The idea for the first edition of Delia Ephron’s book, Do I Have to Say Hello? illustrated by renowned New Yorker cartoonist Ed Koren, was hatched when she picked up her eight-year-old nephew at the airport and he told her to take him to the baseball card shop. “He didn’t even say, ‘Hello,’” remarks Ephron with a laugh. “So on the way home from the airport, I invented this game where I would give him manners questions with horrible answers, as well as the right answer. He just collapsed over it. When I got home I started to write ‘Aunt Delia’s manners quiz.’” She showed it to illustrator Ed Koren, with whom she’d collaborated before; he quickly signed on, and the book was published in 1989.
Eventually it went out of print. Fast forward to 2012 when she was on tour for her novel, The Lion Is In (Blue Rider Press/Riverside Books), where, thanks to a woman she befriended on the plane to Nashville, she found herself at a fund-raiser with country/western singers. “I’m wandering around feeling completely as weird as you can when you’re at a party and you know absolutely nobody, and I walked up to a couple and said, ‘Hi, I’m Delia Ephron,’ and the woman said, ‘Aunt Delia?’ And I thought, ‘This is crazy!’ and that’s what started me thinking about doing this again.” The new and improved Do I Have to Say Hello? comes out this November.
What surprises both Ephron and Koren is that most of the book is still relevant, though it’s been made more current. Ephron tells Show Daily, “Of course, phone manners went right out because young children don’t answer their parent’s cellphones. And ‘mucous’ became ‘snot.’ And baseball manners, while still popular, do not begin to be as popular as soccer. Soccer is also for boys and girls, so we did soccer manners instead of baseball.”
Notes Koren, “I hadn’t really thought about it for many years, so I looked at it and said to myself that there were improvements to be made, but basically it was a sturdy classic. It was a great idea that we republished it, particularly in the climate of child rearing today. It has a kind of resonance that it didn’t have then—it’s a different culture now.”
Ephron chimes in, “I believe in the word, ‘no.’ It’s a valid word in a family.
I don’t think that the word ‘okay’ should be at the end of every sentence like it often is with today’s parents. ‘Please do this, okay? Don’t touch the grapes, okay?’ But this book is very playful and funny and meant to entertain.”
Viewing his original illustrations gave Koren a rare opportunity for a second look at what he’d drawn 27 years ago. ‘It’s every artist’s dream to revisit drawings that you always have second thoughts about. I was able to tweak them a little bit. I didn’t change them much—but a lot needed it—a sharpening of the expression, extra gestures. In some cases I redrew it entirely.”
One of the obvious changes in the book is dealing with the impact of technology on manners. Ephron created a new section entitled, “Video Game Manners.” She offers some examples of her quiz: “‘Aunt Julia calls you for breakfast and you’re playing on your iPad. Do you bring it and secretly play it under the table? Do you pour syrup on it?’ Or ‘You’re at dinner with Aunt Delia and you’re not interested in what people are saying. Do you download six apps on Aunt Delia’s phone? Do you steal napkins from everyone’s lap?’ Technology turns up not just in its own category but in answers in all sorts of places—restaurant manners, table manners—it’s a part of childhood now that was not a part of childhood then.”
This will be Koren’s first visit to Book Expo, but Ephron has been here many times before. She tells Show Daily, “If you’re an author at something like this you can feel very overwhelmed by how many books are out there. There’s your little baby drowning in the world of books. But one day, different people came up to me and said they liked one of my books, and each time it was a different one. And it was one of the most magical days of my life.”
Ephron and Koren will be signing galleys at the Penguin booth (3119) today, at 2:30 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 29, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.