Thursday, October 15, 2009

Q & A

I should start with a big THANK YOU to everyone who leaves comments on this blog.

It seems every day I read some great comment here and immediately jot down a response on a scrap of paper and slip it in my pocket, meaning to post it after work...but then I lose the scrap of paper, or I accidentally send it through the washing machine, or -- those rare times I don't lose it or Whirlpool it -- I simply can't read the words I jotted down because my handwriting is so bad!

But this week I did save three legible notes, so wanted to answer them here.


First, Eric asked about the National Book Award nominations: "What are the chances STITCHES gets some recognition in the adult nonfiction category?"

I would not have expected an adult nonfiction nomination for David Small's STITCHES...and, as it turns out, the book did not receive a nomination in that category.

By the same token, I also would not have expected to see it nominated in the Young People's category...and, as it turns out, it was!

As most have heard by now, the NBA nominations in the category "Young People's Literature" are:

STITCHES / David Small
JUMPED / Rita Garcia-Williams

Since these finalists were announced yesterday, people have been wondering how STITCHES -- conceived of and published as a book for adults -- ended up in this category. Is it because David Small is best known as a creator of children's books? Because the "graphic novel" style resembles a book for young readers rather than adults? Because this autobiography mostly concerns Small's childhood and teenage years? From what I've read on the net today, STITCHES was nominated for the youth award because that's the category in which Norton, the book's publisher, submitted it. That's funny...they published it as an adult book. It will be interesting to see how it fares against the other contenders in November. I'll try to write a comparative review of all five titles before the awards are given, as I did last year.


In Sunday's discussion of past National Book Award finalists -- which included four nominations for Bill and Vera Cleaver (GROVER, WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM, THE WHYS AND WHEREFORES OF LITTABELLE LEE, and QUEEN OF HEARTS) -- I mentioned that the Cleavers were continually ignored by the Newbery committee. Bybee wrote to ask, "Do you think Vera and Bill Cleaver were overlooked because they were a team of writers?"

That's an intriguing question. Several illustration teams have won the Caldecott Award, including Maud and Miska Petersham and Leo and Diane Dillon, but all the Newbery winners to date have flown solo. ...However, there have been just enough Newbery Honor teams (Richard and Florence Atwater for MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS, Mary and Conrad Buff for BIG TREE, among others) to suggest that there probably isn't a real prejudice against tandem writing.

Still, one wonders why the Cleavers never claimed even an Honor Award. Their characters were realistic and colorful, their narrative style was compelling, and they usually placed their stories in brilliantly-realized settings, including Appalachia and the deep south, that were often ignored by children's books. Part of the problem is that the Cleavers may have been slightly ahead of their time. Although written with good taste, many of their early novels dealt with topics that were then considered somewhat taboo, including suicide, illegitimacy, and mental health issues.

Though a half-dozen of their novels could have been serious contenders for a Newbery or Newbery Honor, it's downright shameful that their masterpiece, WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM, failed to make the cut. Strangely, some reference books actually do list this title as a Newbery Honor. Even the credits for the film adaptation make that claim. But WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM was not a Newbery book. It is, however, the only Vera and Bill Cleaver book still in print. It's too bad that the Cleavers never received that one major award which might have secured their place in the field of children's literature. If they had, perhaps more of their titles would be available today.


Finally, Helen Frost -- whose new book CROSSING STONES is one of the year's best -- wrote in with this comment:

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 <...>? 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?

The answer to this one is "it all depends on the collector." I think any of us who love books and authors like to have books inscribed directly to us. I know I do! As you say, this definitely increases a volume's personal value.

However, lately I've heard that many collectors want the author to simply SIGN and DATE the volume, with no additional inscriptions. They want a uniform look to their collection, with every volume bearing just a signature and date. There is some sense to that. Many collectors like to give books to, or trade books with, their friends and it makes things easier when there are no additional names inside; other collectors plan to leave their books to a library or institution someday and don't want the volumes to contain extraneous messages beyond a simple signature. However, I have heard that some authors don't like to "simply sign and date" their books because they're afraid the "collector" plans to turn right around and re-sell the book on eBay or elsewhere for a higher price; these authors feel it's not quite fair that their signature has just increased the value of a book (sometimes substantially) yet the only person who benefits from it is the person doing the reselling. That makes sense too.

Though I personlly have no problem buying a book with a generic inscription to someone I don't know, many collectors do have a resistance to owning a volume that says, for instance, "To Bill, from Richard Peck." One exception would be, as you suggest, if the book is signed from an author to another noted person -- whether that person is an author or famous for some other endeavor. And the value goes up if the there is some association between the signer and signee. For example, that book generically signed "To Bill from Richard Peck," might be worth a few dollars. However, if the book is signed "To Avi from Richard Peck" it might be worth a little more. If there was some connection between the writers (i.e. "To Avi, Thanks for the research material you lent me while I wrote this book, from Richard Peck") it would be valued higher and if the book were actually dedicated to Avi and signed on the dedication page by Richard Peck, it would be worth even more.

Incidentally, I was at one of your book signings (I treasure my signed first editon of KEESHA'S HOUSE!) and you did something I've never seen an author do before: you asked everyone who was getting your autograph to also sign their autograph in a copy of one of your books. I thought that was a wonderful idea -- on so many levels. Who knows how many future writers, teachers, doctors, astronauts, maybe even future presidents have signed your books? Those volumes could someday be very valuable as well.

But of course, as we all know, even when a book doesn't actually have monetary value, it's usually still worth treasuring.


Nase said...

And thank YOU, Peter, for maintaining this blog. I found you a month or two ago while doing a web search on Beth and Joe Krush (childhood heroes of mine who are largely responsible for my becoming an illustrator). I bookmarked you and check back regularly. You're posts are always thoughtful and entertaining.

Kim Laird said...

Hi Peter, could you ask Helen Frost to contact me? We've been trying to get her publisher to submit her book, Crossing Stones to the Michigan Notable Books program. I haven't gotten the book yet (it may not yet be published) but I wanted to make sure we got it when it was out. My work email is and the Notables website is

And Michigan authors with fictional books (poetry, novels, etc) are also welcome to submit, if their book is published this year (2009 for the 2010 awards). Thanks very much.

Anonymous said...

Peter, thank you for this thorough answer to my question, mostly what I had thought would be true. (I spent some time looking for your signature in KEESHA'S HOUSE but haven't found it yet.) I love having readers sign my books--I just started the signed edition for CROSSING STONES this evening--it's a way of recognizing that we are a community of readers and writers.
There's a line in KEESHA'S HOUSE where Keesha says "Tonight I see how getting found feels good." Underneath the back flap, way up in the corner in tiny writing, someone (I'm pretty sure it was a teenager during a school visit) has written: "You found me."
KimJ, I'll send you an email message tomorrow--thanks for asking.

CLM said...

I was assisting Leonard Maltin with an autographing at Book Expo in 1993, I think, and he was the first person to tell me that requesting the autograph-seeker provide a name for the inscription reduces the likelihood the book will be resold (I noticed on that occasion that many were in line simply to tell him about their favorite movie - the line moved very slowly and there were some funny stories - I was the meanie trying to move people along so he could speak to everyone). Other authors believe that if the books are personally inscribed they cannot be returned to the publisher. Alas, that is not true!

I was disappointed not to have heard of any of the juvenile NBA nominees but having caught a few minutes of a PBS special about Darwin last week, I will certainly read Charles and Emma.

Chandigarh said...

I love having readers sign my books--I just started the signed edition for CROSSING STONES this evening--it's a way of recognizing that we are a community of readers and writers.
Send Flowers to Chandigarh |
Send Flowers to Chennai |
Send Flowers to Delhi |
Send Flowers to Goa |
Send Flowers to Gurgaon |
Send Flowers to Gurdaspur