L Frank Baum

Secret Life of Children’s Authors – Part 2

Subtitled: The continuing list of weird and wonderful (and downright bizarre) facts about children’s writers.

So, we’ve already learned that Roald Dahl disliked beards and was a secret agent and Shel Silverstein was an occasional resident at the Playboy Mansion. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about read my previous article.)

For your enjoyment here’s another eight interesting facts about children’s authors. How many do you already know? Could you add more? If you do know of any more please tell me. I’ll put the information aside for a future article.

Children’s authors come from all walks of life. Some have ordinary lives, others are extraordinary. But all want to share their views on life with others, particularly children – warts and all.

  1. Curious George creators Margret and Hans Augusto (H.A.) Rey built two bicycles out of spare parts. They used them to escape Paris in the early hours before the city fell to the Nazis during World War II. The first Curious George manuscripts were one of the few items they carried with them.
  2. Before Julia Donaldson had children she used to busk with her husband. This led to a career in singing and songwriting for children’s television.
  3. Robert Munsch spent seven years training to be a Jesuit priest but decided it wasn’t the right vocation for him. He’s a recovering cocaine and alcohol addict and is outspoken about it. He hopes his honesty will encourage others to speak and listen to their children to help them cope with their own challenges.
  4. Franklin W. Dixon, author of the Hardy Boys books, and Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew series, aren’t real people. They’re pen names for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a group of ghost writers who were paid a flat fee with no royalties and had to follow specific writing guidelines.
  5. Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) didn’t have any children and he wasn’t a doctor. During World War II he wrote propaganda films and a series of army training films. He had strong political views and some of his children’s stories are subtle statements on democracy, isolationism, the environment and the arms race. He wrote Green Eggs and Ham after his publisher bet he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words – the words could be used more than once, hence the catchy repetition and rhythm.
  6. Judy Blume is an outspoken advocate against censorship because many of her books have been censored in some US states. I wanted to name and shame here but the list is far too long.
  7. If you’ve seen the movie Saving Mr. Banks then you will already know that Pamela Lyndon (P.L.) Travers hated the Disney adaptation of her book, Mary Poppins, and was vocal about it. She was eventually barred from the set during filming and wasn’t invited to the film’s premiere.
  8. Lyman Frank Baum loved chickens. Before publishing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series he wrote a non-fiction book titled The Book of Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs. A real page-turner, no doubt. He was also a vocal and influential racist who wrote disparaging comments against Native Americans, recommending their total annihilation, in editorials in the late 1800s. I get that he was a product of his generation, of his time, but suggesting genocide? That’s heading into maniac territory.

    “‘The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilisation, are masters of the American continent,’ he wrote, as the editor of Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer – this being Aberdeen in Dakota, a land as grey and dreary as the Kansas where Dorothy lives. ‘And the best safety of the frontier settlers will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.’ Try telling that to the Munchkins!”
    “L Frank Baum: the real Wizard of Oz”, The Telegraph, May 6, 2016, an article written by Anthony Horowitz and first published in 2009