MAY 15:

  • Happy birthday Nancy Garden (Annie on My Mind), G. Clifton Wisler (Red Cap), David Almond (Skellig), and Kadir Nelson (We Are the Ship).
  • It’s the birth date of Florence Crannell Means (1891-1980), The Moved-Outers; Ellen MacGregor (1906-1954), Miss Pickerell series; Norma Fox Mazer (1931-2009), When She Was Good; and Paul Zindel (1936-2003), The Pigman.
  • In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. Read Susan B. Anthony by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Amy June Bates; and Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon.

Today marks the  birthday of the American author, Lyman Frank Baum. He worked in a variety of jobs—journalist, actor, theater manager, salesman. In fact, he may well have been the inspiration for his most famous character: the Wizard of Oz. In 1900 Baum released the first book about Oz, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a highly original, imaginative, and enduring fantasy.

Like so many of our now-classic authors, Baum had trouble getting a publisher to take a chance on him. So he, the publisher, and W. W. Denslow, the illustrator, paid for all the costs of printing their book, agreeing to split the profit, if there were any, with the publisher. With author and illustrator willing to finance the saga, this enduring American fantasy was launched and became part of the cultural heritage of almost every adult and child in the nation.

Even if you’ve never read the Oz books, you probably have encountered Baum’s creations in the 1939 film starring Judy Garland. The characters of Dorothy and Toto, Aunty Em, and Uncle Henry, the Cowardly Lion who needs courage, and the Tin Woodman who needs a heart—these inventions of Baum’s mind have become cherished friends for generations of readers. Recently, Gregory Maguire’s clever reinterpretation of Baum’s world, Wicked, became a hit Broadway musical.

I don’t have to look far for testimonies about the power of Baum’s books. For instance, a March 2010 New York Times article focused on the story of a father and daughter who read these stories to each other every night. While working on Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, I found a statement by Dr. William C. DeVries, the cardiothoracic surgeon who implanted the first artificial heart, that really speaks to the impact of Baum’s work. DeVries says, “One of the first books my mother introduced me to was The Wizard of Oz…. In the book, the Wizard of Oz talks to the Tin Woodman about whether or not he really wants a heart. The Wizard believes that having a heart is not such a good thing: ‘It makes most people unhappy.’ But the Tin Woodman says, ‘For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart.’ In my work, I have thought about those lines many, many times.”

Happy birthday L. Frank Baum—your books continue to influence, and even to change, lives. Although, like your famous character, you may have been a flimflam artist at one point in your life, in the end you really did know how to work true and lasting magic.

Here’s a selection from The Wizard of Oz:

“How about my heart?” asked the Tin Woodman.

“Why, as for that,” answered Oz, “I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart.”

“That must be a matter of opinion,” said the Tin Woodman. “For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart.”

“Very well,” answered Oz meekly. “Come to me tomorrow and you shall have a heart. I have played Wizard for so many years that I may as well continue a little longer.”

“And now,” said Dorothy, “how am I supposed to get back to Kansas?”


“We shall have to think about that,” replied the little man. “Give me two or three days to consider the matter and I’ll try to find a way to carry you over the desert. In the meantime you shall all be treated as my guests, and while you live in the Palace my people will wait upon you and obey your slightest wish. There is only one thing I ask in return for my help–such as it is. You must keep my secret and tell no one I am a humbug.”

They agreed to say nothing of what they had learned, and went back to their rooms in high spirits. Even Dorothy had hope that “The Great and Terrible Humbug,” as she called him, would find a way to send her back to Kansas, and if he did she was willing to forgive him everything.

Originally posted May 15, 2011. Updated for 2012.

Tags: Adventure, Humor, Other Worlds
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Wizard of Oz


  1. Sarah says:

    I read this as a child and remember finding it a bit bizarre. It’s a tough sell to today’s kiddos, but I’ll give it a push this week!

  2. Shirley says:

    I agree with the last comment, however watching the film makes it a little easier and maybe a little more entertaining for the kids of today. It might inspire them to read the book even if in small doses.

  3. Jami says:

    This is the book I recommend as the book that most differs from the movie version. In addition, most people I recommend this to are also very surprised to learn it’s actually part of a lengthy series. I’ve often wondered if Wizard of Oz would still be available today if it weren’t for the movie. When my girls get a little older I plan on reading the book version to them. I think it’ll be a hoot to compare the differences since they both love the Wizard of Oz.

  4. suzi w. says:

    Oooh. I’m reading Leonard Marcus’s Minders of Make Believe right now and just read the bit about the Wizard of Oz. I remember reading The Wizard of Oz one Christmas vacation (as an adult, I think I was 22). It took me an afternoon. In the evening, I watched the John Ritter made for TV movie about the publishing, which my parents had on VHS.

    I find Jami’s comment interesting, about the movie/book comparison. As a child, I lived overseas, so I didn’t see the movie until I was 15 and babysitting for kids who had seen it many many times. (I had actually seen a movie called Under the Rainbow without having seen the movie it was based on.) But I do remember going with my parents to see The Wiz. It was an event, not just a Saturday matinee with friends.

  5. Anita, I love the fact that you referenced the March 2010 New York Times article on the story of a father and daughter who read these stories to each other every night as part of a day-to-day campaign called “The Streak”.

    The article mentions that they started The Streak with one of the 13 Oz books and ended it with the same Oz book. Magical. If I remember well, they read all 13 Oz books four times!

    That is such an inspiration for moms and dads around the world.

    I love the fact that the Oz books are at the same time, human, magical, witty, crazy and larger than life. In real life, it is impossible to offer our kids anything that would come close to this.

    The Wizard of Oz make it possible for us to travel on perilous and exciting journeys with our kids – from the safety of their bedroom. If that is not worth the price of a book, I don’t know what is.

    Read Aloud Dad

  6. Bookjeannie says:

    Skellig by David Almond is one of those books you can’t forget even if you wanted to, which you wouldn’t. He’s an unique, amazing author. I confess that I need to read Baum this summer. Loved the movie about him starring John Ritter.

  7. At age 6, I got my first library card and immediately checked out The Wizard of Oz. I spent many years in Oz, reading the whole series. I couldn’t decide whether I most wanted to be Ozma or Glinda.

    I recently discovered your blog and have told all my RL and Facebook friends and Twitter followers about it.

  8. Marcela says:

    My nine year old daughter and I are in the middle of the series- I think we are up to book five now. The second one we I found so strange, I would not likely have continued if not for her love of it, and demand that we continue with the series. There is something about these characters that kind of grabs you, and you find things in your life that remind you of them. I certainly found the stories more interesting after reading about Baum’s life.
    I’m curious.. as a avid Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, I read a lot about her life, and recently read where her daughter Rose convinced her to do something that had never been done- write a series of books for children. But weren’t the Oz books written first? Was it just that the Ingalls Wilder’s didn’t know about them? What do the experts consider the first series of books written for children?

  9. Anita says:

    Marcela: Series books for children go with the territory. Think of Louisa Mae Alcott (1860s) and her series; the Horatio Alger series. Stratemeyer (see last Tuesday) began The Bobbsey Twins around 1908 and continued with hundreds of series. Anne of Green Gables, etc. Mrs. Wilder did many wonderful things in her books, but she did not invent series fiction for children.

    Thanks everyone for your great comments today.

  10. Sarah T says:

    The first thing I do when I move to a new place is visit the library… and the first thing I look for in the library is to see which of the Wizard of Oz series they have! I’ve never once seen a library with the whole collection, and I discover a new Oz book every time I move. I’m so glad you highlighted this!

  11. Andrena says:

    For some reason – no matter how old this story is, it feels like it should be a classic requirement for every child! I just can’t get away from her journey and her challenges. It is amazing to me L. Frank Baum could create such a timeless classic!!

  12. suzi w. says:

    Got to see original drawings from Wizard of Oz at the NYPublic Library Centennial exhibition!!

  13. Lacey says:

    I just read this for the first time a few months ago. I think it would be a great read-aloud book and I held onto my copy so I can share it with kids someday, if I ever have them. In my household, the Wizard of Oz movie was NOT popular (due to my mom being terrfied of it as a child — she wouldn’t let us watch it growing up). By the time I actually saw it at age 18, I was a little disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to the hype.

    I did read WICKED and fell in love with both the book and the musical, which led me back to the movie again. Still, the movie didn’t quite do it for me. But I mistakenly attributed the complex and intriguing world-building to Gregory Maguire. After finally reading the original Wizard of Oz, I sheepishly realized that L. Frank Baum set up a world much more intricate than what we glimpse in the movie, and I look forward to seeing all the different corners of Oz as I read further in the series.

  14. Erin says:

    what can I possibly say about one of the greatest books ever written? My all time favorite movie since I was two years old, and the timeless illustrations by WW Denslow make this a book I give to every child I know.

  15. Love WIZARD OF OZ! The movie too, but the book is awsome. A great classic.
    Congratulations L.F. Baum!

  16. Kelly says:

    I have always loved this movie, and decided to pick up the book(s) this past year. And I love them just as much as the movie! I also have the pop-up version by Robert Sabuda, which is pretty incredible too! Thanks Anita for everything you do!

  17. Chelsea DeTorres says:

    I loved the whole series as a kid. I wanted to devour everything from Baum that my library had and my library had these great editions with canvas covers. I spent way too many summers enjoying these books and I will say I will be passing them along to my own kids one day. The Wizard of Oz is a good book.

  18. I devoured those books as a child. I think it was because I was off-putting and strange, and preferred books that were slightly off-putting and strange as well. My kids love them now, but not with the fervor that I did in my youth. I remember reading THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ to my son – he gasped at the whole Pip-to-Ozma transformation. “Wait,” he says, looking at me seriously. “Can that really happen. Like in real life?” I had to explain that, yes, gender transformations can occur, but they are a bit more involved, and usually don’t require witches.

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