Top 100 Picture Books #76: Eloise by Kay Thompson
Oh my! This I did not expect. What can we extrapolate from a book that previously held the coveted #37 slot on our last Picture Book Poll, falling incredibly to a lowly #76? It’s particularly strange when you consider the sheer plethora of Eloise marketing going on these days. From easy books to television shows and movies she’s never been more ubiquitous. Yet amongst the gatekeepers? Maybe her grip is slipping.
I didn’t know Eloise as a child. And when I say, “I didn’t know” I’m not talking about one of those cases where you are vaguely aware of a character, like Peter from The Snowy Day or Max from Where the Wild Things Are. No, honestly, I’d never laid eyes on the character. I was from Michigan! We don’t have plazas in Kalamazoo. There may be high tea, but heaven only knows where. Somehow I managed to continue this ignorance well into adulthood, until one day I ran across a baffling New Yorker cartoon. It was by Roz Chast and was called “Eloise Revisited”. If I’m not too much mistaken she’s sitting on the bed saying, “I am Eloise. I am forty-six. I still live in the Plaza. I don’t give a damn who owns it.” This came in 1995 during the height of the Plaza sale that was going on.
Baffling to the uninitiated, I can tell you. Of course, once I became a children’s librarian I met Eloise right and proper. The plot, I have since learned, is basically just a six-year-old girl living in the fancy dancy Plaza, wreaking havoc and being sweet. Parents are absent and she is attended to by her nanny.
I’ve heard many an . . . interesting story about Eloise’s creator. Say what you will about her, though, she knew how to take a picture. Here she is posing the portrait of Eloise that hangs in the Plaza.
Thompson actually did write at least one children’s book other than Eloise. It was called (deep breath) Kay Thompson’s Miss Pooky Peckinpaugh and Her Secret Private Boyfriends Complete with Telephone Numbers. With a name like that, I’m actually a little disappointed that I’ve never seen it before.
Ursula Nordstrom had hoped to publish Eloise Takes a Bawth with Thompson but it never happened in her lifetime. Thompson’s either, come to think of it. That Hilary Knight has some kind of longevity. In Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom there is a rather fun letter to Louise Fitzhugh from October 15, 1969 worth telling a bit of here. Ursula writes to Louise, “I am told that another librarian turned to Kay Thompson (we are doing the next Eloise if it ever gets finished) and burbled, ‘Oh I love your Harriet books.’ Silence and the Titanic could crash and sink in seconds. The librarian went on: ‘Your wonderful books about Harriet and the Plaza’.” Marvelous.
Naturally Eloise has her own website. Her own television shows, movies, and creepy 1950s merchandise as well. She is more iconic now than ever. I still want to read the book where she goes to Moscow too . . .
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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