Monday, June 27, 2011

Bill Peet’s Magical Kingdom

Kevin Coolidge

Another horn here, just a bit more shading there, and can’t forget the smoke. It’s just not a dragon without a wispy tendril of smoke. Done! Is it time yet??? Just a few minutes more and it will be my turn. I hope Capyboppy is there. I haven’t read that one yet. It’s always out, but I can always read Chester the Worldly Pig again…

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and my little school didn’t have a library, but we did have weekly visits from the bookmobile. I always looked forward to the little green and white van crammed with books, and one of my favorite authors was Bill Peet.

Bill Peet was a doodling, daydreaming boy. He was born in Grandview, Indiana, a very small town on the banks of the Ohio River. He did all the things a boy in a small town was expected to do. He chased frogs, and jumped in haystacks. He ran through fields, and played in the woods, suffered through class, and dreamed of the future.

Drawing was the perfect indoor hobby during cold Indiana winters, but life was much too serious during the Great Depression to be dreaming of an art career. So Bill signed up for algebra, history, Latin, and physical education, and failed everything but physical education. It was a dreary time for him, until the day he ran into a boy he’d known in grade school. He encouraged Bill to take art classes.

“I got some credits in art,” he said, “and I can hardly draw at all. But you’re really good, Bill. Art would be a breeze for you.”

Bill dropped some academic courses and added some art classes, earned his credits, learned a little math and English, and was awarded a scholarship to the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis. His dream of making art a career suddenly seemed more realistic.

Bill loved art school, and won several cash prizes for paintings, but it wasn’t a regular income. One day a friend handed him a brochure from the Walt Disney Studios. They needed artists. Though he wasn’t interested in cartooning, it wasn’t a time to be choosy.

He was given a one month tryout, and even though he was warned about leaving the buttons off of Mickey’s pants, he ended up working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Bill went on to work on several Disney classics including Pinocchio and Fantasia. He advanced to a full-fledged story man on Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, and even wrote the screenplay for The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

While still at Disney studios, Bill Peet had his first children’s book published, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure, about a much too proud lion. Soon he had five books in print, and Peet decided that after one last project for Disney, he would make his break and devote all his time to writing and illustrating children’s books. Jungle Book was it.

Kipling’s story with such a wealth of characters to develop, led to many exciting animation possibilities. There was Baloo, the playful bear; Kaa, the sly python; and the scheming Bengal Tiger, Shere Khan. But when it came to select voices for the characters, Walt Disney glowered and fumed and demanded another actor, and Bill Peet finally left Disney studios.

Bill went on to create over thirty children’s books that continue to be valued by teachers, parents, and librarians, because they are loved by children. At last his childhood ambition was realized. These books made reading fun for me, and fostered a love of reading that continues with me today, and my love of books has grown beyond my expectations…

Doodling? Or Daydreaming? Drop me an email at and let me know. Miss a past column? Don’t despair! They’re all here Hobo the cat also dreamed of a future beyond his reach. Read about it in “Hobo Finds A Home” about a cat who wanted more…

Monday, June 13, 2011

A New Bundle of Joy

Kevin Coolidge

You took your nephew fishing for native brookies. You taught him not draw to an inside straight. You educated him in the fine art of talking to women. You’re a great uncle. So when you found out your sister-in-law was expecting a new bundle of joy, of course you rummaged around to make sure you still had that child-size fishing pole. Yep, right there behind the deer antler chandelier and your favorite neon beer sign. There are some good times ahead.

So, when that little pink envelope came in the mail, you are only a little disappointed. After all there’s still softball, and skeet shooting, and what kid doesn’t like learning to skip a stone? You grab a pocket knife and give a yell out to the wife as you cut it open. “What the heck is an onesie??? “

Seems like there’s a new tradition going around. Your sister-in-law doesn’t want you to bring a card, but instead bring a book to help grow your new niece’s library. That’s a great idea, as you never really saw the point of a card to anyway. It’s not like the baby is going to read it. Hard enough choosing between a pilsner and a stout beer, thank heavens you won’t be forced to choose between the ugly pink stork, and that prancing panda. There’s no better gift you could give than the love of reading. Well, at least until she develops the dexterity to tie her own flies.

So, where do you start? The good news is that a lot of your favorite books growing up are still in print and are time-proven classics. It’s hard to go wrong with Good Night Moon, Pat the Bunny, or Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Great books, great choices – the only problem is that a lot of people are going to have the same ideas.

You choose the path a little less read. Every baby loves a teddy bear, and there’s a great series of books titled That’s not my…Teddy; That’s not my Lion; That’s not my Tractor…. They are simple, colorful, and tactile. Every page has a different texture and descriptive adjective. It’s a great way to develop touch. There isn’t a That’s not my Trout. Not yet anyway, but there are new titles all the time.

Maybe you are a big fan of Margaret Wise Brown, and The Runaway Bunny, but feel that it’s a bit biased against big-toothed or man-eating plants? You could go with Goodnight Goon or The Runaway Mummy by Michael Rex, two parodies that will put a smile in Dad’s voice at the end of the day, as well as soothe the young one into the land of Nod. And if Dad is a devourer of H.P. Lovecraft there’s no better choice than Baby’s First Mythos. The babe can learn the eldritch alphabet and an appreciation of classic horror lore.

With books, the possibilities are endless. You’re helping open a world and a future that holds opportunities, that holds wonders, that holds the prospect of another fishing buddy. Yep, there are some good times ahead…

Books? Or Cards? Drop me an email at and let me know. Miss a past column? Check out past columns and bonus material at and get your fill. Who doesn’t love animals? Your new nephew will love “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a cat who wanted more than life pawed off on him…

Monday, June 6, 2011

Read, Remember, Recommend!

Read the Printed Word!

In my humble opinion, the best bookstores and libraries have posters, newsletters, and displays to give browsers suggestions on new books to read. For years, the independent booksellers’ association has published regular “Book Sense” (now known as “IndieBound”) newsletters with recommendations on recent releases, children’s book lists, book club suggestions, and more. The Green Free Library always has wonderful displays, enticing patrons with books on a monthly theme, such as National Poetry Month in April or Banned Book Week in September. I’ll never forget my favorite used bookstore from the time I lived in Denver, CO: their lists of award-winning books informed me of categories like the Hugo Award, the Agatha Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award, leading me into excellent writing in various genres.

In addition to flyers and displays at book places, now more than ever, there are thousands of resources online to discover book recommendations. All the “major” awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award, have their own, detailed websites, as well as not a few of the smaller awards. Moreover, bibliophiles by the score have taken to their computers to tell the world about the books they love. If you are at all tech-savvy, there is a world of book blogs out there now, where you can read literally millions of suggestions and critiques of books. My only advice is this: use these sites as tools, and don’t get so lost on your computer, reading about others’ experiences with books, that you lose the time to go read for yourself.

Thus we come to my recommendation(s) for this week: Read, Remember, Recommend and Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens, by Rachelle Rogers Knight. Always a voracious reader, as well as an active book blogger herself, (, Knight found that after having her second child, her reading notes become completely disorganized. On her website, she shares how she had little clippings from magazines, half-finished reviews scrawled in various notebooks, and award websites bookmarked on her computer. Knight wanted a place where she could keep her own lists of books she wanted to read, books she’d lent out to friends, notes she’d taken while reading a new favorite, while still having handy access to many lists of award winners and book association recommendations.

Certainly, there are plenty of “reading journals” on the market – mostly blank books that direct the reader to fill in notes about books they’ve read – as well as books filled only with suggested reading, such as the fantastic Book Lust series by Nancy Pearl. Knight, however, couldn’t find anything that combined all of the these elements in one place, so she created her own.

Brightly colored covers, spiral bound for easier writing access, with tabbed sections, commentary and explanations for various awards, a list of literary terms, and some recommendations for reference websites, the Read, Remember, Recommend journals are a bibliophile’s dream. The rave reviews continue to rain in from bookstores, librarians, writers, parents, teachers, students and book people everywhere.

After buying and pouring over both books, my only criticism is this: the teen edition, published second, is far superior in breadth of recommendations. Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens offers much more diversity with awards from many genres, and more styles of recommendation lists including “Read-Alikes”, such as “if you liked the book Eragon, you’d like….” While the original, adult edition does include book club recommendation lists from organizations as diverse as Oprah’s Book Club to Penny’s List at Costco Connections, nevertheless, almost every list is either classic or contemporary fiction which has won some erudite prize. In the teen book, there are lists such as the Modern Library’s 100 Best Books of the Century, but there are also recommendations for books written in verse, westerns, GLBT, reluctant readers, action-driven style, paranormal romance, science fiction, mystery, fantasy and more. These categories hardly seem to exist in the adult world, which makes me a little sad. Obviously, I enjoy many of the Great Works of Literature (emphasis added, with only very slight sarcasm), but there’s nothing wrong with reading across the genres, since there are great writers in many styles, nor is there anything wrong with reading a ‘lighter’ book once in a while. I hope your summer reading brings you both!

Read to remember or read to forget? Tell Hobo your reading reasons, recommendations, and reflections by emailing him at To see past recommendations of Hobo’s, check out his blog at Need someone to agree with your reading reviews? Look for the new Hobo bobblehead figure, coming soon to a bookstore near you!