This summer, I’m re-posting the 10 Most-Read Stories Behind the Stories from this blog. I’ve rewritten each essay somewhat and included the most-often-asked question about the book.
As we continue our countdown, this book is #4 on the most-read list, my 11th book.
Many people are fascinated by maps. I knew a serious book collector who built a large library of books which were selected because they had maps in them. For example, Treasure Island, famously, has a map in it. Indeed, it’s said that Stevenson drew the map for his step-son first, and then wrote the book.
I too like maps, and so, back in the day when I working as a librarian, I was intrigued when a new atlas came into the reference collection. To my great delight it was an atlas of fantasy lands. A wonderfully clever idea, it was fun to see maps of, not just Treasure Island, but the lands of Oz, the Thousand-acre Woods, and so on.
As I was going through the book I realized an important map was missing: the chessboard from Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. That was the beginning of my thinking of the book which became Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?
My notion was to write a mystery in which the essential clues were to be found in the maps of well-known children’s books—books which had been stolen from the Checkertown, Ohio Library. When I first wrote the book it was to be a sequel to my first novel, No More Magic. It didn’t quite work, so I revised it heavily, and it became this book.
When an innocent Becky has been accused of stealing The Wizard of Oz, she and her twin brother Toby need to track down the real thief, and find a hidden treasure, using story maps as essential clues. (Hint: a checkerboard and a chessboard are identical) And, if it brought my readers to The Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, the Oz books, Treasure Island, and Through the Looking Glass, so much the better.
In short, Who Stole the Wizard of Oz? is a book about books brought into my head by yet another book. That’s what happens when the writer is also a librarian.
Curious fact: There is a moment in the story when Becky and Toby are in the library and become frightened when someone suddenly appears. As written, Toby stands behind Becky. This was the moment the publisher chose for a cover illustration, but they put a much older looking Toby in front of Becky. When I complained, subsequent editions shifted the characters’ positions.
Most often asked question:
“Were you thinking of a real library when you wrote this book?”
Yes: the Floyd Memorial Library, in Greenport, NY.