By Johanna Dickson, Digital Publicist
When my mom was a child her favorite books were those of The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As an adult, she took a Children’s Literature course that required the students to re-read their favorite books from childhood and compare and contrast their impressions. In the course of re-reading the Little House books she found herself confronted with some, what she calls “gross,” realizations: The balloons that Mary and Laura were so excited by and loved so much were made of inflated pig bladders. It was a fact that had completely gone over her head as a child.
This is one of the great things about reading your favorite book from childhood as an adult. The story resonates in a new way: you understand the characters differently, and minor details you might have previously missed suddenly come to life. As an adult, you also find yourself learning about the people behind the books; the inspirations and the authors. Often what comes to life can be surprising, funny, or even just plain weird.
Here are 15 fascinating facts about your favorite children’s books and the authors who penned them.
1. The Oxford English Dictionary lists 21 words as having been introduced into the language by Lewis Carroll, author of Alice In Wonderland. Examples include snark, chortle, jabberwocky, and mimsy.
2. Hans Christian Andersen never ate pork, and when staying in hotels always carried a coil of rope with him in case he needed to escape from a fire.
3. Alice In Wonderland was banned in China in 1931 as talking animals were an insult to humans.
4. When asked why he had no children of his own, Dr. Seuss said: “You have ’em; I’ll entertain ’em.”
5. H.A. Rey built two bicycles out of spare parts, and he and his wife escaped Paris on them, taking the manuscript for Curious George with them, hours before the city fell to Nazis.
6. Shel Silverstein was a cartoonist and writer for Playboy when the magazine first started. He also lived in the Playboy mansion off and on and wrote the song ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ which was famously recorded by Johnny Cash.
7. Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, once threatened to shoot one publisher with her bow and arrow if she saw him walking down the street.
8. The diet in Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is inaccurate but since the book does represent the life stages accurately it has been endorsed by the Royal Entomological Society.
9. Alexander Lenard’s Latin translation of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh is the only Latin book to have appeared on The New York Times Best Seller List.
10. P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, spent two summers living among the Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo peoples studying their mythology and folklore.
11. Where The Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak realized he did not know how to draw horses and, at the suggestion of his editor, changed the wild horses to the more ambiguous “Wild Things,” a term inspired by the Yiddish expression “vilde chaya” (“wild animals”), used to indicate boisterous children.
12. At one point or another, Winnie the Pooh has been banned in Russia, China, Turkey, England, and parts of the United States.
13. A school in England once banned E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web because they thought it would be offensive to Muslim students. The Muslim Council of Britain disagreed.
14. Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym, and there have in fact been several authors for the Nancy Drew series. In the early days, each book earned the writer $125.
15. Peter Pan: J.M. Barrie’s brother, David, died in a skating accident just before his 14th birthday. David was their mother’s favorite and J.M. consoled her by pretending to be David on a regular basis, dressing like him, talking and whistling like him. Eventually his mother overcame her depression by consoling herself with the idea that David would be the boy that never grew up.