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Let Them Eat Pie; or, And Now We Are Four

Nerdista's Pi Pineapple PieThis blog made its debut four years ago this month — on July 23, 2010 — and it’s still here. Looking back over the past year’s worth of blog posts, I notice a few trends. The blog has retained its focus on children’s literature and comics but has also devoted more time to academia and activism.

Moving on into year 5, I’ll strive to continue to keep the blog both interesting and useful. Thanks for reading!

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Nine Kinds of Pie

Happy Pi Day!  In recognition of 3.14 (today) and this blog’s Pi pie avatar (logo?), here are Nine Kinds of Pie (loosely defined).

Pi1. The ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter: 3.1415926535.  When I was a kid, I memorized the number out to its tenth decimal point. On a long strip of paper, I also wrote the number out to about 100 decimal points. Perhaps I thought that learning this irrational number would grant me some greater insight. Or, possibly, I was intrigued by the fact that this simple ratio would be represented by such an unwieldy and unending number. I’m not sure. But I still have a fondness for Pi (and pie!). For the truly obsessed, here is Pi out to 100,000 decimal points. Here’s Pi Day’s “Learn About Pi” page, the Joy of Pi’s “Pi Facts,” and Wikipedia’s essay.

Pi: one hundred digits

2. Pi was also important to Crockett Johnson. In his later years, he worked on the mathematical conundrum of squaring the circle — a problem that also intrigued mathematician and children’s author Lewis Carroll, a century earlier. Johnson even published his own original theorem on the subject.

Crockett Johnson, from the Mathematical Gazette (1970)
Crockett Johnson, algebraic proof from the Mathematical Gazette (1970)

He moved towards this answer, visually. He literally worked out the problem via his paintings, creating many variations on the idea, and ultimately arriving at Squared Circle (1968).

Crockett Johnson, Squared Circle (1968)

Then, to get the algebraic notation correct, he corresponded with mathematicians, who helped him express his idea in the less visual medium of the formula. It was published in the Mathematical Gazette in 1970.

3. As readers of children’s literature know, this blog takes its name from a scene in Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), in which the title character “laid out a nice simple picnic lunch.”

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): "There was nothing but pie."

I love the way Johnson’s tone both embraces Harold’s matter-of-fact tone and registers amusement at this claim. On the one hand, the third person narrator (via a literary technique known as free indirect discourse) tells us what Harold is thinking: our narrator is so closely aligned with Harold’s point of view that one could easily swap the pronouns and Harold’s name for “I.” These are Harold’s thoughts. On the other hand, they’re not entirely Harold’s thoughts. Johnson’s deadpan delivery of these lines also underscores the mild absurdity of having nine favorite kinds of pie. That is, there’s also an awareness here that Harold lacks — specifically, that “nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best” is  funny.

4. Or is it? This somewhat baffling pie chart lists Americans’ 10 favorite types of pie.

Pie chart of Americans' favorite types of pie

It’s somewhat baffling because the percentages don’t add up to 100 — which is the point of using a pie chart. The circle represents 100%, and then each slice some lesser percentage. But this chart doesn’t. As the chart’s caption explains, the total “adds up to more than 100 per cent because people were asked to rank their three favorite types of pie.” And that still doesn’t make the above chart any more illuminating — though it is pretty to look at.

5. Pies are among those foods that come in both sweet and savory varieties. When I think of pie, my thoughts drift to the sweet (apple, peach, pecan, blueberry), but there are are also savory pies (meat pie, chicken pot pie, potato pie, pizza pie). The Oxford English Dictionary, which finds the oldest use of the word “pie” (then spelled “pye”) in 1304, offers the following as its  first definition:

A baked dish of fruit, meat, fish, or vegetables, covered with pastry (or a similar substance) and freq. also having a base and sides of pastry. Also (chiefly N. Amer.): a baked open pastry case filled with fruit; a tart or flan.

6. Care for some Amblongus pie? Since this is (often) a children’s literature blog, here’s a recipe from Edward Lear’s “Nonsense Cookery” (which appears in his Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets, 1871).


Take 4 pounds (say 4 1/2 pounds) of fresh Amblongusses, and put them in a small pipkin.

Cover them with water and boil them for 8 hours incessantly, after which add 2 pints of new milk, and proceed to boil for 4 hours more.

When you have ascertained that the Amblongusses are quite soft, take them out and place them in a wide pan, taking care to shake them well previously.

Grate some nutmeg over the surface, and cover them carefully with powdered gingerbread, curry-powder, and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper.

Remove the pan into the next room, and place it on the floor. Bring it back again, and let it simmer for three-quarters of an hour. Shake the pan violently till all the Amblongusses have become a pale purple colour.

Then, having prepared a paste, insert the whole carefully, adding at the same time a small pigeon, 2 slices of beef, 4 cauliflowers, and any number of oysters.

Watch patiently till the crust begins to rise, and add a pinch of salt from time to time.

Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of the window as fast as possible.

For any readers unfamiliar with Lear’s nonsense works,… you’re in for a treat even tastier than amblongus pie and gosky patties. Go read ’em!

7. John Cage and Lois Long’s Mud Book (written 1950s, published 1983) offers a recipe for mud pie — and yes, this is John Cage, the composer.

John Cage and Lois Long, Mud Book (1983)


John Cage and Lois Long, Mud Book (1983)


John Cage and Lois Long, Mud Book (1983)


John Cage and Lois Long, Mud Book (1983)

As Lane Smith and Bob Shea write in their post on Mud Book (and my source for these images), “Instructions any child can follow with ingredients easy to obtain. Notably, dirt, rocks, water, dirt and more dirt. But remember, mud pies are to make and to look at. Not to eat.”

8. Michael John Blake’s “What pi sounds like” is my favorite musical interpretation of the number. (It’s also literally a “musical number.” Get it?)

Many others have composed music inspired by Pi. Lars Erikson — composer of the Pi Symphony — even sued Michael John Blake (composer of the above piece), alleging plagiarism. Erikson lost.

If you like it (and if you don’t), you can  buy Michael John Blake’s “What pi sounds like” via iTunes.

9. One could make a long list of pie-themed music, too. The earliest one that comes to mind is “Song of Sixpence” (18th century): “Sing a song of sixpence, / pocket full of rye. / Four and twenty blackbirds / baked in a pie.” There’s A. A. Milne’s “Cottleston Pie,” performed here by Rowlf the Dog on the first season of The Muppet Show (1976).

According to an informal and completely unscientific survey of the “pie” songs in my iTunes, pies usually function metaphorically in music. Yes, there are “The Worst Pies in London” (from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd) and Zoe Lewis’s “Pies for the Public” (from Sheep), but you’re more likely to encounter Don McLean’s “American Pie” (1971), Jay & the Techniques’ “Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” (1967), the Beatles’ “Honey Pie” (from The Beatles [White Album], 1968), David Wilcox’s “Wildberry Pie” (1991), Death Lurks’ “Happiness Pie” (from The Kids in the Hall soundtrack, 1996), or Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Patootie Pie” (1946).

And what better way to express one’s appreciation for Pi and pie than by baking a Pi pie?

Pi pie

If you want to make one, the Nerdista has a recipe for her Pi pie (pictured below).

Nerdista's Pi Pineapple Pie

Happy Pi Day! Let’s have some pie. And Pi, of course.

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Have a Slice of Pie: This Blog Is Now 2 Years Old.

From Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): "But there were all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best."To wish this blog a “Happy 2nd Birthday,” I’ve added a “Popular Posts” section — you’ll see a link, above.

Commemorating the blog’s first birthday, I posted a list of “Greatest Hits” from the first year.  This year, I would instead like to offer a glimpse into the future.  I have many more ideas for blog posts than I have time to write those posts.  So,… here are a few I’d like to write in the blog’s third year.

  • The Purple Crayon’s Legacy, Part II: Picture Books.  I posted Part I well nearly two years ago.  Part II is long overdue….
  • Mix for the Biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  In celebration of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (to be published Sept. 1st!).
  • Fear of Flying.  A post that will not include the word “zipless,” but will address how to manage anxiety at 18,000 feet.
  • Gollies, Scriptive Things, and Childhood Play.  Inspired by both Robin Bernstein’s Racial Innocence and my own childhood, this post will serve as a rough draft of the introduction (or, really, part of the introduction) to a book I’m writing.
  • Who Is the Dr. Seuss of Today?  I often get asked this question.  I have some answers.
  • Barbara Lehman, master of the wordless picture book.  I love her work, and have been meaning to write about her since this blog began.
  • The newspaper PM.  I want to scan in and post an entire issue of this paper, which was published in New York from 1940 to 1948. (I have a few copies of it.) It’s a beautifully laid out, Popular Front newspaper that ran Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby and the political cartoons of Dr. Seuss.  This project may sound unmanageable, but the paper was printed in tabloid format, and each issue wasn’t that long.  (It’s not like scanning in a copy of The New York Times).

And there are several more for which I don’t have titles yet.

Thanks to all (both?) of you for continuing to read the blog.  I’ll continue to try to make it worth your time.

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All Things Rey: New Blog Devoted to Creators of Curious George

H.A. Rey, Curious GeorgeThere’s a new blog that children’s lit readers & Curious George fans will want to explore.  Titled All Things Rey (an homage to the great All Things Thurl website, perhaps?), it features posts devoted to H.A. and Margret Rey.  It launched on Nov. 2 2011 with a post on H.A., at a New Hampshire swimming pool, doing pitch-perfect imitations of animals.  Other posts have focused on the original spelling of “Rey,” the Reys’ arrival in New York in 1940, and their Greenwich Village apartment.  Ann Mulloy Ashmore, the blog’s creator, promises more “fascinating anecdotes and details about” the Reys, derived from her work on them both now and as a staff member of the de Grummond Collection who helped catalog the Reys’ papers when they arrived in 1999.

Not incidentally, Ashmore also has published a really good piece on the Reys: “From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race and Consciousness Raising,” in Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 35.4 (Winter 2010), pp.357-372.  If you or your university library subscribes to ProjectMuse, you can read the article gratis.

Here’s hoping these blog posts become a book!

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And Now We Are 1: Nine Kinds of Pie Retrospective, 2010-2011

Nine Kinds of Pie made its debut in July of 2010.  Looking back on the 158 posts I’ve done since then, here are nine of many subjects covered.

From Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): "But there were all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best."1. Children’s Literature. Since the blog takes its title from Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, of course much has been devoted to stories for younger readers.  There have been pieces devoted to the works of Tim Egan, Lane Smith, Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash, among others.

2. Comics. Unsurprisingly, many of these posts concern Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby.  But Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac, and political cartoons by Syd Hoff and William Gropper have also made appearances.

3. Music.  I thought I would post more mixes than I have done, but… I have posted a few — mostly themed ones.  There’s been a “Halloween Box Set,” a “Rapture Box Set,” a “Summer Box Set,” and a few Christmas mixes, among others.

4. Biography.  Chronicling the revisions of The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming 2012), I’ve shared far more than is likely to interest readers.

5. Advice.  Most of this advice has been geared towards academe (such as How to Publish Your Article or Prograstigrading), but some of the publishing advice (such as How to Publish Your Book) would be useful to non-academics.

6. Academia.  The most popular of these was What Do Professors Do All Week?, a week-long series in which I chronicled just how a professor spends his or her workday… by chronicling exactly how I spent each day of February 19-25.

7. Brief Essays. Some of these will form part of longer works — for example, “Can Censoring a Children’s Book Remove Its Prejudices?”  Others will not, such as the brief opinion pieces like:

I’ve also posted a couple of reviews, such as those on Chris Van Allsburg’s Queen of the Falls, and Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated the Falls in a Ship of Her Own Making.

8. Humor. Items in this category overlap with items in other categories (cartoons, children’s books), but since there are 14 posts tagged humor, this appears to be developing as a theme.  Highlights: Remy Charlip’s It Looks Like Snow and How to Talk Nonsense (on a pedagogical experiment using nonsense).

9. Autobiography.  Inasmuch as bits of my life may be instructive to others, I’ve written a few pieces about me — many (possibly all) of these might be cross-listed with advice.  Some such posts include “Introvert Impersonates Extrovert” (on overcoming shyness), “My Book About Me” (on my first book), a pair of posts on moving from adjuncthood to professorland, and the blog’s inaugural post.

Are there any subjects that readers would like to see more of?  Since I don’t have a counter on this blog, comments are my only way of gauging a subject’s popularity.  (And, yes, I know I should install a counter.  Any suggestions?)

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