Publishers this fall are releasing a batch of books about the end of the millennium. But two of the best Y2K-for-kids stories appeared years ago. They are both about chickens.
"Henny Penny" (a k a Chicken Little) is the tale of a hen who gets hit on the head by a falling acorn and believes the sky is falling. On her way to tell the king, she is joined by Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky and others who are all too willing to believe that the end is near. The Y2K moral: An event is seldom as disastrous as you might imagine.
In "The Little Red Hen," a bird sows wheat, harvests it, makes it into flour and bakes a cake. She then refuses to share her food with a dog, a cat and a mouse who were too lazy to help her prepare. The Y2K moral: Who knows how bad the coming crisis could be, but it doesn't hurt to make some preparations.
To help kids understand the millennial moment, publishers are not harking back to the old books. They are making new ones. Jess Brallier has written "Y2Kids: A Guide to the Millennium." This is mostly a collection of facts and information about the past thousand years, but Brallier does address the Y2K computer glitch.
"Will your school's computer go wacky and give you the straight-A grades of some kid with the same name who went to your school in 1900?" he writes. "Will mass murderers roam the countryside as prison gates malfunction? Will confused bank computers mail you thousands of dollars in cash? Every day?
"Nobody knows. So many computers are linked to so many other computers and so many software programs borrow programming from so many other software programs that it's really difficult for anybody to determine how big a mess this might be. But don't panic. Really successful billion-dollar companies don't get to be really successful billion-dollar companies by ignoring problems. Essentially, that's what people in offices do all day: fix problems."
Besides, Brallier adds, when airline companies began taking reservations for the year 2000, their computer systems worked perfectly. "So, hey, as long as you can still get a plane ticket to Disney World or your rich aunt's fancy house with the swimming pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean, everything's cool." Published by Grosset & Dunlap, the book will be in stores in a few weeks.
Hoping to cash in on millennium mania, the Philomel publishing company is coming out with a collection of short fiction for young people called "Second Sight: Stories for a New Millennium." In the anthology, eight writers imagine what the future holds in store. One of the best short stories is Madeleine L'Engle's "Rob Austin and the Millennium Bug," which explains the Y2K problem in simple, non-hysterical terms. L'Engle, as usual, handles her characters' fears and concerns with grace and humor.
Other publishers, however, are concentrating on the Y2K era, not the error. This fall, DK Publishing unveils a millennium series for kids. Books include "1,000 Makers of the Millennium," "Factastic Millennium Facts" and "My Millennium Record Book," which is really just a record of 1999.
Mavis Jukes, author of "It's a Girl Thing: How to Stay Healthy, Safe and in Charge," has written "Cinderella 2000" for young readers. In this story, the stepmother is more wacky than wicked and the story concludes before midnight, while the clock on the VCR is still working.
Y2K books for kids is only one subset of a vast milk-the-millennium industry. More than 200 books have been written about the end of the century and the remainder tables will be groaning under their weight come Jan. 2.
Many of the better-selling volumes are "family preparedness" guides. But few of these books offer suggestions to parents for how to talk to kids about TEOTWAWKI--The End Of The World As We Know It. Or the hysteria that might arise even if all the lights stay on.
"The Y2K Personal Survival Guide" by Michael S. Hyatt (Regnery) is among the hyperventilating warnings of impending doom. It's among the best-selling Y2K guidebooks at Amazon.com.
Here's what Hyatt says about children: "In many cases, the Year 2000 Computer Problem will be toughest on those who can't understand why Mommy and Daddy no longer take them to McDonald's once a week."
And Hyatt's solution: "For the sake of your children, try to stock up on long shelf-life foods that they especially enjoy."
Hyatt's book, and others like it--including "Y2K: An Action Plan to Protect Yourself, Your Family, Your Assets and Your Community on January 1, 2000"--were written with the "Henny Penny" outlook on life. Other pertinent books aren't quite so shrill.
"The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza)," for instance, could be construed as a tale for the new century. The 1999 retelling of the classic, written by Philemon Sturges and illustrated by Amy Walrod, is slightly different from the age-old version. Instead of asking for help in baking a cake, the Little Red Hen asks the duck, the dog and the cat to help her make a pizza. But they are too lazy.
In this fin de siecle version, however, the hen takes pity on her fellow creatures and shares the pizza with them. The other animals are thankful for her generosity and after dinner, everyone works together washing dishes.
Y2K Takes for Adults
In case you've put off worrying about Y2K, plenty of folks have been doing the fretting for you. Some of this advice might seem sage. Some might seem hysterical -- in both senses of the word. But here it is:
"The Y2K Personal Survival Guide" by Michael S. Hyatt
Publisher: Regnery, Washington
Distinction: One of the best-selling Y2K guidebooks at Amazon.com.
Getting ready: There are five areas of preparedness -- information, supplies, shelter, money, protection.
How bad could it get? At least a 12-month disruption of basic goods and services, including periods of no electricity, no clean water, a stock market crash and general lawlessness.
Over the edge: "Menstrual pads and tampons are inexpensive and never expire," Hyatt writes, "These ... can be used as effective barter items in an emergency situation."
"Y2K Family Survival Guide" by Jerry MacGregor and Kirk Charles
Publisher: Harvest House, Eugene, Ore.
Distinction: Publisher also produced "The Best of Good Clean Jokes."
Getting ready: Set aside a Saturday and see if you can survive without electricity, gas, water from your faucets and your phones.
How bad could it get? Criminal gangs battle police for control of inner cities, leading the president to declare martial law.
Over the edge: "Don't go home for the holidays at the end of 1999 unless you're planning to stay at least a month."
"Y2K: An Action Plan for January 1, 2000" by Victor W. Porlier
Distinction: Porlier is the former chief of information systems development for the State Department's Agency for International Development.
Getting ready: Call a family conference and create a survival plan.
How bad could it get? Get your resume ready, it may come in handy if you lose your job.
Over the edge: "You are likely to be approached by other, able-bodied people who are unprepared to care for themselves ... You will have to use your head to determine how or whether to run them down."
"The Complete Y2K Home Preparation Guide" by Edward Yourdon and Robert Roskind
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Distinction: Yourdon is the author of "Time Bomb 2000," a New York Times bestseller, and Roskind is president of Y2K Solutions Group.
Getting ready: Between now and New Year's Eve read every article about Y2K with discernment.
How bad could it get? "Could your employer survive for a full year, let alone a month, without phone service?"
Over the edge: "It's possible that the political fallout of the Year 2000 problem could lead to both the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Agency being abolished in their present form."
"Y2K Bible: Procrastinator's Edition" by Jesse Feiler and Barbara Butler
Publisher: IDG Books
Distinction: One of the least strident and most dense of the Y2K books. If you've procrastinated, and this is the only guidance you've got, you might as well forget about it.
Getting ready: 1. "Determine the objective and scope of the plan ... " 2. "Decide who participates in the planning ... "
How bad could it get? In some areas of the world, there is sincere doubt about the ability of electric companies to function without problems during the rollover to 2000.
Over the edge: "Florists are particularly vulnerable ... flowers will likely take second (or third) place to food, medicine and other essentials."