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Bookworm: ‘Splitting’ gets to the source of your headaches

‘Skunk and Badger’ offers kid-friendly wit and intelligence

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Splitting: The Inside Story on Headaches”

  • By Amanda Ellison
  • c. 2020, Green Tree/Bloomsbury
  • $24, $32.50 Canada; 234 pages

Like elephants standing on your eyeballs. Or a head-first belly-flop on an ice cold lake? Maybe like a kiss on the forehead from a sledge hammer. Or ... wait, this: wearing rubber bands around your skull while being Wile E. Coyote in any situation. No matter how it's described, a headache hurts and in "Splitting" by Amanda Ellison, you'll get help to understand yours.

"Splitting: The Inside Story on Headaches" author Amanda Ellison.

Pain is good. If you're the average human, you're probably thinking that that's an odd statement, especially if your head feels like a snare drum. It's true, though: pain happens when your brain needs more than your circulatory system is giving your body and, long story short, that forces you to pay attention when something is wrong. Pain = good.

Knowing that, of course, doesn't help your headache much, though, does it?

How about this: Ellison says that if your head hurts, it might be worthwhile to have a few glasses of water. Mere dehydration can cause headache pain. Easy-peasy.

But let's say that it's not your head that hurts, but your face. Ugh, sinus headaches aren't simple to explain but suffice it to say that your body's defenses, your trigeminal nerve, and general snottiness add up. Think: nasal washes, antihistamines, antibiotics.

"Splitting: The Inside Story on Headaches" by Amanda Ellison.

Stress headaches, on the other hand, are caused by the body's response to the brain's response to stimuli, especially of the negative sort. Emotion absolutely has a lot to do with those kinds of headaches but so do traumatic episodes; a stress headache can also "feed into" itself. Pass on the wine when you've got a stress headache; instead, meditate, eat chocolate, or go to bed (but not alone).

Finally, if you come to this book looking for migraine information, Elliott says that migraines go "beyond the headache component." In her experience, she says, sufferers are "quite bad at sporting the first stage of migraine ... " but understanding your yawns, oxytocin, genetics, and watching your diet could set you on the right path.

Poor pumpkin. Everybody can see that those noggin-throbbers are no fun, but at least "Splitting" is.

If you can imagine spotting a little humor in the midst of headache pain, you have an inkling of what you'll find here from physiologist, neuroscientist, and author Amanda Ellison. In her loaded, scientific-but-not-too-much examination of what goes on in your head, she allows for a few gingerly-stated chuckles as she explains the different kinds of headaches and possible treatments.

Yes, though the pain may be the same on the scream-scale, home remedies might vary, and, on that note, long-time sufferers may find new advice ranging from the very simple to the very complicated. The suggestions seem to be worthy, and while "See Your Doctor" isn't blinking in neon anywhere here, Ellison makes it clear that further action may be necessary.

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This is one of those books that you'll want to read long before you need it, so get ready now. If you're prone to feeling like your head is a golf ball at the U.S. Open (ouch!), "Splitting" is outstanding.

“Skunk and Badger”

  • By Amy Timberlake, with pictures by Jon Klassen
  • c. 2020, Algonquin Young Readers
  • $18.95, higher in Canada; 136 pages

Mom always told you to share. It isn't your favorite thing to do, that's for sure. Sometimes, you share, and something gets broken. Other times, you don't get it back. Whether it's clothing or a game or toy you're being generous with, sharing is hard – especially, as in the new book "Skunk and Badger" by Amy Timberland, pictures by Jon Klassen – you're forced to share your best personal space.

"Skunk and Badger" author Amy Timberlake.

Aunt Lula was the best!

When Badger needed a place to do his "important rock work," she kindly offered him the use of her brownstone – not just one room, but the entire house! That meant Badger had a place for his rock tumbler and his workbench and his exploration tools and he had one room upstairs for nothing but boxes. It was a great place for a rock expert to work.

That is, until Skunk showed up, carrying a red suitcase.

There wasn't much inside the suitcase but there was a lot to Skunk. He was thoughtful and wise, and he loved the moon and books and chickens. He was a small fellow but even so, when he claimed that Aunt Lula said he could also stay at the brownstone, he was too big, as far as Badger was concerned.

He offered Skunk the use of a "Special Guest Closet" (which was just a closet) but then Skunk found Badger's box room and he flattened Badger's empty boxes. He spun around on Badger's workshop stool. He flicked the rock tumbler off in mid-cycle. He used his special chicken whistle and invited hundreds of neighborhood chickens inside for story time. And then, because of an innocent (but potentially deadly) little mistake, Skunk sprayed Badger with smelly oil.

"Skunk and Badger" by Amy Timberlake, with pictures by Jon Klassen.

Ugh. Badger was sure that Aunt Lula wouldn't want any of that. Skunk was a nuisance, and Badger told him so. Was it his fault that Skunk got offended and decided to leave? Was it his fault that the brownstone was awfully quiet with Skunk gone?

"Charming" or "delightful"? It's hard to decide which word best suits "Skunk and Badger," so... maybe both. At first, however, beware: author Jon Klassen's line-drawn pictures make this book seem rather old-fashioned, almost old-timey in their simplicity. It looks sweet and gentle – which is true – but maybe on the tame side.

Take a second peek, though, and you'll see more, with a wink that says this might look like a 1950s chapter book, but it's updated, and much, much sharper. Knife-like, in fact: author Amy Timberlake gives children two characters that are likeable for reasons that veer wildly off in wonderful ways: outgoing Skunk loves chickens and literature. Introverted, rock-obsessed Badger is a scientist. Timberlake lets them both spout in interesting ways about their passions while they get acquainted and teach one another (and readers!) with wisdom, growing self-awareness, kindness, kid-friendly wit, and intelligence.

So, for a smart 8-to-12-year-old kid like yours, a kid who needs a book that respects their intellect, this fills the bill nicely. Look for "Skunk and Badger" today ... and share.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.