debbie millman

Monday, January 09, 2006

Commentary: Dot For Short

When I was a kid there were a lot of rules in my house. One of the most horrific was the very limited amount of television I was allowed to watch. As a result, I read. And I read a lot. I read books, magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and comic books; I even borrowed my mother’s Redbook and McCall’s, and snuck into my father’s library to read the steamy sections of “The Godfather” when I was sure that no one would catch me.

My fascination with books began as soon as I could read, and Golden Books were my favorite. Then came my introduction to the Weekly Reader and there was nothing, absolutely nothing I looked forward to more than the moment, every week, when Mrs. Mayer handed out those glamorous publications. By third grade I became acquainted with the Scholastic Book Club, and while my folks were stingy with television privileges, they were quite generous with my book allowance. I ordered as many books as I could afford and when the boxes came in with my name on them I spent a moment gingerly fingering the corrugated brown carton. I’d sit for a minute or two and imagine what was inside, what the books would be like, and of course how they would look.

Part of the universe I entered when I read these books was a visual one. I studied the illustrations and paintings of all of my precious tomes as intently as I read the words, yearning to gain entrance into this two-dimensional galaxy in order to make it my own.

After Scholastic came the series books: Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and my all time favorite: the stories of Ginnie and Geneva by Catherine Woolley. These series books became mirrors into a different universe. A place where, despite danger or mishaps or misdeeds, life was always good, the bad guys were always caught, and everyone always lived happily ever after. These worlds were foreign to me and I constantly put myself into those books: became the characters, lived their challenges and grew so much richer for the experience.

I don’t know what happened to all of my books. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up, and since most of the books were paperbacks, I guess they didn’t make it from house to house. As a result, for the last several decades I have been scouring used bookstores, libraries, garage sales and flea markets for all of the books I read as a child. I am extremely particular about what I purchase: the Golden Books must have the gorgeous gold and brown metallic foil, the Nancy Drew books must have the hardcover yellow spine and the illustrations in the cover plate. The Ginnie books must have the illustrations by Liz Dauber or Iris Beatty Johnson and the Trixie books must have the cover illustrations of Larry Frederick. I have been extraordinarily lucky retrieving many of these classics; nevertheless there were several books that proved more elusive.

One was a book called Dot for Short, by Frieda Freidman. It was a charming, bittersweet story written in 1947 about an insecure ten year old girl who can’t wait to grow up. “She envies her two gorgeous sisters (Fluff and Peg) who are tall and slender and know how to talk to boys.” Her family is having financial difficulties, which she feels powerless to improve. Then she sees an ad in a ladies magazine featuring a contest to write a limerick about “why you use Masterpiece Muffin mix.” The prize was $10,000. She, of course, writes a limerick and…well, that’s all I am going to tell you. Needless to say the entire scenario of the book converged with my life and my fledging enchantment with…dare I say it…branding.

All through the ‘80’s, I not only searched through flea markets and the like for this pesky novel, I also went into every mass market and private bookseller inquiring about this book. Lots of storekeepers were sympathetic and often suggested I order it—optimistically offering that one used book store might come across it if a search was initiated. I did that over and over, but to no avail. Then one fine day in 1988 as I was doing my usual perusal in the children’s section of a bookstore, there it was. Reprinted. Fresh and clean and new and…mine. I grabbed it, gave my money to the cashier with shaking hands and read the entire book out on the street, leaning against a light pole. It was a magnificent, unforgettable experience. I still, to this day, believe that I am single-handedly responsible for Puffin reprinting this book.

My library is now nearly complete. Every now and then I remember a book that I read when I was eight or eleven or sixteen…the memory flutters into my head like a yellow butterfly…and then I am inspired to once again start a new search. I love this recreation of sorts…knowing that I am simultaneously rebuilding and re-crafting my past and my present and my future. Knowing that, like Proust’s moment with his madeleine, that these books “ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has traveled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the depths of my being…and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”


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2/06/2006 03:42:00 AM  
Blogger Nilk said...

Ebay for you.

This book is also on my list to add to my collection, as I find so many of today's books just don't fit with the values I want my own daughter to learn.

I hope you've found a copy, but if not this, it will show up again.

Good luck!


12/25/2010 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Elsie said...

I don't know if you know about or, but they have helped me find books for which I had been searching for years if not decades.

I love the Larry Frederick covers of the Trixie Belden books - and in fact am the proud owner of the original cover art for Mystery of the Emeralds. And the Scholastic covers for Catherine Woolley's books - and for other books - were often so much better than the ones on the hardcovers; Ginnie and the Mystery Doll is the one with the biggest contrast.

My mom was an elementary school teacher so we got the Scholastic catalogues *and* a 25% discount. I had lots of fun! And I remember years getting the Dell Yearling catalogue and enjoying reading all the descriptions and getting the books. I love all those old covers. And maybe this will help you remember some of the books:

9/03/2011 11:45:00 AM  

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Location: new york city, United States

Debbie Millman has worked in the design business for over 25 years. She is President of the design division at Sterling Brands. She has been there for nearly 15 years and in that time she has worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s, Colgate, Nestle and Hasbro. Prior to Sterling, she was a Senior Vice President at Interbrand and a Marketing Director at Frankfurt Balkind. Debbie is President of the AIGA, the largest professional association for design. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine, a design writer at and Brand New and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 2005, she began hosting the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet. The show is titled “Design Matters with Debbie Millman” and it is now featured on In addition to “Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design,” (HOW Books, 2009, she is the author of "How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer" (Allworth Press, 2007) and “The Essential Principles of Graphic Design” (Rotovision, 2008).

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