by Kathy Wolfe
International Children’s Book Day occurs during the month of April, and Tidbits is exploring the pages of some memorable ones.
• The day starts out badly for a young boy in Judith Viorst’s 1972 book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Having gone to bed chewing bubble gum, he wakes up with it stuck in his hair. Arising from his bed, he trips on his skateboard. In the bathroom, he drops his favorite sweater in the water-filled sink. At school, his teacher points out his poor performance in front of the class. The dentist finds a cavity. He falls in the mud. Lima beans are on his plate for dinner. In a world of “happily ever afters,” we might expect the boy’s day to improve…but it doesn’t. The lesson for kids? Life isn’t always pleasant, and everyone has bad days now and then.
• Laura Numeroff released If You Give a Mouse a Cookie in 1985, a story that goes round and round until the end when it brings the reader back to the original request. A boy named Oliver gives a cookie to a mouse named Quinley, which sparks the request for milk, which leads to a straw, which goes on in a cycle of requests, ending with the cookie. The mouse book spawned a series of 17 more books, including If You Give a Moose a Muffin, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, and If You Take a Mouse to School.
• Pippi Longstocking has her roots in Sweden, where her story was first published in 1945 in Swedish as Pippi Langstrump, which literally translates “long stocking.” Her full name is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint, Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking. The name was created by author Astrid Lindgren’s daughter Karin, who had been confined to bed with an illness. Her mother invented bedside stories about the nine-year-old freckled redhead with sideways pigtails, who lived alone in an old house with her monkey Mr. Nilsson and her horse. Pippi had great wealth due to a suitcase of gold pieces left to her by her father, who had been lost at sea. She was also gifted with supernatural strength. Publishers rejected the first manuscript in 1944, but it was accepted by another, and three chapter books were published from 1945 to 1948, followed by short stories and picture books. The stories have been translated in 76 languages, including Japanese, in which Pippi is known as Nagakutsushita-no-Pippi.
• Eric Carle was working as a graphics designer and illustrator in the late 1960s, when he provided the illustrations for a colleague’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? On a day when he had nothing to do, bored, he started fooling around with a hole punch, punching holes in a stack of paper. He conceived the idea of a bookworm chewing his way through pages, and proposed the idea of “A Week with Willi Worm” to a publisher. The editor didn’t find the character appealing, so the pair brainstormed until they came up with a caterpillar and a butterfly.
• Eric Carle’s “Hungry Little Caterpillar” eats his way through various food items, including apples, pears, plums, strawberries, oranges, cake, pickles, cheese, salami, and cupcakes, experiencing a stomach ache from those that are unhealthy. Carle used die cut holes in the pages as the caterpillar ate his way through the book. Immediately popular upon its publication in 1969, The Hungry Little Caterpillar has sold more than 50 million copies, with a copy sold every 30 seconds. It’s been on the Publisher Weekly’s bestseller list for over 1,100 weeks, and has been translated into 60+ languages. Carle, who died in 2021 at age 91, wrote more than 70 books that have sold over 170 million copies.
• The much-loved bedtime story Goodnight Moon, written by Margaret Wise Brown, was published in 1947, experiencing poor initial sales of just 6,000 copies at $1.75 each. (It’s now estimated to have sold 48 million copies.) The story consists of only 130 words and was written in just one morning. Brown told the tale of a bunny’s ritual of bidding good-night to all the things he sees in the “great green room,” including a red balloon, a brush, a bowl of mush, and the moon. Brown died young, just age 42, from a blood clot, having authored more than 100 books under four names and seven publishers. She left behind more 70 unpublished manuscripts. Thirty were published after her death.
• Margaret Wise Brown had bequeathed the royalties from many of her books to the son of her neighbor. The son, Albert Clarke, was nine years old when Brown died, and the royalties were held until he was 21, when $75,000 had accumulated. By Clarke’s 22nd birthday, the money was gone. The money continued to be bestowed, as Clarke racked up arrests for marijuana possession, attempted burglary, reckless driving, petty larceny, and disorderly conduct, while he lived in his Dodge van. Although the royalties have amounted to nearly $5 million, 50 years after Brown’s death, Clarke was down to his last $20,000, having squandered the remainder. Brown bequeathed the royalties from one book “Sailor Dog” to Albert’s brother, Austin, which in later years, amounted to $13.88 per month.
• Harold and the Purple Crayon was the first of a series of 10 “Harold” books written by cartoonist and illustrator David Johnson Leisk, under the name of Crockett Johnson. Johnson had already gained fame for the comic strip “Barnaby” from 1942 to 1952. Harold came along in 1955. The 4-year-old boy creates a world of his own with his magical purple crayon, drawing a path and a moon in order to take a walk in the moonlight, among many other adventures. The books were adapted into a 13-episode HBO series in 2002, which won an Emmy Award. Crockett Johnson was also a gifted artist, specializing in complex mathematical paintings inspired by geometric principles and mathematical theorems and diagrams. He painted 100 such works related to math and physics over a ten-year period, 1965 to 1975.