Eloise books return after 30 years

Sunday, December 22, 2002

NEW YORK -- Eloise, the most famous fictional resident of Manhattan's Plaza Hotel, has re-emerged after decades of seclusion.

It seems that after traveling so much during the height of her celebrity she needed to soak in a long, hot bath.

But time -- and a whole lot of soap and water -- hasn't mellowed this precocious 6-year-old who lives in such fancy digs with her nanny, her dog Weenie and turtle Skipperdee.

(Don't even try to do the math considering Eloise was born in 1949 and first appeared in print in 1955.)

In "Eloise Takes a Bawth" (Simon & Schuster), the first new Eloise book in more than 30 years, the little girl stirs up all sorts of trouble when she goes to scrub up.

This book never would have been published if Kay Thompson, Eloise's creator, was alive, says illustrator Hilary Knight. During the 1950s and '60s, Thompson and Knight collaborated on "Kay Thompson's Eloise: A book for Precocious Grownups," which has sold more than 2 million copies; "Eloise in Paris;" "Eloise in Moscow;" and "Eloise at Christmastime."

Revamping the story

Both the story and a complete set of pictures for "Bawth" were finished in 1964 and it was to be the fifth installment of the series, but neither Knight nor Thompson was happy with the book.

"We actually had put too much work into it and it ended up that we lost our spirit," he says.

They tried to revamp the book again -- and again. But still they weren't satisfied, and the book was tabled for decades.

Working on children's books is the most challenging work for an artist, he says, because the drawings have to be so simple that they're challenging.

"Eloise has a funny little face. Her anatomy and the way she propels her way through the books is what brings her to life," Knight says.

The idea for this self-centered-yet-affable girl, though, was born when Thompson, a singer and dancer, was late to a nightclub rehearsal.

According to Eloise legend, Thompson was asked "Who do you think you are, coming here five minutes late?" In a childlike voice she replied, "I am Eloise. I am 6."

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