October 14, 2021

(++++) NOWHERE NEAR THE END

The Last Kids on Earth: June’s Wild Flight. By Max Brallier. Illustrated by Douglas Holgate. Viking. $13.99.

The Last Kids on Earth No. 6: The Last Kids on Earth and the Skeleton Road. By Max Brallier. Illustrated by Douglas Holgate. Viking. $13.99.

The Last Kids on Earth: Thrilling Tales from the Tree House. By Max Brallier. Illustrated by Douglas Holgate, Lorena Alvarez Gómez, Xavier Bonet, Jay Cooper, Christopher Mitten, and Anoosha Syed. Viking. $13.99.

The Last Kids on Earth No. 7: The Last Kids on Earth and the Doomsday Race. By Max Brallier. Illustrated by Douglas Holgate. Viking. $14.99.

     The release of the seventh main-sequence novel of the enormously successful Max Brallier/Douglas Holgate series, The Last Kids on Earth, is as good a time as any to take an overview of the sequence and observe how it has evolved through the years, how it has stayed the same, and whether it deserves its continuing popularity. In fact, it has changed very little since the first book, simply titled The Last Kids on Earth, came out in 2015 – but there have been some alterations and modifications in the end-of-world-action-adventure formula, and those have cemented the continuing popularity of the series while making it a tad more diffuse than it really needs to be.

     Both Pandemic Year 1 (2020) and Pandemic Year 2 (2021) have brought the arrival of not one but two entries in the sequence, one in the “main line” of the story and one with a lesser connection – although not quite constituting a “spinoff.” Given the somewhat apocalyptic nature of the entire experience of living through COVID-19 lockdowns, not to mention deaths and widespread severe-but-not-fatal illnesses, The Last Kids on Earth seems, if not prescient, certainly a series for our time. But that is not quite what Brallier and Holgate intend it to be. The very first book was the most serious, making it seem as if the four protagonists really were the last kids on Earth after a terrifying, zombie-producing “end of the world as we know it” scenario. The series initially focused on the budding relationships among Jack Sullivan, Quint Baker, June Del Toro, and Dirk Savage, the whole starting as an end-of-the-world dystopia, with monsters taking over everything and four preteens/young teenagers being the only survivors and needing to find a way to fight off the zombies that had appeared everywhere – after first developing ways to overcome their personal differences and unite into a cohesive zombie-fighting unit and a real post-apocalyptic team. The series also started, and has continued, with Holgate’s usually bizarre and often clever illustrations, which have been a highlight of the books all along. Not content to leave well enough alone, though, Brallier started widening the series’ scope: it turned out that the last kids on Earth were not the last kids on Earth, and it turned out that even though Earth was now overrun by zombies and other monsters, there were also good monsters out there, ones that just happened to get together with the four not-really-last kids to help them out. The series remained enjoyable (and commercially successful) even when the fourth book, The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond, turned into a grotesque Christmas-y thing.

     However, the fifth book, The Last Kids on Earth and the Midnight Blade, got back to the teamwork-in-a-cartoonish-video-game-apocalypse approach that lies at the heart of the sequence, and the sixth and seventh main-sequence books have continued in much the same vein. Not completely the same vein, though, because Brallier has now extended the series with a couple of more-or-less standalone books. And The Last Kids on Earth now has a “meta” component, with the kids seeming to have become aware that they are being chronicled. Thus, June’s Wild Flight happens after the fifth book, and it starts with June and other characters addressing the reader directly. Then, on the title page, the four protagonists are hanging out together and Dirk is saying, “Hey, waitaminnit. June gets her own book before us? What gives?” And then, when one of the usual video-game-style monster battles results in June being separated from the group, Holgate contributes a marvelous illustration of June dancing for joy, her feet going “tip tappity tip tip tap” while she exclaims, “June adventure, June adventure, time for a June Solo Adventure!” In other words, the whole zombie apocalypse thing has now faded into the background of the series, and the characters are in no danger of being seriously harmed (no matter how many times they say they are worried about that): these are out-and-out romps that just happen to occur within a vast wasteland of ruined towns and with the encroachment of extra-dimensional monsters and assorted zombies (which, by the way, do not try to destroy the protagonists anymore and are not even evil).

     June’s Wild Flight increases the cuteness quotient of The Last Kids on Earth – another thing that has been rising significantly as matters progress. Accompanying June on her adventure is tiny monster Globlet, who is absolutely adorable; an owl-like, overdressed monster who calls himself Johnny Steve to affirm his affinity with humans, about whom he knows everything, which turns out to mean “nothing, but his mistakes are funny”; and a wingless baby Wretch that June rescues and of whom she becomes enormously fond even though winged adult Wretches are horrible, evil, rotten, destructive, vicious, etc. These characters appear/reappear in the main sequence, so June’s Wild Flight is sort of a standalone book, but sort of not one. Brallier is trying to have things both ways – pretty successfully, too.

     Back in the main, numbered books, the protagonists continue their quest for information about the ultimate trans-dimensional baddie who isn’t quite powerful enough to get through a portal to Earth but has on-Earth allies, monstrous and human, trying to nudge things just enough to bring him aboard so he can, you know, destroy everything. In The Last Kids on Earth and the Skeleton Road, this leads to Quint’s wholly appropriate encapsulation of the story to date: “More middle-school kids should take epic road trips across monster-filled apocalyptic landscapes of doom.” Also here are the usual weird-looking sources of important information: “The dude behind the counter always has the answers,” Jack says, accurately. And then there is the discovery of another adorable tiny monster: Drooler, who produces slime that will be a crucial weapon in battles to come, and whom Dirk promises to care for and cuddle and protect forever – except that in The Last Kids on Earth and the Doomsday Race, he cannot do any of those things, because the reappearance of one of the major evil characters and his (its?) human accomplice gets in the way and forces Jack to run for mayor of a monster-sized, monster-filled megamall carried on the back of a monster-sized sort-of-mollusk dubbed (what else?) the Mega Mallusk. Yes, a mayoral election in which most voters are monsters is the central theme of the seventh book, and that is utterly ridiculous – but no more so than the increasingly outré events of the books and Holgate’s increasing outré visual portrayals of them.

     The importance of Holgate to The Last Kids on Earth cannot be overstated. Although not actually graphic novels – they are extremely heavily illustrated regular novels aimed at a preteen audience – the books have always had a strong graphic-novel flavor, with the illustrations being integral to the storylines rather than simply illustrative of characters and events. Just how significant Holgate is in this sequence is shown in Thrilling Tales from the Tree House, a 2021 standalone book quite different from the 2020 standalone featuring June. Thrilling Tales from the Tree House really is a graphic novel, and its framing tale is indicative of where this series now finds itself: series characters tell six amusing stories among themselves for the privilege of fighting a huge monster that has shown up at the tree house. Yes, the protagonists (and their friends) tell funny stories to decide who will have the privilege of a solo battle against a terrifying monster that has trapped everyone – thereby confirming, if confirmation were needed, that none of the monster-battling in these books is really to be taken seriously anymore. To accentuate the different storytelling styles of the characters, the graphic-novel sequences here are drawn by people other than Holgate – and while most of the art is good enough (and some is better than that), the illustrations serve mainly to show how much more thoroughly immersed in these books Holgate is when compared to anyone else. Indeed, there really is no comparison: without Holgate, Brallier’s increasingly diffuse storytelling would not hold together nearly as well as it does.

     The proof of this lies in a graphic novel in Thrilling Tales from the Tree House that is illustrated by Holgate, and that features Evie Snark (human evildoer) and Ghazt the General (monstrous extra-dimensional evildoer) explaining “pertinent events between books four and seven.” Absurd, unnecessary and genuinely interesting, this 56-page “stories behind the stories” bit is by far the best thing in Thrilling Tales from the Tree House and, really, the only reason to have the book – other than to be able to brag about having all the books in this series, including the ones that are not exactly in this series. Brallier and Holgate will have to end The Last Kids on Earth sometime – it can only be expanded and drawn out so far – but as of now, both the main sequence and the ancillary books continue to show the inventiveness, video-game-like pacing and underlying silliness whose uneasy mixture is what keeps all the characters and events in the books as engaging and enjoyable as they are ridiculous and unbelievable. Formulaic? Well, yes, but as of now, the formula is a mighty successful one.

(++++) OLD-STYLE DAILY FUN

Calendars (page-a-day for 2022): Medical Cartoon-a-Day; Teacher Cartoon-a-Day. Andrews McMeel. $15.99 each.

     We live, it seems, in a singularly humorless age. Humor requires incongruity, weird juxtapositions, exaggeration, deviation from a shared sense of normality. But in the current ugly, constricted, straitjacketed “woke” world, where hordes of the ignorant and vicious hover in anticipation of destroying any vestige of amusement that might conceivably offend someone or something (or might have done so many decades in the past), it is distinctly difficult to offer anything that might be funny to a mass audience – because a tiny minority, emboldened by the Internet and delighted with societal schisms, stands ready to shred not only the (allegedly) amusing material but also the (allegedly) well-meaning creators of it.

     One way to cope with a life of drab, ugly, permanent seriousness and unending outrage is to perk things up with distinctly old-fashioned  cartoons that, while scarcely groundbreaking (and in fact basically “retro” in both style and substance), can at least bring a smile to get the daily drudgery started. Two calendars featuring single-panel drawings by Jonny Hawkins fit this particular bill very well. Focusing on two specific areas of life, they use distinctly old-fashioned art of a type that used to be common in magazines (when magazines were common!) and very mild punchlines that are sometimes punny, sometimes wry, often simply silly, and not likely at risk of offending the ever-present guardians of enforced unamusing conformity.

     Medical Cartoon-a-Day and Teacher Cartoon-a-Day have been around for years, the first labeled “a daily dose of humor” and the second “a daily lesson in humor.” The covers of the boxes in which the 2022 versions are packaged neatly encapsulate all the pages inside – one page per weekday and one for each weekend. The Medical calendar has a doctor (the initials “MD” appear on a wall plaque) telling a bird that is sitting on an exam table that it has “gull stones.” The Teacher offering shows an old-style, book-filled school library (the word “Library” is on the open door) in which an obviously befuddled student is sitting, surrounded by papers, as the librarian asks, “Who keeps putting the math books in the horror section?” It is highly unlikely that anyone could possibly take offense at the Medical cartoon, although there is probably someone out there ready to object, vociferously and probably profanely, to the Teacher cartoon for “denigrating” an all-important STEM subject. Luckily, unless you have one such inquisitor observing each daily page turn of the calendar, you can probably enjoy Hawkins’ mild humor without endangering your reputation or career.

     The Hawkins cartoons both look and sound retro, and that is a big part of their simple charm. They are neither great art nor great jokes, but they offer uncomplicated smiles and a daily dose of amusement that will be more than welcome throughout 2022. The Medical calendar actually has a page on which a doctor is telling a patient, “A person who spreads optimism is contagious” – about as old-fashioned a notion as you are likely to see anywhere. Other cartoons have no messages beyond fun. One shows a corridor with a Mayo Clinic sign and a box on the wall labeled “in case of emergency break glass” – inside the box is a jar of Miracle Whip. Another has a practitioner telling a patient, “Four out of five doctors recommend you stay far away from the one dissenting doctor.” One has a doctor telling a patient, “We don’t need a full MRI – just a kitten scan,” which is amusing for anyone who knows about CAT scans. One has an assistant in a burn ward telling the physician, “Jack B. Nimble is here again, Doctor” – a nursery-rhyme reminder. On very rare occasions, Hawkins goes beyond old-style humor and easy jokes here, creating something genuinely touching, as in a panel showing a little boy, a tear on his face, saying to a woman with a tear on hers, “Thanks for walking Grandma to heaven” – the woman’s briefcase bears the word “Hospice.” That is far more thoughtful and sensitive than most of the once-over-lightly cartoons in the Medical calendar, and all the more moving because it represents such a big change of pace.

     The Teacher calendar has nothing that instructive, but Hawkins is more inclined to be mildly satirical here, as in a panel showing a disheveled man asking for money by telling a well-dressed passerby, “Do you remember me? I was your economics tutor.” And there are a few attempts to take a serious topic and lighten it a bit, as in a panel showing a man, Sisyphus-like, rolling a huge stone uphill, explaining, “I chose this instead of having to pay off massive student debts.” There is also an occasional panel showing awareness of the world in which today’s educators operate, such as the cartoon in which the principal asks the guidance counselor, “How many of them say they want to be social media stars?” More often, though, what holds sway here is mild humor and mild puns, as in a scene outside a church where one person says to another, “The Reverend used to be a geometry teacher. That’s why he goes off on so many tangents.” Nothing in Hawkins’ Medical and Teacher calendars produces an old-fashioned guffaw, but many of the panels produce an old-fashioned smile and a sense that there remains a place for mild amusement in a world that often seems so intensely opposed to the notion that someone, somewhere, might be having fun.

(++++) ELEGANCE ON A SMALL SCALE

Bach: Orchestral Suites Nos. 1-4. Concerto Copenhagen conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortensen. CPO. $16.99.

Classical String Trios, Volume 3—Music by Giovanni Battista Sammartini, Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen, John Antes, Francesco Zannetti, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, Leopold Hofmann, and Paul Wranitzky. The Vivaldi Project (Elizabeth Field, violin; Allison Edberg Nyquist, violin and viola; Stephanie Vial, cello). MSR Classics. $14.95.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Chamber Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4. East-West Chamber Orchestra conducted by Rostislav Krimer. Naxos. $11.99.

     If the 19th century was the age of gigantism in music, the late 20th and 21st are times for a refocus on the small – rediscovery of the power of communication through reduced ensemble size. In some cases, all that has been necessary is to return to the original approach of composers, often with remarkable results. That is what a new CPO recording of Bach’s orchestral suites (which Bach himself called overtures) does to exceptionally fine effect. Lars Ulrik Mortensen plays the harpsichord on this disc and also leads Concerto Copenhagen – an ensemble of a mere 11 players, including Mortensen himself. But there is nothing “mere” about their handling of this music. Their approach goes well beyond their use of period instruments and carefully studied historical performance practices. It involves a return to Bach’s original conception of the suites, which means playing them without the familiar trumpets and timpani that have long underlined these works’ ceremonial, festive character. Mortensen and Concerto Copenhagen proceed on the basis of recent scholarship indicating that the suites, long thought to have been composed in the 1730s, were in fact only modified at that time – with their more celebratory instruments added – but were written decades earlier and in a plainer style, for much more modest performing forces. The back-and-forth arguments about provenance are the stuff of musical scholars’ lives, but what will matter to listeners is how the suites sound when performed in accordance with this particular scholarly analysis. And they sound very fine indeed – having a surprisingly impressive effect in this reduced/authentic instrumentation, with the crucial contrapuntal material coming through with exceptional clarity and the balance among the instruments carefully calculated and executed with thoroughly engaging precision. Using so small an ensemble for this music requires handling the pieces as, essentially, chamber music, which means all the performers are equally audible and all contribute noticeably to the overall effect – the give-and-take here is different from that in later chamber music, but the suites in this version do have a flavor of intimacy and close interpersonal (and inter-instrumental) communication that is altogether suitable. With their unerring feeling for pacing and their unobtrusive excellence in period performance, these musicians transport listeners back to the sound and effects of Bach’s own time – while offering a salutary contrast to the grander approach that is more often heard in this music. This CD makes that more-common approach seem, if not actually bloated, a touch overdone and unsubtle by comparison with this one.

     Subtlety and unaffected beauty are the watchwords for all the small-scale pieces being explored by the members of the Vivaldi Project in their first-rate series of recordings of classical string trios. To be precise, these are capital-C Classical pieces – pieces of the Classical era – mixed with some from the late Baroque, or at least with a strong Baroque flavor. Elizabeth Field, Allison Edberg Nyquist and Stephanie Vial know that there are many, many of these, even though the string-trio form has been far less explored than that of the same time period’s string quartets. It is easy, in some ways, to see why: these trios are largely unchallenging pieces both to play and to hear, having often been written for performance by amateur court musicians and heard in intimate settings as the equivalent of 18th-century background music. But that does not in any way diminish the appeal of the works or the skill with which the mostly little-known composers of the time created them. The Vivaldi Project’s third MSR Classics release in this series offers seven pieces by composers mostly known to scholars and aficionados of 18th-century music – and in some cases likely unknown even to them. Like Concerto Copenhagen, the Vivaldi Project is a period-instrument group, and Field, Nyquist and Vial are so well-versed in the style of the period they are exploring here that their performances flow with natural ease that fits these works perfectly. The pieces themselves are not particularly consequential – none strives to be more than a pleasantry – but the charm they all possess is so well extracted and reproduced by the performers that the CD is a delightful listening experience from start to finish. And even though the works here date from more-or-less the same time period – roughly mid-1750s to early 1790s – they do show differences in construction and handling of the instruments. Four of the pieces are in two movements, two are in four, and one is in three – and that one, a trio by John Antes (1740-1811), is the only minor-key offering on the CD. There is nothing emotionally trenchant in this D minor work, however, and not even anything particularly melancholy – the piece, for two violins and cello, is interesting mostly for being one of the earliest known chamber works by an American composer (Antes was born in Pennsylvania). Two of the two-movement pieces, a sonata by Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen (1745-1818) and a Trio Concertant by Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812), are also for two violins and cello. Of the other two-movement works, a sonata by Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700-1775) is for two violins with harpsichord or cello, and a trio by Francesco Zannetti (1737-1788) is for violin, viola and cello. As for the four-movement pieces, the interestingly labeled Trio ô Divertimento by Leopold Hofmann (1738-1793) is for first violin or flute, plus second violin and cello, while the Trio Concertant by Paul Wranitzky (1756-1808) is for violin, viola and cello. There is a good deal of intriguing history associated with some of these minor composers: Sirmen was unusual both for being a female composer and for being a well-known singer and violinist; Hoffmeister was primarily a publisher and a close friend of Mozart (whose String Quartet No. 20, K. 499, is the “Hoffmeister”); and Wranitzky’s singspiel Oberon was an inspiration for Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Knowing some of these historical tidbits adds to the pleasure of hearing these composers’ music, but there is enjoyment aplenty to be had here simply by sitting back and letting these small gems sparkle in the presentation by the members of the Vivaldi Project.

     Much-more-recent composers also knew that less can be more when it comes to the effective communication of musical thoughts and feelings. Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996), whose thinking was distinctly symphonic, had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with instrumental size in his works: he wrote 26 symphonies and 17 string quartets, but at times seemed to find the traditional symphony orchestra somewhat more than he wanted – his Symphonies Nos. 2, 7 and 10 are for strings only. And toward the end of his life, Weinberg stopped producing out-and-out symphonies and instead created four chamber symphonies (two in 1987 and one each in 1991 and 1992) – and the first three of them are in turn based on some of his string quartets, the very first chamber symphony being an outright quartet transcription. This rather complex back-and-forth of ensemble size and communicative prowess makes the new Naxos recording of Chamber Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4 all the more intriguing. The East-West Chamber Orchestra, which has fewer than 20 players, has already released (also on Naxos) Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3, and it is clear that Rostislav Krimer has a deep understanding and appreciation of this music, which the ensemble plays idiomatically and with a well-balanced mixture of intensity and relaxation. Weinberg’s ambivalence about effective ensemble size for his musical thoughts shows in the creative way he structures the two chamber symphonies heard on the new CD. No. 2 includes a timpani with the strings, with the timpani especially important at the work’s start (where it urges the Allegro molto music onward) and conclusion (where it has the work’s last word). Chamber Symphony No. 2 revisits a 1944 string quartet but rearranges it significantly: the quartet’s second movement, for example, becomes the symphony’s finale. This chamber symphony is a three-movement work filled with tension and a kind of sternness of expression. It is a rather dour piece that communicates an overall sense of desolation, if not quite despair. Chamber Symphony No. 4 is different in almost every way. It is in four movements played continuously, and six of its seven tempo indications are slow: aside from a partial-movement Allegro molto, the markings are Lento, Moderato, Adagio, Meno mosso, Andantino, and Doppio più lento (Adagissimo) – the last being a highly unusual way to end a work. This chamber symphony calls for clarinet and triangle as well as strings, but while the clarinet (played here by Igor Fedorov) has a significant contribution to make, the triangle is used only in the final movement and is heard just four times. All this is testimony to the care with which Weinberg tried to use a small ensemble to color his musical thoughts and present them with clarity. Like much of Weinberg’s music, this piece is somber and has a plaintive air about it, and its final pizzicato chords (with a single triangle note) share some of the resignation of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique. Chamber Symphony No. 4 was Weinberg’s last completed work, indicating that at the end of his compositional life, he was thinking – as did many earlier composers – that big ideas can sometimes be best communicated by the careful use of small musical ensembles.

October 07, 2021

(++++) THREE ROUTES TO A NEW YEAR

Calendars (wall for 2022): Posh 17-Month. Andrews McMeel. $15.99.

Calendars (desk for 2022): Get It Together! with Sarah’s Scribbles. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

Calendars (page-a-day for 2022): Seas the Day. Andrews McMeel. $15.99.

     One of the nice things about printed calendars, as opposed to the electronic type, is that the ink-on-paper ones provide all sorts of expressive potential: they are personalized in a way that bits, bytes, emojis and GIFs are not. Another nice thing is the way the many first-rate calendars available from major publishers such as Andrews McMeel let you track your life in multiple formats, each of which can express a different element of your interests and personality. For example, the Posh 17-Month wall calendar really does have a posh look about it; and since it includes pages from August 2021 through December 2022, it can be used immediately, as in right now, as an anodyne to help relieve the pain of realizing that 2021 – which everyone hoped would be far, far better than the ultra-miserable 2020 – has not turned out to be nearly as big an improvement as we all wished. But this attractive, uncluttered, pleasantly illustrated and especially well-colored wall calendar provides an instant “cheer up!” message when hung, and the continuity of design through the 17 months offers hope that the rest of 2021 will be an improvement on the months to date – and that that improvement will continue into and all through 2022. The designs of individual months here are essentially floral: flowers and leaves of all types are shown in differing color palettes for each month, presented in such a way that each day of the month is open and uncluttered for the jotting down of notes, plans, appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, and random thoughts of all sorts. The layout is on the elegant side – the word “posh” really does make sense for this offering – and the spiral hanger, much stronger than the usual single punched hole in wall calendars, gives an added sense of the upscale. The calendar measures 14 inches across and only 10 inches from top to bottom – a size that makes it easy to see and use without having it become intrusive. Posh indeed!

     Decidedly less elegant, more puckish than posh, the desktop planner by Sarah Andersen, Get It Together! with Sarah’s Scribbles, speaks to altogether different feelings – and complements the more-stately Posh 17-Month wall calendar quite well for anyone whose moods swing a bit (which is not to call them actual “mood swings”). One of the most impressive things about Sarah’s Scribbles is how well it reaches out beyond its ostensible purpose of chronicling (with a wry eye) the everyday life of a 21st-century twentysomething woman (Andersen in cartoon form). This is partly because of cartoon Sarah’s almost-obligatory-in-comics animals (rabbit, cat, dog) but mostly because huge-eyed Sarah’s quotidian adventures reach across generations: small drawings atop pages show her beneath a transparent umbrella, next to a human-size avocado, dancing with a gingerbread man, beneath the bubbles of a bath, building a sand castle, and so on. At times, Andersen addresses generational issues directly, as in a four-panel strip of “intergenerational sparring” between Boomers and Millennials, at the end of which she shows “Gen Z Ascending.” At other times – and more frequently – Sarah’s Scribbles goes beyond its supposed limits because it focuses on things that people of many ages have in common (yes, such things exist!). One strip amusingly gives “Habits of the Common Bookworm,” such as “mispronouncing words because you’ve only ever read them.” Another shows Sarah’s cat interrupting her work with demands of “pet me pet me pet me pet me pet me,” and when Sarah finally says, “Okay, fine,” the cat replies, “I changed my mind.” Another, based on the story of the princess and the pea, has Sarah lying atop a stack of mattresses labeled denial – unable to sleep because, at the very bottom of the pile, there is a small round object labeled truth. Like the Posh 17-Month wall calendar, Get It Together! with Sarah’s Scribbles for 2022 is actually usable immediately: it contains 16 months of weekly planning space (each week gets columns labeled “appointments/misc.,” “stuff to do,” and “my social life”). Spiral-bound so it stays neat and flat on a desk or table, with a handy pocket on the inside back cover for storing receipts or other scraps of paper, it comes with a bonus page of self-adhesive stickers that neatly encapsulate some of the Sarah’s Scribbles themes. One, for example, shows two side-by-side doors labeled “work” and “sin,” and two others are simply the word “deadline!” inside spiky-looking frames. Those work for anyone, of any generation.

     Day-to-day calendars, on the other hand – the ones in which a page represents a single day (or two weekend days), to be torn off to reveal the next page – are strictly for the 12 months of the year for which they are intended, and are geared more to momentary amusement or quick communication of some sort than to jotting down thoughts and ideas or planning events. The nice thing about the more-evanescent nature of these calendars’ daily displays is that if you like the overall concept, there is a new variation on it on every page. Thus, while each Sarah’s Scribbles strip (four panels on most pages) remains visible for a week, each Seas the Day page is there for just one day (or one weekend). Given the fact that Seas the Day includes a full year of puns – many of them of the “groaner” variety – a day or two for a page will probably be plenty, no matter how much you enjoy the wordplay. The calendar’s title, in fact, goes with a cartoon of a smiling octopus whose eight tentacles are apparently about to, well, seize the day. Elsewhere here you will find a drawing of four female sheep above the words “ewe are so loved,” and a smiling fruit saying “you’ve got a peach of my heart,” and a bowl of Vietnamese soup with the words, “I love you phoever.” Then there are the fungi that go with the words, “I have so mushroom in my heart for you,” and the rabbit for Easter (“some bunny loves you”), and the lettuce leaves admonishing, “romaine calm!” It is true that a little of this punniness goes a long way, but that is exactly the point: there is only a little – a single example – on each page, so if one offering is a bit much, a new one will be along quite soon…and if one seems particularly enjoyable, it is easy to keep the page after tearing it off, maybe tucking it into the back-cover pocket of the Sarah’s Scribbles desktop planner. If you are trying to decide what to make of everything in Seas the Day, have no fear: one page features an appropriate piece of pasta and the words, “a penne for your thoughts?” It is certainly worth thinking about the many different forms that physical calendars can take and the many different uses to which they can be put. Think about all the options and you may very well find, along with the cartoon of a dock in Seas the Day, calendars to which you will want to say, “you’re pierfect.”