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>So now will I have to read it? It’s not like they did.

>A fifth-grade class in Pittsfield, MA has joined in a legislator’s effort to name Moby-Dick the Commonwealth’s official State Book. Melville wrote the book while living in Pittsfield, but that’s about as much as the kids know–none of them have read it. And we wonder why lobbyists get a reputation for cynicism.

Besides, I remember attending a ceremony at the State House, in tow with Elizabeth Law, where I thought we were naming Make Way for Ducklings the State Book or something. Oh, wait, I just checked and that was the Official Children’s Book. Jeez, this field is getting more crowded than the Grammys.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Melinda says:

    >So after they learn all about how goverment works, they can read that chapter on Cetology and learn … all … about … I don’t know, something.

  2. Andy Laties says:

    >Well I think it’s a very appropriate State Book for the first state to legalize gay marriage. Those whaling ships were out for three years each time weren’t they?

    I’m not sure of the author, but here are the lyrics of the apropos song:


    It’s great to be on a ship with men
    And sail across the sea-o

    We don’t know where we’ll land or when
    But it’s great to be with men

    ‘Cause men can sweat and men can stink
    And no one seems to care-o

    We’ll throw the dishes in the sink
    And clog the sink with hair-o

    Men, men, men, it’s a ship filled with men

    So batten down the ladies room,
    There’s no one here but men

    There’s men above, there’s men below
    There’s men down in the galley

    There’s Mitch and Dave and Jim and Bob
    And one guy we call Sally

    Men, men, men, it’s ship all filled with men

    You’ll never have to lift the seat
    There’s no one here but men

    We’re men and friends until the end
    And none of us are missus

    At night we’ll sleep in separate beds
    And blow each other kisses

    Men, men, men, it’s a ship all filled with men

    So throw your rubbers overboard
    There’s no one here but men

  3. >It could be worse…it could be “Billy Bud.”

    BTW: Am I the only person alive who does not like “Make Way for Ducklings”? Didn’t like it as a child, still don’t like it.

  4. JeanneB says:

    >Andy — Isn’t your song a Monty Python original?

  5. Andy Laties says:

    >Is it? You must be right.

  6. Melinda says:

    >Google sure comes in handy at a time like this:

  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yes, I knew it as Martin Mull song. 1978?

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >And Kelly–Richard was telling me that he heard MWFD on the radio while in the car the other day, and it made him want to drive into a tree. So you’re not alone.

  9. >Whew! I feel better, Roger. Thanks.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >What is it about
    Make Way for Ducklings
    That you Don’t You Like- KELLY?

    Your friends,
    Mack and Quack

  11. Anonymous says:

    >It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx’s in the desert. “Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed- while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou has seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”

  12. Elizabeth says:

    >To get back to another part of Roger’s post, he doesn’t remember how crowded the field was at the time. Yes, Make Way for Ducklings was named the Official Children’s Books of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but while we were there, eating Boston Creme Donuts (the official Donut…I kid you not) a Representative from Springfield came out and explained how HIS kids insisted that Theodore Geisel be named the official chidlren’s AUTHOR of the commonwealth, thus creating a rider to the bill. Sal McCloskey was there, accepting on behalf of her father, and Mr. McCloskey died just about one week later…maybe because now that he had this prestigious honor, he could finally let himself slip away.

  13. Melinda says:

    >Anon clinched it; I gotta read this bun-of-a-stitch.

    Though for a second I thought it was spam.

  14. Andy Laties says:

    >Yes. I was lucky enough to read it under a great professor, in college. I doubt I would have done it on my own.

    There are several children’s versions of Moby Dick — I stock three different ones. Unfortunately they all lean heavily on plot and character and this marvelously exuberant language and the weirdly over-the-top Prophetic Biblical stuff isn’t there. I wonder how this wild style could be presented to children. It sure makes for great reading-aloud.

  15. Anonymous says:

    >Anon didn’t mention the mind-numbing 60 or so pages describing the bones in a whale’s tale, Melinda…Beware!

  16. Anon again says:

    >Yes, yes, the cetology (and faux cetology) can be a slog, no doubt. But there’s not as much of it as many people remember, and even there you’ll find good parts and moments of humor. The book has more humor in it than people who haven’t read it realize. Not that it’s a laugh fest, of course. Oh, hell, just read it. Start with Nathanial Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea if you want an engrossing and horrifying primer on the world of whaling and then you’ll slip right into M.D. like a true son of New Bedford. And after you read the real deal check out the Jan Needle/Patrick Benson version for young readers. Great work by Benson.

  17. yankeerat says:

    >I for one loved Moby Dick (I read it in preperation for In the Heart if the Sea–I probably should have read them the other way around.)I loved how long and full of “stuff” it was. For me, a long, rambling, Victorian book is the literary equivalent of a long soak in the tub–the sort of thing no one has time for anymore. So I recommend it. But does the State of Massachusetts need an official state book (or donut, for that matter?) Why can’t we just have the state flag and be done with it?

  18. Melinda says:

    >Anon, you seem to totally know what it’s all about, I’ll read it. I don’t know if I’ll get Heart of the Sea read as well, since I’m a busy busy mom. But I’ll give it a shot.

    As far as the cetology section goes, a little taxonomy never hurt anyone. A lot of taxonomy, though … to quote Michael Dirr, “Alas, if I had nothing to do but split taxonomic hairs, I’d have myself bound and shelved in the archives.”

  19. Anonymous says:

    >what is one to think of a state which has an official pastry but cannot spell DOUGHNUT? Athens of America, my eye!

  20. Anonymous says:

    >unless of course this was “product placement” and the commonwealth got some cash from the Dunkin folks

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