Monday, December 28, 2009

A Brief Brunch That Looks Ahead and Looks Back

Last Sunday’s Brunch was a day late.

This Sunday’s Brunch is a day late.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a habit of it. The holidays, while wonderful, have caused some disruptions in my normal routine. Things should return to normal as soon as the Christmas tree comes down.

...Unfortunately, last year I didn’t take the tree down until well after Martin Luther King Day.

But in 2010 I vow to do better. How’s that for a New Year’s Resolution?

In the spirit of the New Year, today’s brief blog looks back at the most representational children’s books of this past decade and looks ahead to a book from the next decade.


You know you patronize a cool bookstore when the owner calls you on Christmas morning to say that she just got an ARC (advance reading copy) of a new book that you’ll want to read. The ARC in question was THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN by Susan Beth Pfeffer, the third volume in the post-apocalyptic series that began with LIFE AS WE KNEW IT and continued with THE DEAD & THE GONE. Saturday afternoon I rushed over to the bookstore to pick it up and then spent Sunday reading it. Can you imagine a more cheery Christmas read than a novel of isolation, deprivation, euthanasia, and imminent death and destruction?

Susan Beth Pfeffer began her writing career just out of college with the publication of JUST MORGAN. Since then she’s written dozens of children’s and young adult novels, including such memorable titles as ABOUT DAVID and THE YEAR WITHOUT MICHAEL. In 2006 she published her best-known work, LIFE AS WE KNEW IT, which describes how a meteor strike throws the moon out of orbit, drastically affecting life on Earth. The story is related by Miranda Evans, a teenager from Pennsylvania, who records how the lunar catastrophe leads to starvation, mayhem, and the deaths of friends and neighbors. It’s a science fiction book for readers who don’t generally like science fiction -- a speculative novel that deals with the human side of a worldwide crisis. A sequel, THE DEAD & THE GONE (2008) told the story of the same event from the perspective of New York teenager Alex Morales.

THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN (to be published in April) is again told through Miranda’s diary entries. If LIFE AS WE KNEW IT was a tale of loss and letting go (not just the the loss of food, sunlight, and modern conveniences, but also friends who do not survive the crisis), THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN is a story of gaining new family members and friends, and opening oneself to experiences such as traveling (even a ninety-mile journey is an adventure) and falling in love.

It’s been nearly a year since the moon fell out of orbit and Miranda, her brothers, and their mother, are still cold and starving. Things start to look up when Miranda begins breaking into abandoned houses for food and supplies and her brothers travel to fish from the Delaware River. Soon her older brother marries a girl he barely knows and Miranda’s father, new wife, and their baby arrive with a group of travelers...including Alex Morales and his younger sister Julie. It was perhaps inevitable that Miranda and Alex would meet in Pfeffer’s series and their subsequent hasty romance at times feels more prescribed by plot than truly felt by the characters. Nevertheless the book is a page-turner, and the author does a great job showing how some aspects of daily, domestic life are retained while others are lost forever in the face of encroaching horror. In the final pages, a tornado -- almost a deus ex machina in reverse -- brings further destruction and causes Miranda to make some shattering decisions that will forever change her life. Although she ends the novel saying that she will no longer write in her diary, the story practically demands a sequel (readers will want to know more about the rumored “safe towns” located around the country...and there needs to be a follow-up to the tantalizing hints that Miranda’s new sister-in-law has given about her past.) Anyone who reads THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN will anxiously await the next installment in this fascinating series.


Seems like it was only a couple years ago that we were stockpiling water and batteries for Y2K. Now the decade is about to end. This got me wondering about titles best represent the past ten years. It’s not necessarily a list of good books -- in fact, a couple of the titles below stink to high heaven -- but just a roster representing the state of children’s publishing from 2000 to 2009.


Not the first HP book, but the first from this millennium, and it helped set the tone for the era. Suddenly children’s books were cool for adults and crowds would turn out for midnight release parties. If only more children’s books got this kind of reception!

2001 / READING MASTERY II : STORYBOOK I by Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner

Why would a book in a thirty-one volume reading text best represent 2001? Because one of the stories in this book, “The Pet Goat" was being read by the president while planes crashed into the World Trade Center. “The Pet Goat” immediately became one of the most well-known titles in children’s literature (though most people called it “My Pet Goat” for some reason) yet it remains a story that almost nobody has read.

2002 / HOOT by Carl Hiassen

After about twenty years of celebrities and “adult writers” trying to write children’s books and producing the literary equivalent of plant fertilizer, Carl Hiassen attempted a kids’ book and scored both a popular and critical (Newbery Honor) triumph. It’s probably the high-point of the “celebrity author trend.”

2003 / ERAGON by Christopher Paolini

Personally I couldn’t read it, but ERAGON deserves recognition for representing the trend of self-published books that ended up getting attention from big mainstream publishers with deep pocket$.

2004 / THE O’REILLY FACTOR FOR KIDS by Bill O’Reilly

Every day millions of children turn off their iPods, power down their computers, and put down their Playstation joysticks to gather around the TV to watch Bill O’Reilly on Fox TV. They don’t? Then how to explain the huge sales figures for this advice volume from a TV blowhard and falafel fan? Obviously it was this decade’s “Most Purchased Book by Parents and Grandparents.”

2005 / TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer

The reason why every other young adult title now must contain one of the following words: neck, blood, vamp, undead, bite, or suck.

2006 / THE END by Lemony Snicket

The end of an era. When I read THE BAD BEGINNING, the first volume in this series, I thought it was mildly-amusing, but didn’t have a lot of appeal for kids. Seven years, thirteen volumes, and fifty-five million copies later, Lemony Snicket proved me wrong.

2007 / THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick

Winning the Caldecott Medal proved that the graphic novel for children had really come of age.

2008 / THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

Similarly, many cheered when this novel won the Newbery Medal, marking one of the rare times when a book both critically acclaimed and kid-friendly had won the big N.

2009 / ???

What book do you think best represents the state of children’s publishing for 2009? Which titles above would you bump in order to include other books better representing this past decade?

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll be back!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas is for Kids

According to the calendar, December 21 is the longest night of the year. But when we were growing up, December 24 always felt like the longest night.

What kid can sleep on the night before Christmas?

On Christmas Eve, my brother and I were not nestled all snug in our beds while visions of sugar plums.... Instead, we sat on our knees in front of our bedroom window, scraping ice off the pane with our fingernails, in order to watch our neighbors across the street open their presents. They were Christmas-Eve-Gift-Openers. We were Christmas-Morning-Openers, so had to wait all night before we could go downstairs and see what lay under our own tree. But for about an hour on Christmas Eve we could live vicariously through the kids across the street, seen merrily tearing open gift wrapping in their living room window. My brother and I still vividly remember the youngest daughter in that family walking back and forth in front of their window pushing a doll carriage that she’d just received as a present.

Downstairs our parents were putting the finishing touches on our Christmas -- stacking gifts under the tree and stuffing stockings. Upstairs we watched the neighbors until their lights went off, then we’d get into bed and toss and turn and complain that we were still WIDE AWAKE and would never, ever fall asleep. The night seemed to last forever.

Of course nothing really lasts forever, does it?

The little girl with the doll carriage is now over forty and has three kids of her own. (I wonder if they open gifts on Christmas Eve?)

And here it is Christmas Eve and -- instead of tossing and turning while my parents fill our stockings -- I’m up in the middle of the night filling stockings for my parents:

A little misshapen, aren’t they? Back in the day, my folks knew how to fill stockings just right -- from the orange in the toe all way up to the gifts peeking over the top. Whenever I try to fill a Christmas stocking, it looks boxy and stretched and saggy.

Same goes for gift wrapping. The presents we received as kids were smoothly covered in beautiful paper and held together with small, unobtrusive pieces of tape. The edges were tucked in as neatly as “hospital corners” on a bedsheet. They were adorned by bows and ribbons and special nametags.

I have no skill at giftwrapping. My packages at invariably lumpy and held together with yards of tape:

I’ve never quite gotten the hang of being an adult.

Though I think that I have a much more grown-up view of Christmas these days. Instead of laying awake all night, greedily wondering what presents I'm going to receive in the morning, I'm now much more excited about the gifts I'm going to give.

However, I guess I can’t congratulate myself too much on my “adult attitude” after what happened on Wednesday.

That was my last day of work until after the holidays. The entire university library system will be closed until January 4, 2010. Of course I was looking forward to having eleven days off. Celebrating the holidays. Seeing relatives. Staying up late every night. Sleeping in every morning. Maybe catching a couple movies. And of course reading. But by noon on Wednesday I started getting nervous. The library was about to shut down for nearly two weeks! What if I ran out of books to read?

Which is why I ran to the stacks and quickly began pulling books to read over the holiday break.

Okay, if you were me, how many books would you have borrowed?



How about eleven -- one for each day of vacation?

Yeah, those are all good guesses.

But was there really any valid reason I needed to check out THIRTY books from the library on Wednesday?

I’ll probably never get around to reading half of them. Especially since I’m not a very fast reader. And I already have stacks of new unread books at home:

That is just a very small section of a long row of books which sit on my bedroom floor -- double parked! Yes, there’s another entire row behind them.

Not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of books that sit on my shelves -- some completely unread, others read and loved and just waiting to be read again.

THIRTY library books? I don’t know what gets into me sometimes.

Maybe it has to do with the holiday season. As I grow older, I see how life changes from Christmas to Christmas. One minute a little girl is pushing a doll carriage on Christmas Eve; a few years later she has kids of her own. One minute your parents are filling a stocking with surprises for you; a few years later you are filling lumpy, bumpy, misshapen stockings for your elderly parents. Seeing these changes, you realize the future isn’t infinite. There are a limited number of Christmases to come, a limited number of books I’ll ever get to read. So I’ve become a “greedy reader” -- tossing and turning my way through life, desperately reaching for all the books I still want to read...yet increasingly aware that there may not be time to get to every one.

Wishing everyone who reads this blog a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with lots of books...and lots of time to read them.

Monday, December 21, 2009, Monday Brunch

Today’s brunch is a day late and a little short. Time seems to be getting away from me during this busy holiday season.Thank you for your understanding and patience.


First, a big “THANK YOU” to all who responded to this week’s news that Candlewick has purchased WILD THINGS! : THE TRUE, UNTOLD STORIES BEHIND THE MOST BELOVED CHILDREN’S BOOKS AND THEIR CREATORS, the book I am currently writing with Elizabeth Bird and Julie Danielson. We were so gratified by how many people immediately “got” the concept of the book (not everyone has) and began cheering us on.

If you have any intriguing stories about the background or creation of a well-known children’s book...or have always wondered about something unusual or mysterious you’ve noticed within the pages of a book (something that made you say, like Miss Clavel in MADELINE, that “Something is not right”)...please feel free to drop me a line at

Recent tips from blog readers have already got me looking at the swan boat riders in MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS and checking out biographies of E. Nesbit.

Many thanks!


To double-check the spelling of “Miss Clavel” above, I Googled her name and was surprised to see that she is frequently referred to as a Catholic nun. The Wikipedia mentions she’s a nun and later uses the phrase “Miss Clavel (aka Sister Clavel.)”


I am off work today (blogging, blogging, Christmas shopping) and don’t have ready access to the Ludwig Bemelmans books in our library collection to check this out, but I can’t recall the character ever being called “sister” in the books, or any reference to her as a nun.

I thought she dressed that way because she was a school mistress/nursemaid/nanny type.

But apparently there is some controversy about this. I just found a Catholic forum website in which someone proclaimed:

Miss Clavel is a nun, people! <...> But are nuns really that threatening to children, especially non-Catholic children, that the classic children's literature character needs to be remodelled?

So, is she a nun or not-a-nun?


Living right on the border of Canada, we’ve always been able to receive Canadian television and radio stations in this area. Growing up, we all listened to the top forty on the “Big 8” -- CKLW, AM 800 -- a station then known for its high-octane “20-20 News,” which was broadcast by newscasters with nearly identical loud, booming voices. Today CKLW is a talk station and I listen to the spooky, syndicated “Coast to Coast” radio show over its airwaves nearly every night. The newsbreaks are much more traditional now, though it’s still interesting to hear Canadian pronunciations (ever heard a Canadian say “schedule”?) and phraseology (“The accident victim is in hospital”) -- not to mention the temperature in Celsius (“Tomorrow will be the hottest day of July, with the thermometer topping 30 degrees.”)

The other night I happened to hear a children’s book mention on CKLW’s news. They reported that a first edition of that Canadian classic, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by Lucy Maud Montgomergy, had just been sold for $37,000 at an auction in New York City. Only eight copies of this book have been sold at auction in the past three decades.

...So check your attic to see if you have a copy of this 1908 novel hidden away somewhere. Though if I ever sold a book for $37,000, I’d be so excited that I’d probably faint and end up “in hospital!”


Evaline Ness’s Caldecott Medal for SAM, BANGS & MOONSHINE was sold at auction for less than $6000 last week.

I actually thought it would sell for more.

There is a way to get a Caldecott Medal of your very own without having to bid thousands of dollars. Here’s all you need to start:

Sorry for the brevity of today’s blog, but I must run out to mail packages, finish addressing my Christmas cards, and do some shopping. And I’ll probably be up till all hours, knee-deep in ribbons, gift tags, and Santa Claus paper before I can finally say, “That’s a wrap!”

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll be back.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Postponed Brunch

Christmas is only (gulp) five days away...and I have to spend today shopping, gift-wrapping, and doing other holiday preparations. So this week, "Sunday Brunch" is going to be "Monday Brunch."

Hope you can stop back tomorrow to read it.

Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Once Upon a Christmas

One summer, almost twenty years ago, a co-worker and I were sent to work in our library’s storage facility -- a former auto parts factory located in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. It was an odd neighborhood. One block to the south was a fancy restaurant that served six-dollar desserts. A block to the west -- just beyond a vacant lot filled with broken bottles and oversized rats -- was a low-end grocery store that sold individual cigarettes for a dime; many of their customers could not afford to buy an entire pack. The former factory was a nice place to spend the summer; with almost no windows and the overhead lights dimmed to save electricity, it was a cool, quiet oasis in the middle of a hot and noisy city. Our job was to catalog thousands of books that had just been donated by a local child development institute.

Unfortunately, these books were beyond boring.

Most were published in the twenties, thirties and forties. Most had the word “pedagogy” in the title. Most were stuffy studies of a creature known as “the child,” as in THE CHILD : HIS NATURE AND HIS NEEDS by M.V. Shea, THE CHILD’S APPROACH TO RELIGION by H.W. Fox, or (my favorite) CHILDREN, FROM SEED TO SAPLINGS by Martha May Reynolds.

I was beginning to doubt my belief that every old book contains something of interest.

Then, one August afternoon, I opened a book to catalog and this Christmas card fell out:

It’s not unusual to find things stuck between the pages of old donated books: dry cleaner receipts, letters, recipes -- sometimes even pressed flowers. But for some reason I was really struck by this quaint, old-fashioned picture. I didn’t know that people sent out photographic greeting cards way back in 1930. I was curious about who this family was and wished I could find out more about them. Unfortunately, the name “Anderson” is very common, so there was really no way to track them down. At first I thought the Andersons might live here in the Detroit area, that perhaps the father worked for the institute that donated the books. But then I realized it was far more likely that the person who received the card worked for the local institute -- and that the Seven Andersons could have sent their Christmas greeting from anywhere in the country.

Later I showed the photograph to my parents -- contemporaries of the Anderson kids. They were the ones who pointed out that the Seven Andersons “must have had money” since few families could have afforded Christmas cards like this during the Depression. (My own parents grew up in poor families that couldn’t have even afforded the postage stamps to mail such cards.) Together we puzzled over the individuals on the card. We decided the father was probably a doctor or some other type of professional. The mother probably stayed home with the kids, as women did back then. (Wouldn’t it be fascinating to learn she was actually a doctor as well?) We wondered about the ages of the Andersons. The parents looked pretty old to me, but my folks thought they were probably in their early forties. The oldest daughter appeared to be about thirteen. The twin boys seemed about nine. The youngest siblings looked so much alike that they could easily be twins as well, but we decided the boy was probably about four, with the girl a year or so younger. We then speculated about what happened to the kids. Sixty years is a long time, but it was likely the kids were still alive -- the oldest daughter would only be in early seventies, and the youngest two siblings wouldn't yet be retirement age. I have to admit, though, I was pulled up short when my parents wondered if both the twin boys made it through World War Two. I hadn’t thought of that....

I ended up giving the Christmas postcard to my mother and pretty much forgot about it. Then the holidays rolled around. Every year my mother likes to display the Christmas cards she and my father receive. Some she hangs from ribbons on the back of the door; others she tapes to the wall. She always reserves a corner of wall space for photos that people send along with their cards -- bright color snapshots of people’s kids and grandkids tucked into holiday notes and letters. That first year I was surprised to see the sepia-tinted photograph of the Seven Andersons displayed on the wall among all the new pictures. It was quite a conversation piece. Everyone who dropped by wanted to know about that card from 1930. (“Are they relatives?” “No.” ”Old friends?” “No.” “Well, who are these people and why are they on your wall???")

My mother has continued to display that card every Christmas since then. Holiday visitors are always drawn to it. Everyone has a theory about the family. Some think the mother looks a little sad. Some say there’s a good twin/bad twin dynamic going on with the two boys. I’m convinced the oldest girl was named “Ivy” or “Fern.” My father once wrote a short story about what happened to the kids in the family. He decided that bespectacled daughter ended up working “in a small library, a bookery, or an athenaeum.” (He must have consulted the thesaurus. Athenaeum?)

By now the Seven Andersons have shared nearly twenty Christmases with our family. Every time I see the picture, I’m reminded of the summer I spent working in a dark old factory building with a fancy restaurant on one side and a cheap, dirty grocery store just across the vacant lot. It seems like a long time ago now. In fact, this picture always reminds me of how quickly time passes. When I first enountered it, the card was just over sixty years old; I could assume that all five of the young Andersons were still around. Now the card is nearly eighty years old. If Ivy (or Fern) is still around, she’s in her nineties. Even the youngest kids would be well in their eighties. As for the twins...well, did they even make it through the Second World War?

And I used to think the parents seemed pretty old.

Now they look younger than I do.

I wonder what the Seven Andersons would think if they knew their 1930 Christmas card has been part of our family’s holiday celebrations for nearly twenty years? I bet they'd be surprised to know we're still talking about them today.

“Are they relatives?”


”Old friends?”

“Seems like it now.”

And like so many friends -- both real and fictional -- I first met them due to a book.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Came Early This Year!

We hear it every day.

“Oh! You blog about children’s books? I just love children’s books! They’re!

As longtime children’s book bloggers, Elizabeth Bird of the Fuse #8 blog , Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast , and I have often wondered what causes so many adults -- sophisticated, cynical, even downright jaded adults -- to get all sloppy and sentimental at the mere mention of children’ s books. It seems that, for many, the topic conjures up a world of gumdrops, rainbows, and fluffy little bunnies that love you forever and like you for always.

Betsy, Jules, and I are not fans of this “fluffy bunny” mentality. In fact, it kind of makes us want to puke.

But, instead of reaching for the barf bag, we decided to write a book together.

The premise of our book is that children's literature is often misunderstood or romanticized by the general public. (Not you, of course. If you read our blogs, you're obviously cool...very cool.) The three of us continue to be amazed by how many people visualize children's authors writing their stories with a quill pen in hand and two or three cute fluffy bunnies curled up at their feet. We're not even sure Beatrix Potter lived like that. Something tells us that, after a hard day of writing, Trixie herself probably kicked-back with a mug of beer and a big bowl of...rabbit stew. And those are the kinds of tales we plan to uncover in our book, tentatively titled WILD THINGS! : THE TRUE, UNTOLD STORIES BEHIND THE MOST BELOVED CHILDREN’S BOOKS AND THEIR CREATORS.

And the good news is that our book proposal has just been accepted by Candlewick, a publisher known for its award-winning books, editorial quality, and high production values (“Oh,” sighed a friend of mine, who has been published elsewhere, “your book will be printed on WHITE paper!”) We feel Candlewick is the perfect “fit” for our book and we couldn’t be happier. In fact, it feels like Christmas came a little early for us this year! During the next few months, Betsy, Jules, and I will continue writing our blogs, of course, but we’ll also be spending a lot of time exploring the rich, complex, and sometimes dark history of children’s literature, not discussed in most texts, histories, and trade books.

As a final note, it should be stressed that no fluffy bunnies – real or stuffed – will be harmed in the writing or publication of our book. However, a few fictional bunnies may end up biting the dust along the way.

WILD THINGS! is going to be’s going to be fun...and -- don't worry! -- it’s going to be written with a lot of affection for the subject matter.

After all, we love children’s books too.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Brunch with a Cliffhanger Ending

Today’s Sunday Brunch discusses three things I learned at a booksigning, provides the shortlists for two of this year’s book awards...and ends on a cliffhanger.


Last Sunday I finished my blog early and attended a booksigning for three new young adult novels. Although I’m usually the type of antisocial person who prefers staying home to attending literary soirees, I made myself go on the grounds that this wasn’t a real “soiree.” (According to the dictionary, a soiree can only be held in the evening and this was an afternoon event.) I was so glad I went. The speakers were fascinating and I learned something of interest from each one.

First there was Helen Frost, a true class act, whose CROSSING STONES is one of 2009’s best novels:

What I learned from Ms. Frost is that she also writes books of adult poetry. At the event, I purchased her latest, AS IF A DRY WIND:

I must admit that I’m an unsophisticated poetry reader, usually preferring poetry to have a strong narrative hook, such as we find in the story of Muriel and her friends in CROSSING STONES. Reading the individual, unconnected poems in AS IF A DRY WIND is like briefly glimpsing a scene through someone else’s window then trying to piece together the background story of what you’ve seen and wondering why it made you feel so emotional. I’m not sure I understood all the poems in this book, but I did enjoy reading them and now want to seek out Ms. Frost’s other adult work.

Pearl North has written several science fiction novels for adults, but LIBYRINTH is her first book for young readers:

I have not read this book yet, but it looks fascinating. How could it not, being set in a futuristic library “so vast people sometimes get lost in it and never come out again”?

What I learned from the pseudonymous Ms. North is that all the books referenced in the novel are on the shelves of her own home library: ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, RABBIT HILL, MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, THE CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE, on and on.

Hey, those books are also on my shelves too! It’s kind of neat to think that someone you’ve never met shares your “literary references.”

Finally, there was Amy Huntley, whose debut novel, THE EVERAFTER, concerns a dead teenager recalling her life:

This is another book that I still haven’t read, but I’ve moved it to the top of my “to be read” pile because it sounds so intriguing.

What I learned from Amy Huntley is that her book had just been named one of the five finalists for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

This information stunned me, as I had no idea that the 2009 finalists for this award (first given last year, with A CURSE DARK AS GOLD by Elizabeth C. Bunce winning) had been announced. And I’m supposed to be on top of these things!


I felt even worse when I learned that I hadn’t read ANY of the five Morris finalists. You’d better believe I’m taking steps to rectify that situation -- and fast!

The five finalists are: ASH by Malinda Lo, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, THE EVERAFTER by Amy Huntley, FLASH BURNOUT by L.K. Madigan, and HOLD STILL by Nina LaCour. The winner will be announced next month, at the same time as the Newbery, Caldecott and Printz winners.


Feeling dumb and left-out because I hadn’t known about the Morris finalists, this week I discovered yet another award shortlist had been announced without my knowledge. The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, to be given for the first time in January 2010 (same day as the Morris), has named the following five finalists: ALMOST ASTRONAUTS by Tanya Lee Stone, CHARLES AND EMMA by Deborah Heligman, CLAUDETTE COLVIN, THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM by Candace Fleming, and WRITTEN IN BONE by Sally M. Walker.

...Speaking of bones, I’ve got a bone to pick with whoever named this award.

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue does it?

Most of our children’s book awards have a proper name attached: Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert, Wilder, Bupre, Printz, Morris.

Not only do they provide a quick-and-handy way of identifying the award, but they also honor influential men and women who worked in the field of children’s books.

I’ve never met anyone named “Yalsa.”

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s short for “Young Adult Library Services Association.”

But I’d like to suggest that the American Library Association change the long, dull name of this prize to something snappier. Something that honors an important figure who labored in the field for decades. Someone who just died without ever winning a Newbery, Printz, or Sibert, despite much critical praise and many award nominations over the years.

How about the Milton Meltzer Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults?

“The Meltzer” for short.

He deserves it.


The recent book THE ROCK AND THE RIVER by Kekla Magoon is getting a lot of critical buzz. When Helen Frost spoke highly of it at the booksigning last Sunday, I immediately went out and got a copy.

However, I noticed something odd on the title page: the publisher is listed as “Aladdin.” I thought Aladdin only published paperbacks. The mystery grew when I turned to the copyright page and saw

the Aladdin “magic lamp” colophon and the phrase “Aladdin Paperbacks.”

Why is a hardcover volume being published by a paperback imprint?

Anyone have a solution to this mystery?


Browsing in the library this past week, I happened upon an oversized, photo-filled book called SONDHEIM by Martin Gottfried. This appreciation of the Broadway composer/lyricist seemed particularly apt reading with the revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Angela Lansbury currently in previews on Broadway.

Early in the volume I discovered an anecdote that even had a children’s book connection. During Sondheim’s youth, he was mentored by musical theatre great Oscar Hammerstein. At one point, Hammerstein gave Sondheim an assignment to write a musical based on a book that had never been dramatized. Sondheim chose P.L. Travers’ children’s book classic MARY POPPINS! The musical was never completed, although there is written record of at least four songs: “Ad,” “Miss Andrew,” “The Sun is Blue,” and “Tea.”

None of these songs have ever been recorded. I’m not sure they’ve ever been sung in public. It sure would be interesting to hear Sondheim’s “take” on Mary Poppins. I imagine his script and songs would be very different than those found in the 1964 Disney film.

Ironically, the Disney film has now been adapted for the stage and will be in competition with A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC on Broadway this season.


Incidentally, while reading Gottfried’s Sondheim book, I was struck by all the color photographs highlighting the scenic design of Tony winner Boris Aronson. He worked on several Sondheim musicals, including COMPANY and FOLLIES, as well many other Broadway classics, such as FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and CABARET.

What’s his children’s book connection?

Editor and author Marc Aronson (whose books include the first Sibert winner, SIR WALTER RALEGH AND THE QUEST FOR EL DORADO) is Boris Aronson’s son.


A couple months back I mentioned that the Bookfinder’s Annual Report had listed THE PINK DRESS by Anne Alexander as their most-sought after children’s book of 2008. I have to admit I was completely unfamiliar with this 1959 novel and shocked to learn that first editions were selling for about $1500. Of course this made me very curious to read the book and I checked a copy out of the library. Our library copy did not have a dustjacket, but when I saw the illustrated cover, my big question (“Why is this book selling for $1500?”) was supplanted by an even bigger question: “What the heck is that girl pointing at?”

No, really. What is she pointing at???

I finally read THE PINK DRESS this week and I must admit that I’m still puzzled on several other counts as well. When you hear that a book has a huge cult following, you can often figure out the reason for its success when you read it. Sometimes the book will have some aspect of wish fulfillment that readers yearn for; sometimes the reader will identify closely with a character (“he’s just like me!”) or admire that character’s daring or independence; sometimes they even fall in love with a character. These are just a few of the reasons I’ve seen for books becoming cult hits.

But after reading THE PINK DRESS, I can’t see what has made this novel so irresistible to so many readers.

It’s a romance, but a very frilly romance. On the first page alone, we get the following overly-italicized passage:

Peppermint Prom sounded like such a fun name for a dance. It sounded so sort of swish.

Yes, it does indeed. Sue Stevens is the girl daydreaming about the Peppermint Prom, a junior high dance to which she’ll wear a dress that’s “just the delectable shade of a pink peppermint wafer.” At the dance, Sue is approached by Dave Young, the leader of “The Crowd” who, after a couple dances is already telling Sue not to dance with a couple of other boys from her crowd (“Lay off those creeps,” he demanded.”)

Over the course of the next several weeks, Susan does abandon her group of nice, loyal friends for Dave and his snobbish, somewhat dangerous crew. It’s all standard romance stuff, though I was surprised here and there by mildly-risque moments. After a “popcorn brawl,” Dave and Sue are kicked out of movie theatre, with the manager referring to the good-girl protagonist as “Just a pick-up...trying to alibi her way out of trouble.” At another point Sue tells off her best friend, making a rude remark about her “flat, fat, shapeless chest.” And after one chaste kiss on the forehead (as she’s taken off to the hospital to have her appendix out), Sue is already concerned that she’s “cheating” on Dave when two male friends later visit at her sickbed.

The story reaches a climax when “The Crowd” vandalizes someone’s home as well as the junior high. It turns out that Dave was not involved, but that still doesn’t excuse his creepy and domineering behavior throughout most of the book. And Sue isn’t particularly likable either, tossing off her old friends as soon as romance enters the picture. And when the principal asks if she knows anything about the vandalism, she says no, adding, “And if I did, I wouldn’t tell.” Of course that doesn’t prevent her from later running to the principal when she needs help, hysterically crying and berating him for not assisting her. Snotty little brat.

It’s pretty clear that THE PINK DRESS didn’t appeal much to me, nor was was I able to recognize that mysterious quality that has made this book so memorable to many other readers.

If you’re a fan, I’d love to hear what makes this book so special to you. Maybe I missed something.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books.

I hope you’ll be back again.

In fact, I hope you’ll be back tomorrow.

Because tomorrow’s blog will contain a special announcement!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bathroom Reading

It's hard to imagine anyone living to age forty without knowing Mother Goose -- but that was the case with Feodor Rojankovsky.

The Russian-born illustrator grew up near the Baltic Sea, the son of a school headmaster. In the evening his father would read aloud from the Bible and PARADISE LOST; Feodor was particularly fascinated by Gustave Dore's artwork in the latter volume. A few years later he received a Russian translation of ROBINSON CRUSOE for Christmas and began creating his own illustrations for the text.

Rojankovsky was studying at the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts when the first World War began. For three years he was an officer in the Russian Army, followed by time in Germany, France (where he illustrated Esther Averill's DANIEL BOONE in 1931), and ultimately the United States, where he worked for the Artists and Writers Guild, a book-packaging company that developed works for a number of major publishers and was later instrumental in the creation of Golden Books, those cheaply-produced "drugstore and supermarket" storybooks so familiar to American children in the post World War II era.

It was the Artists and Writers Guild that produced Mr. Rojankovsky's breakthrough volume, THE TALL BOOK OF MOTHER GOOSE. Published in 1942 by Harper, this mass-market (sold for only a buck) nursery rhymer broke new ground in format (a foot tall and five inches wide) and style. As noted in Anita Silvey's CHILDREN'S BOOKS AND THEIR CREATORS, this was one of the first volumes that didn't depict Mother Goose as a little old lady, but rather as a goose herself. The color illustrations, in particular, are splashy and eycatching, filled with everyday kids and naturalistic animals (well, okay, the three blind mice are shown wearing dark glasses, but otherwise they look quite realistic.) Esther Averill noted that THE TALL BOOK OF MOTHER GOOSE "marked a change in Rojankovsky's style and touched off a controversy which has not ceased to rage around him in circles steeped in the fine book traditions of the past. The change in style was probably due to his wish to give his books appeal for the mass markets of this country. ... This matter of popular taste is complicated, and I for one am not qualified to comment...." at which point she goes ahead and comments anyway that, with this book and his later work for Golden Books, "Rojanovsky was typed, and let himself by typed, just as an actor in Hollywood often gets poured into a mold. And certainly this was at the expense of his great lyric qualities and his own brand of gentle humor which springs from nature rather than the world of man." These remarks were made in 1956 when Mr. Rojankovsky won the Caldecott Medal for FROG WENT A-COURTIN', a title that must have met with Ms. Averill's approval, since she sniffed, "Many of us felt happy when Rojankovsky finally obtained his freedom to work also for publishers who deal in smaller editions and represent a more traditional kind of bookmaking."

Actually, I have no complaints about Esther "Buzzkill" Averill's criticism -- she's entitled to say what she wants -- but I just wonder why she waited till Rojankovsky's biggest moment of literary triumph to publish these remarks in a profile that was meant to honor him. Boy, she must have been fun at parties.... And to be fair, in that profile she does acknowledge that THE TALL BOOK OF MOTHER GOOSE "brought joy to innumerable children who had never encounterd such gaiety as it possessed."

The book certainly did make an impression on kids of the era and is still widely-loved, with collectors willing to pay $300 for copies of this childhood favorite

...But I wonder how many of those collectors know that this was not Mr. Rojankovsky's first attempt at Mother Goose and that another volume is out there somewhere.

Eleven years before THE TALL BOOK OF MOTHER GOOSE was published, while still living in France, Feodor Rojankovsky took a trip to London. During that visit, he accepted an assignment to create twenty drawings of Mother Goose. At that time, he had never even heard of Mother Goose. It would be interesting to know if he was instructed to draw her in the traditional granny-in-a-bonnet style or if this was when he first envisioned her as a goose.

It was not until after he completed the work that he learned his Mother Goose illustrations were being used to decorate packages of toilet paper.

Later, these pictures were collected in a book and given out as a freebie by the company that manufactured that brand of toilet paper.

I've done some searching and can find no reference to such a book, but a few copies must still be out there somewhere. Maybe you'll come across one in an old box in an attic or basement someday and discover one of the earliest -- and rarest -- books by this future Caldecott winner, issued by a tissue company.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Brunch


If you’ve been bopping around the blogosphere this week, you’ve probably read about the controversy surrounding November’s issue of School Library Journal.

Apparently a good half-dozen readers wrote the magazine to complain that the cover photograph depicted several notable children’s book bloggers in the unseemly act of drinking adult beverages.

What a lot of people don’t know is that SLJ also issued an alternate cover for the same issue. This variant cover was sent to Mormons, teetotalers, AA members, anyone who lives in a “dry county” -- as well as old fuddy-duddies. As a card-carrying member of at least one of those groups, this was the issue I received last month:

For those subscribers who were upset by the “all liquored-up” cover, School Library Journal is, for a limited time, offering to send a replacement “alcohol-free” cover, which can be pasted over the offending illustration. Send your request to:

GOT MILK? cover
School Library Journal
New York, NY

Incidentally, cover-girl Elizabeth Bird reports that real alcohol was not used in the photo shoot. According to her blog, the drinks were actually made from a “dishwater-esque concoction of lime juice and pink food coloring.”

I have it on good authority that the beverages in the alternate cover were props as well (hot studio lights + milk = curdled sour moo juice) and that the liquid in the glasses and pitchers was actually...Milk of Magnesia!


My VCR has been acting up over the last few weeks -- the image on the screen occasionally gets fuzzy, the volume sometimes drops to the pitch of a whisper. I’m hoping it will hold out for a while longer (at least until the middle of this week, so I can record the finale of TOP least until the end of December, so I can keep taping all those nice Christmas movies) but I know that I’ll have to replace it eventually. What’s stopping me from buying one now? Well -- the money! But more than that, the whole world of VCRs has changed since I last had to get one. Now the electronics aisle is filled with VCR/DVD combos and DVRs and HD-this and Blu Ray-that and it all confuses me. I mean, I just want something simple that will record Judge Judy while I’m at work.

This got me thinking how everything electronic eventually changes over time.

How much money did I spend converting my LP collection to CDs? ...And now CDs seem to have fallen victim to downloading songs from the computer.

How about all those movies we bought on videotape that later were replaced by DVD versions?

Seems like something new is always coming along -- and it always requires you to buy the same song, movie, or game in a new, improved format.

For many years the sturdy, old-fashioned BOOK escaped this fate.

But it struck me recently that this may be changing in the future.

Right now a lot of books are available for Kindle and other electronic reading devices. But isn’t it just a matter of time till Kindle and the others go through so many upgrades and changes that the 2009 Kindle will be viewed as the electronic equivalent of 1972’s “Pong” game?

So it seems inevitable that there will also come a time when the books you purchased for today’s Kindle will no longer function with the future models -- the same way your VHS videotape of GONE WITH THE WIND can not be played on your brand new DVD player.

It will be a matter of either buying the same book all over again in a different format or just letting the old book fall by the wayside.

I think we know what will happen. And that’s why I continue my loyalty to the sturdy, old BOOK.


Last Sunday’s blog included comments on FOG MAGIC by Julia L. Sauer, so today I thought I’d mention her second title, THE LIGHT AT TERN ROCK, which was published in 1951.

In this brief story, Ronnie and his widowed Aunt Marthy are asked to spend a couple weeks minding the lighthouse at Tern Rock while its current keeper leaves the island to visit family. Byron Flagg assures Aunt Marthy that he will be back in plenty of time for Ronnie to return to the mainland for Christmas. Although Ronnie enjoys the fun and novelty of living in the lighthouse and helping to fire the lamp each evening, he grows increasingly nervous as the holidays draw near and Mr. Flagg still has not returned.

Reading this book as a child, I (like Ronnie) was outraged to discover that it wasn’t bad weather or illness that kept the old man from returning, but instead Mr. Flagg’s calculated plan to trick someone into staying on the island while he enjoyed the holidays with family. Re-reading the book when I was a little older made me realize that Mr. Flagg’s betrayal gives the book its conflict, its edge, and, ultimately, its message of forgiveness. This atmospheric and thoughtful story is the perfect read-aloud for the Christmas season.


A number of well-known children’s Christmas books made their first appearance as stories in adult magazines. This includes A CHRISTMAS TREE FOR LYDIA by Elizabeth Enright, which was originally published in WOMAN’S HOME COMPANION, as well as THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER by Barbara Robinson, which was first seen in MCCALL’S magazine.

THE LIGHT AT TERN ROCK originally appeared as a short story in the HORN BOOK MAGAZINE. It would later be named a Newbery Honor Book, dispelling the notion that previously-published material is not eligible for that award.


Incidentally, my copy of THE LIGHT AT TERN ROCK is inscribed by Julia Sauer -- who worked as a librarian when she wasn’t writing books -- to one of her library patrons.

I don’t know if it’s clear from the above image, but it looks as though either the inscriber or inscribee went back and added a final “e” in a different colorof ink to the last name “Wolf.”

Can’t say I blame Ms. Sauer for getting it wrong. Children’s books are filled with Woolfs (Tucker; Virginia Euwer) and Wolves (of WILLOUGHBY CHASE; of JULIE AND THE...) and the Big Bad Wolf and Peter and the Wolf and now, with that newish Australian book called WOOLVS IN THE SITEE, well, it’s hard to keep track!

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll be back.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What's on the Menu?

Welcome to the Children's Book Diner!

Short-order cook Peter and his staff of smilin' servers -- Deenie, Dinky, Ramona, and Trixie B. -- aim to please with a wide-ranging menu sure to satisy even the most discriminating palate.


Green Eggs and Ham

Pancakes Paris!

Everything on a Waffle


Winnie the Pu-Pu Platter -- East meets west in this selection of old English cheeses and Chinese hors d'oeuvres

Lucky Trimble's Cheese Balls


Stone Soup -- a vegetarian classic, and you'll never guess the secret ingredient!

Robert McCloskey's Lentil Soup

Old King Cole Slaw

Wintergirls' Three-Bean Salad -- a filling combination of one pinto bean, one green bean, and one black bean. Doggie bags available if that's too much for you

Harriet M. Welsch's Tomato Sandwich -- served with a chocolate egg cream

Farmer Arabel's Pulled-Pork Sandwich -- one bite of this BBQ delight and you too will be saying, "SOME PIG!"

Henry Huggins' Afterschool Snackers -- peanut butter, jam, and pickle relish on a graham cracker. Please specify choice of jam: strawberry, grape, or Salamanca's gooseberry jam


Spaghetti with a Chance of Meatballs -- authentic Italian pasta, may or may not be accompanied by meatballs depending on the mood of the chef

Johnny Mutton Chops -- don't be sheepish, give this one a try!

Farmer Hoggett's Hog's Head -- if you can't make up your mind what to order, this'll do

Jack G's "Hole in My Life" Pot Roast -- betcha six to ten, you'll like this dish

Oven-roasted Squab -- if you prefer this dish without gravy, please inform your server, "Don't Let the Pigeon Arrive Au Jus!"

Prime Ribsy

Sam Gribley's Fresh Catch -- flown in daily. Frightful-ly good!

Eloise's Sausage Roll -- the worst brat in children's books inspired this bratwurst dish

Make Way for Ducklings a l'Orange


Journey Cake, Ho!

M.C. Higgins' Banina Cream Pie -- just like mother used to make

Poppy Seed Cakes

Ginger Pie -- have some now, as it may disappear from the menu without warning

Turkish Delight -- one bite of this and you'll swear you're back in Narnia

Stinky Cheesecake -- Can be served with strawberries or cherries, though we'll be honest: they don't really mask the smell

15% gratuity added to tables of six or more.

Ask us about our catering services!