Sullivan Free Library's Blog

May 13, 2010

The Wonderful Author of Oz: L. Frank Baum

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sullivan Free Library @ 6:10 pm
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The  village of Chittenango, NY is the birthplace of L. Frank Baum,  author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”.  The book  was made into one of the most famous movies of all time in 1939 by MGM Studios  and has been adapted into a number of stage and film versions, including the musical “Wicked” based on the novel by Gregory Maguire.

Chittenango has long celebrated Oz, not only with an annual parade and festival, but with year round tributes: the yellow brick sidewalks downtown, poppies planted all over the village and the many businesses and organizations  with related names. The Children’s Room of our library has an Oz theme, complete with yellow brick road, Emerald City mural, a Munchkin Door and a Flying Monkey playroom.

The movie is what most people associate with Baum, but he was also a  prolific author who has entertained generations of children with his work;  he wrote over 55 novels, 82 short stories, 200 poems and assorted scripts. In addition to books published in his name, he wrote under several pseudonyms, most notably Edith Van Dyne and Floyd Akers.

His first work of fiction was “Mother Goose in Prose”, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish and published in 1897 when Baum was 41.  The success of this and the sequel “Father Goose, His Book”, illustrated by W. W.  Denslow, allowed him to give up the various (and mostly unsuccessful) business ventures with which he had been experimenting for all of his adult life.

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” , illustrated by W.W. Denslow, was published in 1900 and became the best-selling children’s book for the next two years.  Baum went on to write thirteen additional “Oz” novels.  After his death in 1919, other authors continued the series. For a bibliography of his works see:

Baum is purported to have come up with the story line while telling his children a bedtime story, and received the inspiration for the name of the magical land in which the story took place by glancing at the drawer of his file cabinet, which was labeled “O-Z”.  His original working title for the book was “The Emerald City of Oz”, but his publishers, the Hill Company, were superstitious about publishing a book with a jewel in title, forcing Baum to come up with an alternate title.

Over the years, various scholars have speculated the Baum’s novel for children contained cleverly disguised political satire and social commentary of his time.  Baum himself said only that his books were written to entertain children and support his family.

From the perspective of a librarian, I find it ironic that, in early years, Baum’s books were often banned or restricted in public libraries because they were considered too “fantastical” for children and not serious literature.

As we approach the  anniversary of his birth–May 15, 1856 and the upcoming Ozstravaganza (Friday, June 4th through Sunday, June 6th) lets remember to commemorate the man not only for the movie, but for being one of the forerunners of fantasy fiction for children and for inspiring us all to use our imaginations and believe in faraway lands and magical places.

“I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp, which when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward.” L. Frank Baum, inscription in a book to his sister


KFT 5/13/10


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