Archive for October 27, 2008


I recently subscribed to a cool little site that, having now experienced it, I can recommend with confidence.

You may have already noticed the site on the “Book Reviews & Resources” sidebar — Wordsmith.Org: the magic of words. On the home page, you’ll find a “subscribe” option on the right, under the banner, A.Word.A.Day. The New York Times called it, “The most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass e-mail in cyberspace.” And who am I to disagree with “The Gray Lady?

Each day you’ll receive a (mercifully) brief email, introducing that day’s word. The words tend to be obscure but, like most words and some people, interesting once you get to know them. I’m enjoying it. Here’s a recent sample of one email:

with Anu Garg


noun: A poem in which the author retracts something said in an earlier poem.

From Greek palinoidia, from palin (again) + oide (song). It’s the same palin that shows up in the word palindrome. Here’s a palindromic web address:

The illustrator and humorist Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) once wrote a poem called The Purple Cow:
I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

“The more lighthearted palinodes were more successful, such as Geoff Horton’s recantation of his youthful view that a martini should be shaken rather than stirred.”
Jaspitos; I Take It Back; The Spectator (London, UK); Jan 24, 2004.

Let us enrich ourselves with our mutual differences. –Paul Valery, poet and philosopher (1871-1945)


Bernard Waber: An Appreciation

“When I am writing, I think of myself as a writer. But when I am illustrating, I think of myself as an illustrator. I think, though, that I try to create situations with my writing that will be fun to illustrate. The writer in me tries to please the illustrator.” — Bernard Waber.

Bernard Waber floats just under the top shelf of all-time great children’s authors and illustrators — you don’t hear his name much these days, when people list influences — but I suspect he’s under-appreciated. Certainly he’s written some great books, most notably Ira Sleeps Over and The House on East Eighty-Eighth Street., the first of many books starring Lyle the Crocodile. (Waber also has a knack for titles: A Lion Named Shirley Williamson is one of my favorites.)

I interviewed Bernard Waber in the early 1990’s. We spoke again a couple of years after that. I had hoped he could contribute to a book project, but we got sidelined when my son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with leukemia at age twenty-six months. Work just stopped for a while. Bernard understood, of course, and sent Nick a stuffed crocodile, some books, and a lovely handwritten note.

You don’t forget things like that.

So, yes, there’s bias here, an affection that goes beyond books. When I spoke with Bernard Waber more than 15 years ago — and I’m happy to report he is still going strong at age 84 — his intelligence shined through. He spoke about his craft with clarity and immodesty, as clear and refreshing as cool water. An innate goodness courses through his books. And his stories, no matter how humorous — how sly, dry, and understated — often contain real sensitivity. He writes from the heart.

“The nice thing about humor,” Waber told me, “is that after you have an idea that you think is humorous, there is always another side that’s sad and complicated. Those are the things you discover after you start writing.”

Ira Sleeps Over finds Waber at his best, capturing the inner angst of a childhood dilemma: the first sleepover. Ira is invited to sleep at his friend Reggie’s house — but he has never slept without Tah Tah, his Teddy Bear. Can Ira risk the embarrassment? With staccato dialogue, Waber deftly explores Ira’s confusing, conflcting emotions. In addition, the dynamic with the older sister rings so true. Because somehow Waber knows. He remembers.

His 2002 book, Courage, in which various characters encounter the need for bravery, was inspired in part by 9/11, though he primarily drew upon childhood memories of the Great Depression. I love the cover:

Waber told Becky Rodia, of Teaching K-8 magazine, “Courage is the summoning of core strengths, faith, and idealism in confrontation with life’s challenges. My parents’ bracing themselves against all odds during the Great Depression taught me valuable lessons in this regard. However, because we are humans with frailties, courage can also mean asking for help and support in the face of overwhelming circumstances.”

When I think of Bernard Waber, I think of someone who showed us what a picture book can achieve. Laughter, childlike appeal, and adult insight. For that, and for more personal reasons, I offer this tribute. I don’t know who handles these things, but I hereby nominate Bernard Waber for a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to children’s literature.

Note: If you enjoyed this appreciation — the fourth in a series — just click the links for thoughts on other literary lions: William Steig, Arnold Lobel, and Raymond Chandler.

For Writers Only (Okay, Relax, Illustrators, Too)

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Thanks to Richard Spaulding, an old friend, who passed this along.

The man behind this video, Dennis Cass, has a pretty cool blogsite, Dennis Cass Wants You To Be More Awesome. He really does!

Do You Need a Dinette Set?

As a service to my readers who might be shopping for dinette sets, I submit this:

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Yes, that’s a real commercial. Have a great weekend.

New York Public Library Top 100 — Part Two!

Well, this is crazy. I just got a call from Shannon Penney, the Scholastic editor for Along Came Spider, who informed me that Spider, too, was named by The New York Public Library in its 2008 list of “100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.”

I am honored and grateful.

I understand the list includes books for readers up to age eleven. The New York Public Library publishes a separate annual list of “Books for the Teen Age,” which will be announced later. The other Scholastic titles included on this list:

Nic Bishop Frogs by Nic Bishop
Sipping Spiders Through a Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters by Kelly DiPucchio
Swindle by Gordon Korman
What to Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! by Barbara Kerley
Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls