I found a new favorite author back in April of this year when I FINALLY read Kelly Link’s Magic For Beginners. The titular novella (within a collection of stories) immediately reminded me of, to plagiarize myself, “two of my all-time ‘is this really happening’ favorites: Daniel Pinkwater’s Lizard Music and Nickelodeon’s Pete and Pete.”
While I have not watched any Pete and Pete recently (although I really should), I did impulse buy a fun new paperback edition of Lizard Music back in October. Instead of giving in to my immediate desire to relive this book, I wheedled my husband into reading it first. He was in a book rut, stuck in the middle of some ambling series that he hated but refused to give up on, and needed a nice distraction. Lizard Music to the rescue!
I was honestly a bit apprehensive about re-reading this, as it is a favorite that I first read 21 years ago and I always worry that favorites might age poorly. I also worry that I may remember and describe things incorrectly, and that when I give glowing recommendations I might be remembering my interpretation of that happened and not the actual story within! Luckily, for both me and Mr. andtheIToldYouSos, Lizard Music is every bit as delightfully odd as I remembered!
“Will you please tell me what’s going on? I screamed. “I’m only eleven years old, and some of this stuff has got me very upset!”
Victor is a middle schooler left on his own for a few weeks during summer vacation. He lives in the suburb of a Hoboken-esque city (Hoboken comes up A LOT in Pinkwater’s work) and spends most of his time making model airplanes and watching TV. Without parental supervision, he does what all of us did when left alone: stays up way too late watching TV and falls asleep on the living room floor!
He stays up so late that he passes the evening news, the prime time movie, and the late news. He’s a big fan of the late news, and of the late movie: always some B-Movie adventure. After the movie, though-something else happens. Victor catches glimpses of a staticky band of Lizards. They are standing like people, dressed in suits, and playing in a five-piece band. Everyone else on the set is a lizard. Suddenly, it’s static again and Victor is groggy and confused waking up on the carpet. Did he dream that show? Was it a show? Were they real lizards? What was going on?
Much like Victor, I too was FREAKED OUT when I first read this book! Like many middle schoolers I was OBSESSED with the supernatural but also totally scared of it. As Victor investigated this child-sized conspiracy, I found myself freaking out along with him. Even as an adult, I still found myself getting creeped out as Victor made his way into the heart of the mystery!
My mouth felt really dry. I decided it wasn’t just the surprise of seeing the giant lizard on the bus. It was also the surprise of seeing that someone had removed the album cover. Someone was trying to hide clues. I wondered if it could be the Chicken Man. He had seen me looking at the album cover. Maybe there were a whole lot of people who didn’t want me to find out about the lizards. Maybe the guy at the TV station was lying to me over the tele phone. I decided that I’d better get a grape soda.
Ah yes, the Chicken Man. We need to talk about the Chicken Man. The Chicken Man is a regular character in many of Pinkwater’s books and stories. He is an older man who may or may not be who or what he seems, but he definitely has a chicken named Claudia that lives under his hat. This book was written in 1975, and the Chicken Man hasn’t aged incredibly well. Sure, he’s funny, unpredictable, and a man of many hats, but he is also VERY much a “Magical Black Man” trope. I need to re-read more stories that feature him; I am curious to see how he is described by characters who aren’t eleven years old (and see if he is written differently as Pinkwater continued to work).
I need to seek out some more Pinkwater re-reads, and I also recently learned that there is a sequel to The Neddiad that I have yet to find!
Big thanks to my dad, who didn’t finish school and didn’t become a reader until much later in life, for hearing Daniel Pinkwater on the radio and knowing immediately that I would love reading his books! Also, big thanks to the whole CBR Community for being a very bright spot in a very dark year. You are all awesome, and I’ll see you next year!