April 1, 2023

Uncle Melvin

Hi Mr. Pinkwater,

In the tradition of my mother, who introduced me to your books when I was young (Blue Moose is one of the first books I remember reading on my own), I’ve been introducing my preschooler to your books. His favorites are the polar bears, but I also read him Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl over the course of five months and he loved it, especially the parts about alternate planes of existence and getting to look like a cat. I confess I skipped over some parts I thought might scare him, but it’ll be a little surprise for him to discover when he’s older.

I was also recently delighted to find that both of my local public library systems, Oakland and Berkeley, have many of your out-of-print books still on the shelves. I immediately put all of them on hold. Uncle Melvin really struck me. I’ve been reading picture books regularly since long before becoming a parent and I’ve never found a book that treated mental health issues like this, the way I’ve experienced them in my own life: part of who I am, often a pain in the butt and definitely non-magical but not something I’d necessarily trade away, and a problem mostly because society finds ways to make it a problem. I read it with my kid several times before having to return it and we had some wonderful discussions about it. (And we compared Uncle Melvin with Molly Van Dwerg, who wants to be sane and who gets help to make it happen.) Thank you for making these wonderful conversations happen.

If it isn’t rude to ask: did you have an Uncle Melvin in your life growing up? Or maybe, can you say something about this character who shows up in so many of your books, who’s not sane and yet who has just as much or as little agency in the world as anyone else? 

Many, many thanks to you and Jill for the joy you’ve brought to our family over three generations and counting. 


Daniel replies:

Everybody has an Uncle Melvin, or a Brother Melvin, or a Sister Melvin, or a friend Melvin, or is a Melvin. I seem to recall there were some complaints when the book was published, about making light of mental illness. I discounted these negative comments, reasoning that people who made them were sick in the head.