Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Daniel Pinkwater

Go To

One part Marx Brother, one part cracked social satirist... with a particle of werewolf thrown in. I am a sandwich!
— Pinkwater Podcast intro

Daniel Manus Pinkwater (born November 15, 1941) is an American author of children's books. His books have a number of recurring themes, including:

He tries to use a different version of his name — such as D. Manus Pinkwater, Daniel M. Pinkwater, D. Pinkwater, and so on — on every book he writes, allegedly to annoy librarians.

He was a important component of the radio show Chinwag Theater for a while, being that his books were read and he was the one who read them. He also reads children's books on NPR with Saturday Morning Edition anchor Scott Simon. Sometimes he calls in to Car Talk to expound on a car-related topic with Click and Clack.


He currently offers free audio versions of many of his books on his website.

His books, and their tropes, include

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars:

Two middle-school boys become psychically enlightened and travel to an alternate plane of existence.
  • 90% of Your Brain: The Klugarsh Mind Control course claims that only 10% of the human brain is in use at a time, and that telekinesis and telepathic skills can be attained by learning to access the rest.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Leonard is sent to a psychologist who insists that all of his problems in school stem from a deep-seated, secret hatred of his parents, and refuses to listen to Leonard unless he confesses all of his "problems". He also asks Leonard about repressed memories from when he was an infant. Of course, Leonard sees this as nonsense, but makes a bunch of stuff up to satisfy him.
  • Badass Normal: Even before he becomes psychic Alan can do the Missile Whistle, a whistle capable of stunning/distracting people from long range.
  • Advertisement:
  • Bigger Is Better: The larger the focusing device, the more powerful psychic abilities become. Leonard tries wearing a bunch of rabbit ears, and nearly smashes a brick through a concrete wall.
  • Cassandra Truth: Alan tells everyone in school he's from Mars. Half the students believe him, and half the students don't. Then the two halves start fighting and Alan gets suspended.
  • Chekhov's Skill: the Nafsulian gesture of irrevocable surrender is removing your hat and rubbing your belly at the same time, which just happens to be one of the easiest things to mind-control someone into doing.
  • Cool, But Inefficient: Being able to move things with your mind is pretty neat, but there's no real advantage to doing so instead of just walking up to it and moving it with your muscles the way you normally would.
  • The Dragon: The Wozzle, in an invisible predator that harasses the people of Waka-Waka on behalf of the Nafsulians. Is actually Manny, Moe, and Jack after plane shifting.
  • Human Aliens: Turns out Alan Mendelsohn, who looks like a normal boy, really is from Mars. Also the Nafsulians Manny, Moe, and Jack, who just look like short men.
  • Jungle Opera: Downplayed, as Waka-Waka is a lot more boring than it first appeared, but the Waka-Waka portion certainly fits as a tropical jungle full of aliens, mysterious monsters, and a lost civilization.
  • Joisey: Type 3 variety. Most of the book takes place near Hogborogh, New Jersey, which just happens to be place where dimensions intersect, only one of several in the world.
  • Lost World: Waka-Waka, Mu, Lemuria, Atlantis- all are real, although in Another Dimension.
  • Mind over Matter: One of the psychic powers the boys obtain, but requires a Magic Wand.
  • Narrating the Present: the book Alan and Leonard buy a book on Hypersteller Archeology which mentions them by name buying and reading the book. They don't know about this until they're well into reading it.
  • Not the Intended Use: Using psychic powers to influence people's actions or move objects is described as being akin to discovering a car and believing that all it's good for is sitting in the front seat and listening to the radio.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: A variant. The Wozzle, a fearsome monster that terrifies the Waka-waka residents into submission, turns out to be Manny, Moe, and Jack partially phased out of the plane so as to be nearly invisible.
  • Uncoffee: Fleegix.
  • You Were Trying Too Hard: the first time the protagonists activate the omega-wave meter.


The protagonist and his many-times-great uncle Borgel go on an interdimensional tourist trip, and meet a godlike popsicle. This book got some unwanted publicity when a heavily rewritten passage was used as part of a standardized test on 8th grade reading comprehension and was frequently quoted in news articles about the controversial tests.

  • Alter Kocker: Borgel's father, who speaks only in Yiddish-accented yells.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Freddie becomes the Great Grivnizoid, a godlike cosmic energy source, after eating the Great Popsicle
  • Brain Uploading: Howling Frog's Great Popsicle is a computer simulation of his brain in the form of a paper mache popsicle
  • Blazing Inferno Hellfire Sauce: Chef Chow's Hot and Spicy Oil, a condiment used in folklore to kill a giant. Borgel mentions that it's unsafe to store large quantities of it in one place.
  • Cargo Cult: Many characters worship and respect the Great Popsicle. Justified, as the Great Popsicle is the godlike essence of pure love in the form of a popsicle.
  • Cool Uncle: Borgel.
  • Cool Old Guy: Borgel. Introduces the protagonist to all kinds of fun interests, like classical music and interdimensional travel.
  • Cthulhumanoid: Grivnizoids in their true from.
  • Dog Food Diet: The protagonist and the dog Fafner are trapped at an interdimensional root-beer stand with nothing to eat but rootbeer floats for a month to their increasing despair. When they find a bag of dog kibble in the car, both are overjoyed to subsist on the dog food. The narrator describes it as nutritious and excellent with root beer.
  • Everything Sounds Menacing In German: Or at least more important. Freddie wrote a book-length essay on Popsicles (Popsikellen: Geist und Wissenschaft) entirely in German, just to prove that he was serious about the topic.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Literally The Theme Park Version. Hell is portrayed as a flashy theme park with long lines to get in.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Borgel's relationship with his father. In The Old Country, people are too poor for things like food or affection, and have to scrape by on squashed skunks and blows to the head.
  • Interdimensional Travel Device: Borgel's car can travel though time-space-and-the-other. An essential device for any time tourist.
  • Kids Driving Cars: After being stuck at the rootbeer stand for a month and becoming increasingly fed up, the preteen protagonist finds the car keys. He decides to drive away and try to contact Borgel, and eventually picks him up on the side of the highway. He drives through interdimensional space completely fine, without any previous experience.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels
  • The Old Country: Where Borgel comes from. It's also in Another Dimension.
  • Punctuation Shaker: Pak Nfbnm*, aka Freddy.
  • Shapeshifter Default Form: Freddie is a monstrous Grivnizoid but presents as a small older man most of the time
  • Spoof Aesop: In Borgel's stories.
  • Starfish Aliens: Arnold, the Amorphoid Fleshopod, a nauseating blob covered in tiny tentacles.
  • Talking Animal: Fafner, after they exit Earth's dimension
  • What a Piece of Junk: Borgel's car. It's about seventy years old, the country that made it went out of business, it exudes clouds of smoke, and Borgel has to hotwire it in order to get it to start. But it travels through time-space-and-the-other, and goes up to two times the speed of light.
  • The Unpronounceable: Borgel's real last name sounds nothing like MacTavish, but even less like anything else.
  • Uplifted Animal: Fafner the dog gains the ability to talk after they leave earth and start traveling through Time-Space-and-the-Other.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Freddie becomes the Great Grivnizoid and takes on the role of the Great Popsicle after eating it

The Education Of Robert Nifkin

Robert Nifkin starts high school at Riverview High in Chicago, which he finds intolerable. He drops out, and is able to attend Wheaton Academy, a private school full of freaks and weirdos like him.
  • Beatnik: Robert spends a lot of time at a bookstore full of intellectuals and jazz fans who wear all black and seem to be part of the Beat movement. At one point some real Beatniks from New York show up, but Robert is intimidated by how hardcore they are.
  • Cool School: Wheaton Academy, which is in an old mansion. Most of the teachers are fun to hang out with and more interested in the students having a good time and learning on their own terms than in making them do schoolwork. The administration is fine with students spending half the day out of class, and a lot of the learning is done through the students following their own interests in whatever.
  • Cool Teacher: Sgt. Gunter, the ROTC instructor, is the only person at Riverview that Robert has any respect for, in part because he sticks it to the establishment by teaching his students about Marxism. At Wheaton, there's Mr. Dershiewitz, a Deadpan Snarker who teaches using the Socratic method, takes the kids out drinking, and is somewhat of a mentor to Robert, introducing him to Chess, the Beat movement, and his eventual college.
  • Darker and Edgier: Has many similar elements (the setting, a storyline focusing on exploring the city, a Sucky School with bigoted teachers) to the earlier Snarkout Boys books, but is less humorous and focuses far more on the negative school elements than those books. Of all of Pinkwater's books, this has the most adult content and is clearly aimed more at a teen audience than at kids.
  • Emo Teen: Natalia/Pamela is a 1950's Beatnik equivalent, who wears all black, and speaks only in dramatic Purple Prose about her suffering.
  • New Transfer Student: Robert arrives at Wheaton halfway through the school year, after being kicked out of Riverview for chronic absences.
  • Red Scare: Many of the teachers at Riverview are paranoid about communist infiltration, and eventually Robert's ROTC instructor Sgt. Gunter is dramatically removed for being a secret communist. Played with in that this paranoia is completely justified, but the communists are portrayed as the good guys. Sgt. Gunter reads Marx to his students in school, and is Robert's only role model at Riverview.
  • School of No Studying: Both schools, for different reasons. At Riverview, the schoolwork is so low-level and boring that Robert feels disinclined to do any work. The school works on the "notebook system" which involves copying things off the board, so there are never any tests or homework. At Wheaton, the school is one by design- the education is so liberal that the students are expected to design their own work, and most of them get educated by reading books and having fun exploring the city rather than doing schoolwork.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Robert is shown to be more intelligent than many people around him, and later on in high school devotes himself to mastering chess as his primary occupation (as opposed to schoolwork).
  • Skipping School: One day, Robert just doesn't get off the bus to go to school, and never comes back, instead spending his time exploring Chicago.
  • Sucky School: At Riverview, all the teachers are anti-Semitic, rabidly anti-communist, and incompetent, and all the students are brainless thugs. Robert loathes the school and quickly stops attending.

Fat Men From Space

Earth is invaded by aliens who look like fat men, and steal all the junk food on the planet.
  • iSophagus: The main character has a dental filling that acts as a radio receiver.

The Last Guru

Harold Blatz parlays a horse-racing bet into a stock market fortune, becomes the richest person in the world, goes to Tibet, and finds enlightenment.

Lizard Music

Eleven-year-old Victor's on his own after his parents go on vacation, leaving him with his mostly absent big sister. He's got a love of midnight bad sci-fi movie hour, but one night, instead of the usual mockable serials from the 50s, he sees a blurry shot of... lizards playing music. Joining up with a black hobo who has a hen on his hat, they set off to get to the source of the broadcasts: an invisible island populated by sentient lizards that's somewhere off the coast near Hogboro.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: The lizards have learned English from watching human TV broadcasts.
  • Black Best Friend: The narrator's newfound friend, and the other main character, is a black hobo.
  • Cloudcuckooland: Lizard island, explained as a side-effect of the lizards being able to intercept TV signals.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The Chicken Man, and all of the lizards, in a strange sort of Zen-like way. It's even lampshaded, and the reason why The Chicken Man decides to stay behind.
  • The Cloudcuckoolander Was Right: The Chicken Man is the only other character (besides the narrator) who knows about the Lizard Music program.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Chicken Man, due to the chicken he carries, an intelligent hen named Claudia.
  • I Choose to Stay: In the end, the Chicken Man decides to stay with the Lizards. Victor would like to stay - the lizards are a cool bunch, after all, and their way of television is actually really cool, but the Chicken Man points out he's got his parents, sister, and school to come back to - the Chicken Man's just a hobo who annoys other people.
  • I Have Many Names: The Chicken Man gives a different alias every time he shows up. When Victor asks which is his real name, he asks Victor which he likes best. Victor responds, "Charles Swan", and the Chicken Man says to call him Charlie, which Victor does for the rest of the book.
  • Parental Abandonment: The narrator's parents are off to a resort. His older sister's supposed to watch him, but as teens are wont to do, she's busy doing whatever she's doing as well.
  • Planet of Steves: The group of lizards who welcome Victor and the Chicken Man to the island all have the same name – Reynold. When Victor asks if all the lizards on the island are named Reynold, Reynold says that would be silly and they do have other names, like Helena and Raymond. Victor subsequently meets one lizard named Helena and three named Raymond (who are siblings), but every other lizard he encounters is named Reynold.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Reynold tells Victor that one of the reasons they're so hospitable is that they have an ancient prophecy that one day a visitor to the island will bring about a new era of prosperity. Sure enough, it comes true during Victor's visit thanks to Claudia.
  • Punny Names: One scene gives a lizard's-eye view of human history complete with a hurricane of reptilian puns, from Salamander Grahame Bell to Queen Elizardbeth.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Discussed. The lizards on the island are completely mellow (thanks to television waves), but the narrator is wary of going to the island at first, because of this trope.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Thought-Aversion Failure: Before showing Victor the Hall of Memories, which gives form to the thoughts of whoever enters, Reynold advises Victor not to think about snakes. This advice is about as helpful as you might expect.
  • Traveling Landmass: The lizards' island moves around, and is sometimes closer to shore and sometimes farther out, which is one reason it's so difficult to find.
  • Turtle Power: In the end, Victor leaves the island via having his surfboard carried on a turtle back to Hogboro shore.

The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death/The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror

Two teenage boys who sneak out in the middle of the night to watch old movies get recruited to help the world's finest detective defeat werewolves, international criminals, and alien real-estate agents.

Slaves of Spiegel

The fat men from Fat Men From Space arrange for a literal Cooking Duel between the three best junk-food chefs in the universe.
  • Identical Stranger: The three chefsnote .
  • Multiple Narrative Modes: It mostly switches between different first-person narratives, but occasionally it goes into third-person omniscient when there isn't a convenient first-person narrator. The first time this happens is in a short chapter called "An Unnamed Third Person Who Knows Everything That Happens In This Story Speaks".
  • Second Place Is for Winners
  • Significant Anagram: The names of the three chefs are all anagrams of each other.
  • Scrapbook Story

The Worms of Kukumlima

A boy and his grandfather go on quest to find the sentient earthworms of the lost Kukumlima Crater, and find more than they bargained for.
  • Bold Explorer: Gordon Whillikers is a professional explorer who searches the jungles of Africa for findings.
  • Butt-Monkey: Ali Tabu, cursed with incredible bad luck.
  • Explorer Outfit: Most of the characters wear safari suits.
  • Jungle Opera: The book is about an adventure to Africa, where the characters encounter a number of otherworldy, perhaps extraterrestrial or supernatural things.
  • The Mad Hatter: Gordon Whillikers
  • Multiethnic Name: Grandpa's friend Milton X. Mohammadstein, which combines Jewish/German and Muslim/Arabic roots in a single surname.
  • Starfish Aliens: The titular Worms of Kukumlima, giant earthworms that supposedly arrive periodically from space to harvest elephant mouse hair. Subverted, as the worms turn out not to be aliens at all, but permanent residents of the crater.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: The crater is full of jewels, but for a human slave living there there's nothing more precious than food that isn't crunchy granola.

Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario

A kid goes to search for a sea monster in Lake Ontario, and instead finds The Flying Dutchman on a submarine who needs help to break his curse.
  • Flying Dutchman: Captain Van Straten has been cursed to sail the seas forever, and can't bring his ship more than a certain number of miles from shore.
  • If It Swims, It Flies: This book's version of the Flying Dutchman cannot bring any ship of his, including the pig-shaped submarine he currently lives on, within a certain distance of the shore.note  The protagonist figures out that if they get the sub to hydroplane fast enough to fly it won't be a ship, it'll be an airplane, which doesn't fall under the rules of the curse.
  • Not the Nessie: Ambrose Mc Fwain sells Yobgorgle as a Nessie-like monster.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The titular submarine is an experimental Nazi U-Boat from World War Two. Disguised as a simple barnyard pig out for a swim...a giant pig the size of, well, a Nazi U-boat.

Young Adult Novel

The Wild Dada Ducks are a group of high school students who love spreading the message of Dada and writing short stories about Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan. Once they find out there is an actual Kevin Shapiro in the school, they use their Dada skills to make him as successful as possible.

Newspaper Comics

  • With editorial cartoonist Tony Auth, Pinkwater produced the brief but very memorable surreal humor strip Norb from 1989 to 1990. It was about an eccentric Gentleman Adventurer named Norb, his defrosted wooly mammoth Eugen, teenage neighbor girl Rat, and his "stooge,'' Jacobowitz. It was a little too weird for the general audience, and it only lasted exactly one year. An anthology book of the daily strips (but not the Sunday ones) was published, but old copies of it are hard to come by.