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The Mystery of Al Perkins

June 2nd, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  11 Comments

What happened to that guy?

What happened to that guy?

Our son’s in the phase where he marches up to us holding a book, demanding that we read to him. How can I refuse? I make my living with the printed (or pixellated) word, and I was always faintly afraid that I’d end up with a kid who rejected reading. Turns out that he likes nothing more, at least at the board-book level.

He’s got four or five favorites these days, but the one he asks for most often is called Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, by Al Perkins. It was published in 1969, which means it’s just about as old as I am, and I vaguely remember it from my own childhood (probably at a friend’s house; I don’t think I owned a copy). It’s from a Random House series called Bright and Early Books™, most of which are by Dr. Seuss and several other authors and illustrators who work in the same idiom.

But what’s mysterious is that Al Perkins has otherwise disappeared. All that’s out there is Random House’s rudimentary author page, with a couple of sentences’ worth of bio. It’s in the past tense, suggesting that he’s no longer with us. That bio reappears around the Internet. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb is still on the Publisher’s Weekly top-50-sellers list; the 1998 edition alone (probably the board-book version, I’m guessing)  has sold 145,000 copies and counting.  And that is absolutely everything I can tell you about Al Perkins. He’s left no Nexis trail, no obits. His book’s been read millions of times over the years. His family could be living on the royalties, or maybe he got a bum deal from Random House and they see nothing. Maybe there’s a small-town museum devoted to his work; maybe it was all tossed out in a spring cleaning years ago.

We writers think about this stuff a lot. You kill yourself to write even a simple magazine story, and it goes in the recycling at the end of the week. You spend a year on a book, and (as a memorable scene in The Philadelphia Story reminds us) you end up with $600 to show for it. And sometimes you actually hit the jackpot, and your book sells—and then you disappear anyway.

If you’re out there, Al, or your family is, drop us a line. We love your work. You ought to have a little something out there to reward everyone who Googles you.


  1. Accidents says:

    June 3rd, 2010at 8:17 pm(#)

    I’m having a spooky crisis over here. The parallels between our identically aged children are STAGGERING sometimes. For the moment, Henry would be happy to be read to every waking hour of the day. I’m currently looking at our living room, littered with board books, while every toy remains in his toy box.

    But what’s actually spooky is that we just brought Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb out this last week, and it is by far Henry’s favorite book. He is very excited about showing us his thumbs, giving a thumbs up, drumming on things with his thumb, etc. And I went on an similar quest to learn more about Al Perkins recently, turning up zilch. I saw this post on twitter like, right after I googled it.

    Consider me spooked, Bonanoses.

  2. Christopher says:

    June 3rd, 2010at 10:12 pm(#)

    Well, Accidents, you found us out. This entire blog is a charade. I’m not in New York at all. My wife and I have actually spent the past several months hiding behind your couch, and we’ve been waiting to see how long it would take you to wise up. It’s about time, because my knees are getting stiff.

    The other three Dadwagon blog personas are complete inventions, too. Matt Gross, in real life, is a refrigeration mechanic in Enid, Oklahoma. Nathan is an oil driller, working on the North Slope with Todd Palin. And Ted … well, we just made Ted up out of thin air.


  3. Matt says:

    June 4th, 2010at 10:47 am(#)

    Speaking of which, we’ve got a special on refurbed Sub-Zeros all this month. Come on down and make me an offer!

  4. Nathan says:

    June 4th, 2010at 11:27 am(#)

    I am Tony Hayward, and I blog about diapers because I hate my day job.

  5. karen says:

    June 5th, 2010at 3:55 pm(#)


  6. Kareen says:

    December 26th, 2012at 5:25 pm(#)

    I know what happened to Mr Perkins. He committed suicide over the death of his son in La Holland,CA when I was around 23 I think, I’m almost 60 now. I worked as maid back then at a hotel he& his wife lived at during the year. I also met author Dr Suss although that wasn’t the name he was introduced to me by. MR.AL PERKINS was a very nice man but very depressed. A look in the San Diego Union Tribute archives in the late 1970s might help.

  7. Gjones says:

    October 23rd, 2013at 7:45 pm(#)

    After I finished reading the same book to my son I also googled Al Perkins. How is there still no information on him? Very odd? There must be a complete biography somewhere?

  8. virginia says:

    March 6th, 2014at 9:21 pm(#)

    I am also on a quest to find out more about Mr. Perkins!
    I paid to search the San Diego Tribune archives, but no luck. I have emailed their news desk to see if I can get anyone to help. I am going to call Random House and maybe try to get info through the illustrator Mr. Gurney who is easy to research. I found other curious souls on http://carla-jansen.blogspot.com/ so I hope one of us gets the info!
    I love Hand Hand Fingers Thumb (as a child and now as a parent) Thanks

  9. Gjones says:

    October 18th, 2014at 3:53 pm(#)

    Did more digging on Al Perkins. Found a little information. He co-wrote a Disney film called the Reluctant Dragon. I found a website containing a group picture of him with Walt Disney. Only extra info there is that he spent some time writing the movie then became a children’s author. It also states he went to Dartmouth College with Dr. Suess.

    Then found a small write up from a children’s book review. States some interesting info about him and gives a death year of 1975. Still a bit of a mystery.



  10. sally says:

    March 10th, 2015at 3:06 pm(#)

    I am Al Perkins step-daughter. Lived with this wonderful man (and my wonderful mom who had her own radio show back in the 40’s on NBC) until he died in 1975 (born in 1904)
    Talk about stumbling upon information in the cloud. Just found this blog, and have been trying to figure out when/how to respond. I have so much share.
    Yes, he did go to Dartmouth and he was Ted Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss’s) roommate. Three of his books are dedicated to my sons. And, yes, he did work with Disney. He also started SPORT magazine.
    He lived a fabulous life with fabulous adventures. More to come (eventually). I need time to get the timelines and info all together.
    Not sure how much info is wanted or needed and where to go with it.


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