Friday, February 29, 2008

...And Now a Sextuple Signing

An earlier blog entry, "Hoofprints and Pawtographs," described how Marguerite Henry's MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE was based on real-life events and people whose names remained unchanged in her novel. I knew that Joseph Krumgold's Newbery-winning novel ...AND NOW MIGUEL was also based on the lives of an actual family, but only learned a few years ago that he too kept all the names intact in the text.

Many books are adapted for film, but ...AND NOW MIGUEL is the rare case of a film being adapted into a book. Joseph Krumgold (1908-1980) was a Hollywood screenwriter who, after spending World War II with the Office of War Information, began producing documentaries for the U.S. State Department. One of these films focused on a New Mexican boy growing up in a family of sheep farmers. When a publisher suggested that Krumgold adapt his documentary into a children's book, he wrote ...AND NOW MIGUEL, the story of a youth who dreams of joining his father and older brothers on their annual sheep drive to the Mountains of the Sangre de Cristo. It would probably have been quite easy for Joseph Krumgold to write a quickie "novelization" of his film, but instead he created a lasting work of literature notable for its evocative Southwest setting and a multidimensional protagonist, whose first-person narrative has a rhythm, formality, and occasional awkwardness that perfectly captures Miguel's heritage, intelligence, and wit.

As mentioned earlier, I was not aware that Krumgold used the real names of Miguel Chavez and his family in the novel until a few years ago when I purchased a copy of the book that was actually signed by Miguel Chavez (the novel's narrator); his younger brother Pedro; sisters Leocadia, Tomasita and Tinga (usually called Faustina in the book), and their mother, who formally signs in as "Mrs. Blas Chavez."

These six signatures make me treasure this great novel six times as much as an unsigned copy! I love the fact that someone tracked down the real Chavez family from Taos, New Mexico, and asked them to sign the novel. So often we read a novel and wonder what happened to the characters after the story ends. Here's a case where we can actually find out. Doing a little research on the internet this morning, I found this reference to Miguel:
who grew up to raise a family, run a furniture business, and is now semi-retired and receiving acclaim for his wood carving.

As for the author who recorded Miguel's story, Joseph Krumgold won the Newbery Medal in 1954 for ...AND NOW MIGUEL and became the first writer in history to win a second Newbery when his next novel, ONION JOHN, received the award in 1960 -- quite an amazing achievement for an author who only wrote four children's books in his career.

Written by Joseph Krumgold; illustrated by Jean Charlot
Published by Crowell, 1953.

Why the book is collectable:

It won the Newbery Medal.

It's an early portrait of Mexican-Americans living in the United States.

It was based on a documentary, then later made into a fictional movie.

Collectors of Jean Charlot's work will also be interested.

First edition points:

Bound in light brown cloth with black cursive writing on the spine.

$2.75 price on top of the front dustjacket flap.

The words "FIRST PRINTING" are on the copyright page.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

First editions can be found for $100-$200.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Blos Encounters

A couple days ago I talked about my surprise at learning Joan Blos lived right across the street from my friend's parents -- and how I missed my one-and-only opportunity to become BFF with this Newbery-winning author.

It's true, I've never had a personal meeting or conversation with Joan Blos -- but I have, in fact, crossed paths with her on a couple of occasions.

The First Occasion

A GATHERING OF DAYS was another of those surprise winners of the Newbery Medal. I don't remember the book getting much talk or attention in the days before the award. In fact, when I heard it won the Newbery, I had to consult a book review journal to find out what the novel was about. (Evidently, I didn't realize the subtitle "A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-32" pretty much explained the whole thing.) Then I had to run out and track down a copy.

A month or so later I heard that Joan Blos was going to be speaking at a children's author luncheon in one of Detroit's snootiest suburbs. I'd never met an author in my life -- much less a Newbery-winning author! -- and was anxious to attend. But then I talked to someone who had attended a previous children's author luncheon. She told me, "You won’t fit in. The audience is mostly wealthy, suburban matrons like in that song 'The Ladies Who Lunch.' You'll be the only male there -- and the only person under forty." I could just picture all the women in their fancy hats air-kissing each other's cheeks and me -- the lone, young guy from Motown -- fitting in about as well as Misty of Chincoteague at the American Library Association Conference. (Sure, nobody minded that Misty attended, but did anyone REALLY want to sit directly behind her?) I feared I'd make a similar impression at this fancy luncheon as I drank soup directly from the bowl or used my sleeve as a napkin. I definitely needed a support system, but who could I take with me? All my friends were as uncouth as I was...besides, they had no interest in children's books. Then I came up with a great idea: I'd invite my mother! She didn’t have a big interest in children’s books either, but at least I’d have someone to talk with. Plus she could kick me under the table if I used the wrong fork for the salad.

The big day came and, sure enough, I was the only male and the only person under forty in this huge banquet hall. Joan Blos sat at the dais with other dignitaries and my mother and I were seated at a table with several “ladies who lunch.” Directly across from me was an old, old woman wearing a hat. She asked why I had come to the luncheon. (She probably thought I was accompanying my mother, instead of the other way around.) I told her that I was a big fan of children’s books, wanted to write for children some day, and that I was very excited to see a real-life author for the first time in my life. (I pointed at Joan Blos when I made that last remark and my mother kicked me under the table. Polite People Don’t Point.) The woman sitting next to the old, old lady said, “Did you know you’re talking to another ‘real life’ author right now? This is Elizabeth Upham, who wrote the Little Brown Bear books.”

I had to admit that I wasn’t familiar with those books. Mrs. Upham and her companion explained that the Little Brown Bear books were a series of popular picture books published by Platt and Munk in the 1940s and 1950s; she had also written books about a “Little Brown Monkey” as well as some stand-alone stories.

At that point Joan Blos rose to begin her speech, so I didn’t hear much more about Elizabeth Upham’s books, but before we all got up to have our copies of A GATHERING OF DAYS signed, Mrs. Upham handed me her paper napkin and asked me to sign it “so I’ll have your autograph when you’re a famous author.”

I was surprised (and embarrassed) by her request and, as I signed her napkin, my mother kicked me under the table again and mouthed-out the words, “Ask for HER autograph,” which of course I should have done in the first place if I had more presence of mind and wasn’t a) male, b) very young, c) very, very out of place at this suburban banquet.

A few minutes later I stood in front of Joan Blos, holding out my copy of A GATHERING OF DAYS to be signed. I didn’t really speak to her, but was thrilled to get the book signed. Funny, though, that I’d walked into the luncheon thinking she’d be the first author I’d ever meet and get an autograph from -- but she ended up being second. Elizabeth Upham turned out to be first!

…In the years since then, I’ve looked all over for that signed paper napkin but, unless it’s crumpled in some corner of my filing cabinet, it appears to be lost. I regret that so much. Though I may not have written proof of my encounter with Elizabeth Upham, at least the memory still survives.

(Incidentally, although I recall Mrs. Upham as being very, very old, she went on living for many more years, dying at age 99 in early 2004. You can follow this link to see an article about her and the bronze statue of Little Brown Bear which now sits in front of the Dorsch Memorial Branch Library in Monroe, Michigan: )

The Second Occasion

A good ten years had passed since that luncheon. A local chain store announced a children’s book event that would include appearances by a children’s book editor, a book agent, and author Joan Blos. It was held on a Sunday evening after the store closed. By this time in my life I was secure enough to go to such things alone –- even though I was usually still the only male and the youngest person in the crowd. The high point of the evening for me was during Joan Blos’s speech, when she opened up a square leather case, removed her Newbery Medal and passed it through the audience. Passed hand to hand, by the time it got to me, the medal was warm to the touch. I studied the illustrations on both sides of it and then held it reverently for a moment or two, thinking I probably wouldn’t be holding one of these again unless I someday EARNED it. Then I reluctantly handed it to the person sitting beside me.

Later, as I drove home, I wondered if passing that medal around the audience had really been a good idea. Hadn’t Ms. Blos ever heard those urban legends about people who win the big lottery, then go to a bar and pass around the winning ticket for every one to see? By the time the ticket gets back to its owner, someone has pocketed the million dollar winner and substituted a losing ticket in its place.

Can you imagine the same thing happening with the Newbery Medal? The award gets passed through the audience, then handed back to the author who, without really looking, tucks it back into its leather case. Later on she looks inside the case and yelps, "Hey, where did this hockey puck come from?" Meanwhile, a children’s book collector is writing in his blog, “You’ll never guess what one-of-a-kind item I just added to my collection today!”

Written by Joan W. Blos
Published by Scribner, 1979

Why the book may be collectable:

It's a Newbery winner.

Of interest to those who collect historical novels.

It's frequently studied in school and may be fondly remembered by some students.

First edition points:

Bound in red cloth with gold print on spine; the author's initials, JWB, are embossed ond the front panel.

The dust jacket has the 7.95 price at the top of the front flap and the numbers 1113;68 on the bottom (I assume that means ages 11-13, grades 6-8.)

The following printing sequence is at the bottom of the copyright page:

1 3 5 7 9 11 13 15 17 19 VC 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2

Difficulty in finding first editions:

For some reason this book is not as hard to find as many other Newbery winners. I have seen copies in the $35-75 range.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Boxed in

The other day my father got locked in the basement for a couple minutes. Back when I was in junior high, my mother got locked in the bathroom for an entire afternoon. (“So I decided I’d just take a long, leisurely bath until someone came home and let me out,” she calmly reported -- after someone came home and let her out.) Both my parents have the ability to remain composed in such situations. Not me. Five minutes trapped in a basement or bathroom and I’d be battering down the door with my shoulder -- or die trying. I don’t know where my severe claustrophobia came from (it’s obviously not genetic) but I sometimes wonder if this phobia wasn’t fueled, at least in part, by reading THE GIRL IN THE BOX by Ouida Sebestyen.Jackie McGee is an everyday teenager whose life is turned upside down when she’s abducted off the street by a stranger. Locked in a dark, basement-like room, she writes notes:


My name is Jackie McGee.
I am close by. In something like a cellar.
Find me.
Please contact the police immediately.
So they can tell my parents I’m alive.

which she slips through a crack in the door, hoping they will be found. She also types letters to family and friends, records her memories, and describes her current circumstances in journal form. As time passes, Jackie’s desperate prose reflects the well-known stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, and a certain acceptance of her possible fate.

As a story of contemporary random violence, THE GIRL IN THE BOX is a harrowing read. ...Yet because the basic premise is so unlikely -- Jackie just happened to be carrying a typewriter and ream of paper when abducted -- and because she has recently suffered the painful dissolution of close friendship, the reader is left to consider the equally frightening possibility that the novel is actually the dark fantasy of a troubled teenager. In either case, the emotional content is heart-rending and Jackie’s courage in the darkness is unforgettable.

Ouida Sebestyen burst into the field of children’s and young-adult fiction in 1979 with WORDS BY HEART, a rare juvenile novel to be selected as a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book. She also published FAR FROM HOME (1980), IOUs (1982), and ON FIRE (1985) and was considered such a major voice in young people’s fiction of the era that an entire monograph was devoted to her life and work (PRESENTING OUIDA SEBESTYEN by Virginia R. Monseau, published in 1995.)

Because most of Sebsetyen’s earlier books dealt with historical or rural themes, THE GIRL IN THE BOX, with its urban setting and contemporary voice, is something of a wild card among the author’s novels. She only wrote one more book after this (OUT OF NOWHERE, 1995) and over the past decade, nearly all her work has gone out of print. It’s hard to believe that THE GIRL IN THE BOX isn’t at least still available in paperback. Knowing how many young adults have a taste for dark, “real life” narratives, I’m shocked that this book has not been embraced by today’s teenage readers. It’s an edgy, unforgettable young adult novel that deserves rediscovery.

Written by Ouida Sebestyen
Published by Joy Street Books/Little Brown, 1988.

Why the book may be collectable:

Sebestyen was considered a major writer of the late twentieth century.

It’s an example of using an unusual format to write what could have been a standard “problem novel.”

It's an example of a literary novel that can be read on two different levels: is Jackie's isolation real or metaphorical?

First edition points:

Bound in black cloth with gold lettering. The words "First edition" are on the copyright page, as well as the descending print run 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

First editions can be found for about $30-$40. Inexpensive paperback copies are plentiful for those who just want to read this harrowing story.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Highlights for Adults

It happens twice a year.

Twice a year PUBLISHERS WEEKLY turns the spotlight on children’s books. In February they publish the big “Spring Children’s Announcements Issue” and in July we get the “Fall Children’s Announcement Issue.”

Each of those issues always contains an interview with a children’s or young adult author, colorful advertisements that whet your appetite for upcoming books and -- best of all -- a publisher-by-publisher listing of every new book slated to be released in the coming season.

I’ve subscribed to PW for twenty years, holding onto this subscription even when I quit getting other children’s review magazines due to their rising costs or simply because I no longer liked their content or trusted their reviews. When I first subscribed to PW in the late 1980s, the annual price of subscriptions was under $100 -- a lot of money, but I could justify it because it was a weekly magazine. Year after year the price went up, but then so did the quality of the magazine (particularly when Sara Nelson took over the editorial reins.) But this year when the renewal notice arrived, I realized that with increasing costs everywhere (health insurance, gasoline, etc.), I just couldn’t afford to pay $225/year at present. So for the first time since 1987, I regretfully had to let my subscription lapse, with the hope that I’ll someday be able to afford this publication again....

The good news is that, even though the expiration date on the address label says my last issue should have been 19NOV07, I’ve continued getting issues in my mailbox ever since. I know they’ll stop any day, but I’m glad that this week I at least got the Spring Children’s Announcements one last time.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy PW’s Announcements issues. With black pen and yellow highlighter in hand, I go through the magazine page by page with the exuberance of the proverbial “kid in a candy store” -- nodding and smiling to see familiar authors listed with forthcoming books, shaking my head in disbelief at some of the stranger titles (CANNED by Alex Shearer -- “What happens after Fergal finds a finger in a tin can.”), deciding what titles I MUST read ASAP, highlighting titles I definitely plan to buy, jotting notes or question marks next to others I’m still considering....

And just when you get to the end of the Spring Announcements, there’s the “Fall 2008 Sneak Previews,” a compilation highlighting many of the books we can look forward to in the NEXT publishing season. Reading these two sections of PW, we can spot publishing trends in children’s books (this year there are fewer celebrity books -- hurray! -- but many more novels about vampires, shape-shifters, and the undead), know what books to look out for in the coming months, and which books to avoid. Next year’s Newbery and Caldecott winners are probably mentioned somewhere in this issue; we just don’t know it yet. And other books may never be heard from again -- their citation in this issue the first and last major attention they’ll ever get.

During the course of 2008, this issue of PW will never be too far from my desk, as I continue to highlight more titles in yellow, cross others out, jot down notes, and try to save up money so I can somehow resubscribe next year -- because I realize I really can’t do without it!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Brunch

In books and movies, people often attend fancy Sunday brunches. I don't think I've ever been to one. I don't move in those exalted circles. But I do know what they're like: a little of breakfast, a little of lunch, a little of this, and a little of that. And that's what today's blog is: a little of this and a little of that -- news, information, and personal memories -- all pertaining to children's books.


No, I’m not talking about Ralph Nader, who announced this morning that he’s running for president yet again. I’m referring to Nader the cat, whose adoptions -- first by Tucker Woolf and later by Dinky Hocker -- propel the opening chapters of M.E. Kerr’s debut novel DINKY HOCKER SHOOT SMACK! Originally published in 1972, the book has recently been reissued in paperback with a new cover featuring a Nader who looks nothing at all like the calico cat described in the story. But never mind that. Kerr’s novel remains as astute and hilarious as it was over three decades ago when its publication announced a brilliant new voice in young adult literature. And like Nader-the-cat, M.E. Kerr is still going strong today. Her most recent young adult novel, 2007’s SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER, is not only the perfect beach book, but a great book to read right now in the dead of winter. After just a few chapters, you’ll be hearing the surf and feeling warm ocean breezes as February turns into July.


...a relatively new imprint, Square Fish, is issuing paperback reprints of nine Newbery winners and Honor Books in the coming months. Titles include EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE by Polly Horvath, Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME, A CRICKET IN TIME SQUARE by George Selden, THIMBLE SUMMER by Elizabeth Enright, William Steig’s ABEL’S ISLAND, Natalie Babbit’s KNEEKNOCK RISE, and THE COW-TAIL SWITCH AND OTHER WEST AFRICAN STORIES by Harold Courlander and George Herzog. There’s also a seventy-fifth anniversary edition of YOUNG FU OF THE UPPER YANGTZE by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, a title just discussed in my blog earlier this week. Finally, there’s the 1966 Newbery winner and perennial shelf-sitter I, JUAN DE PAREJA by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for that last title -- one of the most neglected Newberys in history. It has many strikes against it (a remote setting, an adult protagonist, even its hard-to-pronounce title) but I re-read it a few years ago and found it’s actually a thoughtful and beautifully-written novel...but it will probably only appeal to what they call “special” readers.


I recently began reading ALL-IN, a teenage poker novel by Pete Hautman. The dustjacket stated that this book was a sequel to the author’s earlier NO LIMIT. This confused me, as I thought I’d kept up with Hautman’s work but had no recollection of something called NO LIMIT. I later discovered that NO LIMIT had originally been published with the title STONE COLD (oh, yeah, I do remember reading THAT one!) I have no idea why the title of this relatively recent book was changed.


Three authors known for their young adult novels have recently jumped from the teenage shelves to the adult shelves at the library and bookstore:

S.E. Hinton, whose groundbreaking novel THE OUTSIDERS was published while she was still a teenager, now has two recent adult books to her credit: HAWKES HARBOR and SOME OF TIM’S STORIES (University of Oklahoma Press.)
Sylvia Engdahl, whose ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS was named a Newbery Honor, has written her first novel in nearly thirty years, STEWARDS OF THE THE FLAME. This self-published speculative novel examines futuristic medical issues. For ordering details, see

Finally, Printz winner Meg Rosoff’s latest novel, WHAT I WAS, features a young adult protagonist but was published as an adult book by Viking.

I have not yet read any of the above (they are all in my “to be read” pile) but based on the authors’ past works, they surely merit attention.


Many years ago, my brother and I traveled 600 miles by bus to see a favorite actress perform in a play. Hours before the show, we happened to run into this actress getting onto the elevator of the hotel where we were staying. “Hello!” we said in great excitement.

“Hello AND GOODBYE!” she sneered, as the elevator door slammed shut in front of our stunned faces.

She’s still a great actress, but after that I could never feel quite the same about her. Every time I see her on TV, even today, I can still hear the sarcasm in her voice and the sound of that elevator door clanging shut in front of us.

It actually put me off meeting other heroes and idols, as I’m always afraid they’re not going to live up to my expectations. This is especially true with authors, who are some of my biggest heroes of all. So when I attend a booksigning, I’m always on my best behavior and seldom even ask questions because I’m afraid the author will somehow belittle me. Silly, I know, but you know what they say: once burned, twice careful.

Anyway, last year I attended a booksigning for Gary Schmidt’s THE WEDNESDAY WARS. I had a question I wanted to ask, but was afraid of “getting yelled at” by Gary Schmidt (who actually seemed like the nicest person in the world) so I had a friend ask the question for me. I wanted to know about the novel's “MIckey Mantle scene,” in which protagonist Holling Hoodhood gets to meet Mickey Mantle and the famous baseball player behaves in an unbelievably cruel manner. I wanted to know if this incident was based on something that happened in real life. Otherwise, how could Schmidt make up a scene in which Mantle behaves in such an awful way? Wasn’t he afraid of getting sued for libel?

In case anyone else wondered the same thing, here’s the answer: Gary Schmidt said that the scene between Holling and Mickey Mantle was completely fictional. However, he had heard enough negative stories about the real Mickey Mantle’s behavior that he had no qualms creating this scene. In fact, someone who worked on the production of the book sent Mr. Schmidt a note saying the scene rang very true because he had crossed paths with Mickey Mantle in the past and been witness to Mickey's very bad public behavior.


I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m often very lucky when it comes to finding rare children’s books. But I also wonder how often something is right under my nose and I completely miss it.

For many years, I was very good friends with a pair of husband-and-wife actors. I spent a lot of time at their house and was even named the godfather of their youngest son.

The wife was originally from Ann Arbor. Her parents still lived in the house where she grew up and I visited there on many occasions over the years. One day, after I’d been to that house how many times -- ten? fifteen? -- the wife was telling me a story about her childhood and mentioned a friend named “Blos.”

“Blos?” I said, “As in Joan Blos? Joan Blos, the children’s author?”

“Oh yes,” my friend said. “The Blos family lives right across the street from my parents. You know she won the Caldecott (sic) Award for one of her books.”

“You grew up across the street from an award-winning author?” I sputtered.

“Sure,” she said. “Next time you visit my parents, I’ll take you across the street to meet her.”

The meeting never happened. Soon after, my friends moved to Chicago and I haven’t seen them much since. But it still amazes me that I was in such close proximity to a Newbery-winning author and never knew it. How many times did I park my car right in front of her house? I may even have walked across her lawn at some point! Wouldn't it have been amazing if I'd actually seen her come out of her house? (But knowing my luck, she probably would have been coming out to yell at me for trampling her grass or blocking her driveway with my car. Hello AND GOODBYE!)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Counting on Your Fingers, Tap Dancing on the Roof

If you had walked down the hall at my grade school a few decades ago and peeked through the doors of each classroom, you would have seen groups of frustrated students hunched over their desks, scrawling on paper with one hand while using the fingers on their other hand for counting.

No, we were not doing math problems.

We were no doubt writing haiku.

It seemed like every year our English book contained a unit on haiku. It was also the standard “go to” assignment for busy teachers. What did we do for bell-work? Haiku. What were told to do if we finished a test early? “Quietly work on haiku.” And substitute teachers loved them: “Listen, I’m actually a high school typing teacher, not a grade school history teacher. ...So why don’t I just pass out some nice paper and you all can work on haiku. You do know about haiku, don’t you? It’s a traditional three-line Japanese poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.”

Yes, yes, we KNEW that. I hate to think how many hours of my childhood were spent sitting slumped over a desk trying to think of something new to say about the moon or a flower or a firefly, while counting off five, seven, five on my fingers.

One of the reasons I’m so excited about Linda Sue Park’s new book, TAP DANCING ON THE ROOF, is that it introduces a form of poetry that has similar rules to haiku, but offers a bit more latitude for young writers. Sijo is a traditional Korean poem that had it origins as early as the sixth century B.C. Although the most sophisticated sijo are based on stress count (instead of syllable count), the beginning writer may want to try the basic format of three lines, each containing fourteen to sixteen syllables. What makes these poems irresistable -- to read or to write -- is that the last line contains a twist or joke that turns the earlier lines on their head. Consider the first poem in the collection:


For this meal, people like what they like, the same every morning.
Toast and coffee. Bagel and juice. Cornflakes and milk in a white bowl.

Or -- warm, soft, and delicious -- a few extra minutes in bed.”

Linda Sue Park’s collection contains sijo about spring, frogs, and crocuses, as well everyday kid-concerns such as brushing teeth, school lunches, and bedtime snacks. Expressive and witty, these sijo are accompanied by Istvan Banyai's primitive ink drawings and enhanced by splashes of color. The book includes an historical note, a bibliography, and tips on writing sijo. Kids constrained by haiku’s emphasis on nature and strict syllable count will be pleased to have a wider range of subject matter to work with here, as well as more syllables to tick off on their fingers, AND the opportunity to tell a joke or spring a surprise with the last line.

I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not trying their hand at this form. Here’s mine:

"I went to the park to write sijo but it was too distracting --
Using hands to swat skeeters, ‘stead of counting on fingers.

Next time I’ll seek inspiration from another Park: Linda Sue."

Sijo (Poems) by Linda Sue Park; Pictures by Istvan Banyai.
Clarion, 2007

Why this book may be collectable:

It is the only book for children about sijo that’s currently in print.

The author is a Newbery Medal winner.

Those who collect children’s poetry books will want this unusual volume for their collection.

First edition points:

Glossy picture-cover binding.

Price of $16.95 on front dustjacket flap.

Copyright page (which faces title page in this book) indicates 2007 copyright and includes the descending number print key: “TWP 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1”

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Since the book was just published in the fall of 2007, copies should be readily available at cover price.

However, if the book should take off with teachers, I can see it become quite collectable in the years ahead.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Members of the Club

For the past couple months I’ve been using this book-collecting blog to snobbishly discuss first editions, rare volumes, and one-of-a-kind pieces of ephemera. But I should also acknowledge that the world of children’s book collecting is huge -- big enough for anyone with an interest in the field to find a place at the table.

People collect for all kinds of reasons (because they truly love children’s books…out of a sense of nostalgia…perhaps as an investment…) and the focus of their collections can range from specific authors or illustrators to subjects as diverse as circuses, firefighting, ABC books, and elephants. Collecting isn’t just for those with high-end tastes and big bank accounts. For every collector trying to track down a signed, first edition of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN or LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, there’s another trying to complete a set of Goosebumps paperbacks, buying them for a dollar a piece at the local thriftshop.

Some favorite books in my collection only cost fifty or sixty cents. Does anyone remember this one:

Or how about:

I got them from the Scholastic Book Club at school and I still treasure both books. I also treasure my memories of the Scholastic Book Club itself. Two, maybe three times a year, our teacher would hand out an ordering form that showed a picture of each available book, accompanied by a brief description. The pamphlet was only three or four pages, but I would pore over it as if it were a thousand-page Sears catalog, debating the merits of this book versus that one. Should I go for quantity and spend my $2 on four fifty-cent books, or shoot for quality and get three sixty-cent volumes that seemed more interesting? There was such diversity in the offerings too, with books ranging from classics (BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates) to silly movie tie-ins (why DID I buy that novelization of THE LOVE BUG?) to books about magic tricks and UFOs. Toward the end Scholastic even started selling posters and I remember one that everyone in our class had to have: a very "seventies" magenta-tinted photograph crowded with teenaged faces (probably students sitting in the bleachers at a football game or something.) Superimposed over that, etched in white, was an oversized face of a mournful-looking girl. The accompanying quote was something about feeling lonely in a crowd. We all found it profound in a seventh-grade kind of way.

After much debating about which books to choose, we’d turn in our order forms and money to the girl in charge. (Always a girl. Girls were Responsible. Boys were Not.) As I recall, the girl in charge (hereafter G.I.C.) either got all her books free or at least got a few extra titles free with her order. But I don’t think that was the main draw for being the G.I.C. The best thing about being the G.I.C. (it seemed to me, the boy who wanted to be the B.I.C.) is that the day the books arrived, the G.I.C. got to skip part of her classwork, sit at a table in the back of the room, and open that huge box, pulling out handfuls of shredded packing material and then reaching deep inside to lift out stack after stack of fresh, brand-new books. She'd then sort them into separate piles matching each student's order and call each of us to the back of the room where she'd hand us our books and cross our names off her list. What power!

I still remember the time my friend Jody got to be the G.I.C. -- the amount of time she spent selecting her free books; the cashier-like way she collected our money and put it in a file box; the whispered G.I.C. conversations with our teacher. I also remember that she was off sick the day the books arrived and some other G got to open the box and pass them out. Since we lived across the street from each other, I brought Jody's books home for her that day. I still remember the bright sky, the snow on the ground, and how Jody threw her head over her right shoulder and HOWLED when she opened the door and saw me standing on the porch with her books in hand.

(Still, she was a good sport. Later on, when I was the one off sick from school she lent me her Scholastic Book Club copy of MEMBER OF THE GANG by Barbara Rinkoff.)

I now wonder what genius came up with the idea for the Scholastic Book Club. Who arranged for these books that, even then, would have cost $3.95 or $4.95 in hardcover and .75 or .95 in paperback to be sold at such deep discounts, allowing a lot of kids who probably never before owned a book to have a few of their own? Who came up with the idea of calling it a book "club"? It had no president, no meetings, no membership dues, yet it was something we all wanted to belong to. Even kids who hated reading wanted to be part of it, and would bring in their quarters and nickels to buy a joke book or puzzle volume from the Scholastic Book Club.

An inveterate shelf-snooper, I'm always amazed today when I peruse someone's bookshelves and see they're still holding onto a couple old Scholastic titles thirty or forty years after they purchased them. These modest little paperbacks cast long shadows over our lives. I have read FOLLOW MY LEADER by James B. Garfield and THE WEDNESDAY WITCH by Ruth Chew dozens of times over the years. (I just noticed that my copy of WEDNESDAY WITCH is the first printing from September 1968. The paperback actually predates the hardcover edition -- which used the same witch-riding-a-vacuum cover art -- by three years.) And I'm not the only one. When adults talk about their favorite childhood books, they invariably mention paperbacks they bought from this book club. Just mentioning the above two titles here is going to increase the number of hits my blog gets today, as people Google "witch on vacuum" or "blind boy with leader dog story."

Just writing about these books makes me want to track down other Scholastic Book Club titles from the same era and add them to my collection. Maybe I'll get some of the books I couldn't afford with my $2 limit back then. I'll order them off the internet and, when the books arrive in the mail, I'll open the boxes, remove the packing material, and stack the books on my desk -- at last the B.I.C.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Something's Missing

When I was growing up, our local branch of the Detroit Public Library owned most of the Newbery Medal books, but the 1933 winner, Elizabeth Foreman Lewis's YOUNG FU OF THE UPPER YANGTZE, was missing.

I never even saw a copy of the book until I visited my aunt in Ann Arbor and she let me check the book out of the Ann Arbor Public Library on her card. At the time, I was not too impressed with this story of a boy who leaves his small Chinese village to become an apprentice coppersmith, finding the story episodic and the protagonist rather annoying as he gullibly stumbles into one scrape after another. I haven't read it since, but it would probably be a good idea to pick it up again -- especially since a friend recently told me this was her favorite book when she was growing up. So maybe I missed something the first time around.

As as adult, I've found YOUNG FU to be one of the hardest Newbery first editions to identify. The publisher, the John C. Winston Company, never did a good job of indicating first editions...and if it weren't for a couple "missing" elements, a first edition of this book would be nearly impossible to identify.

The only way to know for certain if a copy of YOUNG FU is a first edition is to flip to the page that comes between the "CONTENTS" and "ILLUSTRATIONS" pages in the preliminary section of the book. If the page looks like this:
then you do indeed have a first edition. For some reason, the dedication, originally set to appear on this page, did not make it into the first editions.

This was corrected in later printings. Therefore, if your page looks like this:
you have a second printing or later.

Another missing element can be found (er...not found) on the dustjacket. The dustjacket of the true first edition has absolutely nothing written on the front or back flaps, except the $2.50 price at the top of the front flap. Later printings contain the customary book summary/description on the front flap, though they too leave the back flap blank.

In my experience, most booksellers are not aware of these missing if you see a "first edition" for sale it's important to ask the seller if the written dedication and front flap description are present. If they are, you are "missing out" on obtaining a true first edition of YOUNG FU OF THE UPPER YANGTZE.

Monday, February 18, 2008

From Spiral-bound Paperbacks to Million Dollar Contracts

The radio commercial seemed to run every-hour-on-the-hour for a good five years: "Are you an unpublished author? Do you have a book-length manuscript ready, or almost ready, for publication? If so, Vantage Press, a leading New York subsidy publisher, is looking for you."

I always wondered how many aspiring writers -- amazed to hear a publisher actually solicit manuscripts on the radio -- immediately reached for a pencil and copied down the contact information for Vantage Press, not realizing that "subsidy" meant they would end up paying for the privilege of having their manuscript published.

Working in a library, I've seen my share of vanity press books. Once the aspiring writer pays to have his or her book published, then fills the basement with boxes of all those bound copies, they need to find a way to get rid of them. First they approach neighborhood bookstores -- which might agree to take a couple books on consignment for the "local writers" shelf. Next they give copies to every person on their family tree...every friend, neighbor, or acquaintance, until finally -- in desperation -- they end up leaving the book as a tip at restaurants. The last step seems to be donating copies to libraries. That's where I come into the picture, cataloging the book for our "storage" collection, which means it's one scant step away from being sold at the library booksale for a quarter.

All of the self-published books I've ever seen have been beyond awful. I remember one that was passed around for the entertainment of the library staff -- a polemic on the virtues of remaining single -- in which the author gave a detailed description of her healthy diet ("For breakfast, I eat a grapefruit and a piece of dry toast. For a treat I may add a hard-boiled egg."), her sensible clothing ("I have a blue suit with a blue skirt and a white suit with a white skirt. Sometimes I wear the blue suit with the white skirt and sometimes I wear the white suit with the blue skirt") and a recitation of each man she'd ever dated and why she rejected every one of 'em. (I'm inclined to think it was the other way around.)

However, about ten years ago, I stopped laughing at self-published books, as I began to hear more and more stories about "vanity press" publications that were achieving mainstream success. At first they were holiday books, such as A CUP OF CHRISTMAS TEA and Richard Paul Evans's THE CHRISTMAS BOX, which actually made the New York Times bestseller list.

But I really sat up and took notice when a number of self-published children's and young adult books were purchased by major publishers.

Patrick Carman's THE DARK HILLS DIVIDE was self-published (by Amped Media in Walla Walla, Washington) in 2003. Scholastic later bought the rights to this and future books in the series for somewhere around a quarter-million dollars.

Michael Hoeye's TIME STOPS FOR NO MOUSE (Terfle Books, Portland, 1999) was released as a two-volume spiral-bound softcover. Putnam paid Hoeye over a million dollars for a multi-book deal.

Jordan Sonnenblick first published his young-adult novel DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE with a small literary publisher, but when that company went out of business he self-published the book (Turning Tide Press, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, 2004) before it was snapped up by Scholastic; the author has gone on to publish other well-regarded novels for young readers.

Perhaps the most famous self-published young adult book is ERAGON by Christopher Paolini. Released by "Paolini International LLC" (Montana, 2002), the teenaged author personally promoted the book like crazy, selling over 10,000 copies on his own before Knopf bought the rights for half a million dollars. Now there's an ERAGON movie and Paolini is working on the fourth book in his fantasy series.

These self-publishing success stories are of great interest to book collectors, who usually try to get a copy of the book "as close to the author as possible" (which is why, for many of us, a first edition is better than a second edition, why a personally inscribed copy is better than a generically signed copy, and why a generically signed copy is better than an unsigned copy.) That's why many collectors will try to track down the original self-published editions of these books.

Sonnenblick's DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE can be found for about $75.

Carman's DARK HILLS DIVIDE can run $100 to $200.

Hoeye's TIME STOPS FOR NO MOUSE can cost as much a $500.

But hold onto your hats (and open your checkbooks) if you're seeking a self-published copy of Paolini's ERAGON. It sells for as high as $12,000.

That's right...not twelve hundred: TWELVE THOUSAND!

I don't think I'll ever be as dismissive of self-published books as I was in the past. In fact, if I come across one that looks promising, I may even buy it.

A $15 investment today could be a $12,000 book tomorrow.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hobson's Choice

For ten years I tried to track down a copy of DAVY CROCKETT by Constance Rourke, but this 1935 Newbery Honor Book seemed impossible to find. Then one day, to my great surprise, a signed copy of the book turned up on the internet. An even bigger surprise: the used bookstore selling the volume was only a couple miles from where I live! So I contacted the store and said I'd come in and pick up the book in person.

I was already familiar with this bookstore, which was located in the downtown shopping district of the next town over -- right beside the dollar movie theatre. On hot summer evenings, when the quest for cheap, air-conditioned entertainment made the ticket line stretch all the way to the corner, the bookstore owner would sit outside his shop with a banjo and entertain the folks waiting for the show.

I went to pick up the book on a Saturday afternoon, hours before the twilght double-feature, so found the bookstore owner inside, puttering around his shop. He took DAVY CROCKETT off the hold shelf, but then hesitated before he handed the book to me. "There's one small problem," he said. "When we list books online we put a higher price on them. We listed DAVY at fourteen dollars. But this is how much the book would cost if a customer just walked in and found it on the shelf." He turned to the front of the book and showed me the price that was marked in pencil on the half-title page: $10. He said, "Do you understand my dilemma? You found the book online and agreed to pay fourteen dollars for it, yet here you are in person to pick it up...."

He stood waiting for an answer -- or an argument. Considering I'd been looking for the book for ages, and considering this was a signed copy, I really wasn't going to argue over four dollars. I said, "That's fine. I'll pay the fourteen dollars."

He looked away and quickly rang up the sale, suppressing the smile that no doubt broke out as soon as I left the store; after all, it's not every day that a customer buys a $10 book for $14.

I thanked the man and took the package, suppressing my own smile until I got outside the store.

After all, it's not every day that a bookstore sells a $75 book for $14.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hoofprints and Pawtographs

I was surprised when SHILOH by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor received the Newbery Medal in 1992. The prolific Naylor had been writing for decades and was considered a solid, capable author, but had never won any major honors. As soon as I heard SHILOH won, I remembered that I'd just seen the book at a local Borders, so I immediately called the store and asked them to save it for me. The clerk put me on hold, then came back on the phone to say the book wasn’t in stock. I said, “Are you sure? I saw it there recently. Did you look in the children’s section under the letter N?”

She sighed (how DARE I question her!) and said, “Sir. It. Isn't. Here.”

So I immediately drove to Borders, went to the children’s section, looked under the letter N and found SHILOH sitting right where I’d seen it a week earlier. (Reason #1431 to avoid chain bookstores.) I read the book that afternoon and found it predictably solid and capable, but questioned whether it was the year’s best. I have to admit the novel has really grown in stature over the past sixteen years, proving to be perfect for school curriculums and a favorite book of many young readers. And Naylor has continued to grow as an author with her popular “Alice” series, as well as many other terrific middle-grade and young adult novels. SANG SPELL (1998) is a particular favorite of mine.

When my local independent bookstore sponsored a Phyllis Reynolds Naylor booksigning (Reason #5319 to support independent booksellers), I was thrilled to get my copy of SHILOH signed by the author -- and the inscription turned out to be one of the most unusual in my collection:

Looking at the image, you’re probably wondering what’s so unusual about “For Peter, Best Wishes! Phyllis Naylor”? But see that big inky splotch in the middle of the page? Can you guess what that is?

It’s Shiloh’s pawprint!

Mrs. Naylor first encountered this real-life dog near the town of Shiloh, West Virginia and described it as “the saddest dog I ever saw.” The canine was later adopted by Naylor’s friends and named Clover. When Clover became famous as the dog who inspired SHILOH, a casting of her front paw was made so that Naylor could rubber-stamp Clover's paw-tograph in books that she signed.

This is the only animal autograph in my own collection, though I’ve seen copies of Marguerite Henry’s classic horse story MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE that contain Misty’s “hoofagraph.”
Marguerite Henry first saw the real Misty on “Pony Penning Day,” an annual event during which the wild ponies on Assateague Island, just off the coast of Virginia, are rounded up and swum across the channel to Chincoteague, where they are sold at auction. (Pony Penning Day continues to be held every summer. Tourists -- many inspired by Henry’s book -- still come to witness the stirring sight of the ponies swimming to their new home.) At Chincoteague, Mrs. Henry met “Grandpa Beebe,” who bought some of the wild ponies, and his grandchildren, Paul and Maureen, who helped gentle the feral animals. Names unchanged, the Beebe family and their community all appear in MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE; Henry paid $150 to borrow the pony from the Beebes and raise it in a meadow beside her Illinois home as she wrote the book.

MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE was named a Newbery Honor Book and continues to be read and loved by kids today. It’s not surprising that Henry included Misty's hoofagraph in many signed copies, as this animal not only inspired the book, but was right beside the author while she wrote it.
After the book was published, Misty became something of a celebrity and even moved in rareified literary circles. Named an honorary member of the American Library Asociation, she was invited to their annual convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she rode the elevator up to the seventh floor of the Pantlind Hotel to attend a party in her honor and dropped by many meetings and lectures, as shown in the photograph below.

(Misty is the one not wearing a hat.)

Written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Atheneum, 1991

Why the book is collectable:

It won the Newbery Medal.

Due to its constant use in schools, it’s fast becoming a modern classic.

Those who collect dog stories, would want this book for their collection.

First edition points:

Bound in red cloth with cream-colored boards, with gold printing on spine.

$12.95 at top of front flap.

“1991” on title page, the words “First edition” on copyright page, as well as the print running from 1 to 10.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Copies are available, usually running $100-$150, but the book make become increasingly scare in the future as those who studied the book in school become adults and want a copy for themselves.

Written by Marguerite Henry
Illustrated by Wesley Dennis
Rand McNally, 1947

Why the book is collectable:

It’s a Newbery Honor Book.

It’s a classic horse story.

Those who collect books written by Henry or illustrated by Dennis will want the book in thier collection.

First edition points:

Bound in blue cloth with yellow printing and a vignette of three running horses on the front panel.

The price of $2.50 is at the top of the front flap.

Copyright page states “Edition of 1947” and has the letter “A” which indicates this is a first printing.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Henry’s book must have had unusually large printings, as they are often fairly easy to find. Copies of this book are available for less than $100.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thank you

About a week ago, a lifelong friend discovered my blog and dropped me an e-mail. Jody wrote, "I remember vividly working with you in the library at Mann School with Miss Weil. She was a wonderful mentor and friend to us. She was very kind when others were not. I wonder what happened to her and if she knew how much she impacted the lives of her students."

I share Jody's vivid memories of Miss Alice Weil and the years we spent on the library staff. Miss Weil was different from most of the teachers at our school. She took theatre trips to New York, she chewed gum during class ("It's Aspergum," she’d always explain. I suspect it was Doublemint.) She perpetually called kids "dear" and "honey," and spoke in a loud, trilling voice. She also had a bright and sunny personality, so it wasn’t a surprise that she chose to have the library painted neon yellow.

So much of growing up is just trying to find where you belong. Some kids find it in a sport, a club, a particular group of friends. I always felt I belonged in a library. Each morning before school began and every afternoon when the final bell rang, I’d go to the library and sit at the circulation desk (actually a table in front of the window containing a small wooden file box, a date stamp, and a pencil cup) and check out books to other kids. Sometimes I’d shelve returned books or help repair volumes with broken spines, torn covers, or loose pages (a skill that continues to pay off as I maintain my own collection of books.) The feeling of having a place in the library, a job at the school, was very empowering -- especially since Miss Weil gave us a lot of independence and latitude to perform these jobs, yet always seemed to be nearby to recommend a book, share a story, or lend a sympathetic ear and offer moral support whenever we needed it.

Another “wonderful mentor and friend” was Miss Wilma Shook, who taught sixth grade. We came along at the tail-end of the baby-boom generation -- a time when every school was crowded with kids. Some of our classrooms still had old-fashioned desks bolted to the floor with pull-down seats and empty circular holes in the upper right-hand corner (former inkwells!) and, inevitably, a few extra modern stand-alone desks crowded into the back of the classroom for the overflow of students. Midway through grade school there were so many kids in our class that they promoted five of us into the next grade just to thin out the herd. Later there were so many kids in seventh grade that they took the same five students and put us in a “split section” with the sixth graders. Some of the kids were furious we were being separated from our fellow classmates but I was happy because it meant we got to spend an extra semester with Miss Shook, who had a true gift for teaching -- despite having to deal with a noisy, overpopulated class. Her room had a bookshelf near the back filled with books we were allowed to read when we finished our assignments. I remember reading my way through that shelf, from a biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes to A WONDERFUL, TERRIBLE TIME by Mary Stolz, to an old-fashioned family story about some cloying siblings who want to collect money for a “charity bureau,” though the annoying baby brother misunderstands and wants to donate his cologne (what four-year-old wears COLOGNE???) because that’s what he keeps on his bureau at home. The book was saccharine and strange, but now I wish I could remember the title because I want to read it again! The nicest thing Miss Shook ever did for us was to allow us five “displaced” seventh graders to leave class one period each week and spend it downstairs in the library -- just the five of us gathered around a table in the empty library discussing books with Miss Weil. I remember I spent much of that semester reading JOHNNY TREMAIN for the first time. I didn’t learn until later that both Miss Shook and Miss Weil had given up their one free hour of classroom prep time each week to give us this special treat because they felt the five of us had been wronged by the school.

How can you thank a teacher for giving up her one hour of free time for you? How can you thank a teacher for introducing you to JOHNNY TREMAIN?

Jody said of Miss Weil, “I wonder what happened to her and if she knew how much she impacted the lives of her students."

How could she know when we never told her?

I remember Miss Weil once saying, rather sadly, that when older kids came back to Mann School, they’d usually tell her how small the library looked compared to the library at the junior high. If I could go back now, I wouldn’t tell her how small her library was, but how big a role she and Miss Shook played in my life. They helped me find my place and I’m still there, working in a library, decades later. They introduced us to books that I still read and love today.

But if I went back to Mann School today, neither Miss Weil nor Miss Shook would be there to hear my gratitude and praise.

An e-mail conversation between friends fondly recalling these teachers...a brief blog entry saying how much they meant to us....

These things make ME feel better. But for Miss Weil and Miss Shook, it’s too little and too late.

Much too little. Far too late.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Winged Words

This incident describes my entire life in a nutshell: During my first week of high school, I met a friendly, frizzy-haired girl named Karen. One day, as we sat waiting for English class to begin, I heard Karen tell someone, “My favorite book of all time is THE HOSPITALITY OF THE HOUSE. It’s the best book I ever read!” I can’t tell you what book we studied in English class that day, nor can I tell you what happened to Karen, who moved away after eleventh grade and was never heard from again. But I can still remember that her favorite book was THE HOSPITALITY OF THE HOUSE. In fact, from the moment she first mentioned the title in English class, I was on a mission to track that book down and read it! At some point I discovered it was a suspense novel by Doris Miles Disney, so every time I visited a bookstore or library, I’d check the mystery section for that title. Along the way I discovered other Disney books (THE CHANDLER POLICY, TRICK OR TREAT) which I read and enjoyed, but THE HOSPITALITY OF THE HOUSE continued to elude me. Finally...finally...would you believe FOURTEEN YEARS LATER...I found the book and read it, wondering if there was anyone else in the world who'd track down a book for over a decade just because he once heard a nearly-forgotten friend recommend it.

What is it about “word of mouth” recommendations that intrigues me so much? Every time I hear someone exclaim over a book, I feel a burning need to read it too. Why? Do I feel left out? Do I want to share in the other reader's excitement and enthusiasm? Or am I just trying to figure out what makes readers tick? I recently had a similar experience on this blog. In response to an entry on Newbery mysteries, Fuse #8 -- whose informative and enjoyable blog ( is on my daily reading list -- posted the following:

“This is only a mystery in the sense that I can't figure out why it isn't available or in print. The Newbery Honor winner The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry is perhaps one of the best American children's books out there. Try finding it sometime, though. Rare doesn't even begin to describe it. If you do get a chance to read it, it's pip. I believe it won the honor in 1929. Fingers crossed that it gets its due someday.”

Well, as soon as I got this word-of-mouth recommendation, I knew I had to read the book too. Fortunately, I didn’t have to track it down for fourteen years. I actually owned a copy, though I’d never read it. I also had a letter written by Erick Berry, which I stumbled across in a bookstore some years ago. Addressed to a book reviewer who’d written a favorable critique of Berry’s JUMA OF THE HILLS, the letter includes a plug for a couple of Herbert Best books (in private life, Erick Berry was Mrs. Herbert Best...though she neglects to mention that fact in her letter.) The note also reveals that Harcourt had turned down her latest manuscript. Since the book Berry published after JUMA was WINGED GIRL OF KNOSSOS, and it marked her move from Harcourt to Appleton-Century, I can only assume that WINGED GIRL was the manuscript that Harcourt rejected. Once again, a publisher rejected a book that went on to be named a Newbery Honor. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Editors, take heed! Writers, take heart!
(Click on image to see full-size letter.)

I’m frankly shocked that Harcourt rejected this book. It's an unforgettable novel with a fascinating setting (Crete, thirty-five hundred years ago), a headstrong and independent protagonist, and a plot filled with forbidden romance, poisoned pots of honey, and daring escapes -- not to mention the heroine’s penchant for bull-vaulting and coasting through the air on handmade gliders -- all coming to a thrilling conclusion that melds the fictional characters’ fates with the few known facts about the sudden collapse of Crete’s civilization.

Perhaps what surprised me most about this book is how readable it remains, some seventy-five years after publication. The prose is clear and fast-paced; the characters’ personalities and relationships feel relevant to modern readers. Anyone with a taste for Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner would probably adore this novel and I join Fuse #8 in wondering why THE WINGED GIRL OF KNOSSOS isn’t in print. I think if some enterprising editor bought the rights to this story, got rid of Berry’s stylized illustrations (which she based on real Cretan murals, but nevertheless give the volume a dated look), removed a few of the more overtly offensive racial references, and then promoted the book properly, they might have a surprise hit on their hands. (Today a hit book, tomorrow a hit movie with Dakota Fanning doing backflips over Brahmins.)

As I said at the beginning of this entry, word-of-mouth recommendations always get to me. And I’m so glad Fuse #8 told me about THE WINGED GIRL OF KNOSSOS.

Now I’m telling you about it.

Pass it on.

written and illustrated by Erick Berry
D. Appleton-Century Company, 1933

What makes this book collectable:

It’s a Newbery Honor Book.

It’s a difficult-to-find title that deserves a renewed audience.

Unlike many early “geographical-historical” stories for children, such as THE DUTCH TWINS, THE JAPANESE TWINS, etc., this one is not just a superficial cut-and-paste look at another culture, but was researched when the author traveled to Crete and studied the island.

First edition points:

Yellow cloth binding with blue text and a blue head of a bull on the front panel.

A price of $2.00 and the numbers 2741 followed by four asterisks at the bottom of the front dustjacket flap.

The date “1933” on the title page and the words “First Printing” on the verso.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Quite rare, and even old library copies usually sell for upwards of $150. However, in the world of book-collecting you never know what will turn up. I bought a great-looking first edition in a dustjacket from a Chicago-area bookdealer for only $20!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

From All of Us

Every once in a while I'll come across a book that is signed by more than one person. Sometimes, for example, a volume is signed by both its author and illustrator -- which makes it twice as interesting. My copy of RETURN TO GONE-AWAY by Elizabeth Enright must set some kind of record, as nineteen different people have signed the front endpapers. None of them wrote or illustrated this book, none are likely famous. In fact, based on the handwriting, I'd say that most were grade school kids. Dated March 16, 1962 and inscribed "To Pamela, With all our love," the book appears to be a gift from a group of classmates.

I suppose a cranky collector who demands that all his volumes be in pristine condition would be appalled by endpapers cluttered with childish signatures, but these are the kinds of books I find most intriguing. I can spend hours daydreaming about the events of March 16, 1962 and the identity of Pamela. In my imagination, Pamela is about to move away and her classmates have decided to get her a gift. I imagine each of the kids contributing fifteen or twenty cents to buy this book. I can almost see the covert glances and hear the suppressed giggles as the teacher sends Pamela to the principal's office on some trumped-up errand in order for the students to sign the book. "You sign it first," the children urge, and the teacher writes "To Pamela, With all our love" and signs her own name, Mary Hatzis. Then the book is passed up and down the aisles as each member of the class hurriedly signs it: the best friend who is heartbroken that Pamela is going away...the boy who has a secret crush on her...the girl who once traded her tunafish sandwich for Pam's peanut butter sandwich...the class bully who doesn't want to sign any stupid book for any dumb girl...the girl in hand-me-down clothes who's never owned a book before and holds this one in her hands for just a few extra moments, wishing it were hers. Every kid with a story of their own.

This is how I imagine it.

Of course I could be wrong on every count. Maybe Pamela wasn't moving. Maybe Mary Hatzis wasn't the teacher. There are too many "maybes" to consider. The only thing I know for sure is that, nearly forty-six years after Pamela received it, the book now sits on my shelves -- its history cloaked in mystery, its story open to speculation and imagination.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Bands of Gold (and Orange)

Have you ever seen a book wrapped in a paper band announcing the Newbery Award? I have two in my collection, but they are the only two I've ever encountered.

I'm wondering if this was simply an advertising technique created by the publisher (Macmillan published both TRUMPETER OF KRAKOW and CADDIE WOODLAWN) or if these bands were somehow sanctioned by the American Library Association in the days before foil stickers were added to the dustjackets.

I'm not certain when the use of stickers began. I'm pretty sure the earliest Newbery sticker I've ever seen was on the 1935 winner DOBRY -- but, if that's the case, the following year's winner, CADDIE WOODLAWN, should have had a sticker too, instead of this band.

Certainly a sticker glued to the front of a dustjacket is much more permanent than a band wrapped around a book. If a sticker comes off, it generally leaves a skinned spot on the jacket or a circular shadow...but if these rather ephemeral bands broke apart or became separated from the volume, who'd know they were ever there to begin with? It's almost amazing that both these have survived intact for over seventy years. I'm so glad that I'm able to preserve this part of children's book history.

I'm curious if other Newbery bands exist. If anyone else has an example they'd like to share, please send a jpg to and I'll post it on this blog.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Almost a Problem Novel, Almost a Horror Story

Last Sunday night I was watching television when I heard a tremendous CRASH. I raced to the window to see if someone had hit a car outside, then looked around inside thinking that maybe a picture had fallen off the wall. Two nights later I heard a loud BANG. It sounded like someone had hit the window with a snowball, but I could see no one outside. Again, I poked around the house, even checking inside the refrigerator to see if a can of pop had exploded -- but nothing turned up to explain the loud noise. So I thought what any other calm, rational, intelligent adult would think: maybe it's a poltergeist!

Like many kids, I grew up reading lots of supernatural stories filled with screaming ghosts, spell-casting witches, and creepy moonlit seances...yet the horror story that continues to haunt me is one of the most subtle -- an enigimatic novel that blends unexplained supernatural activity with a convincing story of family dynamics and personal isolation. Although published as a young adult novel, I discovered THE ALMOST YEAR by Florence Engel Randall in the adult section of our local public library. Back then, kids couldn't check out adult books unless the title on the back pocket had a minus sign in front it. Now I find that odd. Why not a nice inclusive plus sign, indicating that the book was for adults plus younger readers, instead of a demeaning minus symbol that seemed to say the book was something less than an adult book? But back then I didn't think of such things. I was just glad to see the typing on the pocket said: "Randall, F. --Almost Year. c.1" and know that I could check it out.

With or without a minus sign, THE ALMOST YEAR turned out to be a captivating novel about a fifteen-year-old African American girl sent to spend a school year (an "almost year" consisting of fall, winter, and spring) with a white, upperclass family on Long Island while her aunt-guardian takes a job in another state. Angry and isolated, the teenager's arrival at the Mallory home is met by a shower of stones hitting the roof of the car and the driveway. Racist neighbors protesting her arrival? A trick being played by the Mallory children? Neither. During the course of this "almost year," stones pelt the house, doorbells mysteriously ring, food flies off dinner plates, and the grandfather clock chimes thirteen times. The unexplained activity climaxes one winter night when the family is snowbound. (Nothing good ever happens in a snowstorm; see my previous blog entry for details.) During this night, footsteps and pounding resound from the attic bedroom where the young narrator sleeps. She believes she is responsible for this turmoil, but cannot control it.

Back when SOUNDER was published in 1969, some readers were offended that the African American protagonist went unnamed. THE ALMOST YEAR is another novel in which a black protagonist is never named, though this literary device does play up the character's isolation and could even be a nod to the most famous gothic novel of all, REBECCA by Daphne DuMaurier. Certainly this book echoes DuMaurier's classic in its depiction of an underprivileged outsider feeling overwhelmed and somewhat diminished by her new home especially because,in this case, the protagonist believes (perhaps incorrectly) that the Mallorys are operating out of some kind of noblesse oblige instead of kindness.

In THE ALMOST YEAR, Florence Engel Randall created the perfect marriage of family "problem story" and literary horror novel. Though the scenes of crashing rocks and tumbling stuffed animals will raise goosebumps, this is ultimately a story about self-discovery, individual growth, and the need for reaching out. The protagonist's rage -- so strong that it probably could cause psychic phenomena -- eventually quiets as she matures. She learns to accept the well-meaning but flawed members of the Mallory family because she has learned to understand herself.

By 2008 standards, THE ALMOST YEAR may be a bit dated in terms of language ("groovy") and its presentation of race relations, but the emotional lives of these characters still ring true and the scenes of supernatural upheaval continue to pack a subtle but strong punch.

Written by Florence Engel Randall
Atheneum, 1971

Why the book may be collectable:

As an example of literary horror novels for young people.

As an example of how racial issues were tackled in children's books in the post-Civil Rights era.

May be of interest to collectors of African American stories and supernatural stories.

May also be of interest to those who have read the author's most well-known children's book (later a movie), THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS.

First edition points:

Bound in blue cloth with gold lettering. The date "1971" is on the title page and "First edition" is written on the verso.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Most seem to have been swallowed up by the library market, as the majority of copies for sale are "ex-lib." An occasional non-library copy turns up, usually selling for about $50.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Snowy Days, Moonstruck Nights

Tonight a sudden, fierce snowstorm turned my usual half-hour commute into a two-hour white knuckle nightmare. As I inched my way home I began to think of all the snowy, wintertime books that have received the Caldecott Medal, starting with those back-to-back winners WHITE SNOW, BRIGHT SNOW and THE BIG SNOW, and including THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, THE POLAR EXPRESS, OWL MOON, and SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY. Intermediate and young adult novels with snowy settings are usually much darker in tone than those pleasant picture book idylls. Harry Mazer's SNOWBOUND features two teenagers trying to survive a winter car wreck. Emma Smith's NO WAY OF TELLING has a girl and her grandmother facing-off with a menacing stranger during a snowstorm. In the long out-of-print but still memorable GAME OF TRUTH by Edith Maxell, a group of blizzard-bound young adults play a dangerous psychological game.

Two wintry books especially linger in my memory, perhaps because I started off not liking them, then later changed my mind.
I'll admit that the first time I read Gary Paulsen’s novel DOGSONG I was not impressed.

Even though it came with great credentials (it was a 1986 Newbery Honor Book), I did not feel particularly involved with this story of a modern Eskimo boy who makes a journey of self-discovery while preparing for and competing in a sled dog race. The novel seemed too introspective, too laden with native spirituality. I remember setting the book aside and walking outside. I looked down at the snow piled up against the fence and then folded my arms across my chest to fend off the cold.

Then I realized that I wasn’t looking at snow -- I was looking at a bed of white flowers. And it wasn’t cold outside -- it was a hot afternoon in June.

Even though I thought I wasn’t enjoying DOGSONG, Paulsen’s atmospheric writing had cast such a strong spell that, even as I stepped into an eighty-degree afternoon, I somehow remained on that frozen tundra with young Russel Suskitt and his dogs. That moment made me reevaluate both DOGSONG and the power of Paulsen’s prose -- and I came away realizing this author really was something special.

I had a very similar experience a year or two later when I read WINTERBOUND by Margery Bianco. Like DOGSONG, this is another snowy story which was named a Newbery Honor Book. Published in 1936 and illustrated by Kate Seredy, who obviously had a lot of free time on her hands after writing THE GOOD MASTER and designing her model of a Hungarian ranch (see earlier blog entry “The Good Master! Sweet Ladies!”), this story of four siblings fending for themselves in rural Connecticut also didn’t grab me. The characters seemed distant, the focus diffuse. One evening I was reading the book and came across a scene in which the youngest son goes fox-hunting at night and becomes moonstruck. I had never heard of this phenomenon before. I always assumed that “moonstruck” was just an expression like “lovestruck” -- not a real physical sensation which makes one feel “dizzy and strange” as Martin does in the novel. A few minutes after reading about this incident, I went out to mail a letter. As I walked to the post office, I happened to glance up at the clouds traversing the moon...then stood transfixed. The next thing I knew, I was grabbing for the nearby iron fence feeling so “dizzy and strange” that I didn’t think my legs could hold me up. Once again, the subtle influence of this novel -- a book I thought I didn't like -- had gotten under my skin and taken me someplace unexpected. And I had to reappraise Bianco's novel and realize it was much more effective and powerful than I originally thought. Incidentally, when I took the book off my shelves tonight to look up this scene, I initially began searching for the “chapter” about Martin becoming moonstruck and was surprised the incident didn’t fill an entire chapter...didn’t even fill an entire page...but was related in just a few lines. Yet Bianco had described this event so eloquently it seemed in my memory to have lasted pages and pages.

Reading both DOGSONG and WINTERBOUND taught me not to make snap literary judgments. Sometimes a book can cast a quiet, stealthy spell you won’t discover until you find yourself trembling with cold on a June afternoon or staring into the sky, hypnotized by the moon.

Written by Gary Paulsen
Published by Bradbury Press, 1985

Why the book is collectable:

It was Paulsen’s breakthrough book, which was followed by HATCHET and dozens of other major novels.

It was a Newbery Honor Book.

Will be sought by those who collect books on Eskimos, sled dog racing, and native traditions.

First edition points:

Bound in red fabric and cardboard cover. Price of $11.95 on front flap. Copyright 1985 and print key 5 4 3 2 1 on copyright page.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Fairly difficult to find. In fact, none are currently listed for sale on ABEbooks. I would imagine a first edition in very good condition could run $75-$150 or more, but that’s just a guess.

Written by Margery Bianco
Decorations by Kate Seredy
Viking, 1936

Why the book is collectable:

It was a Newbery Honor Book.

Will be sought by those who collect books by Bianco or the illustrated works of Kate Seredy.

Might be considered an early feminist book, especially with regard to sister Garry who, like many of the older girls and women in Bianco’s young adult novels, does not represent typically female stereotypes of the era.

First edition points:

Bound in blue cloth with evocatively illustrated endpaper. My copy is price clipped but the number 1215 is at the bottom of the front flap. The date MCMXXXVI is on the title page with “First published October 1936” on the verso.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Though nearly fifty years older than DOGSONG, this novel remains a fairly easy and inexpensive “find,” with copies available for $20-$50.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hooked on Books

Sometimes on a summer Saturday, my father and my uncle would take us fishing at Bell River. Whether it was the first trip of the season, the temperature so chilly we had to wear hooded sweatshirts -- or a midsummer trip under a blazing hot sun, the scent of 6-12 insect-repellent heavy in the air -- or the last outing of the season with autumn leaves falling from the trees and floating across the water, certain things remained constant.

There was the anticipation as we drove into the country on dirt roads, discussing how many fish we'd catch -- though often we'd only catch little ones and toss them all back, returning home empty-handed and thinking, "Better luck next time!"

Standing on the shore, there were conversations about fish we'd seen, or thought we'd seen...maybe hiding behind that rock halfway across the water. We knew they just HAD to be there!

Then, on the way home, always: tales of the "ones that got away."

Time passed, things changed. My uncle died. I had a paper route that kept me busy Saturday mornings and couldn't go fishing anymore.

Instead I visited used bookstores -- and it dawns on me now that the experience isn't that different from fishing.

As I drive to the bookstore, I'm filled with anticipation over what I may find. I'll pull books off the shelf, only to discover they're old library copies or have crayon scribbling on the pages, and I'll toss them back. Often I leave the store empty-handed and thinking "Better luck next time!"

Yet when I'm standing in the store, there are always thoughts of books I've never seen, books I've only heard about, that may be tucked away on some broken shelf or hidden in some dark corner. They just HAVE to be somewhere! I'm talking about books like JUMPING-OFF PLACE by Marion Hurd McNeely and NEW LAND by Sarah Schmidt. Isn't there a copy of INVINCIBLE LOUISA in a dustjacket somewhere in this world? And has anyone ever even SEEN the book WINDY HILL by Cornelia Meigs?

Like any good fisher of books, I have my own stories of "those that got away." The very first day I discovered online bookselling I found first editions of THE MOVED-OUTERS by Florence Crannell Means and THE DARK STAR OF ITZA by Alida Malkus. I only had enough money for one and purchased MOVED-OUTERS. I loved the book, but made a bad decision in choosing it. Copies of MOVED-OUTERS always seem to be available, but I've never again seen a copy of DARK STAR OF ITZA for sale. Then there was the time I found a copy of WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM by Vera and Bill Cleaver, inscribed by the authors to the book's editor Dorothy Briley. I placed the order and waited and waited and waited...and finally contacted the seller to discover it had been sold to someone else. A signed copy of MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien turned up on eBay. How rare are signed copies of this book? My understanding is that even the author's daughter has never seen one. But when I logged on to eBay, my computer froze, and the auction ended while I was trying to reboot. Finally, there was a first edition of JOHNNY TREMAIN inscribed by author Esther Forbes to Clara Ford or, as I thought of her, "our" Clara Ford, since Clara was married to Henry Ford and I'm from Detroit. Unfortunately, the book was $100 and I didn't have the money. I saved up to buy it and, just when I almost had enough, the book was sold to someone else. Apparently that "someone else" was another book dealer, because several weeks later he listed the exact same copy of the book online for $200. So I had to start saving again, and right when I almost had enough money, the book was again sold. I keep expecting to see it listed online again $300, $400, $500...or more. And you know what will happen: I'll save up for it and, as soon as I get the money saved, someone will buy it out from under me.

Whether fishing for rock bass, or fishing for books, we all dream about the "perfect catch" and never stop wondering about "the ones that got away."

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Good Master! Sweet Ladies!

Back on December 31, in my very first blog entry, I picked GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! : VOICES FROM A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE by Laura Amy Schlitz as a possible Newbery Honor Book. Less than a month later, this book didn’t just win silver, it won gold.

News that GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! won the Newbery got a mixed response. Some think this unique volume -- a collection of dramatic monologues related by the denizens of a thirteenth-century hamlet -- is a daring selection and exactly the type of book the award was meant to recognize. Others feel this title lacks kid-appeal and, though it may be useful in classrooms, it’s unlikely to be truly embraced by young readers. I tend to agree that this book has a tough row to hoe -- especially buried back in the Dewey Decimal section, instead of sitting on the fiction shelves with most of its brethren. Time will tell whether GM!SL! will become one of Newbery’s Greatest Hits. My guess is that it’s likely to be one of those books ultimately more admired than loved. It does, however, mark the arrival of major new voice in children's books, especially coming on the heels of the author's acclaimed Grimm retelling, BEARSKINNER, and beguiling novel A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR.

A recent Wall Street Journal profile of Laura Amy Schlitz contained three fascinating facts:

1) Before writing for children, she published an adult romance novel under a pseudonym. I’ll leave the pseudonym and the book title secret in case anyone out there loves researching literary myteries as much as I do. (I found the answers on the internet in less than a minute.)

2) Schlitz submitted GM!SL! simultaneously to eleven publishers. Ten rejected it before Candlewick purchased it. Kinda make you wonder how many other possible Newbery winners have been rejected over the years.... Editors, take heed! (Writers, take heart!)

3) After GM!SL! was accepted by Candlewick, it took seven years for the book to be published. SEVEN YEARS! I wonder if this book would have won the Newbery if it had been published during one of those earlier years. Could it have beaten CRISPIN : THE CROSS OF LEAD or THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX? Probably. What about KIRA-KIRA, CRISS CROSS or THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY? There are too many factors involved, including the annual pool of candidates and the unique composition of each year’s award committee, to ever say for sure -- but it’s still fun to ponder.

Seven years seems like an extraordinarily long wait between acceptance and publication -- probably more the exception than the rule. But most writers would tell you that nowadays every book takes a year to be published at the very least...and most take eighteen months, two years, sometimes even longer than that.

The irony is that it wasn’t always this way. Believe it or not, publishing actually moved faster BEFORE computers, e-mails, faxes, and other marvels of modern technology arrived on the scene.

Case in point: THE GOOD MASTER by Kate Seredy, a classic Newbery Honor Book that’s the near-namesake of this year’s winner. Story has it that Seredy went to see Viking Press editor May Massee about getting an illustrating job in early 1935. As they chatted, Seredy told the editor about her Hungarian background, and Massee replied, “Go home and write a book about your childhood in Hungary.” (Gosh, editors usually stop after the first two words when dealing with me.) Massee told Seredy that if she could complete her manuscript that spring, she’d publish it before the holiday season. Seredy went home and wrote an autobiographical story about a headstrong city girl who is sent to live with her uncle’s family on a rural Hungarian horse ranch. Though English was her second language, Seredy completed the novel in two months and returned the HANDWRITTEN manucript to Massee in the spring of 1935. The book was published in October of 1935.

That’s right, a handwritten manuscript submitted in the SPRING was already published and in the bookstores by OCTOBER.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

And one can’t even argue that the book suffered because it was “rushed” into publication. It went on to be named a Newbery Honor Book, is still in print, and continues to be enjoyed by readers today. Meanwhile, Massee was editing a full-slate of books (including another 1936 Newbery Honor, the 1937 Newbery winner ROLLER SKATES, and three of 1937’s Honor Books) and Kate Seredy kept herself busy designing a hand-crafted model of a Hungarian farm that was exhibited around the United States to help publicize THE GOOD MASTER.

Seeing how quickly -- and how well -- our literary forebears worked (in a world without computers or modern technology, no less!) makes today's publishers seem like a bunch of "poky little puppies" in comparison.