New Book Collects Copp Children Stories

Scott Simon speaks with Weekend Edition's Daniel Pinkwater, about a new book called Jim Copp, Will You Tell Me A Story? The book is a collection of three of Copp and Ed Brown's stories for children, put in book form for the first time.

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(Soundbite of Jim Copp and Ed Brown album of stories and songs)

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Jim Copp, will you tell me a story?

Mr. JIM COPP (Storyteller; Writer; Musician): Sure, what story do you want?

SCOTT SIMON, host:

From 1958 until the 1970s, Jim Copp told children's stories. He didn't write children's books, but he and his business partner, Ed Brown, created, performed and recorded his stories in a series of children's records. Here's a short take from a story called, "Martha Matilda O'Toole."

(Soundbite of story "Martha Matilda O'Toole")

Mr. COPP: Martha Matilda O'Toole went skipping off to school. But as she was turning to go through the gate, discovered that she had forgotten her slate. Thought Martha, the teacher won't like it that way, I better go get it. My, my, and she did.

SIMON: Martha Matilda O'Toole and two other of Jim Copp's tales have been combined into a new book for children, complete with illustrations and an accompanying CD. It's called "Jim Copp, Will You Tell Me A Story?" Our ambassador to the world of children's literature, Daniel Pinkwater, joins us from his home.

DANIEL PINKWATER: Scott!

SIMON: Yes?

PINKWATER: I have one thing to say. No, I have two things to say. Give me more. The first thing to say is, I am wary of books that come with CDs, and I shy away from music recordings especially made for children. In general, they give me the pip. When you and I did a children's radio program a few years ago, we gave them Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, and I think we did right. So, here's a book with a CD and music specially made for children, and it is great.

SIMON: Now, you knew him, I gather.

PINKWATER: I know his work. And here's the thing, Jim Copp and his partner Ed Brown started producing these records in the '50s.

SIMON: He was like a cabaret performer, wasn't he?

PINKWATER: He was a cabaret performer and an intelligence officer in the war. And then he wrote a society column in a Los Angeles paper. So figure him out. And so he started doing this in his house using three home tape recorders. And Brown played some of the characters, designed the albums. And they would take a suitcase and go around and hand-sell the records to upscale stores like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman and FAO Schwartz. And they kept this up for at least 10 years.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Well, Kurt. Now, you and I usually read from the book, but we have the Copp and Brown recording.

PINKWATER: It would be a shonda(ph), or a scandal, or a shame, for you and I to read it when we have the actual sound.

SIMON: All right. Let's listen and maybe talk a little bit about one of the stories here, "Miss Goggins and the Gorilla."

PINKWATER: Now, our story opens in the classroom of Miss Goggins, an incredibly nasty teacher.

SIMON: Ugly, too, they point out.

PINKWATER: Ugly too. So, she uses word like unruly, disobedient, and vituperative to describe the children. I love it, and kids love it when grown up words appear in children's books.

(Soundbite of story "Miss Goggins and the Gorilla")

Mr. COPP: (As Miss Goggins) (Singing) I had a little doggie, and his name was Mr. Jiggs. I sent him to the grocery store to fetch a pound of figs. A half an hour later, he came running back and said, The figs looked rather green my dear, I bought a bone instead.

Mr. COPP: (As Miss Goggins) That's our song for today. Now, let's sing it together. Are we ready? And a one and a two and a three and a four. And a one and a two and a three and a four.

(Soundbite of Copp and Brown performing as children singing unintelligibly)

Mr. COPP: (As Miss Goggins) Silence! Stop! Stop singing! One of you is off key. Jasper Jones, it was you!

(Soundbite of laughter)

PINKWATER: It sure takes me back to the Nettlehorst School on Broadway in Chicago.

SIMON: Yes, Broadway and about Melrose?

PINKWATER: Yes. Many of the teachers I had were very like Miss Goggins.

SIMON: So, can I spill the beans? A gorilla's in the classroom, right?

PINKWATER: A gorilla shows up.

(Soundbite of story "Miss Goggins and the Gorilla")

Mr. COPP: (As the narrator) A huge animal came straight toward Ms. Goggins.

Mr. COPP: (As Miss Goggins) Get out of here. How dare you come into my room? You aren't a real gorilla. You are only Mr. Hobson(ph), the manual training teacher dressed up in a gorilla suit to fool us. Get out!

SIMON: Well, I think he really is a gorilla, OK. I'm taking a look at the illustrations, he doesn't look like Mr. Hobson in a gorilla suit to me. I think he's really a gorilla. But the point of it is she kicks him out.

PINKWATER: She pushes him. She shoves him. Not even a gorilla can stand up to Miss Goggins.

(Soundbite of story "Miss Goggins and the Gorilla")

Mr. COPP: (As Miss Goggins) Silence. That was not a real gorilla, and you are stupid children for thinking so.

PINKWATER: I love her.

SIMON: We've all had teachers like this. So, she tries to continue the lessons, but you know what? The gorilla will not be held at bay. He comes crashing through the door.

PINKWATER: And then.

(Soundbite of story "Miss Goggins and the Gorilla")

(Soundbite of gorilla sound)

Mr. COPP: (As the narrator) Said the gorilla through the door.

Mr. COPP: (As Miss Goggins) Silence, Mr. Hobson.

(Soundbite of gorilla sound)

Mr. COPP: (As the narrator) Said the gorilla. And he came suddenly crashing through the door. And with his hairy arms swinging, came straight for Miss Goggins.

Mr. COPP: (As Miss Goggins) I told you to get out of my room.

Mr. COPP: (As the narrator) Said Miss Goggins.

Mr. COPP: (As Miss Goggins) I shall report you to the principal.

Mr. COPP: (As the narrator) Report me to the principal? said the gorilla, removing his false head. And who do you suppose he really was? He was the principal of the school himself.

PINKWATER: It turns out he was checking on the teachers, as he always did, in disguise once a year. And because she performed so miserably, he fires her.

(Soundbite of story "Miss Goggins and the Gorilla")

Mr. COPP: (As the narrator) And out the door she flew. And it was the last the children ever saw of her. Of course, such a thing could never happen nowadays because there aren't anymore teachers like Miss Goggins, are there children?

SIMON: I can see why - I mean, I can see why these were very popular and still should be?

PINKWATER: It's so satisfying.

SIMON: And now we've got a note to today's children who are growing up in the world of digital, audio, and YouTube, and TiVo, the technology might sound a little bit primitive, or on the other hand, does it sound charming?

PINKWATER: It's not that primitive when you consider that it's one guy and various kitchen appliances, kazoos, toy pianos, and three Ampex tape recorders in his living room.

SIMON: How does the book part hold up?

PINKWATER: I think it's a handsome book. I think the illustrations are right in the groove. Apparently, Lindsay DuPont, the illustrator, grew up listening to - the Jim Copp records came with little, sort of, like, I don't know what you call them, push-out, or pop-out figures. And you could make a little cardboard theater. It was quite elaborate. The whole thing is in such good fun. I'm so pleased that we could call this to people's attention.

SIMON: Daniel, thanks so much for bringing it to our attention.

PINKWATER: Scott, it is always a pleasure, particularly this time.

SIMON: Daniel Pinkwater is the author of many fine books for children and for adults. His latest book is "The Iggyssey." And by the way, you can find an installment of it on his Web site, pinkwater.com. You're listening, Miss Goggins?

(Soundbite of story "Miss Goggins and the Gorilla")

Mr. COPP: (As Ms. Goggins) (Singing) ...1,157 pages thick. And I'm glad I took it. It fits perfectly under the short leg of my pool table. It wasn't a history. I know because it had no plot. It wasn't a mystery because nobody there got shot. The day I read a book, I can't remember when, but one of these days, I am going to do it again. Yes, one of these days, I'm going to do it again.

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