Norwich Bookstore’s query brings a children’s classic back into print

  • Clifton Fadiman poses with the 1993 Medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters presented to him by the National Book Foundation at the National Book Awards in New York on Nov. 17, 1993. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm) ap — Ron Frehm

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/12/2019 4:32:27 PM
Modified: 12/13/2019 5:37:12 PM

How books get into print is a never-ending source of fascination, if mainly for people in the book business.

The classic story of a debut novel, rejected many times over, being pulled from a publisher’s slush pile and “discovered” by a hungry young editor or assistant, has been repeated often enough to become cliché. The first “Harry Potter” novel was rejected by nearly every publisher in Britain, for example, before a Bloomsbury editor took a chance on it.

Books that have fallen out of print are a subgenre of that tale of discovery. Liza Bernard, co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore, has an abiding interest in works that deserve to be in print, as does longtime publisher David R. Godine.

“We have this standing conversation about wonderful little gems that go out of print,” Bernard said in an interview this week.

Until recently, though, Bernard had never found one to recommend to Godine, who has offices in Jaffrey, N.H., and Boston.

But two years ago, author Anne Fadiman read at the bookstore from The Wine Lover’s Daughter, her memoir about her father, the late writer and New Yorker literary critic Clifton Fadiman.

At the reading, a patron asked why her favorite book by Clifton Fadiman wasn’t in print. That book was Wally the Wordworm, a children’s book that came out in 1964.

“The next morning, I zipped David an email and I said, ‘OK, I’ve got a project for you,’ ” Bernard said.

In a typewritten note — that is, written on letterhead on an actual typewriter — attached to a copy of the book sent to the Valley News, Godine wrote: “Liza instructed me to reissue it, and since I always do what she tells me, we ... brought Wally back to life.”

The book first came to life because Clifton Fadiman worked at home, in New Canaan, Conn., when Anne and her older brother Kim were small, and they interrupted him in the afternoons. One of the made up stories he told them when they were curled up on the chair and ottoman in his office was about Bertram the Bookworm, who used long, complex words, a reaction to the monosyllabic children’s books of the day. This was the late 1950s, the era of the “Dick and Jane” books.

“He was very angry at children’s books that spoke down to children,” Fadiman, who lives in western Massachusetts, said in a phone interview. Dr. Seuss was an exception, she said. Her father thought Seuss was a genius.

Wally the Wordworm, based on the Bertram stories, was meant to counter the then-prevalent idea that children would be discouraged if they ran into words they didn’t know, Fadiman said. A child’s mind is like a rubber band: it can grow, but only if it’s stretched, she said, citing her father.

The new edition of Wally reunites Clifton Fadiman’s text with Arnold Roth’s illustrations. Roth, now 90, was known mainly for his illustrations and cartoons in Playboy when he drew the Wally illustrations, depicting the titular worm in a red ballcap and matching tie.

The book is centered on Wally’s quest for a more filling diet, words he can really chew on. He works his way into the dictionary, where he discovers such hearty fare as “sesquipedalian,” “sloop,” “dwindle” and “auk.”

“This isn’t a book for all children,” Anne Fadiman said, “but for a certain kind of nerdy, word-loving child.” She said her friend and fellow author Nancy Pick once told her that she wasn’t sure she’d have become a writer without the hungry worm and his curiosity about language.

Accordingly, Fadiman has read from the book in only a few places, including in Norwich on Wednesday. When in Norwich, she visits with her childhood friend, Jane Watson Stetson.

Fadiman is excited to have her father’s book back in print. If this story says anything about books and reading, it’s about how they forge bonds among people who care about writing and literacy, and about the history of those things.

“One of the things that people do when they’re working with people is you make connections,” Bernard said. “I’m quite proud of this connection.”

Alex Hanson can be  reached at or 603 -727-3207.


Author Nancy Pick told her friend Anne Fadiman that she would not have become a writer had she not read the book Wally the Wordworm when she was a child. An earlier version of this story misattributed the statement. 

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