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Lizard Music

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When left to take care of himself, a young boy becomes involved with a community of intelligent lizards who tell him of a little known invasion from outer space.

136 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1976

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D. Manus Pinkwater

1 book2 followers

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5 stars
954 (46%)
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658 (31%)
3 stars
331 (16%)
2 stars
81 (3%)
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44 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 242 reviews
Profile Image for carol..
1,535 reviews7,866 followers
November 14, 2020
Though I enjoyed this book, you should probably know that Mr. Pinkwater occasionally reads his reviews and is prone to instructing those reviewers he does not find 'favorable.' Here's the goodreads review page: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
and here's my blog page with his comments: https://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2020/...

I originally rated this book 4 stars, but in good conscience, such bad, personally directed behavior merits a downrating, because I can never look at this book again without a yucky mass of feels.
Profile Image for Dan.
18 reviews
January 31, 2008
You have not actually lived until you have read this book, in part because the Chicken Man is a necessary and essential guru for true life, and in part because you must learn to find the Lizard Music that is permeating the airwaves all around you when you stay up too late at night, but most of all because truly living most definitely involves absorbing the worldview of Daniel Manus Pinkwater. If you disagree, but cannot articulate why, then you are, I am sorry to say, existing in a soulless void filled with internal despair, whether you know it or not. It is impossible to overstate the case for this short young adult novel.
Profile Image for Erica Ravenclaw.
334 reviews98 followers
April 11, 2018
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
The Five Books That Made Me Fall In Love With Reading: #2


Alright so that's a little dramatic, I suppose but it has a grain of truth. I am in my last year of my twenties, and I've come to realize that we are only gifted with a certain amount of vivid childhood memories. I'm speaking specifically of textural memory that swirls into your vision, and floods your senses. I was in third grade and was a student of Mrs. Wright. She was a short and plump Mexican woman who sported silver hair worn in a soft french twist, happy brown eyes and a killer wardrobe of tweed skirt suits. I absolutely loved her. Every day after recess she would read to us, over the course of the year we went through several books, but Lizard Music was far and away my favorite.

This is the book I seek out in every library I've ever gone to. Something about the clear shiny plastic over the hardcover and the district smell of a library book makes me smile, and I always go in search of it. This bizarre and magical little book of a boy on his own adventuring to an island of intelligent lizards with a museum of memories, fundamentally changed how I saw things. It's excellent and a little weird, I can't wait to read it to my girls.

My memory:

It's hot and she's turned the lights off, the fans are blowing but it's not really helping. The backs of my legs are sticking to the chair and I notice I have grass on my knees. Mrs. Wright is pacing the classroom, carefully selecting a perch to read from. I hear the delightful crinkle of the plastic on the book as she finds where we left off from the previous day. As soon as she begins to read, everything else fades away and I am in the story.

The excitement that I felt at 8 years old, is the exact same feeling I get today. It's the feeling responsible for keeping me up at 3 am turning the pages of a new favorite book, and Lizard Music is the first time I remember feeling it. It was instrumental in cultivating my love of reading and is true gem of a book!

Profile Image for Diana Welsch.
Author 1 book15 followers
September 13, 2012
I received this book as a birthday or Christmas gift from my parents when I was a child. We lived in kind of an isolated area, and I couldn't get to the library whenever I wanted, so needless to say I read this book a LOT. I got kind of obsessed with it around 5th grade, not just for the great story, but because I thought the rockin' lizards on the cover were TOTALLY BADASSSSSS!

Lizard Music is a hilarious adventure about a young teenager who is left alone when his parents go out of town. His friends are all at camp, and his 17-year old sister is supposed to be watching him, but she takes off on a trip with her hippie friends, leaving Victor by himself with plenty of food, money, and the freedom to do whatever he wants. He starts off ordering a pizza with anchovies, going to the zoo in the city, trying to smoke a cigarette, and staying up late to watch a scary movie. But when he falls asleep in front of the TV one night, he awoke to the strangest thing. After the TV station goes off the air, his TV picks up this show of anthopomorphized lizards playing jazz music. There's also a lizard game show. Victor is freaked out.

Luckily, a weird man he meets in the city and an eccentric shop owner take Victor on an adventure to get to the bottom of the lizard mystery. It's a bizarre, imaginative journey that look me to wonderful new places as a preteen. Kids these days might find it dated and corny, but I thought it was wonderful. A+, Daniel Pinkwater. You helped shape my sense of humor with this strange book.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,027 followers
March 3, 2019
This is a hoot, but probably only to those who remember the times: Walter Cronkite on a B&W TV & stations that went off the air after the late movie around 1am or so. It's more of a mood piece filled with Easter eggs. It doesn't really go anywhere, but it was fun & appealed to a young me. Now it just brings back some memories.
Profile Image for Nick Fagerlund.
345 reviews16 followers
July 19, 2013
LIZARD MUSIC, y'all. I was feeling an urge to re-read, and I'd been drooling over the NYRB's recent maximum class edition with the geometric lizard cover, so I found a copy of that at Powell's.

It's always hard to decide which part of this book to explain to people, so maybe just a cluster of thoughtlets is in order.

* When I read this for the first time (age what, 11?), it seemed subversive as hell. It's about a young kid in a modern milieu navigating the world on his own, caring for himself, doing just fine at it, and considering and then rejecting consensus reality. That amazed me, at the time. I still think it's kind of special and rare.

* It just occurred to me that this book probably inoculated me against Catcher in the Rye disease. I read that one in high school, and it was a pretty OK book, but since Victor from Lizard Music had already given me a model for radically protecting your individuality in a kinda busted world, my reaction to Holden was basically “Oh, so he’s kind of like the kid from Lizard Music, except also a raging asshole.” So thanks, Daniel Pinkwater, for probably helping me Not Be That Guy. And straight up, “pod people” is so much less self-aggrandizing than “phonies” it's not even funny. I mean, it shouldn't be, but it ends up having this sort of "there but for the grace of god go I" element that makes all the difference.

* I refer you to rushthatspeaks’ consideration of Pinkwater as the greatest living surrealist, especially the bit about Daumal’s Mount Analogue being a real thing (WHAT) (yes I definitely have that on hold from the library).

* I refer you to the bit from my blurb re: Fish Whistle (WHAT).
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,271 reviews398 followers
September 8, 2018
Ok, after four decades it's pretty dated. Walter Cronkite, and no TV overnight, and the kid doesn't order pizza until his third or fourth night on his own. But do take note; those details reveal aspects of the boy's character and culture. Don't update the book, whatever you do!

Original cover, the one I chose to review, much cooler than the more popular one with the blue sofa and the lizards coming out of the TV.

Anyway, fun adventure, with 'easter eggs' galore (which how could a pre-internet child catch?).
Consider a random reference to Mount Analogue by René Daumal... do you really think more than a handful of children, if that, were able to find out more about that book after reading Pinkwater's reference?

And it mentions using whale meat in dogfood... I did not need to be reminded that was done.
"I like the animal programs pretty well; it seems that everybody likes animals, now that they've killed most of them."

Pinkwater's brain is wired differently than most adults'. I don't know if more children, esp. age 10-12, can think in this 'crazy' way or not, or if there's any other way to be so creative besides being a kid or being subject to hallucinations, but I know that I, personally, have no idea how anyone could come up with ideas like these. Pinkwater makes me feel just a little bit off-kilter, and that's a good thing.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
November 2, 2014
I am not sure why, but when looking through the Children’s Department of a bookstore a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to read this book. Perhaps it caught my attention because when I saw it, it had been newly published in a gorgeous jacket featuring a black and white hand-cut woodblock picture with red binding tape as part of the New York Review Children’s Collection. I didn’t act on my wish to read it and gift it to a nephew until a friend recently revealed he, too, read children’s books for fun. And what a wonderful gift it is—from Pinkwater to all of us.

First published in 1976, Lizard Music is a wild ride for a prepubescent kid: a young boy is left in the care of his sister while his parents vacation alone together. But shortly after his parents leave, his sister takes off on a vacation as well, leaving our hero, Victor, home alone. Very directly, Victor decides to do several things that he’d always been curious about, like staying up late, watching scary late-night movies, smoking…

This novel chronicles a magnificent moment in a child’s life when the imaginary and the real begin to distinguish themselves and a young boy begins to perceive how his upbringing has served him, and what he still has to learn. I found it a marvelous escape that entranced even these old eyes, and think for a youngster (8-11 years) it would be a miracle of revelation and delight.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 30 books5,630 followers
May 29, 2015
As a kid this one didn't click with me the way his other books did. I was a diehard fan (and still am) of THE LAST GURU and ALAN MENDELSSOHN, BOY FROM MARS. It seemed like anyone who read Pinkwater, though, was all about LIZARD MUSIC and had never heard of the others. I read it, and again, it was fine.

Now I've read it aloud to my kids. My kids didn't know who Walter Kronkite was. They've never seen, let alone eaten, a TV dinner. But they laughed and laughed. Yes, I had to stop and explain about Kronkite, and TV dinners, and a couple of other things. But then we just went for it, and they loved it. They loved the Chicken Man with his many names. They loved Victor, staying up late to watch weird movies and then the final performance, the strange lizard band. Seeing it through their eyes, and it having been years since I've read one of Pinkwater's kids' books, I was engrossed as well. I couldn't remember most of the details, and was just as delighted as they were. This is a fantastic book, and kudos to the New York Review of Books for putting it out in the lovely hardback, with stark black-and-white drawings and a striking cover.
Profile Image for Fuzzy Gerdes.
220 reviews
February 19, 2010
I've read Lizard Music a couple of times before, and seen the stage version that Lifeline Theater did in 1997. This time I was listening to an audio version, read by the author, which you can download for free from pinkwater.com. A friend, recalling some of Daniel Pinkwater's NPR appearances, said that to listen to his voice for two and a half hours might kill her. And it's true that it's a gravely voice. But I just get so caught up in Victor's adventures alone in a thinly-disguised Chicago. The fact that the Chicken Man was a real person always makes me wonder if then there's also a invisible crystal island floating out in the middle of Lake Michigan.
Profile Image for Saul.
Author 7 books42 followers
February 17, 2014
This book starts out simple enough. A young boy named Victor from a semi-dysfunctional family, left at home without any supervision. So when musical lizards show up on TV after hours, a mystery begins to unfold. It involves a strange man with a chicken under his hat and late night horror films. Victor can't say what it all means, but he's gonna find out.

My daughter enjoyed reading this together with me before bed. It's a a wonderful Pinkwater tale. One where the story takes on dreamlike qualities and draws the reader into a magical world. At times, nothing makes sense, but that's okay because just like life, everything seems to work out somehow.
Profile Image for Nikki in Niagara.
3,866 reviews123 followers
August 20, 2017
A fantastic book of magical realism. I've only read a couple of Pinkwater's books but really enjoyed them. This one has the same type of theme of a fantastical tale taking place in the ordinary mundane world. All sorts of wondrous things happen that I began to find myself waiting for the "it-was-all-a-dream" ending but no, these fanciful events are real as far as anyone is concerned. The plot is pure silliness but so full of incidents that I couldn't begin to explain the plot. Let's just say you are in for a treat with a lizard band on late-night TV, the Chicken Man turning up frequently with a different alias every time, Claudia a performing chicken who lives under Chicken Man's hat, and an invisible island occupied with English-speaking lizards who worship the chicken. If you like quirky, here it is. I only thought the ending was rushed and it left me, as it did the main character, with lots of unanswered questions. But I do wholeheartedly recommend it for those who like to suspend belief completely and join a magical tour within the framework of reality.
Profile Image for Nicholaus Patnaude.
Author 11 books29 followers
August 25, 2013
Lizard Music is a bit of an off-the-radar legend for writers of the fantastic (Neil Gaiman, fr instance, has been heard singing its praises). Its a quick, funny, and surreal read with a voice of a young boy that is spot-on accurate. Lizard Music has the whimsy of books like Stine's Goosebumps, but it is far less formulaic and, somehow, more dangerous despite having less macabre themes--unless of course you consider the thinly-veiled yet predominant theme of insanity. There is an eerie sense of paranoia the first time Victor spots the lizards on his television with his parents out of town and his sister--supposed to be babysitting Victor--also gone on a camping trip. The Chicken Man, as other readers have mentioned, is also an unforgettable and colorful character who wouldn't be put of place in a modernized, urban version of Alice in Wonderland. This YA novel is refreshingly lacking all the usual pat, feel-good nonsense that so often plagues this genre and wraps up plots in ugly little presents that simplify and trivialize Life's greater depths. A hidden gem ready to plucked and rediscovered...finally, a fever dream.
Profile Image for Trixie Fontaine.
356 reviews104 followers
April 16, 2010
I *adored* this book . . . felt like it was my entre into a world that totally made sense to me that nobody else I knew would "get". I'd love to read it again as an adult to try to see what it was that I loved SO MUCH. It was just bizarre and magnificent.

Update: I reread this last month and was thoroughly transported and reminded of so much I'd forgotten, and who I am and what I love. Lizard bands broadcasting on the tv late at night!!! Communiques only understood by chickens!!! Being rushed up the walls of a volcano carried on a stretcher transported by lizards running very fast!!! And the poignant museum of memories . . .
Profile Image for Natalie Dee.
285 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2019
What I remember most about this book was that I was OBSESSED with it in the second grade. It was like nothing I had ever read and inspired me to write stories and even though I had access to a library of books, I also kept rereading it.
Profile Image for Mateo.
122 reviews22 followers
April 4, 2020
I read this book for a book report in fifth grade, after getting into a car accident that put my mother in the hospital and left me solely in the care of my dad, and spent the past 9 years pretty solidly convinced that it was just some weird daydream I made up to deal with whatever that was. cut to a few months ago, when I was going through pictures from elementary school and found a picture of 10-year-old me with some kind of styrofoam volcano with a wooden egg at the top, asked my mom something to the effect of "what the fuck was THAT?" and learned that I did, in fact, read a book called Lizard Music in fifth grade (she called it Lizard Magic, which based on my recollection could probably also apply?) when she was in the hospital. apparently my dad picked out the book, which explains a lot, and helped me make the weird egg volcano, which explains nothing. but good to know that the vague memories I have of a kid falling into a volcano and meeting a bunch of bipedal lizards that wore watches are just from a super weird book my dad made me read and not, like, memories of a past life. five stars because I think I liked it and for the permanent marks it left on my psyche. will be rereading once I find an ebook copy, now that I know it exists.
Profile Image for Hollie Ruthless.
227 reviews22 followers
December 31, 2017
This book is a total intro to nonsensical books. I feel like many kids books have to make sense, even if they are based in fantasy, but this book is just so off the wall and that makes it SO enjoyable. I've definitely read too many adult books, because I kept waiting for something explosive and evil to happen, but it's just a weird little story. There are some questionable statements about other races and sexes, etc. that make it obvious that this book is not written in modern times, but it's not enough to make the book unenjoyable in current times. This was a fun book to read aloud with my 7-year-old!
Profile Image for Montague.
16 reviews1 follower
November 30, 2017
It was about a boy trying to figure out why he keeps seeing lizards and what they are and where they are. I liked them trying to go to where the lizards live. It was fantastic. (age 7)
139 reviews1 follower
June 17, 2019
The kids agreed that that was good in parts but a bit of a letdown at the end. Alan Mendelsohn was better.
Profile Image for DL Weeks.
52 reviews
February 15, 2023
This was a fun little read from NYRB’s kids collection. Think Home Alone but with lizard aliens and a psychopomp called The Chicken Man.
Profile Image for Phrodrick.
882 reviews36 followers
June 18, 2017
Bottom Line first;
Not my favorite Danial Pinkwater preteen novel. The lead in is as good as his best. The payoff was something of a let-down. It is a tight bit of storytelling; meaning that there is little in the way of complex plotting , and therefore not much padding. Start to finish in a brisk 157 pages. Note my copy is the hard back NY Review Children's' Edition. Absent one relatively unnecessary reference to a woman's over use of cleavage it is family friendly. This is a minor bit of satire that may have some parents re thinking this selection but over-all Lizard Music is a good choice for bed time or for the 9-12 Yr old readers. Likely boys will like it better than the girls, but mostly because the main character is a boy.

Having just finished a classic pulp who done it, Lizard Music impressed me with Daniel Pinkwater's ability to draw you into a mystery that does not require the usual violence or high risk threats that even the old Hardy Bros, Nancy Drew mysteries tended to employ. Our hero a 12 yr old tells us the story of the previous summer when he had a few weeks, home alone. He lives in a small town near Hogboro on the shores of Lake Mishagoo. (Most of the intended readers will get these references so let's not spoil their fun) Unaccustomed to late nights and getting to indulge his taste for anchovies on his pizza, he finds himself watching very late night TV , after the end of the broadcast day. The surprise is that after the local station s, all of them sign off he can watch a very fine set of performances by a band of musical lizards.

Herein are a number of problems for the modern readers. The copyright for Lizard Music is 1976. Pre Cable. Younger readers will not know abot things like the end of the broadcast day. Likewise Victor is a fan of Walter Cronkite and Daniel Rather and these names, likely will carry no meaning. The description of a Lizard game show: "You Bet Your Duck" is one of the slickest bits of humor in the book. And likely no reader under 50 will `get it'. My solution for this is to have the parents do the reading and be ready for the questions. The Groucho Marx game show via u tube will serve as answers for the parents who missed the original broadcasts.

Solving the Lizard Music mystery will take Victor into Hogboro where he will meet the Chicken man and his performing chicken Claudia. This aspect is one of the classics in children's books. I like most kids had that one unexplained experience in a strange part of town where you met nice people but experienced something out of the normal. The store you can never find again. There are the people behind the counter who helped you and helped you to have an adventure. This happens to Victor, it is vaguely unsettling for him, but exciting and in the end rewarding.

For me the resolution of the mystery is not as exciting as the visits to Hogboro. There is magic but it is not that magical. We get some idea of Victor's reaction to this visit, but what is supposed to be a Pinkwater version of the land of Oz is not that spectacular.

Beside is his sister one of the Pod People? Yes we have a homage to the Day of the Triffids, but that is a thread left unresolved.
Profile Image for Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all).
1,968 reviews178 followers
January 23, 2019
I began to think I had dreamed this book; I remember seeing one of those Public Television shows that talked about books in the hope of getting kids to read. At the time I would have been about 14, and I remember thinking it didn't sound very interesting.

I was right.

When I ran across it lately, I was surprised to see Daniel Pinkwater was the author. I had never heard of him until the 1990s; he was repeatedly mentioned on the old "Car Talk" radio show. Apparently he was a friend of the Tappet Brothers, and from what they said he was too fat to fit in a standard airplane or car seat, so they suggested a new measurement for transport seating which they would call "the Pinkwater." So I was doubly curious to read the book.

It's more fitting in the psychedelic 60s than 1976, but maybe that's how long it took for Pinkwater to bribe a publisher to bring it out. It's not really a children's book at all, since kids wouldn't get the "humour" or most of the references. There's no real plot, it's just some kid staying home alone, sitting up late and grooving (you heard me) on Walter Cronkite and Roger Mudd and old sci-fi movies. Then he sees lizards on TV after the late show and starts obsessing about them until he meets a bizarre old black guy whose real name he'll never know. Whenever the text looks like it might develop some kind of direction, the author throws in some random sentence and goes off at a tangent that doesn't connect to anything else. They go in search of the lizards, and about time something looks like it's going to happen and the "plot" (I use the word because it's sure to get a laugh) might be resolved--it's over. Kid is back home, parents are back home, no more pages.


The text, particularly on the island, seems to owe quite a lot to the use of hallucinogenic drugs. It might make the book more interesting if you used some while reading it.

But I doubt it.
Profile Image for Troy.
15 reviews4 followers
June 1, 2013
Warning: this rating and review based on severe nostalgia.

One of my all-time favorite young adult books. Weird, funny and creepy all at the same time. Victor the first-person protagonist is an incredibly identifiable character. My favorite moment is when he becomes so overwhelmed with his discovery of the lizards, The Chicken Man and the pod people, his mixture of fear, excitement, and his love of the beautiful lesser kudu he saw at the zoo that he weeps uncontrollably. Pinkwater's wandering imagination winds through a completely genre-defying plot, and his message is surprisingly adult: the pod people are already among us. The mouth-breathing, slack-jawed, fast-food consuming, lazy conformists we have become is the beginning of the end for humankind, and only the eccentric, free-spirited and individual "Chicken Men" will survive to float away on the invisible island to a higher plane of existence. Highly recommended for boys who are looking for a change of pace from the Harry Potter-alike fantasy rip-offs. Can you tell I love this book?
Profile Image for Nathaniel Hardman.
Author 2 books23 followers
April 23, 2013
This was one weird book. In classic Pinkwater style, it's bizzare and outrageous, and there are moments where it's truly hilarious. It isn't always laugh-out-loud funny, but it's always amuzing. Pinkwater has this unique comedic voice that he uses - it's hard to describe exactly, but part of it is that he presents all the madness in a very matter-of-fact way. For example, the main character ends up in this secret city of super-intelligent lizards, and in the city he finds a fountain: "In the middle of the fountain was a golden statue of Walter Cronkite. The water was shooting out of his pipe." And you, the reader, are left to just shake your head in cheerful bemusement.
I will say that, as often happens with comedy-adventures, there is more humor at the beginning, and then the plot has to keep moving, so the humor dwindles. But it's fun, and it's wildly creative, and I enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,182 reviews10 followers
March 28, 2011
A re-release form the late 70s.

I am not sure if kids today will have any idea who Walter Cronkite is but aside from that and a little dated language this book is basically an acid trip of a fantasy for kids.

Made me think back to being a kid in the 70s and realizing that there was a general surreal cultural component that permeated life, even in the burbs. I mean the Electric Company was a little crazy, no? This is like that with talking, lizard jazz musicians.
1 review
March 7, 2016
I loved this book as a kid; it's the reason I choose Grape Soda anytime I get a chance.

I ordered a copy for the boys and couldn't resist re-visiting it. The absurd world of Daniel Pinkwater was waiting for me like a comfortable cocoon. As Victor works to unravel the mystery of the Lizards that he's seeing on TV, he encounters the Chicken Man in all his various guises, questions his sanity and has fun adventures.

Can't wait for my boys to read it!
Author 25 books29 followers
March 2, 2010
A late night TV show leads a bored young boy on a quest that starts in the city and ends on a magic island.
Starts out with a cool magic in the city vibe and then gets seriously odd at the three quarters mark and feels a bit jarring.
Half of a really good book, then it just gets weird for weirds sake and isn't as much fun.
Profile Image for Allie.
498 reviews26 followers
December 3, 2016
Mr. Pinkwater may not do it for everybody, but he sure does it for me. (In hindsight, this wasn't the best book to read while recovering from surgery, because I kept laughing. Hard.) I wish I would have discovered Pinkwater when I was younger, as I think it really could have inspired me to be more creative. He's just so quirky and different!
Profile Image for Jennifer Nix.
2 reviews3 followers
October 20, 2013
I first read this book in 6th grade... A long time ago, and I loved it. Found it on the shelf of the library at the school where I teach, and have read it often to my students. They love it too. It's a great 70s flashback, and a intriguing and hilarious story.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 242 reviews

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