Kids' Book Boasts The Best Words, Real Or Not

Every good book begins with good words. Ounce, Dice, Trice is a book for children that is full of words — magnificent, wonderful words like "frangipani," "dimity," "gloaming" and "nunnery." And don't forget "murdo," "drumjargon" and "chumly." Host Scott Simon speaks with Weekend Edition's ambassador to the world of kiddie literature, Daniel Pinkwater, about this new release of an old book.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Every really good book holds a trove of really good words. "Ounce, Dice, Trice" is a book for children that's full of words: magnificent, wonderful, strange, fabulous words like frangipani, dimity, gloaming and nunnery, and murdo, drumjargon and chumly. Indeed. "Ounce, Dice, Trice" is by Aleister Reid, illustrated by the great Ben Shahn.

This new release of an old book was brought to our attention by our ambassador to the world of children's literature, Daniel Pinkwater. He joins us from upstate New York.

Daniel, what a delightful book this is.

Mr. DANIEL PINKWATER (Children's Book Author): Scott, I greet you. I salute you. And I wish to read a prepared statement.

SIMON: Yes, please.

Mr. PINKWATER: Here it is: My statement, by me.

I want every children's book editor, and also every primary and middle school teacher and librarian in America, to read this book. It is the antidote to plotting, plot-driven, two-line synopsizable, anti-imagination books, which are delivered to my door by the thrumbled(ph) hundreds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: Thrumbled: page 46.

SIMON: I was just thumbing through here to look it up, as a matter fact. The whole premise of the book is to kind - to see words, if you please, as toys.

Mr. PINKWATER: Exactly. One of the main charms for me - and for any sane person of writing for kids - is they have just fairly recently or very recently learned to read. And just the simple act of getting words off the page is in itself exciting and pleasurable. And great lengths are gone to by writers, including myself, to make the thing make sense, make the thing have a story. And here's something which is words in a book for the joy of words.

It can be read cover to cover, back to front, middle to end, upside down, any way you like. And Scott, I suggest that you just call out page numbers and we'll demonstrate.

SIMON: OK. One I just opened up to and loved immediately, although it's towards the end: 57.

Mr. PINKWATER: Fifty-seven.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: Let me get to 57. And if someone tells you something you don't believe, look at him steadily and say...

SIMON: Ferkidoodle(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: Fudge.

SIMON: Or quas(ph) - I think it's quas.

Mr. PINKWATER: And here is an illustration by the magnificent Ben Shahn, of a kid with a great expression on his face saying, quas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I thought he was saying ferkidoodle. I thought it was...

Mr. PINKWATER: No - you're right.

SIMON: I thought it was in the oprae(ph), ferkidoodle.

Mr. PINKWATER: He just said ferkidoodle.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: And now he's waiting for it to sink in. Pick a page. Pick a page, Scott.

SIMON: Right, there's one - 34, Name for Twins.

Mr. PINKWATER: There are lists in this book: Names for Twins.

SIMON: Each pair of twins - rabbits or dogs, children or frogs - has to have names that are almost the same to show that they're twins, but are different too. So here's what you do.

Mr. PINKWATER: Find double words like Higgledy Piggledy; good names for pigs.

SIMON: Or Shilly and Shally or Dilly and Dally or Nick and Nack.

Mr. PINKWATER: Namby and Pamby are better for poodles.

SIMON: Wingding for swallows, Misty and Moisty and Wishy and Washy - especially for fish.

Mr. PINKWATER: Call twin kittens Inky and Pinky.

SIMON: Oh, I like that one.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes, I do, too.

SIMON: Or Helter and Skelter.

Mr. PINKWATER: Or Pel and Mel.

SIMON: It's easy to tell, they're twins if their names have a humdrum sound.

Mr. PINKWATER: Crinkum and Crankem are perfect for squirrels, like Hanky and Panky or Fiddle and Faddle.

SIMON: But Mumbo and Jumbo are mainly for elephants.

Mr. PINKWATER: Airy and Fairy would never suit them.

SIMON: Willy and Nilly will fit almost any twins.

Mr. PINKWATER: Hubble and Bubble or Hodge and Podge or Roly and Poly are mainly for fat twins.

SIMON: Mainly for fat twins.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Boy, this is enjoyable.

Mr. PINKWATER: I forgot to say there's poems in here.

SIMON: Yeah, well, you know, the nicest thing I can say is, I was halfway through it before I realized...

Mr. PINKWATER: Exactly. Here's page 39. Let's read that one.

SIMON: OK. If you get tired of counting one, two, three, make up your own numbers as shepherds used to do when they had to count sheep day in/day out. You can try using these sets of words instead of numbers when you have to count to 10.

Mr. PINKWATER: Ounce.

SIMON: Dice.

Mr. PINKWATER: Trice.

SIMON: Quartz.

Mr. PINKWATER: Squince(ph).

SIMON: Saggo(ph).

Mr. PINKWATER: Serpent.

SIMON: Oxygen.

Mr. PINKWATER: Nitrogen.

SIMON: Denim.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: And we also have on page 31: Rude Names for Nitwits. You rapscallion.

SIMON: Flibbertigibbet(ph).

Mr. PINKWATER: You, Fussbudget(ph).

SIMON: Fussbudget, I think, is Shakespeare - isn't it?

Mr. PINKWATER: I don't know.

SIMON: All right. I think so.

Mr. PINKWATER: Let's say it is.

SIMON: All right, it is. And flibbertigibbet, I think, is Rogers and Hammerstein.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes.

SIMON: Coistral(ph).

Mr. PINKWATER: Tastetral(ph).

SIMON: Joskin(ph).

Mr. PINKWATER: Bumpkin.

SIMON: I love that one. Cloaf(ph).

Mr. PINKWATER: Clodhopper.

SIMON: And, of course, there's glemcodiddlehopper(ph)...

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes.

SIMON: ...but I digress.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Slammerkin(ph).

Mr. PINKWATER: You see what's happening? Even as we read this, you're starting to strike sparks off of the words and associate and come up with other words. Just imagine. Just imagine, not that it's that hard for you and me, if we were like children - well, we are like children.

SIMON: Well, what do you mean?

Mr. PINKWATER: But, you know, it's just - it's such joy. And it's, oh, this is such a light, beautiful book. Gosh, I love it.

SIMON: Daniel, thanks so much.

Mr. PINKWATER: Scott, I had so much fun with you today.

SIMON: And the book, yes, is "Ounce, Dice, Trice" by Aliester Reid, illustrated by Ben Shahn. Daniel Pinkwater is the author of many fine books for children and for adults. His newest is "Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl," to be published in 2010. But, you know, you don't have to wait. It's available now, serialized online at Pinkwater.com.

Mr. PINKWATER: For free.

SIMON: My gosh. What a bargain.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book")

Mr. JIMMY DURANTE (Singer, Actor): (Singing) I'll never forget the day I read a book. It was contagious, 70 pages. There were pictures here and there so it wasn't hard to bear, the day I read book. It's a shame I don't recall...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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