SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Coming up, jazz - great riffs about making music.
But first, it's officially vacation time across the land, the time when many families load up a wagon with suitcases and coolers, bicycles, games, iPods, everything they need to try and make a home away from home.
"Nini Here and There" is a book for children that explores the value of home through the eyes of a family member who is sometimes underfoot but not overlooked. It's written and illustrated by Anita Lobel.
Daniel Pinkwater is our ambassador to the world of children's literature and joins us from his home in Upstate New York. Daniel, good to be back with you.
Mr. DANIEL PINKWATER (Children's book author): Scott, likewise.
SIMON: This is a very sweet book.
Mr. PINKWATER: Now, Scott, few kids can read, but I submit this is a book a cat might enjoy so read it to your cat. It's a very simple story with wonderful, beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent paintings.
SIMON: Yeah. It really - beginning with the first page, I must say.
Mr. PINKWATER: Before anything, right after the end papers, here we have a little cat, a sweet little cat, sitting at a windowsill. It's a city. It looks a little like New York City. We turn the page, facing the title page we see it's the cast-iron facade of a loft building in SoHo in lower Broadway area. And then there's a view of a street and it is New York City. We turn the page again, here is the publication data, the book's flickering to life, and facing that on the dedication page, here's the cat looking out her window.
Mr. PINKWATER: And then we turn the page again, Scott.
SIMON: And, boy, it's just a wonderful jumble of things that you might see tumbling out of a closet when somebody is trying to (unintelligible) the cat.
Mr. PINKWATER: Every picture in this book is museum quality. It's all these impedimenta of travel with a great, big, sort of, mess in pile and then facing it, there's a picture of a cat having an idea, a sight we've all seen.
SIMON: Dan, why don't you begin with the cat's thoughts?
Mr. PINKWATER: I'll begin.
(Reading) Oh, no, Nini thought, they are going away. They are going without me.
SIMON: (Reading) Nini lay down on top of a suitcase. She stretched out on a mound of shoes.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) She climbed onto a box of books and she sat on a guitar.
And we see her doing all these things, quite a solemn little compact-sized cat.
SIMON: (Reading) Then, Nini saw the big black thing.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) The big black thing, which has zippers and mesh. It's a cat carrier. She tried to hide - no use.
SIMON: Yeah, and you see just a little tail poking out at the bottom.
(Reading) Nini was caught. Come on, little cat, in you go.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) Zip(ph).
And here we see Nini being submerged into the folds of his big-padded, very nice, expensive-looking cat carrier.
SIMON: (Reading) Nini meowed and meowed and meowed.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) Her meows got smaller and smaller and smaller.
SIMON: (Reading) Until she fell asleep.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) Now the cat dreaming what a cat may dream. Nini, the cat, was floating on a cloud.
SIMON: (Reading) Flying in a hot air balloon.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) Sailing on ocean waves.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: She was...
Mr. PINKWATER: Now why would a cat always has these completely serious expressions and gaze.
SIMON: Yeah, which makes the illustrations so plausible to note.
Mr. PINKWATER: Yes.
SIMON: (Reading) She was bouncing on the back of an elephant.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) And on a rocking horse.
SIMON: (Reading) All at once, the rocking and bouncing and floating and flying stopped. There was a bump, zip. Come on, Nini, out you go, little cat.
Mr. PINKWATER: When we turn the page, it's double spread. She's sitting on the porch. It's the country place.
Mr. PINKWATER: There's an orchard. Cat back to viewer, gazing down a little country path.
SIMON: (Reading) Birds and butterflies fluttered and swooped. A little mouse scurried pass.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) A white dog came by.
Nini was not sure he was a friend, here's a picture of a cat experiencing suspicion.
SIMON: (Reading) Nini smelled good things to eat. Come on, Nini. Come on inside, little cat.
Mr. PINKWATER: And later, Nini purred on a new windowsill. Here's a reprised of the - the first picture - that was the country house windowsill.
(Reading) She watched the sunset, beautiful sunset, too, and the moonrise.
Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) That night, before Nini fell asleep, she thought, yes, everything is different but they did not go away without me.
SIMON: Well, and they wouldn't, right? It's not...
Mr. PINKWATER: Of course not.
SIMON: ...not a home without her. Daniel, how hard is it to execute what seems to be such a simple idea like this?
Mr. PINKWATER: You know, Scott, I'm writer. Some people don't know that, and some people claim that I'm not, but I am.
SIMON: You can say it on our show, though.
Mr. PINKWATER: And I write novels, wonderful, complex, interesting novels, and I also do picture books. Picture books are a thousand times harder to do. You know, when you write a story, when you write a novel and you do an essay on a news magazine program, you have a lot of latitude, you could digress, you could tell a joke, you could go here, you could go there. You can't with this.
Mr. PINKWATER: If there were a sour note, it would stick out like mad. And this is really an exemplar of all that a picture book can be: picture book for a child, picture book for a parent, picture book for a pussycat. It's a pussycat of a book.
SIMON: Daniel, thanks for so much for bringing it to our attention.
Mr. PINKWATER: It was my great pleasure, Scott.
SIMON: The book is "Nini Here and There," written and illustrated by Anita Lobel. Daniel Pinkwater is the author of many fine books for children and for adults. His latest is the "The Neddiad," which is now available in bookstores everywhere.
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