I just have to share one of the most thrilling developments in my obsession with children’s books. I’m not exaggerating when I say this truly makes the list as one of the top five most fabulous things that has happened to me this year.
I started my collection of picture books as a high school senior when I picked up a copy of “Eloise in Paris” from the Louvre. I was traveling through France with classmates and, when I returned home, I informed my boyfriend (now husband) that our first child would be a girl named Eloise. Seven years later, that’s just what happened.
Since then, my collection has grown to such a degree that no single bookcase can hold it. In addition to the exciting new finds I come across during my many visits to the bookstore, I’ve also spent a great deal of time tracking down favorites from my childhood. Many I dug out of boxes at my parents’ house, but others have required a bit more sleuthing.
One in particular has been the thorn in my side for nearly a decade. This book was about a grumpy alligator or crocodile who was generally unpleasant with his neighbors. For some reason, he decided to paint his house in vertical, multicolored stripes.
As a child, I was absolutely fascinated by the illustration of his rainbow colored house. And apparently, the impression stuck with me into adulthood: just look at how the walls in my daughters’ rooms turned out:
I’ve asked nearly every bookseller and librarian I’ve met in the past 10 years about this book. Not one has had the slightest guess at a title. My tireless Internet searches have yielded little other than Lyle the Crocodile titles and non-fiction books about reptiles. I even shelled out $2 and posted a listing on Stump the Bookseller, an amazing online database dedicated to finding long-forgotten books with only the vaguest of memories as reference.
After nearly three months on the database, I had nearly given up hope of ever finding the book. And then I happened on a friendly bookseller at Barnes and Noble in the Georgetown district of Washington D.C.
I had already found the book I walked in for (“Interrupting Chicken” by David Ezra Stein), but a book-obsessed girl can’t help but spend a few extra minutes perusing the shelves. Up walked the bookseller, who offered the customary, “Is there anything I can help you find?”
As has become my habit, I said: “Yes. Do you know of a book about a grumpy crocodile who paints his house in vertical, multicolored stripes?”
She nearly knocked me off my feet when she said, “I do remember it, but I know we don’t carry it anymore and I can’t think of the title. You should ask the children’s librarian at the Georgetown library.”
I was, of course, only visiting the D.C. area for the weekend, but on a whim, I submitted my inquiry via the D.C. Library System’s general “contact us” email form. I was dejected when the youth collections coordinator sent the following response: “I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with the book you asked about.”
My bubble was officially burst, so it came as an utter surprise when I received the following email the very next day.
“I understand that our selection librarian responded to you that we are unfamiliar with the book you are looking for. Although the title doesn’t come to our minds, I will do some sleuthing to see if I can find it. I wanted you to know that we are still looking.” – Micki Freeny, Coordinator of Youth Services.
A day later: “I have searched many sources without luck so far, but I take part in a children’s literature listserv where people post ‘stumpers’ about books all the time. It may take a few days to get responses, but after I try a few more sources, I will post the query there.”
Can you feel my excitement reaching fever pitch?
Four days later: “One response I got on the listserv is ‘Nasty Kyle the Crocodile’ by Doug Cushman. I can’t find it listed in a local library (and I also checked the state of Maryland database), but it is available used from Amazon. Let me know if you think this is it.”
Time stood still and I dared not take a breath as Amazon compiled search results for “Nasty Kyle the Crocodile.” Up popped a somewhat poor photograph of the book’s cover, but I knew in an instant we had struck gold. There was the grumpy crocodile, greeting the morning with a grimace and a look of disgust for the birds chirping in the window.
And would you believe I got it for just 55 cents from Goodwill Books?! For the next week, I madly rushed to the mail every day in anticipation of the book’s delivery. And then it came.
I can’t properly describe the amazing sense of satisfaction I felt as I flipped through its pages. Here Kyle was, just as I remembered him except now bearing a name to go with my memory.
The book actually consists of four chapters addressing concepts such as colors, opposites, geography and math. The chapter containing my beloved painted house is called “Kyle Paints His House.”
Kyle does, in fact, choose to paint his house capriciously. When Fred Goat stops by to compliment him on the blue hue he has selected, Kyle switches to red paint out of spite. But then Olivia Hippo extols her love of red, and Kyle moves on to yellow.
Eventually, he’s forced to mix his buckets of primary colors to create green, orange and purple. The end result is my rainbow house, which delights the neighbors but irritates the ever-grumpy Kyle.
I’m not sure my 2 1/2-year-old, Eloise, was as impressed with the book as I was as a child. But who am I kidding, most of her books are for my entertainment anyway.