That’s Eric Carle, author of many, many children’s books. I have lost count how many times I have read the Very Hungry Caterpillar or the Very Busy Spider. So I was very excited to be able to go to a book signing by the man himself earlier today. But I couldn’t, because the queue was so long, they weren’t permitting anyone else to join it. He was signing his new book at the New York Public Library, the famous one on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. There were hundreds of people there and a lot of very bored children. I did catch a glimpse of Eric and took a snap, which you can see below, but it’s not very close, so imagine it’s an old man with a beard in a hat. Such a shame not to actually get our books signed and say hi, but we did get to go back into the “ABC of it: why children’s literature matters” exhibition, which is even better second time round.
Sodor is here in New York, well in the massive bookshop near us. They have thoughtfully put two raised train tracks into a corner of the children’s department and it is a mecca for the under twos. Picture a scene of convivial play with Thomas and friends? Err, no. It’s a battle scene of territory, politics and general infant angst. Some fierce negotiation was taking place when I was there between a mother, her crying child and another who was upset at the loss of his train. The shop does supply trains but, as one weary assistant told me, they always disappear – in fact I found one in an entirely different section of the shop later on. I saw children nibbling on books for sale, I’m not sure this is quite what this shop wants, but no one seemed to mind. Why do people bring their kids to this anxiety ridden place? Simple. It is free. There are so many activities for the under twos in New York but they are incredibly expensive – you’re looking at around $40 per 45 minute session and you have to sign up to a semester – around 17 weeks. It’s a massive commitment in terms of money and given how much children change at this age, are they really going to want to do the same thing week after week for this long? The New York Public Library branches put on toddler sessions which I am yet to brave, but at least there the books are meant to be used and you don’t mind so much if it is a little nibbled when it’s free.