Sunday, March 21, 2010

March 22 Sunday Brunch

So, I started last week’s Sunday Brunch with a pledge to write more daily entries this week...and didn’t write a single one.

2010 has not been a good year for me. Every time I think this year couldn’t get gets worse!

This week was the worst of all.

Oh well, maybe things will start to improve now that spring is here.


In the spirit of the season, here are a dozen random titles about springtime:

BRIANA, JAMAICA, AND THE DANCE OF SPRING by Juanita Havill ; illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien.
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

SPRING : AN ALPHABET ACROSTIC by Steven Schnur ; illustrated by Leslie Evans.

DAKOTA SPRING by D. Anne Love ; drawings by Ronald Himler.

WINTER HOLDING SPRING by Crescent Dragonwagon ; illustrated by Ronald Himler.

MY SPRING ROBIN by Anne Rockwell ; pictures by Harlow Rockwell & Lizzy Rockwell.


WAITING-FOR-SPRING STORIES by by Bethany Roberts ; illustrations by William Joyce.

THREE FRIENDS FIND SPRING by Judy Delton ; pictures by Giulio Maestro.

PEEPER, FIRST VOICE OF SPRING by Robert M. McClung ; illustrated by Carol Lerner.

SPRING IS... by Janina Domanska.

SPRING BEGINS IN MARCH by Jean Little ; illustrated by Lewis Parker.

IN A SPRING GARDEN by Richard Lewis; pictures by Ezra Jack Keats.


Sad to see that author Sid Fleischman died this week, just days after his ninetieth birthday.

Mr. Fleischman started off as a magician (recalled in his fine autobiography, THE ABRACADABRA KID), became a suspense novelist and screenwriter (BLOOD ALLEY), and entered the field of children’s books because he wanted his own kids to know what he did for a living. He submitted that first story for young people, MR. MYSTERIOUS & COMPANY, to his agent with a note saying, "If you're not interested, just drop it in the waste basket."

Thank goodness that didn’t happen.

MR. MYSTERIOUS was the first of more than fifty children’s books that Sid Fleischman would write, including the well-known GHOST IN THE NOONDAY SUN (1965), Boston Globe-Horn Book winner HUMBUG MOUNTAIN (1978), Newbery winner THE WHIPPING BOY (1986), and one of Fleischman’s own favorites, THE SCAREBIRD (1978.) In recent years he published a pair of highly-regarded biographies, ESCAPE! : THE STORY O THE GREAT HOUDINI and THE TROUBLE BEGINS AT 8 : A LIFE OF MARK TWAIN IN THE WILD, WILD WEST, with a biography of Charlie Chaplin, SIR CHARLIE, slated for later this spring.

Besides leaving an amazing body of work, the author will continued to be remembered each year with the “Sid Fleischman Award,” which is given each year by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to the author “whose work exemplifies the excellence of writing in the genre of humor.” Mr. Fleischman was named the first winner of that award, in 2003, for his complete canon. Subsequent winners have included Lisa Yee for MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS; Gennifer Choldenko for AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS, David LaRochelle for ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT, Sara Pennypacker for CLEMENTINE and Donna Gephart for AS IF BEING 12 3/4 ISN’T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT!

Sid’s son, Paul, is also a Newbery winner (JOYFUL NOISE), making them the only parent/child winners in the history of that award.


This week at work I cataloged a recent volume in Houghton Mifflin’s always-excellent “Scientists in the Field” series. This one, WHALING SEASON : A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A WHALING SCIENTIST by Peter Lourie, focuses on Arctic biologist Craig George. Browsing through the book, I was surprised to discover that Craig George is the son of children’s author Jean Craighead George. His mother, who’s had her own memorable experiences in the Arctic and whose 1973 Newbery winner, JULIE OF THE WOLVES, is set in that location, even began her Newbery acceptance speech discussing her son. She said:

Last January thirtieth, my telephone rang about eight o’clock in the evening and I picked it up in the kitchen. Luke, my sixteen-year-old son, and I had just learned that it is a felony to overdraw a bank account in Utah, where his older brother Craig was a sophomore in college. We were wondering how Craig, who thinks more about mountains and backpacks rather than budgets, would fare with his allowance in a Utah bank. This was in the front of my mind when I answered the ring.

“It’s long distance,” I called to Luke, who was leaning over his homework at the dining room table. “Oh, oh,” he said, as I braced myself for the sound of clanking chains. The telephone clicked, and in bright contrast to my dark fears, I heard Priscilla Moulton’s pleasant voice:

“The Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association,” she said, “has selected you to be the recipient of the 1973 John Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for Children. The award proclaims your achievement in the creation of JULIE OF THE WOLVES.”

Who would have thought that the subject of this amusing anecdote would end up being the subject of a children’s book some thirty-five years later!


Two very entertaining and informative children’s books competitions are occurring in cyberspace right now.

Over at the Fuse #8 blog, Betsy Bird is counting down the Top 100 Children’s Novels in a series of amazingly thorough entries. Working backward from 100, she’s down to #17 now. What book will be number one?

Meanwhile, it’s year #2 for School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, in which sixteen of 2009’s top titles duke it out in a last-book-standing competition judged by the likes of Helen Frost, Gary Schmidt, Christopher Paul Curtis and Anita Silvey.

Next year I think Fuse #8 and the BOB folks should join forces and run competitions to select the top Newbery title of all time.

Can you imagine THE GIVER competing against A WRINKLE IN TIME?


THE HIGH KING and THE GREY KING trying to knock each other’s crowns off?

Elizabeth George Speare’s two winners in a grudge match to see which comes out on top?

What would be the #1 Newbery title ever?


In one of my first Collecting Children’s Books postings in 2008 I blogged about the radio drama DOWN GILEAD LANE. Here’s what I said:

Three or four years ago, I tossed and turned all night and uncharacteristically woke up right at dawn on a summer Sunday morning. My clock-radio was on and I heard the sound of kids arguing about going to a party. I turned the radio up and was soon drawn into a radio drama. A radio drama in the twenty-first century? It was called DOWN GILEAD LANE, a continuing story about the Morrison family who live in the midwestern town of Coleraine. Produced by CBH Ministries, every episode contained an overt religious message (I guess that's why they run it Sunday mornings), but what impressed me the most about these shows was how contemporary and non-stodgy the series actually was (with episode titles like “Bo-Ring!” and “Snot Fair.”) The plots were tightly written, the huge cast of characters was well-developed, and the dialogue was just right. The creator of this series was named Beth Klima (later Culp) and I read on the show’s website that her goal was to write children’s books. I could definitely see that, because each episode of the show seemed like a chapter from a wonderful children’s book. Beth Culp (who was very young when she created and began writing this series) left the show a couple years ago, but I hope she’s out there trying to write a children’s book. I’d definitely be anxious to read it!

I bring up this show again because it continues to fascinate me. The twelfth and final season finished airing a few months back and, although I was saddened to see, hear it...end, I’m glad to learn that most radio stations are now rerunning the entire series from the very beginning. It’s a good time to jump in, if you’re interested in a show that -- to me -- sounds like a great children’s book or YA novel adapted for radio. You can listen here . Incidentally, I’m also enjoying a neat weekly podcast in which two "Brodingnagian Gileadites" -- Daniel Gray from Canada and Dave Brown from New Zealand -- review each of the repeated episodes, which can be found right here. They are joined by one of the show’s former directors, Steve O’Dell, and one of the very talented later writers, Lori Twichell, who provide further insight into the stories.

As for me, I keep wondering what happened to the creator of the series, Beth Klima Culp. From what I read, she came up with these fictional characters when she herself was young and coping with family tragedy. I always wonder how she felt seeing these characters brought to life on the radio...and how it felt to leave the show and have other writers continue the story she created.

Wherever she is, I still hope she’s out there writing a children’s book!


In 1990 Caroline B. Coney published THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON, the story of teenage Janie Johnson’s realization that she was once a “missing child.” In the years since, the prolific author has published dozens of fast-paced suspense stories (DRIVER’S ED; IF THE WITNESS LIED) as well as the occasional literary volume such as ENTER THREE WITCHES. But THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON likely remains her best-known work, and over the years Coney has capitalized on that by writing three more stories about Janie, most of which seemed to rehash the original material.

Cooney’s latest, THEY NEVER CAME BACK, is another “missing child” story, but because it has a brand-new protagonist, a plot that seems torn from the headlines (think Bernie Madoff), and a decidedly contemporary setting (the economy is described as being “in tatters”), it’s a fresher, more readable story than all those pale Janie sequels.

In this novel, fifteen-year-old Cathy Ferris is attending an intensive summer school program when a classmate approaches, claiming that Cathy is his long-lost cousin Murielle who, five years earlier, disappeared into the foster system when her financier parents fled the country after embezzling millions from their clients.

Coney reveals Cathy’s connection to Murielle gradually, using alternating chapters from the perspective of each, to build suspense. The prose is occasionally slick, but the story is fast-paced, emotionally-sound, and many of the details -- such as the beehive behavior of Cathy’s classmates, each armed with Blackberry and cellphone -- are just right.

This page-turner will intrigue fans of Cooney’s earlier books, as well as earn some new ones.


I just read an interesting article from ABE Books about Cy Fox, a long-time collector of Wyndham Lewis books, who ended up donating his entire rare collection to the University of Victoria in Canada. “I’m not sad,” he said, explaining that “it’s a relief that it’s in a good home.”

This doesn’t surprise me. Nearly every serious book collector I know -- unless they have their volumes earmarked for family members or special friends -- intends to donate his or her collection of books to a library, research center, or special collection. Most of us probably can’t bear to part with our books while we’re living, as Cy Fox did, but we plan to bequeath them to someplace special when we die. I know I do. I just haven’t decided where yet.

What do you plan to do with your special books?

Give them to a special organization?

Leave them to a family member or friend?

Or just let them scatter into the world like autumn leaves, where they can be discovered and collected anew?

There are nice things about each of those arrangements, actually.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books.

Hope you’ll be back.

And hoping for better days ahead, for all.


LaurieA-B said...

Peter, I am sorry to hear that this has been a difficult year for you. I hope better days are coming up. More so than any other person whose blog I read, who I haven't met in person, I feel like you are my friend just from reading your posts. Thank you for writing!

The best Newbery! Oh dear. I contemplate your proposal with a mixture of dread and anticipation. Part of the dread is that, as you point out, The Giver would be such a contender--and while it's a good book, I resent it because I think other books by Lois Lowry (Anastasia Krupnik, for example) are so outstanding and tend to be overshadowed by The Giver.

Anyway, I looked to two sources for what people consider the best Newbery. One is my sister Wendy's final post after reading all the Newbery winners, found here:

She selected The Westing Game, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle in Time, and The 21 Balloons. Fine choices all (except I can't speak to the last until I read it; I have a copy Wendy mailed to me, actually sitting next to my bed, waiting to be read).

Goodreads has a list titled The Most Deserving Newbery that about 600 members have voted on. Top five: The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, Holes, Bridge to Terabithia, and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Clearly, the fans of Smoky, the Cowhorse need to organize.

Bybee said...

I think I'll read The Giver this year.

evision said...

Tina Entwistle said...

I would Love(I know it said like, but I would LOVE) a free advance copy of Mockingjay because my library budget(middle school) has been frozen and I can't buy anthing. My students just love The Hunger Games. Even worse, I am slated to be put in the classroom next year(I am a media specialist with a teaching certificate and an MLS) and will be replaced by a part time para with no training or background. The para will have no budget. So if I don't get Mockingjay now, my kids will never get it.

whiteshark0121 said...

I love writing and reading books. I love the notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. One of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.