David Bruce: Books Anecdotes

• James Marshall (illustrator) and Harry Allard (author) created the characters of Miss Nelson, a teacher who is so nice that her students sometimes take advantage of her, and of Miss Viola Swamp, “the meanest substitute teacher in the whole world.” The two characters may possibly be one and the same. Miss Nelson may or may not disguise herself as Miss Viola Swamp when it is necessary to restore order to her class or to make the football team win a game. Mr. Marshall once did a book-signing event in California. A teacher called him ahead of time and said, “I’ve got this wonderful idea. I’m going to come dressed as Viola Swamp. While you’re signing books, I’m going to beat you with a ruler!” Mr. Marshall did not like the idea and said to her, “This is not a good idea. First of all, there are going to be people there who aren’t going to know who Viola Swamp is. This could only work — possibly — in a school setting.” The teacher replied, “Oh, I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to do it.” At the book-signing event, Mr. Marshall heard a scream coming from outside and he thought, Well, she’s arrived. The cosplay was partially successful. The teacher dressed and looked just like Miss Viola Swamp, and she really pounded Mr. Marshall with the ruler. However, a little five-year-old Japanese girl witnessed the cosplay, and Mr. Marshall remembers that “the little girl — well, they had to carry her out like a surfboard! She just froze. I think she’s probably in therapy to this day.” Mr. Marshall was motivated to be an illustrator of children’s books. He had taught for a while and was not fond of it. Occasionally, he had dreams where he was teaching after having signed a 50-year contract with a high school. He would wake up in a cold sweat and scream, “But I want to publish books! I want to draw!” Then he would go to his drawing table and draw something good.

• Teller of Penn and Teller fame was greatly influenced by a high-school teacher named D.G. Rosenbaum, who was also an actor and a magician. He wore pince-nez and a black goatee, and he smoked black cigarettes. On a snowy day that forced many students to miss school, he read a 1916 short story by Max Beerbohm titled “Enoch Soames” in which the title character, a man with a big ego, made a deal with the devil in which he exchanged his soul for a magical trip to the future—2:10 P.M. on 3 June 1997 in the Round Reading Room at the British Museum—so he could look at the shelves of books that would have by then been written about him. Unfortunately, he discovers that he has been forgotten. The only place his name appears in the library is in a short story by Max Beerbohm. Teller flew to England and at 2:10 P.M. on 3 June 1997 he was in Round Reading Room at the British Museum along with about a dozen people who had been impressed by the short story. In fact, a man did appear out of the stacks and did ask about Enoch Soames and why there were no volumes about him on the shelves before he disappeared back into the stacks. One of the people in the Round Reading Room said, “I’m having to fight tears.” Did Teller hire an actor? He said, “Taking credit for it that day would be a terrible thing—a terrible, terrible thing. That’s answering the question that you must not answer.”

• Walt Disney was a story man: He knew what made a good story. When he decided to make a movie out of Mary Poppins, he read the book carefully. He gave a copy of the book to songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman and said, “My daughters and wife think this is very good. I read it and think there’s a lot in it. Read this and tell me what you think.” They quickly read it twice and then scheduled a meeting with Walt. The book was a series of short stories about Mary Poppins rather than a novel, so they chose the short stories that they thought would make a good movie. Walt listened to them for a while, and then he asked to look at their copy of the book. They had underlined the six chapters that they thought would work best as a movie. Walt then showed them his copy of the book. He had underlined the same six chapters that they had underlined. Walt certainly knew his audiences. When his nephew’s wife had a baby, Walt went to the hospital to see it. It was the middle of the Baby Boom and so lots of babies were there. Walt said, “Look at that! Seven years from now, they’ll all be out there watching Snow White!”

• Sandra Cisneros, the Chicana author of The House on Mango Street, grew up in a family without a lot of money. Her mother made sure that she had a library card, and young Sandra read many books. For a long time, Sandra thought that books were so precious that they had to be kept in a special building—a library. Her love of reading led to a love of writing. She often wrote when she was young, an activity that her mother encouraged. Whenever Sandra, who had two older and four younger brothers, was trying to write but was being bothered by her younger brothers, she would yell, “Mom! The kids are in here!” Her mother would make her younger brothers leave so Sandra could write.

• Sometimes, even good writers sell few copies. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, authors of Jane EyreWuthering Heights, and the sustained feminist novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, once published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, using these pseudonyms instead of their real names. They sold two copies.

• As you would expect, humorist Dave Barry is able to make even a list of Frequently Asked Questions (and their answers) funny. For example, this is one FAQ: “Where can I buy Dave’s books? (We’re not kidding, this is a frequently asked question!)” And this is Dave’s answer: “At a bookstore.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore: Retellings of Classic Literature, Anecdote Collections, Discussion Guides for Teachers of Literature, Collections of Good Deed Accounts, etc. Some eBooks are free.









John Ford’s The Broken Heart: A Retelling, by David Bruce





William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure:A Retelling in Prose, by David Bruce




Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist:A Retelling in Prose


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