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.