Call it Roald McDonald’s

In case you missed it, there was a big NYT story earlier this summer about how Roald Dahl’s literary estate is “aggressively seeking out ways to globalize, digitize and monetize his wackily wondrous works.” The piece focused on the (mostly disappointing) recent film, stage, and television adaptations of his works, like Spielberg’s BFG floparoo. But what really piqued my curiosity was the mention of the deals the estate has made with companies like McDonald’s. Yes, McDonald’s in the UK is selling Roald Dahl-themed Happy Meals. I found this image from the creative agency who helped put them together:


Okay … I admit I would actually kind of love to get my hands on one of those Witches boxes (not for the McNuggets or whatever, just for the packaging). But really, if there was a kids’ author who revered good home cooking, it was Roald Dahl. This is the man who made us crave cold meat pies spiked with hard-boiled eggs buried inside like treasures and fresh fish caught in the fjords and fried that day still wriggling in the pan. Not to sound like a tsk tsking ninny but pimping out the books with McDonald’s?

Roald Dahl’s grandson Luke Kelly, who heads up the estate, also made a deal with the children’s clothing company Boden. Now, I do like the stuff at Boden (great PJs!) but there’s something that makes me feel sad about this collection. It’s so Cheeky! and Quirky!

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-4-30-27-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-20-at-10-43-15-amHere’s a quote from Kelly who comes off sounding almost cartoonishly money grubbing: “We are really transferring from being a literary estate to being more of a story company.” That’s the kind of thing that you tell your investors, not the press.

Oh, and back to the McDonald’s thing…

One of my favorite books in the world is Memories with Food at Gipsy House, the cookbook/culinary memoir Roald Dahl wrote with wife Felicity Dahl. It’s out of print but totally worth seeking out. You could not ask for more comforting bedtime reading.fullsizerender-1

New York Fashion Week meets Moomin

I spent many happy and fulfilling years working at fashion magazines but eventually, enough was enough. Just look at these utterly terrifying pictures from last night’s Harper’s Bazaar fete for Carine Roitfeld and you’ll see what I mean.

I do still like to keep up with the collections, however, and I was eager to see what my old HB colleague Thakoon had up his sleeve after taking a year off to regigger his business. I guess it’s safe to say that I’ve been away from the fashion world for quite some time, because Thakoon’s very first look, a grungy-chic layered ensemble …


immediately made me think of Mymble from Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. Not just the tightly pulled topknot, but also the voluminous silhouette and black tights.


Mymble has great style, as do all the Moomin characters.  They’re a crazy, colorful bunch, each with their own distinctive look, like the best fashion world personalities.

mymble3I started thinking about fashion people who have Moomin-world doubles.

With her blunt red bob, Fillyjonk is the late, great Sonia Rykiel:

sonia-fillySonia Rykiel

Dreamy, dapper and portly, Moominpapa is Alber Elbaz:


screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-12-40-47-pmThe chapeau-loving vagabond, Snufkin, is John Galliano:



gallianoWhile Mymble’s Mother is blogger and streetstyle star Susie Bubble:






Time for one last summer read?


To my precious handful of Mrs. Little readers:

It’s been a long time, I know. I took an extended hiatus from blogging (reasons: work, kids, laziness, sloth) but I’m determined to get back on track. I’ve got some ideas cooking and I’ll be posting more regularly this fall.

In the meantime, I wanted to link to this round-up of classic kids’ books, which I put together a couple years ago for Jenny Rosenstrach’s blog, Dinner, A Love Story. It’s got my suggestions for ten classic summer reads. If your kids are up for one last good book before school starts, check it out here.

9780804176309By the way, the amazing Jenny has just written a new book: How to Celebrate Everything. I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet but if it’s anything like her others, it’s going to be one of my go-tos. I don’t know how I would feed my family without her.

Freakiest Author Photo Ever

I had never heard of the Dumb Bunnies books by Sue Denim, but yesterday I saw these at the library and they looked promising. They were published in the mid 90s and the illustrations are by the great Dav Pilkey, of Captain Underpants fame. dumbbunnies The four-book series is centered around a family of, yep, dumb bunnies who cheerfully go through life underestimating danger, misinterpreting signage and wearing their underwear over their pants. With their punny wordplay, the books remind me a lot of the Amelia Bedelia books (except using references that kids today can actually understand) as well as James Marshall’s marvelous The Stupids.

But what really got me was the back flap. Check it out:

sue denim

Who was this mysterious Sue Denim? What was up with her tranny-looking photo? Where could I find this “best-selling science book” for kids called Fun with Matches? Also, wasn’t Dav Pilkey a white guy?

After about two seconds on Wikipedia I unearthed the not-so-secret truth that Sue Denim was a pen name Dav Pilkey used for all his Dumb Bunnies books. (He introduced them three years before the first Captain Underpants.) According to the Scholastic website, the series is still available, but is now attributed solely to Pilkey. This certainly makes sense, considering how bankable Pilkey’s name has become. But you also gotta wonder if Scholastic would anyone publish such freaky faux author photos today. I’m guessing that’s Pilkey in both photos and I swear it looks like he’s wearing blackface makeup along with those creepy buck teeth.

My Summer of The Donald

Like everyone else, I’ve spent an appalling amount of time this year reading much too much about Donald Trump. But there’s another Donald I became obsessed with this summer: Donald Hall.

It all started with a magazine story I was writing about Jan and David Hoffman, a pair of furniture makers in rural Pennsylvania who live a life of staggering self-sufficiency. They make their own tools, save their seeds and grow much of their own food. Jan told me they believed in the saying “no string too short to save.” Intrigued by her phrase, I Googled it and found this book:

string too short to be savedString Too Short to be Saved is poet Donald Hall’s 1961 memoir of the summers he spent as a youth on his grandparents’ New Hampshire farm in the years leading up to World War II. From the description, it promised to be a sweet, nostalgic beach read that was right up my alley — a string of lyrical anecdotes about tending cows and watching the seasons change. (Basically, a grown-up version of Farmer Boy.) And that alone would have left me plenty satisfied. But the book turned out to be so much more. Hall’s stories about haying, blueberry picking, lost cows and his grandfather’s eccentric farm hand are funny and thrilling enough for kids. I read S & L the chapter called “The Left-Footed Thief,” about the time Donald’s grandfather and his brother hunted down a sheep thief who was wearing two left-footed boots, and they were fascinated.

At the same time, the memoir is also suffused with sadness. From the mysteriously abandoned farm shacks Donald passes on his daily walks with his grandfather to the haunting portraits of long-dead relatives in his grandmother’s hallway there is a pervasive sense of loss in String Too Short. The emotional resonance reminded me of a Donald Hall essay from a couple years ago in The New Yorker in which the former poet laureate showed that at 83, his intellect was still as well-honed and deadly as an axe. Old age, he explained in his growly, godly prose, turned people “invisible.” At one point he described how, at a family dinner, one of his grandchild’s friends placed her chair to sit with her back directly facing Hall, as if his presence was no more than another piece of furniture. I remember his recounting of that moment like a stab in the chest.

String too Short is not by any means intended for kids, but if your 7th or 8th grader doesn’t mind a leisurely read and loved the Little House books and Roald Dahl’s Boy, try it on them.

I was so taken with Hall’s tales of frugal farm life I also got this out of the library:

Ox-Cart Man - Donald Hall

Ox-Cart Man is Hall’s 1979 Caldecott-winning children’s book about a 19th century farmer bringing the goods from his family’s farm to market. It’s one of those slow, bucolic, nothing-really-happens picture books that can be either deadly dull, or, when done right, utterly mesmerizing.

The rhythm of the prose echoes the reassuring rhythm of the farmer’s routines. The farmer packs his ox-cart with brooms, apples and maple syrup; he sells everything (including the ox and the cart) at Portsmouth Market; he buys a needle, a knife, and some peppermint candy for his family; he journeys back home; he and his family start the cycle again. Revisiting the book  in light of Hall’s memoir, it’s even more satisfying.

Ox-Cart Interior

Bonus: With any luck your children will subconsciously absorb the message that in the good old days, kids did their share of labor and were happy if they got a single piece of wintergreen peppermint candy as a treat.

Hall has told interviewers that the surprise success of this book allowed him to put in a new bathroom in the New Hampshire farmhouse he’s lived in since 1975 (it’s the same house where his grandparents lived). A bronze plaque over the bathroom’s doorway reads “Caldecott Room.”

Wes Anderson Probably Read This Book

3Policemen-coverYesterday when I was browsing at the library  I came across this 1938 chapter book by William Pène du Bois. The author’s Twenty-One Balloons is one of my all-time favorites but I had never read (or even heard of) The Three Policemen. So of course I had to take a look.

The book’s action takes place on a wealthy, top-secret tropical island where the inhabitants all live leisurely, worry-free lives (clearly one of du Bois‘s favorite themes) until someone robs them of their fishing nets. The story is charming but the real knockouts are the illustrations, which are refined, sophisticated and whimsical, with gorgeous use of color. The setting, the clothing, the mustaches—everything is as mannered as in an Ernst Lubitsch film. Or a Wes Anderson movie.Scan 11Scan 10And when you turn to the back endpapers of the book, you see THIS! (Click on image below to zoom.)

serpent-boatDoesn’t it remind you of this shot from The Life Aquatic?life-aquaticYes, yes—critics have pointed out that Anderson’s iconic cutaway dollhouse shot has its progenitors in Godard’s 1972 Tout va bien and even Jerry Lewis’s 1961 film The Ladies Man. But come on. The Du Bois illustration is also of a ship! (Specifically, a ship in the shape of a sea serpent.) To take things further, I would argue that Eric Chase Anderson‘s style of illustration (Eric is Wes’s brother and close collaborator) owes a great debt to William Pène du Bois in everything from his color palette to his obsession with diagrams.

And we all know how much Wes loves Roald Dahl, so for him to also be a fan of William Pène du Bois isn’t such a stretch. Is it just me?

Most Endearing Windbag: The Old Cob in Trumpet of the Swan

Trumpet_of_the_Swan_CoverWhile Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little get all the glory, E.B. White’s third children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), is relatively overlooked. And this is a crying shame! I loved it when I was eight, and now, reading it again, I realize there’s even more to admire.

As you may recall, the story is about Louis, a trumpeter swan who, born mute, compensates by learning to read, write and play an actual trumpet. Because he is a swan of honor, Louis feels obligated to pay for his instrument, which his father stole for him. So he takes on a string of jobs, including a camp counselor gig in Maine and a nightclub stint in Philly. Although the plot is admittedly daffy, White’s prose is at its most eloquent and luminous and the book is just very … soulful. John Updike, who reviewed the book for the Times(!), said it was “the most spacious and serene of the three [E.B. White novels] … the one most imbued with the author’s sense of the precious instinctual heritage represented by wild nature.”

Trumpet_stealBut what was my favorite discovery upon re-reading the book? The hilarious character of Louis’s father, a blustery cob who never uses one word when he could use ten. Here’s what he tells little Louis after he steals him the trumpet:

“I have been on a journey to the haunts of men. I visited a great city teeming with life and commerce. Whilst there, I picked up a gift for you, which I bestow upon you with my love and my blessing… Learn to play it Louis, and life will be smoother and richer and gayer for you!”

Trumpet_AmbulanceEven when he talks to himself, he’s dramatic and bombastic. This is from his over-the-top soliloquy toward the end of the book:

“Man, in his folly, has given me a mortal wound. The red blood flows in a steady trickle from my veins. My strength fails. But even in death’s final hour, I shall deliver the money for the trumpet. Good-bye, life! Good-bye, beautiful world! … I, who am about to die, salute you. I must die gracefully as only a swan can.”

Every time the bird opens his beak, it’s priceless. And when you remember that White co-wrote The Elements of Style — the writer’s handbook that commanded “Omit needless words” — it’s even better.

This is Freaking Me Out

2014-06-10-SlenderMangraffiti-thumbLike most people I know, the first time I ever heard of the internet meme Slender Man was a few weeks ago when the news story broke about the two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin who stabbed their friend to please the fictional character. The demonic Slender Man is said to be tall, thin, faceless and dressed in a black suit. Artists have rendered him in many different ways.

nyto-slenderman-tmagArticle2014-06-16-slendermanpeekaboo-thumbBut today when I was looking through The Phantom Tollbooth, I was jolted by this. Remember him?

Terrible_TriviumThe Terrible Trivium!

“He was beautifully dressed in a dark suit with a well-pressed shirt and tie. His shoes were polished, his nails were clean, his hat was well brushed, and a white handkerchief adorned his breast pocket. But his expression was somewhat blank. In fact, it was completely blank, for he had neither eyes, nose, nor mouth.”

Athough Tollbooth is not a scary book by any stretch of the imagination, this guy haunted me for years. And I wonder if Jules Feiffer’s drawing was the image my mind subconsciously triggered when I first heard about Slender Man. Is it just me?

[If this post is leaving a grim taste in your mouth, I apologize. Here’s a more pleasant Phantom Tollbooth-related realization to linger on.]