Non-dad Martin writes children's book


NEW YORK -- The trend seems as plain as the nose on your child's face, or an arrow through your head. There's Madonna, Billy Crystal and Jamie Lee Curtis. And Jerry Seinfeld. And John Lithgow. And Katie Couric.

All celebrities. All parents. All authors of children's books.

Now Steve Martin has written one.

But he doesn't have any children.

"I'm not sure why I did this. I don't know why an alphabet book popped into my head," Martin said of "The Alphabet From A to Y, With Bonus Letter Z," a collaboration with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. "My idea was to write these rhyming couplets with the craziest images I could possibly think up, and then have Roz illustrate them."

Martin, famous for his "wild and crazy" standup act in the 1970s, has turned increasingly to the page in recent years, writing plays, novels and humor pieces in the New Yorker, home to such literary wits (and children's authors) as E.B. White and James Thurber. A memoir comes out in November.

"From A to Y" is a nonsense ride across time and rhyme, with highlights including "H" ("Henrietta the hare wore a habit in heaven/Her hairdo hid hunchbacks: one hundred and seven") and "N" ("Needle-nosed Nigel won nine kinds of knockwurst/By winning a contest to see who could knock wurst").

Martin is a bookish man, but he wasn't thinking of any authors when writing "From A to Y." Not Thurber, White or Edward Lear. Not Dr. Seuss, whom he didn't read until his 20s. Maybe Ogden Nash.

"I did grow up on Ogden Nash," he said in a recent telephone interview, "but I'm not sure if that fits here."

Martin began working on "From A to Y" a couple of years ago. Like a good boy eating his vegetables first, he took on the hard letters, like "X" (if "Ambidextrous Alex was actually axed" counts as "X"), before digging in to such treats as "A" and "E."

Asked to name his favorite letter (an improvement over being asked his favorite color), Martin pauses.


"Gee," as in "giraffe"?

No, "Gee," as in "Gee, whiz."

"I always liked 'Q.' ... It has that funny little do-dad at the bottom," he said, before remembering, a theme developing here, that his play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" includes a soliloquy by Albert Einstein on the alphabet, as it relates to pie.

"Einstein compared the letter "O" to a pie, and said that the letter "Q" was like an "O" with a comma and that comma-shaped pie looks like a croissant," Martin said.

Flying Dolphin Press, an imprint of Random House, is releasing "From A to Y" with a first printing of 150,000, encouraging feedback from booksellers and a favorable review from Publishers Weekly, which predicted that "Adults (will) see two well-known artists at work, creating mind-bending tableaux, while children get a taste of original tongue-twisters."

Martin and Chast will make a few promotional appearances, including an interview on the "Today" show, but so far Martin hasn't tested out the book on any children. (Chast has a 20-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, both a bit too old, or young.)

"I'm afraid," said the man who has wowed millions hosting "Saturday Night Live." He then notes that his current project, a sequel to the 2006 "Pink Panther" remake in which he reprises his role as Inspector Clouseau, has some children in it.

His big chance.

Or maybe not.

"I think one of them only speaks French."