Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Sunday Brunch with Tweets

“Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it."

That’s a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY and -- since today actually is the longest day of the year -- I’m repeating the quote here so that none of us will “miss it.” June 21 is also Father’s Day. Today’s Sunday brunch features a little about summer, a bit about Father’s Day, and the usual random thoughts and observations about children’s books old and new.


The beginning of summer always makes me think of Robert Lipsyte’s seasonal series, which began with 1977’s ONE FAT SUMMER. This autobiographical novel introduces Bobby Marks, a fourteen-year-old boy struggling with his weight, his parents, girls, and a summer job mowing the lawn for a wealthy man. Although he eventually deals with his weight issue, Bobby faces other problems during subsequent summers, working at a camp in SUMMER RULES (1981) and spending the summer before college employed by a laundry in THE SUMMERBOY (1982.) This trilogy, focusing on summer jobs, summer romances, and growing up, continues to be read and enjoyed by kids today. Mr. Lipsyte won the 2001 Margaret A. Edwards Award for his contributions to young adult literature.

And now let me be presumptuous enough to suggest a name to future Edwards Award committees: Norma Fox Mazer. Beginning with I, TRISSY in 1971, Ms. Fox Mazer has published a steady run of emotional, thought-provoking, topflight books in a wide variety of genres, from realistic fiction (UP IN SETH’S ROOM, 1979), to fantasy/time travel (SATURDAY, THE TWELFTH OF OCTOBER, 1975), to historical (GOOD NIGHT MAMAM, 1999.) I particularly admire her short story collections DEAR BILL, REMEMBER ME? (1976) and SUMMER GIRLS, LOVE BOYS (1982.) Over the years the author has received a scattering of awards for individual volumes. A FIGURE OF SPEECH was a National Book Award finalist. AFTER THE RAIN was a Newbery Honor. TAKING TERRI MUELLER won the Edgar Award. But what she needs now is a career-award acknowledging the breadth of her work, the strength of her prose, her literary experimentation, and her rare ability to write about disadvantaged or lower class characters with great integrity.

Norma Fox Mazer for the Margaret A. Edwards Award! Pass it on.


At the height of the “Series of Unfortunate Events” craze, the pseudonymous author published LEMONY SNICKET : THE UNAUTHORIZED AUTOBIOGRAPHY. This pastiche of letters, music, historical photographs and other ephemera is the kind of volume that young Snicket fans would likely pore over with a magnifying glass. I can imagine myself doing the same thing as a kid. But as an adult, this mishmash of a book gave me a headache. The content was unorganized, the tone was purposefully arcane, and I felt like I was trapped in someone else’s inside joke. However, I do have to say I loved one page of the book. This one:

It shows a group of sailors who are identified as Sailor Gantos, Sailor Eager, Sailor Kerr, Sailor Whelan, Sailor Cleary, Sailor Snyder, Sailor Sones, Sailor Seibold, Sailor Walsh, Sailor Selznick, Sailor Creech, Sailor Danziger, Sailor Konigsburg, Sailor Lowry, Sailor Scieszka, Sailor Griffin, Sailor Snicket, Sailor Dahl, Sailor Woodson, Sailor Bellairs, Sailor Kalman and Sailor Peck.

Obviously Lemony Snicket is a fan of children’s books too.


Walking through the library stacks, I’m always surprised by the large number of books by Hila Colman. I recently did some research and discovered that Ms. Colman died on May 15, 2008, just a couple months short of her ninety-ninth birthday. By that point, her place in children’s and young adult literature had been supplanted by more contemporary and, frankly, better authors -- but she still should be remembered as a pioneer in the field of teenage fiction. From 1957 (THE BIG STEP) to 1990 (FORGOTTEN GIRL), Hila Colman broke ground by tackling such then-daring topics as teenage marriage, religion, divorce, and minorities. Today Colman’s agenda-driven novels may seem superficial and blandly “safe,” yet there’s little doubt that, during the fifties and sixties, these books provided both insight and comfort to young readers struggling with some heavy real-life issues. Her work also served as a bridge from the wholesome books of the fifties to the more hard-hitting novels of today -- and for that she should be celebrated.


In other obit news, I’m sorry to report that a legendary name in children’s books died March 4, 2009.

Richard Berkenbush was neither a writer nor an illustrator, yet his name appears in a classic picture book that has sold over 1.5 million copies and is still going strong.

Back then, he was known as “Dickie” and a typo caused his last name to be spelled wrong.

Here’s how it appeared in print:

On this page:

of this book:

MIKE MULLIGAN AND THE STEAM SHOVEL concerns a man and his old steam shovel digging a foundation for Popperville’s town hall. But as author-illustrator Virginia Lee Burton approached the end of her story she realized that she’d, quite literally, dug her characters -- Mike and his steam shovel Mary Ann -- into a hole and didn’t know how to get them out again.

Ms. Burton read her manuscript to a group of children and young Dickie Berkenbush suggested that Mary Ann could remain in the town hall basement as a furnace. Years later, Mr. Berkenbush recalled how he came up with the idea: “My father had a garage in town that had a steam heating system, so I was familiar with it.”

The author was so thrilled that she gave the boy an acknowledgment smack in the middle of the book!

Richard Berkenbush grew up to become a fire chief and police chief in West Newbury, Massachusetts, where he died earlier this year at age 84.

Mary Ann the steam shovel -- now Mary Ann the furnace -- is presumably still keeping visitors warm at the Popperville town hall.


MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL is one of the rarest and most sought-after volumes for children’s book collectors.

We are lucky enough to have a first edition in our library’s collection, so I thought I'd share it here.

You’ve already seen Mike and Mary Ann breaking through the front cover of the dustjacket above. Here is the back cover the jacket:

The yellow spine simply says "MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL" followed by an abbreviation for the publisher, "H.M. CO.” with no mention of the author’s name at all.

Take off the jacket and you’ll see this beige cloth cover with an illustration imprinted on it:

The double-spread illustration on the endpapers demonstrates Mary Ann’s capabilities:

Among other first edition points:

The front flap of the dustjacket should have a price of $1.50 at the top; the back flap should have an ad for Burton’s first book, CHOO-CHOO.

The title page must have the date “1939” at the bottom, just over the words “THE RIVERSIDE PRESS -- CAMBRIDGE.”

If your book does not state 1939 on the title page, it is not a first edition.

If it does state 1939, congratulations. You own a book worth $10,000.


Last Sunday I solicited quotations from children’s books. I really liked all the quotes that people sent in:

Monica E. quoted Lewis Carroll:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister
on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had
peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no
pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,'
thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?'

Grrlpup quoted Louise Fitzhugh’s HARRIET THE SPY:

Sometimes you have to lie.

and LIZARD MUSIC by Daniel Pinkwater:

My ears were filled with lizard music.

Jeanne K. suggests:

And the rest is silence, Shakespeare! from HALF MAGIC.

Emily submitted this one from THE MAGIC PUDDING by Norman Lindsay:

"Apologies are totally inadequate," shouted Uncle Wattleberry. "Nothing short of felling you to the earth with an umbrella could possibly atone for the outrage."

and Penni from Australia quoted A.A. Milne:

Where am I going? I don't quite know
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the woods where the bluebells grow.
Anywhere, anywhere, I don't know.


Everyone seems to be twittering about Twittering these days. I have not gotten on the bandwagon yet -- and probably won’t. (I can't imagine trying to constrain myself to only 140 characters?) But I have noticed that several fictional characters have begun tweeting. Here are some of their comments:

Hey gang! Slipped the kid a mickey in his hot milk. As soon as he dozes off, get your cottontails over here for a PAR-TAY!!!
-- The Quiet Old Lady from GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown

I’m having a terrible, horrible...well, Twitter doesn’t allow me enough space to explain how bad my day has been!

Aw can it, Alexander. At least you can Tweet your entire name!
-- Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking from PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren

-- Milo from THE PHANTOM TOOLBOOTH by Norman Juster

How does this thing work anyway?
-- THE WAY THINGS WORK by David Macaulay

We're suing for copyright infringement!
-- Mr. and Mrs. Twit from THE TWITS by Roald Dahl

Sor5y for miStaKKes, I am TweetttttiNg left-handed bec23se of molten silver acdident.
-- Johnny Tremain from JOHNNY TREMAIN by Esther Forbes

Just give it time, Johnny. I eventually learned how to tweet left-handed. Now I'm a compulsive multi-tasker!
-- Deenie from DEENIE by Judy Blume

-- the kid from LOVE YOU FOREVER by Robert Munsch

What am I up to? Sorry, I can’t tell you what I’m doing until September 1, 2009.
-- Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Twitter’s OK, but I prefer Crayola.
-- Harold from HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON by Crockett Johnson

So I told my maid to send me a tweet and she started doing birdcalls!
-- Mrs. Rodgers from AMELIA BEDELIA by Peggy Parish

-- “Anonymous sender” from DINKY HOCKER SHOOTS SMACK! by M.E. Kerr

But it doesn’t look as good if I can’t format my tweets on separate lines!
-- Billie Jo from OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse

-- The Snowman from the book of the same name by Raymond Briggs

Click Clack Twitter!
-- Farmer Brown’s Cows from CLICK CLACK MOO : COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin

My dumb family accidentally left me on this dumb island. Someone come get me. My GPS coordinates are 33°44 11” N 118°16’ 47” W. Hurry up, I don’t want to spend the night here alone. Thx.
-- Karana from ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS by Scott O’Dell

This Twitter account has been suspended due to user inactivity.
-- Mandy from LETTERS FROM THE INSIDE by John Marsden


Finally, I’ll close with a brief Father’s Day story about Ezra Jack Keats, whose groundbreaking picture books include the 1963 Caldecott winner THE SNOWY DAY.

Mr. Keats grew up in New York, the son of poor Polish immigrants. His father Benjamin, a waiter at a Greenwich Village coffee shop, was wary of Ezra’s interest in art and worried that he would never make a living in this field. According to the illustrator’s website:

Despite his desire to discourage Ezra, Benjamin brought home tubes of paint for his son under the pretense of having traded bowls of soup to starving artists. “If you don’t think artists starve, well, let me tell you. One man came in the other day and swapped me a tube of paint for a bowl of soup.”

When Ezra was a teenager, he painted a portrait of his parents. He recalled, “When I asked them to pose, my father wanted to wear a shirt and tie, but I painted him as he was, in his undershirt and work pants.”

A year later Ezra graduated from high school, winning the senior class prize for excellence in art. The day before the ceremony, his father collapsed and died on the street and Ezra had the sad duty of identifying Benjamin's body. Afterwards he claimed his father’s wallet and “found myself staring deep into his secret feelings. There in his wallet were worn and tattered newspaper clippings of the notices of the awards I had won. My silent admirer and supplier, he had been torn between his dread of my leading a life of hardship and his real pride in my work."

Happy Father’s Day -- and thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books.


Monica Edinger said...

Ya wanna see books tweeting? Check out the tweets of our 16 contenders at this year's SLJ Battle of the (Kids') Books. Blogger doesn't like URLs, but they are all there in the last week.

Monica Edinger said...

Just noticed yours for Katniss. Well here's ours for The Hunger Games and Octavian Nothing (right before they squared off in front of Judge Lois Lowry in the finals)

d12Kat Will they change the rules now? Do I have to kill Octavian...or perhaps a kiss...

ONII Dr. Trefusis would be pleased.

They were fun to do (we are, I should say, twitterers).

Elaine Hart said...

I enjoy reading your post and knowing that there are also other people who reads books that I particularly enjoy. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, that last bit about Keats' father made my eyes start leaking.

Daughter Number Three said...

Peter, did you know that August is the 100th anniversary of Virginia Lee Burton's birth? I've been writing about her this week on my blog,, and also just found out that the Cape Ann Historical Museum plans a series of events and showings of their collection of her work throughout August (details at