The good news bear
Corduroy always wanted a home and a friend; now he gets a second act.
by Gary Drevitch
Copyright © 2006 Time Out New York Kids.
TIME OUT NEW YORK KIDS September/October 2006
In children’s publishing, where the bond between character and reader is exceptionally strong, reviving a popular series after the death of the author usually results in a flop (see “Revival style,” below). Corduroy, by the late Don Freeman, has been a staple for decades in first-grade classrooms everywhere.
Nonetheless, this fall, a longtime art director at Viking Books is taking a chance with the publication of Corduroy Lost and Found, the overalls-clad bear’s first full-length hardcover tale since his creator wrote 1978’s A Pocket for Corduroy—and until now, the only follow-up to the original 1968 classic.
B.G. Hennessy, who penned the new book, was an obvious choice for this daunting task, having written a popular series of Corduroy lift-the-flap books, and having worked with Freeman on A Pocket for Corduroy. By staying true to Freeman’s formula and wide-eyed spirit, Hennessy largely succeeds.
As Lost and Found opens, Corduroy decides he must give his owner-friend Lisa a present for her birthday, so he sneaks out in the middle of the night to find something special. But plans soon go awry, and he finds himself lost on the city streets. “Kids have that shock a lot,” Hennessy says. “Everything’s fun until you realize you can’t find your parents.”
Spoiler alert: Corduroy and Lisa are reunited in the end, thanks in part to a newsstand guy right out of central casting, but also due to Lisa’s efforts. “She is smart, caring and very independent,” Hennessy says. “To me, Lisa has a lot of [Freeman’s late wife] Lydia’s personality.”
For Lost and Found, illustrator Jody Wheeler imitated Freeman’s original scratchboard technique, and the results adhere impressively to the source material. Another element of Freeman’s books that Hennessy included was the inimitable New York setting. “Where else could it possibly be?” she says.
Hennessy drew from her own Long Island childhood, when she would venture into the big city from time to time. “It’s just such an exciting place when you see all the stores, all the people,” she says. “I wanted to work that feeling into Corduroy’s reactions. He’s unjaded.”
Happily, the illustrations of this otherwise timeless story remain firmly rooted in 1960s New York, with quiet period details, like plastic-frame glasses and Life magazines, that make the illustrations jibe visually with previous works (who could forget that old beatnik in the laundromat?).
As for the bear himself, Hennessy insists that he still very much maintains the mark of his creator: “There’s a lot of Don in Corduroy, a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, an adventuresome spirit.” As she wrote her own book, Hennessy wanted to honor what Freeman had accomplished, rather than reinvent it. Throughout the writing process, she felt keenly aware of Freeman’s wholehearted devotion to the beloved bear, which she admired. “Don didn’t do anything condescendingly,” she says. “He wasn’t trying to win any awards. He wrote for the children.”
Corduroy Lost and Found will be released September 14 by Penguin Young Readers Group.
Can a new author do justice to a classic? We checked out the recent makeovers of four fave kids’ series.
Created by Peggy Parish, 1961; new version by Herman Parish (Greenwillow, 2002–6), $16
Then: Third-grade teacher Peggy Parish’s tales about a daft housekeeper walked a fine line—in less skillful hands, all those malaprops and misunderstandings might have been overbearing.
Now: Herman Parish, the late author’s nephew, doesn’t have his aunt’s light touch or economy of style, but he does share her sly humor, which should satisfy Amelia fans hungry for more.
The Berenstain Bears
Created by Stan & Jan Berenstain, 1974; new version by Mike Berenstain (HarperCollins, 2005–6), $10
Then: Husband-and-wife team Stan and Jan Berenstain wrote more than 60 books for this popular series, which effectively delivered positive lessons on topics like eating too much junk food (albeit accompanied by a somewhat clunky reading experience).
Now: Unpleasantly, the latest installments, cocredited to son Mike Berenstain following Stan’s death, now rhyme, making us long for the familiar (if hokey) voice of the original stories.
Created by Stratemeyer Syndicate, 1927; new version by Simon & Schuster (2005–6), $5
Then: Written by ghostwriters under the name Franklin W. Dixon, these innocent tales about sibling sleuths were action-packed and almost painfully earnest.
Now: Frank and Joe are recast as undercover brothers at a crime-fighting agency. The new books ratchet up the action with high-tech crime and gadgets but surrender some of the Hardys’ essential humility.
Created by Stratemeyer Syndicate, 1930; new version by Simon & Schuster (2004–6), $5
Then: Penned under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, these spooky mysteries about hidden stairs and old clocks may never bore, but today’s girls may find Nancy’s über-proper ways almost odd.
Now: While her loyal friends and hunk Ned are still around, Nancy has been remade for the Net generation. But there’s not a lot at stake in these sitcomesque tales, which include a snake-napping at the zoo.