Sunday, April 5, 2009

An After-Fool's Day Brunch

Today’s Sunday Brunch contains the usual mix of facts and opinions on children’s books old and new and includes some weird poetry from kids, a story about Jean Fritz’s lifelong search for a boy with square knees, a rather exhaustive list of Newbery book locations, a look at Winnie-the-Pooh from many countries -- and reveals the reason April Fool’s Day is quickly becoming my favorite holiday.


Very late Tuesday night I finished up my April 1 blog entry, hit the “publish blog” button, and went to bed. Early the next morning I received a comment from Monica Edinger’s class at the Dalton School saying, “YOU GOT US!” That was very exciting. I knew that if I could trick those smart kids, there were probably other people in the blogosphere who might be fooled as well.

And that’s how my “best blogging day ever” began.

Collecting Children’s Books usually receives about 300 hits a day from visitors. Of course I’m very pleased that that many readers drop by, but I often find myself wishing, like the baby in Vera B. Williams’ picture book, for “more, more, more.”

On April 1 I got my wish. Thanks to links from Neil Gaiman’s Livejournal, as well as various Facebook entries and Twitter tweets, on Wednesday this blog went from its normal 300 daily visits to...5650 hits in one day alone! And the hits just kept on coming: over 4700 on Thursday, over 1300 on Friday, a thousand yesterday.... I’m amazed and awestruck. Even better were all the wonderful e-mails from friends, strangers, publishers, writers -- and even a posted comment from Neil Gaiman himself! How cool is THAT?

Thank you to everyone for making April Fool’s Day my favorite day of 2009.


As I said, I was thrilled that Neil Gaiman dropped by this blog. He’s the third Newbery winner to do so...and now I have a new goal of someday receiving a comment from every single writer who's ever won the Newbery. (What’s that you say? Yes, I know Hendrik Van Loon is dead.) Let me amend my statement: I have a new goal of someday receiving a comment from every living writing who's ever won the Newbery. Think it’ll happen? (What’s that you say? Something about hell? And freezing over?) Incidentally, my two previous Newbery visitors were Avi and Linda Sue Park. Avi responded to a March blog called “The Real-Life Kids of P.S. 8." That entry discussed the novel IN THE YEAR OF THE BOAR AND JACKIE ROBINSON by Bette Bao Lord, an autobiographical story based on Ms. Lord’s experiences as a Chinese immigrant attending a Brooklyn grade school in the 1940s. One of the boys in her class, called “Irvie” in the novel, grew up to become the acclaimed author Avi. What I didn’t know until now was that Avi also wrote a book based on his years at P.S. 8 -- and DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S A WAR ON? features a character based on Bette Lord! In the book, “Betty Wu” is an immigrant from China who “was really polite, always wanting to do the right thing.” When she first appears in the novel, she’s the classroom ink monitor, going around the room filling each desk’s inkwell from a big glass bottle with a spout on top.

(Incidentally, decades later in Detroit, we still had school desks with inkwells in the upper right corners. Of course by then we all used ballpoint pens and thought the empty inkwells were cup holders for Slurpees.)


Jean Fritz also wrote about old classmates in one of her books.

After publishing dozens of acclaimed nonfiction books about America’s past, the author tackled her own past in HOMESICK : MY OWN STORY. The volume tells of Ms. Fritz’s early years in China, as the only child of American missionaries. Readers of this Newbery Honor Book may remember Jean traveling by ricksha to visit her best friend Andrea. Although the two girls lost touch after their families left China, Ms. Fritz never forgot her old friend and even named her own daughter Andrea.

After HOMESICK was published, a reader in Texas recognized the Andrea in the book as someone she knew and arranged a telephone meeting between the two childhood friends. Ms. Fritz recalled speaking to Andrea on the phone: “Her voice sounded so controlled, I wasn’t sure I could find the old Andrea. ...I heard myself say, ‘But Andrea! You sound so grown-up!’ She answered back, ‘Well, Jean, I am sixty-nine!’”

Jean Fritz sent a copy of HOMESICK to Andrea and “the letter I received back was enthusiastic. She sounded just like the person I hoped she would be after all this time. [...] It was just as if we’d been reading the same books, doing the same things, after all this time.”

In addition to having a best friend in China, Jean also had a nemesis: a British boy named Ian Forbes who tried to bully her into singing “God Save the King” at school. In HOMESICK Ian is described as “solid and tough and built for fighting. [...] You only had to look at his bare knees between the top of his socks and his short pants to know that he would win. His knees were square. Bony and unbeatable.”

When asked if she’d ever gotten in touch with Ian Forbes, Ms. Fritz replied, “I haven’t found him yet, but I’m hoping to. I didn’t change his name because I’m hoping when I meet him I’ll be with [her husband] Michael. Then Ian can pull up his trousers and I can see if his knees are still square. ...And Michael can take over from there.”

She was joking...I think.


Browsing the library shelves this week, I happened to come across the Russian language edition of A.A. Milne’s WINNIE-THE-POOH:

Although the artwork is attributed to B. Diodorova and G. Kalinoskogo, they seem to follow closely in the footsteps of the original Ernest Shepard illustrations:

I also got a kick out of the characters’ names in this translations. There’s Krolik and Pyatachok and there’s Sova, but most of all Vinni-Pukh (chubbinsky tubbinsky stooft with floof...okay, maybe I made that last part up.) In addition to the above-mentioned Rabbit, Piglet, Owl and Winnie-the-Pooh, the Russian names for the other characters are Kristofer Robin, Ia-Ia (Eeyore), Tigra (Tigger), Kenga (Kanga), and Kroshka Ru (Roo.)

Here is another Russian edition I found:

The Polish version, CHATKA PUCHATKA:

And one from Switzerland:

The illustration on the cover of this Finnish edition seems influenced by the Disney movie:

I actually remember a time when it was considered quite cool to carry around this Latin translation of Winnie-the-Pooh:

I wonder if any of the college students who used to cart this around really did know Latin? I suspect Winnie Ille Pu was considered an intellectual “chick magnet” in the counterculture sixties.

Unfortunately, I can’t speak any of the above languages, so cannot comment on the quality of these translations. Call me, though, if someone ever does a WINNIE-THE-POOH translation in Pig(let) Latin.

I’d be first in line for a copy of INNIE-WAY OOH-PAY!


People sometimes search the internet for information on children’s books set in specific states or countries. I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of “Newbery book locations.”

In putting this list together, I came to realize that many Newbery plots move from place to place. When a book contains several locations -- such as James Daugherty’s DANIEL BOONE -- I just list it as being set in “within the United States.” Ditto some stories that are clearly set in America -- such as UP A ROAD SLOWLY by Irene Hunt -- though no specific state seems to be mentioned. In the case where a book is set in more than one place, but one location takes precedence in the story then that’s where it’s listed. An example of this is FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konigsburg; though the kids live in Connecticut at the beginning of the book, they soon travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in this quintessential New York novel.

As always, if you note any errors, let me know and I will correct them.

The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes (1924)
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (1956)
The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (1974)

Dobry by Monica Shannon (1935)

Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (1926)
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis (1933)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (1943)
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli (1950)
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman (1996)
Crispin : The Cross of Lead by Avi (2003)
Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz (2008)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2009)

The White Stag by Kate Seredy (1938)

Gay-Neck by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (1928)

The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (1931)

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2002)

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (1955)

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry (1941)
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene Du Bois (1948)
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1961)

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (1962)

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (1953)

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (1929)

Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (1925)

Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (1965)
I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (1966)

The Grey King by Susan Cooper (1976)


The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1922)
The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1923)
King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (1949)


Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1973)

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (1984)
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (2007)

Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (1945)
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (1952)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959)

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (1946)

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2005)

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (2001)

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (1986)

Jacob Have I Loved (1982)
Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt (1983)

Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs (1934)
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1944)

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1977)

Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1947)
Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (1951)
A Gathering of Day by Joan Blos (1980)

Onion John by Joseph Krumgold (1960)

...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (1954)

Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1937)
The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds (1941)
It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville (1964)
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1968)
The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg (1997)

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (1998)

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen (1957)
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1991)

Holes by Louis Sachar (1999)

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1978)

Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (1971)
M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton (1975)
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1992)
Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (1993)

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (1936)
Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (1939)
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979)


Smoky by Will James (1927) -- set in the west
Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (1932) -- set in the American west/Navajo Nation
Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (1967)
Sounder by William H. Armstrong (1970) -- set in the south
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1972)
Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (2006) -- set in the midwest

Hitty by Rachel Field (1930)
Daniel Boone by James Daugherty (1940)
Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (1958) -- set in the midwest
Lincoln : A Photobiography by Russell Freedman (1988)
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1995)

The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1969)
A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard (1982)
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (1985)
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman (1987)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1994)
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2004)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)

Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman (1989)


When I was in elementary school the book on the left, MIRACLES : POEMS BY CHILDREN OF THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD, edited by Richard Lewis (Simon and Schuster, 1966) was ubiquitous; every children’s library seemed to have a copy. I remember glancing at it (jealously) myself a few times. I didn’t discover that there was a companion volume, JOURNEYS : PROSE BY CHILDREN OF THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD (Simon and Schuster, 1969), until this week when I noticed it on the shelf at the library.

I opened the books, fully expecting to find juvenile works by now-famous authors, but no familiar names popped out at me. I did try to Google a few of the contributors just to see what they might be up to today, but so many of the boys’ names are extremely common (i.e. Brian Andrews) and the girls grew up in an era when it was typical to change one's name upon I didn’t have too much luck on that front either.

It will be interesting to see if any of the young contributors -- now middle-aged -- Google these book titles someday and find their way to this blog.

When I began looking at the books this week, they seemed pretty standard fare for children’s poetry and prose. The free-verse poems in MIRACLES concern such topics as morning, spring, people, and feelings. JOURNEYS contains stories and vignettes about animals, fantasies, and family life. A lot of the material is pretty weak, with the strongest pieces often being brief, impressionistic observations:

THE SCARED CLOUDS by Hannah Hodgins, age 11

The clouds are stuck and scared to move
For fear the trees might pinch them.

THUNDER by Glenys Van Every, age 9

I hear
The drummers
The sky.

However, I found many of the pieces to be unsettling.

Am I the only one who finds this poem by a ten-year-old boy troubling?


The doors in my house
Are used every day
For closing rooms
And locking children away.

And this story by a boy who is only six REALLY concerns me:


A boy tried to get killed
He ran up and down the road
Until a taxi ran over him.
Because his mother fussed at him.

And I got the willies from the eleven-year-old girl who wrote an essay that began:

To me long hair represents evil. It looks dead. Just picture, dangling looking as if it were on the hangman’s noose….

And while words such as “bulimia” and “anorexia” weren’t used much in the sixties, how can anyone read this piece by an eleven-year-old girl and not see a potential problem:


As I am filled up with food I get very exhausted. I become dizzy as the golden flame flows out of my mouth. I flop down and my food smolders. (Then the thing that always happens.) The small flames scream at me to let them get out. I collapse and my heart breaks into smoldering pieces as the flames get taller and tear me open.

I don’t think anyone questioned these poems in the sixties, yet they unnerve me today. Is it simply because I’m now an adult somewhat tuned-in to signs from troubled kids...or have I, like everyone else, become so schooled in topics such as child abuse, suicide, and eating disorders that I now see warning signs in things that wouldn’t have bothered most readers from the past? And perhaps even see warning signs where there are none?

After reading some of these pieces, I really would like to find out what happened to these kids. I want to know if they turned out all right.


For the second Saturday in a row I got a book-related fortune at the Chinese restaurant:

I wonder if they save them for me specially?

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books!


jen-lehmann said...

I believe Dear Mr. Henshaw is set in California. I don't know that it says that directly, but the places he mentions his father traveling to (like Bakersfield) and the description of the monarch butterflies are California. Of course, I grew up there, so it could have just been me taking indeterminate places and attaching them to what I knew. :-)

Maria Turtschaninoff said...

Well, here you have a Finnish-speaking reader! Although, I have never read Winnie-the-Pooh in Finnish, only in Swedish, my native tongue. I can tell you that "nalle" in the title means "teddy", though. But if you have any questions, fire away!

Incidentally, I found your blog through Gaiman's.

Wendy said...

A couple of thoughts on your Newbery locations list, which I love (I was fascinated to see the over-representation of West Virginia when I was reading these books):

-I agree with an above poster, Dear Mr. Henshaw is in California.

-Rifles for Watie would be a set-throughout-US, wouldn't it? I think it starts in Kansas, but he goes different places.

-I think it would be most proper to say that Waterless Mountain is set in the Navajo Nation. (though I think it's Arizona, but I'm not sure whether I have evidence for that.)

(also, just a typo, EL Konigsburg wrote The View from Saturday, not Karen Cushman)

Thanks very much for the fascinating list!

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Thanks Jen and Wendy. I moved Mr. Henshaw to California and made some of the other changes suggested.

How in the world did I attach Cushman's name to View from Saturday???

Thanks again.


Melissa (& Billy) said...

The Russian Pooh reminds me of Misha, the 1980 Olympic mascot, and I love the illustration of Kristofer Robin and his friends (especially Tigra!) And WTP in Latin just rocks! He looks quite regal in his suit of armor...although mixing Winnie the Pooh and 'Gladiator' strikes a melancholy chord for me...

I love reading your blog because it reminds me of the literature I read as a child (I used to get in so much trouble for reading in class!), and I'm happy to count many Newbery medal books among my favorites.

Brooke said...

I also believe that Criss Cross, as well as its prequel, All Alone in the Universe is set in suburban Pittsburgh. Perkins grew up in Cheswick, just up the river from Pittsburgh, and while the specific setting is never stated explicitly, any Western Pennsylvanian will recognize specific refernces to this region -- the constant presence of "fly ash," the houses that climb up the hills "like cliff dwellers," and most particularly the explanation of the word "yinz" in Criss Cross. There may be a few other place names from the region mentioned, but it's been a while since I read it . . . Thanks again for another great brunch!

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Home sick is great - a real classic in my library.

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