Among other topics, today’s Sunday brunch blog looks for the African American woman who disappeared from the pages of a Newbery winner as well as the little boy who walked right out of a Caldecott-winning book, never to return. We also look back at a discontinued book award and look ahead to some future changes at Collecting Children’s Books.
When I saw today was April 19, I remembered that date once appeared in the title of a children’s book. OZZIE AND THE 19TH OF APRIL by Elaine MacMann is an amusing 1957 novel about a modern-day boy who tries to track down some lost pistols from the American Revolution. This got me wondering what other specific dates turn up in the titles of children’s books. Here’s my list, in calendar order:
Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863 : The Document that Turned the Civil War into a Fight for Freedom by Frank B. Latham
An Uncommonly Fine Day : January 26, 1788 by John Anthony King
The Death of Gandhi, January 30, 1948 : India's Spiritual Leader Helps His Nation Win Independence by Robert Goldston
The Dred Scott Decision, March 6, 1857 : Slavery and the Supreme Court's Self-inflicted Wound by Frank B. Latham
The Purchase of Alaska, March 30, 1867 : A Bargain at Two Cents an Acre by Peter Sgroi
Circus, April 1st by Louis Slobodkin
Ozzie and the 19th of April by Elaine MacMann
Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May ? by Jean Fritz
The 35th of May : or, Conrad's ride to the South Seas by Erich Kästner (okay, maybe this one is stretching it)
The Story of D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Bruce Bliven, Jr
D-Day, the Sixth of June, 1944 by David Howarth
The Execution of Maximilian, June 19, 1867 : A Hapsburg Emperor Meets Disaster in the New World by Robin McKown
Red Hawk's Account of Custer's Last Battle : The Battle of the Little Bighorn, 25 June 1876 by Paul and Dorothy Goble
June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner
Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong
Birthdays of Freedom : From Early Man to July 4, 1776 by Genevieve Foster
The Fourth of July by Mary Kay Phelan
Fourth of July fireworks by Patrick Merrick
Fourth of July Mice! by Bethany Roberts
The Fourth of July Story by Alice Dalgliesh
Henry's Fourth of July by Holly Keller
Hurray for the Fourth of July by Wendy Watson
The Glorious Flight : Across the Channel with Louis Blériot July 25, 1909 by Alice and Martin Provensen
September 11, 2001 : Attack on New York City by Wilborn Hampton
September 11, 2001 : The Day that Changed America by Jill C. Wheeler
9.11.01 : Terrorists Attack the U.S. by Patrick Lalley
Saturday, the Twelfth of October by Norma Fox Mazer
Monday, 21 October 1805 : The Day of Trafalgar by Ian Ribbons
Mussolini's March on Rome, October 30, 1922 : A Dictator in the Making Achieves Political Power in Italy by Jerre Gerlando Mangione
Pearl Harbor! December 7, 1941 : The Road to Japanese Aggression in the Pacific by Robert Goldston
Air Raid -- Pearl Harbor! : The story of December 7, 1941 by Theodore Taylor
Brave Eagle's Account of the Fetterman Fight, 21 December 1866 by Paul Goble
A NEW AWARD
This is the inaugural year for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award. The bookstores have recently begun receiving copies of the 2009 winner, A CURSE DARK AS GOLD by Elizabeth C. Bunce, with the seal attached.Compared to the Newbery Medal’s image of an inviting open book and the Caldecott’s runaway horse and “four-and-twenty blackbirds,” the design of the Morris seems plain, but it is also striking and I like to think the rising sun graphic announces the dawn of many important careers in the field of YA books.
AN OLD AWARD
Back when I was a kid, this medal appeared on many books at the public library. Although it didn’t have the same gravitas as other awards and, in fact, I can’t recall ever selecting a book just because it sported this seal, it was still part of the cultural landscape back in the sixties and early seventies. Created in memory of their father by the four sons of Charles W. Follett, the Follett Medal “for worthy contributions to children’s literature” was given to an unpublished manuscript submitted to, and later published by, that Chicago publishing company. After 1967 it went to a book they had published the previous year. A few years later, the award was again given to unpublished manuscripts. Shortly after that it was discontinued. Here is a list of the winning books:
1950 : Johnny Texas by Carol Hoff
1951 : All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor
1952 : Thirty-one Brothers and Sisters by Reba Paeff Mirsky
1953 : Tornado Jones by Trella Lamson Dick
1954 : Little Wu and the Watermelons by Beatrice Liu
1955 : Minutemen of the Sea by Tom Cluff
1956 : No Award
1957 : Chucho, The Boy with the Good Name by Eula Mark Philllips
1958 : South Town by Lorenz Graham
1959 : Model “A” Mule by Robert Willis
1960 : What Then, Raman? by Shirley L. Arora
1961 : No Award
1962 : Me and Caleb by Franklyn E. Meyer
1963 : No Award
1964 : Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
1965 : No Award
1966 : No Award
1967 : Lions in the Way by Bella Rodman
1968 : Marc Chagall by Howard Greenfield
1969 : Banners Over Me by Margery F. Greenleaf
1970 : The War for the Lot by Sterling Lanier
1971 : No Promises in the Wind by Irene Hunt
1972 : A Horse Called Dragon by Lynn Hall
1973 : No Award
1974 : Red Power on the Rio Grande by Franklin Folsom
Looking back at these titles, I recognize only one “classic” book, ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY by Sydney Taylor, though ACROSS FIVE APRILS was a Newbery Honor and may be the single best volume Follett ever published. (But is it also a classic? I’m not sure.) Many of the other titles are now long-forgotten. I’m assuming that part of the reason Follett winners are not remembered these days is because the award drew from such a small pool of nominees -- only books submitted to that particular publishing house -- meaning a lot of these books were not truly distinguished. Still, this award gave us many books with multicultural themes long before that trend was popular. Plus, unlike most other children’s books prizes, it came with a $3000 award, which was undoubtedly very much appreciated by its winners.
VANITY FAIR FARE
I just read a fascinating article in the May issue of VANITY FAIR, “Stealing Mona Lisa,” about the 1911 theft of Leonardo’s masterpiece. I was particularly pleased to see the story was excerpted from the new book THE CRIMES OF PARIS : A TRUE STORY OF MURDER, THEFT AND DETECTION by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. The Hooblers have been stalwarts in the field of children’s books for years, publishing such well-regarded works as the “Samurai Mysteries” and the ambitious “Century Kids” series, which traced the history of a fictional family across the entire twentieth century. It was nice to see them pop up in an unexpected location.
A HARE DIFFERENT
I mentioned Robert Lawson’s RABBIT HILL in last Sunday’s Easter blog. This week at lunch, as I ate Tuesday's egg-salad sandwich...Wednesday's egg-salad sandwich... Thursday's egg-salad sandwich...and, you guessed it, Friday's egg-salad sandwich, I took a look at our library’s copy of RABBIT HILL, which has a copyright of 1972. Comparing the quality of the later edition with the first edition was revelatory. Everything about the 1944 edition was better -- the binding, the paper, even the illustrations. Compare the endpapers of the two volumes. 1944 is vividly on top, 1972 is the wan imitation on the bottom:
The internal artwork is poorly-reproduced as well. Look at the fine, textured quality of this illustration from the 1944 edition compared with the dark and muddy picture from 1972 below it:
Kids who read later editions of books are shortchanged when publishers don’t take the time and care to preserve the book’s original qualities. Still, I reminded myself that RABBIT HILL won the Newbery for its text, not its illustrations...and the publishers hadn’t changed the text at all.
Or had they?
Here is a small section from the 1972 volume:
Their attention now returned to the car, which was quivering and creaking strangely. Two or three bundles fell out, then a whole shower of them, as a rather stout and flushed woman heaved herself out of the rear door.
“Well, Sulphronia, here’s our new home. Isn’t it going to be lovely?” the Lady said brightly. Sulphronia looked rather doubtful and, lugging two bulging suitcases, made her way toward the kitchen door.
Phewie slapped Father on the back gleefully. “Will there be garbidge? Will there? Oh my, oh my! I’ve never seen one that shape and size that didn’t set out the elegantest garbidge! Lots of it too; chicken wings, duck’s backs, hambones – cooked to a turn!”
“Folks can be splendid cooks,” Father admitted, “and as a rule extremely generous and understanding of our needs and customs.”
Something did not seem quite right about that passage, so I went back to the 1944 printing and read something very different:
Their attention now returned to the car, which was quivering and creaking strangely. Two or three bundles fell out, then a whole shower of them, as a very stout colored woman heaved her vast bulk out of the rear door.
“Well, Sulphronia, here’s our new home. Isn’t it going to be lovely?” the Lady said brightly. Sulphronia looked rather doubtful and, lugging two bulging suitcases, waddled off toward the kitchen door.
Phewie slapped Father on the back gleefully. “Will there be garbidge? Will there? Oh my, oh my! I’ve never seen one that shape and color that didn’t set out the elegantest garbidge! Lots of it too; chicken wings, duck’s backs, hambones – cooked to a turn!”
“They are, of course, splendid cooks,” Father admitted, “and as a rule extremely generous and understanding of our needs and customs.”
Not only is Sulphronia no longer identified in pejorative racial terms, but she’s also slimmed down -- gone are her “vast bulk” and “waddle”!
This is not the first time that an award winning children’s book has been revised to suit latter-day sensitivities. The year after RABBIT HILL won the Newbery, Maud and Miska Petersham won the Caldecott Award for THE ROOSTER CROWS : A BOOK OF AMERICAN RHYMES AND JINGLES:
Like RABBIT HILL, later editions suffer from poorly-reproduced artwork -- a real shame for a volume that won top honors for its illustrations. But there’s even more. Looking at an edition of the book copyrighted in 1973, I noted that the first and last sections of the book are identical in format to the first edition, but the middle section is a real muddle, with the pages and poems no longer following the same order as the original book. Then I realized why. Two pages from the first edition are no longer included in THE ROOSTER CROWS:
I can understand why text and illustrations with racist (at worst) or racially-insensitive (at best) images are altered or removed from later editions of children’s books, but what surprises me is that there is no mention of these revisions in later printings. Why not a note on the copyright page saying, "This edition contains slight alterations from the original text" or "Some illustrations from the original edition have been omitted to reflect modern sensibilities"? Anyone who doesn’t know better will pick up a post-1972 copy of RABBIT HILL or post-1973 copy of THE ROOSTER CROWS and think they are looking at the same book that was published, and honored, decades earlier. That’s why I think it’s important to always try and track down the earliest edition of a book available: that’s the one closest to the creator’s original intent, that’s the one that provides a window on our history (even the unappealing parts that we try to conceal later on), and that’s the one which will have the better artwork.
IN THE NEWS THIS WEEK
Whoa, this one is problematic. A popular children’s author was recently arrested and charged with multiple felony counts for trading child pornography on his computer; he has pleaded not guilty. This has stirred up quite a bit of talk in libraries and bookstores. Some feel the crime (and, remember, he has pled “not guilty”) is such that kids shouldn’t have access to his books without parental approval; others say, “The man is not the book.” I can see both sides of this disturbing case. I’m not sure there is a single “right” answer -- all I know is that it raises a lot of intriguing ethical issues.
On a happier note, a canine named Bo is in the house -- and I’m not talking about the doghouse either. This Portuguese water terrier now resides in the White House with the Obama family. Only a day or two after Bo made his public debut, Mascot Books announced it was publishing BO, AMERICA’S COMMANDER IN LEASH, written by Naren Aryal and illustrated by Danny Moore. How did this book get written so quickly? (I mean, we’ve all done term papers overnight, but books are another story!) Actually the author began the manuscript when the Obamas first considered adopting a Portie; specific details -- such as Bo’s name -- weren’t added until this week.
One of the scenes in BO, AMERICA’S COMMANDER IN LEASH reportedly shows the First Dog attending the White House Easter egg roll. This past week, President Obama used that event to publicize children’s books by reading Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to a group of visitors. You can watch it by clicking here.
Traditionally, books illustrated with artwork by Disney Studios haven't been highly-regarded by critics or children's book aficionados. After all, these volumes are usually dashed off by pseudonymous hacks and sold down at your favorite grocery store. It’s hard to imagine someone such as, say, Margaret Wise Brown writing this type of book.
Yet she did!
In 1939 she published LITTLE PIG’S PICNIC, which contained ten short stories (including “The Barnyard Song,” “The Lonely Little Colt” and, Heaven help us, “Pluto’s Chicks” and “Pluto’s Kittens”) all illustrated with stills from Disney cartoons. This was Margaret Wise Brown’s only collaboration with Disney -- although as late as the 1990s some of these stories, such as “The Grasshopper and the Ants” and “The Old Mill,” were rereleased as stand-alone volumes with Disney illustrations and Ms. Brown’s byline.
I’m just glad she moved on to other endeavors. I mean, what if she hadn’t?
Can you imagine this:
In a blatant attempt to lure more readers to Collecting Children’s Books, I am going to start including occasional book reviews on this site.
A blog entry with this heading will critique a current or forthcoming book that, by virtue of its quality, popularity or other factors, may be worthy of collecting for the future.
I am also going to review older books, discussing what makes them collectable, how difficult they are to obtain, and how much the are worth. These reviews will have this header.
But the blog feature I’m most excited to add will fall under this heading. Many years ago, the New York Times Book Review published two opposing book reviews for the same volume -- the young adult novel WILD IN THE WORLD by John Donovan. I’ve always thought that was a great idea.
Although I don’t subscribe to any children’s book review journals, I do occasionally see lists of “starred” books from various publications or hear through the grapevine that certain books are getting a lot of positive or negative attention. This past week I was taken aback when I saw that one publication was starring the new middle-grade novel HEART OF A SHEPHERD by Rosanne Parry, a volume that I found underdeveloped and formulaic. Later I learned another review journal had starred SURFACE TENSION by Brent Runyon, a young adult novel that struck me as, well, pretty bad.
“Dissenting Opinions” will not contain actual “responses” to specific published reviews because, in most cases, I haven’t even read those original reviews. Instead, we'll just provide a differing opinion on titles that may be either overly praised or unfairly dissed by other review sources.
To assist me with this feature, I am adding my friend and alter-ego, Daniel Wright, to the Collecting Children’s Book team. You may not know the name, but Dan has published hundreds of book reviews, considers himself a “literary gadfly” who likes to annoy the children’s book establishment, and, as he loves to boast: “I am always Wright.”
His occasional contributions may make you angry...or they may make you really angry... or they may make you really, really angry...or they may just make you reevaluate your thoughts on a given book! I hope they stir up discussion. Getting people thinking about, and talking about, children’s books has always been a primary goal of this blog.
Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books.