7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #265: Featuring Bernard Waber
(and a Moment with R. Gregory Christie)

h1 January 22nd, 2012 by jules

Look here. It’s Lyle. And he’s fifty years old now. (He can kick, he can shimmy … oh wait, it’s another annoying Saturday Night Live reference. I have one of those for everything in life.)

First off, for anyone who may be reading who is not a fellow picture book junkie, here’s a Lyle 101: Lyle, the crocodile, debuted in 1962 in author/illustrator Bernard Waber’s The House on East 88th Street. This book was followed in 1965 by Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, probably the most famous Lyle book, and a total of eight books exist in the series.

All the books concern the Primm family, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph F. Primm and their son Joshua, who moved into this house on East 88th street only to find a crocodile in their bathtub. “The next moment found them flying off in different directions,” screaming a lot. Suddenly, an “oddly dressed man” appeared at the door with the note pictured above. Lyle is an artist? He’s gentle?

“‘Oh, to think this could happen on East 88th Street. Whatever will we do with him?’
Suddenly, before anyone could think of a worthy answer, there was Lyle.”

— From The House on East 88th Street, originally published in 1962

Sure enough, the family falls for Lyle, who is tremendously helpful around the home, and even the entire town falls for him. Hector P. Valenti (star of stage and screen), however, returns to fetch his crocodile. As you can imagine, there are many tears on the part of the family and even Lyle, due to this arrangement, which all leads to another note at a later date from Hector P. Valenti (star of stage and screen), saying that he is “sick of crocodiles,” not to mention the tears of crocodiles, and that he will return with the creature. A happy reunion occurs. The end.

— From Lyle and the Birthday Party, originally published in 1966

Or not really, as noted above. More books followed, and some are collected into a new volume from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Storybook Treasury, which celebrates Lyle’s grand birthday. (It won’t be released till March, I think, and I apologize for going on about a book so early. I swear, it’s challenging to blog in January, as many of these books don’t come out till a couple months down the road.) The collection includes The House on East 88th Street and Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, as well as Lyle and the Birthday Party.

Along to celebrate is Waber himself, who penned the book’s introduction (and who “had no idea or even dreamed that Lyle would survive after fifty years”), writing that he loves drawing crocodiles (“[t]heir infinite bumps and ridges”) and explaining how his pull to children’s books began with reading to his own three children:

We were fixtures at the library, always coming home with mountains of books, which were devoured huddled on the living room floor or during our more often extended bedtime readings fests. My children discovered pleasure in literature and art. Hearing the sound and rhythm of words, marveling at the creations of master illustrators, and struck by the gleeful anticipation of embarking on journeys of imagination ignited in me a powerful need to write and illustrate picture books.

“When he discovered where they were, he particularly enjoyed amusing the children. ‘More, more,’ they called as Lyle danced, leaped,
did handstands, headstands, and somersaulted about.”

— Another illustration from Lyle and the Birthday Party (1966)

It was then that Waber decided to major in art at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, while simultaneously working as a designer in Life magazine’s art department.

This volume also includes (at the book’s close) Lyle Walks the Dogs, a counting book, originally published in 2010 and illustrated by his daughter, Paulis Waber.

And Waber also notes in the book’s introduction that a ninth Lyle title is on its way. This is a kick, indeed.

Happy birthday to Lyle … and many more.

* * * * * * *

LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE STORYBOOK TREASURY. Copyright © 2012 by Bernard Waber with Paulis Waber. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York.

R. Gregory Christie for MTA Arts for Transit (c) 2011.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) First and foremost, I cannot flippin’ wait to hear the ALA Youth Media Awards announcements tomorrow morning. But, in particular, I’m eager to hear the Caldecott announcement. I’ve got my calendar marked, I’m sure it’ll have me leaping out of bed*, and I’ll have coffee in hand, watching obsessively.

{*Only something like the Caldecott announcement would have me leaping out of bed. Generally, I subscribe to this notion, and it’s best if I don’t speak actual words till I’ve had my coffee.}

2) R. Gregory Christie recently told me all about this artwork, which I love and want to, in turn, tell you about. It’s for NYC’s subway train system and will be up for twelve months (February to February). Anyone who commutes by subway, Greg told me, will no doubt see it (over one billion people, thank you very much). The art will become part of the Transit Museum’s permanent collection. (Here’s a link to a gift shop poster, if anyone’s interested. You can see there that Sophie Blackall did some art as well.)

(Click to enlarge and see up close and in more detail)

3) I can’t even begin to say how much good music is in this post. Just treat yourself and go listen, if you’re so inclined to hear some great blues.

4) Matthew Cordell’s Another Brother makes me laugh very hard, but more on that soon, as he’ll stop by for a breakfast interview this week.

5) I’m going to maybe embarrass John E. Simpson (kicker extraordinaire) here, but every time I get behind on blog-reading—a reality in my life, now that I’ve been working on my own book—and then go and scramble and read my favorite blogs and their recent posts in one big gulp, I stop and marvel at his Friday poetry posts (in particular, though all his posts are good). He pulls together the most powerful stuff (sometimes powerfully moving, sometimes powerfully funny) into one spot, and reading it is like pausing to give yourself a gift in your day. (I think I’ve said this many times before, but it always bears repeating.) Case-in-point: He recently posted this wonderful poem.

6) “However tactile.”

Nicholas Fehn returned to SNL recently. This character makes me laugh. Of course, now every time I start a sentence and start zigzagging with asides, which I can be so guilty of, I think of how I sound like him and then I just start laughing in my own head.

7) Laura Marling is a genius, but I know I’ve said that a skerjillion times before. One more time?

What are YOUR kicks this week?

18 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #265: Featuring Bernard Waber
(and a Moment with R. Gregory Christie)”

  1. Thanks for posting about Lyle, Jules. One of my favorites.

    My kicks:
    1. Taking my daughter sledding for the first time this season. Just enough snow in RI.
    2. Reading Susan Blackaby’s NEST, NOOK & CRANNY (superb children’s poems). How did I miss this?
    3. Writing about “Mary Had a Little Lamb”:
    4. Interviewing Arnold Adoff:
    5. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 3D (lots of fun)
    6. Offering my new and improved collection of poems for adults, CRACKLES OF SPEECH, as a free PDF. Be among the first to read it by emailing me at stevenwithrow(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks!
    7. And a poem (soon to be published in Birmingham Arts Journal:

    By Steven Withrow

    Sea is sound; air is a door ajar.
    Sound is glass; door is the color of plums.
    Glass is brine, stippled with plum-warm rain.
    Brine is black; sea is glass-colored sound.
    Air is a jar of warm plums.
    Sound of rain is a door:
    Sea stippled, brine black, jar glass.

  2. I love Lyle! Seeing him just makes me smile 🙂

    Ok… Kicks.

    1. Reading your kicks. I always get lost in all the fun new things I find. This week my favorite is this line: “The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.” from John E. Simpson’s blog that I just discovered this morning.
    2. Our first significant snow fall of the season.
    3. Our puppy’s absolute love affair with the snow.
    4. Our elementary school’s progressive dinner that allowed us to meet new and fun people.
    5. A great new dress for the progessive dinner.
    6. My daughter’s Brownie sleep over where the girls and the moms had fun in equal measure.
    7. My new found love of wearing bright colors. After hearing Cam from Modern Family describe his tops as “joyful” I vowed to start wearing more joyful tops and it truly has made me happier.

  3. Happy Birthday, Lyle. How I love that book.
    Jules, I can’t wait for the award announcements as well.
    Steven, Isn’t Susan’s writing fabulous? One of my have books. And your poem lovely!
    Stacey, I agree this place every Sunday is such a kick.
    My kicks:
    1. My no snow snow day. School had 6 inches 25 miles north were I work. My snow gone by 7 AM.
    2. Tulips and daffodils poking their heads just above the ground.
    3. Writing.
    4. Roasted root vegetables.
    5. Lists of novels on verse shared at the poetry yahoo group.
    6. Walking my dog, Buster.
    7. Book club meets tonight at my house. Taj Mahal Soup and discussing State of Wonder by Anne Patchett.
    Have a great week.

  4. Hi, Lyle! How are you doing?

    Jules: Thanks for sharing the art, as always! I wish the subway mural actually played music while passing by. 🙂

    Steven: Have fun (and be safe) sledding! Congrats on your new pieces.

    Jone: Hello to the flowers, the veggies, and the pup! Have fun at your book club.

    My kicks for the past week:
    1) Performance on Monday – We had a packed house!
    2) Film audition
    3) Video game audition
    4) Musical audition
    5) Performance on Wednesday with new group
    6) Unexpected sunshine
    7) Movies (Beginners being the best of the past ten I’ve seen) and TV (Leverage season finale!)

  5. Hi all —

    Love Lyle. (What’s not to love?) I’m sure there’s no real connection, but I always thought of it as a parody of the Paddington Bear “Please take care of this bear” story: the whole idea that someone would leave a CROCODILE (no matter how gentle) on ANYONE’s doorstep is like a smart-alecky answer to a CUTE BEAR’s being put up for adoption.

    (And naturally — or unnaturally — enough, it immediately sent me off down an Internet rabbit hole starting with Lewis Carroll’s “How Doth the Little Crocodile?” and ending… well, no matter. Let’s just say it was almost an hour ago. The curse of the Sunday hyperlink. Which all too often begins HERE, btw.)

    Yes, Jules: major embarrassment. But thank you. Any blogger would be delighted to please a reader as eclectically attuned as you are.

    In that Nicholas Fehn sketch, I had to laugh at the expressions on Seth Meyers’s face — not just when he, Seth Meyers, was trying not to laugh, but when he, Seth Meyers the character on Weekend Update, was trying to figure out where Fehn was going with this. When I have conversations with people like Fehn, it always feels like a moment of small intellectual triumph when I suddenly grasp where they’re going.

    ZOMG LAURA MARLING. (You have uncannily good taste in music.)

    (And PS, I finally subscribed to the Drunkard. :))

    Steven, really appreciated your essay on “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (Funny that you had “How Doth the Little Crocodile” on YOUR mind, too!)

    I’m so glad you liked Dag Hammarskjöld’s line about simplicity, Stacey. It really brought me up short when I read it the first time.

    Never heard of Taj Mahal soup, jone, until you mentioned it. Found a recipe here which sounds pretty darned good — is that something like your version? (In that blog post, I found this tidbit really interesting and unexpected: “Turmeric is a great remedy for any inflammatory disease, including arthritis.” Especially ’cause I don’t, er, really know anything else about turmeric. Except that it doesn’t sound like an herb or spice so much as it does a state of mind — an adjective, not a noun. He was feeling especially turmeric that morning; his head was in a turmeric whirl.)

    Little Willow, as always, your epigrammatic Kicks really are kick-y. Lots of sunshine, even implicitly. Woot! on the auditions!

    Some kicks from here:
    1-7: I had occasion this week to pause for just a few seconds right after getting up each morning. The pause was never prayer nor even meditation, I don’t think; but it did sort of say to me, just (for lack of a better word) TODAY, right? TODAY.. I don’t know. That’s a little weird, on re-reading. But it’s about as close to an accurate description as I can manage. (May have something to do with that quote which Stacey mentioned, now that I think about it.)

    Have a great week, everyone!

  6. JES: Yay! Those pauses sound very rewarding. I’m trying to do something similar.

    Watch & listen to Fiona Fullerton sing How Doth the Little Crocodile in the 1972 film Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

    I was just offered the lead in the musical I tried out for yesterday, Imps – and I tried out for a role in the chorus. BRING IT!

  7. if I had $3500 I’d be off and running to the gallery that sells christie’s work, no kidding! what fun and how important that his work is being shown off for millions, did you say billions?

  8. LW: That Alice was a very entertaining early example of the “everyone in British theater and film” genre. (Ralph Richardson as the Caterpillar! Spike Milligan as the Gryphon! etc.) Thanks for the reminder!

    And… HUBBA-HUBBA on the musical lead! *launching fireworks*

  9. JES: That’s my favorite film version of Alice. If I had the opportunity to remake it someday, I would be incredibly happy. John Barry’s music is gorgeous, and Don Black’s lyrics are often lifted directly from the book, as they should be. Thanks for the fireworks! 🙂

  10. I had forgotten Lyle!

    Few things more pleasurable than the sudden jolt of remembering a childhood book.

  11. Steven, thanks, as always, for sharing your poetry here.

    Stacey, snow! And I love kick #7 a whole bunch, I really do. (But I’ve never seen that show and heard it’s so funny, so I gotta fix that.)

    Jone, I started Patchett’s book but got swamped with my manuscript, so I am going to start over again after it all gets turned in. I love her writing.

    Little Willow, I shoot off more fireworks for you! YOU ROCKED IT. Yahoo! Congrats!

    John, I think you’re on to something with the turmeric. … Nicholas Fehn makes me laugh the hardest in that, of course, he never really has a point, and I’ve known people like that. I actually make points (I hope), but I do tend to zigzag with asides. I try not to. … And you telling me I have good taste in music is making me blush, ’cause you totally do. … I love your kicks 1-7.

    Jinx, billions sounded fun to say. Yay hyperbole! The poster is only $25. I’m very tempted.

    Hi, Shelley! I raise some Turkish caviar to Lyle for his b’day.

  12. Love, love, love Lyle! Thank you for featuring him – makes me want to run right out and snap up the treasury. And that quote from Bernard Weber??? Amazing!

  13. Mary, right! That’s my favorite part.

  14. John, that’s where I got the recipe. Loved your use of turmeric.

  15. Hooray for Lyle! Love those books.

    Jules, great music as usual….Another Brother looks perfectly silly and fun…and Nicholas Fehn – I try very hard not to be him, but some days simply become Tangent Girl. Not quite to his degree, but still.

    Steven – sledding sounds so fun.

    Jone – yeah, that was a short-lived snow day, wasn’t it? Hope Book Club was fun!


    John -love the thought of being in a turmeric whirl.

    My kicks:
    1) Soccer!
    2) A couple days of a sort-of staycation this past week. It was a much needed break from the office.
    3) A nap with Skittle and Cole this afternoon. Both cat and dog snuggled on either side of me on the guest bed while we slept through some of the rain.
    4) Giants going to the Superbowl!
    5) Unexpected surprises.
    6) Walking in the rain.
    7) The simple pleasure of a pot of coffee, good music and doing chores on a cold rainy day.

    Have a great week everyone!

  16. Thanks for the 101! Had forgotten about all the characters (and even mostly about Lyle) except for the “odd man.” I’d bet his occupation has crossed my mind as often as once a year my whole life: pretty sure I thought “star of screen” had something to do with the ledge at the front of the movie-theater before the lights go off. Did the books show him getting roses thrown his way?

  17. Rachel, Good kicks. Naps. With pets. Pots of coffee. Good music. That’s the life.

    John: I don’t think so, but I’ll double-check.

  18. […] Geppetti’s fattoria straordinario. Crocodile teeth and molto plenitude in Sangiovese form. A screen star of Tuscany’s newest stage, a Euro, Neo-Classical, Olafur Arnalds composition in bottle, […]

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