Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Brunch for a Foggy Morning

Today’s Sunday Brunch wonders where all the Newbery and Caldecott medals have gone, supplies some surprising stats on the number of male vs. female award winners, and explains why I’m freaked out by books such as FREAKY MONDAY.


I woke up this morning to find fog tucked tight around my bedroom window like a thick gray blanket. I wondered how long it would last and heard a half-familiar phrase run through my mind: “The fog burns off by eleven o’clock.” I wondered if that was an old quote from the Farmer’s Almanac...maybe from the nineteenth century or something. Then I remembered it was the title of a young adult novel from 1985. Staring lazily out the window, I challenged myself to think of ten children’s books with the word “fog” in the title before I got out of bed.

...Five minutes later I jumped out of bed, uttering a very twenty-first century quote: “I don’t have time for this. I’ve got a blog to write. I’ll look it up on Google.”

I found quite a few foggy books on Google. I think the reason fog is such a popular motif in books for young people is that it can make for some beautiful artwork in picture books and can serve as a wonderful metaphor for the confusion of adolescence in young adult novels.

Here are a few:

THE FOG BURNS OFF BY 11 O’CLOCK by Diana Gregory



HIDE AND SEEK FOG by Alvin Tresselt; illustrated by Roger Duvoisin

FOG by Mildred Lee

FOG IN THE MEADOW by Joanne Ryder; illustrated by Gail Owens

FOG by Susi Gregg Fowler; illustrated by Jim Fowler

DEVIL IN THE FOG by Leon Garfield




School Library Journal blogger Fuse #8 recently reported on an upcoming Bloomsbury auction featuring many books by Evaline Ness as well as her 1967 Caldecott Medal for SAM, BANGS & MOONSHINE.

Yes, Ms. Ness’s heir are actually auctioning off the medal itself to the highest bidder.

Talk about a rare collectable!

This got me wondering....

From the first award in 1938 until today, the American Library Association has bestowed 72 Caldecott Medals.

From the first Newbery in 1922 until today, there have been 88 Newbery Medals.

Where are all those medals today?

If the authors or their immediate heirs are still alive, it’s probably safe to assume that those medals are proudly displayed on a shelf or tucked away in a special drawer. ...Of course you know what they say about “assuming.” I would have assumed Beth Henley probably had the Pulitzer Prize certificate she received for her play CRIMES OF THE HEART framed and displayed too, but I read somewhere that she came across it while cleaning out a drawer one day and decided to toss it in the trash.

So...where have all the old Newbery and Caldecott Medals gone? Fuse #8 told me that the New York Public Library owns the 1924 Newbery that Charles Boardman Hawes received for THE DARK FRIGATE. And author Sarah Miller blogged about seeing the 1950 Newbery Medal for THE DOOR IN THE WALL at the Marguerite De Angeli Library in Lapeer, Michigan.

Are additional medals owned and displayed by other libraries? Have some, like the one by Ness, been auctioned off to collectors? Have some been lost?

I’d love to know!


Speaking of Fuse #8 (AKA Elizabeth Bird), she recently mentioned my blog entry about multiple Newbery and Caldecott winners and added, “Now I want Peter to determine whether or not it's true that men win more children's literary awards than women like folks always claim. Facts! I demand facts on the matter!”

You want facts? You got ‘em!

Men do NOT win more children’s literary awards than women. In fact, women have won the Newbery Medal nearly TWICE as often as men.

As of this year, we have 58 female winners...and 30 male winners.

And if you factor in all the Honor Books as well, the disparity actually widens -- with 256 titles written by women...and only 118 by men.

Anyone who studies the Newbery knows that the winners for the first truncated decade (1922-1929) were all men and that the winners for the second decade (1930-1939) were all women.

Since those first two decades, the longest “run” of male winners has been three years. It’s happened twice, from 1987 to 1989 (Sid Fleischman, Russell Freedman, Paul “Sid’s Son” Fleischman) and 1999 to 2001 (Louis Sachar, Christopher Paul Curtis, Richard Peck.)

However, the longest run of female winners was a mind-boggling fourteen years between Jean Craighead George in 1973 and Patricia MacLachlan in 1986! There have also been two seven-year runs of female-only winners, from 1962 (Elizabeth George Speare) to 1967 (E. L. Konigsburg) and from 1992 (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor) to 1998 (Karen Hesse.)

Finally, for kicks, let’s look at the years in which the Newbery and ALL the Honors have gone to only male writers:

It’s happened in 1926...1961...1969...1991...and 1999. And it should be pointed out that in three of those years there was only one Honor Book!

On the distaff side, there have been almost twenty occasions when the winner and ALL the Honors have gone to only female writers:

1930 (winner plus six Honors!), 1932 (winner plus six Honors!), 1933, 1935, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1951, 1956, 1963, 1965, 1970, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1995, 1997, 2002, and 2007.


You’re probably wondering if the same male and female (or, as Sarah Palin is wont to say, “guys and gals”) disparity exists with the Caldecott Award.

Well, believe it or not, it does.

Only in the case of the Caldecott, men tend to win at about TWICE the rate of women!

These figures are a little difficult to, er, figure because there are many cases when m-and-f teams (Leo and Diane Dillon, Maud and Miska Petersham, etc.) were honored together. When that happened, I gave them both a tick mark in the “male” column and the “female” column.

So, as of this year, we have 52 male winners...and only 26 female winners.

Factoring in all the Honor Books as well, we have 204 titles illustrated by men...and only 116 by women.

The longest “run” of female winners has been three years -- and it only happened once: 1983 (Marcia Brown for SHADOW) 1984 (Alice Provensen, who shared the award with husband Martin for THE GLORIOUS FLIGHT) and 1985 (Trina Schart Hyman for SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON.)

However, the longest run of male winners was nine years between Simms Taback in 2000 and Brian Selznick in 2009. There was also a seven-year span of male-only winners, from 1986 (Chris Van Allsburg) to 1992 (David Wiesner.)

Finally, let’s also look at the years in which the Caldecott and ALL the Honors have gone to only female writers:

It’s happened in 1945 and 1983. That’s it.

Conversely, there have been almost fifteen occasions when the winner and ALL the Honors have gone to only male writers:

1958, 1961, 1968, 1969, 1975, 1979, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2007. Strangely, it seems to be happening more often in the modern era than in the early days of the Caldecott Award!


Well, I guess I always knew that Shel Silverstein, famous for writing children’s books such as THE GIVING TREE and WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, had written the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue,” but I just learned that he was also responsible for Loretta Lynn’s 1971 country ode about being barefoot and pregnant, “One’s on the Way.” Do you remember these lyrics:

But here in Topeka the rain is a fallin'
The faucet is a drippin' and the kids are a bawlin'
One of them a toddlin' and one is a crawlin'
...and one's on the way

or the final words to the song:

Here in Topeka the flies are a buzzin'
The dog is a barkin' and the floor needs a scrubbin'
One needs a spankin' and one needs a huggin'
...Lord, one's on the way
(spoken) Oh gee I hope it ain't twins again!

I also just learned that he wrote that hokey Irish Rovers song, “The Unicorn.” Yeah, the one about the green alligators and long-necked geese, humpty-backed camels and some chimpanzees

And did you know he wrote “On the Cover the Rolling Stone”:

Wanna see my picture on the cover
Wanna buy five copies for my mother
Wanna see my smilin' face
On the cover of the Rolling Stone.

Finally, he also wrote a song about venereal disease called “Don't Give a Dose to the One You Love Most.”

I’ve never heard that one on the radio though. Probably just as well.


I’ve been reading about ME AND ORSON WELLES, a film slated for release next week. It’s about an aspiring actor hired to perform in one of Orson Welles’ famous Mercury Theatre productions. I imagine older audiences will be interested in this film because it’s set in 1937 and concerns the legendary Orson Welles. Young audiences will be interested because it stars teen actor Zac Efron. If you fall in the middle of that age spectrum, like me, you might be interested in the movie because it’s based on a novel by Robert Kaplow. Does anyone remember his young-adult novels, or am I the only one? His first book, TWO IN THE CITY, was published in 1979 when the author was only twenty-five years old. It was an unusual book in that protagonists David and Stacey had already graduated high school and -- a somewhat daring move for YA fiction at the time -- and were living together in New York City. This romance features strong characterizations and realistic situations as the young couple face hardships and question whether they are growing apart. When I first read this book in ‘79, I predicted a big future in YA fiction for the author. However, after a couple more books for teens (including ALESSANDRA IN LOVE and ALESSANDRA IN BETWEEN) Kaplow focused on writing for adults. I’m excited that his adult novel ME AND ORSON WELLES is coming to the big screen, but hope that Robert Kaplow, who apparently still works as a high school teacher, will continue writing the occasional young adult book as well.


I’ve been reading FREAKY MONDAY by Mary Rodgers and Heather Hach and I’m depressed.

I’m a huge fan of the original novel FREAKY FRIDAY and its sequel A BILLION FOR BORIS. (I’m not as fond of the third book in this series, SUMMER SWITCH.) The first two books are masterpieces of comedy, and can still make me roar thirty years after they were first published. The plots are inventive, the dialogue is fast and funny, the characters are humorously sympathetic. Mary Rodgers, who wrote the first three books also has her name on the cover of FREAKY MONDAY, but I wonder how much she contributed to this volume besides her name. I don’t see her characteristic humor and style in these pages. Instead, I see a very ordinary, rather glib story that especially suffers when compared to the books that preceded it. When I read a volume like this -- a book that (to me) seems written to capitalize on a pre-existing franchise -- I wonder if it ultimately hurts the reputation and integrity of the author’s original work. I’ve wondered the same thing about the “Little House” books. Laura Ingalls Wilder created a classic with her original series...only to have that work sullied by the endless “sequels” later written by other authors and illustrated “in the style of Garth Williams” by other artists. Surely kids who read both the Wilder originals and the later books can tell the difference, can’t they? Will kids who read FREAKY MONDAY realize that MONDAY isn’t nearly as freaky (or as good!) as FRIDAY? I hope that young readers have the critical abilities to separate the wheat from the chaff. I hate to think that someday they’ll be dismissive or negative towards Mary Rodgers’ or Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original works because they don’t know which ones were real and which were rip-offs...I mean, pale imitations.


Earlier this week I wrote about the five titles that were nominated for the National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature. On Wednesday night, CLAUDETTE COLVIN : TWICE TOWARD FREEDOM by Phillip Hoose, was named the winner. This is a solid choice -- and it’s always nice to see nonfiction win an award.

The very next day I returned home from work after a bad day and found a box waiting for me. It contained a copy of CLAUDETTE COLVIN, signed to me by the author:

A friend in New York had attended a book signing earlier that work and gotten a copy signed for me. So...less than twenty-four hours after CLAUDETTE won the NBA, I had a signed copy in my hands!

How cool is that?

Big thanks to the friend who sent me this book.

And, this week of Thanksgiving, a big thank you to everyone who has visited Collecting Children’s Books this past year!

Hope you’ll return.


Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

How about FOG MAGIC? I picked it up at the library sale a couple of weeks ago; it was a Newbery Honor.

And I have a list-related question for you: how often does an illustrator win the Caldecott for a book he or she has also written as opposed to an illustrator winning for a book authored by someone else? Maybe you've answered this question already; will check your archives!

The Spirited Librarian said...

Speaking of who has Newbery Medals - I was at the Newbery banquet where Linda Sue Park was awarded the Newbery for A Single Shard. In her speech, she talked about her father, who was present, and how appreciative she was to him for taking her to the library and encouraging her to take out many books and read. So, she said, this medal is for you Dad - and proceeded to come off the stage and give the medal to her father. I've never seen this written up anywhere (in her published acceptance speech) but I'll always remember it - it brought tears to my eyes.

Bybee said...

Silverstein also wrote Marie Laveau, a song about a voodoo queen.

I'm so jealous of The Spirited Librarian for seeing Linda Sue Park win. Park is my book crush this year.

Connie said...

Another vote for Fog Magic - one of my all-time favorite reads. The idea of a thick fog being the 'magic' that sends a young girl back in time to an earlier era was so compelling.

Ed Spicer said...

Very interesting post! A fact one must consider when tabulating gender numbers has to be the total pool of female/male authors and illustrators. The fact that more women have won is due, in part, in believe the impression I have that there must be three times as many female authors (this is an educated guess on my part, based on entering more than ten thousand children and teen titles into my database). The reverse is true of female to male illustrators, again based on entering illustrators into my large database (I would love to see a real study). So the question may become not, "Have women won more Newberys?" but is the ratio reflective of the numbers of published female and male authors? There is also a study out there looming for some researcher to probe methods for inducing more men to seek children's literature as a realistic career choice (or serious hobby choice) and how to do the same thing for women illustrators and especially true for authors and illustrators who are not white. I enjoyed reading this blog! Nice job.

Ed Spicer said...

Oops! The last post has too many words and a couple of missing words (and, therefore, missing meaning). The following should read:

The fact that more women have won is due, in part, I believe to the numbers. The impression I have is that there must be three times as many female authors (this is an educated guess on my part, based on entering more than ten thousand children and teen titles into my database).

Sorry for the hasty post.