Sunday, February 7, 2010

Saint Iggy vs. The Blind Colt : Brunch for Superbowl Sunday

Welcome to another Sunday Brunch at Collecting Children’s Books. Thanks for dropping by.


It’s Superbowl Sunday, a day that has become almost a national holiday in the United States. I just read that it’s the second highest day for caloric consumption after Thanksgiving. And that some schools in Indiana will start a couple hours late tomorrow so that bus drivers can sleep in after the big game. Me? I think I’ll read a book. Here are a few titles to choose from:

THE WINGED COLT OF CASA MIA by Betsy Byars (1973)

THE BLIND COL by Glen Rounds (1941)


THE CROOKED COLT by C.W. Anderson (1956)

THE WINNING COLT by Louise Lee Floethe (1956)


THE COLT FROM MOON MOUNTAIN by Dorothy P. Lathrop (1941)


SAINT IGGY by K.L. Going (2006)

SAINT MAYBE by Anne Tyler (1991)

SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON by Margaret Hodges and Trina Schart Hyman (1984)

A VISIT FROM SAINT NICHOLAS by Clement Clark Moore (1822)

WHEN WE WERE SAINTS by Han Nolan (2003)



My favorite writer, M.E. Kerr, once told me that she tries to prevent her publishers from using cursive, or script, writing on the covers of her books.


Because many of her young readers have told her that they don’t know how to read handwriting.

I was shocked to hear this, but then I began asking around and learned that a lot of grade school teachers don’t have time to teach a lengthy handwriting unit to kids these days. What a far cry from the “old days” (i.e. my own youth) when we spent months learning to write in cursive. Our teacher had a multi-pronged chalk holder that allowed her to draw three straight lines across the blackboard, upon which she’d carefully write out the letters in precise script, the capital letters touching the top line and the lowercase letters grazing the middle line. I still remember how she taught us to write the lowercase M, drawing the first upward and downward motion while saying, “The bear went over the mountain....” then the second curve (“...the bear went over the mountain...”) and finally the last curve (“...the bear went over the mountain...”) and then she’d trail off the end on the bottom line saying, “To see what he could see.”)

I guess one reason handwriting gets shunted aside is because kids are too busy learning keyboarding/typing in third or fourth grade. That was the age when we used to learn handwriting...and we didn’t learn typing till junior high!

I was thinking about this the other day when I came across this recent book for young readers:

I could read the title, but was completely stumped by the author’s last name:

Bowl? Bowie? Bouie? It wasn’t until I looked inside that I discovered her name was Julie Bowe.

Guess I need a remedial class in cursive writing. The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain....


I was looking at Sarah Miller’s website this week and came across this question and answer:

Q. Do you listen to music while you work?

A. Yes. Almost always. I choose very specific music for each project, and it's always either instrumental or foreign so I can't get distracted by lyrics. MISS SPITFIRE was written exclusively to three Beethoven piano sonatas - the Moonlight Sonata, the Waldenstein Sonata, and the Pathetique. The book I'm working on now is set to Russian Divine Liturgy, with an occasional bit of Favorite Russian Songs, by the Barynya ensemble, and the soundtrack to Les Choristes. I've even got tunes selected for a book I haven't started yet: ragtime and opera.

Music does two things for me:

- Sets the mood.
- Lets me know when I've put in my writing time for the day. End of CD = quitting time!

This got me wondering what music other authors enjoyed as they worked. Hunting around the internet, I came up with these answers:

Tamora Pierce
It kind of varies for me. For a long time, I did need music, but when I'm working I can't listen to music with words in a language I understand. Since I understand words from a bunch of European languages, if I'm not listening to classical, if I'm not listening to symphonic movie soundtracks, I'd better be getting some really esoteric music. Bagpipes are a big favorite. And for the Circle of Magic books, since I was working in a universe rather like the Medieval Middle East and Central Asia, I was listening to Arabic and Hindi and Tuvan throat singing and Balinese and Gamelan and any Japanese or Chinese, you name it.

Philip Pullman
I love music, classical music in particular, but jazz and all kinds of stuff as well -- but not when I'm working. The rhythm, whatever the rhythm is, interferes with the rhythm of what I'm writing. When I'm doing prose, which is what I'm doing almost all the time -- occasionally I've been known to write verse -- I need to hear what I'm doing in my head, and I can't if there's music playing.

Patricia McCormick
I can't listen to music. It's too distracting!

Jay Asher
Sometimes I’ll listen to music before I start writing to put myself into a certain mood. ...But I’m so easily distracted that I can’t listen to music when I’m writing.

Neil Gaiman
I often write with music on. It doesn't distract me. Anything that makes me more comfortable and keeps me writing is good. And occasionally I'll reread something I've written and know what I was listening to when I wrote it.

Lemony Snicket
I listen to music constantly. When I write, I cannot listen to music with words, so the old standbys are Sun Ra and Morton Feldman.

Sarah Mlynowski
I don’t listen to music when I write-I listen to Law & Order. I play the reruns all day. Something about the Da! Da! frees up the creative side of my brain. Weird, eh?

Julie Bowl..l mean, Bowie...I mean Bouie...okay, Julie BOWE
I don’t listen to music while I’m writing because it distracts me. But, sometimes, I like to write in the food court at the mall. It’s helpful for me to have that mix of voices in the background while I’m working. Plus, they have really good coffee there.


I recently came across an article written by Patty Campbell, Pat Davis and Jerri Quinn called “We Got Here...It Was Worth the Trip : A Survey of Young Adult Reading in Los Angeles Public Library.”

In 1972, the authors attempted to find out the most popular books in the LA library by putting a questionnaire in the pocket of each YA book in the collection. This part cracked me up: “The questionnaires were designed to be visually appealing. At the top of the slip was a design of mushrooms and the sun -- two ‘in’ items in current young adult symbology.”

Over the course of six months, the survey was answered 2009 times.

The following titles were listed as the top ten favorites:

2) MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES by Ann Head
3) GO ASK ALICE by Anonymous
4) CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
6) PHOEBE by Patricia Dizenzo
9) RUN SOFTLY, GO FAST by Barbara Wersba
10) LENNON REMEMBERS by Jan Wenner

In the same survey, readers were asked “Are there any books you would highly recommend to other young people?” and the top ten responses were:

1) THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton
2) THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo
5) GO ASK ALICE by Anonymous
6) THE PIGMAN by Paul Zindel
7) THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
8) GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
9) LOVE STORY by Eric Segal
10) MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES by Ann Head

Granted, a list from 2010 would look quite different. And a few of the above titles are now out-of-print and out-of-mind. But, still, I’m surprised by how many of the above continue to be read by teenagers today. Even MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES remains in print and still appears on high school reading lists.

Here’s the cover I remember seeing on every drugstore rack in the seventies:

I have to admit I never read it back then...though I do recall seeing a TV movie-of-the-week based on the novel. But the fact that this book retains its popularity after forty years definitely makes me want to read it now.

MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES belonged to a sub-genre of YA fiction concerning married teenagers. Others included FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS by John Neufeld; MEET ME IN THE PARK, ANGIE by Phyllis Anderson Woods; THE BRIDE WORE BRAIDS by Fredrick Laing, and several more. I wonder if there have been any comparable “young married” novels in the past twenty years? Do teens still get married...or do they just move in together and then appear on Judge Judy six months later because they broke up and now owe money on their apartment lease?

Whatever the case, Bo Jo and Bride appear to still draw young readers. I’d better borrow a copy from the library so I can figure out why.

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

...Hey, would you visit more often if I decorated this blog with pictures of suns and mushrooms?


Joanne R. Fritz said...

Naw. I don't need suns and mushrooms... anymore. But I still remember reading MR AND MRS BO JO JONES when I was in high school, and loving it. Never saw the TV movie of it.

Great post, Peter. The cursive curse cracked me up. Have you ever seen WHY by Lila Prap? The author's name is in cursive and I'm always scratching my head when I try to shelve it in the bookstore. Also, I just finished reading THE DARK DIVINE by Bree Despain and within the novel there are several letters (that are supposed to be written by an old Crusader), that are printed in a cursive font. Very hard to read. Wonder how many teen readers gave up trying.

I was also interested in your segment about music. I'm thrilled by how many authors DON'T listen to music when they write. I certainly can't.

Sam said...

Another great reason to BAN cursive from the planet!

If ALL CAPS is the text equivalent of shouting, then cursive is the text equivalent of having a high, nasal voice and a penchant for mispronouncing words.

Do they still print Babar in that cursive type? That made it so hard to read when I was a kid.

Bybee said...

Ixnay on the suns and mushrooms.

The Bride Wore Braids was also issued under the title Ask Me If I Love You Now, or something like that.

I couldn't read cursive very well in elementary school. This was unfortunate because my mother would leave me notes that detailed the chores she wanted completed while she was at work.

I wonder if Linda Sue Park listens to traditional Korean music.

Lots of comment hooks today, Peter!

Jan von Harz said...

I still teach the Pigman to 8th graders. But I was surprised at the S. E. Hinton title, most of the kids read The Outsiders and love it but That was Then This is Now is not as popular. Enjoyed the post.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Peter! I very much enjoyed reading your post and finding your blog by way of my name. I haven't had comments from young readers regarding the cursive on the cover, although a good many have commented on the fonts used within the text of my books. My favorite comment so far: "I love the way you typed your books." :) The pronunciation of Bowe is even trickier than the cursive spelling: Bow-vee ("Bow" as in bow tie.) We recently added a rebus pronunciation guide to my website, which we hope kids will find fun and helpful. Thanks for the mention! Cheers! Julie Bowe

Nancy Werlin said...

"I wonder if there have been any comparable “young married” novels in the past twenty years?"

Uh, the Twilight books? :-) You do still see teen marriage in YA books (I did it in my last, Impossible), but in romance/fantasy, not YA problem novel form.

What you see instead of the young-married realistic problem novels are the young-teens-as-parents novels. First Part Last by Angela Johnson. Hanging on to Max by Margaret Bechard.

Nancy Werlin, who likes cursive (though cannot write that way)

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Thanks for all the great comments. Here are some specific responses:

Hi Joanne,

I don't know WHY by Lila Prap, but I'll look for it. I don't listen to music when I write either, but I may try it someday and see if it helps!

Thanks for dropping by,


Hi Sam,

Last time I looked, Babar was still in cursive. I'll have to check the most recent editions to be sure. I'd join you in banning cursive writing, but my printing is almost as illegible as my handwriting. I'm doubly-cursed.



Hi Bybee,

Hmm, the old "I couldn't do any chores because I couldn't read your handwriting" excuse! I love it!



Hello Jan,

THE PIGMAN is one of my all-time favorites and I'm so glad you're teaching it in school.



Hi Julie,

I hope you didn't mind my teasing about the typeface on your book. I just cataloged it for our library last week and, as soon as it returns from book prep (where it's currently getting gussied up with a spine label, a date due slip, etc.) I will check it out and read it. Thanks so much for stopping by!


Hello Nancy,

Yes, I meant the problem novel genre, in which a pair of kids marry young, struggle, and then (almost always) decide to stick it out; there used to be a lot of those. But you're right -- I was remiss in not even mentioning the Twilight books. And I can't believe I didn't mention IMPOSSIBLE, since I just finished it a few weeks back. I've read all of your books and enjoyed them all a lot. Not sure I could even pick a favorite!

Thanks for visiting,


Wendy said...

I read Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones as a teenager in the nineties (after making fun of the title for years; along with Susan and Her Classic Convertible and A Girl Called Chris and The Unchosen, my siblings and I found this book among old paperbacks at my grandparents' house and laughed every summer) and loved it. It is truly a beautiful book. I've read several of the others in the mini-genre and they aren't nearly as good.

Daughter Number Three said...

I was looking at family recipes with my 16-year-old daughter a few days ago and realized she cannot read her grandmother's perfectly clear handwriting.

I am chagrined that today's younger people will not be able to read their grandparents' writing. That's a rapid cultural change.

And all of the book cover designers who hire lettering artists are in for a big shock... let alone the lettering artists who will have to change their styles completely or give up that line of work!

Library Mermaid said...

great post - the cursive thing I get all the time at the library, the kids really get stumped by it. And my head librarian writes in cursive so half the time I cannot read her notes - she claims she cannot read mine either so we're even :)
Love the info on who writes or does not to music. My husband and children study to music. I cannot even read a light magazine article to music. Different brains.

Anonymous said...

Was hoping you'd be talking about football!