Monday, December 30, 2013

Loved to Pieces . . . with David Elliott!

Hello, friends! Come on in. . . .

David Elliott, New York Times bestselling author of And Here's to You!, On the Farm, and many more beloved children's books, is here with us today. He's just unearthed a treasure box labeled HOOVER, and is about to share its contents!

Welcome, David! What do you have there?

Just a few of the children's books written by David Elliott

While I remember almost nothing about my childhood, I do remember a box. Tucked behind the door of the room across the narrow hall from mine, it was about the size of a trunk a good sea-faring man might have hoisted on his shoulder. I can still see HOOVER printed over and over again on its cardboard sides, the brown letters moving in upward diagonal stripes as if compelled by the force of a powerful, atomic age suction. 
The Hoover treasure box

The sweeper, as my mother called the vacuum cleaner, had long since disappeared, but as so often happens in households where money is scarce, the box had taken on a surprising new function. It had become a treasure chest, secreting a booty that made me feel as rich as any of the kids who lived in the big, fancy houses across town. Comic books. Hundreds of them. In extravagantly disorganized piles.

It’s difficult for me to communicate the thrill of approaching that box, lifting its lid, and finding there the familiar characters I loved so much. Little Lulu. Woody Woodpecker. Gyro Gearloose. And my favorite, Donald’s fabulously wealthy uncle, Scrooge.

Why Scrooge? For a poor child, a rich duck was mightily appealing, I suppose. If something with webbed feet and feathers could amass “five billion umtuplatillion multaplatillion impossibillion fantasticatrillion” dollars, then maybe one day I could, too. Not even close, by the way. (But hope springs eternal.)

Two Scrooge stories, both written and drawn by the incomparable Carl Barks, are still beloved to me. The first, UNCLE SCROOGE in “Land Beneath the Ground” told of strange, bowling-ball-shaped creatures that inhabited a vast cavern under the Earth’s crust. These were the Terries and the Firmies. Sporting ties - four-in-hands for the Firmies and bow ties for the Terries, a sly piece of humor for creatures with no necks – these good-natured beings came together once a year for an Olympics-like event in which they competed to see who could cause the biggest earthquake.  (The Firmies lifted the Earth’s plates. The Terries battered the columns.) This year’s big competition would take place directly under Duckburg, a fact that terrified Scrooge who worried that his vault, with all its fabulous contents, might tumble deep into the earth.

As much as I loved the unabashed nuttiness of the plot, it was a single panel that captured my imagination and the real reason I read the comic over and over. It showed a long-distance shot of groups of Terries arriving in military formation from all over the world in preparation for the big day.  Over each group, a speech balloon appeared and in each balloon, a sentence or two written in tiny non-Roman characters. One looked vaguely Hindi, another Arabic, and still another, hieroglyphic. The text read, “The Terries roll in for hours! From under the Andes, from Lapland, from the great hollows beneath the Sulu Sea.”

The Andes! Lapland! The Sulu Sea! These were places a boy like me belonged! Not Bellefontaine, Ohio! And those strange alphabets promised possibilities far beyond what I had hitherto imagined about the world and my place in it. 

That simple cartoon awakened the first stirrings of a very particular longing, one that is still with me today. At the time, I couldn’t put a name to it, but later I came to know it not just as the desire for something more, but also the unsettling conviction that if I only looked hard enough I would find it: wanderlust. In my twenties and thirties wanderlust carried me to Libya, Greece, Mexico, Israel, Palau and coincidentally (or not), an island in the Sulu Archipelago.

The other Scrooge story I treasured was a retelling, duck-style, of Jason and the Argonauts: UNCLE SCROOGE  in “The Golden Fleecing.”  The tale combined details from the actual myth with Barks’s brand of humor. Scrooge traveled to Colchis, for example, but the vomiting Harpies had been transmogrified into the parsnip-throwing Larkies, a bit of craziness I still find funny. “The Golden Fleecing” was my introduction to the Greek myths. When, much later, I read the original tale of Jason, I could not suppress the feeling that the Greeks had stolen it from Scrooge. Today, thanks in part to a cartoon duck with a Scots accent, the myths often find their way into my work.

In his wonderful essay, “In Defense of Rubbish,” British novelist Peter Dickinson suggests that as much as we like to think otherwise, we cannot control what comes to children through their reading. We may give a child The Secret Garden, certain that in its pages she will be moved by its tale of redeeming friendship. But as much as it may irritate us, she may set the book aside, gleaning, in her own idiosyncratic way, the same values in Captain Underpants. “The adult eye is not necessarily a perfect instrument for discerning certain sorts of values . . . ” Dickinson writes, adding that “ . . .  the child’s eye . . . can acquire valuable stimuli from things which appear otherwise overgrown with a mass of weeds and nonsense.”

After the people I love, I hold dear three things: travel, story, and nonsense. These three graces have brought a singular sense of meaning to my life. That they introduced themselves to me through the primary colors and cheap, dog-eared newsprint of the lowly comic book does in no way tarnish their transcendent powers. Rather, it makes them all the more numinous.

David Elliott is a New York Times bestselling children's book author. His many titles include And Here's to You!, The Transmogrification of Roscoe Wizzle, The Evangeline Mudd books, Finn Throws a Fit!, Jeremy Cabbage and the Living Museum, and In the Wild. 

Born in Ohio, David has worked as a singer, a cucumber washer, and a popsicle stick maker. Currently, he lives in New Hampshire with his wife and a three-footed dog. If you'd like to know more about David and his books, visit his blog/website at

On the Farm
Illustrated by Holly Meade  Candlewick Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5591-4

* "This handsome poetry collection feels as hearty and comforting as a bowl of sugared porridge. Against an idyllic backdrop—white farmhouse, red barn—children meet a parade of familiar animals in 13 pithy, often slyly comic poems. . . . From toddlers to the youngest poets, children will delight in the fun and beauty on display here, while adults will soak in the nostalgia embodied in the tranquil, pastoral scenes." —Booklist (starred review)

And Here's to You!
Illustrated by Randy Cecil
Candlewick Press, 2009
ISBN 978-0-7636-4126-9

"Elliott’s cup runneth over with good cheer in this rhymed toast to people — and not just the two-legged variety. . . . Will have listeners calling for another round." —Kirkus Reviews

 "A life-affirming look at nature's beings. . . . Together, the words and pictures create a powerful package that conveys a sense of appreciation for all living things." —School Library Journal

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