While working on a book to mark the impending return of Halley's comet, Dr. Edwin C. Krupp needed to come up with an easily recognizable shape that would symbolize the comet's long and narrow orbit.
Krupp, director of Griffith Observatory, and his wife, Robin, the book's illustrator, hit upon something as familiar to the American public as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolets: a hot dog.
A hot dog?
It's not exactly the most scientific metaphor, the Krupps acknowledge, but the wiener is turning out to be a winner with the young audience of 6- to 10-year-olds for whom "The Comet and You" was written.
Last weekend, the Krupps were on hand to launch the summer reading club at the Eagle Rock Branch Library, part of the 62-branch Los Angeles Public Library system. The club has the appropriate theme "Enter the Book Galaxy." About 70 children sat in rapt attention, except when they were busy laughing, which happened often during the hourlong slide presentation.
Named for Astronomer
The comet, whose appearance every 76 years was predicted by the English astronomer Edmund Halley in the 18th Century, should be visible to the naked eye in late December, but the best viewing is expected to be in the spring.
"The Comet and You," Edwin Krupp said, is intended to be an "entree" that will get youngsters thinking twice about Halley's comet, especially since they have a good chance of being around in 2062 when the next 76-year cycle is completed.
The Krupps' book will be only a drop in the bucket of Halley's comet hoopla, which is expected to include special sea cruises and land tours to areas with the best sighting possibilities, along with more traditional commercial items such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters and books. Still, based on their own research, the Krupps think they may be occupying a corner of the literary market that won't get too crowded with comet books.
"One book after another is coming out about the comet, and there are more to come," Edwin Krupp said. "But almost everything out is oriented toward adults."
Comets New to Some
Surprisingly enough in an age of "Star Wars," many of the children who attended the Eagle Rock presentation said they had never heard of comets before. But they sure seemed to like what they saw in "The Comet and You."
"I looked at the pictures and they looked really funny," Christaan Van Bremen, 6, said with a gap-toothed smile as he clutched a copy of the book in his arms. His book, one of 20 copies sold by the library at a 40% discount from its $12.95 list price, was signed in silver metallic ink by the authors, who sent Christaan off into the book galaxy with "best celestial wishes" and "many happy comet Halley returns."
The book is the first literary collaboration for the couple, who live in Eagle Rock with their son, Ethan, 10. In fact, the book is a family affair. Ethan posed for a few of the sketches, although his face is never shown. And it is Ethan's printing which appears in a few handwritten notes scattered throughout the book, such as the one left next to a toy race car that reminds the reader, "Halley rhymes with rally."
Illustrated with black-and- white pencil drawings, the book was published in March by Macmillan Publishing Co. and has been introduced into several schools and libraries in the Los Angeles area. The Krupps are scheduled to give slide presentations at other Los Angeles Public Library branches, including those in Northridge and Panorama City, as well as at branches in the Long Beach Public Library system, whose reading club shares the "Enter the Book Galaxy" theme.
Debbie Huber, the children's librarian at Eagle Rock, said the Krupps have taken an original approach to comets by using common, everyday symbols to grab children's attention.
For instance, to convey the sense of time that has passed since Halley's comet last appeared in 1910, an illustration picturing a mailman, a birthday cake, two birthday candles depicting the number 76 and a glowing comet in the background is accompanied by an easy-to-follow explanation. "The mailman comes by almost every day," the book reads. "Your birthday comes by once a year. Halley's comet comes by every 76 years. That's a long time to wait."
Edwin Krupp, an astronomer who has been the observatory's director since 1974, said the notion of writing a children's book had been fermenting for some time, along with the bottle of vintage wine Krupp plans to uncork upon the comet's return.
A children's book on astronomy inspired him at the age of 6 to pursue a career of celestial exploration, the 41-year-old Krupp recalled. "I'd like kids to have that kind of thing, something that could get them excited," he said.
Edwin Krupp already had written three adult-oriented books on ancient and prehistoric astronomy but "The Comet and You" is a debut for Robin Krupp, 39, an art instructor at Pierce College in Woodland Hills and the Sherman Oaks campus of the Fashion Institute of Art and Design. She began working on the two-year project by "checking out every book in the library on comets" and did the last drawing first "so that I could say I finished the book."
Hot Dog Hazard
For the most part, Krupp said, she enjoyed fitting pictures to her husband's words, a process she likened to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. But it wasn't without its frustrations and occupational hazards. Take, for instance, the hot dogs.
To get more mileage out of the metaphor, Edwin Krupp calculated that it would take 72 trillion hot dogs placed end to end to cover the 7 billion miles of the comet's path. That works out to "two hot dogs each day for each person now on earth for 22 years," the book says. To illustrate that salient point, Robin Krupp had to sit for hours staring at and smelling a whole lot of hot dogs.
Because of the dimensions and perspective of the drawing, the artist said, she had to draw only 281 hot dogs, but the effort took its toll: "I actually loved hot dogs up to that point. But I got tired of them after that drawing."