#45 Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman (1960)
I am such a big fan of the truly excellent easy reader. This is another one that blows you away with its perfect simplicity. – Amy M. Weir
This has everything. Different animals. A car, a plane. And all the drama and emotion of the baby bird trying to find his mother. But best of all — the Snort! I remember when my own mother bought this book for me and I could read it myself! I also remember my husband reading it to my son the first time when he was very young. When my husband cried out with the baby bird, “You are not my mother, you are a Snort!” my son burst into tears. I had to restrain the emotion in my voice when reading that part for quite some time, and rush to the end where the mother bird hugs her baby and everything’s better. - Sondra Eklund
NOT to be confused with the excellent Alison Bechdel memoir of the same name out this year, of course.
Well thanks to the wonders of including Easy Books on this list, P.D. Eastman’s other classic title appears (the first, to my mind, being Go Dog Go). Eastman has always struck me as a cursed author. People look at his books and because they were part of Seuss’s beginner book imprint they assume that his titles were by Seuss himself. Not the case.
The plot from Wikipedia reads, “A hatchling bird’s mother, thinking her egg will stay in her nest where she left it, leaves her egg alone and flies off to find food. The baby chick hatches. He does not understand where his mother is so he goes to look for her. In his search, he asks a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a cow if they are his mother. They each say, ‘No.’ Then he sees an old car, which cannot be his mother for sure. In desperation, the hatchling calls out to a boat and a plane, and at last, convinced he has found his mother, he climbs onto the teeth of an enormous power shovel. A loud ‘SNORT’ belches from its exhaust stack, prompting the bird to utter the immortal line, ‘You are not my mother! You are a SNORT!’ But as it shudders and grinds into motion he cannot escape. ‘I want my mother!’ he shouts. But at this climactic moment, his fate is suddenly reversed. The shovel drops him back in his nest, just as his mother is returning home, and the two are united, much to their delight, and the baby bird tells his mother about the adventure he had looking for her.”
My brother-in-law is not a particular fan of this book. He sort of sees it as taking place in this post-apocalyptic hellscape where there’s hardly any color and huge pieces of machinery that influence the daily lives of the characters. Which, to my mind, rather than rendering the book awful makes it FRIGGIN’ AWESOME to consider. Somebody turn this puppy into a YA novel and I’ll guarantee the millions. Maybe.
A little background on my man, P.D. Actually his name was Philip Dey Eastman and like a lot of picture book illustrators he started out as a Disney animators. Then WWII came along and he started doing “picture planning for animated sequences in orientation and training films”. And who, you might ask, was the head of his unit? Just a fellow going by the name of Ted Geisel. Yup. The Seuss himself. Eastman went on later to create Mr. Magoo and then he started freelancing. So Geisel approached him about writing for his Beginner Books series and a career was born, starting with Sam and the Firefly. You can see his site here.
You can hear it read in a kind of Reading Rainbo
“. . . one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time.
When I was a kid, growing up in the 60’s, I didn’t read many children’s books. P.D. Eastman, of course, whom I liked better than Suess, some of the Little Golden Books, and later, the Hardy Boys. Frank and Joe, I think their names were. I have no memory of either of my parents reading to me, ever. It may have happened, must have happened, but I can’t recall it. I was the youngest of seven, born in 1961, and bed time wasn’t the hour-long ritual it’s become for so many kids today, with reading and talking and snuggling and sharing, etc. When I was a kid, it was more like, “Good night. And don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
The words that formed my reading habit came from the sports pages of The New York Daily News and The Long Island Press. I still maintain that my writing style, such as it is, was probably more influenced by Dick Young than anybody else: I faithfully read his column for many (formative) years. I also remember, as I reached my middle grade period, talking to my older brothers and sisters about books. They were readers, all of them, and loved Bradbury and Vonnegut and Brautigan and Robbins, so I picked up those books. I have a vivid recollection of writing a book report in 7th grade on any book I wanted. I chose Anthem by Ayn Rand, probably because it was a slendest paperback on the family bookshelf.
I also read sports biographies, being an ex-boy, and still hold a special fondness for Go Up for Glory Bill Russell. It hit me like a thunderbolt, and for a time I was determined to grow into a very tall black man who’d willingly pass up a shot in order to set a fierce pick and roll into the paint, looking for the put-back.
Anyway, I basically missed the entire canon of children’s literature. I didn’t read Where the Wild Things Are until I worked at Scholastic as a junior copywriter in 1985, hauling in $12,500 a year, thank you very much. These days I still try to fill in the holes, though I’ll admit it: I love adult literature. After all, I’m an adult. Those are the books that lit my fuse. I am not giving up my grown-up books.
Now, about A Wrinkle In Time. I liked it. Some parts — the first few chapters, especially — I really, really admired. Other parts — after the tessering, and into the full-blown fantasy — I didn’t care for as much. It reminded me of the original Star Trek series (my brothers loved Star Trek and we watched it religiously). In sum: Dated, kind of corny, a little obvious, but entertaining and fast-paced and intelligent and provocative, too. There’s a quality to the book, a be
A lot of people stop by this site because they’re curious to learn what it takes to not only write a children’s book, but to write a successful one. Some authors appear at workshops where they charge hundreds of dollars to dispense such insider tips. Not me. Today, I’m giving the good stuff out for free. I only ask that you thank me in your acknowledgements and cut me in on any foreign rights. It’s a fair trade for this invaluable wisdom. Let’s get down to it.
First off, the old advice is often the best advice. Write what you know. Do you know a puppy that’s a bit poky? How about some teenagers who hunt each other for sport? Connecting with children is about connecting with the world around you. A few monkeys don’t hurt either. That’s right. Forget wizards, vampires and zombies. Monkeys are what distinguish great children’s books. Try to imagine The Secret Garden without Jose Fuzzbuttons, the wisecracking capuchin whose indelible catchphrase “Aye-yaye-yaye, Mami, hands off the yucca!” is still bandied about schoolyards today? I don’t think you can.
Of course, the magic that is artistic inspiration must find its way in there. So how do you grab hold of it? Christopher Paolini swears by peyote-fueled pilgrimages to the Atacama Desert. I’m more of a traditionalist. A pint of gin and a round of Russian Roulette with Maurice Sendak always gets my creative juices flowing. Have fun. Experiment. Handguns and hallucinogens need not be involved. Though I see no reason to rule them out. Find what works for you.
Now, you’ll inevitably face a little writer’s block. There are two words that cure this problem and cure it quick. Public Domain. Dust off some literary dud and add spice to it. Kids dig this stuff. For instance, you could take some Edith Wharton and inject it with flatulence. The Age of Innocence and Farts. Done. Easy. Bestseller.
I give this last bit of advice with a caveat. Resist the temptation to write unauthorized sequels to beloved classics. I speak from experience. My manuscripts for You Heard What I Said Dog, Get Your Arse Outta Here! and God? Margaret Again…I’m Late have seen the bottom of more editors’ trash cans than I care to mention. Newbery bait? Sure. Immune to the unwritten rules of the biz? Hardly.
Okay, let’s jump forward. So now you’ve got your masterpiece, but how the heck are you going to sell the thing? Truth be told, you’re going to need an advanced degree first. As anyone will inform you, kid lit authors without PhDs or MFAs are rarely taken seriously. If you can’t work Derrida or Foucault into a pitch letter, then you certainly can’t survive a 30-minute writing workshop with Mrs. Sumner’s 5th period reading class. So invest 60-100K and 3-6 years of your life. Then let the bidding war begin.
In the off chance that your book isn’t going to sell for six figures, try blackmail. Sounds harsh, but the children’s book industry runs almost exclusively on hush money and broken kneecaps. I mean, Beverly Cleary doesn’t even own a car. So why is she always carrying a tire iron?
Money is now under the mattress and the editorial process begins. Don’t worry at all about this. Editors won’t even read your book. They’ll simply call in Quentin Blake for some illustrations and then run the whole thing through a binding machine they keep in the back of the o
via The Children's Picturebook Price Guide:
"As a child, I loved the story A Fish Out Of Water. It was, and remains, one of my favorite Beginner Books.
Written by Helen Palmer, the wife of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, A Fish Out Of Water has a ‘preposterous-ness’ one associates with a Dr. Seuss story. Then it’s not surprising to discover the story is virtually identical to Seuss’s Gustav The Goldfish, which was published a decade earlier in the June 1950 Redbook Magazine!"
Kids don't pay close attention to every book they come across. When I was young my grandmother had a couple children's picture books here and there, but they were always odd little easy readers. Sam and the Firefly and other P.D. Eastman-inspired fits of lunacy. And one book I remember with crystal clarity involved feeding a fish too much food with over-the-top results. Hold a gun to my head and I couldn't tell you the name of it, but I remembered so many of the crazy details here and there.
Well consider the mystery solved. My head no longer has to be blown off its hinges. The Children's Picturebook Price Guide recently published a piece where they compared A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer (illustrated by P.D. Eastman, the sneaky bastard) to the little seen Dr. Seuss tale published ONLY in the June 1950 Redbook magazine, Gustav the Goldfish.
Anywho, check out the very cool before and after comparisons between the two. It really is worth looking at.
Thanks to Children's Illustration for the link.
The following books, both old and new, are some of my favorite mommy-and-me stories that I know you will enjoy sharing with your little Stinky Face: