Please, Some Enterprising Soul, Jump on This…

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 24, 2012

Fake book cover by yours truly.

What I’m requesting here is a book organized like a baby-name book, but one that lists picture book characters by name. There’s no huge profit in it, really, except that you’d probably sell a copy to every bookstore in the country, and possibly to every library. And grandparents. Oh, grandparents!
I can’t tell you how many times people come in — at least twice a week — looking for a book for a baby or toddler named Oliver, or Ellie, Stephen, etc. Now, this request is disenchanting on principle, since it is a shallow pond from which to fish a book — and yet, as a former child, I do have to admit that it can be delightful to discover a book about someone with your very own name. (Mine was Princesses’ Tresses, about which I have blogged, and which has a rather wonderful story.*) So there is a place for such a resource, since not all picture books are as obliging as Owen, No, David, Bedtime for Frances, Olivia, etc., to be eponymous by character.
This project would be ideal for someone who enjoys creating practical, sortable databases, perhaps while watching Deadliest Catch or Downton Abbey marathons. It’s the kind of task I myself tend to enjoy. Hmmm.
If the picture book character name book goes over well, then a chapter book / MG edition might be in order, because we do also get requests for those by character name, although not as often as for picture books. (I’m happy to report that there is no call for a YA volume; by the teen years, adults seem to have come to their senses and realized that children can in fact think beyond their own names to enjoy a darned good story about somebody else.)
Enterprising Database Creator, whoever you are, you could fashion a little web database in addition to the book. A book would be handier on the fly in a bookstore, but a website would be easy and quick to update, and parents and grandparents would be able to use it.
The sad thing is that I am only partly kidding about this project. I sort of want this book to exist, if only to make my life easier 104 times a year.
*A codicil to the “kids like books with their names in them” is that this is only true, of course, when the character is a good egg. Classroom read-alouds can be harrowing; imagine being a first-grader named Camilla and hearing Hooway for Wodney Wat during share circle. Aieeee! This is why characters named Murgatroyd and Parsimony are especially appealing — but not to certain grandmothers with a list in hand.

12 thoughts on “Please, Some Enterprising Soul, Jump on This…

  1. Carol B. Chittenden

    Don’t stop with just the names. We need hair color, geographical region, family configuration… I well recall spending an hour searching for a “Jesse” book, emerging at last with one in hand, only to be reproached by the grandparent, “But this Jesse/Jessie has red hair. My granddaughter is a brunette.”
    Oh, my bleeding tongue!

  2. Peter Glassman

    Do we really want to encourage this? Don’t we live in a self-centered enough society as it is? Yes, we get these requests all the time — but my staff and I try to stress the importance of children learning to identify with others who are different from themselves and how vital it is for them to start this process through picture books.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      No, we don’t want to encourage it. And yes, oy, the self-centeredness! But — we will always, always get these requests, and while I am happy to educate customers (I feel as though I spend a lot of time gently explaining why and how kids need to read about people who are different from themselves), sometimes I have three other customers waiting and just want to hand the person a book — always a good book; we don’t carry mediocre dreck — that answers the call. For instance, handing a customer Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is hardly a compromise! I do wish there were more babies named Ferdinand….

  3. Nichole Shabazz-Tolbert

    Hi Elizabeth,
    I enjoyed reading your article. While I do understand the point that Peter makes in his comments, I also know that all of us-especially the youngest among us-love to see themselves (in this case, their names) in a book.
    Who knows, I might just be that enterprising soul you mentioned!

  4. R Smith

    It has already been done. Title of the book is ‘My Name in Books: A Guide to character names in Children’s Literature’ by Katharyn Tuten-Puckett. Unfortunately it is not current (copyright 1993), but it is still in print. And yes my library has it.

  5. Bill McCoy

    Isn’t what you’re asking for a database look-up capability, not a book? An updated “My Name in Books” will be obsolete the day it goes to press. And sufficient metadata about book character names should be available (somewhere). It seems a simple website is the simplest solution here, if there’s enough demand someone can make a few $ with ads on it, and optionally an interactive eBook and/or smartphone app.
    The meta-point here being that books are no longer the efficient way to deliver information look-up capabilities, especially over rapidly changing data like books currently in print. I know it’s not (yet) for everyone but my 9-year-old and his 80-year-old grandmother would both likely prefer websites.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Hi, Bill. Yes, I do mention a website as the best up-to-date resource, but a book would be handy at the store, too. (Sometimes all three computers are tied up; flipping through the pages of a book is quick and easy, and we can hand it to customers to browse through, which is something we don’t do with our computers.) And the kinds of books we love to recommend don’t go OP in two years, so it wouldn’t be out of date that quickly. Still, of course a database would be the most complete and current resource.


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