Sunday, August 31, 2008

Brunch for Labor Day Weekend

This three-day holiday weekend includes the last day of August and the first day of September. I’ve always thought of September first as the beginning of a new year, probably because this is when school starts up again. Today’s Sunday brunch entry includes odds and ends about starting kindergarten and going to reform school (talk about the opposite ends of a spectrum!) as well as hurricanes, crayons, scarecrows, and other random opinions and information on children’s books old and new.


My “stat counter” allows me to see what keywords people use on their way to finding this blog. Lately a lot of people have come looking for books on the first day of school. I'm assuming that’s a subject tackled mostly in picture books -- and picture books have never been my specialty. If anyone has any picture book suggestions on this topic, please include them in the comment section below.

Personally, the first day of kindergarten was very traumatic for me. I was very anxious to start school and remember getting dressed up in brand new clothes and going out the front door firmly clutching my “record” (a manilla envelope containing parental info, medical forms, and whatever else you had to present on your first day of kindergarten.) My mother took a movie of me stepping off the porch and heading down the walkway to the street. Then she accompanied me across the street (reminding me to “stop, look, and listen before you cross the street”) and around the block, then across another street (“stop, look, and etc., etc.”) to Horace Mann Elementary School.

It was the perfect autumn day -- bright but sunny, with the first hint of autumn in the cool breeze and just-starting-to-change-color leaves. I wanted to run right up to the big wooden school doors and rush inside, but my mother had to film me walking slowly up the concrete path and standing next to the fence, waiting for the school bell to ring.

We still have the movie.

This scene starts with me proudly grinning and holding my manilla record, the first in line for the first day of school!

After a couple minutes, my smile starts to fade a bit. ...Where are the other kids?

A couple minutes later I’m looking worried. Where is everyone? Why is the building dark inside? Why hasn’t the bell rung?

That’s around the time we figured out that we’d come on the wrong day.

Can you imagine what a letdown that was? Especially for an excited four-year-old? I didn’t learn to spell the word “traumatic” until sixth grade. But I learned what it MEANT before I even started kindergarten.

My brother’s first day of school was equally traumatic. My mother knew what day school started (she wasn’t going to make THAT mistake again) but she wasn’t prepared for my brother refusing to wear the brand new clothes she’d laid out for him AND refusing to carry his manilla record. He decided he was going to wear what HE wanted to wear and carry a PHONOGRAPH record to school. ...Fortunately, by the time he got to school and saw all the other kids carrying their manilla folders, he got scared and was more than willing to trade his 45 RPM single for the manilla envelope our mother had in her purse.

I guess starting school is traumatic for every kid in his or her own way. Remember Ramona Quimby’s first day of school in RAMONA THE PEST by Beverly Cleary (1968)? When her kindergarten teacher Miss Binney tells her to sit at a certain table “for the present,” Ramona refuses to budge because she’s waiting for her present. ... And then there’s that confusing song they have to sing about “the dawner lee light.” Ramona decides that a “dawner” is some kind of lamp that gives off “lee light” -- whatever THAT is!

The whole book is great, but there are two brilliant touches that I’ve never heard anyone mention with regard to RAMONA THE PEST. One is that Ramona’s classmate Davy is clearly dyslexic, though that term is never used in the book. The other is the name of the kindergarten teacher, Miss Binney. Up until very recently Crayola Crayons were manufactured by the Binney-Smith Company and that name was on every box (possibly on ever single crayon) so it’s a word that kindergarteners would know or at least recognize when they read about Ramona.


As I write this blog entry, Hurricane Gustav is in the Gulf of Mexico and heading toward Lousiana. No one knows yet if this is a hurricane to equal Katrina or whether it will fade to a Category 1 or 2 before it makes landfall. Will Gustav find its way into a children’s or young adult book someday?

Katrina has appeared in a couple YA novels, starting with SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER by M.E. Kerr. Katrina’s approach is mentioned in the final couple pages of Kerr’s book and is used to tie to together one of the book’s themes in a brilliant fashion. And now there’s a new young-adult novel about that storm by Paul Volponi called HURRICANE SONG:

I haven’t read Volponi’s book yet, but I did read this new release by Terry Trueman, which has a similar title and cover image:

However, Trueman’s book concerns Hurricane Mitch, which hit Honduras in 1998. I wasn’t wildly impressed with this novel, finding it somewhat rushed and businesslike instead of emotionally involving. As books go, it’s the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane -- rather weak.

Incidentally, even though Mr. Trueman is American and most of his books have been originally published in the States by Harper, HURRICANE is a rewritten edition of the author’s book SWALLOWING THE SUN, which was published in Great Britain in 2003. I wonder how that happened.


If you’ve been hearing lots of buzz about Suzanne Collins’s new novel, THE HUNGER GAMES, I’m happy to report that the book has finally hit the stores. Sure to be one of the most-talked about novels of the year (some love it, some hate it), it’s already on its way to the bestseller lists. A number of knowledgable people have told me they think THE HUNGER GAMES will be a major contender for this year’s book awards too. So why be late to the party? Get your copy now!

Incidentally, I had to laugh when I saw the book’s dedication. THE HUNGER GAMES, one of the darkest and most violent children’s books of recent years, is dedicated to James Proimos, author JOHNNY MUTTON and other volumes which happen to be among the sunniest and funniest children’s books of recent years. Talk about strange bedfellows.


Speaking of James Proimos, every time I see that animated TV commercial for Soyjoy in which a woman eats a soy bar and begins jumping rope, I’ve wondered if he didn’t do the artwork. The style looks very similar to his.

Today I did some research and discovered the artist who did the Soyjoy commercial is named Roman Klonek. He’s definitely got a style compatible with today’s children’s books. Some smart and savvy editor should track him down to illustrate a picture book. Then send a 10% “finder’s fee” to me at


Yesterday I was listening to a CD of the 1968 Broadway musical, GEORGE M! (which starred Joel Grey and a young Bernadette Peters) and noted that one of the writers was “Fran Pascal” who later became even more famous as Francine Pascal, the author of “Sweet Valley High” paperback series, which sold upwards of 150 million copies.

I wonder what she found more exciting -- the opening night of her first Broadway play or holding the first copy of her book?

And which award would she rather have won -- a Tony or a Newbery?

I’ve actually touched both awards (Angela Lansbury’s Tony and Joan Blos’s Newbery) and BOTH events were exciting!


I’m currently reading LOVE & LIES : MARISOL’S STORY by Ellen Wittlinger, a sequel to HARD LOVE, which was an Honor Book for the very first Printz Award. In this book, the protagonist, Marisol, is attempting to write her first novel. One of the passages she writes seemed particularly apt for a book collecting blog. In the story, a girl goes into a bookstore that is soon to close. She asks the owner what will happen to all the books.

“I’ll put them into storage and sell them online,” she said. “Most people want to shop that way now, anyway.”

Christina made a face. “They do? You can’t make a surprise discovery online! You can’t see if someone has written notes on the pages! You can’t find the book you wanted fallen on the floor between the bookcases! Where’s the joy?”

The cashier smiled at Christina. “That’s true, but most people don’t want to spend time on the possibility of finding joy. They’re too busy for joy.”

Incidentally, it’s amazing how much the world has changed just since HARD LOVE was published in 1999. That book concerned teens expressing themselves in “zines.” I imagine that blogs have now taken that role instead. HARD LOVE was only 224 pages and LOVE & LIES is 245. As much as I rail against the increasing size of today’s young adult books (many of which are 400 or more pages these days), I do think that LOVE & LIES feels a bit skimpy. There are so many characters and so many plot twists, that it actually needs about a hundred more pages to fill out the story. But Marisol remains a fascinating and complex character, just as she was in HARD LOVE. Perhaps we’ll read more about her in a third volume...?


To celebrate Labor Day, I’m going to read SISTERS IN SANITY by Gayle Forman, which starts with a girl and her father taking a Labor Day weekend trip to the Grand Canyon (or so she thinks!) that ends with her being dropped off at a “residental treatment center for unstable teenagers.”

I hope it has the same appeal (and momentum) as one of last year’s hard-to-put-down books, BOOT CAMP by Todd Strasser, which concerns a teenage boy sent to an abusive reform center


Earlier I spoke of the year beginning in September, but here’s a book to remind us that things end in September as well. According to the dustjacket flap: “September is a time for changes. The green leaves on the trees and bushes turn yellow, red, and gold. The chipmunks, squirrels, and snakes are changing -- toads and caterpillars too. But -- have you ever wondered what happens to plants and animals when winter comes?”

You don’t hear much about these old science books by written by Glenn O. Bough and illustrated by Jeanne Bendick nowadays, but I like the look of them and think the information they contain about nature still remains timely from year to year, from September to September.


Finally, in case you were wondering what phonograph record my brother insisted on carrying to kindergarten, I wish I could tell you it was something either super cool (like an early rock group) or super sophisticated (like Bach.) But it was just a children’s song...back from the days when such tunes were recorded by anonymous singers and sold in the grocery store for thirty-nine cents. The name of the record was “Happy Glow” and though I can’t remember all the words, here are a few of the lyrics I remember. Does it ring a bell for ANYONE else or we were the only people in the world who owned this forty-five?

There’s a scarecrow that I know
Who always has a happy glow
He’s happier far than either you or me.
He has the sun, he has the trees,
He has his friends the birds.
With all of these he has such fun,
He has no need for any words.

So you and I should (something something)
And we would have that happy glow
If we would take it easy just like him!

Have a happy glow!
Life will be much easier if you will!
Have a happy glow!
(Something something something.)

Obviously, I don’t remember it all. Can anyone fill in the “something somethings”? And tell me which other words I have wrong?

It was a silly song but, the older I get, the more it sounds like good advice!

So...have a Happy Labor Day! A Happy Last-Day-of-August! A Happy First-Day-of-September! A Happy Start to the School Year.

And, most of all, Have a Happy Glow!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Leave It To Beverly

The scene: The bedroom of Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver and his older brother Wally, located in the middle-class community of Mayfield. Beaver is sitting on his bed holding three paperback books. Wally is doing what he always does: standing in front of the mirror brushing his hair.

Beaver: Hey, Wally?

Wally: Yeah, Beav?

Beaver: Can I ask ya a question?

Wally: Okay, but ya better make it snappy. I have a date with Mary Ellen Rogers.

Beaver: I was picking up old newspapers and magazines for the Cub Scout paper drive and I found these books about us, and they was written by Beverly Cleary.

Wally: Oh yeah, I remember those. LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was published in 1960, HERE'S BEAVER was published in 1961 and BEAVER AND WALLY came out later that same year. That one's my favorite.

Beaver: Probably 'cause it's got your name in the title, ha-ha.

Wally: Ha-ha, you're probably right, Beav.

Beaver: Wally, can you 'splain sumpthing about these books?

Wally: Okay, but you gotta hurry up, because Eddie Haskell is coming over to pick me up any second.

Beaver: I thought you was going on a date with Mary Ellen Rogers, not Eddie Haskell.

Wally: You goof! It's a double-date and we're taking Eddie's car.

Beaver: Oh. 'Bout these books: you mean they was only published as paperbacks and didn't come out in hardcover at all?

Wally: Yep. Paperbacks only. Thirty-five cents a piece.

Beaver: Gee, that's kind of crummy. Especially since they was written by Beverly Cleary and she won the Blueberry Award.

Wally: Newbery, Beav, Newbery.

Beaver: She created all those famous book-kids like Henry Huggins and 'mona Quimby. What was she writin' about US for?

Wally: I dunno. She doesn't talk about it much in interviews. The only thing I ever read was in this book called BEVERLY CLEARY by Pat Pflieger (published by Twayne in 1991) and she said--

Beaver: What did you just mumble?

Wally: "Published by Twayne in 1991." Are you gonna let me finish or not, Beav?

Beaver: Go 'head.

Wally: That book said, "These books...have little of Cleary in them: they lack her air of easy confidence, and she seems uncomfortable with Beaver's 'gee-whiz' style of thinking and speaking that is so different from her own Henry Huggins. In novels that are almost collections of short stories, television episodes are expanded or altered or combined to emphasize family and growing up."

Beaver: You mean she wrote our TV scripts too?

Wally: Naw, she just took the TV stories and mixed 'em up and added a hunka this and a messa that and made books outta them.

Beaver: Do I really have a gee-whiz style of speakin'?

Wally: Yeah, kinda-sorta.

Beaver: I never knew that. Gee whiz!

Wally: Well, I gotta go. I just heard Eddie Haskell drive up.

Beaver: But Wally...?

Wally: WHAT, Beav?

Beaver: It doesn't seem quite right. Everybody knows the books Beverly Cleary wrote about Henry and Beezus and 'mona, but nobody knows that she wrote about us. It's like we're the bad stepkids or sumpthing.

Eddie Haskell (entering the bedroom): Oh, so your parents finally told you that you were adopted, huh, Beav?

Beaver: Ha-ha, Eddie Haskell!

Wally: Aw, leave the kid alone, Eddie. The Beaver's just upset because he found out Beverly Cleary wrote three cheap paperback books about us that nobody really knows about. He wants to know why she wrote them.

Eddie: Why don't you ask the Bev?

Beaver: ME?

Eddie: No, the Bev. The Bevster. Your wicked stepmother. The dame that wrote the books. I bet she's listed in the phone book. (Picks up phone book which just happens to be laying -- way too conveniently -- on the bureau and copies down a number, then sits down at Wally's desk and dials the phone.) Hello, young lady, I'm trying to get in touch with Mrs. Beverly Cleary. Oh, you ARE Mrs. Cleary? I thought it was your daughter, because you sounded so youthful! Well, ma'am, I have a friend here, young Theodore Cleaver, who is a fan of your wonderful, thoughtful, humorous, illuminating, and always well-written bo-- (Pause.) Stick a sock in WHAT? Is that any way to talk to a fan, Mrs. Cleary? I'm merely trying to help the little lad understand why, after writing so many of your own books, you ended up writing three paperback TV tie-ins about this little goofball...I mean, this fine young man. Uh-huh, uh-huh, I see. Well, thank you, Mrs. Cleary. I hope you and your family have a most pleasant eveni-- (Pause.) I think we got cut off.

Beaver: What'd she say, Eddie? What'd she say?

Eddie: She said she wrote the books 'cause she liked the TV show and thought she could use a little extra money. And she wants to know what you're complaining about since you're still earning residuals off your TV show, but she hasn't made a dime from those paperbacks since JFK was in office. Now scram, kid, me and Wally have two chicks waiting and we don't want to disappoint them.

Beaver: What am I 'sposed to do here by myself?

Wally: Read a book or something.

(Wally and Eddie exit. Beaver wanders over to the bookshelves and pulls off THE SIGN OF THE BEAVER by Elizabeth George Speare.)

Beaver: Hey, another book about me! And this one's in a hardcover too!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Looking Forward, Looking Backward

I began yesterday thinking about the future and ended the day thinking about the past.

Over the weekend a friend asked my top five picks for this coming year's Newbery Award. I didn't have many suggestions to offer, but tossed out a few likely contenders: THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins (though some may find the themes too violent and mature for a children's book award), maybe THE PENDERWICKS ON GARDAM STREET by Jeanne Birdsall (a good, old-fashioned family story, though perhaps a bit too sweet.) Patricia Reilly Giff's ELEVEN seems a possibility. Meanwhile, fantasy fans are saying good things about THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt and SAVVY by Ingrid Law. And the second volume in M.T. Anderson's "Ovtavian Nothing" series will no doubt get people talking. Perhaps the winning title is a spring book that slipped past without notice...or one of the fall books that will be published in the coming months.

Whatever the case, my friend's query made me realize that, as the days get shorter and the summer comes to an end, it's time to start looking toward the future and anticipating the autumn crop of books...the National Book Awards in November...the Christmas bestsellers...and the big awards that will be announced in January.

Then I got news of something coming even farther in the future.

Yesterday morning I was reading the website of my favorite author, M.E. Kerr, and was surprised and excited to see a message from Ms. Kerr saying that she's begun a new young adult novel "tentatively called RECOVERING FROM CLARA. Just began it a few hours ago although I've been researching it for a few months."

How neat to learn about this new novel just a few hours after she began writing it! And though I know it will take several months to write the book...and then many more months for it to go through the publication process...just knowing that the future holds a new M.E. Kerr novel makes me a happy guy!

So, after spending the day thinking about the future, I came home from work and found a small package in the mail that took me back to the past. It was an old Children's Book Council bookmark that I had found on eBay and purchased for $6.50.

One side lists the Newbery winners from 1922 to 1949. (You can click on the image to get a better view of the bookmark.)

The other side contains the Caldecott winners from 1938 to 1949:

Can you imagine a time when the Caldecott list only contained eleven titles? A time when the Newbery roster didn't include Eleanor Estes, E.L. Konigsburg, Beverly Cleary, or A WRINKLE IN TIME?

I love owning a little piece of history like this. It makes me think about how the world of children's books has changed in the nearly sixty years since Marguerite Henry's KING OF THE WIND won the Newbery and Berta and Elmer Hader's THE BIG SNOW won the Caldecott. And it gets me wondering about the future of children's books as well. What title will win the Newbery in 2009? And how will children's books change in the sixty years beyond that?

Like every book collector, I go through life with one eye looking over my shoulder, honoring and appreciating children's books of past, and the other firmly fixed on the horizon, anticipating what's yet to come.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Brunching

Offering random chatter about this-and-that in the world of children’s books and author


This isn’t a story about athletes borrowing copies of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and HOLES from the lending library at the Olympic Games. Most of the athletes are in their late teens and twenties and would probably consider themselves too old to read those books. And of course the Chinese gymnasts are far too young for them.

No, instead I’m talking about all the “Newbery news” that’s been flooding my mailbox in recent days. I have my e-mail set to receive automatic “Google alerts” every time a news story containing the word “Newbery” appears on the internet. Normally this means articles along the lines of “Newbery winner Louis Sachar will be speaking in Tulsa this week.....” But in recent weeks I’ve been getting Google alerts all day long about Robert and Chantelle Newbery, husband-and-wife divers from Australia who have been diving for gold in Beijing. I did not see either one compete during NBC’s primetime Olympics coverage...but I understand both athletes (who had won medals at previous Olympics) went home empty-handed this time and now plan to retire. No more “Newbery Medals” for these two, I guess.


A west coast friend of mine recently mentioned the “Morris Award” and I had to think for a minute before I remembered what that award is all about. There’s been such a proliferation of major prizes for children’s and young adult books recently that I’m having a hard time keeping them straight. In just the past few years we’ve seen the debuts of the Printz, the Siebert, the Geisel, and, starting in 2009, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

According to the American Library Association’s website:

“The William C. Morris YA Debut Award celebrates the achievement of a previously unpublished author, or authors, who have made a strong literary debut in writing for young adult readers. The work cited will illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence, demonstrated by:

* Compelling, high quality writing and/or illustration
* The integrity of the work as a whole
* Its proven or potential appeal to a wide range of teen readers”

Neat! I was particularly intrigued to learn that a shortlist of up to five titles will be announced the second Monday in December. I love shortlists and wish the Newbery, Printz, and other awards would follow suit. It would really drum up interest in these books -- and get a lot of people reading and talking (and arguing and agreeing) about the merits of the shortlisted titles. I know that I’m going to run out and get all five books on the Morris list the second Monday of December -- and I’m sure many other fans of young about books will do the same. That’s one benefit of a shortlist.

As far as drawbacks go:

Mid-December isn’t the greatest time to issue a list. If it were announced earlier in the fall, teachers might find a way to bring these five books into the classroom and have kids read them, argue for their favorites, and maybe vote in “mock Morris” polls. But having the announcement in December, right before the holiday break and the start of a new semester, doesn’t give teachers much time to get projects going. I also wonder if a title’s appearance on the Morris shortlist will somehow hurt its chances of being recognized by the Printz committee, which is also charged with honoring young-adult literature. It shouldn’t make a difference...but it could.

The big question now is:

Which five YA debuts are going to make the shortlist?

Any ideas?


According to the ALA website:

”The award's namesake is William C. Morris, an influential innovator in the publishing world and an advocate for marketing books for children and young adults. Bill Morris left an impressive mark on the field of children’s and young adult literature. He was beloved in the publishing field and the library profession for his generosity and marvelous enthusiasm for promoting literature for children and teens.”

I wrote a blog entry about William Morris on January 10, which also includes some photographs of this much-admired literary man. It also tells about how I came to own a few of the books from his personal library. Here’s one of them, followed by its rather strange inscription by author Molly Levite Griffis:

Can you figure out what that inscription (click on the image to enlarge it) means:

“For Bill Morris, who IS Molly G. and (WAS Harold Keith) a good friend!”

I’ll tell you my interpretation in a minute.


This morning, in an attempt to learn more about the author of THE RACHEL RESISTANCE, I found an interview with Molly Griffis in an online publication called EdNews. The article was written by a education professor in New Mexico and makes reference to several other children’s authors, including:

Judy Bloom
E. L. Klonisburg
Jean Craighill George

Let’s just blame the copyeditor....


I’ve had my copy of THE RACHEL RESISTANCE for over a year now and couldn’t figure out what that inscription meant. But after doing some research this morning, I THINK I’ve figured it out.

In the EdNews article, Ms. Griffis refers to Harold Keith as her “dear friend.” Both these authors come from Oklahoma and I learned from another online article that in the early 1990s Griffis reissued several of Harold Keith’s out-of-print children’s books (including THE OBSTINATE LAND and KOMANTCIA) through her own publishing company, Levite of Apache.

Since Harold Keith’s books were originally published by Crowell...which was later bought-out by Harper...which is where Bill Morris worked...I’m assuming that Mr. Morris was somehow involved in helping Griffis secure the publishing rights to Harold Keith’s books.

If that’s the case, see if the inscription makes more sense now, after I’ve added a couple words and moved the parentheses around:

“For Bill Morris, who IS (to Molly G.) and WAS (to Harold Keith) a GOOD friend!”

I’m not sure if that solution is right, but it’s my best guess. Book collecting is all about researching and solving mysteries and GUESSING -- and every collector must be part Sherlock Holmes, part Miss Marple and part Columbo.


It’s not surprising that Molly Griffis was able to get the publishing rights to Harold Keith’s early books. By the 1990s, most were long out of print and long-forgotten. (Though someone must have remembered his girls-basktball-team novel BRIEF GARLAND, because it was just made into a movie called BELIEVE IN ME about a year ago.)

However, one Harold Keith book may never go out of print because it won the Newbery Award in 1958.

RIFLES FOR WATIE remains the only Civil War novel to ever win the Newbery. However, a few others were named Newbery Honor Books:


1934 : SWORDS OF STEEL by Elsie Singmaster

1959 : PERILOUS ROAD by William O. Steele

1965 : ACROSS FIVE APRILS by Irene Hunt

That seems to be it. Have I forgotten any? (I guess I could include the three biographies of Abraham Lincoln that were recognized as well as TO BE A SLAVE by Julius Lester, but all of those titles have a broader focus than just the Civil War.)


When taking SWORDS OF STEEL off the shelf to scan, I noted this bit of strangeness on the spine:

Have you ever seen a publication date printed on the spine-end of a book before? I don’t think I have.


then today, August 24, is your Swedish “name day.” According to what I’ve read, you’re supposed to start the day with sweet rolls, coffee, candles and this song:

Ja, må du leva, Ja, må du leva,
Ja, må du leva uti hundrade år.
Ja, må du leva, Ja, må du leva,
Ja, må du leva uti hundrade år.

Ja, visst ska du leva, Ja, visst ska du leva,
Ja, visst ska du leva uti hundrade år.
Ja, visst ska du leva, Ja, visst ska du leva,
Ja, visst ska du leva uti hundrade år.

Ett fyraldigt leve... leve du. HURRAH, HURRAH, HURRAH, HURRAH.

which translates roughly into “May you live for a hundred years /Oh sure, you will live for a hundred years” over and over -- hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!

Incidentally, if your name is Louise, tomorrow's your name day.

And Tuesday’s name is Ejvind...though I can’t imagine there are too many people named Ejvind reading this blog.

Unfortunately, if your name is Nancy, you don’t have a Swedish name day at all. And that’s a problem for the protagonist of Jennie D. Lindquist’s THE GOLDEN NAME DAY, which concerns a girl spending a year on her grandparents’ farm. Published in 1955, the book was named a Newbery Honor.

Jennie D. Lindquist was a former editor of the Horn Book and, in addition to her three books about Nancy (GOLDEN NAME DAY was followed by THE LITTLE SILVER HOUSE, 1959, and THE CRYSTAL TREE, 1966), she also wrote a monograph to honor the pioneering children’s librarian Caroline M. Hewins.

Thus, I’m intrigued by my own copy of THE GOLDEN NAME DAY, which has the following author inscription:

There must surely be a connection between Caroline Hewins and the “Hewins House,” but I’ve yet to find it. In the limited amount of research I’ve done so far, I’ve discovered that Ms. Hewins once opened a library in Hartford’s North Street Settlement House and then moved in, living there for twelve years (I think many of us would like to live in a library!) She also worked for the Hartford Public Library and actually had a “library dog” who lived in the building.

Needless to say, I’m anxious to solve the mystery of “Hewins House.”

IS it connected to Carolyn M. Hewins?

Who are the Arnolds who made the Hewins House “live again?”

And why did this book end up at a used bookstore in England of all places? (I bought it off the internet and paid eighty pounds.)

As I said, book collecting is all about solving mysteries.

So hand me a rumpled raincoat and unlit cigar, because Colombo has a new case to investigate!

....Incidentally, there’s also a mystery associated with Columbo himself: No one knows what his first name was.

Think it could be Ejvind?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Off With Their Heads

It all started with the Headless Horseman.

Since Washington Irving introduced that immortal character in his classic 1820 story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," literary heads have been popping off hither and yon.

Even children's books haven't been immune. Who can forget THE MAN WHO LOST HIS HEAD, written by Clare Huchet Bishop and memorably illustrated by Robert McCloskey? Then there's Carolyn Sherwin Bailey's MISS HICKORY, who lost her head but won the Newbery in 1947. A few decades later Zilpha Keatley Snyder got a Newbery Honor for THE HEADLESS CUPID. The Harry Potter series features the character "Nearly Headless Nick" and the heads just keep onnnnnn rolling. In fact, these days it appears that every other character in children's fiction is headless -- and I'm not even counting Kathryn Lasky's entry in the "Royal Diaries" series about Marie Antoinette.

Don't believe me?

Just go to any library or bookstore and look at their display of recent kids' books. In fact, since gas is so expensive these days, I'll save you a trip to the library and provide a few examples here:

FIRST BOY is the profound story
of a young man who may have
lost his head, but refuses to
lose his spirit. Every morning this plucky
kid puts on his tie and overalls (in
addition to lacking a head, he also lacks
fashion sense) and goes off to school.
Nothing is going to stop him from learning
and getting a head in life!

Pity the poor heroine of HOW TO
RUIN A SUMMER VACATION. Waiting till the
last minute to pack, she forgets to take
her head along on what was supposed
to be a "fun in the sun" vacation.
(How many times did her mother warn
her, "You'd forget your head if it wasn't
attached"? Why oh why didn't she listen
to Mom?) A great book for mindless beach

Another entry in the ever-increasing
"headless chicklit" genre, this young adult
novel concerns a scatter-brained teen who,
some time between having an afterschool latte at
Starbucks and coming home to IM her BFF, discovers that her head is missing! Enlisting the help of the hunky "surfer next door," the protagonist goes off on a scavenger hunt and learns that "sometimes you have to lose your head to find true love."

The thing about Georgie...
is that he has no head!
Family and friends try to humor
the oblivious protagonist
("Yes, it's a lovely hat,"
said Mom, "but wouldn't it look
better had a head?")
Finally, a family crisis makes
Georgie realize he must grow up
and "face" the future.

Karlene may be at the head of her
class, but how will a headless girl fare at the annual county spelling bee? The
feisty heroine dons her late Grandpa Joe's pair of cowboy boots, wowing the judges with her sense of style and spelling her way to s-u-c-c-e-s-s, as she learns that anything is possible if you've got pluck, sass, spirit, and the ability to

The teenage years are never
easy...particularly if you lack anything above the neck. The hero of this powerful novel learns it's a lonely world for the headless, yet if you look around, listen to others, and speak up for yourself (if only you COULD look around, listen to others, and speak up for yourself) you will succeed. ...Though it may require the patience of a saint!

At last! A romance novel
about the headless!
In this engaging love story
two teens learn that having
a head isn't all it's cracked
up to be. Not when you've got
each other! "Watch what happens"
when these two fall head over
heels in love!

A group of teenagers converge
on a small Tennesse town to rebuild a house that was destroyed in a tornado. By the time the summer is over, the house will be completely built -- but several of the young adults will have lost their heads. This novel is a testament to the importance of volunteer work...and the dangers of untrained teens using power tools.

A little girl guides her headless
father through a day of fun! This touching book will evoke both smiles and tears as young Trixie learns, "My daddy may not have a head, but at least he has a hand to hold." A family classic to be shared again and again!

He will do anything to win the swim
meet. ANYTHING. He'll get up at six a.m.
He'll swim laps for hours. He'll wear an aerodynamic swim leotard. Anything...anything to be "Quicker, lighter, faster." But what if the only way to increase his speed and lower his body weight is to surgically remove his head? Will he make the ultimate sacrifice? And how does one shout "Stotan!" without a head?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Word Pictures

In 1985, Patricia MacLachlan's SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL was published to uniformly glowing reviews. Several made note of how wonderful the illustrations were.

There was just one little problem.

SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL did not contain any illustrations.

Except for the evocative cover sketch by Marcia Sewall, this novella-length book doesn't include any pictures at all.

However, it's not surprising that readers come away from SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL with pictures in their mind's eye. The characters are so well-drawn that we can easily envision Anna, Caleb, Papa -- and especially their "plain and tall" visitor from Maine. We "see" the gifts that Sarah brings into their pioneer home: a collection of seashells, a perfectly round white stone, a cat with yellow eyes and, finally, a handful of blue, gray and green pencils representing the colors of the sea. And nearly every line of the spare, understated prose conjures up visions of the prairie -- the low skies, the wide fields splashed with Indian paintbrush and wild roses, the earth carpeted by hailstones that gleam in the sunlight after a thunderstorm.

The fact that Patricia MacLachlan is able to summon up such indelible images with such an economy of words (SARAH runs less than sixty pages) is nothing short of remarkable. This small gem of a novel won the 1986 Newbery Medal.

Since that time, Ms. MacLachlan has continued the story of the Witting family in four companion novels: SKYLARK (1994), CALEB’S STORY (2001), MORE PERFECT THAN THE MOON (2004), and GRANDFATHER’S DANCE (2006.) I can certainly understand the impulse to carry on with the story. There was a large audience of young readers anxious to know "what happened next." The author herself was probably curious to see where the story went as well (Sarah's tale had its origins in MacLachlan's family history and was briefly mentioned as an anecdote in her 1980 novel ARTHUR, FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME before being expanded into its own book.) Although these sequels are well-written and pleasant to read, none has the near-perfect quality of the archetypal novel that started it all -- a book with few words that somehow speaks volumes. A book with no illustrations that nonetheless conjures up unforgettable pictures in our minds.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cruise on over for Sunday Brunch

Hot cars, hot summer days, and other topics are included in this Sunday brunch of random facts and opinions on children’s books.


Woodward Avenue is our version of “Main Street” -- a twenty mile thoroughfare that runs from downtown Detroit through the exclusive northern suburbs, cutting the metropolitcan area into “east side” and “west side” along the way. Back in the “American Graffiti” era, teenagers used to “cruise Woodward” on weekend nights. Those days have returned with the “Woodward Dream Cruise,” an annual August event in which classic car buffs drive their hot rods and convertibles up and down Woodward Avenue while over a million spectators sit along the road in lawnchairs enjoying the show. Even if you don’t attend the Dream Cruise, you are likely to see a lot of classic cars around Detroit this weekend. They spill off Woodward and show up on almost every road in the metro area. You see them at gas stations, in restaurant parking lots, and sitting in front of stores. It’s like jumping into a book by Henry Gregor Felsen. Remember him?

In the 1950s and 1960s, Henry Felsen was the prime purveyor of “boy and car” stories in which teenagers fix up old cars, then experience both the exhilaration and near-tragedy of speeding and showing off. Among his many books were CRASH CLUB (1958) and HOT ROD (1950):

as well STREET ROD (1953) and BOY GETS CAR (1960):

Here are a couple more books to celebrate the era of classic vehicles. Published smack in the middle of World War II, JEZEBEL THE JEEP (1944) by Fairfax Downey really plays up the “romance” between boy and vehicle. According to the dustjacket, T/5 Jonathan W. Johansen of the Field Artillary names his jeep “after one of the most determined and high-handed ladies in history and she lived up to her name.”

The jacket copy continues:

“Jeeps are the war horses of the 1940’s. No warrior was ever fonder of his steed than Johnny of his Jezebel. When he was jilted by a girl at home, Johnny lavished his thwarted affection on Jezebel, and she seemed to return it. She stood by him in his feud with the motor sargeant. Alone and unaided, she dashed to his rescue when he was beset by enemies. She never failed him when he drove his battery commander through the Tunisian campaign, where Jezebel took djebels in her stride. Jezebel and Johnny landed in Sicily and shared that hard-fought action until the moment when a battery of German mortars fired. Then they were parted, but not for long. They had a tryst to meet again when swords were beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning-hooks, and old, battle-scarred jeeps into new ones.”

Hey, that doesn’t just sound like a “romance.” It’s more like a love story between boy and car!

Another well-remembered automotive novel is T-MODEL TOMMY by Stephen Meader, originally published in 1938, and based on the experiences of the author’s son.

The book is now available again in paperback.

What all the above titles have in common is that they were extremely popular at the time of publication -- especially Felsen’s books, which were also released in paperback throughout the fifties and sixties. Although “boy and car” books are no longer published today (why?), I wonder if the genre could be revived if these books were reprinted for today’s teenage fans of classic cars. I know the original titles remain very collectable. Almost all the books pictured above are highly sought after by collectors and can cost several hundred dollars a piece.


The sight of all these huge cars gliding boatlike down the local streets, reflecting sun off the glass and chrome and bright paint really speaks of summer, as does this dustjacket for a book I recently came across called THE CITY IN SUMMER by Eleanor Schick (1969.) Here’s the front panel:

and here’s the back:

Ms. Schick also wrote a companion picture book, THE CITY IN WINTER. The cover of that one -- snowy, forlorn, nearly bereft of people -- captures the feel of that season equally well. I’ll post a picture of it when the weather changes.


M.E. Kerr’s SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER -- which tells of the romance between a Long Island girl and a young undocumented worker from Colombia -- was published last year, the day before the Fourth of July. I loved it so much that I read it twice. Today I took it off the shelf to read again -- before this summer is over.

Is any young-adult author as consistently good as M.E. Kerr? Though SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER touches on many timely and important issues, it’s written with such style and ease that the pages just fly past.

As a book collector, I much prefer hardcover books over paperbacks, but here’s a case where a paperback is really needed. It’s the type of book that should be in every beachbag -- the cover stained by suntan lotion and the pages gritty with sand.

Why hasn’t it been issued in paperback yet?


Did you know that not a single Caldecott winner or Honor Book has the word “summer” in its title?

There are many Newbery books with wonderful summertime settings (most notably the 2006 winner CRISS CROSS by Lynne Rae Perkins), yet of all the Newbery winners and Honor Books, only two contain the word “summer.” One is Elizabeth Enright’s 1939 winner, THIMBLE SUMMER, an old-fashioned story of summer on a Wisconsin farm. The other is the 1971 winner, SUMMER OF THE SWANS by Betsy Byars.

The Betsy Byars book was published the same year as E.B. White’s final children’s title THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN and, oh, was editor Ursula Nordstrom upset when she learned that E.B. White had been passed-over for the Newbery again! She wrote this note to White’s wife:

“Well, I just heard that Andy did NOT win the Newbery. It is utterly incredible. What won was a Viking book entitled THE SUMMER OF THE SWAN. Did you ever hear of anything so odd? I consider this a terrible thing for the librarians, as nothing can hurt Andy’s books in the eyes of children and of intelligent adults. It is selling beautifully and will have a very long long life. I am simply DISGUSTED.”

I wonder if anyone today finds the selection a “terrible thing.” I think most of us agree that TRUMPET was not the strongest of E.B. White’s three children’s books. But does SUMMER OF THE SWANS (there is an “S” at the end of the title, Ursula!) hold up today? A knowledgable friend feels some of Betsy’s Byars’ novels fall into “afterschool special” territory (and it’s true, four of her books -- including SUMMER OF THE SWANS -- were on TV as afterschool specials. ) But to me, even when Ms. Byars writes about “contemporary issues” such as mental retardation (SUMMER OF THE SWANS) or the plight of foster children (THE PINBALLS), her books lack the earnest, bibliotherapeutic quality that I associate with afterschool specials. Her stories contain dialogue that sounds like it was taped from real-life conversations and she has a real gift for mixing first-rate comedy scenes with serious moments -- to great poignant effect. Reading the opening scene of SUMMER OF THE SWANS this morning, in which the protagonist Sara idly tries to put on a show with her elderly dog had me laughing out loud one moment and then feeling a bit sad a couple pages later as her sleepy dog continues to ignore her.

Although I’ve read SUMMER OF THE SWANS many times over the years, I probably haven’t read it in the past decade. I think I’ll add it to my current stack, right under SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER, and give it another shot to see how it holds up nearly forty years after winning the Newbery.


Betsy Byars wrote another great summertime book that some (I believe author and critic John Rowe Townsend was one) felt was even more deserving of the Newbery than SUMMER OF THE SWANS. This is another one that I read many times as a kid and should revisit now.

Incidentally, see the area beneath the protagonist’s nose in Ann Grifalconi’s cover illustration? At first I thought it was Tom’s philtrum, that little furrow or indentation we all have between our noses and mouths. But after reading the book about five times I realized I was wrong. In the book Tom talks about how he seldom cries...but his nose always starts running when he’s upset.

In other words, this may be the first picture of a running nose ever depicted on the cover of a children’s book.


Incidentally, my first edition of SUMMER OF THE SWANS is not signed by the author, but it does contain a bookplate signed by the author which was recently given to me by a friend. I love it. How many of Betsy Byars’ titles are included on the books shown in the background?


THE OLYMPICS ARE STILL RUNNING: Last week I mentioned children’s books with Olympic settings and a shy blog-reader from Cambridge, Massachusetts wrote to remind me of a title I forgot: THE MUDFLAT OLYMPICS by James Stevenson (1994.) Thank you!

THE CANDIDATES ARE STILL RUNNING TOO: A few weeks ago I complained about publisher Feiwel & Friends issuing some of my favorite books in paperback instead of hardcover. I’m still ticked about that. But I have to admit I’m captivated by the new covers for Ellen Emerson White’s “President’s Daughter” series, which are inspired by Vermeer, Wyeth, Whistler, and Leonardo da Vinci.

These are really breathtaking.

Now why can’t they publish them in hardcover instead of paperback?

REIGNING DOGS AND CATS: A couple weeks back I blogged about Newbery-winning dogs. Someone asked about cats. The only ones I can think of are the 1931 winner, THE CAT WHO WENT TO HEAVEN by Elizabeth Coatsworth and the 1964 winner IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT by Emily Cheney Neville.

There are also a couple of truly outstanding Newbery Honors that feature cats: THE BLUE CAT OF CASTLE TOWN by Catherine Cate Coblentz and ONE-EYED CAT by Paula Fox.

On the Caldecott side of things, the only cats I can think of are “Bangs” in Evaline Ness’s 1967 winner SAM, BANGS & MOONSHINE and Kevin Henkes’ 2005 winner KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON.

Among the feline Honor Books are ANATOLE AND THE CAT (illustrated by Paul Galdone; written by Eve Titus) and DICK WHITTINGTON AND HIS CAT by Marcia Brown.

Then there are three Caldecott Honor Books featuring cats by Clare Turlay Newberry. I’m glad she was known more for her artwork than her writing. ...Can you imagine how confusing it would have been if Newberry had ever won the Newbery?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sixty-four Years Ago Tonight

A couple months back I mentioned a book called HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAYS:

The main draw for this 1945 volume was the artwork by Grace Paull -- in fact, her name is the only one on the cover. The author, Laura Harris, is only acknowledged on the title page:

I love everything about HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAYS, from first page to last.

The first page, which is signed in ink by the illustrator, contains an excerpt from Robert Browning's "Pippa Passes." To read the words, click on the image below to enlarge it. This poem has always had pleasant associations for me: discovering it in a fifth-grade English book, hearing my brother's glee club sing it at a grade school spring concert, taking my parents to see their very first Broadway show in 1980 -- an all-star revival of the Paul Osborn play MORNING'S AT SEVEN, which drew its name from the poem. And I just learned today that there's actually a small town called Pippa Passes, Kentucky. Maybe I should plan a visit.

In HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAY'S, Laura Harris's brief text and Grace Paull's lively, colorful illustrations take us on a chronological trip through the year, introducing every holiday on the calendar (New Year's, Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, Christmas and all the rest) as well as some that only kids can appreciate (the last day of school, the day the circus comes to town.) Along the way there are occasional pitstops for listing monthly birthstones or offering pertinent proverbs such as:

Sixty seconds make a minute--
How much good can I do in it?
Sixty minutes make an hour--
All the good that's in my power.

And here's another:

The world has changed a lot since this book was published in 1945. Today's kids would probably be confused to see Lincoln's Birthday celebrated on February 12 and Washington's on February 22. They'd wonder why Columbus Day is listed for October 12 instead of the second Monday in October. There's obviously no page for Martin Luther King Day. And what's this "Armistice Day" all about? Yet in other ways, HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAYS was progressive for its era, including Jewish holidays (Passover, Rosh Hashonah, Hanukkah) which were sometimes ignored by other books of the time, and also featuring some African-American children in the illustrations.

My very favorite part of this book is the last page.

It was obviously not included in the volume's original plan or design, but when real life events intersected with the book's theme, Grace Paull added one final celebration to HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAYS, stating, "The drawings for this book were finished on August 14, 1945, the day the war with Japan ended. That night the people in Gorham, New Hampshire, built a huge bonfire in the village common to celebrate the end of the war."

I assume that most of the people who gathered around that bonfire sixty-four years ago are no longer with us. Even those who attended as children would now be senior citizens. Does anyone remember it? I wonder if this event was written up in local newspapers. I wonder if there are photographs.

Or is it only memorialized here -- a footnote, an afterthought, a postscript -- in a nearly-forgotten children's book?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hornbooks and Battledores

Where are the Keno brothers when you need them?

I could sure use an Antiques Roadshow expert to tell me more about this old hornbook that I came across today:

I know that hornbooks were a learning tool once used for teaching young children the alphabet, but I'd be curious to ascertain the age of this specific hornbook -- as well as where it came from and how it was made. At first I thought it was defective, as the J and U are missing from the alphabet, but I then checked the internet (TODAY'S learning tool!) and discovered that, due to the influence of Latin, the letters J and I used to be considered interchangable, as did the letters U and V. I bet Leigh and Leslie Keno could take one look at the leather encasing this alphabet and know exactly when and where it was made. All I can say is that thes leather is so stiff and dried out that this hornbook could have been used as a paddle. (I wonder if any schoolmasters and schoolmarms ever did just that.) I was surprised to discover (again, using the internet) that the material covering these old hornbooks is actually made from cow and ox HORNS, which were soaked in water, heated, flattened, peeled, scraped and polished. (And to think the letters P, E, T and A actually appear on this hornbook too.)

I'd love to know how many hands have held this hornbook over the years and how many children learned to read using it.

Here's a facsimile hornbook that contains much more than just the alphabet and vowels. It also features upper- and lowercase letters, vowel combinations -- and prayers. (Click on the image to get a closer view.) The alphabet is trimmed with metal on a wooden backing. A tiny sticker states "Printed by Otto H. Miller for THE HORN BOOK Magazine at Thomas Todd's Printing Shop on Beacon Hill in Boston 1939."

I just did some research (gotta love the internet -- it scrambles those twenty-six letters from the hornbook into billions of combinations and spits out all kinds of info. Plus no one can paddle you with it.) and I learned that hornbooks were created at a time when paper was quite expensive and rare. When paper became a little more common, hornbooks were replaced by battledores -- palm-sized booklets that taught the alphabet by using words and sometimes pictures. We have an example at the library where I work. It's called BIRDS, BEASTS, FISH AND INSECTS TO TEACH LITTLE FOLKS TO READ. Published by W. Darton (London) in 1823, this battledore could be purchased for three pence plain or six pence colored. Our edition, only six leaves and bound with what appears to be thread, is the six pence version:

I especially like the square for X which states "X begins no English word." According to the Wikipedia (TODAY's version of the battledore) the word "xylophone" wasn't coined until 1866.

I also love the back cover of this battledore because you can see that a child has laboriously printed the word "D O G" beneath the picture of that animal. And above that is a picture of an "OUNCE."

Did you know that "ounce" was once a word for snow leopard? I didn't. Which shows that even today we can learn something from reading a battledore!

Our library also holds some facsimile editions of old Battledores owned by the Boston Public Library and published by THE HORN BOOK in 1941:

A BATTLEDORE, TO INSTRUCT AND AMUSE, pictured first, contains the usual alphabet inside, but the cover features random illustrations of "Friendship," "Man and his goose," "tiger," and "ass." I'm not sure what those things have in common, but did think it odd that "Man and his goose" is really "Man and his dead goose" (notice knife in his right hand and prostrate goose on his lap.) THE ROYAL BATTLEDORE, pictured second, illustrates the letter X with "xiphias" -- a swordfish.

Thinking about battledores and hornbooks today sent me chasing around the library to see what other examples I could find. The cover of this book looked promising:

Then I opened to the title page and had to wonder if it was some kind of joke (and is the author's name a joke?)

I turned to the index and discovered the volume is about censored stories, "bawdy songs" and old-time dirty limericks!

I should have learned by now that you can't judge a book -- or even a hornbook -- by its cover!