Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Hi – this is Humphrey squeaking and just this once, I’m taking over Betty G. Birney’s blog because her paw is all worn out from signing lots and lots of books! She’s been spinning like crazy,  all over the U.S. (and even across the border) since mid-April to talk about my books. She says an airplane would be a very dangerous place for a small hamster like me but I’m pretty brave for a small creature and I’d like to try it sometime.








She started out in Vancouver, Canada, where she spoke at several schools and public events, sponsored by Kidsbooks. She LOVED-LOVED-LOVED Vancouver and showed me this  photo she took when her plane home took off from Salt Lake City.








With Tuan Nguyen of Mackin and Cynthia Oubre, Kolter Elementary School librarian

Betty came home to re-pack and then  – whoosh – off to Houston to visit Kolter Elementary School – which had won her visit in a contest sponsored by Mackin, an educational resources company. Too bad they don’t let hamsters on airplanes, because I think I’d be quite a prize to win! Kolter is an outstanding school … and they even have a buffalo. I’m not sure it’s real, but Betty says they have a prairie and a garden which among other things, yielded 200 pounds of sweet potatoes last year!









Betty at IRA


From Houston, she went – whoosh- directly to the IRA (International Reading Association) Conference in San Antonio.  I do love it when Mrs. Brisbane reads to us!  It was fiesta time in San Antonio (sort of like Mardi Gras), but it’s always a fiesta when Betty get to hang out with the people from her publisher, Penguin … especially her editor, Susan Kochan! She spoke at the One School One Book symposium, put together by Read to Them, a terrific non-profit which is growing the One School One Book program and expanding my unsqueakably wonderful audience!






Betty celebrating with John Rocco, Sarah Weeks and Jordan Sonnenblick at AIA


Whoosh – Betty left the hotel in San Antonio at 5:00 am to head to Rochester Hills, MI for Authors in April. I know she’d been looking forward to it for a long time because she was there with some really great people. Author, illustrator and Caldecott Honor Medal winner John Rocco spoke to the kindergarteners and first graders and Betty says he can draw a great hamster and other equally cool things. He has a very talented paw! Sarah Weeks spoke to the third and fourth graders about her hamster-rific books, including one about Oggie Cooder – I wonder if he’s related to Og the frog? And Jordan Sonnenblick spoke to the big kids and taught them a lot about writing. I’ll bet he keeps his ideas in a notebook, just like I do.

  John          Sarah


They were so busy, they hardly had time to eat … but when they had the chance, they chowed down on food that looks even tastier than my Nutri-Nibbles.

Betty spoke to the second and third graders at fifteen schools, attended a fancy banquet, did a library event and signed more books than she’s ever signed in one place before. She says the kids in Rochester and Rochester Hills are BIG-BIG-BIG Humphrey fans – so I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE them!








Birthday girl Betty G.


She even spent her birthday there … and they celebrated at a fiesta at a Mexican restaurant. She says they don’t allow hamsters there either! Mostly, though, she talked about how wonderfully she was treated and how much fun the week was. (Note to self: find out when I have a birthday, please!)

Betty returned to Los Angeles, packed her bags again and – whoosh – she headed up to Bakersfield, CA. This time she went in a car and I know for a fact that they allow hamsters in cars. But she said it was 100 degrees in Bakersfield when she arrived and I must say, we hamsters don’t like weather that’s too hot or too cold.







Betty with authors Kristine O’Connell George, Tina Nichols Coury and Greg Trine

Again, Betty was paired up with unsqueakably great writers. They were busy, speaking all day at different schools. She spoke to big groups of kids there – I’d love to give them all great big hamster hugs! It was mostly work, but there was a banquet, speaking at the Kern County Young Authors Fair AND some of the writers sneaked out one night and went to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace for a hootin’ and hollerin’ good time. (Hootin’ and hollerin’ hurts my small hamster ears.)

Betty’s home again and she says she’s never traveling again … but I happen to know that she’s going to the Edinburgh BookFest at the end of August and squeaking about me! Then off to London. Oh, how I’d love to shake paws with the Queen!

But I have to scurry off now, because now MY paw is tired.

Signing off …. your furry pal HUMPHREY




It’s HOT-HOT-HOT, as my friend Humphrey would say. And while I was watching the synchronized swimming events of the Olympics, suddenly a waterfall of childhood memories tumbled over me as I had one very cool thought: Esther Williams.

I feel much cooler already.

When I was growing up, my sister and girlfriends and I loved Esther Williams. Who didn’t? She starred in many unique films where she displayed unbelievable feats of swimming and diving (and water-skiing) expertise … and she was smiling and gorgeous the whole time. There’s the old joke about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers saying that Ginger did everything Fred did, but she did it backwards and in high heels. Well, Esther had all the grace and athleticism of Fred and Ginger … but she did her thing underwater. And during my 1950s and 60s childhood, we reveled in her amazing exploits in a nice cool movie theater, even before we had air conditioning ourselves.

When I was very young, on hot and humid St. Louis afternoons, my mother would take my sister, Janet, and me down into the cool basement. Janet and I would strip down to our underwear or slips (remember ?) and play in front of the fan. When it was almost time for dinner, we’d go upstairs for a bath and clean clothes and feel quite refreshed.










After dinner on hot evenings, we might take a drive to ride the boats on the lagoon at Forest Park – Janet and I got to steer the motor boats – or just look at the big fountain with the changing colors. Or we’d go out to a big swimming pool, like Springdale, and cool off. But an Esther Williams movie was the coolest thing of all. Just watch this little video tribute and you’ll be a believer.

When I was older, about middle school age, my life changed completely when Sandy Birnie moved in across the street. Yep, my married name is Birney and my childhood best friend was named Birnie. Little did I know! Sandy and I were inseparable, especially during the summers. Mostly, we’d play cards all day and evening. We’d take the Hoyle’s Book of Rules and play everything,  including poker with just about everything wild. There were insanely high-speed games of double solitaire and War. We’d also walk our blonde cocker spaniels every day. Mitzi (a mix) was mine and Ginger (a purebred)  was hers. They weren’t that friendly, but they tolerated each other for the walks. Ginger even had puppies one summer, thanks to the neighborhood rogue, Buttons.

Sandy and I would also walk to the Crest Theater to see Esther Williams or Doris Day or anybody at all, to cool off.

But the best part of summer was swimming. Our wonderful neighbors, Lora and Gil Hansmann, had the only pool in the subdivision. On certain days, Mrs. Hansmann would hang a flag on the outside of the pool, signalling the neighborhood kids that they were welcome to come swim at a certain time. Sandy and I did that at first, tolerating the rowdy younger boys, but later the Hansmanns invited the two of us to swim without the rest of the pack – no flag needed. After all, Sandy was a superb swimmer and a certified lifeguard and we were (fairly) mature and responsible. We had to clean out the pool – they taught us how – and respect their rules of not running and not making too much noise.

Miss Birnie and Mrs. Birney-to-be had all afternoon to swim and play in that pool by ourselves and it was glorious – thanks to Esther. As we did handstands, backwards somersaults and our own version of synchronized swimming, we were channeling Esther Williams. We raced (Sandy was a much better swimmer than I was). We dove for pennies on the bottom of the pool. We had the best time two best friends could ever have.

To repay the Hansmanns for their incredible generosity, we would occasionally “Grandma-sit” for Mrs. Hansmann’s 90 year old mother, Mrs. Pippin. She was a sweet little old lady who had no teeth, but still chewed Chiclets gum incessantly. She liked cards, so Sandy and I would teach her “our” card games with their crazy rules. Invariably, sweet Mrs. Pippin beat us. We could never really figure that out and despite our plots to unseat her as the reigning champion, we never succeeded. Mrs. Pippin was a loveable shark.

Those summer days were just as hot as the days we’ve been having, but much sweeter to me. I can still remember walking back up to my house in my swimming suit, then taking a long, hot bath and feeling amazingly refreshed and relaxed.

I can still remember feeling just like Esther Williams when Sandy and I were in that pool.

Esther Williams is still alive at 91. I hope she’s well and can still dip her toe into the water. I have a lot to thank her for – not just the pleasure of imagining myself to be her, but also for the fact that she inspired our family to visit Cypress Gardens on a big trip to Florida. We loved it because we felt that Esther had been there.

By the way, my other childhood idol was cowgirl Dale Evans. Somehow, I think that longing to be feisty Dale or Esther – whose athleticism paralleled her beauty – was a little better than wanting to be a model or a princess. But then … that’s just me looking back in time.

I still think Esther was the coolest thing around.






















Humphrey Makes a Deal

January 21st, 2011

Well, Humphrey didn’t actually make the deal – I did. It happened awhile ago but the press releases just went out. Here’s the first bit of news:

That doesn’t mean it will necessarily get on T.V. but it’s a solid first step. I’ve worked with Telegael before and like the company a lot.

Of course, Humphrey’s already a star!

And that’s all I can say as I return to writing Book 8.


July 11th, 2008


This morning, I got nice news from Humphrey’s UK publisher, Faber & Faber. The World According to Humphrey audiobook made the prestigious Sunday London Times pick of the best audiobooks for summer! Here’s a blurb:

Parents hoping to beguile children with fiction during long car journeys deserve stories they can enjoy, too. Kids of all ages should relish the American comedian Greg Proops reading The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney. Proops gives Humphrey, the class hamster, a feisty and rather acerbic nasal whine in which he delivers sharp, funny observations on the education system and family life – and manages to get in plenty of poo jokes.

Sorry the picture I just took (above)  is so fuzzy but I tried a lot and that was the best I could do. Besides, the box is cracked. But you can see that Richard and Judy circle on the box. You never heard of Richard and Judy? Then you don’t live in the UK. They host the equivalent of the Oprah show of England and have a very popular book club. They started a children’s book club in October and Humphrey won the first round ever> The books were prominently displayed in bookstores, there was a primetime special, and forever that little logo will be on the book and audiobook. I did manage to catch the show in March when I was there and it’s a nice, relaxed talk show. In this country when I talk to Brits and mention Richard and Judy, I love the reaction. The jaw drops, the eyes widen and the person always says, “Richard and Judy are huge!” This has happened twice in the last three weeks. Actually, R&J are normal sized people – not huge at all. But they are popular.

Now, about Greg Proops. When I first heard Faber was doing audiobooks, I thought how funny it would be to hear Humphrey with an English accent. So they surprised me and used an American. Though we do make numerous manuscript changes to reflect the differences in their English and our English, everyone says Humphrey is perceived as an American. And kids there are used to American film and TV, so the accent doesn’t sound that strange.

I was a fan of Greg Proops when he was a regular on the original improv show, Whose Line Is It Anyway, which preceded the American version. We watched it on BBC America. He’s really popular in the UK because of that show.

Greg Proops

The voice of Humphrey at work .... when you're recording two three-hour audiobooks, you have to protect your throat.

So I was happy to learn he would be the voice of Humphrey. When I got a copy of the first disk in March, I was nervous. I’m pretty sensitive to hearing someone else read my books. I think I might be hyper-critical because for years, I directed voice-over talent for Disneyland and then the Disney Studios – radio commercials and the announcer tracks for TV commercials and theatrical trailers. I spent about half my life  in recording studios, working with such great announcers as Gene Moss, Danny Dark (both gone now, sad to say), Gary Owens of Laugh-In fame – who is still going strong- and Howard Morris, whom I enjoyed watching on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows as a very young child.

My first reaction was – oh wow, Humphrey is a man! But I listened for a minute to the “feisty and acerbic nasal whine” Greg Proops chose, and I was suddenly thinking, “Hey, this book is pretty good. It’s better than I remember!” I guess that’s about the highest praise I can give an audiobook reader. He hooked me.  And I’m glad he didn’t do a cute little hamster voice, which would have gotten on my nerves.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you can buy these audiobooks in the U.S. I guess you can go on However, has a Humphrey book – I’ve just not heard it so no comment.

The Faber audiobook of Friendship According to Humphrey (also with Greg Proops) comes out in October. That’s when Surprises According to Humphrey (the book) will be released in the UK as well.

If you haven’t played the Nut-Ding game or posted a picture of your pet, you’ve got to check out the thoroughly wonderful Humphrey UK site – The game is fun and not just for kids.


August 3rd, 2007

shows_wicked.gif We saw WICKED at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard on Sunday and it was wickedly wonderful! For those who may not know, it’s the smash Broadway musical, now playing in L.A. I think it will be here quite a while – I could tell that many in the sold out audience had seen it several times before. It’s based on the book by Gregory Maguire which takes THE WIZARD OF OZ and provides it with a great backstory that shows the Wicked Witch of the West was terribly misunderstood! The two characters of the not-so-wicked Elphaba and the goody-goody Glinda who is not quite so perfect, make a perfect pair. Great music, great sets, flying monkeys, delicious dialogue, strong story line that has you pulling for both witches, a delightful Carol Kane as Madame Morrible – the time flew by. I was wishing I had a 9-15 year old with me. It’s not appropriate for younger children (could be scary and just a little long) but perfect for 8 on up. The young people in the audience were clearly delighted – as I was, too!

HOLLYWOOD BOWLING – Last night we were at the Hollywood Bowl with daughter and son-in-law. They had box tickets from a friend (you can’t buy them – the season tickets are passed on generation to generation) and it was a great box – dead center. A beautiful night. You don’t go to the Hollywood Bowl just to see and hear music performed. You also go to eat. If you have a box, as we did, you bring picnics (some quite elaborate), wine, cloth napkins, even flowers. There’s a whole summer business of upscale restaurants selling Bowl baskets. Daughter and son-in-law brought those. I was assigned to bring wine and fruit. I forgot the fruit – it’s still in the fridge – but had tucked in some chocolate. Not to worry, it was great. They have little tables they hang on the sides of the box while you eat. Then right before the concert, they remove the tables, you turn your chairs around and voila – a concert.

But even if you don’t have a box, it’s still great to go to the Bowl. Most everyone else brings a picnic and there are a number of picnic areas They also have concession stands that sell food from hot dogs to upscale gourmet food. The only hassle is getting there and maneuvering the crowds – almost 11,000 last night. We went to a parking lot near us and took the bus to the Bowl – a popular choice. That’s easy and you don’t have as far to walk when you get there. The problem is waiting for the busses going back – but it’s okay. Otherwise you’re sitting on the lot, waiting for the cars around you to move so you can get out. Luckily, everybody comes with that great relaxed L.A. attitude – and why not? The summer sky and cool breezes last night were intoxicating and this time, I really did need a sweater.

The program was all-American: Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story), Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, narrated by American man of letters Gore Vidal,and George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. I especially enjoyed seeing Michael Tilson Thomas, of the San Francisco Symphony, conduct. He has not been at the Bowl for 22 years and he’s great fun to watch.

Over the years I’ve seen numerous fireworks displays (1812 Overture, Evening in Italy, etc.), Luciano Pavarotti in his prime, Garrison Keillor, Cleo Laine, Carlos Santana and Andre Watts, to name a few. And that’s Bowling, Hollywood-style.

READING RECOMMENDATIONS: If you love The Wizard of Oz movie (and who doesn’t), but never read the book, try picking up the original WIZARD OF OZ by Frank L. Baum. It’s a bit rambling with a number of adventures not in the film. Despite a lot of problems in filming, they did a great job with the movie and the really wicked Margaret Hamilton still can’t be beat! “I’ll get you and your little dog, too!” When you read the book, you can see what a screenwriter adapting a book has to deal with to shape a two hour movie out of an episodic story. By the way, I haven’t read WICKED, sorry to say, but I think it’s a little more “adult” than the musical. I wonder what Frank L. Baum would think about the afterlife of his wonderful creation!