Short Stuff

News for kids – from the largest snake in captivity to how much chocolate Americans eat yearly.

Tom Dodge/Columbus Dispatch/AP
Greg M. Cooper/AP/NECCO

Calling all candy lovers

Valentine's Day is coming up, and you know what that means: hearts, doilies, and, you hope, some chocolates and other sweets!

Did you know that the average American ate about 26 pounds of candy in 2006? (Let's hope it wasn't all at once!) And chocolate is king among all those treats.

Manufacturers of chocolate and cocoa products in the US shipped out about $14.9 billion worth of their wares in 2006. Production of nonchocolate confections was only a $6.2 billion industry during the same year. Will you give a sweet treat to anyone special this year?

Some snake

What's as long as a moving van, as big around as a telephone pole, and weighs more than 300 pounds? It's Fluffy, the largest snake in captivity!

Fluffy is a reticulated python that lives in Ohio's Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. She was born to a reptile breeder in Oklahoma, who loaned her to the zoo last year. But in January, the zoo bought Fluffy so it could keep her on display permanently.

The hulking snake is 24 feet long and dines on two 10-pound rabbits a week!

Reticulated pythons are native to Southeast Asia, where they catch mice and lizards for food when they are small. After they're grown, the snakes usually prey on larger animals, such as pigs and goats.

Chinese New Year

Can you name all holidays in February? Did you know that Chinese New Year falls on Feb. 7? It's a holiday that Chinese people all over the world celebrate to mark the first day of the first new moon of the lunar calendar. The celebration ends 14 days later, about the time that the new moon has become a full moon.

This year is called the Year of the Rat. The Chinese lunar calendar names years after 12 animals, which are then repeated in a cycle. Do you remember that 2007 was the Year of the Pig? Next year will be the Year of the Ox.

How do people celebrate Chinese New Year? Festivities include visiting relatives, wearing new clothing, and watching fireworks displays.

Write neatly!

Did you know that Jan. 23 was National Handwriting Day?

You might type all your homework on the computer, but the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association would like you to pick up pens and pencils more often. It created this holiday in 1977 in honor of John Hancock's birthday. He was the first man to sign America's Declaration of Independence, so his signature is important.

When he put his name on the Declaration, his handwriting was so big and beautiful that "John Hancock" eventually became a synonym of "signature."

And even though it may not seem like it, handwriting is serious business. Some people make a career out of analyzing people's handwriting to detect forgeries (fake signatures).

Living history

Seventeen-year-old Kyle Nappi loves history – especially military history. And he knows that war veterans are an excellent source of information. Each one has a unique story to tell about the experience of war – what happened, what it was like to be there, and how the experience changed him or her.

That's why Kyle is doing all he can to gather the signatures and stories of as many veterans as possible.

He has autographs from veterans of World War I, World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars, as well as from those currently serving in Iraq. In all, he has received "John Hancocks" from nearly 1,600 veterans in 20 countries.

Kyle thinks his project is important because it shows that someone is collecting and remembering the stories of veterans who have served their countries. When asked in a phone interview why kids should care about understanding history, he replied: "That's how we got where we are today." And he'd be glad if more young people were curious about the past.

For kids who are already interested in the subject, Kyle says that asking questions and researching your own family background are good ways to start learning more.

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