A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
SEPTEMBER 27:

  • Happy birthday Paul Goble (The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses), Martin Handford (Where’s Waldo? ), and G. Brian Karas (Atlantic, Saving Sweetness).
  • In 1905 the physics journal Annalen der Physik received Albert Einstein’s paper “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?” which introduced E=mc². Read Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown and Ordinary Genius: The Story of Albert Einstein by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson.
  • In 1908 the first Model T Ford automobile left the factory in Detroit, Michigan. Read Tin Lizzie by Allan Drummond.
  • The first Santa Claus Training School opens in Albion, NY, in 1937. Read Santa Claus: The World’s Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee.
  • It’s Ancestor Appreciation Day. Read The Ancestors Are Singing by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Karen Barbour.

Today is the birthday of one of the nicest human beings I ever had the chance to work with, Bernie Waber. A quiet, unassuming man, Bernie had a gentle sense of humor—one that he relied on for books like Ira Sleeps Over and Lyle, Lyle Crocodile.

Born in Philadelphia, Bernie moved frequently during his childhood years; during the Depression, his family often fled just before the bill collectors arrived. In each new town Bernie located two things: the public library and the movie theater. In Children’s Books and Their Creators, he wrote that during his childhood he was “a hopeless, chronic daydreamer. Everyone told me it was bad—bad, bad, bad—to daydream…. I tried everything to cure myself of the pernicious affliction… The problem deviled me all through my maturing years. Even in the army, sergeants constantly bellowed at me to wake up.”

He did not set out to be an author of children’s books; trained in commercial art, he designed and illustrated magazines. But several art directors looked at his portfolio and told him that his illustrations would be perfect for books for the young. As a father of three, Bernie read aloud to his children, often inventing stories. Once again he found himself hanging out in the children’s section of the library. Consequently, he began writing and illustrating his own stories, and, after some rejections, Houghton Mifflin started publishing his work in the early 1960s.

In 1965 Bernie took a character that had appeared in another book, The House on East 88th Street, and starred him in his own story: Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. Lyle, a very well-behaved crocodile, lives with the Primm family on East Eight-Eighth street. But because of an unfortunate episode, Lyle finds himself incarcerated in the Central Park Zoo—and he just doesn’t cotton to all those other crocodiles. Fortunately, the Primms find a way to bring him back to his preferred home.

Even though Bernie became highly successful as an author, he never left his day job designing magazines. He always maintained that he would create better and more thoughtful books if he did not have to rely on them for income. It meant he could polish material for as long as he needed and even abandon a project if it wasn’t coming together.

It also meant that his public appearances were few and far between; I was fortunate to be with him on many of them. I always wished that more people had the opportunity to meet one of the most lovable authors in the field. It was a treat to hear Bernie talk about his creations, accompanied by his wife Ethel who usually sported crocodile jewelry. Over the years, the Waber household has become a repository of crocodile memorabilia.

Bernie Waber understood children; he knew how to make them laugh; and he never took himself too seriously. Bernie died a few months ago; but his books live on.

Here’s a page from Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile:


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Originally posted September 27, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Humor
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile
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COMMENTS

  1. Bookjeannie says:

    I love your inside stories of book people, Anita, this one particularly so. It makes me feel very grateful for authors like Bernard Waber. And you!

  2. Anita says:

    Bookjeannie: Thanks for the note. As you might imagine, the essays I love writing the most are about the fabulous people I have had the priviledge to spend time with. I’m so glad to learn that others actually like to read these essays.

  3. Tom angleberger says:

    My favorite is Rich Cat Poor Cat!

  4. G.Perry says:

    What a magnificent and inspiring review. Thank you Anita.

    A great way to start the new day off.

    How I would love to meet, and get to know this person, Anita has talked about.

    Happy birthday Bernie.

    -Gordon

  5. Lydia says:

    Lyle and Ira were two of my favorite characters when I was a child….I can still see Ira trudging up the stairs with the teddy bear and Lyle’s big tail….thanks for the story behind the story!

  6. Ms B says:

    Tom,
    Rich Cat Poor Cat is one of the few books I saved from my childhood! Enjoyed your book, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and am looking forward to reading your latest book, Darth Paper Strikes Back.

  7. Anita says:

    Ms B and Tom:

    You will not be disappointed with Darth Paper Strikes Back. The only bad part was when it ended!

  8. McCourt says:

    We are big fans of Ira Sleeps Over – might have to pull that one out for one of our bedtime stories tonight. Also, I still have the record album with book for Rich Cat, Poor Cat from my childhood. My kids think it is so cool and retro!

  9. Happy Birthday Bernie. Bernard Waber’s books are gifts to children in this country and abroad. Some years ago I was on a trip to Ireland. It is my habit to visit children’s libraries when I travel and so in Dublin I went to the public library. There to my surprise I discovered a book called BEN SLEEPS OVER by Bernard Waber. Ben? I couldn’t understand why the name had been changed. Then it clicked in my head. This was during the Irish troubles and they couldn’t have a book with I-R-A in the title for children.

  10. Hello Anita,
    What an amazing birthday surprise! Thank you so much. It brought back fond memories of our working together at Houghton. I haven’t been in the best of health this year. Your words were both touching and restorative. Many thanks. And thanks to your readers for their kind comments.
    Bernie

  11. Anita says:

    Bernie: Wonderful to hear from you; I have such fond memories of those years!

  12. Lyle shows us all how to be gracious, even in moments that call for less gracious behavior. Go Lyle!

  13. Paulis Waber says:

    Anita,
    This is such a beautiful summary of my fathers work and life. Today is his birthday and a special time to remember him. The details you capture not only of him, but also my mother, are perfect.

  14. Anita says:

    Paulis: Thank you so much for your note. My thoughts are with you and your family on Bernie’s birthday.

  15. Ann Norton says:

    Mr. Waber was the first of many authors who visited our school in Farmingdale, NY .Lyle the crocodile was hidden in each classroom every night in the weeks prior to Mr. Waber’s arrival and each class sent a delegation to our loudspeaker each morning to describe what and where Lyle was found and what he was doing. Needless to say, the children’s enthusiasm was boundless. Mr.Waber’s energy was boundless .He did not have a minute to himself besides doing 2 programs, he visited each and every classroom and even ate lunch in the library with 4th grade class lucky enough to have been selected in a lottery. what a guy! One of our favorite books was “Nobody is Perfekt ” but Bernard Waber certainly was. His visit was the best and he shall always be remembered by the kids at Albany Avenue Elementary.

  16. Beautiful piece, Anita, about a most extraordinary man. He is so missed. ❤️

  17. Anita says:

    Ann: Thank you for sharing this wonderful memory of Bernie Waber.

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