SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Imagine a minivan piled high with buckets, boom boxes, boogie boards and baggage driving down the interstate, headed for the beach. Now imagine that minivan full of bats. Of course, bats usually fly when they need to get anyplace, but you get the idea. A bat summer vacation is the concept behind a new book for children called Bats at the Beach. And Daniel Pinkwater is our ambassador to the world of children's literature. He's brought this book to our attention and joins us from his home in Upstate New York. Daniel, thanks very much for being with us.
DANIEL PINKWATER: Scott, I am deliriously happy to be with you.
SIMON: And is there a beach in Upstate New York?
PINKWATER: There are beaches, there are lakes.
SIMON: Of course, lakes.
PINKWATER: There are places people go, and there are bats. I would like to tell you, in fact, my friend the bat.
PINKWATER: I have a little screened porch off of my workroom where I like to stretch out in the evening with a non-alcoholic beverage and just enjoy the night, and there is a single bat, just one, never more, who has been coming around for years. I call him Ed, Ed the bat. It might be son of Ed by now, I don't know. But there are lots of bats over towards the barn, but this is a bat who hangs out with me every night.
SIMON: That's wonderful.
PINKWATER: And we've developed a little sort of bat/human bond.
SIMON: Yeah, now, this story would not confirm this base prejudice, but, right, aren't bats blind?
PINKWATER: No, no, no. Bats are not blind, but they're nocturnal, and so it's dark, but they can see and they have wonderful radar, and according to the author/illustrator of this book, one Brian Lies, they're cute as a button.
SIMON: Yeah, aren't they? These are wonderful illustrations.
PINKWATER: Let's get into the book. I don't want to describe it. I want to just present it.
SIMON: Okay, please.
PINKWATER: Let me set it up a little bit. The first illustration shows just a little fragment of a town. I see it as perhaps a New England town, oldish houses. You know it's summer. The portable grill is out on the little deck, you know, and it's dark, the lights are on in the houses. And Scott, do you want to read the opener?
SIMON: Sure. Sun slips down and all is still and soon we can't tell sky from hill. Now from barn and cave and rafter bats pour out with shrieks of laughter.
PINKWATER: The rising moon can grow no fatter as sky lights up with gleeful chatter. Quick, call out to all you can reach, the moon is just perfect for bats at the beach.
SIMON: Soon we've got our buckets, trowels, banjoes, blankets, books, and towels strapped on backs and under wings. Have we forgotten anything?
PINKWATER: Launching out into the breeze, we sail above the darkened trees flying fast to wet our feet where land and foamy ocean meet.
SIMON: And this is a wonderful illustration, isn't it?
PINKWATER: There's a little sort of formation of bats and they're carrying picnic baskets and canvas bags and young-uns and beach umbrellas and they're all heading out into the gloaming.
SIMON: And as they approach the beach, at least we hear the deep base thump as waves on seashore crash and bump. Now the shoreline spreads below. We pull wings in and down we go.
PINKWATER: I want to talk about this spread, this picture. Scott, do you recall, I'm sure you've had the experience of taking off in a plane on a bright moonlit night and just as you're still at a low altitude looking down and there's just enough light to give the tiniest bit of color to the foliage below and you see little points of light and you can make out details of the landscape. That's what we see. It's just night. There are fires on the beach, there's a bat with his banjo case and they're coming in for a landing. And you see the lifeguard tower and a lighthouse in the distance.
PINKWATER: It's just an evocative painting. How delicious, oh, how sweet to feel warm sand beneath our feet. Quick, set up, spread blankets on sand, we want to get going when fun is at hand.
SIMON: We hurry down to test the ocean. Don't forget the moon-tan lotion. What's the first thing we should do? So many games before the night's through. One of my favorite little vignettes in this book is the bat who's shivering. You see his teeth there?
SIMON: As he's just dipping his - I'm not sure toes is what I mean.
PINKWATER: He's the first one to step in the water.
PINKWATER: Like playing with the stuff we find, which others must've left behind. And here the bats have improvised. They've taken a plastic container and turned it upside down and they're using it as a castle and they're having a sword fight with straws from those juice cups.
SIMON: Burying friends from chin to knee, we're scratchy where no sand should be.
PINKWATER: Making friends from other places with different foods and different faces.
SIMON: Or sailing to terrific heights taking turns at being kites. Little bats dig their sand caves deep as old bats lie in the moon asleep.
PINKWATER: There's really no more thrilling ride than surfing on a summer tide or sailing in the wind boat races with salty sea spray in our faces. Again, they've taken the kind of containers you get fried clams in and they're using their wings as sails and they're scutting along in the surf.
SIMON: And the moon glow's wonderful, isn't it, the way he paints that?
PINKWATER: It's just brilliant, brilliant painting, and there's lots and lots of details. We can't possible clue the listener into all of them, but there's little eyeball kicks everywhere in these.
SIMON: Now it's munch time. What's to eat? Baskets groan with the yummy treats. Beetles, ants and milkweed bugs, crickets, moths, and pickled slugs, damsel flies or salted skeeters, no room here for picky eaters.
PINKWATER: Bugmallows roast on slender sticks while cousins do their ocean tricks. And this deserves description. Bugmallows look like marshmallows, but they got like cricket legs and wings sticking out of them. And here off stage right, we - stage left, we see that some bats are doing sort of a bat pyramid standing on the edge of the shore.
SIMON: Like Tommy Bartlett's water show.
PINKWATER: Yes, yes.
SIMON: As a matter of fact. The mermaids of the Tommy Bartlett Water Show. And then we turn the page and bats (unintelligible) won't have their feet on the ceiling, they're suspended. And later on those stomachs hurt, we'll try the snack bar for desert.
PINKWATER: Scott, this is my favorite picture in the whole book. By the way, turn your copy upside down. I want to describe it. It's just the tiniest corner of wall and ceiling of one of these typical seaside ice cream shacks. And there's your porcelain light fixture with a light bulb in it. It's just got such a richness of reality and here are the bats, you know, and they're in the snack bar, snacking on what do bats snack on, the bugs attracted to the light bulb someone's left on. It charms me and it's a beautiful composition and you see these - by now, you're in love with them, these adorable bats.
SIMON: Yeah. Quick, don't miss it. The old bats are singing the bat songs that they learned when they were first winging.
PINKWATER: Music rolls on, but no more games, as embers pop within the flames, little ones climb onto leathery lap determined to rest, but not to nap.
SIMON: The east sky purples, sun is coming. The last few notes of banjoes strumming bring our beach night to an end so say farewell to newfound friends. Pack our things up, shake the sand out, give the noisy gulls a handout.
PINKWATER: Quick, let's go, let's fly away, we've got to be home before it's day.
SIMON: Flutter homeward drained and weary, small bats doze off tired and weary.
PINKWATER: Day birds start to chirp and peep, now back to crack and crevice creep. We sigh and snuggle close together to dream about the moony weather.
SIMON: And now on the last page for the fist time we see the sun. Shhh, now sleep. The moon's out of reach. The night was just perfect for bats at the beach.
PINKWATER: We see here the deserted beach and the deserted lifeguard stand and you see, Scott, there's one bat...
PINKWATER: ...who either decided to sleep out over day or else maybe he's a beach bum bat, but he's hanging from the bottom of the lifeguard...
SIMON: He's truly hanging ten or however many digits the bats have.
SIMON: You know what I love about this book, Daniel, I mean just as the bats hang by their toes or whatever they are, this book inverts the whole idea of a beach holiday, doesn't it?
PINKWATER: Precisely. He manages to evoke a wonderful summer day that we humans can remember and the bats remind us how to have a perfect day at the beach. It's just a whiz-bang summer book, any time book. Everybody should look at this.
SIMON: You know, when you look at the back flap for the author picture, he's hanging upside down.
PINKWATER: Well, I thought we agreed that we were going to do this whole segment while hanging by our feet. I'm darned uncomfortable, Scott. If you're not doing it, I don't want to know.
SIMON: No, no, of course I'm doing it, so we should hurry up. And I don't mind mentioning, a portion of the proceeds of the book, he says, are going to Bat Conservation International and...
PINKWATER: Since I now love bats better than practically anybody, I'm all for that.
SIMON: Daniel, wonderful talking to you again.
PINKWATER: As always, Scott.
SIMON: The book is Bats at the Beach, it's by Brian Lies. Daniel Pinkwater is our ambassador to the world of children's literature and also the author of many fine books for children and several for adults. His latest is called Dancing Larry. It's for both adults and children and polar bears.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
SIMON: (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 a book. It's a shame I don't recall the name of the book. It wasn't a history. I know because it had no plot. It wasn't a mystery because nobody there got shot.
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