recess radio program

12/26/03
National Whiner's Day
    by Heather Tomasello

Today is National Whiner's Day -- sadly, often an all too appropriate name for the day after Christmas, when sometimes even the most thoughtful presents only seem to elicite groans of discontent. There's a long history in children's books of whiny characters. In the eighteenth century, for example, Maria Edgeworth's famous didactic tale, "The Purple Jar," told the story of Rosamund who pleads for, well, a purple jar. Her mother gives Rosamund the choice between the jar or a much-needed pair of new shoes and Rosamund goes for the jar, then whines when she has to suffer the consequences of her impulse buying.

Louisa May Alcott carried on this tradition in Little Women with Amy March's proclamation that she would simply die if she could not have a dozen pickled limes -- in those times a real delicacy and a financial stretch for the struggling Marches.

There are, of course, dozens of more recent characters from children's books that could be added to the whine-up -- like (a descriptive adjective here) Peter from Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, the obnoxious Veruka Salt in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Dr. Seuss's archetypal meglomaniac, Yertle the Turtle, who obsesses over the altitude of his own standing in the pond. And who could forget the King of Complaining himself, Judith Viorst's Alexander, who takes having a bad day to new heights?

Brief sound clip

"I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed I tripped on the skateboard and bymistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,"

Alexander's litany of complaints is an important outlet and a form of cathartic expression for children and can lead to some unexpectedly creative solutions -- like the one that happened to me on my first Whiner's Day. I was about eight years old and all I wanted for Christmas was a Cabbage Patch Doll. However, my five-year-old sister also wanted one and I knew that my Mother couldn't afford to buy two of the expensive dolls.

But Mom did manage to find a set of twin Cabbage Patch kids on sale. Their birth certificates introduced them as Amy and Adam...guess who got stuck with Adam? The day after Christmas I whined to my mother, I whined to my sister, and when they wouldn't listen, I whined to my dog. Finally my sister had a brilliant idea: "Let's paint your doll's face and pierce your doll's ears." I took that leap of the imagination with her, and we transformed Adam into Allison, and along the way we managed to cure my whining with the healing balm that, happily, most children possess -- a day of play.

Today's program featured the following work:

Copyright 2003 Heather Tomasello

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."