25 Graphic Novelists Talk About Their Favorite Children’s Books

This week is the 96th annual Children’s Book Week and, for the first time, they are making comics a focus. For the week's Children’s Choice Book Awards, six of the 35 finalists are graphic novels. This has already been a big year for kid’s comics, with graphic novels like This One Summer and El Deafo winning major children’s and Y.A. book awards like the Caldecott and Newbery, respectively.

I asked 25 authors of the most popular graphic novels for kids to tell us about the children’s book that has had the biggest effect on their life and work.

1. Raina Telgemeier on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

"My favorite children’s book is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. I saw the film it inspired (The Secret of NIMH) first, when I was five, and a year or two later my mom read me the chapter book. That was the first time I really grasped the concept of adaptation from one medium to another, and in this case, I thought the book was far superior! The characters had real emotional depth, and the story had a lot of morals to chew on. But first and foremost, the language in Mrs. Frisby is gorgeous and has really stuck with me. It’s a book I’ve read over and over again throughout the course of my life, and my love for it has only grown stronger with time.

- Raina Telgemeier
Raina is the author of the New York Times bestselling graphic novels SistersSmile, and the graphic novel adaptations of The Baby-Sitters Club series.


2. Mariko Tamaki on Alligator Pie

"My favorite children's book is Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee.

I can't help but think your favorite has something to do with what was read to you when you were young. My mother and father read Alligator Pie to me when I was little. I think it grooved with their silly senses of humor, which is now my silly sense of humor. Also, there's something about Dennis Lee's writing, combined with Frank Newfeld's illustrations, that's strange and dreamy, which I love in poetry and children's lit."

- Mariko Tamaki
Mariko is the co-author of the Caldecott and Printz Honor-winning graphic novel This One Summer and the Ignatz Award-winning Skim.


3. Mike Maihack on Where The Wild Things Are

"Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. The art. Even as a kid, the art really grabbed me. There was so much detail poured into these giant, amazing, yellow-eyed monsters partying with a small kid in a wolf suit. And he was their king! I loved how accepting the wild things were to Max (perhaps too much so, not wanting him to leave). If things got rough, this was a place both of us could go.

Now as an adult I still love the book. I read it to my three-year-old son. Part of me thinks, 'Man, why didn’t I think this was scary when I was his age?' An absurd notion since he’s just as into seeing the wild things roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth as I was."

- Mike Maihack
Mike is the author of the Cleopatra in Space series, book two of which is now available from the Scholastic Graphix line.


4. Cece Bell on Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm

"My favorite children's book is a big, glorious picture book called Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen.

I got this book as a gift in 1975, very soon after a scary two-week stint in a hospital battling meningitis. I had just gotten my first hearing aids, and was visiting my grandmother in Fremont, NC. My uncle Wallace brought the book to Dot's house; he was dressed up that day for church and had taken his shoes off so that he could sit up on Dot's bed with me and read the book to me. Whether or not I understood what he was saying that day I don't remember—but those funny, sweet, and wonderful illustrations showing life on a farm took me away from all my recent troubles that day. The book showed me a completely different experience than my life in the city and it started a life-long fascination with simpler ways of living. I read and re-read that book over and over and over, always marveling in the inventory-like collection of farm animals and their unique quirks and individual stories. The full-spread illustration of Max the cat remains my favorite illustration in any book, ever.

I've revisited Our Animal Friends many times as an adult too. It's one of those rare picture books that reminds me of my kid self, while rewarding me with subtle nuances made clear only by life experience. I appreciate the book even more now than I did as a kid; the writing is perhaps some of the very best in its matter-of-fact but kind and sometimes silly tone, and the ending is so profoundly moving that I can barely think about it or type these words without tearing up."

- Cece Bell
Cece is the author of the Newbery Honor winning graphic novel El Deafo and the Geisel Honor winning children's book Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover.


5. Chris Eliopoulos on The Giving Tree

"The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstien taught me about unconditional love. There’s something wonderfully simple in the tale and the execution. The simple line drawings and the tight dialogue really had an impact on me. I realize now that you can read into the story that the tree is a parent. As a child I didn’t get that, but after having my own kids, it’s crystal clear.

So, I loved the book for one reason as a child and a different one as an adult and that is the mark of genius. It has multiple meanings and new things can be discovered in its rereading."

- Chris Eliopoulos
Chris is the co-author of the New York Times bestselling Ordinary People Change the World series, the next book of which (I am Lucille Ball) will be in stores in July.


6. Nilah Magruder on Snot Stew

“So this was really hard, but in the end I have to go with Snot Stew by Bill Wallace, the book I checked out multiple times from the school library and loved so much I never wanted to give it back (I did...I'm pretty sure I did). I was a kid growing up in the country with an older brother, and we were always playing outside and bringing home stray cats to tame. A story of two stray kittens who are adopted by a brother and sister? It was like it was written for me! It's kind of a quiet story, but I loved the focus on sibling relationships, the mischief both cats and kids get into, the origin of "snot stew," and the emotional arc. It's a cute, endearing book."

- Nilah Magruder
Nilah is the author of the Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award-winning webcomic MFK and the upcoming picture book Fox Hunt.


7. James Kochalka on Moominland Midwinter

"I read Moominland Midwinter as a child, but now I re-read it every winter to my own children. It’s vivd description of Moonintroll’s first experience with winter enhances our own experience with the bitter winters where we live, in Vermont. It has loneliness, fear, the joy of discovery, and even a great deal of humor and adventure. Also, Tove Jansson has a piercing ability to see into the truth of human nature and depict each character with extreme clarity and sensitivity. It’s a work of deep poetic genius and, although it may be written for children, I think it stands toe-to-toe against any adult novel."

- James Kochalka
James is the author of The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, American Elf, Monkey Vs. Robot, and the SpongeFunnies in the SpongeBob Squarepants comics.


8. Jorge Aguirre on I STINK!

"I wish my parents had read me a book like this when I was kid. I STINK! is so funny. It is so gross. It is so stinky. I absolutely love how the Garbage Truck takes such pride in his very smelly but very necessary work. Kate and Jim McMullan have a great message here, but it’s not a message book. The theme doesn’t hit you over the head. I suspect—I hope—that there is something on a subconscious level that my kids take from I STINK! about being proud of your work and defending your passion, no matter what others say. And besides, where would we be without trash trucks? We’d be, 'on Mount Trash-rama, baby!’"

- Jorge Aguirre
Jose is the co-author of Giants Beware! and its upcoming sequel Dragons Beware!


9. Jeff Smith on Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck

"I had many favorite books, but the ones that stayed with me, that I revisited year after year, were my comic books. Specifically Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck when they were written and drawn by the incomparable Carl Barks. My other two favorites were newspaper strip collections of Peanuts by Charles Schulz, which I learned to read with, and Pogo by Walt Kelly.

Carl Barks, known among us kids as “the good duck artist,” had a distinctive style that set him apart from the other Donald Duck creators. In fact, he was probably the best artist and writer working in the entire field of comics. His stories were very different from the simple animated cartoons about a hot tempered duck, often taking Donald and his nephews around the world on fascinating adventures. The stories were longer, tightly plotted, and he had a way of moving the characters across the panels in a way that made them come to life in the readers' imagination. You always knew what one of his characters was thinking or worrying about. You cared what happened! Ingenious, clever, and funny, the Barks Duck Books are still available and published around the world. And they are as readable and immediate to me as an adult as they were when I first discovered them as a child."

- Jeff Smith
Jeff is the author of the multiple Eisner and Harvey Award-winning graphic novel series Bone.


10. Andy Runton on How Spider Saved Halloween

"One of my favorite Children's books is How Spider Saved Halloween by Robert Kraus.
This book was huge for me! I had forgotten about it for a long, long time and found it recently at my mom's house. My little copy here from 1973 says it was 95 cents. It's a small (6.5" x 6.75"), unassuming softcover book that's very thin (32 pages), and I carried it around all over. There were lots of other books, but the drawing style for this one is simple and pure and it was easily accessible to me. My mom probably loved it because it was short and I loved the simple colors and the straightforward storytelling. Reading it again, I can really see how much it influenced me...and it's still as delightful and charming as I remember."
- Andy Runton
Andy is the author of the Eisner, Harevey, and Ignatz Award-winning Owly series.


11. Noelle Stevenson on Andrew Henry's Meadow

"I remember being particularly enamored of Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn.

It's a story about a kid, a middle child of five (I'm also a middle child of five), who doesn't quite fit in with his family or they don't really understand him or appreciate his constant construction projects and inventions, so he runs away and builds himself his own perfect house in the meadow. All these other kids run away from THEIR families too and he builds all of them houses specially suited to their interests in the meadow with him. So it's this little commune of misfits living together in their own awesome houses away from their parents. I was obsessed with it. I had a lot of fantasies like that as a kid, of running away and building a place specially designed just for me, especially since, like Andrew Henry, I didn't really feel like I fit in with my family or that they quite understood me. And, like Andrew Henry, I liked being on my own, which is hard to come by in a family of seven, so this book was pretty much a tailor-made fantasy for me. I read it over and over. It's such a pleasant book. And at the end, all the families decide that they miss their children, and they're all reunited and Andrew Henry and his inventions are much more appreciated after that, OF COURSE.

I definitely had a bit of a martyr complex as a kid."

- Noelle Stevenson
Noelle is the author of the Cartoonist Studio Prize-winning webcomic Nimona and the co-author of Lumberjanes.


12. Sholly Fisch on A Very Special House

"My favorite children’s book is A Very Special House, written by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

In a world filled with the likes of Dr. Seuss, mad tea parties, Encyclopedia Brown, and Harold’s purple crayon, picking just one favorite children’s book is kind of like choosing one color of a rainbow or deciding which end of a chocolate bar tastes best.  But, if I had to pick just one, this would be it. I’m a huge, lifelong fan of both Ruth Krauss (A Hole Is to Dig) and Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), and this book celebrates one of my favorite things: the joy and silliness of a child’s boundless imagination, all wrapped up in a monkey, giant, and lion-filled house that’s 'right in the middle, oh it’s ret in the meedle, oh it’s root in the moodle of my head head head.'  If I could write something that captures just a fraction of the whimsy and free spirit of A Very Special House, I’d be a very happy camper. My mother loved reading it to my sister and me when we were young, I loved reading it to my own kids years later, and when we came across our copy not too long ago, my now-teenage kids asked me to read it to them again. (Yes, of course I did.)"

- Sholly Fisch
Sholly is the writer of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Scooby-Doo Team-Up.


13. Lucy Bellwood on The Eleventh Hour

"I came from a family of bookish writers and read voraciously as a kid, so choosing just one favorite feels impossible, but I've recently been thinking a lot about The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base (and, in a similar category, Puzzle Island by Paul Adshead). Both books were beautifully illustrated and contained cunning animal-based visual scavenger hunts and cryptographic mysteries that kept me engrossed for hours on end.

The Eleventh Hour was absolutely bursting with lavish detail that inspired me to start drawing my own animals in costumes and begin pursuing a healthy interest in codebreaking. The story centers around a group of creatures attending Horace the Elephant's 11th birthday party in his opulent mansion. When the centerpiece feast is prematurely devoured, the reader must decipher clues throughout the book to discover the culprit. There were word jumbles and easter eggs and mirror writing and one hundred and eleven hidden mice to pinpoint amongst the endless architectural details and costume components.

I loved this book because there was always something more to discover and I didn't feel like I was being talked down to. Getting the right degree of difficulty in a mystery is a delicate art, and I felt like I was genuinely accomplishing things when I sussed another clue from the visual content. It's something I think about a lot in the work I'm doing on Cartozia Tales right now—it's an all-ages title, and I want there to be something that will challenge readers at every level, whether it's a new vocabulary term or a mind-bending puzzle. Hard work, but worth it."

- Lucy Bellwood
Lucy is one of the contributors to Cartozia Tales and self-publishes the educational comic Baggywrinkles.


14. Eleanor Davis on Finn Family Moomintroll

"There are too many to have a favorite, but I love and have read and re-read Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson more times than I can count.

It is goofy and joyful and uncompromising. It's modern and old-fashioned. It's rambling and illogical with a lot of—but not too much—magic. It's the funniest and happiest book in an odd, heartbreaking series that lets you into the author's heart in a way a lot of kids' books do not. And the illustrations, by Jansson herself, are perfect—dense black-and-white line-work worlds to lose yourself in, populated with the lively, bouncing, scuttling characters you're having the pleasure of reading about."

- Eleanor Davis
Eleanor is the author of the Geisel Award-winning children's graphic novel Stinky and the New York Times bestselling graphic novel How To Be Happy.


15. Rafael Rosado on Ten Minutes till Bedtime

"A favorite at my house when my girls were little was Ten Minutes till Bedtime, by Peggy Rathmann (her Goodnight Gorilla was a favorite, too).

I have really sweet memories of my wife and I reading this book to my kids, we made a huge production out of it, probably stretched it out to longer than ten minutes! We'd get lost in the illustrations, each spread was so incredibly detailed, so much going on. We found new things every time. I love a book that brings surprises every time you read it!"

- Rafael Rosado
Rafael is the co-author of Giants Beware! and its upcoming sequel Dragons Beware!


16. Faith Erin Hicks on Vesper Holly

“My favorite book (actually a series) as a kid was the Vesper Holly series by Lloyd Alexander. There are six books total, but I recommend stopping at the fifth book, The Philadelphia Adventure, as the sixth book is a bit weaksauce.

I was super into the Vesper Holly series when I was eleven years old. I was a very dorky eleven year old. I was home-schooled, my family didn't have a TV, and my career aspirations were things like pro baseball player (even though I didn't play baseball), wild horse tamer (I was super into horses), and joining the X-men (still waiting for that acceptance letter, Prof. X). Vesper was someone I wanted to be when I was 17. She went on adventures, saved the world, did battle with her own personal arch-nemesis, and everyone she met (except for her arch-nemesis) thought she was amazing. She was everything I wanted from a heroine when I was a socially awkward, out-of-the-pop-culture-loop eleven year old. She wasn't a particularly complex character, and neither were her adventures, but at that one moment in time, she was everything to me. I resolved myself to become exactly like her when I turned 17.

Instead, I became a cartoonist, and my adventures mostly revolve around meeting deadlines. My arch-nemesis is my cat, who always wants to be in my lap when I'm working. I don't get to save the world, but I get to make stories myself, like Vesper's creator, Lloyd Alexander. So that's a pretty good trade off. (I'd still like to join the X-men, though.)"

- Faith Erin Hicks
Faith is the author of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong and the Eisner Award-winning The Adventures of Superhero Girl.


17. Britt Wilson on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

“I guess if I had to choose from so many favorites, it would have to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl illustrated by Joseph Schindelman. My Dad read this book to me and my little brother a chapter or two a night, over and over and over. He must have been so sick of it, but there was something about those tight, squirrelly little black and white illustrations. Plus, I think you really can't go wrong with my sweet tooth and a story set in a candy factory. I'm expecting my own child this spring, and despite multiple readings, my copy is still almost pristine. I can't wait to curl up in a chair and read it to my own son or daughter. I don't mind at all if I have to read it over and over and over."

- Britt Wilson
Britt is the author of Cat Dad, King of the Goblins.


18. Ben Hatke on Rotten Island

"It's hard to pick favorites, but one of the picture books I loved most growing up was Rotten Island by William Steig. It's about an island that is the worst place you can imagine. It has volcanoes that spout lava AND poisoned arrows AND double-headed toads. The island is also full of an endless variety of creatures (some had wheels for legs!) that delight in being bad. The island is thrown into chaos one day when a flower grows there.

I loved it for many reasons, but one reason it was so special to me was that I didn't have a copy of my own. It was at a friend’s house and every time I went over there I would try to sneak away with the book for a few minutes.

The story was also, in my mind, a heartbreaking tragedy. The book explicitly says that the creatures 'loved their rotten life,' but in the end the creatures are driven mad by the flowers and they all kill each other and the island becomes a beautiful paradise. But all those wonderful monsters, who had been so happy being rotten, are gone."

- Ben Hatke
Ben is the author of the New York Times bestselling Zita the Spacegirl and the upcoming Little Robot.


19. Aron Nels Steinke on The Snowy Day

"The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats immediately burrowed its way to my heart the first time it was read to me as a young child. I have memories of red-suited Peter, with his pointy red hat and mittens, smacking the snow covered tree along with my own early memories of playing in the snow intertwined. They're inseparable. The book captures the magic and transformative power of snow on a child's landscape like no other book I've ever read. The illustrations are at the same time bold, expressive, and deceptively simple. The Snowy Day is a masterpiece and will always be closest to my heart."

- Aron Nels Steinke
Aron is the co-author of The Zoo Box.


20. Kazu Kibuishi on The Caboose Who Got Loose

"This is an incredibly difficult question to answer! Thankfully, there is one book that I read as a kid that I not only loved, but it also inspired me to draw, so I think I have to choose it. That one book is The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet.

When I was just beginning to learn how to draw and write stories, The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet, Garfield by Jim Davis, and the cartoons of Mort Drucker in MAD Magazine were my biggest influences, and it’s amazing to see how much of those influences appear in the work I do today. As a kid, I was obsessed with finding ways to draw things that looked like they could jump off the page, and it was mostly Bill Peet and Mort Drucker's work that really showed me how immersive cartoons can be. I still see images of Katy Caboose in my head when I draw trains and vehicles. These days I read Bill Peet books to my son, who absolutely loves them!"

- Kazu Kibuishi
Kazu is the author of the New York Times bestselling graphic novel series Amulet.


21. David Gallaher on Bridge to Terabithia

"For my tenth birthday, my parents gave me a copy of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I don't quite remember what prompted me to devour the book so quickly, I guess I thought I'd level up as a reader or something when I completed it. I finished the whole thing in three days; so in retrospect, I think I did. Beyond having a childhood crush on Leslie Burke and trying to 'behave more like a king' in my own backyard makeshift version of Terabithia, I was taken in by how much I was similar to the main character Jesse. I had hoped for very different things in the book. I was 'shipping' Leslie and Jesse Terabithia fanfiction before that was even a thing. At ten, Leslie Burke was the kinda girl that I thought I'd want to marry (seriously, I wasn't kidding about the crush)—but I discovered a different sort of crush when I got to the end. I was heart-broken for days. What stuck with me about the story, and the reason why it stays with me, is...that...despite its tragic ending, there was still wonder, hope, and imagination that continued to shine even after the book ended.

No matter what happens, we can't let those things die."

- David Gallaher
David is the co-author of The Only Living Boy.


22. Chris Schweizer on True Grit

"My favorite children’s book is True Grit by Charles Portis. It’s the first-person account of fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross’s journey into the Oklahoma territory to capture her father’s killer. It may not be widely considered a kids’ book, but I give copies to kids (late elementary and up) whenever I have the opportunity.  It’s great for girls and for boys, very funny, strongly rooted in a sense of history, exciting, and, best of all, masterfully written.

If you’ve never read it, forget your expectations and give it a try; it’s a genuine classic up there with Anne of Green GablesHuck Finn, and Sounder, and is downright fun to read. It’s a book that deserves a wider audience among youngsters (especially in educational settings), and, more importantly, those youngsters deserve a book as good as this one."

- Chris Schweizer
Chris is the author of The Crogan Adventures and the upcoming The Creeps.


23. Nathan Jurevicius on SprĪdĪtis

"SprĪdĪtis, written by Anna Brigadere and illustrated by Evalds Dajevskis, was given to me by my Latvian and Lithuanian grandparents and the edition I have was printed in 1973 (the year I was born).

The writing focuses on the underdog hero, SprĪdĪtis, a young boy and his battle with mythological Baltic nature spirits and gods. There's an aspect of this theme in much of my story telling, in particular the lone, seemingly insignificant character changing the world.

Illustrator Evalds Dajevskis' use of color and environmental design has also shaped the way I approach composition and light."

- Nathan Jurevicius 
Nathan is the author of the upcoming graphic novel Junction.


24. John Martz on Alligator Pie

"Alligator Pie, a book of poems by Dennis Lee with pictures by Frank Newfeld, published in 1974. It's a book I have the earliest memories of reading and trying to decipher. Most of the poems are short and nonsensical like nursery rhymes or playground songs. Like a lot of nursery rhymes, logic comes second to rhythm, repetition, and evocative imagery, so the poems are playful and musical and strange. Dennis Lee would go on to write most of the songs for Fraggle Rock, including the catchy theme. 

It's a book, too, that is unabashedly Canadian. I live in Toronto, but I didn't grow up here. As a kid I was fascinated by Toronto, and I think Alligator Pie helped mythologize the city—the poems casually reference Canadian places and imagery without being poems about those things ("Someday I'll go to Winnipeg to win a peg-leg pig"), including many Toronto street names and landmarks like the CN Tower and Casa Loma. And of course I was drawn to the illustrations by Frank Newfeld, which are somewhat psychedelic—graphic line drawings with vibrant, unnatural colours. The images are pieces of graphic design as much as they are drawings, and some of the full-page illustrations are almost like comics the way they are divided into different panels and tableaus.

Alligator Pie is in my blood. I've read it countless times, and I'll read it countless more. It taught me how to play with the rhythm and the structure of words, and it instilled in me a sense of the bizarre—nursery rhymes don't have to make any sense for them to make perfect sense."

- John Martz
John is the author of A Cat Named Tim And Other Stories, Machine Gum, and Destination X.


25. Ariel Cohn on Harold and the Purple Crayon

"Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson, was my favorite book as a young child. As an adult, an author, and the mother of a young child who loves story time, the book's simplicity and sparse illustrations still manage to capture my attention and lead me through Harold's imaginative wanderings. There is not a wasted line or word in the entire book, and even though it is obviously very imaginative, it takes itself quite seriously, which I think is important; children need to feel that their fantasy lives are valid and serious affairs. I know I felt that way as a child. The book portrays the characteristics of a young child: sometimes simple, sometimes serious, sometimes extravagant (who needs nine kinds of pie at a picnic?), often silly, and occasionally lonely and ready for bed. Harold and the Purple Crayon captures all of this in just a few simple sentences and basic line drawings. I don't know of another book that accomplishes this task so well."

-Ariel Cohn
Ariel is the co-author of The Zoo Box.

Special thanks to Gina Gagliano of First Second for her help in facilitating this article. 

Why a Major Error in 'A Wrinkle in Time' Was Never Corrected

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962, and thanks to the recent release of a big-budget Disney adaptation, the book is just as popular as ever. The book has earned its status as a modern classic, but according to the Daily Beast, there's something hiding in the text of every copy that is rarely seen in titles that have enjoyed such a long print run. The book features an error that's been reprinted millions of times, and unless you read Greek, you would likely never notice it.

The mistake falls on page 59 of the new Square Fish edition that was published to tie in with the new film. On that page you'll find a quote from Mrs Who, one of the three mystical beings that guide the protagonist Meg and her companions across the universe. Because verbalizing in her own words takes a lot of energy, Mrs Who communicates strictly by quoting great writers and thinkers from history. In this case, she's quoting the playwright Euripides in his original ancient Greek. She follows it with the English translation, "Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything," but Greek speakers will notice that the two quotes don't match up. The original line in Greek includes words that don't make sense together or don't exist at all.

How was such a glaring error able to go unnoticed in a major work for so long? The answer is that it didn't: L'Engle was made aware of it by a friend of Greek heritage in the 1990s. According to L'Engle's granddaughter, the writer could trace the typo back to the Dictionary of Foreign Phrases and Classical Quotations, the book she pulled all of Mrs Who's quotes from. While transcribing the Euripides quote by hand she must have omitted a letter by accident. The quote was further removed from the original when the typesetter chose the Greek characters from her manuscript.

Even after hearing about the mistake, L'Engle didn't make fixing it her top priority. Instead she invested her energy into tackling other copyediting issues for the 1993 reprint, like removing all the periods from Mrs Who's, Mrs Which's, and Mrs Whatsit's names. When L'Engle died in 2007, the mangled quote was still standard in new copies of A Wrinkle in Time.

To date, only one English-language edition of the book contains the corrected quotation: the 1994 audiobook narrated by L'Engle herself. But the publishers of A Wrinkle in Time at Macmillan are apparently aware of the error, so the next printing may finally be the one that gets it right.

[h/t Daily Beast]

iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski
When German Scientists Tried to Rename Bats and Shrews, Hitler Threatened to Send Them to War
iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski
iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski

In The Art of Naming (The MIT Press), Michael Ohl, a biologist at the Natural History Museum of Berlin, delves into the art, science, language, and history of taxonomy. There are some 1.8 million known species—and scientists estimate that 100 million more await discovery. Every one will need a name. How does the process work? 

Ohl takes us into the field with the explorers and scientists at the forefront of naming the natural world, including Father Armand David, a French priest who was the first to describe the panda to the Western world; American paleontologists Edward Dinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, who bitterly battled in the Bone Wars; and Polish biologist Benedykt Dybowski, whose unique naming system for crustaceans called gammarids (a.k.a. "scuds") resulted in tongue-twisters such as Cancelloidokytodermogammarus (Loveninsuskytodermogammarus) loveni.

In the excerpt below, Ohl tells the story of one of the little-known footnotes to World War II: When Adolf Hitler threatened the German biologists who wanted to rename bats and shrews. And, read on for the best bat nickname of all time: "bacon mouse."

—Jen Pinkowski


On March 3, 1942, a brief item with a rather peculiar headline appeared tucked away in the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper. "Fledermaus No Longer!" the bold letters proclaimed. The following short text was printed underneath:

"At its 15th General Assembly, the German Society for Mammalogy passed a resolution to change the zoologically misleading names 'Spitzmaus' [shrew] and 'Fledermaus' [bat] to 'Spitzer' and 'Fleder.' Fleder is an old form for Flatterer [one that flutters]. The Spitzmaus, as it happens, has borne a variety of names: Spitzer [one that is pointed], Spitzlein, Spitzwicht, Spitzling. Over the course of the conference, several important lectures were held in the auditorium of the Zoologisches Museum […]."

To this day, despite the problems announced by Germany's leading specialists on mammals on the pages of one of the capital's daily papers, fledermaus and spitzmaus remain the common German names for bats and shrews. Neither dictionaries nor specialized nature guides contain entries for fleder or spitzer (provided one disregards the primary definition of spitzer, which is a "small implement used for the sharpening of pencils").

Indeed, a swift response to the item in question arrived from an unexpected source. Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler's private secretary, sent a message on March 4, 1942, to Hans Heinrich Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery. The missive contained remarkably unambiguous instructions from Hitler:

"In yesterday's newspapers, the Führer read an item regarding the changes of name ratified by the German Society for Mammalogy on the occasion of its 15th General Assembly. The Führer subsequently instructed me to communicate to the responsible parties, in no uncertain terms, that these changes of name are to be reversed immediately. Should members of the Society for Mammalogy have nothing more essential to the war effort or smarter to do, perhaps an extended stint in the construction battalion on the Russian front could be arranged. Should such asinine renamings occur once more, the Führer will unquestionably take appropriate measures; under no circumstance should terms that have become established over the course of many years be altered in this fashion."

There's no question that the "responsible parties" understood and responded to the injunction, which could hardly have been misinterpreted. On July 1, 1942, at least, a notice was printed in the Zoologischer Anzeiger—at that time, the "organ of the German Zoological Society"—that comprised a scant five lines. The notice has no byline and can most likely be attributed to the journal's publishers:

"Regarding the discussion [in earlier issues of the Zoologischer Anzeiger] about potential changes to the names 'Fledermaus' and 'Spitzmaus,' the Editors wish to make public that terms that have become established over the course of many years are not to be altered, following an announcement by the Reich Minister of Science, Education, and National Culture, as per the Führer's directive."

It's conceivable that Lammers forwarded Hitler's instructions (which had reached him by way of Bormann) to Bernhard Rust, the Reich Minister of Science, Education, and National Culture. Rust will then likely have ordered one of the "parties responsible" for the unpopular initiative to publish the retraction in the appropriate platform. The Zoologischer Anzeiger fit the bill, considering the fact that by 1941 it had already featured two articles debating whether the name spitzmaus should be changed.

What is the problem, though, that veteran scientists have with spitzmaus and fledermaus, those innocuous terms for the shrew and the bat? And how could it come to pass that Adolf Hitler—preoccupied as he was in 1942— should personally join in the campaign for the correct classification of these small mammals?


The common thread in these two unremarkable and familiar terms is of course the second word component, maus, or "mouse."

Fledermaus and spitzmaus … are (linguistically) first and foremost mice. By referencing certain characteristics in these compound words (fleder comes from flattern, "to flap"; spitz, or "point," refers to the shrew's pointy nose or rather head shape), it becomes possible to provide a clear name—or almost clear, at least, because there are many bat and shrew species, but more on that later.

Both names, of course, imply affiliation with mice, and that's the sticking point. In zoological terms, mice are a group of rodents known at the higher level of classification as Muroidea, "muroids" or the "mouse-like." The group includes quite the mix of animal groups, with occasionally curious names like zokor, blind mole-rat, spiny tree mouse, and Chinese pygmy dormouse, not to mention our pet hamsters and those domestic but unwelcome mice and rats. Common to all muroids are sundry and complex structural features in the skull, coupled of course with the oversized, continually growing incisors typical of rodents. Beyond that, although endless evolutionary gimmickry can revolve around this mouse theme (long or short legs, different fur colors and tail lengths, and much more), and even without biological expertise, most muroids tend to be identifiable as mice, if only vaguely.

Zoologically speaking, a mere mouse-like appearance is insufficient to denote a muroid. Instead, the specific anatomical features of the skull must be in evidence.

Field, house, and deer mice are familiar to many North Americans, although they typically live hidden away, and we don't often encounter them. These animals with the "mouse" base in their name are truly mice in the zoological sense.

The same cannot exactly be said for the bat and shrew—the fledermaus and spitzmaus—despite their names. Neither of them is even a rodent or, consequently, a muroid. Then what are they?

In the classification of mammals, a whole series of groupings is traditionally distinguished, usually assigned the rank of order within the class of mammals. Depending on scientific opinion, there are 25 to 30 of these orders of mammals. Rodents comprise one of these orders, to which muroids and several other groups of mammals belong.

Bats, meanwhile, are typical representatives of the order of flying mammals. Their scientific name is Chiroptera, from the Greek words chiros (hand) and pteros (wings). Chiroptera, then, means "hand-flier," which is a fitting name for bats and their closest relatives, flying foxes.

The systematic placement of the shrew, or spitzmaus, is determined in much the same way. They, too, fail to possess the mouse characteristics in question, although they do share traits with moles and hedgehogs, as well as with the solenodon (meaning "slotted tooth"), which is a venomous critter native exclusively to the Caribbean islands. They are now situated under the wondrous designation Eulipotyphla, but only since 1999. How they are related—along with ties to an array of other mammal families, such as tenrecs, desmans, and golden moles—has not been conclusively explained.

Experts have known for a long time—since Linnaeus's Systema Naturae at the latest—that neither bats nor shrews are related to mice, to which common parlance pays no heed. The fledermaus and spitzmaus comfortably maintain their spots in the lexicon.


One of the first mammal biologists to campaign for the standardization of German mammal names was Hermann Pohle. Born in Berlin in 1892, Pohle remained faithful to the city until his death and spent a large part of his life working at the natural history museum there. His career as a mammal biologist started early, when as a university student he worked as an unpaid hireling in the museum's famed mammal collection. Through diligence, endurance, and scientific acumen, he worked his way up to head curator of mammals. He thus held one of the most influential positions, of both national and international significance, in the field of systematic mammal research.

In 1926, Pohle—along with Ludwig Heck, the former director of the Berlin Zoo, and a number of other colleagues—founded the German Society for Mammalogy, of which he was the first head. Pohle thus had his finger on the pulse of mammal research, as it were, and he followed the history of the society over the next five decades "with keen interest," as one biographer noted.

In addition to his work as a researcher and curator of the mammal collection at Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde (Museum of Natural History), Pohle's interests also lay with German mammal names. Not only did he push for standardization of names, Pohle also campaigned to have existing names assessed for scientific plausibility and changed, should they not pass (his) zoological muster.

In 1942, Pohle published a summary article addressing the question, "How many species of mammals live in Germany?" He appended a comprehensive list of all German mammals, each with its correct "technical name," as Pohle called it, as well as its corresponding German name. When it came to the various species of spitzmaus (of which the Germans have eight, incidentally, despite the long-standing impression that there is "the" one and only shrew) and the 16 species of bats that have the base word "fledermaus" in their name, Pohle consistently uses alternative terms. The eight shrew species thus became waldspitzer, zwergspitzer, alpenspitzer, wasserspitzer, mittelspitzer, feldspitzer, gartenspitzer, and hausspitzer. For the bats, the base of their compound name was changed to fleder: teichfleder, langfußfleder, wasserfleder, and so on, all the way to a term of particular elegance, wimperfleder.

Pohle's article, which predates the society's 15th General Assembly and Hitler's emotional veto by more than a year, is a particularly interesting source because he also shares his actual motivations for the suggested changes. His emphatic objective is to see "the term 'Maus' disappear, responsible as it is for laypersons' wont to lump the animals together with actual mice."

In the estimation of these laypersons, mice are something "ugly and destructive that must be fought, or ideally exterminated." Shrews and bats, harmless as they are to humans, are thus subject to the same brutal fate. Pohle hopes for a "shift in perspective" to occur, once the endangered animals are no longer referred to as mice.

What to do, then? Pohle would prefer the term spitz for spitzmaus, but it's already been assigned to a dog breed. Rüssler could also work, only it already applies to some other insectivore. That leaves spitzer, a name that emphasizes the pointy head as a distinguishing characteristic and is still available.

Pohle wants a name for bats without "maus" but happily with a nod to the animals' flying ability. Most names of this kind are already employed for birds, and "flatterer" or "flutterer" could only logically be used for a certain population of bats, namely, those bad at flying. "Flieger" or "flyer," another hot candidate, is also in use by various other animal groups.

But why, Pohle asks the reader, would one even need to say "fledermaus," when "fleder" actually makes perfect sense? Pohle mentions that the original meaning of "fleder" was different, but few people were aware of this fact anymore.

On the off chance that he was correct in this assessment, let it be noted that fledermaus can be traced back to the 10th century, to the Old High German "vledern" or "flattern" (the infinitive form of "flatterer"). The image of the bat as a "fluttering mouse" has existed since this time in many languages, including "flittermouse" in English. A number of other German terms exist for bats. In some regions of Germany, such as Rhineland-Palatinate and Southern Hesse, the Old High German "fledarmus" is said to have been used to describe nocturnal creatures, such as moths. There, bats were apparently called "speckmaus," instead of fledermaus, because while hibernating, they could be seen hanging like pieces of bacon (speck) in the smoke.

Pohle's dedication to promoting the protection of bats and shrews through a bold name change reached its temporary culmination a year later, when—at the 15th General Assembly of the German Society for Mammalogy in Berlin—a resolution was passed on a universal and binding adoption of the spitzer- and fleder-based names Pohle had suggested. The results are known: Hitler was not amused.


We can only guess at what Hitler's actual motive was in issuing such drastic threats to prevent the name alterations proposed by the German Society for Mammalogy. It could have been his outrage that in 1942—hard times because of the war—leading German intellectuals were concerned with something so unimportant and banal as the appropriateness of animal names. Perhaps this anecdote is just a further example of Hitler's hostility toward intellectuals.

It is ultimately unclear, even, to what extent Hitler was the driving force behind this directive or whether this is a case of subordinates "working towards the Führer," as historian Ian Kershaw describes it. Conceivably, after reading the Berliner Morgenpost, Hitler may have remarked negatively regarding the zoologists' plans. His circle—in this case, Bormann—may have immediately interpreted this as "the Führer's will" and sprung to action accordingly. As for Pohle and his colleagues, it can't have mattered much whether the "invitation" to the Eastern Front came directly from Hitler or was communicated in an act of premature obedience.

Whatever the case may be, Pohle's suggested name changes did not fail because of Hitler's intervention, which presumably resonated as little with the German-speaking public as the original notice. Pohle failed because he wanted to take the basic idea of a standardized naming system out of the scientific context and transfer it into the realm of vernacular. Everyday German is not formally and officially regulated, and like every other vernacular, it follows different rules than scientific speech. It is shaped by a multitude of factors and influences that have their own unpredictable dynamic, which leads to some word usages changing while others stabilize.

In kindergarten, we learn that small, furry four-legged animals with a tail are "mice." This act of naming fulfills the exact function expected of it. It "tags" specific linguistic content—a meaning—that is generally understood. The difference between muroids and insectivores, which is important to zoologists, has no application in everyday confrontations with "mouse-like" animals and makes no difference to most people. A mouse is a mouse, whether a striped field mouse or a shrew.


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