Welcome to another Sunday Brunch containing random facts and opinions on children’s books.
THIS WEEK’S BIG QUESTION
I love monitoring the “keyword activity” on my blog’s stat counter because it gives me a sense of what type of info people are seeking from Collecting Children’s Books. This week’s most-asked question has been “How big was the first printing of WHEN YOU REACH ME?”
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the answer yet.
Sometimes the size of a print run is mentioned on the ARC of a book -- particularly when the number is big (i.e. “50,000 first printing”) although I have heard that such promotional numbers are often more optimistic than accurate.
Occasionally Publishers Weekly will list printing info for a title in an article (“After a first printing of 10,000, Book X has gone back for two more printings, resulting in 45,000 copies now in print.”)
However, in the case of Rebecca Stead’s novel, I have seen no info beyond the fact that, between its July 14 publication date and last week, the book was in its fifteenth printing and had sold well over 100,000 copies. Now that it’s been named this year’s Newbery winner, those numbers are sure to zoom way, way upward.
Which leads to the question of whether this book will become one of those impossible-to-find Newbery first editions. I can’t say for sure, but speaking completely subjectively, my guess is that this novel is going to become a kid-favorite along the lines of Ellen Raskin’s THE WESTING GAME and E.L. Konigsburg’s FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. Those titles are widely-sought-after yet, while first editions are expensive to acquire, they are not impossible to find. WHEN YOU REACH ME got a lot of buzz when it was published (i.e. it was one of those rare children’s books reviewed in People Magazine) and I suspect that it sold a fair number of copies through bookstores -- so many of those first editions will continue to float around in the used book market in the coming years...meaning the book may become expensive, but won’t be near-impossible to find. The very hardest Newbery books to find are those that didn’t receive much buzz upon publication, and whose first editions were mostly sold to the library market. Examples of these are Cynthia Kadohata’s KIRA-KIRA and Linda Sue Park’s A SINGLE SHARD, first editions of which now sell for over a thousand dollars each.
The other thing I like about monitoring this blog’s keyword activity is that I often learn things I never knew before. This week several people visited the blog (or maybe it was just one person visiting over and over again) trying to find info on Lauren Tarshis and the book IRONWEED.
Well, that kind of threw me.
Lauren Tarshis is the author of one of my favorite recent children's books, EMMA-JEAN LAZARUS FELL OUT OF A TREE and its sequel, EMMA-JEAN LAZARUS FELL IN LOVE.
IRONWEED is the Pulitzer Prize winning adult novel by William Kennedy.
I recently read IRONWEED and guess what? I like the “Emma-Jean Lazarus” books better.
Anyway, I figured that someone was just confused about the authorship of IRONWEED. But then I did a little research and discovered there really is a connection between Ms. Tarshis and IRONWEED. The novel was made into a 1988 film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson and, in connection with the movie, Penguin released a paperback entitled THE MAKING OF IRONWEED. It appears the main selling-point of that book were the photographs by Claudio Edinger; his name is the only one on the cover. But it turns out that Lauren Tarshis is credited with doing all the interviews that accompany the photographs inside. Who knew that, twenty years before Emma-Jean Lazarus, Lauren Tarshis was writing books about Meryl Streep?
Oh, and guess who narrated the audio book versions of both “Emma Jean” books? Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer.
How’s that for a coincidence?
Now I’m wondering if IRONWEED photographer Claudio Edinger is related to children’s book blogger, New York Times book reviewer, and School Library Journal covergal Monica Edinger.
This week, while sitting in the drive-thru line of a fast food restaurant, I heard an ad on the radio featuring a dramatic excerpt from Gary Paulsen’s HATCHET. It’s one of several public service announcements from the Library of Congress that promote reading children's books. Other ads contain clips from CALL IT COURAGE by Armstrong Sperry, ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine, and MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli.
You can learn more about these commercials, view author webcasts, and even enter children’s book contests at the Read.gov website, located here.
Anyway, as I sat waiting in that drive-thru line, I started thinking about the cheap plastic toys that fast-food restaurants hand out with “kids’ meals” to promote all the latest movies. And this got me wondering if any restaurant has ever tried to give out books as freebies. I guess it would be asking too much for them to give away whole paperback books, but how about chapter-length excerpts? I bet that moms and dads (already feeling guilty about yet another drive-thru dinner) would jump on board for this, especially if there was an advertising campaign along the lines of “Nutrition for the Mind.”
To be honest, I doubt that most kids would rather read a chapter of book than hit each other with some wind-up plastic action figure (“Caution: this toy contains movable parts and may be a choking hazard”) but some will. And some of those will then go to the library and seek out the entire book to find out what happens after Chapter One....
Jesse Young sent me a note about a new website that may be of interest to readers of Collecting Children’s Books. It’s called 100 Fantastic Book Sites for Kids and Teens and contains all kinds of links to literature-related websites and blogs.
It looks like it’s worth checking out!
Hey, wait a minute, how come my blog wasn’t listed there?
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WRITING FOR ADULTS AND CHILDREN?
I just read in Publishers Weekly that Gabrielle Zevin, whose ELSEWHERE and MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC were big hits with YA readers, is publishing a new adult novel, THE HOLE WE’RE IN. In an accompanying interview, Ms. Zevin was asked if her creative process was different when writing for an adult audience. She responded: “For a long time, I said there was no difference, but that was a lie, born from a futile desire to convince people that writing for youth wasn’t something I did when my brain was on vacation. Essentially, though, when I am writing for children, I feel a certain responsibility toward them and the kinds of stories I find myself wanting to tell them likely reflect that. When I’m writing for adults, the characters are old and seem to curse a lot.”
This got me wondering what other authors have said about the differences between writing for adults and kids. I’ve rounded up a few responses from the web here:
There are certainly differences, but I wouldn't say I go into a different 'space'. When I get an idea for a story, I simply decide right from the get-go whether it's an idea for children or an idea for adults. Then I find that everything stems from the initial choice of category, and I don't have to spend much time worrying about what 'hat' I am wearing. When I am writing for children, there are more restrictions on content and writing style, but absolutely no restraints on ideas - the sky's the limit. When I am writing for adults, the reverse applies. Adults won't necessarily 'go with' you as far as a child will, but are far more amenable when it comes to big words, sex, violence and slow, meandering plots.
I love writing for kids because I'm a person with an agenda usually. I should've been a preacher. I usually have something on my mind that I want to talk to people about, change their mind about and writing for kids, you still have that opportunity. You don't have much opportunity when you write for adults of changing their minds.
The biggest challenge was trying not to subconsciously "write down" for younger readers. As J.K. Rowling and others have proven, kids are sophisticated readers with terrific vocabularies. They're also quite aware when adults are underestimating them. ...It didn't take me as long to write HOOT as it does to write the other novels, partly because it was slightly shorter and partly because the plot wasn't quite as multilayered. Another reason it went along so quickly, frankly, is that I was having so much fun writing it.
I guess one thing that is handy about writing for children is that books tend to be shorter, so I've written a large number of books in a short amount of time, and that's good training. But in terms of specific things about writing for adults versus writing for children, I don't think there's that much of a difference.
I don't really believe that writing for children is very different from writing for adults. What makes good children's books is putting the same care and effort into them as I would if I were writing for adults. I don’t write anything—put anything in my books that I'd be embarrassed to put in an adult book. The literary world often places children's literature below adult literature. But looking back through the ages, the really classic children’s books have all had beautifully developed plot, structure, and characterization. ...I've always believed that I learned to write for children by reading books written for adults. For instance, Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus and William Goldman's The Princess Bride influenced the way I wrote Holes. I liked the way the opening chapters of these books were sort of short and jumpy, and how they led into the story. And The Princess Bride had these colorful characters and this bizarre setting, and that's sort of like Holes.
As far as I am concerned an autopilot takes over to change the mode between writing for adults and writing for children. There are many differences -- the vocabulary is simpler, the style more direct. The pace is faster when writing for children, who soon become bored by descriptions of thought-processes, flashbacks, overlong descriptions. There is no great difference in the structure of plots. Characters in children's books are simpler and more strongly defined, like those in Morality plays -- personified abstractions.
Adults are more patient when it comes to giving a slow-going story a chance. Young adults, on the other hand, will give a book one, maybe two pages before they'll put it down, if it doesn't interest them (the exception being if it's assigned in school). I learned early how to hook a reader and not let go. The same rule has served me well in my adult fiction.
I learned that there is no essential difference between writing for young people and writing for adults, except that the former is perhaps more exacting. It calls for a discipline of words almost as demanding as the discipline of poetry. Every word must tell. The writer who loses himself in the windy descriptive passages, who indulges too many flights of philosophical fancy, will wake up to find that his reader has gone out to play ball. His story must move. It must have pace, action, drama and suspense.
Francisco X. Stork:
My own recent experience of writing a "Young Adult" novel about a sixteen year old boy is that I would not do anything differently had the story been intended for adults. What was required here, as in any fiction work, was the ability to "remember" the thoughts, experiences, of a young man. ...There was no need to write differently than I would otherwise write. There were no formulas to be followed. There was one concern, however, that pressed on me more than if the potential readership of young people had not been in my mind. I am writing as an adult and as such I cannot forego a certain "moral obligation". This "moral obligation" is not a prissy sense of decorum, but rather an awareness of the need to present not only the adversity, ignorance and evil that may be present in a young person's life but to show the ability inherent in us all (and perhaps especially in young persons) to confront adversity with courage, hope and the power of friendship.
There are not many differences, I don't think, between writing for children and writing for adults because children aren't that different from adults. But I would say the story is the main thing, with children. With adults you might use different styles and structures, perhaps indulge in fiddly niceties. Writing for children brings you down to basics.
I got a kick out of yesterday’s blog by Fuse #8, which tells of her recent stay in a Boston hotel where you could have a “dream butler” bring you a special pillow from their “pillow library.” (And you thought my idea of drive-thru books was quirky!) Fuse titled her blog “Oh, Dream Butler. I Believe You Can Get Me Through the Night” -- a take-off on the Gary Wright song “Dream Weaver” which seemed to be on the radio incessantly throughout my high school years and which now, thanks to Fuse #8’s blog, I can’t get out of my head this weekend-- no matter how hard I try!
Oh well, at least it reminded me that the song has a children’s books connection.
Did you know that the title story in Jane Yolen’s 1989 book DREAM WEAVER AND OTHER TALES was inspired by this hit record, which Ms. Yolen describes as “a bad rock song.”
You never know what phrase will spark an author’s interest and lead to a story.
For all we know, an author read Fuse #8’s blog yesterday and is now working on a fantasy story about “dream librarians” who catalog and loan out people’s dreams and nightmares....
I’m still exhausted from this week’s book award announcements. Still haven’t caught up on my sleep...still haven’t read all the Printz selections...still haven’t placed the new winning books on my shelves.
But it’s never too early to start thinking about next year.
Very early last year I heard someone mention Rodman Philbrick’s MOSTLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF HOMER P. FIGG as a Newbery possibility. I’m so glad I bought a copy then, as it turned out to be a surprise Newbery Honor this week.
Sometimes those early whispers turn out to be right on the mark.
A couple years ago, I began hearing “Newbery talk” about Gary D. Schmidt’s THE WEDNESDAY WARS before it was even published. ...Months and months later, the novel was named a Newbery Honor Book.
Of course sometimes it works the other way around. The following year I also heard early “Newbery talk” about Mr. Schmidt’s novel TROUBLE...but by the time the award season rolled around that book seemed a distant memory and received no recognition at all.
So you never know.
Anyway, my plan was to end today’s blog by citing three titles that are already inspiring “Newbery talk” in the children’s book world.
A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner
MOCKINGBIRD by Katherine Erskine
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williaims-Garcia
I was patting myself on the back for scooping everyone else on these title, but then I did a little search and discovered that Jonathan Hunt and his readers at the Heavy Medal Blog have already begun a list of 2011 Newbery contenders.
Not only are the three titles on my list included, but so are a dozen more -- some of which I’ve never even heard of until now.
And now I’ve got to track those books down so I won’t feel like I’m behind!
In other words, the gold award stickers haven’t even dried on this year’s winners and it’s already time to go chasing after next year’s contenders!
No wonder I’m tired!
Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll return.