Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Monosyllabic Monographs of Antediluvian Yesteryears

Look! Look what I found in the room where I work!

...I can't. I had intended to write this entire blog entry in one-syllable words, but it's just too difficult. I guess I could never have written any of the nineteenth century volumes I'll be discussing today -- each presented entirely in single syllables.

A quick trip through the Ramsey Room stacks turned up nearly a dozen examples of this genre including adaptations of classics, animal stories, and biographies.

ROBINSON CRUSOE IN WORDS OF ONE SYLLABLE by Mary Godolphin (McLoughlin Brothers, 1869) bills itself as the first book of its kind: " is believed that the idea and scope of its construction are entirely novel, for the One Syllable literature of the present day furnishes little more than a few short, unconnected sentences, and those chiefly in spelling books."

The book, which severely abridges the Defoe classic, begins: "I was born at York on the first of March in the sixth year of the reign of King Charles the First. From time to time when I was quite a young child, I had felt a great wish to spend my life at sea, and as I grew, so did this taste grow more and more strong; till at last I broke loose from my school and home, and found my way on foot to Hull, where I soon got a place on board a ship."

Although those two sentences zip through several pages of the orignal text -- pages that included words like "expostulated" and "vicissitudes" -- they provide a nice tight opening for the novel, telling us a bit about the protagonist, his desires, and how he sets off to achieve them. Reading page after page of herky-jerky- one-syllable prose may be akin to reading a telegram, but now and then you come to a line or two that seem downright poetic -- such as the volume's conclusion: "And now I must bring this tale of my life to a close, while at the age of three score and twelve, I feel that the day is at hand when I shall go forth on that sea of peace and love which has no waves or shores but those of bliss that knows no end."

ROBINSON CRUSOE IN WORDS OF ONE SYLLABLE exempted proper names from the single-syllable convention -- a precedent followed by all later volumes of the genre. This was a good policy and prevented a book such as PILGRIM'S PROGRESS from being reduced to PILL'S PROG or GRIM'S 'GRESS when it was published here in 1895:

This copy was issued by the "Pilgrim's Progress Publishing Company" (boy, they must have pubished a wide variety of books) but I suspect some monkey business was involved because the exact same text (here attributed to no one) was first published by McLoughlin Brothers in 1884 with Mary Godolphin listed as author. Many years later, Viking editor Helen Dean Fish found a copy of the McLoughlin edition on the bookshelves of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lawson and decided she'd rewrite it as a picture book for Robert Lawson to illustrate. But Fish soon realized that Godolphin "had done an almost perfect job and it was decided to use her text exactly as it stood" for this 1939 Viking edition:

Among our other one-syllable volumes are biographies of Abraham Lincoln (written by Harriet Putnam and published by McLoughlin Brothers in 1905) and George Washington (Josephine Pollard, McLoughlin Brothers, 1893.)

I hate to say this about books that honor men of integrity and honesty like Lincoln and Washington (Pollard even repeats the cherry tree story in her biography) but both authors find ways around the one-syllable rule, occasionally using multi-syllable words broken up by hyphens (broth-er, a-fraid, writ-ing a let-ter.) Hmm...I think Har-ri-et Put-nam and Jos-eph-ine Pol-lard are cheat-ers.

After looking at these one-syllable books today, I realized why this children's book trend of the late nineteenth-century never really caught on. The texts lack rhythm and variety, despite an occasional line that sings. SANDFORD AND MERTON IN WORDS OF ONE SYLLABLE by (who else?) Mary Godolphin and published by James Miller in 1874 does include one line that I can't get out of my head: "To this pond Dash made a rush."

But in general, reading these books aloud is a choppy and robotic experience. Even beginning readers were probably bored by their general atonality -- plus many of these volumes are well over two hundred pages, which must have seemed daunting to one-syllable kids. And while these books don't even seem to be in demand by modern collectors (most are available at extremely modest prices) they do represent an unusual experiment in historical children's publishing.

Or, as Mary Godolphin might have phrased it: "An odd fad in past kid books."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Strangers with Books

Some people view every stranger they meet as a potential friend. They have no qualms about stopping someone on the street to ask a question or even start a conversation.

Not me.

I don’t even like to ask for directions. Some might call me shy or guarded. Others might say “socially inept.” Nearly every interaction seems fraught with awkwardness. (How many times a WEEK does someone come up beside me on the street and say, “Hi!” or “How are you?” and when I turn and automatically respond, “Hi,” or “Fine, how are y--” I see they are talking on their cellphone to someone ELSE and either glaring at me for interrupting their conversation or laughing and rolling their eyes because I thought they were speaking to me? Now that’s awkward.)

So it’s rare when I’ll initiate a conversation with a stranger beyond “Can I pet your dog?” (I’m still smarting from the woman who reared back and said in a frosty voice, “I’d RAWWW-THER you not!”) or “Oh, I read that book too! Do you like it?”

That happens less often than you might think. We’re not exactly a nation of readers. Occasionally I’ll see someone with a thick paperback romance or science fiction novel (genres I seldom read) but almost never see anyone holding a current bestseller -- much less a children’s book. Once in a blue moon I will see a kid reading a book and of course I’m dying to know what they think of it. But can you imagine a lone middle-aged male sidling up to a kid and asking, “Hey, whatcha reading?” ...Uh, not a good idea.

I’m thinking about these things because of an experience I had yesterday.

I went out to lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant with an unpronounceable name -- Qdoba. (I used to go to another one called Quetzalcoatl. What’s wrong with a name like “Taco Bell”?)

As always, I had a book with me. This time it was STREAMS OF BABEL, a brand new suspense novel by a recent favorite of mine, Carol Plum-Ucci.

At the table in front of me were two women with several kids. Now here’s a secret about shy (withdrawn...socially inept) people: as much as we like to be left alone, there’s also a part of us that secretly wishes we could somehow be included in the group that’s laughing and talking together. When I first sit down with a book, part of me is reading the words on the page, but the other part is always eavesdropping on the other conversations around me. So yesterday my concentration shifted between the novel STREAMS OF BABEL and the streams of babble around me, as I listened to one of the women at the other table saying, “It was so funny! He was lying there sound asleep snoring. So we started taking pictures of him sleeping..and then other people started taking pictures of US taking pictures of HIM!” I tried to imagine what THAT incident was all about, but then their conversation turned to whether they should go to Dairy Queen after lunch and my focus shifted to Cora and Owen and the other characters in the book, whose families may have been impacted by bioterrorism. I didn’t even notice the people at the other table getting up until I heard someone say, “Can I ask what book you’re reading?” and saw one of the women bending over my table.

I (awkwardly) lifted up the book so she could see the cover. “Oh, I really like her books,” said the woman. “What’s this one about?

I was so startled to think that a complete stranger would also know a relatively-new young adult novelist like Carol Plum-Ucci, that I barely knew what to say. “It’s about terrorism,” I said. “It just came out.”

One of the kids pointed at the woman and said, “She works in a bookstore.” I said, “Which one?” and she said, “Borders” and then they were gone.

I felt so angry at myself as they left the restaurant. How many times in my life would I ever encounter someone who also knew Carol Plum-Ucci and her books? Why didn’t I talk up the book more -- make it so compelling that she’d want to run out and get a copy too? Why didn’t I ask which Plum-Ucci books she liked best?

If do-overs were allowed, I’d ask her which Carol Plum-Ucci books she’d read. I’d say, “Wasn’t THE BODY OF CHRISTOPHER CREED the BEST combination of literary novel and page-turning mystery ever? Weren’t you glad when it got a Printz Honor? What did you think of THE SHE and WHAT HAPPENED TO LANI GARVER? Did you think they were good, but a maybe a little overwritten? And wasn’t it hard to put down THE NIGHT MY SISTER WENT MISSING? I was up half the night reading that one. This new book is really great, so far. I’m only on page 60, but I’m already loving it. You’ve got to get a copy! Next time you come in here, look for me so we can discuss it!”

But do-overs aren’t allowed in conversations and by then the lady was long gone. Every potential friend I meet remains a stranger.

Maybe I’ll see her again at the unpronounceable restaurant. If I do, I’ll ask if she’s read the book yet. In fact, from now on, if I ever see anyone reading a young adult or children’s book in public, I’m going to force myself to approach them. And if you ever see someone reading a young adult book in public, I hope you’ll do the same. It will probably be me. The guy behind the book.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Return of the Phantom!

Back on January 23, I wrote a blog entry on "phantom books" -- elusive volumes that may or may not exist.

One of the titles I cited was I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT JOHN AND HE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT ME "written by" Louise Fitzhugh.

Although Louise Fitzhugh died tragically young in 1974, she left a lasting legacy with her novels HARRIET THE SPY, THE LONG SECRET, and NOBODY'S FAMILY IS GOING TO CHANGE. She also left a few unpublished manuscripts, including the picture books I AM THREE, I AM FOUR and I AM FIVE and the HARRIET sequel SPORT. The manuscript for I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT JOHN AND HE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT ME was also found among her papers. Doubleday acquired this book, hired Lillian Hoban to illustrate it, and set a publication date of November 1993. However, when advance copies went out to review journals, an astute critic recognized the text was identical to MY FRIEND JOHN, a Charlotte Zolotow story that Harper had published in 1968 with Ben Shecter illustrations.

This was surely an innocent mistake. Perhaps Louise Fitzhugh was sent the typescript of MY FRIEND JOHN because Harper hoped she would illustrate it. Or maybe her friend Charlotte Zolotow just wanted to share the story with her before it was published. Whatever the case, it ended up among her papers and her literary executors naturally assumed it was something she'd written. When the mistake was discovered, Doubleday cancelled publication.

I have never known for sure if the initial reviewers only saw advance copies (called f&gs, for folded and gathered sheets) or if hardcover copies were printed. IF hardcover copies were printed, they were never distributed.

Now I know that hardcovers WERE printed -- because I just found one!

Phantoms -- those elusive, ghostly beings -- have a way of disappearing and reappearing in puffs of smoke, sliding under closed doors, snaking through keyholes, and taking us by surprise. The same must be true of phantom books. How did this volume, never published or distributed, escape the paper shredder -- the publishing world's Grim Reaper -- and end up on my bookshelf?

I guess we'll never know the answer for sure, but the question will haunt me for a long, long time.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

INCHWORM SHOES (One Book Noel Streatfeild Didn't Get Around to Writing)

In ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK, Laura Ingalls and her sister Mary prepare for the first day of school by donning their Sunday dresses and freshly-ironed sunbonnets, then set off on their two-and-a-half mile They ford a creek, but "would not walk in the dusty wheel tracks until their feet were dry, because their feet must be clean when they came to town."

Shoes were not a high priority for poor country families. My grandmother was born in 1882 and didn't wear shoes as a child either. Here's a picture of her when she was four years old -- dressed in her Sunday best, but also barefoot. I heard she was always ashamed of this picture because it showed she had no shoes.

Not that things got much better in future generations. I asked my Depression-era parents if they had new shoes as children. My father recalled getting fifty-cent tennis shoes "but only on rare occasions" and was once given hand-me-downs "that might have been girls' shoes." Growing up in the country, my mother picked strawberries during the summer and used the money to buy her one pair of shoes that would last until the following summer. Is it any wonder that, when we were growing up, our parents always bought us shoes that had a pinch of extra "room to grow" space in the toe?

I've been thinking about children's shoes ever since I heard about a new product called INCHworm Shoes ( which have a handy button on the side that allows shoes to increase up to three whole sizes to accommodate growing feet. Pretty neat, huh? If Laura and Mary had had them on the banks of Plum Creek, they might have avoided the taunts of "Snipes! Snipes! Long-legged snipes!" from their new classmates. Things might have been different for my parents...and even my brother and me.

Though children's shoes have never had the ability to grow-along-with-us until now, children's books are a very different story.

The best children's books can be read at almost any age, offering new perspectives and awakening different emotions at different times in our lives.

Sometimes it's best to ignore the age recommendations listed on the front flap of a dustjacket. Lloyd Alexander's THE HIGH KING is listed for ages 10-14. I was, in fact, ten years old when it won the Newbery Medal and I remember borrowing it from the library and then just blankly turning the pages, not understanding a word of the story. Maybe it would have helped if I'd first read the previous four volumes in the series. Maybe it would have helped if I had a stronger background in fantasy books. Maybe it would have helped if the characters had nice pronounceable names like "Jim" and "Debbie" instead of "Eilonwy" and "Fflewddur Fflam." Whatever the case, the book was COMPLETELY beyond me.


...when I was about twenty I checked them out of the library again and gave them another try. And COMPLETELY fell in love with them. I read all five in two days, even rushing out to the mall five minutes before it closed to get a paperback copy of THE CASTLE OF LLYR -- the one volume the library didn't have. What wasn't right for me at ten was, for whatever reason, perfect for me when I was twice that age.

Other books improve as we learn more about the world. As much as I enjoyed RIFLES FOR WATIE by Harold Keith and ACROSS FIVE APRILS by Irene Hunt when I was a kid, I hadn't yet studied the Civil War in school when I read them.

Coming back to them with a stronger knowledge of history, and the ability to place these novels within the context of their time, made me appreciate them even more.

Ellen Raskin's FIGGS & PHANTOMS goes on my list of the great Newbery Honor Books. I found it devastating and rather profound when I read it as a teenager and it continues to grow in emotional resonance the older I get.

I still find it devastating and rather profound, but its themes of mortality, loss, and renewal, which used to seem so abstract, now seem more concrete and imminent. (Plus, I get a lot more of the literary allusions and discussions about book collecting -- but that's just an added bonus.)

Then there are books like CHARLOTTE'S WEB which I, like almost everyone, loved as a child. I can still go back to its pages and fall headfirst into this story of Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider, yet every time I return the critical-reader in me sees more to appreciate in the beauty of its language, the precision of its plot, and its timeless themes.

The best children's books can be read on so many levels, revealing hidden depths yet remaining fresh and new -- no matter how many times we pick them up or how old we are.

Like INCHworm Shoes, they grow along with us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stray Bullets, Dead Cats, and the Missing Page

This year marks the 100th birthday of THE HOLE BOOK by Peter Newell.

Published by Harper in 1908, this novelty book is based on a gimmick -- a diecut hole that appears on each page, tracing the trajectory of a stray bullet fired by a little boy who "didn't know 'twas loaded." (Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say.)

According to the book:

Tom Potts was fooling with a gun
(Such follies should not be),
When--bang! the pesky thing went off
Most unexpectedly!

For the next two dozen pages, we watch as the bullet pierces a water heater, blows up an automobile, shatters a fish tank, and even kills a cat.

Peter Newell (1862-1924) was well-known during the "Golden Age of American Illustration," for illustrating magazine serials by Mark Twain and Stephen Crane, designing advertisements for Ivory Soap, and producing newly-illustrated editions of ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and other works by Lewis Carroll. His own books often relied on clever contrivances. TOPSYS & TURVYS (1893; a second volume followed in 1894) features illustrations that reveal different images when looked at upside-down. THE SLANT BOOK (1910) contains slanted pages that show a runaway baby carriage wreaking havoc as it careens downhill. THE ROCKET BOOK (1912) follows a sky-bound rocket as it disrupts the residents of several apartment flats.

Though once very popular (THE HOLE BOOK is purported to be one of Dr. Seuss's favorite childhood books) Newell's volumes fell out of favor over the decades. I can hazard a guess or two why. For one thing, the mixed-media illustrations (some in color, others printed in black-and-white from color originals) are awfully dated. Plus they are more than a little politically incorrect. Kids with guns? Bullet-ridden cats? Yet THE HOLE BOOK and a few others have been reprinted as recently as 2001 by Tuttle Publishing. They are interesting as literary curiosities, but it should be noted that reproduction of the artwork is below par. The first illustration is from a 1944 Harper edition; the rather dim, grainy picture beneath that is from the 2001 Tuttle edition:

Although several violent and potentially offensive illustrations (including a stereotypical image of "Mis' Silverman") remain in the newer edition, I did notice that one picture was not reproduced:

along with its accompanying rhyme, which begins "'Who plugged dat melon?' mammy cried."

I don't have a 1908 copy of the book here, so cannot provide first edition points. Several firsts of the book are available in the $200-$600 price range. Later printings, as well as the Tuttle reprints, can be found for less than $20.

I don't necessarily recommend that everyone run out and track down a copy of THE HOLE BOOK. But those interested in the history of children's books, as well as collectors of novelty books, and NRA members, might want to take a shot at it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another Sunday Brunch

More random thoughts, facts, and opinions on children's books, served-up buffet style.


Take a look at this cover and then guess what year it was published:

a) 1922
b) 1939
c) 1956
d) 1969
e) 1985
f) 2003

If you guessed "d" you are correct.

I've always been fascinated by how the dustjacket illustrations of children's books reflect their era. I was ten-years-old when Sulamith Ish-Kishor's OUR EDDIE was published and the "pop art" appearance of this cover really did reflect the way the world looked during that era -- in advertisements, on record covers, on billboards.

Despite its "mod" dustjacket illustration, the book was actually historical fiction -- the story of a Jewish family that immigrates to New York at the turn of the twentieth-century and their friendship with a Gentile boy. The book was contemporary in other ways as well, utilizing multiple narrators and an uncompromising plot that features a difficult father-son relationship and the death of one of the young protagonists.

We all occasionally gripe about the Newbery selections, but when the committee selected OUR EDDIE as a Newbery Honor Book, they really got it right -- highlighting a wonderfully-written, character-driven "small" novel that might have otherwise fallen between the cracks.

It may be set in the early twentieth century and the original dustjacket may scream late sixties, but the novel itself is timeless.


Last week I talked about some of the queries that bring people to this blog. Without a doubt, the biggest question continues to be: "What is the name of the story in which soda pop comes out of faucets?" The answer: MR. PUDGINS by Ruth Carlsen.

Then this past week I corresponded with a west coast children's bookseller who told me that his biggest query is about "the old lady who takes off her fingers and the children eat them." The answer: MARY POPPINS by P.L. Travers.

He also gets many requests to identify a story about a boy -- Epianas? Eppiominas? Eppie (no, that was Ann Landers)? Epithias? Epanomas? -- who is sent to the market to purchase something and gets the instructions mixed up. The answer: the folk tale "Epaminondas." There is a little information about the book in the Wikipedia, including a link to the complete text:


During the holidays, I often read articles with titles like "How to Have a Stress-free Christmas" or "Ten Tips for Holiday Hosts." One of the suggestions is usually to wrap a couple extra "generic" gifts and leave them sitting near the tree: "Not only do they make a festive decoration," say the articles, "but when an unexpected guest drops by with a gift for you, you'll have a nicely-wrapped jar of nuts or box of exotic teas right at hand to give them in return."

That's a great idea -- and now I've got another great idea: Keeping extra "sharing" copies of favorite books on hand.

Recently an e-mail friend mentioned several books that I had not read. When someone mentions a book I haven't yet read, my first impulse is always to go out and get a copy. When I told my penpal that I planned to find copies of these books, he told me that he often keeps several extra copies of his favorite books on hand just to share with the unitiated. Soon a package arrived containing "sharing copies" of three titles we had discussed. He had taken them from his "break glass in case of emergency" pile of extras. I can't think of a nicer gesture than giving someone a copy of one of your favorite books and inviting them to join you as one of its select group of readers. It's like being given membership into a very special club. What a gift. It makes me want to keep a pile of my own "sharing books" to distribute to others in the future.


When I was a teenager, I wish I had "sharing copies" of Sylvia Louise Engdahl's BEYOND THE TOMORROW MOUNTAINS to pass out to potential friends. I remember being so fascinated by the "big questions" that Noren, the protagonist, was grappling with, that I wanted to talk about the book with someone...ANYone! Every time I noticed the book was not on the library shelves, I was thrilled to think that someone ELSE out there was now reading the novel. I came about "thisclose" to writing my phone number on the last page of the book (in pencil of course -- I was a law-abiding kid) inviting other readers to call me and discuss the book after they'd read it. On the one hand, I'm glad I didn't do it (can you imagine trying to get a job in a library with a charge of "defacing library materials" on your criminal record?) but on the other hand:

I sort of wish I had....


Though I haven't kept a pile of "sharing copies" before now, I do tend to give the same books as gifts over and over. For many years I gave paperback copies of 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff to fellow book lovers. Sometimes people going through sad times got SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL by Patricia MacClachlan. New parents always get Anita Silvey's 100 BEST BOOKS FOR CHILDREN, a fascinating volume that identifies many of the books kids need to know -- and the stories behind them.) And I like to give new babies a copy of I SAW ESAU by Iona and Peter Opie because it contains all the classic nursery rhymes -- plus Sendak illustrations! And later, when I go to visit the new baby, I make sure ESAU is front-and-center in the bookcase. (Then try to hide LOVE YOU FOREVER behind all the other books...under the the diaper pail...wherever it's unlikely to be found.)


Many recent blog entries have discussed my job in the "Ramsey Room." But just today I remembered (in one of those palm-hitting-the-head-coulda-had-a-V8 moments) that I actually own a book that once belonged to "Miss Ramsey" (as she's still called at the library where I work.)

Apparently, Miss Ramsey did not donate ALL of her books to the Ramsey Room. (Or maybe she also had "sharing copies" of some favorites.) Because a few were given to favored students and acolytes. One of her friends was Helen Southgate Williams, who was also an advocate for children's books. As Mrs. Williams grew older, she sold some of these books to a dealer. Twenty years ago, the dealer called me and said she had a wonderful first edition of CHARLOTTE'S WEB that had once belonged to Eloise Ramsey, later belonged to Helen Williams, and was now up for sale.

I hadn't heard of either Ramsey or Williams at the time, but of course was interested in purchasing the book. Then I learned it was $165, which was far more than I'd ever paid for ANY book at the time. It seemed like a million dollars to me. However, the dealer assured me that this really was a wonderful copy of the book. Plus I was celebrating a special occasion in my life and figured that CHARLOTTE'S WEB was a way of marking that event. So I bit the bullet and purchased the book. It truly was -- AND IS -- a superb copy of the book.

Here is the Ramsey bookplate on the front endpapers.

Who knew that twenty years later that book would be worth well over one thousand dollars?

Who knew that one day I'd be working in a room full of 15,000 books, all of them containing an Eloise Ramsey bookplate?

It must have been fate.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tails from the Ramsey Room

Every day, as I walk back and forth through the Ramsey Room stacks, I am greeted by this sight:

No, the library has not suffered an infestation of wild critters. These are four volumes I donated to the Ramsey Collection. Many years ago, when I used to review children's books for a small magazine, I'd often come home to find a big box full of review books waiting on the porch. I'd drag it inside, then make a big production out of s-l-o-w-l-y opening the box and s-l-o-w-l-y drawing out the books one by one...never knowing if I was holding the Stinker of the Year or the next Newbery winner in my hands. I'll never forget the day I reached into the box and my hand grabbed onto SOMETHING FURRY! It's funny how fast one's mind works in this kind of situation. Before I even let go, I'd already convinced myself that some wild animal had gnawed its way into the cardboard box and crawled inside to die. As I jerked my hand away, it scraped against the jagged edge of the box. Feeling the sting, I thought, "Oh no. I've been bit."

Then I peered into the box and saw what I had touched. Four rather innocuous board books that happened to have tails:

Written by Graham Percy and published by Random House in 1994, these gimmicky volumes ended up in the Ramsey Room not because they are rare or valuable, but because they represent an oddity in the history of children's literature that should be preserved for future students and scholars to study. ...Speaking of historical oddities, see that piece of furniture under the books? It's what we used to call a "card catalog" -- another piece of the past being preserved in the Ramsey Room.

Though THE SQUIRREL'S (FOX'S, TIGER'S and RACCOON'S) TALES are not worth much more than their original cover price of $5.99, there is one similar book in the collection worth much, much more than that.

Written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Garth Williams, LITTLE FUR FAMILY was published by Harper in 1946. The tiny book (only 3x4 inches) is bound in real rabbit fur. Nestled inside a box with a diecut hole, the fur adds both an illustrative and tactile feature to the box:

Here are the box and book side by side:

And a look inside the volume:

This was an expensive book to produce and some sources indicate it wasn't the financial success that Harper expected. Some say the furry binding scared kids. (Imagine being scared of a book with fur! ...Never mind.) The rabbit fur on our copy has held up extremely well and remains amazingly soft to the touch sixty-two years after publication. In fact, much like Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN, I couldn't stop myself from stroking the soft cover over and over today whenever I took a break from working.

In recent years, Harper has published some ridiculous reprints of this volume. One is 6x8 inches -- double the size of the original -- and the "fur" appears to be that synthetic stuff used on cheap "plush" toys. Another edition is clean-shaven, with not a strand of fur on it. It seems unlikely that there will ever be another book bound in authentic rabbit fur.

The Runaway Bunny, Peter Cottontail, and the Velveteen Rabbit are probably happy about that.

Written by Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrated by Garth Williams
Harper and Brothers, 1946

Why the book is collectable:

Because of its unusual rabbit fur binding.

Because of its unusual design (including the box with the diecut hole)

Because both the author and illustrator are highly collectable.

How to identify a first edition:

I'm not sure if this book ever went to later printings, nor do I know the original price. The title page contains the words "Copyright 1946."

Difficulty in finding the books:

Copies are availabe, ranging in price from $600 to $2500.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Guess Why My Middle Name is Daniel

Go to any charity book sale and you'll likely find shelves and tables crowded with hundred-year-old hymnals, sermons, catechisms, and other religious works. Everybody seems to walk past them. I know I have. I seldom stop to think that these dusty volumes were probably among the few treasured books that our ancestors ever owned. Perhaps they were tucked in a trunk and traveled across the ocean with an immigrant family; perhaps they were carried across this continent by covered wagon. Over generations, they were read by hearth light, candelight, and kerosene lamp. Maybe some children learned to read by tracing the letters on their pages. Then they were passed down through families until, old and crumbling, they found their way to the local charity sale where they sit, rather ignominiously, on the five-for-a-dollar table.

My family's version of the hundred-year-old religious text is this copy of THE WIT AND WISDOM OF THOMAS FULLER.

Worn and battered, the cloth binding is crumpled and pulled away from the spine. At some point in time, someone tried to repair it with Scotch tape which, of course, only made it worse. The book is also missing its title page.

There's a reason these books often end up at rummage sales. When you open the yellowed pages and read the small print, the writing seems dense and old-fashioned, the language archaic. Even the section headings in this little volume are off-putting: Good Thoughts in Bad Times. Good Thoughts in Worse Times. The Holy State and the Profane State.

But for those who persevere, some very real wit AND wisdom can be found in these pages:

"Anger is one of the sinews of the soul; he that wants it has a maimed mind."

"Sin writes histories; goodness is silent."

"He that falls into sin, is a man; that grieves it, is a saint; that boasts of it, is a devil."

"Generally those who boast most of contentment have least of it. Their very boasting shows that they want something and basely beg it, namely commendation."

That's all very sound advice, but the main reason my family cherishes the book is because it once belonged to my maternal grandfather Daniel Sheldon:

I love the inscription. They talk about us having a rushed society today; did it really save so much time for them to inscribe this book to "Dan'l" instead of "Daniel"? My grandfather was born in 1876 in Durham, England and grew up in the mining towns of Newcastle and Sheffield (where, over a hundred years later the film THE FULL MONTY was set.) This book makes reference to a "Wainger Terrace" or "Grainger Terrace," but I can find neither on a map. My grandfather was eleven years old when he got this book from his Sunday School teachers at the Christian Lay Church (later the Methodist Church) in 1887. Two years later his family immigrated to the United States on a ship called the "City of Chicago" and he brought this book with him. If you look at the inside back cover:

you can see where his sister Lucy signed the book over and over and included the name of the town where their family eventually settled: Oliver Springs, Tennessee. Though her name was Lucy Sheldon, she signed it as "Lucy Wylie." Just found out that Wylie was the last name of the man she later married. Perhaps, like so many young girls back then, she was testing out how her name would look after she got married.... I like how one sibling has his name inscribed in England on the front endpaper and the other signed it in Tennessee on the back. It's a nice "framing device" that mirrors the history of the family -- from England to America.

Of all the things the Sheldon Family brought from England, this is probably the only item that survives. I'm so glad we still have it. Next time I go to a local book sale and see tables full of similar books, I think I'll make a point in stopping to look inside at the inscriptions and signatures that memorialize other people's grandfathers and grandmothers and the often-far away places where they were born and raised. How far did these books travel over the past hundred years? And how did they end up here, on the five-for-a-dollar table?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Free Brunch

We all know what a Sunday brunch is -- a weekend mid-morning meal that serves up a little of this and a little of that. My mother thought she knew all about brunches too, until she attended one that came with a little surprise at the end.

About twenty years ago, she and several other women were invited to attend a brunch being held by a co-worker. They arrived at the appointed hour, sat talking in the living room for a few minutes, and then the hostess led them into the dining room, where a beautiful buffet was arranged on a long table. My mother picked up her plate and silverware- wrapped-in-a-napkin and then moved across the buffet table selecting a spoonful of mixed fruit...some tuna salad...relishes...a hot biscuit from a basket...a deviled egg and a cookie. Then she came to the last item on the buffet: a basket with a little sign in front saying, “Leave your $5 here, please.”

She was shocked. “I was just glad I happened to have five dollars in my purse!” she later told me. “No one EVER said we were expected to pay for it!”

I almost told her “Well, you know what they say: there’s no such thing as a free brunch.”

But actually I do offer a free Sunday brunch here at Collecting Children’s Books: a random collection of thoughts, facts, and opinions on what kids read.


When writing about Robin McKinley’s THE HERO AND THE CROWN yesterday, I noticed once again that the book has the wrong date on the copyright page. It should say 1984 (the year the book was published) but instead says 1985. I wonder if this has caused much trouble for book collectors, book dealers, and book buyers in the past.


It’s rare you see a typo in an ad, but I found one in this promotion for a forthcoming young-adult book. (If you click on the picture a larger image will appear so you can read the text.)

Odd that so many eyes would see this ad before it was printed, yet sobody caught the mistake.


Incidentally, the ad for GHOST GIRL ran on the edge of several pages in a row. Here is the final ad. The book sounds intriguing, if a bit concept-y (that is: a book that was possibly sold based on a one-line description before it was even written.)

I wonder what “sidewalk sniping” means in relation to this book. It could get ugly....


Jean Craighead George once approached editor Ursula Nordstrom and said, “I want to write a book about an Eskimo girl who is lost on the Arctic tundra. She survives by communicating with a pack of wolves in their own language.”

The esteemed editor had only one question for the author: “Will it be accurate?”

When Ms. George assured her it would be, Nordstrom said, “I’ll write you up your contract and advance now.”

The eventual book was, of course, the Newbery-winning JULIE OF THE WOLVES.


Recently-deceased author Julia Cunningham left us a wonderful legacy of quirky, richly-written stories -- perhaps none better than her memorable 1965 novel DORP DEAD. I wonder how many people over the years have thought that was a typo?

There are 110 entries on Google today for “Julia Cunningham, Drop Dead.”


Back in 1976, E.L. Konigsburg published a stunning little novel called:

The title is QUITE clear on the cover, isn’t it? Yet there I was, going on and on about FATHER ARCANE’S DAUGHTER, and wondering what the book was about and who Father Arcane was. Did I feel dumb when someone pointed out my error. I’d like to blame this mistake on my youth, but I was almost eighteen at the time!


There are currently 158 entries for “Father Arcane’s Daughter” on Google. Suddenly I don’t feel so alone.


Reportedly, E.L. Konigsburg’s manuscript for this book was so perfect -- with not a word to be changed or comma to be shifted -- that it didn’t require a single bit of editing.

FATHER’S ARCANE DAUGHTER was made into an Emmy-winning television movie called “CAROLINE?” It’s excellent and well-worth catching on TV or renting from the video store.


I’ve been looking around for a literary agent for myself, but so far the only one I’ve found is:

This 1950s era book concerns Lorna Saunders, who is hired on at a literary agency as a typist and switchboard operator, but soon finds herself part of a “glamorous profession” in which she “discovers and develops the talents of authors” and learns to criticize manuscripts, study contracts, handle foreign rights, and also discovers “there isn’t always a happy ending to an office romance.”

This book is part of a Messner series called “Romances for Young Moderns” and each is set in a new and exciting career. There’s A CAP FOR CORRINE (registered nurse), THE GIRL IN THE WHITE COAT (medical technologist), ROXANNE, INDUSTRIAL NURSE, and ROSEMARY WINS HER CAP (student nurse) but of course no volume about a girl becoming a doctor....

However, a girl of the fifties COULD find professional inspiration in the joys and sorrows of LEE DEVINS, COPYWRITER...MARCIA, PRIVATE SECRETARY...”MISS LIBRARY LADY”....HOUSE OF HOLLY (which introduces the wonderful world of mail order businesses)...GAY ENTERPRISES (Guess what this one is about. You’re wrong.)...and A FLAIR FOR PEOPLE, which concerns personnel work.

Of the nearly fifty “Romances for Young Moderns” books listed on the back panel of AUTHORS’ AGENT, I feel most sorry for the heroine of MAGIC IN HER VOICE, who finds fulfillment in the glamorous field of phone solicitation.

Who knew that a couple decades later the “National Do Not Call Registry” would put her on the unemployment line?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

They Don't All Have to be Inscribed "For Peter"

Although I'd like nothing better than to have my entire book collection personally inscribed -- one volume after another on the shelf signed "To Peter," "For Peter," "For Peter, my favorite person in the world" -- it clearly isn't possible. Many of my favorites authors have died -- sometimes before I was even born. Others are still alive, but seldom do booksignings.

Then there are some I'd be leery of meeting.

I was unfamiliar with Robin McKinley's work before she received a Newbery Honor for THE BLUE SWORD in 1983. I promptly bought the book for my collection but, not being a big fantasy fan, I set it aside and didn't read it. Two years later, when she won the Newbery for THE HERO AND THE CROWN, I knew it was time to bite the bullet and read both books. And of course I promptly fell in love with the kingdom of Damar and McKinley's evocative writing.

No longer "place holders" in my Newbery collection, THE BLUE SWORD and THE HERO AND THE CROWN were now treasured volumes and I thought from time to time that it would be nice to have the books signed by the author.

Then I stumbled across Robin McKinley's website. The one where she refers to herself as a "Witch from Hell." (Well, it rhymed with that.) And the animated graphic contained red hot flames. She included a list of what NOT to say or do when writing her a letter. As I recall, she doesn't want us calling her "Robin" if we don't know her. (Sorry, Ms. McKinley!) Gets ticked if grown-ups say, "Even though I'm an adult I love your books." And does not (I repeat: does NOT) want anyone asking when the next Damar book is coming out.

After reading that, I decided I probably didn't want my books personally inscribed. Even though I suspect that her warnings and prohibitions might be slightly tongue-in-cheek, I didn't want to be the one to test her. Besides, I'm so inarticulate in social situations that it would be just like me to attend a booksigining, get all excited and say something like "Hi Robin!" (STRIKE ONE.) "I'm one of your adult readers." (STRIKE TWO.) "And I can't wait for the next Damar novel." (YOU'RE OUT!)

Anyway, I now do own signed copies of the two Damar novels. They're not inscribed to me, but that's okay. They belonged to the late, well-known children's book editor Elizabeth Shub (called "Libby" by friends) and the incriptions are really wonderful.

For example, I have her "first official turning-over-of-new-leaf signature on a title page" on THE BLUE SWORD. (Click on picture to get a larger, more readable image.)


which seems to indicate that, Ms. McKinley...spent some time working at Greenwillow with Elizabeth Shub.

Those two books are first editions, but I also have a fifth printing of THE BLUE SWORD, which I particularly love because it appears that Ms. Shub LOST her first copy of that book (though she obviously later found it, as I have it) and Ms. McKinley had to give her a replacement copy:

She tries to sound grumpy -- especially when she says, "I have never claimed to be a nice person."

But after reading these warm inscriptions, and enjoying the word-pictures she creates (I'd like to have visited Shub's office and seen one of those sunsets!) I suspect she's a lot nicer than I thought.

And I've got the books to prove it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who Was He?

In 1977, the young adult novel ANPAO : AN AMERICAN INDIAN ODYSSEY was published to great acclaim. The book received a Newbery Honor and its author, Jamake Highwater, was praised for his authentic Native voice. The back flap of the dustjacket features a photograph of Highwater bedecked in Indian regalia and the text tells us this "young writer" is "of Blackfoot/Cherokee" heritage.

Young? He claimed to have been born in 1942, which would have made him 35 at the time of ANPAO's publication. But others claim he may have been born as early as 1923.

Blackfoot/Cherokee? That's still very much in question. Adopted and raised by a caucasian family, he was originally known as "J Marks," "Jay Marks," and "Jack Marks." After an early career as a dancer and choreographer, he became a music critic and published a book about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. In the late 1960s he began to claim that his birth mother was Cherokee and his father was Greek, but later changed the story (and the names of his supposed parents), saying his mother was Cherokee, his father was Blackfoot and they had died of starvation during the Depression. After publishing the FODOR GUIDE TO INDIAN AMERICA as "Jamake Hightower," he became known as a authority on Native life and began publishing fiction and nonfiction on Indian themes.

During the 1980s, many Native Americans began questioning Highwater's background and branded him a liar, saying he had no Indian blood at all. For an interesting look at the controversy, check out the essay "Jack Marks is Dead, Oh Well" at

Highwater died in 2001, taking his secrets with him. But his books remain. Because of its status as a Newbery Honor, ANPAO continues to be read and studied in schools. Considered a brilliant, award-winning novel in 1977, do the critical approbations change now that it's fairly evident the author was an imposter? Is the book any less valid now that we know it's not written with an authentic Native voice but was instead written by an outsider looking in? I don't know the answers to these questions, but they are intriguing to ponder.

by Jamake Highwater ; illustrated by Fritz Scholder
Published by Lippincott, 1977.

What makes the book collectable:

It's a Newbery Honor Book.

The controversy about its author.

First edition points:

Bound in orange cloth.

The dustjacket price is $8.95.

The print key on the copyright page is as follows: 2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Some copies, particularly signed ones, are listed at several hundred dollars, but a nice first edition can still be found for $45 or less.

There are also some ARCs available, printed in the "old school" style -- very tall, narrow volumes whose pages don't match the pagination of the hardcover; the illustrations are not printed in the ARC.

My copy of the book (purchased for thirty-five dollars less than ten years ago) is inscribed to its former owner. The signature is nearly impossible to read. He could have signed it with almost any name and we'd never know the difference.

And isn't that ironic.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Now That's Dedication

Novelist and poet Michael Cadnum entered the field of young-adult fiction in 1991 with CALLING HOME, the suspenseful story of a teenager who accidentally kills his best friend, then impersonates him in a series of phone calls to the dead boy’s parents. Since then he’s often focused on historical themes and received a National Book Award nomination for THE BOOK OF THE LION, a story about the crusades. Although I admire Cadnum’s historical works, my very favorites are his contemporary suspense novels which feature unreliable narrators and are written in the kind of elliptical prose that always keeps the reader on edge, never quite knowing what to think. I remember almost gasping at the revelation toward the end of TAKING IT -- which suddenly put the entire novel into perspective. And I still think there is something hidden in the narrative of ZERO AT THE BONE which, if I just read the book one more time, would provide a clue to solving the novel’s central mystery.

As soon as I see a new Cadnum novel on the bookstore shelves, I immediately grab it and turn to the dedication page. Every one of them seems to be dedicated to Sherina. And Sherina turns out to be his wife. The things a husband says to his wife are generally considered private, but printing them on the dedication page of a book pretty much makes them public. So I’m always fascinated to read each new dedication. I don’t always understand them, but the words are pure poetry.

Here are a handful from books I have in front of me:

“For Sherina: Tide so high our boats part the treetops.” (from THE LEOPARD SWORD)

“For Sherina: Even with my eyes closed: the tree so full of birds.” (from ZERO AT THE BONE)

“For Sherina: Each dawn against the current they sail the white river.” (from THE BOOK OF THE LION)

“For Sherina: One deer-print beside the shivering pool.” (from STARFALL)

“For Sherina: Quietly -- there are doves.” (from TAKING IT)

“For Sherina: A spider in the rain -- so still.” (from RUNDOWN)

“For Sherina: Spring so early / swallows are a dream.” (from EDGE)

“For Sherina : Cold enough / to write your name / on the glass.” (from BLOOD GOLD)

Is each dedication a separate epigram, or are they all part of a longer poem? I don’t know. All I know is that I look forward to reading each new Michael Cadnum book -- and, with each new volume, eavesdropping on his romance with Sherina.

The Need to Read

Several times a night, we fall into what is known as REM sleep. REM stands for the “rapid eye movement” that characterizes such episodes -- and it’s during those times that we dream most vividly. I’ve often wondered if there isn’t some daytime equivalent to REM sleep -- some physiological need that makes us pick up a book and scan left to right, left to right -- drawn, dreamlike, into words and stories. I call it a “need” because, even when there is no book around, my eyes seem to seek out any written material and become hypnotized by the list of ingredients on the back of a cereal box...the instructions on a cough syrup bottle...the advertising claims splashed across the front of nearly every product’s packaging....

I sometimes even see this in people who don’t read books at all.

They were probably the most unsophisticated people I’ve ever known. They lived and died without ever leaving their home state. Neither one learned to drive a car. They never owned a color TV. Never set foot in a mall. Never ate (what I heard her once call) a “pizza pie.” I doubt they graduated from high school. They spent their lives working at hard, dirty factory jobs. When we came to visit, their coffee table was covered with bowls of potato chips and cheese curls and Hershey’s kisses -- all later packed in plastic bags for us to take home, along with toys and comic books and jars of pennies. There were no books in this house -- at least none that I ever saw. Yet occasionally, when he spoke, he made a literary reference. He might mention someone being an orphan “just like Oliver Twist” or an attic “like the one in JANE EYRE.” Yet I knew he had not read these books.

Once we spent a couple nights at this house. We begged to go up in the attic which wasn’t exactly “like the one in JANE EYRE,” but was scary enough -- dark and cold and cavernous. Pushed against the wall we found a creaky old bureau and, inside the top drawer, stacks of “Classics Illustrated” comics -- DON QUIXOTE, WAR OF THE WORLDS, MOBY-DICK and, yes, OLIVER TWIST and JANE EYRE and dozens more, many going back to the 1940s and 1950s.

“You can take those home,” he said, as he always did. So we excitedly carried the comics downstairs and put them in paper bags to take home, too young and self-absorbed to realize we were probably taking away every book he had ever read.

They went to bed early, every night, but would often get up at one or two or three a.m. to sit in the kitchen, drinking coffee and smoking cigarette after cigarette. Again, we were too young and self-absorbed to even contemplate what kind of private pain causes sleepness nights -- the kind where the distraction of sitting with endless cups of coffee and cigarettes is preferable to lying awake with your own thoughts. To us it felt like a party, joining them at the kitchen table, eating cookies, drinking milk, and listening to their tinny radio softly playing in the background. I noticed that every time they’d shake another Camel out of the pack, they’d stare at the back of the package, scanning left to right as intently as I did when reading a book. “What are you reading?” I finally asked, and she handed me her pack of cigarettes and pointed to the writing on the back. I can’t even remember what it said now...I think it may have been a brief paragraph or two explaining the history of -- and extolling the virtues of -- Camel cigarettes. “We always count the number of E’s on the back,” she explained. “It’s always eleven.”

I counted the E’s and said, “Yeah, it’s eleven.”

“Everybody thinks that,” she said, “but one man at work said he found twelve.”

I counted again. “It’s eleven.”

She widened her eyes and shrugged her shoulders saying, “See what I mean? Nobody can ever find the twelfth one, but it’s there. A man at work saw it.”

A couple days later we went home, carrying our sacks of Classics Illustrated. Sometimes after that, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and lay there in the dark, knowing that, miles away, they were sitting across from each other at their kitchen table -- drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, listening to the radio, and reading -– for the ten-thousandth, eleventh-thousandth, maybe twelve-thousandth time -- the words on the back of the Camel package, looking for that twelfth E.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Confusing Time for Sunday Brunch

Last night I was sitting here typing away when the clock on my computer changed from 1:59 AM to 3:00 AM. I’m assuming this occurred because today was the traditional date for Daylight Saving Time to “spring ahead” and many electronic devices -- manufactured before the government changed the schedule for DST -- were automatically programmed to jump ahead this morning. So check your computers, VCRs, and microwaves, then join us for another Sunday brunch of random thoughts, facts, and opinions about children’s books.


I’m so glad I added a free “Statcounter” to this blog. Every day it keeps track of how many visitors swing by Collecting Children’s Books. (On an average day: about 100. On a day I make a joke about Beezus getting pregnant: about 700.) It also shows why people dropped by, displaying the hyperlink or Google search that brought them here. I’m fascinated to see these strange connections. For example, several weeks ago I raved about Linda Sue Park’s poetry book TAP DANCING ON THE ROOF; now every day people drop by this blog because they’re searching for info on tap dancing. They’re not looking for Ms. Park’s book -- they just want to know about tap dancing! Once I mentioned the famous “cow with a glass stomach” at Michigan State University and every now and then someone will pop in with this query: “Cow. Glass stomach.”

Others drop by with questions about children’s books -- some of which I could answer, but figure it’s not worth the bother since those fly-by-night visitors probably won’t be back again. However, just in case they do come back, here are answers to a few of their questions.

Q. Are there illustrations in SHILOH?
A. No.

Q. Did Laura Ingalls Wilder win the Newbery Medal?
A. No, but she had several Honor Books.

Q. What is the boy’s name in SOUNDER?
A. The boy.

Q. How do you pronounce “Juan de Pareja"?
A. I don't know.

Just yesterday someone left a query in one of the comments section:

“I am in search of a book that I read a couple of years ago. I, of course, do not know the title or the author, but I can give you the general gist of the book. It was about a mother telling how important it was to remember the "last times" in your kid’s life. For example, we remember the first time we held our child, but what we should remember is the last time, cause you don't see them coming and then they are gone. Can you help me?”

I don’t know the answer to this one. It sounds like more of an adult story or anecdote than a children’s book. Does anyone out there have the answer? If so, please post in the comment section below.


Feel free to write me at I may not know the answer (probably WON’T) but I might know where to find it. Or I’ll post it here on the blog in case anyone else can answer it.

By the way, the #1 question about children’s books is usually: What is the name of the book in which a babysitter makes soda pop and root beer come out of the faucets?

The answer is MR. PUDGINS by Ruth Carlsen.


With all those big publishing houses and bookstores, New York City really is “Book Country” -- and every fall they have a big festival to prove it. Thirteen years ago I saw this poster (by James Gurney of DINOTOPIA fame) advertised in Publishers Weekly. It arrived in a cardboard tube, in the rain, and the bottom left corner of the damp poster got torn coming out of the tube, but I’ve had it hanging ever since because I love books, I love New York, and once had a young friend who looked almost exactly like the boy in the poster. My “young" friend is nearly twenty-one now, but the boy in the poster hasn’t aged a day.


The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced this coming week. I once read that there is a bust of Joseph Pulitzer at Columbia University and every year, as the reporters stand waiting to hear the announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes, some wag (geez, I think I just qualified for AARP by using that word. I’d change it to “rogue” but it’s just as dated) will go up to the bust and yank on its nose while members of the press chant, “Pull it, sir!” This is their reminder of the correct pronunciation of “Pulitzer.” I guarantee, when you hear the announcement reported on the radio or TV this week, the newscaster will nonetheless pronounce it incorrectly as “Pew-litzer.”

Anyway, I guess the chance of the fiction award going to a children’s book is about as likely as snow at South Beach. But maybe it will go to an author such as Joyce Carol Oates (for THE GRAVE-DIGGER’S DAUGHTER) and we can claim her as our own, since she now writes young adult novels -- and pretty good ones at that!


I’m still unpacking bins in my new office and the other day came across several music CDs. One was a Peter, Paul, and Mary holiday album which I began listening to, despite the fact that it’s now April. The song “Light One Candle,” was particularly nice, so I went back and played it two or three times. That night I got home from work and picked up the book I’d been reading, NO CASTLES HERE by A.C.E. Bauer. I had left off at a scene in which kids are auditioning for a junior chorus. I turned the page and the protagonist of the book began to sing...”Light One Candle.” What a strange bit of synchronicity. This kind of thing happens to me so often that I sometimes wonder if Someone is trying to tell me Something....

Another new book I’m reading, MY LIFE : THE MUSICAL by Maryrose Wood, concerns a pair of teenagers -- Emily and Philip -- who are obsessed with a Broadway show and travel into Manhattan each Saturday afternoon to see it. Any teen who loves Broadway will get a kick out of this book. I was intrigued to learn Maryrose Wood appeared on B’way in the 1981 Sondheim musical MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and have been listening to the recording as I read the book.


DELPHA GREEN AND COMPANY by Vera and Bill Cleaver
THE PIGMAN by Paul Zindel




A couple months back I blogged about some of the marketing pieces used to publicize new children’s books. But I had no idea of how extensive and interesting this field was until a new blog-buddy sent me several recent examples:

I’m overwhelmed by the thought, creativity, time (and yes, expense) that went into making these items. There’s a light switch plate for CITY OF EMBER/PEOPLE OF THE SPARKS by Jeanne DuPrau, a warrior belt for Jeff Stone’s popular “Five Ancestors” series, and pecans for Jennifer Holm’s Newbery Honor PENNY FROM HEAVEN.

Then there’s a maze game for N.D. Wilson’s 100 CUPBOARDS, a compass for Maudie March (by Audrey Couloumbis), shoelaces for Louis Sachar’s SMALL STEPS, and pink hair curlers (“these mysteries will curl your hair”) promoting Trixie Belden books.

I’d never seen such a varity of promotional items in my life and immediately wanted to rip them open and play with ‘em. Then I reminded myself that the warrior belt wouldn’t fit, those pecans are three years old, and some of us have NATURALLY curly hair and do not need curlers.

Besides, they always say on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW that things are worth more if you leave them in their original packaging. So that’s how they remain -- at least for now -- a fascinating (but unopened) collection of children’ s book ephemera for me to admire and treasure.


...Lynn Hall...Bruce Brooks...Nancy Bond...Mildred Taylor...?

We miss you and eagerly await a new book!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Galley Slave

Every time I have the opportunity to meet a famous author, I make a mess of it.

The better the author, the bigger the mess.

You may recall my earlier blog entry about sending my non-reading brother to get Robert Cormier's autograph.

Then I attended a book signing for the brilliant Australian writer Markus Zusak and made the mistake of asking about his dog, who appeared so notably in many of his novels and book dedications.

...How was I to know the dog had DIED???

Last summer I attended an event for Gary Schmidt, an equally brilliant author whose WEDNESDAY WARS was my personal choice for the 2008 Newbery. In a wide-ranging speech, which touched on how he came to create that novel, his research on its sixties setting, and his ambivalent feelings when his son decided to join the military, he happened to mention that, as he drove from his rural, bucolic town to the metro-Detroit area, he couldn't help but notice all the fast-food, drive-thru, quick eating places in the metropolitan area. Why did everything have to be so fast these days, he wondered? Why the need for instant gratification? (I quickly changed my plans to stop at Taco Bell on the way home.) At the signing afterward, I handed over my copies of THE WEDNESDAY WARS, a couple of biographies he'd written on Robert Lawson and Robert McCloskey, and the literary anthologies about the four seasons he'd edited (very browsable books, and highly recommended!) But the one thing he zeroed in on was the ARC of THE WEDNESDAY WARS.

ARCs: Advance Reading Copies. Galleys. Proofs. Prepubs. Whatever you call them, they're controversial. Produced several months before a book is published, they are distributed to critics and librarians, who need to write reviews and make recommendations before a book's actual publication date. Increasingly, they are also sought by collectors like me.

Mr. Schmidt picked up my ARC and said, "I noticed a lot of people with these. Where do they get them from?"

"Um...sometimes eBay," I said.

"Why do they want them?" he asked.

Well, I knew the main reason I'd purchased mine. I wanted to read the book early -- several months before it hit the bookstores. But how was I to explain that kind of thinking to someone who'd just spent five minutes complaining about how instant gratification was ruining our society? It's true, I could have have just waited six months till the real book was available. But no, I had to take the "fast food" approach to reading! (If a hardcover book is a fancy dinner at a gourmet restaurant, an ARC is probably comparable to a McDonald's Happy Meal: cheaply made, inexpensive, and tasty -- but not equivalent to The Real Thing.)

I can't remember exactly how I answered Mr. Schmidt's question. Probably with one of those signature comments (" dunno.") that make me such a scintillating conversationalist and in-demand dinner-party guest. Ah well, at least he signed my ARC:

In retrospect, I wish I'd had the presence of mind to explain things a little better. As I mentioned earlier, advance reading copies have become increasingly controversial in recent years. I know of one young adult author who goes into a rampage when this topic is discussed. She thinks that ARCs are produced ONLY for reviewers, librarians, and industry-type people and that anyone else who gets their hands on one is basically stealing money from her -- because they are reading her work FOR FREE instead of BUYING her book. She even tries to prevent book dealers from selling ARCs on the internet. I think she needs to get a life. I've never seen her complain about people who borrow her books from the library instead of purchasing them. Besides, most people who take the time and make the effort to track down an ARC are serious book collectors who will ALSO buy the hardcover when it's released. I know I almost always do.

What, exactly, is the purpose of getting an ARC?

Well, with apologies to Gary Schmidt, sometimes it is instant gratification -- just the desire to read the latest book by a favorite author as soon as possible. (It's actually a compliment to an author when someone is that anxious to read their forthcoming book.) And it's a neat feeling to be, as someone once described it, "first on the block," to read a new book, forming your own opinions before magazine reviews have appeared to influence you.

From a collecting perspective, it also comes back to the idea of getting the copy that's "closest" to the author's original creation. (The same rationale is used to explain the preference for a first edition over a second edition.)

Serious readers like to compare ARCs to the finished product to see if there have been any last minute changes in the text. A few years ago I encountered the ARC of a children's book set during Easter week in which the Wednesday before Easter was repeatdly referred to as "Ash Wednesday" throughout the text, including in chapter headers. I wondered how the author could write an entire book on the subject and not know any better. And where were the editor and copyeditors during the book's production? (This mistake was fixed in the hardcover edition.) I just read an ARC of a forthcoming novel that included a separate sheaf of pages labeled "Chapter One" to replace the original chapter bound within the ARC. Of course it was intriguing to compare the two and figure out why the writer and editor had decided to make those last-minute changes.

It's also fascinating to see how cover illustrations can change between the time the ARC and the hardcover are released. Here's the ARC and the harcover illustrations for THE GREEN GLASS SEA by Ellen Klages, my favorite shoulda-won-the-Newbery title of 2006:

Why do you think the change was made? Which cover is more attractive to you? (By the way,the mathematial inscriptions appear in glossy print all across the hardcover jacket, though my scanner didn't quite pick that up.) Some ARC readers thought the girl on the original cover looked distractingly like Anne Frank, though I don't know if that's why the cover was eventually changed.

Here's a fun note that I found in Bruce Brooks' deft nonfiction volume BOYS WILL BE. Apparently he included it in his typescript as a side comment to editor Marc Aronson, but it accidentally got printed in the ARC. It was crossed out before the ARC was sent to reviewers. We collectors love this kind of thing.

Finally, for those authors who say they can't start a new story or novel until they know the title, here's evidence that books sometimes go through the entire publishing process and are even printed in ARC format before a title is finalized:

"Untitled" eventually became THE SILENT BOY, one of my personal Lois Lowry favorites. I was surprised to discover how many ARCs are printed as "Untitled." Any collector who wanted to start an unusual collection could find literally hundreds of ARC with this title on the front cover.

ARCs, galleys, proofs, prepubs...whatever you call them, I am always interested in looking at them for the insights they provide into the creative process.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Just Between You and Me....

More than one children's book dealer has told me they don't really enjoy the financial aspects of their work, but are mainly in the business "because of the people and the books."

Of course that never prevented them from accepting my money!

But I do understand where they're coming from.

Frankly, there isn't a lot of money to be made in the world of children's books. But the other rewards are boundless. There's something very gratifying about introducing someone to a new book. Or reuniting someone with a childhood favorite. Or simply getting the right book into the right hands. When I hear a stranger discuss a children's book that I've read, I feel an immediate sense of kinship -- almost as if we're halfway friends before we've even met.

I've made a number of good book-buddies over the years. In many cases, we've only met in cyberspace, yet the stories we've discussed, the facts we've exchanged, and the opinions we've shared have certainly changed my life. Two of these friends -- one in Michigan, one in Connecticut, and unknown to each other -- separately convinced me to start this blog. And since I've opened up shop here, I've met even more like-minded people who have commented on blog entries or sent me personal e-mails (at sharing stories about their own love of children's books.

I was thinking of all this today because another book-friend who sells children's books out of Mill Valley, California read my Sunday entry on Don Freeman's WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT and wrote to share a story. She said that when her then-five-year-old son read Freeman's book many years ago he discovered a "slip up" in the story. He later had an opportunity to meet the author-illustrator and informed him of this slip-up "which Don Freeman vowed had never been caught before." He then inscribed the little boy's book:

Barry's mother added, "I used this book with many many children in various libraries over the years and very few ever caught on--even though Don had tried to make it evident."

Has anyone else read this book and noted the glitch that Barry found? Or was he the only kid who ever noticed it?

I'm grateful to the Mill Valley book dealer for sharing her story -- and that wonderful illustrated inscription -- with the rest of us.

I know, I know, Don Freeman told Barry to keep it a secret...

But his mother said I could share, among friends.