Sunday, June 22, 2008

First Brunch of Summer

Welcome to the first Sunday brunch of the summer season -- offering random thoughts and opinions on children’s books, Antiques Roadshow, and motorcycling honeymooners, among other topics.


To celebrate the first weekend of summer, I thought I’d share this evocative title and dustjacket illustration from 1973:

I WILL GO BAREFOOT ALL SUMMER FOR YOU was written by Katie Letcher Lyle, who made a big name in children’s and young adult books with only five volumes: her first novel, shown above; FAIR DAY, AND ANOTHER STEP BEGUN (1974), THE GOLDEN SHORES OF HEAVEN (1976); my personal favorite DARK BUT FULL OF DIAMONDS (1981), and FINDERS WEEPERS (1982.) Who knows what heights this critically-acclaimed author might have reached had she continued writing for young people? Instead, she swtiched her focus to adult histories, family narratives and even a book on hunting edible nuts and mushrooms -- all good books, I’m sure (I can’t imagine her ever writing a bad book), but I wish we could lure her back to writing young adult fiction again. She was one of the best!


Thinking about my favorite Katie Letcher Lyle novel just now, I decided to check out to see if readers had submitted any reviews of DARK BUT FULL OF DIAMONDS.

I was so intrigued by this comment from “bdmoore” of Cornelius, N.C., which was posted on December 19, 1997:

“Sweet story and interesting throughout.
A story that doesn't age even if the model on the cover has. I should's me! A coming-of-age story that will enchant boys as much as girls. A romantic saga.”

It’s funny, for all the millions of faces that have appeared on the covers of books (at one time mostly painted and today mostly photographed), I rarely think about the “real person” who may have posed for each illustration. Now I’m dying to know which of the three characters on this cover is bdmoore:


Reader Kim J. recently posted a comment on this blog remembering author-illustrator Tasha Tudor, who died June 18, 2008, at the age of 92.

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, probably know her best from her iconic illustrations for THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, THE LITTLE PRINCESS, and THE SECRET GARDEN, but she was equally well-known for her eccentric lifestyle. This week’s New York Times obituary noted that “it was her uncompromising immersion in another, less comfortable century that most fascinated people. She wore kerchiefs, hand-knitted sweaters, fitted bodices and flowing skirts, and often went barefoot. She reared her four children in a home without electricity or running water until her youngest turned 5. She raised her own farm animals; turned flax she had grown into clothing; and lived by homespun wisdom: sow root crops on a waning moon, above-ground plants on a waxing one.”

Tasha Tudor was a much-loved author and her works are highly prized by children’s book collectors.

The above titles, published between 1938 and 1942, and originally selling for only seventy-five cents each, are now valued in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.


You never know where a children’s author will pop up unexpectedly. The other day I was reading an adult book called BEYOND COINCIDENCE : STORIES OF AMAZING COINCIDENCES AND THE MYSTERIES AND MATHEMATICS THAT LIE BEHIND THEM by Martin Plimmer and Brian King (Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin’s Press, 2006.) The volume contains hundreds of mystifying anecdotes (i.e. “The postal code of a Canadian farmer called MacDonald contained the letter sequence EIEIO” and “The winning number in the evening drawing of the New York Lottery three-digit ‘numbers’ game on September 11, 2002 was 911.”)

Then I came across this one:

“Novelist Anne Parrish was excited to find a copy of JACK FROST AND OTHER STORIES, published in English, in one of the secondhand bookstalls beside the Ile de la Cite, in Paris. It had been a favorite book in her nursery in Colorado Springs, but she had not seen a copy since she was a child. She showed the book to her husband, who opened it at the title page, where he found the inscription ‘Anne Parrish, 209 N. Weber Street. Colorado Springs.’”

Stumbling across that story was something of a coincidence for me, as well, since Anne Parrish and her family have been on my mind a lot in recent weeks -- ever since I bought a copy of her 1951 Newbery Honor Book THE STORY OF APPLEBY CAPPLE:

Although her contributions to children’s literature are largely forgotten today, Anne Parrish actually wrote three Newbery Honor Books. Before APPLEBY there was her best-known title FLOATING ISLAND (1930) and DREAM COACH (1924), a book she wrote with her younger brother Dillwyn, a well-known arist and author.

I think of THE STORY OF APPLEBY CAPPLE as a rather eccentric book. It’s a fantasy presented in the form of an alphabet story, with letters incorporated into Anne Parrish’s copious illustrations. And though the book is as thick as a novel, it’s as tall and wide as a large picture book.

The book was obviously a labor of love for Anne Parrish, as it was based on stories that she and Dillwyn created as children.

Here is the book’s dedication:


Late one night, in winter, in snowy December,
We started this story, telling it to each other.
Fire was warm and roses smelled sweet, I remember
And we whispered, so that we wouldn’t waken mother.

Out in the hall the grandfather clock was ticking,
Petals fell, and the ashes ran with red.
And we heard the wind, and sleet on the windows clicking,
And mother called to us, “Children, come to bed!”

“We’ll go on with the story tomorrow -- we’ll do it together.”
Then we had to go back to our lessons; it didn’t get done.
And time has drifted past like a wind-blown feather.
But wasn’t it fun, little brother? Wasn’t it fun?

I thought that was a touching dedication. And I was thrilled to discover that my copy of the book was once owned by Dillwyn’s wife, Gigi Parrish. Here’s the inscription:

Naturally, this made me curious to learn more about the Parrish family, so I began to do research. It turns out that Anne and Dillwyn’s cousin was the famous illustrator Maxfield Parrish -- and that they appear in several of his paintings.

Gigi also turns out to be an unusual person. She was born “Gertrude McElroy,” the youngest daughter of a wealthy family. Dillwyn tutored the McElroy children and, when he was thirty-three years old and she was only SIXTEEN, he married Gigi and they set off on a cross-country honeymoon on motorcycles! (I believe Anne is shown with her hand on Gigi’s back in this photo marking their departure for California.)

As it turns out, Gigi was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and the couple completed the final leg of their trip by train.

The story gets even stranger.

I’ve always said that there are certain people in this world whose lives seem to be touched by magic. Everything they do becomes notable, everyone they meet becomes famous. Dillwyn and Gigi seem to have been such a pair. Because shortly after they moved to California, Gigi was signed by the Samuel Goldwyn Studio to become a movie star. Known as the “1934 Wampus Baby Star,” she appeared in the classic film TWENTIETH CENTURY as well as other movies such as GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST.

Meanwhile, Dillwyn fell in love with the married lady next door. Again, remember what I said about how, for certain people, “everyone they meet becomes famous”? The woman next door, Mary Fisher, was a struggling writer. Ever heard of her? Maybe you know her as “M.F.K. Fisher” -- the famed culinary writer and journalist.

After both couples divorced, Dillwyn married Fisher and Gigi married a newspaper publisher.

Shortly thereafter, Dillwyn developed Buerger’s Disease, a condition often related to heavy smoking. With one leg amputated and more amputations on the horizon, he committed suicide in 1941.

M.F.K. Fisher would later write an account of her years with Dillwyn called STAY ME, OH COMFORT ME : JOURNALS AND STORIES, 1933-1941, which was published in 1993.

Anne Parrish obviously stayed on good terms with her former sister-in-law, inscribing my copy of THE STORY OF APPLEBY CAPPLE to Gigi in 1951.

Gigi Parrish lived until age 93, dying in February 2006.


This blankety-blank computer of mine grows older every day. Even two weeks ago I could load four or five pictures at a time onto this blog...but lately it only lets me do one at a time. And it never did allow me to create links between this blog and other sites. The best I can do is just type out a URL and have you “cut and paste” it into a web browser window. I would assume every children’s book fan already reads Fuse #8’s blog on the School LIbrary Journal site. (I know I do.) But just in case you missed a day, you might want to cut and paste the following:

to read Fuse #8’s Newbery and Caldecott predictions for 2009.

Hey, it’s never too soon to start planning!

Since I haven’t yet read all the books that Fuse #8 mentions, I’ll refrain from making specific comments except...well, I know it’s not right to opine on a book one hasn’t finished reading...but I can’t help but say that the one title she seems to like best (and which, she says, “has been met by a chorus of congrats, stars, honors, and smooches”) is perhaps my least favorite book of the year -- a pretentious, precious, overwritten, self-conscious, self-indulgent hot mess of a novel that would only get my vote for Publishers Weekly’s annual “Book That Most WANTED to Win the Newbery" citation. How much am I disliking this book? I actually have to bribe MYSELF to keep reading. (“If I read 25 pages tonight, I can go to 7-Eleven and get a Slurpee. If I read 25 pages tomorrow, I can spend an hour reading another, better book before bed, etc.”)

Maybe I’ll like it better when I finish it. Everyone else seems to think it's great.

I do love Fuse #8’s choice of THE HUNGER GAMES but, from a pragmatic perspective, I wonder if the book’s violence and...oh, you know, all those kids KILLING each other in COLD BLOOD...might prevent it from winning the Newbery. I suspect it has a much stronger chance for the National Book Award or Printz Medal. I hope it wins something, though, because it really is THAT good.

After I’ve caught up on my 2008 backlog of books, I’ll post my own Newbery thoughts. For now, I think Patricia Reilly Giff’s ELEVEN looks like a contender. I can’t say it’s my favorite novel of the year, but (again, speaking pragmatically) it’s got a lot of elements that seem to spell N-E-W-B-E-R-Y: an intriguing plot, colorful characters, a protagonist trying to untangle his identity, a nod to the importance of literacy. Plus, having already won a couple Newbery Honors, Giff's got the "always a bridesmaid" thing going and some may feel it's her time to win. I can easily envision this book wearing a medal someday.

And I’d like to see SWEETHEARTS by Sara Zarr duke it out with HUNGER GAMES for the Printz. This novel, about a life-changing friendship, really worked on every level for me. The plot and characters could easily have become overdramatic, but Zarr controls her narrative very carefully -- always keeping it honest and real and truthful. I believed every word of this novel.


I am starting to think I suffer from a proprietary interest in children’s and young adult books. In last Sunday’s blog I wished that Randy Powell would publish a new book. A day or two later, reader Beth wrote in to say, “Randy Powell has a book coming out this fall from FSG--SWISS MIST” and my first crazy thought was “Why didn’t I know about this before now! Someone should have told me!”

I also just purchased an advance reading copy of John Green’s forthcoming YA novel PAPER TOWNS. It arrived in yesterday’s mail and, as I was flipping through the book (which I can’t wait to read!), I noticed that on the Acknowledgements page, the author thanks “Tobin Anderson... who took me urban exploring in Detroit” and I immediately thought “Two of my favorite authors, John Green and M.T. Anderson, were right here exploring the streets of my hometown and didn’t invite me along? I’m offended!”

Then I remembered that...oh yeah...they don’t even know me.

I guess that speaks to the power of great books. We feel connected to them -- and even feel such a kinship with the authors that we almost think we know them personally.


Last night I was watching TV’s ANTIQUES ROADSHOW when someone brought in an old school textbook. I was surprised that they’d choose this item for an appraisal because, to my knowledge, most schoolbooks aren’t worth more than a few pennies. As it turns out, the owner only paid fifteen cents for the book -- and the appraiser agreed that fifteen cents would normally be the correct price for such a volume.

But what made this book unique is what was written inside. Apparently the book belonged to a Japanese-American teacher who was interned during World War II. The pages of the volume were filled with handwritten notes from friends she made at the Santa Fe Assembly Center and later, from friends she met and students she taught while interned in Arkansas. The book was valued at $700-$900, but that price almost seems irrelevant; it’s now a living piece of history.

Watching this appraisal last night, I thought about all the times I’ve blithely walked past shelves of old schoolbooks at thrift shops, thinking, “Those aren’t worth anything.”

Next time I need to remember to stop and look inside.


Anonymous said...

YES! I knew knew knew that someone would hate that #1 Newbery pick. From the start and in my review I said that it was a divisive book and that people would fall into the Love It/Hate It category. Then the doggone readers all went and said they loved it, completely throwing my theory for a loop. I'm glad to hear that not everyone's behind it. After all, a Newbery year is dull indeed when the winner is a "given".

Kids killing kids shouldn't upset the Newbery balance too terribly. House of the Scorpion still sends deep shudders through my spine whenever I think of it.

I read the Giff book, but never quite reviewed it. It was nice, but didn't stick in my brain very well. My general rule with novels is that if I put them on my shelf for a week or two and can't remember enough about the book to write a review, then there on my book they shall sit. But maybe I'll include it on my next round-up. Good to know.

Sherry said...

I just found your blog a few weeks ago, and I've been enjoying your knowledge and perspective on chldren's literature.

In case you're interested. I'm starting something new at my blog Semicolon, and you're certainly invited to join in along with any of your readers. It's called Semicolon Author Celebration, and to start with I'm looking for posts about Charlotte Zolotow on this Thursday, her birthday. For more information go to: