How to Die of Embarrassment Every Day

How to Die of Embarrassment Every Day

4.3 3
by Ann Hodgman

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Ann Hodgman is a funny lady. In this book, she explains how she got that way. But the book only goes up through sixth grade. After that, her life became so embarrassing that writing it down would have caused the pages to burst into flames.


Ann Hodgman is a funny lady. In this book, she explains how she got that way. But the book only goes up through sixth grade. After that, her life became so embarrassing that writing it down would have caused the pages to burst into flames.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Filled with 1960s and '70s nostalgia and acerbic humor, Hodgman's (The House of a Million Pets) anecdotal, free-association autobiography laces tales of her early childhood in Rochester, N.Y., with references to her adult years and parenting her own children. She reminisces about family, playmates, and school, as well as her various likes (reading ranks high on the list, and a lively chapter covers her girlhood affinity for miniature cameras, SuperBalls, and Band-Aids) and dislikes. Even though the target audience won't necessarily recognize references to Mighty Mouse or The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Hodgman's longings, insecurities, and passions are universal, from her timidity regarding parties ("I suddenly discovered that I was the type of slumber-party guest who says, ‘Come on, guys. Isn't it time we got some shut-eye?' ") to dreaded elementary-school gym classes and the naming of beloved toys ("Leprosy... is a disease, but I didn't know that"). And while some middle-graders may find that Hodgman too often veers into minutiae, the book's strength lies in her blistering sense of humor and her refusal to talk down to readers. Ages 8–12. (May)
From the Publisher

“Her witty prose has the right balance of nostalgia and self-deprecation.” —School Library Journal

“In these light and funny pages, grownup Ann looks back with unmerciful self-deprecation on herself as she was in the early 1960s, and the result is a book that children ages 8-14 can enjoy as a kind of genial historical artifact and that their parents can read with affectionate winces at the quirks and obsessions of long-ago childhood.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Hodgman's longings, insecurities, and passions are universal…the book's strength lies in her blistering sense of humor and her refusal to talk down to readers.” —Publishers Weekly

“Rueful, funny and nostalgic…” —Kirkus Reviews

Children's Literature - Nancy Garhan Attebury
Billed as a "true story" this book is prefaced with a few pages about how it is not a regular book. That in itself is enticing for readers, as is the idea that youngsters can relate to being embarrassed since it is a big deal to them. In this book, the author weaves words into various episodes from her life in the 1950s as she offers kids a good grasp of what life was like during that period. Intrigue occurs when she talks about her family background as well as when she describes an incident in which she shoplifted from a local store. Vignettes about simple day to day events are made interesting by the accompaniment of black and white 50s photos of the author. Even the episode titles draw in the reader. Kids will like titles such as "My Animals—Live, Dead, and Stuffed" and "Do You Like Me Yet?" Some simple topics include those about underpants, band-aids, a miniature camera, and a geode. This easy-to-read book can be read in bits and pieces or as a whole. It makes a good supplement to history and family tree lessons and would make a good read when a group of friends get together. Reviewer: Nancy Garhan Attebury
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Hodgman has written a humorous memoir of her childhood up to the sixth grade. The book is a collection of "life stories" that vary in length, and, as she states, the chapters need not be read in sequence. Her witty prose has the right balance of nostalgia and self-deprecation. Whether she is describing the time she first heard her kindergarten teacher read "Hansel and Gretel" and hid in the coat closet, or she is blaming the demise of a plastic kiddie pool on a two-and-a-half-year-old neighbor, her text transports readers right to the scene. Photos of the author and her family, plus other illustrations, appear throughout. As delightful as the memoir is, however, it may resonate much more with the intended audience's parents (and grandparents). Hodgman seems to acknowledge this when she says, "Yes, I realize 1956 sounds like a fake year to you, but being born in the 1990s and 2000s sounds fake to me."—Elaine Baran Black, Georgia Public Library Service, Atlanta
Kirkus Reviews
Hodgman looks back humorously at her 1960s childhood in the Rochester, N.Y., area, recalling incidents that pained her at the time or seem embarrassing in retrospect. There was the way she bragged about her reading before she knew better, the fourth-grade nickname (Hampton Schnoz) bestowed by a classmate she'd asked about her appearance and the total lack of athletic ability that left her at the bottom of the climbing ropes. She includes poems from her "bird sequence," written in third grade.Not all events are mortifying. Some just reflect what it was like to be young at the time. There is the longed-for Petunia the Climbing Skunk from F.A.O. Schwartz that she didn't get for Christmas, a lovely description of birthday-party entertainments that includes Spiderweb and the Kim Game and the scary school-bus driver who threatened his misbehaving passengers with a rifle. Some anecdotes are very short; others go on for several pages. Occasional photographs of herself and her husband, as well as both their families back to their grandparents, will help readers picture these children from long ago. There is no hint of the larger political turmoil of the time. Rueful, funny and nostalgic, this will ring true to parents and grandparents and may be even more appealing to them than to a child readership—whose impression of the 1960s will be very different.(Memoir. 9-12)

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

How to Die of Embarrassment Everyday

By Ann Hodgman

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2011 Ann Hodgman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6433-3


Where It All Started

When I used to read aloud to my children, Laura and John, I sometimes had to warn them that the first part of a book might be boring. It's a lot of work setting up a story. You have to bring in most of the major characters and describe where the book is set and talk about anything else the readers have to know before you start the action. So it's fine with me if you go ahead and skip the next few pages; I give you absolute permission.

Because I'm sure you don't care about background things like where I grew up, and why should you? But it was in Rochester, New York. My dad was studying to be a doctor at the University of Rochester, and he and my mother and my little sister Cathy and I lived near the hospital. The apartment complex where we lived until I was six was called University Park. All the dads were studying at the University of Rochester; all the mothers were moms. If there were any graduate-student mothers, we never knew them. Most of the moms were either pregnant or had a baby in addition to what I thought of as their "real" children.

The cutest baby in the world, with her adoring parents. I wonder if you can guess her name.

My best friends at University Park were Benjy Sax, who was my age, and his younger sister, Anne, who was a year older than my sister Cathy. (There were a lot of Annes and Anns back then, just as there are a lot of Emmas and Hannahs now. There were also a lot of Barbaras, Susans, Marys, and Debbies.) Mrs. Sax smoked cigarettes, which made me jealous. I wished my mother smoked too, so that I could have played with the smoke that swirled and coiled into the air so fascinatingly. Also, Benjy and Anne got to call their mother Mommy or Mom, whereas I had to say Mummy or Mum. My mother claimed that Mum was what kids said in Boston, where she had grown up. Of course by the time I noticed that I was different from other kids on this matter, Mum had come to seem like my mother's real name — but saying it in front of other kids made me feel like a foreigner.

Also, the Saxes had a TV, and we didn't.

We lived in a first-floor two-bedroom apartment. When I was three, I liked to scrub the path outside the apartment with leaves. The leaves turned the concrete a faint green, and the scrubbing turned the leaves into shredded nets of tissue. "Look, Mum and Dad," I would say, holding up a leaf. "A holey leaf! Get it?" I had the idea that "holy" and "full of holes" meant the same thing and that I was making a pun. At the same age, my future husband, David Owen, got confused and thought the word "eggnog" meant "garbage." "Quit throwing that eggnog into my yard!" he told the girls next door.

The Saxes lived in a second-floor apartment around the corner from us. Once, in the night, I woke up and found that my parents weren't home. That's not a thing you like to discover when you're little. Leaving Cathy sleeping, I went out in my nightgown and ran to the Saxes' apartment for help. There, turning their startled faces toward me, were my parents, who had just gotten some bad news about a friend. That same year, my mother's mother died. I can remember watching my mother cry and feeling vaguely irritated and scared at the same time. Mothers weren't supposed to walk around crying. To cheer Mum up, I let out a big fake sob and said, "See? I can cry too!"

A few apartments down from mine, the sidewalk became rough and broken for half a block. My friends and I called that part the Bumpity Sidewalk. I had a big old secondhand tricycle with a front wheel that was big enough for me to sit on while Benjy Sax pedaled me around. One morning, while Benjy was pedaling and I was riding, Benjy said, "We're coming to the Bumpity Sidewalk. Better lift up your feet." I stuck my right foot into the spokes of my tricycle to move it out of the way and got a big cut on my foot that had to be stitched up at what we always called Dad's Hospital. When a nurse rinsed the cut, the water in the basin turned a cloudy pink.

Down the street from University Park was a little house where another medical-school family, the Thalers, lived. David Thaler was my age — well, three days younger than I. (He lives on a kibbutz in Israel now, but we e-mail each other on our birthdays every year.) Our favorite game was pretending to be Babar and Celeste, from the Babar books: David was Babar, of course, and I was Celeste. My sister Cathy, who was about a year and a half old, was Arthur. Cathy got confused about this sometimes. She would walk around saying, "I not Arthur. I Cathy. I not Cathy. I Arthur."

At other times Cathy could be very clearheaded. Once David, his older brother and sister, and Cathy and I were all playing in his backyard while our mothers had coffee in the kitchen. At some point, Cathy must have gotten bored. When my mother checked on us through the Thalers' kitchen window, Cathy was nowhere in sight. I hadn't noticed her leaving the yard, but I still remember the tremendous flurry created by her disappearance — and no wonder. My mother left me with the Thalers while she rushed off to look for Cathy. This was before we had a car, so she had to search on foot. Knowing Cathy's ways, Mum decided to check our apartment first. There she found Cathy playing all by herself. She had headed down the Thalers' block, crossed a busy street alone, walked to our apartment, and brought in the mail as she went inside. Later, Cathy's nursery school teacher said, "Cathy is the most logical four-year-old I've ever seen."

My other hero besides Babar was Mighty Mouse, who was on TV on Saturday mornings. We watched him at the Saxes' apartment. How I loved Mighty Mouse! I had an actual crush on him, and once, when I was nine, I had an actual dream that he rescued me and flew me through the air in his strong mouse arms. This was years after I had stopped watching the show, but I guess Mighty Mouse was still lodged in my brain somewhere. When the show was over — it was on from ten to ten thirty — all the little boys in University Park would come rushing outside with towels tied around their shoulders to make capes. (Not the girls. It would never have occurred to us.) For the next hour or so, until lunchtime, dozens of Mighty Mice jumped and swooped around the playground.

No one locked doors during the daytime then, and — as I guess may already be sort of obvious — kids weren't supervised as strenuously as they are now. As soon as you turned five or so in University Park, you could just go out and play wherever you wanted. That's why my mom wasn't there to stop me when I decided to push over Dwight Jacobs's snowman one winter morning. I can still remember walking by his apartment in my snowsuit and thinking, "We've seen that snowman for long enough." Dwight's mother rushed out to yell at me, and later I had to go back and apologize to Dwight.

I broke another law at the Pic'n'Pay, the little grocery store down the street from University Park. The mothers often took us there, and one day Mrs. Sax brought me and her Anne along while she got some milk. "Can we have some candy?" I asked her. There were bins of penny candy near the cash register. Mrs. Sax said no and walked down the aisle to the milk cooler in back. I said to Anne, "Let's just take some." (Anne was four, and I was five, so I felt free to boss her around.) We reached into the bins, grabbed a handful of Red Hot Dollars, and stuffed them into our mouths. Mrs. Sax was not pleased, and neither was the store owner. That was another time I had to go back and apologize. Is there anything as scary as that?

Wait! Yes, there is! It's equally scary when you're at a friend's house — let's say her name is Laurie — and her mother suddenly calls, "Laurie, could you come in here, please?" Both of you can tell from the mom's voice that Laurie's in trouble of some kind.

"Come with me! Come with me!" begs Laurie in a whisper. She's thinking that with you there, her mother won't be able to yell as hard. So, out of loyalty, you go with her, and it turns out she was wrong: her mother is able to yell just as hard.

Let's See, What Else Happened at University Park?

I knew a brother and sister named Richard and Gretchen. I called them both Ritchen and named my doll Ritchen after them. She was a big, realistic baby doll about the same size as a six-month-old, so she could wear real baby clothes. She was made of molded plastic, and I didn't love her quite as much after some of her toes chipped off and I could see into her hollow foot.

A neighbor down the street found a kitten under her sofa, and we all trooped in to look at it. I've never wanted anything in my life as much as that kitten.

When I was three, my mother asked me to put some towels in the bathroom for her. I said, "Work, work, work! When will I ever get my rest?"

In my first year of preschool, I learned a Thanksgiving song that went:

A turkey ran away upon Thanksgiving Day,
"I fear," said he, "I'd roasted be if I should stay."

I came home from school, and in a high, shrill voice (I always believed that the higher a voice was, the prettier it sounded), I sang with great assurance

A turkey ran away before Thanksgiving Day.
I hee he said, I roasted be if I should stay."

Puzzled, my parents asked me to sing the second line again.

"I hee he said, I roasted be if I should stay,'" I repeated.

"Ann, that can't be right," said Dad. "It doesn't make any sense."

"Yes! That's the way it goes!" I insisted. "My teacher said so!" It was the first time I had ever used my teacher as an authority against my parents.

At the same age, my son, John, sang the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon theme song this way:

T-U Minga Minga Turtles,
Heroes in the half-shell! Turtle power!
When the evil Shredder attacks,
These turtle boys don't cunnem no syce!

That last line was supposed to be "These turtle boys don't cut him no slack!" There was also a line about Raphael being "cool but crude" that John sang as "Raphael is cool but poo" and a line about Michaelangelo's being a "party dude" that John sang as "Michaelangelo to the party time!" But let's get back to me.

I was extremely afraid of robbers. If I happened to hear a car outside at night, I was always sure it was some robbers preparing to sneak into our apartment. I would lie awake in bed, tense with fear, and promise myself, "When I'm ten years old, I won't be afraid of robbers anymore." Unfortunately, at ten I was still afraid of them, so I had to up the age to fifteen. That time it worked.

I was also afraid of kidnappers, of course. We all were, except for Lisa Olsen down the street. When Lisa was four, her mother gave her the usual speech about how if someone tries to make you go into his car, you must come home right away. Later that morning, Lisa came in and said cheerfully, "No one tried to make me get into their car, but I just came home anyway."

I was also afraid of the illustrations in a library book about a hippopotamus who got sad for some reason. The pictures had too much purple and black and too many swirly lines. One night I woke up crying, "I just hate those pictures!"

Benjy Sax and I both got a nickel for allowance, because we were five years old. Anne Sax was only four, so her allowance was four cents. Cathy was still too little to have an allowance.

* * *

My first Halloween costume was a brown paper shopping bag that I wore over my head, with eyes cut into it.

The main thing that happened in University Park was that my sister Cornelia — called Nelie — was born. My sister Cathy had always been there as far as I knew, but I definitely remember Nelie's birth. Dad had to take care of me and Cathy while Mum was in the hospital. At breakfast he burned the scrambled eggs — not a lot, but scrambled eggs don't have to be very burned for you to notice. At night Dad made us hamburgers, and they caught on fire. The next day, he took us on a picnic in a field somewhere, and we picked wild strawberries that Dad took to my mother when he visited her in the hospital. (Children weren't allowed to visit maternity wards back then.) And that night, when Cathy and I were lying in our beds talking, Cathy said, "When the new baby comes home, I'm not going to let you hold her."

"You have to!" I said, shocked. "We both get to hold her. Mum said."

"Not you. I'm not letting you."

I can't believe I started crying. I was five and a half, and Cathy was only three!

My poor father came storming in. "What's going on in here?" he asked. When I blubbered out Cathy's cruelty, Dad also couldn't believe I was so upset. "If she told you the moon was made of green cheese, would you believe her?" he said crossly.

"No, but — "

"I want both of you to go to sleep right now," said my father.

Speaking of babies reminds me of one more thing about University Park. I once came home for lunch and announced, "I asked Mrs. DiPietro where babies come from, but she said she doesn't know."

The First Move

At the end of second grade, my parents told me we were moving to a Rochester suburb called Brighton. Of course I didn't want to move there. I didn't even like to go into a room if my parents had changed the furniture around.

"I don't like how Brighton sounds," I said.

"It's a very nice town," my mother reassured me.

"A TOWN?" I shrieked. "I don't want to live in a TOWN!"

The only town I knew was the picture on my box of tiny German building blocks. Suddenly I was sure that my parents were moving us somewhere foreign-seeming with red wooden roofs. Maybe there were even canals there, like in Holland! But it turned out that we moved to a regular street called Cobb Terrace, with regular houses and kids on it. Our house had a huge pine tree in front, with a big, low branch that three or four kids could bounce around on. We named the branch Merbeth, after a childhood cousin of my father's.

Nelie had her own bedroom next to my parents' room. Cathy and I shared a bedroom with complicated yellow-and-white wallpaper. When we took our naps, we were never sleepy, and we would lie on our beds kicking and staring at the walls. Once, to vary the boringness, I suggested that we trade beds at naptime. The next afternoon, Cathy said, "I don't want to nap on your bed anymore. You don't have any faces in your wallpaper."

I was confounded for two reasons. First, the wallpaper was exactly the same next to both beds. Second, while I'd been lying on Cathy's bed, I had felt as though I couldn't find any faces in her wallpaper. How could both things be true?

It was on Cobb Terrace that Nelie spent a whole summer wearing a bathing cap because she liked the look of bathing caps, and Cathy and I went outside one hot day wearing just bloomers and no shirts. Bloomers, in case you didn't know, are like fancy, puffed underpants that you wear over your real underpants. No one in real America still wore them except us — they were only seen in Boston. (That stupid Boston! It got us into so much trouble!) Cathy and I had gone out in just bloomers at University Park, but we soon realized that on Cobb Terrace, wearing only bloomers was practically as bad as going outside naked. The mean boy next door, Jimmy Manson, said, "Do you like bacon?"

"Yes," I said, puzzled.

"Wa nna strip?"

That was a bad moment.

It was on Cobb Terrace that we got our first dog, Slats. "He's going to the toilet," said my grandma Donna once when we were walking Slats.

"No, he's not," Cathy corrected her. "He's going to the grass."

Cobb Terrace was where I did my first cooking, making witches' brew. I stood on a chair at the stove and filled a big pot with water and all the spices I could find, plus bouillon cubes and a little molasses and some vinegar and salt and baking powder. The whole spices and bay leaves bobbed at the surface of the water, and the bouillon cubes and molasses made it brown, and a little bit of froth formed on the top when the brew began to boil, and it was very witchy and satisfying. Then I dared my father to try some, and he did! And he said he liked it!


Excerpted from How to Die of Embarrassment Everyday by Ann Hodgman. Copyright © 2011 Ann Hodgman. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ann Hodgman lives in Washington, Connecticut with her husband, the writer David Owen, and one million pets.

ANN HODGMAN is the author of many books for children, including The House of a Million Pets and How to Die of Embarrassment Every Day. She lives in Washington, Connecticut.

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How to Die of Embarrassment Every Day 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful. Made me lol!!!!
Hector Narvaez More than 1 year ago
Great book!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book looks good