Today’s Sunday Brunch includes an update on last weekend’s American Library Association Banquet, reviews a hot new book, looks at a few items I found on the library shelves this week, and celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing -- as well as the usual random news and observations on children’s books old and new.
ALA : WAFFLY BALLS, STEAKS, AND MISTAKES
Last Sunday I wrote about the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Awards Dinner. Since then I have heard from several people who attended this event and it sounds like everyone had a good time. In the previous blog, I wondered about that evening’s dinner menu and Connie responded, “This year's banquet featured a juicy filet mignon and a piece of whitefish, though everyone else at my table (the SLJ table) opted for the alternative vegetarian plate.” Sarah Park mentioned that dessert included a “chocolate waffly ball and cake.” I'm not sure what a waffly ball is, but I want one. Both Connie and Sarah specifically mentioned Ashley Bryan’s Wilder speech as a highlight of the evening. Connie said, “His passion for poetry and language compelled him to involve everyone in the room in call-and-response poems that punctuated his joyful acceptance of the award. Ashley Bryan is a vital force of nature.”
For those of us who did not attend, Mr. Bryan’s presentation -- as well as the acceptance speeches by Newbery winner Neil Gaiman and Caldecott winner Beth Krommes -- was recorded on a compact disk and given to those who attended the festivities.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that, according to an anonymous tipster, they spelled Mr. Bryan’s name wrong on the cover of the CD!
Someone really dropped the (waffly) ball on that one, didn’t they?
THAT’S THE WAY IT WAS
The death of Walter Cronkite probably has most Americans “of a certain age” feeling a bit sad. However, I was shocked to hear a couple twenty-somethings confess they didn’t even know who Mr. Cronkite was! Whenever I hear this type of remark, I find myself wanting to reach for my ear trumpet and cane and start railing against the intelligence and cultural awareness of “kids these days.”
Instead I just sigh and think, “This is what happens when nonreaders grow up.”
Certainly anyone who grew up reading children’s books should be familiar with the name Walter Cronkite. It appeared in dozens of well-known novels from the past, including THROWING SHADOWS by E. L. Konigsburg and the classic BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson. And many contemporary books feature “Walter Cronkite on the news” to evoke an earlier era. A handful of those titles include THE LIBERATION OF GABRIEL KING by K.L. Going, SUMMER’S END by Audrey Couloumbis, BUTTERMILK HILL by Ruth White, FULL SERVICE by Will Weaver, and the Newbery Honor Book THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt.
Kids’ books: the first step toward cultural literacy.
BUT DOES SHE DRIVE A BLUE ROADSTER?
Did you know that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who just finished a grueling week of Senate confirmation hearings in Washington, D.C., is a big fan of Nancy Drew? According to reports, Judge Sotomayor grew up reading the Nancy Drew books and once had dreams of becoming a police detective.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not-so-coincidentally) Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were also childhood fans of the Nancy Drew series.
Gosh, I remember a time when the Nancy Drew books weren’t even allowed in most libraries because they were considered inferior stuff...popular fluff with little redeeming literary value. Yet we now know these books were empowering and life-changing for many kids who grew up to be brilliant and influential adults.
Score another point for children’s books!
SPEAKING OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICES....
I imagine that as soon as Sonia Sotomayor is officially named to the Supreme Court, we will see a children’s book or two about her.
There have already been a number of children’s biographies of other Supreme Court Justices, including Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
And Sandra Day O’Connor has just published a picture book called FINDING SUSIE.
The only book about a Supreme Court Justice to win an award is MR. JUSTICE HOLMES by Clara Ingram Judson, a 1957 Newbery Honor.
Ms. Judson wrote the book because she was interested in helping “readers appreciate the lofty place of law in the lives of all of us” and decided that subject “might become simple and human if viewed through the life and work of some great man in the legal profession.”
Though this book is written in a fictionalized style that is no longer held in favor (“I’m here!"’ Wendell Holmes called from the front stairway. He smiled at his mother as he dashed by, clattered down the stone steps and grabbed Amelia’s hand.), Clara Ingram Judson was considered an important writer of children’s biographies during the twentieth century. In addition to MR. JUSTICE HOLMES, she received Newbery Honors for THEODORE ROOSEVELT, FIGHTING PATRIOT (1953) and ABRAHAM LINCOLN, FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE (1950.) In 1960, Ms.Judson was just the second author to receive the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her complete body of work.
I wonder if they spelled her name right at the banquet.
WANDERING AROUND THE LIBRARY STACKS
Walking through the library this week, I came across a couple intriguing things I thought I’d share.
First I came across a sixties reprint of the 1932 Newbery Honor Book CALICO BUSH by Rachel Field. The back of the dustjacket contains this note:
I’ve never seen a Horn Book list of “The 30 Twentieth-Century Books Every Adult Shuld Know," have you?
I’m curious now to track it down and find out the other twenty-nine titles.
I imagine this list must have appeared quite some time ago if a title such as CALICO BUSH (a great novel, but generally forgotten these days) was included.
I wonder if any of the titles from that list would appear on a list written in 2009.
And come to think of it, what exactly defines a title that “adults should know”? How would such a list differ from “titles every kid should know”?
MORE WANDERING, MORE BOOKS
As I continued to wander, I came across this book:
I thought it was a fine idea for a children’s book, as the trials and tribulations of being the oldest child in a family need to be addressed! For too long, “oldest children” have been taken advantage of (“You have to take your little brother with you”) or ignored (“Don’t bother me, I’m changing your little brother’s diaper”) or given too much responsibility ("You're supposed to be a role model for your younger brother!") It's high time someone published a book that explains how to deal with this!
However, I then moved farther down the stacks and discovered this volume:
and wondered why in the world anyone felt it was necessary to publish such a book.
I moved to the next shelf and found this thing:
For the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would write this kind of book. Honestly, what kind of problems could a “youngest child” have?
...By the way, I’m the oldest child in my family.
WONDERING THROUGH LIBRARY BOOKS
Sometimes I see things on the library shelves that pique my curiosity, but more often I read things in books that start me wondering.
Having recently read Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer prize winning novel THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and loved it, I decided to read his second Pulitzer winner, ALICE ADAMS. Lacking the epic scale of AMBERSONS and suffering from an exasperating, posturing protagonist, this book is much weaker than its predecessor, though I did think it ultimately reached a strong conclusion.
However, I was momentarily taken aback to read a scene in which an elderly business owner confesses that he took some action against a rival only because his sons kept “twitting me about it every few minutes!”
What he meant was that his sons were teasing him but -- sign of the times -- I immediately pictured them sending him harassing text messages!
Still on a Pulitzer kick, I next picked up the James Gould Cozzens’ novel GUARD OF HONOR. I haven’t read it yet, but was distracted by this quote from Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST on the title page:
I and my fellow
Are ministers of Fate: the elements,
Of whom your swords are temper’d, may as well
Wound the loud winds, or with bemock’d-at stabs
Kill the still closing waters, as diminish
One dowle that’s in my plume: my fellow ministers
Are like invulnerable.
And living in 2009, I read that final phrase as “my fellow ministers are, like, invulnerable.”
I guess I’m, like, the last person who should be complaining about cultural literacy, right?
SOMETHING ELSE I’VE DISCOVERED IN BOOKS
A few weeks back, when I was reading FAMILY SABBATICAL by Carol Ryrie Brink, I was surprised by a scene in which the Ridgeway family came across a display of American food at a French shop. They were particularly enthused about the cans of Campbell’s soup, which included clam chowder, chicken gumbo, vegetable with alphabet, and oxtail.
I’ve never seen Campbell’s Oxtail soup at my grocery store. Either it’s a regional item or, more likely, a product that was made in the past (FAMILY SABBATICAL was published in 1956) but no longer manufactured.
I remember being equally startled a few years back when I read Susan Lowell’s wonderful I AM LAVINA CUMMING, which is set in the early days of the twentieth century, and learned that Jello used to come in “strawberry, raspberry, cherry, lemon, orange, and chocolate.”
Of course I know chocolate pudding, but never realized that Jello once made a chocolate gelatin. I wonder what it tasted like.
Are there any products you never knew about until you read about them in a children’s book?
BEAN THERE, DONE THAT
Tomorrow marks the fortieth anniversary of man’s landing on the moon.
Getting out my ear trumpet and cane again, I've got to say it’s hard to fathom that for a huge percentage of our population, the moon landing is ancient history...something that happened years before they were born...a fait accompli.
I wish I could explain what it was like to be alive back then -- the increasing excitement as each Apollo mission of the sixties got closer and closer to the goal...that Sunday night in July 1969 when even the youngest kids were allowed to stay up late to watch this historic event live on TV...the stomach-clenching thrill of seeing Neil Armstrong climb down that ladder and bounce onto the surface of an moon.
Nearly everyone who was there will tell you the same thing about that night: after watching the first moonwalk on television, they either went to the window or stepped outside to look directly at the moon...which still looked the same, yet somehow felt different.
Sometimes, even today, you will leaf through someone’s old photo album and find pictures from that night. Not just pictures taken of the moon in the sky, but photographs of murky black-and-white images from television screens. We didn’t have VCRs back then. There was no other way to capture the event. But we all wanted a record of it -- even if it meant snapping pictures of our TVs!
Now of course you can see the whole thing on videos and DVD. You can call up the images on the internet. And there are plenty of books that record the story in text and pictures.
MISSION CONTROL, THIS IS APOLLO : THE STORY OF THE FIRST VOYAGES TO THE MOON is an especially impressive volume. Written by Andrew Chaiken and illustrated by Alan Bean, this oversized book traces the history of the Apollo missions in clear-eyed, well-researched prose filled with insight and anecdote. The expected photographs are here, but what really makes the book special are the powerful paintings by Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon. It doesn’t come much more authentic than this. And his moonscapes, vast yet personal, are unforgettable.
For a different view, there’s MOON-WATCH SUMMER, written by Lenore Blegvad and illustrated by Erik Blegvad. In this brief 1972 novel, Adam and his younger sister are sent to stay at their grandmother’s farm during the time of the Apollo moon landing.
To make matters worse, Grammie doesn't own a television set.
This is definitely a book of its era, but kids today might enjoy reading it to get a sense of that exciting time so many years ago. ...And speaking of cultural literacy, let’s hope none of today’s readers ask, “What was the big deal about missing the moonwalk? Couldn’t someone just record it for them on the DVR?”
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