Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Everything You Need to Know

Today is a special day for anyone who loves children’s books.

It’s my birthday!

Just kidding.

I mean, it is my birthday too, but the real reason for celebration is that October 13 is the publication day for EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK : LIFE LESSONS FROM NOTABLE PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE, a stunning new volume edited by Anita Silvey.


In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Anita Silvey is a friend and I have worked “behind the scenes” on many of her books. Formerly the editor of Horn Book Magazine and publisher of Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books, Ms. Silvey is one of the bright lights -- perhaps the brightest light -- in the field of children’s literature. She has been a great source of information and inspiration to me since I first worked with her over a decade ago, contributing biographical and critical essays to her volume CHILDREN’S BOOKS AND THEIR CREATORS -- an indispensible source for anyone interested in kids’ books and the people who write them. Since that time, I’ve contributed to THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CHILDREN’S BOOKS AND THEIR CREATORS, done background research for her publications 100 BEST BOOKS FOR CHILDREN and 500 GREAT BOOKS FOR TEENS (two more volumes that should be on everybody’s bookshelf) and even contributed a short story to her anthology HELP WANTED : SHORT STORIES ABOUT YOUNG PEOPLE WORKING.

A couple years ago Ms. Silvey asked if I would help her do some research for a new project -- a volume in which notable individuals would discuss their favorite childhood book and explain how it had impacted their lives. I did the best I could to track down sources of information as well as find addresses for famous folk, but the material was difficult to obtain and I felt bad that my input to this project was somewhat limited.

So I was very pleased and humbled when I received a copy of the finished book in the mail with this wonderful inscription:



How’s that for a birthday present?

But even without the inscription, this would be a book I’d treasure.

An oversized volume, EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK is beautifully-designed and graphically appealing. Divided into six sections -- Inspiration, Understanding, Principles & Precepts, Vocation, Motivation, and Storytelling -- each double-page spread contains first-person commentary from an author, actor, athlete or other notable explaining the importance of a particular children’s book in his or her life. A sidebar provides background information on the book, while the opposing page contains an excerpt of the text, which frequently features an illustration.

Reading the personal essays, it’ s fascinating to note how often a children’s book kindled a young person’s future career aspirations. Oceanographer Robert Ballard recalls his favorite book TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA by Jules Verne. Steve Wozniak was inspired by Tom Swift’s ability to invent. William C. DeVries, who performed the first successful artificial heart transplant, has vivid memories of the Tin Woodsman in THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ pleading, “I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart.”

Other young readers drew life lessons from their favorite books. TV executive Les Moonves learned about curiosity from Babar. Tiki Barber, Donna Shalala, and Edward Villella were inspired by the determination of the Little Engine that Could. Perri Klass cites Harriet the Spy for teaching the value of observation.

Still others report on the titles that first taught them the simple pleasure of reading. For coach Rick Reilly, it was the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobel. For Roger Ebert, it was THE SATURDAYS and other books about the Melendy family by Elizabeth Enright.

EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK is the type of volume you can browse through, dipping into an entry here and there -- or you can read from cover to cover. It’s the type of book that gets you thinking of the children’s titles that changed your own life, and asking friends about the books that shaped their lives. I think many of us will find ourselves nodding in agreement with this statement from Lynda Johnson Robb: “Children’s books stabilize me; they are my roots; they help me in times of stress. They help me connect happy memories, to those I love, to the generations in my family. They provide comfort.” And I like Anita Silvey’s own conclusion that, “When we give children books, we become part of their future, part of their most cherished memories, and part of their entire lives."

That’s something to consider as the holiday gift-giving season approaches.

And how about getting a copy of EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK for yourself while you’re at it? Then set it out on your coffee table when guests come over and listen to the conversation that flows when people start recalling their childhood favorites...the books that they've never forgotten...the books that changed their lives.

15 comments:

Laya said...

Great book! Will it be available outside the U.S.?

Also, Happy Birthday, Peter! :)

Nase said...

I will definitely be purchasing this book. (and Happy Birthday, Peter!)

Helen Frost said...

Happy Birthday!

Interesting connections all around, here.
I'm looking forward to reading Anita's book.

I found your blog a few weeks ago through a "Google Alert" for my title "Crossing Stones." Thank you for your discussion of it.

I have a question that I think will be of interest to other authors, and perhaps non-authors, as well, so I'll post it here in the comments rather than as a private email to you.

When signing books, especially first editions, does the value of the book increase or decrease with a personal inscription, such as the one Anita wrote to you? I know the personal value increases, but what about the collector's value? Does it make a difference if the person to whom it is inscribed is also an author? In general, what is the most valuable inscription, to a collector who doesn't know the author?

thanks,
Helen Frost

Bybee said...

Peter,
Happy Birthday! The book sounds great...hope to see it over here.

Melissa (& Billy) said...

Happy Birthday, Peter!

How cool to know that Roger Ebert is also a fan of the Melendy bunch! =D I really need to reread that series. Someone I talked to recently said they had a poodle named Tartuffe, and I immediately thought of the cranky old beast Mrs. Oliphant told Randy about over "pitty-foors".

Connie said...

The piece in Anita's book I loved was Jay Leno talking about Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel ... they always worked "a little faster and a little better" when people were watching. Even as a child Leno was apparently aware that he loved having an audience!

Tom Bailey said...

These are the types of books that I think can really make a big difference in the world and the future leaders that are still kids now.

This is my first visit to your blog.

Suzanne said...

To Helen Frost: Re signing books.

If a book is signed from one person known in a field to another, or to a famous person, a close friend, an editor, or a relative, there is value in a personal message. Peter's signed copy from Anita is an example of such an association copy.

However, for a buyer unknown to the author whose intention is to resell the signed book in the next few years, your name and date alone are desirable. Most personal remarks to an unknown person decrease the monetary value of the signature. Of course, for a reader who loves your book and intends to keep the signed copy and perhaps pass it on, personal remarks and a reference to the location or event will add to their pleasure in the book. It is pretty easy to tell the difference between the two sorts of buyers! If in doubt, ask.

Beyond that, a sketch and/or a comment about the book adds to the value from any point of view, monetary value, sentimental value, or proof of provenance. If you typically sign very few books, and you are well known, your signature is worth much more. In the case of some authors, I always feel like increasing the price of the (rare) unsigned book!

Sorry for getting off topic, but I thought I would answer the question, since this isn't a current post.

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