A little good news: A boy found a big worm : Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Comedian Karen Chee and Emma meet a giant worm and learn how to write a spooky children's book.

A little good news: A boy found a big worm

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Hi everyone. I'm Emma Choi. And welcome to EVERYONE & THEIR MOM, a weekly show from Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! This week we're talking about a really big worm with Wait Wait panelist, comedian and a woman who I'm almost positive has already used the phrase, Jiminy Cricket, sometime today, it's Karen Chee. Hey, Karen.


KAREN CHEE: Oh, nice to see you (laughter).

CHOI: Nice to see you, too. Am I right? Have you used that phrase today?

CHEE: Yeah, only twice. It does sound like something I would get tattooed on my body.

CHOI: Absolutely. And I pray for that day.

CHEE: Yeah.

CHOI: Well, Karen, we've got a real fun story for you this week. A boy found a giant worm in his backyard. That's the whole story.

CHEE: That's awesome. How big was the worm?

CHOI: Oh, I can't even wait to tell you about this, Karen. Have you ever wondered to yourself, huh, I wonder if there's a worm out there that's a meter long, bodaciously (ph) thick and absolutely just hanging out in some little boy's backyard?

CHEE: A bodaciously thick worm?

CHOI: Yeah, Karen.

CHEE: Oh, my God.

CHOI: Nine-year-old New Zealander Barnaby Domigan discovered the worm of worms in his backyard. And we are just, like, super thrilled for him, OK? And this thing is huge. Imagine the biggest freaking worm you can think of. This worm is bigger than that. It's...

CHEE: That's wild.

CHOI: I know. It's as thick as a garden hose, and not joking, it is actually a meter long. That's like three Subway foot-longs back-to-back. If you stood it up and put a tutu on it, it could probably pass as a skinny 8-year-old in dance class. That's how big it is.

CHEE: Yeah. And probably much better at doing the worm.

CHOI: Yeah.

CHEE: Wait, that's crazy, though. I also didn't know that they had that - they had such big worms in New Zealand. Is it normal there for worms to be bigger?

CHOI: I think so. I mean, everything's bigger in New Zealand, in Australia, right? But I think this worm was also, like, egregiously big, you know, because on one hand it's an enigma, right? It's the Andre the Giant of worms. But...

CHEE: Yeah.

CHOI: ...You know, on the other hand, it's also just a classic worm. You know, it's pink. It's got that weird, segmented, bendy straw thing near its head.

CHEE: Oh, jeez.

CHOI: And as Barnaby put it so wisely, it's, quote, "cold and squishy." It's essentially an extra-long hot dog, Karen. It's basically an intestine with feelings.

CHEE: That's - OK. The thing I can't imagine is, like, is it actually the thickness of a garden - like, is the girth of the worm as thick as a garden hose or is it just long and still quite skinny?

CHOI: No, it's quite thick. It's like three of my fingers.

CHEE: In diameter?

CHOI: In diameter.

CHEE: Did they put it in a zoo?

CHOI: No. Barnaby - or you know, we're calling B. Barnes (ph) - he named the worm Dead Fred, which is, you know, a perfect name. And he wanted to keep him in a plastic bag in his house. But, you know, his parents said, no. They're calling the worm, quote, "the stuff of nightmares."

CHEE: Yeah, true.

CHOI: And, you know, that was probably the right call. Everyone knows you should store your worms in a reusable tote.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Ooh, ooh. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

CHEE: Emma, this actually, I feel like, could be a really good children's book - "Barnaby And The Giant Worm."

CHOI: Oh, yeah. Oh, my God. The illustrations would be amazing. Karen, how do you think that story would go?

CHEE: OK. It would be the worm showing up in the house. And the worm being like, all my worm friends have never loved me because I was too big, and Barnaby being like, I love you. So they get along. The worm is so helpful, gives Barnaby a ride to school, but then everybody else starts bullying Barnaby because of the worm. And so then the worm is like, oh, no. I'm making Barnaby's life harder. So he disappears, and then Barnaby gets really sad, right?

CHOI: Yeah.

CHEE: But Barnaby's parents are like, thank God the worm is out of the house. And so the worm is like, I had to do the good thing by leaving. And then one day, Barnaby realizes that the worm has left a glistening trail behind him as he...

CHOI: Of worm slime.

CHEE: Yeah, as he wiggles away.

CHOI: Wow.

CHEE: So then Barnaby, very excited, goes and finds the worm. I think at some point something really devastating needs to happen, like the worm gets, like, part of it run over by a bicycle or something because when...

CHOI: Yeah.

CHEE: ...Worms split, they turn into two worms, right? Or is that a myth?

CHOI: I don't know. I think at least, like, part of it grows back.

CHEE: OK. So, well...

CHOI: Yeah.

CHEE: ...Let's say it's another worm.


CHEE: So then Barnaby has a friend worm that are two slightly smaller but still very giant worms. And then they reunite and become friends.

CHOI: That is such a good story. Yes.

CHEE: Thank you.

CHOI: One note, can the worm be wearing a top hat?

CHEE: Yeah, I think it must. I think the top hat needs to be as long as the body.

CHOI: Just to start off, Donna, can you introduce yourself for us?

DONNA BARBA HIGUERA: Sure. I'm Donna Barba Higuera, and I write children's books, middle grade and picture books.

CHOI: Yeah, you do. Yeah. And they're incredible. You are a freaking New York Times bestselling children's book author. You've won a Newbery Award, which is basically like the "American Idol" of kids' books awards, right?

HIGUERA: (Laughter) I never - I haven't heard of it that way. But OK, I'll tell my kids that. That will impress them.

CHOI: So cool (laughter). Well, thank you so much for being here. We've been talking this week about this boy who found a giant worm in his backyard. And we thought it would be a really great idea for a children's book. What do you think?

HIGUERA: OK. I feel like anything that you can come up with that makes you give pause for just a moment and ask you, how in the heck did that happen or what if - so, yeah. It would make an awesome children's book.

CHOI: Yay. Yeah, it totally reminded us of, like, you know, Emily and the big, red dog - Clifford - and, like, all these animal-human pairings.

HIGUERA: You're going really friendly and - with this giant worm. My mind went to a really dark place.


HIGUERA: I mean, imagine when you were a kid, the best books were the ones that were really scary...

CHOI: Yeah.

HIGUERA: ...Or the ones that made you feel a little bit more grown up or kind of ask yourself those imaginative questions.

CHOI: Totally. That's so funny because we were talking about that, too. Like, you know, like, what makes a good children's book? Because honestly, it's a little confusing because some of our favorites are, like, really dark. Like, in the Korean "Cinderella," the evil stepsister actually drowns Cinderella and assumes her identity. Or, like, you know, in "Hansel And Gretel," the kids get, like, absolutely merc'd (ph) by the witch.

HIGUERA: Yeah, that's kind of the way I think as well. Like, how much worse can I make it for this character? And so...

CHOI: Yeah (laughter).

HIGUERA: ...You know, what - like, this boy, what if he, you know, finds this worm. And, you know, initially he thinks it's a friendly worm, and then it goes really dark into a bad place. And then the worm...

CHOI: Yeah.

HIGUERA: ...Starts to attack his home and his town and his friends. And then he has to step up and fight and kill the worm, which, you know, of course, turns out to be a baby worm. And we know that there are bigger worms out there. So I don't know. That's where my mind goes.


CHOI: I love that. Yeah. Do you ever get, like, feedback from kids, like, reading your books to your face?

HIGUERA: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. They'll tell me characters that they like or don't like. And sometimes it's supposed to be that way. Like, there's a mean character, and they're like, I really don't like that. I'm like, good. That's - was - you were supposed to.

CHOI: (Laughter) Do you ever get a - like, I know that sometimes, you know, kids' books are big for bedtime, I've learned.


CHOI: Is it offensive when kids fall asleep during your books?

HIGUERA: No. I - actually - well, I guess it depends on the book.


HIGUERA: If it's super action-packed and they're snoozin' (ph), I'd be like, oh, maybe I didn't hit the mark on that one. But I think that, you know, picture books - well, books in general can be a really safe place. And I think that the world sometimes can be kind of scary. And so if a kid can come home and curl up with a book, and they fall asleep, then you've hit the goal.

CHOI: Totally. Yeah. I mean, can I - I want to ask you about the - like, the children's book author community because that seems interesting. Like, do you have a conference where there's, like, a slime machine and a bouncy house?

HIGUERA: (Laughter) I wish. They would be so much better if there was slime and a bouncy house.

CHOI: (Laughter) Yeah.

HIGUERA: OK. I will say, though, my best friends in life are writers. And I think that because a lot of us - we are like kids, and we still have our heads in the clouds. And we - it's like having this secret treehouse of trust where we can talk to one another and speak freely. There are conferences, and people are on their best behavior. But then when you get to, like, a table with friends, and you're actually sitting around - especially children's writers have the biggest potty mouths and, like...

CHOI: (Laughter).

HIGUERA: ...We'll say - and it's just - we're kids in adult bodies.

CHOI: I have a hard time imagining you with a potty mouth. Can you - can we get a sample?

HIGUERA: Oh, I can add s*** to anything. Like, oh, the lunch is s*** - like, lunch s*** and like, you know, breakfast s***...

CHOI: (Laughter).

HIGUERA: ...Oh, bagel s***. You know, you can just add it to anything, and it's just the perfect curse word for me.

CHOI: Oh, that's...

HIGUERA: (Laughter).

CHOI: ...So wonderful to hear. Yeah. One last question, what question would you want to ask this little worm boy to know more about his story?

HIGUERA: OK. First of all, what did he do with the worm once he found it? Did he keep it? Did he put it back where it was?

CHOI: I'm talking to him later, so I'll get you with some answers.

HIGUERA: You are?

CHOI: I know. I'm so lucky.

HIGUERA: I just got goosebumps. You're meeting the famous worm boy of New Zealand. That's so exciting.


BARNABY DOMIGAN: I'm Barnaby Domigan from Christchurch in New Zealand.

CHOI: Yeah. And, I mean, you're from New Zealand, but you're basically a worldwide celebrity at this point because you found a really big worm. Congrats, man. That is a huge freaking worm you found.

BARNABY: Thank you.

CHOI: (Laughter) Are you the coolest kid at school now, now that you found this huge worm?

BARNABY: I don't know. I actually don't know.

CHOI: Why don't you tell us what happened from the - can you tell us the story of how you found this worm from the beginning?

BARNABY: Yes, I'd be delighted to. OK. So, you see, we have a riverbed down by our backyard, and I decided to go explore it because I hadn't been in it much. So I went into the riverbed. And I walked along the side, and then there it was. I saw a giant worm lying in the water.

CHOI: Whoa. Oh, my gosh. What did you - what did it feel like to find that guy?

BARNABY: It was just so exciting because I didn't know if it was, like, a worm or an eel that had been, like - been in, like, spray paint or something like that.

CHOI: Cool. And what did it feel like? I mean, it must have been really exciting to see it in your hand, right?

BARNABY: It was really, really, really, really, really exciting because I'd never seen a worm that big in my life.

CHOI: So was it alive?

BARNABY: No, it was dead because, like, it was drowned in the water when I picked it up.

CHOI: That's pretty sad. Was it heavy then? Because it must have been - it looks big, right?

BARNABY: It was huge. So it was really heavy.

CHOI: What did you do next? So you had the worm on the stick. What comes next?

BARNABY: Well, I picked it up with the stick. Then I came over to the fence, and I said, Dad, Dad, I found a giant worm. And then he came over and took a photo and then posted it on Facebook. But - and then suddenly the whole world wanted to find out about how I found the worm.

CHOI: So what did you do with the worm after you showed your dad? Did you give it a funeral?

BARNABY: No. Well, I wanted to keep it in, like, a jar or a plastic bag. But then my dad said that it was, like, too disgusting. And I - and he didn't want a worm in the house. So I had to say goodbye. I put it on the side of the river, and I waved.

CHOI: So are you going to keep looking for worms in your backyard after this, or are you all done?

BARNABY: I'm going to hope for the best and keep looking.

CHOI: I love that attitude. Well, thank you so much, Barnaby - B. Barnes. We had so much fun. Is there anything else you want to say to the world about Mr. Dead Fred?

BARNABY: No. No, thank you. But thank you so much for inviting me on this call today.

CHOI: And thank you for coming. This was a lot of fun.


CHOI: Here's my favorite part of the podcast, the credits. This show was brought to you by Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! This episode was produced by Hayley Fager, Zola Ray and Kelli Wessinger, with help from Hoja Lopez, Blythe Roberson, Lillian King, Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis and George Lucas (ph) - not the one you're thinking of, like, a separate one. Our supervising producer is Jennifer Mills, and our unproblematic king is Mike Danforth. Once again, Lorna White, thank you for being Lorna White and for doing our sound. Thanks to Barnaby Domigan for bringing the joy of Dead Fred to the world.

BARNABY: Dead Fred, you are dead.

CHOI: Donna Barba Higuera, thanks for talking to us about all things creepy and cute.

HIGUERA: We're at a sleepover, and we're just making a crazy story.

CHOI: Her new book, "The Last Cuentista," is out now. Thank you to my co-host, comedian, Wait Wait panelist and someone I'm dreaming of opening a craft store with, it's Karen Chee.

CHEE: Yes, I can do whatever I want.

CHOI: You can find her on Twitter and on Instagram @karenchee. I'm Emma Choi, and you can find me @waitwaitnpr and talking myself out of piercing my own ears a la "The Parent Trap" style. They make it look, like, very safe and easy. But Google says I should not do that.


CHOI: OK. I'm done. This is NPR.

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