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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Return of the mysterious Lizard Music

lizardmusic1 194x300 Return of the mysterious Lizard MusicThe year: Somewhere between 1984-1989.  Thereabouts.

The place: Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Home of Gibson Guitars, celery, taxicab production, etc.  This may turn out to be important.

The mystery:  So I’m watching what must have been PBS during the day.  Possibly over the summer, since I was a school aged child at this time and the only other channels I indulged in were Nickelodeon and the USA Network when they were showing Space Ghost.  This show, however, was definitely not my beloved superhero of the stars.  In fact, the more I think about it the more I am convinced that it was PBS.  The budget was just that low.

This show consisted of a fellow, possibly with a beard, who would read a chapter from a great work of children’s fiction.  As his voiceover read the chapter the multiple cameras would remain fixed on the man as he began his sketch.  The sketch would relate to some element of the chapter, but whether that scene was at the beginning or the end of the was unknown until the sketch was done.

Now there was a nice variety of books read for this show, including titles like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (the sketch involved the man with no nose, which I’ve always found memorable) and Caddie Woodlawn.  One day, though, the sketch was from a book called Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater.  I’d never heard of the book.  I hadn’t heard of most of the books this guy did, but this one definitely sounded interesting. Particularly when he got to this part:

“I was almost at the point of running into the kitchen and looking up the number of the resort where Mom and Dad were staying, when the lizard band came onto the screen.  These were real lizards, not people dressed up as lizards, and they played regular musical instruments.  There were five or six of them.  At first it was scarier than the movie, especially the close-ups, but as the lizards played and swayed together, I sort of got used to it.  The music was very strange.  It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before.”

The story, if you want the condensed version, is about a kid named Victor who sees these mysterious musicians on his television after the late-late movies have broadcasted (his parents are out of town, y’see) and he wants to know where they come from.  The book is a bit of a cult hit too.  Originally published in 1976, since its creation I’ve heard it mentioned as the Daniel Pinkwater touchstone.  Seek ye to know the mysteries of why men all over this country go crazy for his stuff (including Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, judging by their blurbs on the back of this reprint), look no further than this brand spanking new edition published by the fantastic New York Review Children’s Collection.

According to the bio in the back, this was the first book Pinkwater wrote.  He has, as you may have noticed, continued his productivity relatively unabated since.  I’ve kept an old and original 1976 copy on my own library branch’s shelves, just in case a Pinkwater fanatic (or, simply, “Pinknatic”) asks for it by name.  Now that I’ve cast mine eyes on this pretty little edition, though, I may scrap the old for the new.  Here’s the old:

lizardmusic2 Return of the mysterious Lizard Music

The covers are gratifyingly similar.  Fortunately the new one classed up the title’s font a bit.

But wait!  I mentioned a mystery earlier, did I not?  Well, much like Victor, I too saw a mysterious television program.  And like Victor, I didn’t know its source.  Now years later I cast my mind back and wonder what the heck that show even was.  It was possibly local (though the PBS in Kalamazoo came out of Chicago at that time, weirdly enough).  This guy could have been someone who lived down the block from me or he might have been nationally syndicated.

So I post this question to you: Isn’t it cool that they’re republishing Lizard Music at long last?

And I pose a second question to you as well:  Did anyone else ever see that show?

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. I totally remember a show like that, although in my mind I don’t recall a beard. I loved it though, I do remember that. Wish I knew the name. I bet there’s be old broadcasts on YouTube! e

  2. First—
    The reprinting of Lizard Music is a godsend. Any library that doesn’t get one is making a mistake. This is The Great Mid-Grade. For a certain type of kid this book can be a life changer. It is a NEEDED book. Certain kids — like myself — NEED to read this book!

  3. Second — I watched that show quite a bit in school. I remember after the episode on Bellair’s House With A Clock In Its Walls there was a footrace to the library.
    Most importantly for me, the show introduced me to John Christopher’s books.
    I’d love to find out the names of the show and the artist! A powerful force for getting kids into books in the 80s!

  4. mta says:

    Oddly enough, I had exactly the same introduction to this book. I heard the first few paragraphs on that show and knew I had to read it. What an eye-opener it was. A whole new world of sublime and mysterious absurdity …

    I’m delighted they’re re-releasing it.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Well that clinches it. If they showed that show in Delaware then it definitely wasn’t local. I’ve checked YouTube, Elizabeth, but my searches for “children’s books” and “sketching” and “man possibly wearing a beard, possibly not” bring up surprisingly few results.

  5. John Speno says:

    I found the name of a long lost and hazily remembered show using vark.com. True story. This was my forgotten show BTW: Brendon Chase – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTj6kzE20cg

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      First, I’m a little concerned that if I continue to watch “Brendon Chase” I may end up obsessively watching the whole series on YouTube. Best opening sequence ever. You can have a lot of fun trying to figure out if you’re dealing with cavemen or not.

      Second, I loved my Picture Pages with Bill Cosby but it was weirdly commercial. To enjoy it you were supposed to buy the actual pages to follow along. Someday I’ll have a poll of kids who actually owned Picture Pages versus those like me who didn’t. You lucky owners you.

      Third, thank you everyone who figured out it was John Robbins! A surprisingly helpful site (scroll down at http://askville.amazon.com/remember-PBS-show-man-black-hair-draw-pictures-book-read/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=2527034) has clarified another question I had. I know that some of you who said you saw him are just a tad older than I am. Apparently Robbins had a couple shows with this format including:

      “Cover to Cover” (1965 to 1973 in black and white, and 1974-1975 in color)
      “The Book Bird” (1979) (for Children’s Television International/PBS)
      “Storybound” (1980) (for CTI/PBS)
      “Read It with John Robbins” (1982) (Positive Image Productions)
      “More Books from Cover to Cover” (1987) (PBS)
      “Books from Cover to Cover (1988) (PBS)
      “Read On: Cover to Cover” (1994) (PBS)
      “Cover to Cover” (1996) (PBS)

      Mystery solved!

  6. Jennifer Buehler says:

    I still have my 1970s paperback copy, though mine is the one of a kid on a park bench and a guy with a chicken on his shoulder. I too discovered the book through a PBS show, though I think the one I watched in Kentucky was called Picture Pages. I believe it was a precursor to Reading Rainbow.

  7. Madigan says:

    I loved that show!
    It was on PBS, and was called “Cover to Cover,” and starred John Robbins. I seem to remember that he had a salt and pepper beard… I could be misremembering though. I think he had a spin-off show called, “Read It” which was very similar.
    They used masterful camera cuts, as he drew. He only drew one picture, and they’d show him sketching it as it was being read, and they’d cut to a close-up of one of the characters, if that character was speaking, or they’d do a pan of some detail of the background landscape if that was what was being described, and they’d play dramatic music.
    The reader had a deep and gravelly voice, and was pleasant to listen to.
    I didn’t grow up with television at home, but we used to watch them on video at school.
    The most infuriating part of the show was that it always ended on a cliffhanger! So, you’d have to go find the book and read it, in order to find out how it ended.

  8. Bigfoot says:

    I saw a show matching that description many times while passing through Ohio in the 80s. I remember a man with just a moustache, and he was the man whose photo I see in this link. His name is John Robbins. Is this the same show you’re thinking of?

    http://www.ket.org/tvschedules/series.php?id=KMBCC

  9. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the LIZARD reissue shout-out! :-)

    Fun fact: The b&w cover image (for both the original hardcover, and this new one) is a woodcut done by Daniel. He was a fine-artist/sculptor by training before jumping in to the book world.

    I’d suggest that you take the 76 first edition hardback you have and put it somewhere safe. Those are pretty rare now.

    JL

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Well, we’ve already a nice first edition in our reference collection. I love having first editions on the shelves for check out when possible. We’ve an old Jenny and the Cat Club in our Young Readers that’s been circulating since 1963. They’re rare, but I love seeing them there.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I HEART JENNY LINSKY…. *meow*