Sunday, June 29, 2008

Last Sunday Brunch in June

It’s the last weekend in June and I’ve prepared a Sunday brunch of random facts and opinions on children’s books. The menu includes a pizza made in Cleveland, a serving of pye, and some summer whine..I mean wine. Dig in!


Normally Anaheim, California is best known for Disneyland...but this weekend the city of flying teacups is hosting the American Library Association’s Annual Conference. The highlight for children’s book enthusiasts is tonight’s presentation of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals to Amy Laura Schlitz (for GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES!) and Brian Selznick (for THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET.)

Every Newbery-Caldecott Banquet has its own lore. Eleanor Estes tripped and fell as she got up to give her speech in 1952. Linda Sue Park gave the medal to her father right in the middle of her speech. Robert C. O’Brien bowed out of delivering his own acceptance speech. William Steig gave a notably brief speech and far too many authors have given speeches that were far too long. It will be interesting to hear what happens at tonight’s event. Both authors have broken new Newbery/Caldecott ground, with Ms. Schlitz winning for a book of dramatic monologues (the first volume of its type to get the Big N) and Mr. Selznick winning for a picture book over 500 pages long.

Former medalist Susan Cooper (who won the Newbery for THE GREY KING) once referred to the newly-crowned winners as “midsummer monarchs,” and it's true that it won’t be long before we begin anticipating what books will win next year’s awards. But tonight belongs to Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, and Hugo Cabret.


It happened again on Friday.

I subscribe to several listserves devoted to children’s and young adult books. Librarians submit “stumpers” -- books that patrons are seeking, though they can’t recall the titles. On Friday a librarian wrote that a patron was a looking for a book about a New York city girl who returns home early from a family vacation and ends up getting a part in a Woody Allen movie.

If I had a dime for every time someone wrote in asking about this book!

The title is THE RISE AND FALL OF A TEENAGE WACKO, published in 1981.

Three other stumpers I frequently see are:

“Does anyone know the title of a book about two 'outsider' girls who form a friendship based on their shared psychic abilities?”

That book is I’M NOBODY! WHO ARE YOU?, published in 1974.

Then there’s “I’m trying to remember a book about a girl who suffers from nightmares, steals small items from stores, and has mysterious scars on her hands.”

That’s STEP ON A CRACK, published in 1978.

Finally, there’s this stumper: “Does anyone know an epistolary novel about two girls who send each other letters while they are on summer vacation? I remember that one girl is opposed to riding in cars because she’s concerned about pollution.”

That one is THERE’S A PIZZA BACK IN CLEVELAND, pubished in 1972.

What all these books have in common is that they were written by the same author: Mary Anderson. (PIZZA was co-authored by Hope Campbell.)

Active in the 1970s and 1980s, Mary Anderson was never a hugely-popular author, nor did she win any awards. I believe all of her books are now long out of print.

But obviously they have never been forgotten by readers -- and that includes me.

I often ask myself what it is about Mary Anderson’s novels that makes readers remember them ten, twenty, thirty years after publication and try to track them down? Is it the characters? The plots? Or some ineffable quality that’s impossible to name?

I too have been drawn back to these books every few years. When I begin re-reading them, I tell myself that I will objectively figure out what makes these stories linger in the mind and haunt the reader...but after a few pages I forget that I’m trying to be a literary detective and find myself falling completely into the enjoyment of reading these books.

Could that be the secret of why people remember Mary Anderson’s novels -- that they are simply really, really good books?

Or is there something else between the lines that draws us in and makes us never forget?


Well, I knew the first two as children’s books by Eleanor Estes, but had never heard of Johnny Pye until I stumbled across JOHNNY PYE AND THE FOOL-KILLER in the library stacks the other day. I was surprised I didn’t know it -- especially since it was written by Stephen Vincent Benet, who won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for JOHN BROWN’S BODY and the classic 1937 short story THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER.

The book concerns a “biddable” orphan boy who seeks to avoid the “fool killer” (death) by sampling life as a snake-oil salesman and merchant, trying out the military, and considering politics before, inevitably, accepting death as an elderly man. This moving and old-fashioned story has the feel of a fine folktale.

Published in 1938, this novella-length book is so short that I was able to read the entire thing during my half-hour lunch break at work. Though the book I held in my hands was seventy years old, many of the pages were uncut and I frequently had to wipe off my lunch knife and score the edges so I could continue reading the story.

No wonder I felt like I was discovering something new and unknown as I read JOHNNY PYE AND THE FOOL-KILLER; I was actually the first person to EVER read the library's copy. Imagine that!


It has to have been a full year ago that my friend in California told me that A DARKLING PLAIN by Philip Reeve was a great book and urged me to read it. Unfortunately, it turns out that DARKLING PLAIN is the fourth and final volume in a series called “The Hungry Cities Chronicles.” My friend said it wouldn’t make any difference if I plunged directly into the fourth volume, but I felt it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t read the other three volumes first. So I rushed out and got paperback copies. I read MORTAL ENGINES right away and, even though fantasy isn’t my favorite genre, I enjoyed this fast-paced and inventive novel. That was last summer.

Just today I finished reading the second volume, PREDATOR’S GOLD and enjoyed that as well.

I’m going to start #3, INFERNAL DEVICES, tomorrow, but considering my track record (and the fact that the book is over 400 pages) who knows when I’ll finish it.

Incidentally, A DARKLING PLAIN is nearly 600 pages.

I expect to finally finish it by Christmas.

...Christmas 2009.


There’s nothing a blogger loves more than getting plenty of hits on his blog.

For the past couple days I’ve had about two hundred new visitors. Of course I was ecstatic. But I noticed that they were all coming to read the exact same entry -- from February 24, 2008. I went back and re-read that entry and couldn’t see anything that might suddenly attract all that attention.

Today I discovered that a school library listserve had been discussing the “Mickey Mantle scene” in Gary Schmidt’s THE WEDNESDAY WARS and that someone had posted a link to my blog entry containing Mr. Schmidt’s explanation of that scene. I believe my blog is the only place on the internet (till now, at least) that offers this information -- and of course I am thrilled to share it with anyone and everyone who drops by here. This blog is all about sharing information on old and new children’s books.

However, I have to say I was slightly chagrined to see that, with maybe one or two exceptions (out of 200+ new visitors) nobody hung around to look at anything else on the blog. Wouldn’t you think that school people...readers...would have their curiosity sufficiently piqued by the WEDNESDAY WARS information that they’d at least look at a few more blog entries just to see what other info on children’s books is available here? Whatta bummer.


So to all the REGULAR VISITORS here, I’d like to extend a big THANK YOU for your continued readership and support.

I'm grateful to the old friends who suggested I start this blog and the new friends who have either posted comments here or sent me e-mails (at

And I'm grateful to those anonymous readers whose cities keep showing up in my “stat counter” from Australia (wow -- around the world!) and Berkeley, California...Williamsport, PA...just down the 696 expressway from me in Ann Arbor and Brighton, MI...Manchester, NH...Indianapolis ...Kansas...Stowe, VT...Germantown, MD...and dozens of others. (And if you log in through America Online, I don't know WHERE you live, because all AOL visitors are funneled through Reston, VA.)

As a way of saying thanks:

Have you all read DANDELION WINE by Ray Bradbury?

I somehow missed this title growing up -- but one of my co-workers, who is very widely-read, always talks about DANDELION WINE being her all-time favorite. In fact, she talked about it so much that I finally had to read it myself!

And of course I fell in love with it...because everybody loves this book.

A couple years later, I was able to repay the friend who introduced me to this book by telling her that Ray Bradbury would be appearing at a local bookstore. She was able to have her battered paperback of DANDELION WINE signed and thank Ray Bradbury in person for writing her favorite book.

I think anyone who loves children’s books would enjoy this collection of inter-connected stories about twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding’s summer in tiny Green Town, Illinois. Tinged with fantasy and nostalgia, DANDELION WINE celebrates the simple joys of being young and alive. And it’s the type of book that deepens as the reader ages -- and begins to notice the intimations of mortality and loss that lurk in the shadows of summer.

If you haven’t read it before, you might want to give it a try.

If you have read it before, you might want to read it again.

It’s the perfect summertime gift to share with others.

Pass it on.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Grateful Either Way

On Charlotte Zolotow's birthday,
We're torn between two impulses:
To thank her for all the great books that she wrote
Or for editing everyone else's.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just Waiting to be Found...

Last Friday afternoon I was looking for something in our library's online catalog and stumbled across the title THE NEWBERY MEDAL BOOKS, 1922-1933 : THEIR AUTHORS, ILLUSTRATORS, AND PUBLISHERS by Muriel E. Cann. It was published in Boston by the Trustees of the Public Library in 1934. This book surprised me, as I thought I was already familiar with most of the "Newbery" works in our collection. I went to the shelves and found this unprepossessing volume:

However, I found the text to be quite fascinating. Written and published before the Newbery Medal had entered its "teenage years," the volume gives us an immediate and thought-provoking look at the then-new award. We are told that Hugh Lofting's THE VOYAGES OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE is "easily termed the most popular of the Newbery Medal Books." The cover design of Charles Boardman Hawes' THE DARK FRIGATE is criticized: "It is a great pity that the outward form of the book is not more compelling. Both in the bookstore and in the library it is too often passed by, because there is nothing about its exterior to mark it as a 'distinguished' contribution to children's books." And when it comes to SMOKY by Will James, we are assured: "The slang is such that there is little danger of its being adopted by the boys." (Oh thank goodness!)

Looking at the book, I decided I'd really love to have a copy for my own collection. I checked online and saw that only one copy was available. The price was right (using today's method of budgeting, it cost half the price of a tank of gas: $23.) I ordered the book and it arrived in yesterday's mail.

I knew right away that I had stumbled onto a very special copy. Since the library's copy was rebound, I don't know what the original binding looked like, but I can't imagine it was bound in leather and marbled boards like this copy:

Or that the spine would be embossed in gold:

Or that the endpapers would be printed on marbled glossy stock:

It turns out that the book I found is a one-of-a-kind volume. It was specially made and presented to the author by the director of the Boston Public Library, Milton C. Lord "in appreciation of the interest which brought this study of children's books into being."

One unusual aspect of this book is that, although it contains only 37 numbered pages, there are 27 blank leaves bound at the end of the volume. I'm not sure why that is, but I'd like to think those blank pages somehow represent the future of the Newbery Medal and all the books yet to be written that would someday win this award.

As for Muriel E. Cann, the only things I've been able to find out about her is that "E" stood for "Evadne" and that she was born in 1906. I'm sure she treasured her special leatherbound copy of THE NEWBERY MEDAL BOOKS, 1922-1934 for the rest of her life. Yet somehow it ended up at a bookstore in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where it sat -- just waiting to be found -- until last Friday when I came along to give it a new home.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Danger, Will Robinson!

I grew up during the golden age of problem novels.

During the late sixties/early seventies, it seemed like every other children's or young adult novel was about a controversial contemporary issue or crisis.



Teenage pregnancy!

Mental illness!

Anorexia! Bulimia! Overeating!

Running away from home!

Even though many of those sensationalistic, "ripped from the headlines" books were clearly meant to teach young readers a lesson, I do not recall many of the early problem novels -- such as Maia Wojciechowska's TUNED OUT (drugs!), John Neufeld's LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK (mental illness!) and Jeanette Eyerly's BONNIE JO, GO HOME (teenage pregnancy!) -- including warnings, disclaimers, or telephone hotlines for readers in crisis. But today it seems that more and more books contain the type of notes that, for me at least, make a novel seem less like a literary experience and more like a form of bibliotherapy. I also wonder if they're included out of genuine concern for the young reader or simply as a way to protect the author and publisher from possible lawsuits.

I've been thinking about this ever since I saw a copy of the new novel BIG MOUTH by Deborah Halverson:

which concerns a fourteen-year-old boy who dreams of becoming a competitive eating champ by beating the current hot dog eating record of over fifty-three franks in twelve minutes. Sensitive readers may find it hard to get past the vomiting scene that opens the book...especially since it lasts fifteen paragraphs. And there are many more to come. What I found most intriguing about the novel, though, was this disclaimer that appears before the first chapter even begins:

The disclaimer is then followed by 352 pages of text in which the protagonist engages in eating for speed and quantity in an uncontrolled environment with no medical technician present. Okay.

Sometimes disclaimers turn up when you least expect them. Who would think that Tomie de Paola's nostalgic and winsome collection of holiday memories, CHRISTMAS REMEMBERED, would include one?

Yet there it is, right on the copyright page (you may have to click on the image to enlarge the text):

I'm not sure what to make of that. I guess I would assume that anyone vehemently opposed to alcohol would just automatically omit those references when reading the book aloud and wouldn't need express permission from the author and publisher. On the other hand, hearing about such things as "holiday spirits" in these stories might be a good way for youngsters to learn about the Christmas traditions of various cultures.

You might think that these types of disclaimers are limited to children's books, but I've found such notes in adult volumes as well. In 1997, two of Shirley Jackson's children, Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman Stewart, published a collection of their mother's short stories called JUST AN ORDINARY DAY, and felt compelled to explain: "Our mother lived and wrote in a time -- the thirties through the sixties -- when smoking and drinking were widespread and fashionable. Her characters grimly and gleefully chain-smoke and throw down drink after drink, in between boiling their coffee and spanking their children. But underneath these literary folkways of her time the universal themes glitter."

I guess I'd assume that anyone old enough to read Jackson's work would be able to put the stories into historical perspective without apology or explanation.

Even as I write this blog entry, I'm not really sure where I stand on the issue of publisher disclaimers. On the one hand, it seems ridiculous that a book like BIG MOUTH would even be published if it concerns an issue so dangerous that it requires a warning; on the other hand, shouldn't an author have the freedom to write about any topic that he or she chooses? Does including a comment about the drinking -- not over-imbibing, but moderate drinking -- in CHRISTMAS REMEMBERED pander to the reader, or is it justified because SOME readers may frown on the practice? And I'm not sure what to make of the note at the end of Celia Rees' THE WISH HOUSE that reminds readers that the novel takes place in the 1970s before safe sex was an issue. I do know I got a little queasy when a character in James Lesesne's new young adult novel ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS pays a friend forty dollars to choke him, and later says, "That was fabulous. You guys should totally try it." Especially since the very week I read the book, the Centers for Disease Control issued a report that warned, "Since 1995, at least 82 children and adolescents have died as a result of playing 'the choking game.'" I flipped to the front and back of the book. No disclaimer. Was the scene important to the book as a work of literature? I don't know. Will anyone reading the book want to try this "fabulous" experience personally? I hope not.

Lots of questions. No answers.

I will say that most of us made it to adulthood without warnings like, "It is unsafe to go rafting on the Mississippi River without a guardian" or "If you are considering running away from home, please call the Runaway Hotline and don't even think of hiding out at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, which is filled with rare, fragile, and sometimes dangerous items that could easily be broken by children."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

First Brunch of Summer

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Then I came across this one:

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the book’s dedication:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story gets even stranger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 19, 2008

October Surprise

Yesterday I happened upon a copy of the 1926 Newbery winner SHEN OF THE SEA : CHINESE STORIES FOR CHILDREN by Arthur Bowie Chrisman.

Originally published by Dutton in 1925, this is the dustjacket of the eighth printing, which was issued in November 1926:

I found this volume intriguing for several reasons.

Although the Newbery had only been around for four years, it already seemed to have some prestige and must have been considered quite a selling point, as it was played up so prominently on the cover. I was also impressed that the announcement of the medal was incorporated so well into the design, using the same colors and typeface employed in the original dustjacket. The back flap of the dustjacket also refers to this volume as being the "Newbery Medal Edition."

I'm assuming that these components did help sales. According to the copyright page, SHEN OF THE SEA was first published in July 1925. It went back for a second printing in December and returned for a third in July 1926. Then the award was announced in October 1926 -- leading to three quick printings that month and two more in November. Then, as now, winning the Newbery seemed to assure bestsellerdom.

What intrigues me most about this book, though, is the date on the jacket: October 4, 1926.

Today we are all used to the award being announced in January and the presentation being made in June. Apparently this was not always the case. Based on some sources I've seen, it appears that the announcement and presentation of the awards were simultaneous in the early years. At least that's the impression I get from articles published in the New York Times about 1922's winner THE STORY OF MANKIND by Hendrik Van Loon and 1927's SMOKY THE COWHORSE by Will James. Those awards appear to have been both announced AND presented in June.

If the awards were given in June both prior and subsequent to SHEN OF THE SEA winning, why was the 1926 Newbery announced and presented so tardily in October -- a full year and a quarter after the book's publication?

I guess I'll have to do more research to find the answer.

One thing I've learned about children's books is that the more you think you know, the more you need to learn.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why Editions Matter

Book collectors are notorious for wanting early -- preferably FIRST -- editions.

One of the chief reasons for this is that we usually want the edition "nearest to the author" and his or her original vision. If a book was published to great acclaim, or won an award the year it was issued, we want to see THAT book -- not a later copy that may no longer resemble the original.

Compare these two copies of the Newbery-winning GINGER PYE by Eleanor Estes. The image on the left shows the dustjacket of the first edition, published in 1951. The image on the right is an edition from 2000:

Not only are the illustrations different (Estes herself did the cover art for the first edition -- can't get much closer to the book's creator than that! -- while Arthur Howard provided the newer one), but the books themselves vary in size, with the 2000 edition a quarter inch shorter.

The original edition is 250 pages long; the later edition is 306 pages. To accommodate the change in length, illustrations have been moved from their original locations. In 1951, Ginger disappears in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner; notice how the illustration cuts right into the middle of the text as well. In the later edition, the picture appears neatly between paragraphs.

Perhaps these types of cosmetic changes are not very significant in a novel. After all, GINGER PYE won the Newbery because of its text, not for its physical dimensions or picture placement.

But what about when a book wins the Caldecott Award specifically for its artwork and design?

Here's the cover of the dustjacket for the first Caldecott winner ever -- ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop and published by Stokes in 1937.

Compare it to this 1998 edition, published by HarperCollins:

Not only is the lettering different, but the illustration itself has lost its softness and subtlety. It's now harsher and coarser.

Compare these interior illustrations from the two editions:

The delicacy of the first illustration is missing from the second, which seems rather dull in comparison.

Does the recent edition accurately represent the original art? Frankly, I wonder if Ms. Lathrop could have won the Caldecott for the work we see in the 1998 printing.

This is true for many of the Caldecotts I've examined.

Compare this beautiful bursting-with-autumn color illustration from Virginia Lee Burton's 1942 Caldecott winner, THE LITTLE HOUSE, with its pallid counterpart from a much later printing:

Leonard Weisgard won the Caldecott in 1947 for THE LITTLE ISLAND, which was written by Margaret Wise Brown under the name Golden MacDonald. Compare this pairing of illustrations from the 1946 and 2003 editions. In the first picture, the green leaves and fish are brighter and there is much more depth and perspective compared to the second, somewhat flat illustration:

Finally, take a look at these neat endpapers from Feodor Rojankovsky's 1956 Caldecott winner FROG WENT A-COURTIN':

The endpapers in later editions are blank white paper.

What a loss!

Anyone who looks at a modern printing of a Newbery or Caldecott winner and wonders how it ever won an award might want to track down an early edition of that book -- to find out what made it so special in the first place.

And that's the reason book collectors put so much emphasis on those early editions.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Father's Day Brunch

Here’s a Father’s Day Brunch offering random facts and opinions on children’s books with, in honor of the day, a focus on the paternal.


One of my favorite fathers from children’s books is Father Fox, who first appeared in FATHER FOX’S PENNYRHYMES by Clyde Watson and illustrated by her sister Wendy Watson. The picture book begins:

The sky is dark, there blows a storm
Our cider is hot, the fire is warm
The snow is deep & the night is long:
Old Father Fox, will you sing us a song?

The following pages contain a collection of original nursery rhymes in the tradition of Mother Goose -- old-fashioned, sentimental, silly -- and so memorable that many get stuck in your head after just one or two readings:

Nanny Banny Bumblebee
Nanny is my cup of tea
I’m as happy as can be
When I’ve got Nanny on my knee.

The accompanying watercolor and ink illustrations add to the fun.

Introduced to great acclaim in 1971, Father Fox has made periodic reappearances to delight new generations of children -- first in 1983 with FATHER FOX’S FEAST OF SONGS and again last year with FATHER FOX’S CHRISTMAS RHYMES.


What do you do when you have a couple free weeks between jobs? Take a vacation? Hit the beach? Though not even twenty five years old at the time, Ruth Stiles Gannett used her two weeks off to write a children’s classic.

Published in 1948 and illustrated by her stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett, MY FATHER’S DRAGON is the whimsical tale of Elmer Elevator, who saves a captive baby dragon by using his well as some chewing gum, lollipops, and ribbons. Throughout the book, Elmer is referred to as “my father” -- an eccentric choice, but one that gives the book an added dimension and makes it especially appealing for read-alouds.

MY FATHER’S DRAGON was named a Newbery Honor Book and continues to be loved by readers today. Two sequels, ELMER AND THE DRAGON (1950) and THE DRAGONS OF BLUELAND (1951) followed.


One of my favorite literary fathers is featured in Randy Powell’s 2001 young adult novel RUN IF YOU DARE, which describes how teenage Gardner and his family cope when Dad suddenly loses his job.

All the family interactions ring true and I particularly like the realistic conversations between father and son.

Randy Powell is one of my favorite authors, but he’s only published one book since this one (2002’s THREE CLAMS AND AN OYSTER.) As soon as he publishes a new novel, I’ll be running to the store to get a copy.


Here’s a book on my shelf that always makes me wonder:

DAVY CROCKETT’S EARTHQUAKE (1956) is a tall tale by William O. Steele, who's best known for writing historical westerns for young readers. What I find so intriguing about my copy is the dedication page:

I’ll always wonder why this book is sitting on MY shelves, rather than holding a place of honor on the shelves of Steele’s son.


Fathers don’t fare well in the Newbery canon. I was just looking through my Newbery books and have never seen such a mess of dead dads, deadbeat dads, departed dads, disappearing dads, and disappointing dads. It’s sad.

Let’s count ‘em up.

But first, let’s eliminate all the books that don’t really lend themselves to this line-up because they fall in the categories of history (THE STORY OF MANKIND), folklore (THE WHITE STAG), short stories/drama (TALES FROM SILVER LANDS; SHEN OF THE SEA; GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES!), and poetry (A VISIT TO WiLLIAM BLAKE’S INN; JOYOUS NOISE.)

Next, let’s remove biographies and biographical fiction-- because the presence of a father in these books is dictated by real-life facts and is not a creative decision made by the author. Some of the following books do feature fathers and some don’t. They include: INVINCIBLE LOUISA; DANIEL BOONE; AMOS FORTUNE, FREE MAN; CARRY ON, MR BOWDITCH; I, JUAN DE PAREJA, and LINCOLN : A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY.

Take out doll books because if HITTY and MISS HICKORY had fathers I don’t want to think about how that was achieved.

Eliminate the four books that mainly focus on GROUPS of people (some of whom have fathers and some don’t): THE WHEEL ON THE SCHOOL; THE WESTING GAME; THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY, and CRISS CROSS.

Finally, let’s ignore the two books that deal mainly with adult characters: THE CAT WHO WENT TO HEAVEN and THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS.

That still leaves us with 66 out of 86 titles -- a good sampling of what might be considered the century’s best -- or at least most notable -- books.

Of those sixty-six titles, a whopping TWENTY-TWO feature fathers who are either dead or permanently out of the picture:

SMOKY, THE COWHORSE (out of the picture)
DOBRY (dead dad)
KING OF THE WIND (out of the picture dads for both horse and boy)
THE BRONZE BOW (dead dad)
SHADOW OF A BULL (dead dad)
THE HIGH KING (dead dad)
SUMMER OF THE SWANS (out of the picture)
SLAVE DANCER (dead dad)
DICEY’S SONG (out of the picture)
MANIAC MAGEE (dead dad)
MISSING MAY (out of the picture)
SINGLE SHARD (dead dad)
CRISPIN : CROSS OF LEAD (out of the picture)
HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY (out of the picture)

Okay, you’re probably saying, but that still leaves 44 Newbery winners that include fathers. But now let’s list all the titles where the father is alive, but pretty much missing for most of the novel:

THE VOYAGES OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE : Tommy Stubbins’s father is not around while Tommy goes cruising with the doc
GAY-NECK : the pigeon has a father, but he dies early on
ROLLER SKATES : Lucinda’s father is off traveling in Europe while Lucinda skates around old New York and contemplates suicide at the reservoir
CALL IT COURAGE : the protagonist has a father but he only appears at the beginning of the book, to rebuke the kid, and the end of the book, to praise him
THE MATCHLOCK GUN : The protagonist’s father casts a long shadow across the novel but, let’s face it, he’s not around for most of the book
THE DOOR IN THE WALL : Robin has a father, but he’s far away during the narrative
RIFLES FOR WATIE : Jeff has a father, but he isn’t around for most of this Civil War story
ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS : Karana has a father, but he’s dead by page 28
A WRINKLE IN TIME: The fact that Meg’s father is missing propels the plot
UP A ROAD SLOWLY : Julie is sent to live elsewhere by her father
FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER : Claudia and Jamie have a father, but run away without him
SOUNDER : The father casts a long shadow in this novel as well, though he’s not with the family for most of the narrative
JULIE OF THE WOLVES : Julie has a father (the creep promises her in hand in marriage to a stranger) but he doesn't appear in most of the novel
THE GREY KING : Will has a father, but his father does not share in Will’s adventures
DEAR MR. HENSHAW : Leigh’s divorced father doesn’t play a big role in his life
THE HERO AND THE CROWN : The protagonist’s father is alive, but she goes off alone on her own adventures
WALK TWO MOONS : Sal’s father is alive, but not part of the big story here
HOLES : Stanley has a father, but when Stanley is sent to Green Lake Detention Center, Dad stays home
BUD, NOT BUDDY : the search for a father is paramount here, but the story is Bud’s alone
YEAR DOWN YONDER : Mary Alice’s father lives elsewhere that year
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX : Despereaux’s got a father (who cries, “He cannot, simply, cannot be my son”) but the father doesn’t play a part in his son’s adventures

So that’s 21 more titles in which the fathers play virtually no role. That leaves us with only 23 out of 66 Newbery titles in which fathers are at least present throughout. I've noted the cases where fathers play a major roles in the plot.

ADAM OF THE ROAD (and Adam gets separated from his father for some of this novel)
...AND NOW MIGUEL (very much a father-son story)
MIRACLES ON MAPLE HILL (the father’s post-traumatic stress from the war plays a major role here)
ONION JOHN (some critics felt this novel was more about the father than his son)
IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT (another story with strong father-son content)
SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL (if the father wasn’t seeking a wife, there would have been no Sarah to write about)

Hmm...I don’t know what to think about these figures. I guess I should go back and look at dead and missing mothers another time, as I know there are a lot of those in the Newbery canon as well.

If anyone notices any errors in the above lists, let me know and I’ll fix them.


Only one parent and child have won the Newbery Medal.

In 1987, Sid Fleischman won for THE WHIPPING BOY:

...and two years later his son, Paul Fleischman, won for his poetry book JOYFUL NOISE : POEMS FOR TWO VOICES:

I’m a fan of both authors. Paul Fleischman’s SEEK is one of my all-time special favorites. Recently a friend of mine gave me an advance reading copy of Paul’s Newbery Honor Book GRAVEN IMAGES:

I was thrilled to receive it. I had never seen a copy before. As you know, ARCs are uncorrected, sometimes incomplete copies of the finished book. This particular ARC was printed without a title page. But guess what? My friend asked Paul to sign the book. He wrote the book’s title and his own name on the blank title page:

Do I have the only copy in existence where the author wrote out the title page himself? Talk about one of a kind!

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there!