When the new century arrived, I was busy working on children’s books, both fiction and workbooks.
The fiction consisted of two early readers, Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke (Houghton, 2005) and Waltur Paints Himself into a Corner (Houghton, 2006). Early readers, as I’ve written about before in “Early Readers: A Short Phase,” are one of my favorite levels of all children’s books, and I was delighted to have my stories illustrated and published. In addition I enjoyed the school visits I made to talk about my books. What I recall most about these visits is how absolutely delighted first and second graders were when they could figure out the meaning of an idiom (such as counting your chickens before they’re hatched). They were old enough to sense that the words did not mean what they said literally — that they meant something else. But sometimes children can’t grasp figurative language until they’re seven or eight years old. So those who grasped the meaning were thrilled: they felt as if they had done something grown up, and as if they were in on a secret.
On another note, I was also secretly amused by adults who came to my many bookstore autographings, picked up a Waltur book off the author table (behind which I was sitting), flipped it open, read the first story (usually “Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke,”) and said something like “So that’s what the saying means! I always wondered!”
In addition to amusing me, this also made me a bit sad, because it revealed that 800-year-old idioms that forty generations have used and understood are dying out. Rapidly.
I was also mildly sad over the fact that, although I wrote a third book (Waltur Keeps the Wolf from the Door), my publisher was not interested. This indicated to me that the books did not sell as well as the publisher hoped they would. And that, I think, is because of the general lack of interest in language. The Amelia Bedelia books are funny and highly popular, but Amelia’s problem is most often with the meaning of an individual word, which isn’t quite as complex as understanding an idiom.
I continue to receive fan mail from both children and parents who are fans of Waltur and want to see another book.
And, I continue to be amazed at the high percentage of people who call my bear Wilbur rather than Waltur. I suspect it’s the “u” in Waltur’s name that makes them remember it as Wilbur. But the percentage is high: at least 20% of those who bring up the books or the subject say something like “I love your bear Wilbur.”
In addition to writing Waltur books during the first decade of the 2000s, I also wrote a huge workbook for Workman Publishing, BrainQuest Grade 4. This was a gigantic undertaking that had me working eleven hours a day for three or four months . . . sort of the same way I worked back in 1979 when I first started out as a full-time writer. I also wrote some BrainQuest card sets for Workman, and I really enjoyed the professionalism of the company.
Also in the first decade of the century I signed on as a ghostwriter for the Boxcar Children series. The first of the books I ghostwrote appeared in 2009, The Dog-Gone Mystery, and the second in 2010, The Spy in the Bleachers. I wrote more Boxcar books, but those two are my favorite.
Even after years and years of writing books, I appreciated the fact that as a writer I benefitted from writing books in the Boxcar Children series. The guidelines were strict (what has to happen in the first three pages, the first two chapters, the seventh or eighth chapter, and the end) and forced me to be very creative in squeezing in the exposition and plotting the story.
As the first decade of the 21st century drew to a close, I saw that the rapid increases in computer typesetting and page makeup (then called desktop publishing) were something I wanted to explore — not only to reprint old titles, but also to publish new titles. And so, as 2009 drew to a close, I began teaching myself about self-publishing.
Waltur Paints Himself into a Corner is available from Amazon and elsewhere. Wilbur, on the other hand, is not available anywhere.