daughter recently following the birth of UMAG (Universe’s Most Adorable Grandbaby), I noticed that her wifi network was named “Beats Me Claude“. I asked my daughters what they remembered about the book, and they recited together,

“Any reason why you can’t make a regular bubbly, spicy, oozy apple pie like other folks?” Claude asked.
Shirley shrugged. “Beats me, Claude,” she said.

So this week I put that phrase into Amazon for a search. And there they were, the covers for the utterly charming series written by Joan Lowery Nixon and perfectly illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson. 

Now I know that the #FridayFive challenge is about choosing a book by its cover. And I promise that these wonderful covers choose me. They reminded me of the joy of reading to a special child, made even more wonderful when the stories are honestly funny and quirky and packed with terrific dialog and laugh-out-loud humor.

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Rosie Amber’s Friday Five challenge is to take ONLY FIVE MINUTES to browse an unfamiliar category and select a book based solely on the cover art.

Book blurb

1989749“Any reason why you can’t make a regular bubbly, spicy, oozy apple pie like other folks?” Claude asked.

Shirley shrugged. “Beats me, Claude,” she said.

Here’s a tale of rollicking fun about Shirley and Claude, the daring Texas twosome. Shirley just can’t satisfy Claude’s hankering for an oozy, bubbly apple pie. In fact, her pies are not fit for eatin’—though they come in handy for fending off a few stray robbers and con men.



  • Book Title: Beats Me, Claude
  • Author: by Joan Lowery Nixon, Pictures by Tracey Campbell Pearson
  • Genre: Childrens
  • Publisher:Puffin (September 1, 1988)
  • Price: Out of print (but I got a “very good” library-bound hardcover for under $3.00, and the rest of the series at similar prices)
  • Reviews: 
  • Pages: 32

My Analysis: These books tell the tale of Shirley, “who’s not gonna be like everyone else”. Shirley is independent and fully capable of fending for herself, as she demonstrates when she decides to head out west and look for gold instead of marrying the man her parents chose. Tall, thin, brave Shirley meets short, fat, shy Claude and they realize (eventually) that they belong together. In each of the books, there is a line that repeats (“Fat chance, Claude” or “Beats me, Claude”), as Shirley continues to save the day in her own peculiarly independent way.

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Before her death in in 2003 at the age of 76, writer Joan Lowrey Nixon was the best-selling author of over 140 books, many for YA and children. That expertise shows in her steady hand for telling just enough to blend story action with Tracey Campbell Pearson’s wonderful illustrations.

The Shirley and Claude series are perfect bedtime reading for younger children, and entertaining books for readers who are almost ready for “chapter” books. Shirley’s competence and bravery make her a terrific role model. Her adventures and her teasing but loving relationship with Claude allowed her story to appeal to all my children, while the jokes and Texas dialog made it a fun read for us parents as well. And the illustrations are not only perfectly in sync with the story, but there are little wordless touches, such as the adorable armadillo who is busy with some armadillo task on each page. 

BUY or PASS: When I first started looking for this series for the UMAG (who might need a few years before she’s ready), I was referred to rare book dealers whose copies were selling for hundreds of dollars. Then I discovered that I could buy hardbound, mostly former library copies, for pennies. So it’s a BUY for me. I’ve pulled together the series, and it’s waiting to charm another generation. Will she like it as much? Beats me, Claude.

An unexpected treat! Beats Me Claude arrived with its library card still attached—showing it's last reader checked it out over ten years ago.

An unexpected treat! Beats Me Claude arrived with library card still attached—showing its last reader checked it out over ten years ago.

Here is Rosie’s Friday Five Challenge. It only took five minutes and a couple more to write up, and was a ton of fun. I hope you’ll consider joining in. All Rosie asks is that you link back to her original post here so we can all join in viewing your challenge results.

AUTHORS – You often only have seconds to get a reader to buy your book, is your book cover and book bio up to it?

Rosie Amber's Friday Five Challenge. Get yourself a cuppa and give yourself 5 minutes.

Rosie Amber’s Friday Five Challenge. Get yourself a cuppa and give yourself 5 minutes.

My Friday Five Challenge is this….. IN ONLY FIVE MINUTES….

  1. Go to any online book supplier,
  2. Randomly choose a category,
  3. Speed through the book covers, choose one which has instantly appealed to your eye,
  4. Read the book Bio/ Description for this book, and any other details.
  5. If there are reviews, check out a couple,
  6. Make an instant decision, would you BUY or PASS?
  7. I’ll be back next week with another Friday Five Challenge, do feel free to join in.