November 10, 2015
Dear Mr. Pinkwater,
The 3rd grade students in my class just finished reading The Big Orange Splot. When discussing how it changed the neighborhood, a question came up regarding the racial make up of the neighborhood itself.
We were in the middle of talking about how Mr. Plumbean painted his house and how the following conversations with his neighbors allowed them to respect their individuality, when one student asked if the neighborhood was made up of “people of different skin colors”.
I thought this was a great question to refer to you, as we were curious about the neighborhood that inspired this story.
We would love to hear your answer. Thank you for your time.
I don't have a copy of THE BIG ORANGE SPLOT before me, but I'm pretty sure if you look at the pictures the question will be answered. So, instead of answering it again I'll tell you some of the background, and some facts about the book, and the writing of it--maybe you'll be able to share this material with your class. In 1972, when I'd had two or three picture books published, my wife and I had occasion to move temporarily to a city in North Carolina, and we lived in an apartment in one of those cheap developments very similar to the one in the book. When I looked out the windows, I saw the other units in the development--all the houses were the same. This answers the question authors are always asked, "where did you get the idea for the book?" I hadn't brought my studio equipment, so I went to the drug store, and bought children's materials, a sketch book and markers. I sent the book to a publisher in New York, and they offered me a contract! I expected them to ask me to do finished art, but they wanted to use the sketches I'd sent on the crummy paper. But then, the editor who had bought the book left the company to be editor-in-chief at another company, and the contract was cancelled. So, I sent the book to the editor at his new job. This time he rejected the book! I wanted to know why. He liked it when he worked at the old place, why not now? He explained that one of his new colleagues objected to the name of the main character. I had given him the name Mr. Pafnadopolis. The colleague thought a Greek name might be offensive to Greeks and Greek-Americans. I did not ask why the colleague thought having a Greek name name would offend Greeks. Instead I asked if there would be any objection to the book if we called the character something else. My editor asked the colleague, and I changed Mr. Pafnadopolis into Mr. Plumbean. This answers any questions about how publishers make their decisions. The book was published, and is still in print after all these years, and I have written over a hundred more. A couple of years ago a production company purchased rights to develop The Big Orange Splot into a Broadway musical. They seemed like very nice people. I don't know what progress they are making, but they paid the fees to continue developing for a second year--so maybe it will happen. When you publish a book, and it goes out into the world, it has a life of its own. This particular book has been used by many teachers, and enjoyed, I hope, by many children. Something like 700,000 copies have been sold over the years, and it has been translated into many languages. With the drawings on crummy paper from the drug store, done with a cheap children's marker set.