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updated: 3/19/2012 6:59 AM

Anderson's hosts 'The Great Whoop Off' to celebrate book release

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  • April Fools' Day visitors to Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville will get a chance to meet Horrid Henry and participate in "The Great Whoop Off."

    April Fools' Day visitors to Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville will get a chance to meet Horrid Henry and participate in "The Great Whoop Off."

  • Francesca Simon writes the Horrid Henry books

    Francesca Simon writes the Horrid Henry books
    Helen Giles

  • Video: 'Horrid Henry' movie trailer

  • Video: How to be a writer

  • Video: Francesca Simon interview


It's going to be a gas.

There, I said it.

It's hard not to sound like a giggling 10-year-old boy when you get to write about something called "The Great Whoop Off" and talk to actual grown women about a "simultaneous whoopee cushion detonation."

This is why some of us got into journalism: to write about events that rhyme with "art" and try to sneak them past our curmudgeonly editors.

Oh, sure, it's fun to uncover corruption and follow presidential primaries and all that. But it's so much cooler to think about a couple hundred people sitting on whoopee cushions at the same time and making, well, you know, that artful noise.

Candace Purdom swears this is no joke. On April 1 -- yes, April Fools' Day -- Anderson's Bookshop in downtown Naperville will play host to what's believed to be the nation's first official "Whoop Off" in honor of the release of a young people's book called "Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire."

A simple plan

The idea is simple. You show up at 123 W. Jefferson Ave. early that afternoon and somebody hands you a whoopee cushion. Then, at 2 p.m., everybody sits down at once -- maybe on chairs, maybe on the floor -- and, uh, kind of lets it rip.

Or, as Purdom, who is in charge of publicity and events at Anderson's says, "pull up a little spot and let it go."

It turns out sophisticated P.R. people can giggle like 10-year-old boys, too.

Because Purdom is good at what she does, she's already checked the Guinness Book of World Records and decided Anderson's is unlikely to get a listing there for this particular event.

She says the mark for simultaneous whoopee cushion detonation (and trust me when I tell you, that's become my favorite phrase of 2012) is around 5,600 and happened somewhere in the very staid and very proper United Kingdom.

"I don't see 6,000 people showing up for this," she says.

But Purdom does emphasize that the event is free. And she does have a catchy slogan:

"Come and sit on a whoopee cushion," she says, "and see what happens."

Horrid Henry

Horrid Henry, for the uninitiated, is a mischievous 10-year-old boy who's the creation of author Francesca Simon. Simon was born in Missouri, grew up in California and focused on medieval studies at both Yale and Oxford. She started writing about Henry about 15 years ago and has sold more than 15 million books in 27 languages.

The stories have been made into a movie (starring Anjelica Huston), a British TV show, a Nintendo video game and even a play on London's West End.

The books are published in the U.S. by Naperville-based Sourcebooks and are aimed at "beginning chapter book readers."

Derry Wilkens is the publicity manager for the series and works in New York City. She sounds very nice on the phone. Very professional. Very on message.

She'll tell you Henry is "the original lovable bad boy" who's always working angles on his brother, Perfect Peter. She'll tell you he's a prankster and a trickster. She'll tell you Henry will be at Anderson's on April 1 and his movie is coming soon to a theater near you.

She'll also send you some written information about the books, including a tidbit from Chicago Parent, which says the stories will have kids laughing so hard "they'll snort milk out through their noses!"

There's even a quote from the author, who says she often describes the Horrid Henry books as westerns for kids.

"Henry is an outlaw, who behaves dreadfully, yet often triumphs," Simon says. "Henry is pure ego, while Perfect Peter is an exaggerated version of the impeccably behaved child parents think they want."

Purdom, meanwhile, will tell you Henry "doesn't have the best manners in the world" and a whoopee cushion is one of the many tools in his arsenal of mirth.

That's all very nice, of course, and I love reading a good story as much as the next 10-year-old, especially if it makes me snort milk out my nose. But I didn't call all the way to the Big Apple just to talk about Henry. Not when there are whoopee cushions involved.

Whoop Offs

Whoop Offs have been held in the U.K. for several years, Wilkens says, but "this is our very first" in the United States.

(This seems like a good place for a brief history lesson about notable British exports to the States: Tea, Beatles, Harry Potter, Whoop Offs.)

"It's very exciting," she says. "We'll have hundreds of cushions available at the store for anyone who wants one."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but Ms. Wilkens, have you yourself ever sat on a whoopee cushion?

"I have sat on a whoopee cushion," she says, with just the slightest hint of trepidation, "but not since I was 10 years old."

She says the folks at Sourcebooks actually hope to make this event a tradition. She says this with what sounds like a straight face.

When pressed, Wilkens admits planning whoopee cushion events maybe wasn't at the front of her mind when she decided to make a living in the world of books.

"I never thought necessarily of P.R.," she says. "I always loved to read, and I loved telling people about what I read. I never really imagined I'd be planning a simultaneous detonation of whoopee cushions at a bookstore."

That's OK, because as a hard-hitting journalist, I didn't necessarily dream about flushing out the truth about Whoop Offs myownself.

But if the whole thing is OK with Purdom and if it's OK with Wilkens and if it's OK with Horrid Henry, well, it's sure as heck OK with 10-year-old me. Fact is, if I knew how to plop the appropriate whoopee cushion sound effect in here, I'd be the happiest kid on my block.

Perhaps you can make the noise yourself as you finish reading this and make plans to head over to Anderson's to meet Horrid Henry and read about his latest exploits. Just don't ask him to pull your finger.

"This is one of the most exciting and over-the-top events I've ever planned," Wilkens says.

"I think," Purdom adds innocently "it does sound like fun."

This gets me to giggling again. Sounds like fun? It's sure gonna sound like something.

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