• Happy birthday Nicholasa Mohr (El Bronx Remembered and Other Stories) and Hilary Knight (Eloise, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle).
  • It’s the birth date of Symeon Shimin (1902–1984), Onion John, and Stephen Crane (1871–1900), The Red Badge of Courage.
  • Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral in a horse-racing upset in 1938, becoming a symbol of hope for Depression-era Americans. Read A Horse Named Seabiscuit by Mark Dubowski and Seabiscuit vs War Admiral by Kat Shehata.
  • It’s El Dia de los Meurtos, a holiday for celebrating deceased relatives and friends. Read The Day of the Dead: El Día de los Muertos by Bob Barner.

In 1929 the General Federation of Women’s Clubs adopted a holiday that became generally observed in the country by 1949 as National Author’s Day. The resolution for the holiday reads: “by celebrating an Author’s Day as a nation, we would not only show patriotism, loyalty, and appreciation of the men and women who have made American literature possible, but would also encourage and inspire others to give of themselves in making a better America.” I like the idea that authors make a better country and society by their attention to words and ideas.

But what do authors actually do? That is besides sit around in a bathrobe when the rest of the world is dressed and in meetings. Or stare at computer screens or typewriters with the hope of transferring something in their brain to that blank page. And since authors create books, what is a book in this day and age of electronic media?

With the kind of corkscrew humor that has made him famous, Lane Smith explores this question in It’s a Book. On the title page, Smith introduces his three characters—a mouse, a jackass, and a monkey. The ever-patient monkey attempts to read his book, while the jackass peppers him with questions: Does it scroll? Do you blog with it? Can it text or tweet? Finally the jackass picks up the book in question—and finds himself lost in its adventure. As the monkey heads out the door to the library to find another book for himself, he delivers his final, cutting line—“It’s a book, jackass.”

With strong black lines and bold shapes, the artwork was first executed in oil, dry brush, and black ink, and then tweaked on the computer. Everything from the title page to the note about the author gives the child reader a chance to think about what makes books so special. No matter the distractions of the world, books take us to another place, another reality. And they do this without electricity, passwords, or being recharged.

For the preschool set ages 2-5, Lane Smith published another version of the story this year, It’s A Little Book. A donkey and monkey talk about the object, “Is it for sleeping? No. It’s for reading.” And monkey ends with the line: “It’s a book, silly.”

Even in this media-saturated world, books and stories still have the ability to take us away and beguile us. Using humor, story, and character, Lane Smith reminds us why we pick up a book when we could turn to other distractions—and he tells a story that makes us laugh out loud!

So happy National Author’s Day to Lane and to all who create a unique and special item—a book.

Here’s a page from It’s a Book:


Originally posted November 1, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Humor, Technology
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for It’s a Book


  1. I’m curious about your recommendation for this book- 2-8 years old? As both the parent of a 2 (almost 3), 4 and 10 year old AND a preschool teacher, I would respectfully disagree. The snarky use of the word “jackass,” although the name of the animal in the book is obviously meant in a more rude manner, and not something that I want my children repeating. I could not, in good faith, put this book on a shelf in a pre-k classroom.

    In addition, I read this book to my two youngest children (substituting the name with “Mr. Donkey”), and they didn’t even understand, because at 2 and 4, they don’t have a context for tweeting, blogging, or texting! Just because I am active online doesn’t mean that they have an understanding of these activities!

    I would be more apt to recommend this book for older elementary school aged kids who might have a better understanding of the point of the story, although I still wouldn’t want my ten year old taking to calling anyone else Jackass…

  2. Alison says:

    Reader’s might be interested in Lane Smith’s thoughts about his book: http://curiouspages.blogspot.com/2010/07/lane-smith-on-its-book.html

  3. Anita says:

    I use a wide age range for each book; adults often disagree about the age of a child that they find appropriate for any title. I was just at the VEMA conference and learned that “Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes” is used in 7th grade in that area of Virginia — other places teach it in third. When I was editor of Horn Book, I used the rubric “The age range is a suggestion only; the individual child is the real criteria.” That remains the best way I know to describe age ranges for books.
    However, I always appreciate feedback from parents and teachers and individual children. Thank you for taking the time to write.

  4. Philip Nel says:

    The use of the word “jackass” is funny. It is, of course, not a nice thing to call another person. It’s a use of language to wound. But, in this case, it’s also perfectly accurate. The character is a jackass in the sense that he’s a donkey, and in the sense that he’s a bit of a dimwit. Indeed, that double meaning is the source of the joke.

    Children invent much more cruel nicknames for one another, and inflict much greater indignities upon their peers. Indeed, in the category of “threats faced by children,” a book that concludes with the word “jackass” doesn’t even make the list. However, unlike the real threats children face (hunger, abuse, homelessness, schools more focused on testing than teaching, etc.), a single book is something over which adults can exert some control. More than anything else, this (I believe) is why people spend much more time worrying about this book than they do about the long list of items that do real damage to children.

    It’s a Book is a book. And a joke. But it’s not a threat. It’s actually quite funny.

    For anyone who may be interested, I offered further speculation on this topic last year:

  5. suzi w. says:

    I remember when this book came into Technical Services (that magic room in the library where we put on barcodes, covers, and decide on Dewey numbers…) and it was passed around. We all loved it. A lot of the women I work with are grandmothers, and we all have great senses of humor. I honestly didn’t remember the jackass issue, so it must not have been that big a deal with us. I agree completely that “the age range is a suggestion only; the individual child is the real criteria.”

  6. G. Perry says:

    Mr. Nel;

    Very well said sir.


  7. Nick Bruel says:

    Below is a link to a lovely little video created and put out by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association in which a few dozen authors were asked to read a portion from Lane’s classic book. I was honored to be asked to be a part of this. All, I can say is that I practically begged to have the last word.


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