Today’s Sunday Brunch looks forward to El dia de los libros...bids farewell to Caldecott-winning illustrator John Schoenherr...wonders whether a Wimpy Kid or a Lost Olympian will win a Children’s Choice Book Award (and wonders if it even matters)...and looks at the sticky problem of adulatory biographies whose subjects may no longer deserve our adulation.
Sorry to hear about the recent passing of John Schoenherr, who made memorable contributions to both the field of science fiction and children’s books.
Legend has it that he decided to pursue an art career during a high school science class, realizing that he’d rather draw frogs than dissect them. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he was one of the busiest illustrators working in the genre of science fiction, providing cover art for magazines such as ANALOG, as well dozens of paperback books.
He entered the world of children’s books with Sterling North’s classic animal story RASCAL:
My copy includes a “laid-in” autograph from the author (“We’d share our best crawdad with you. Signed RASCAL and Sterling”) and was also inscribed by Mr. Schoenherr on the the dedication page. Okay, my name isn’t “Elaine,” but I was still thrilled to have a book signed by this renowned artist:
John Schoenherr went on to illustrate a number of important children’s animal stories including Walt Morey’s GENTLE BEN, Allan W. Eckert’s Newbery Honor Book INCIDENT AT HAWK’S HILL, and Jean Craighead George’s Newbery winner JULIE OF THE WOLVES.
In 1988, he received the Caldecott Award for his haunting snowscapes in OWL MOON by Jane Yolen.
Though John Schoenherr died on April 8, he will continue to live on every time a young reader picks up one of the classic works he illustrated.
Last weekend I posted a list of the ten most challenged children’s books of 2009. Blog reader Stephanie wrote in with a good point: "‘Challenged’ can refer to something as simple as being asked, ‘Don't you think this would be better shelved in YA?’ - which is a far cry from banning anything.”
That’s true, and that’s why the whole issue is so, well...challenging.
And then there’s another issue. A patron who would never think of asking a library to remove a contemporary title for its language, sex, or violence might feel differently about, for instance, a book from the 1950s that casts minorities in stereotypical roles. Or what about those old books that show boys they can be doctors, lawyers, and astronauts while girls are told they can be teachers, secretaries or mothers? Is challenging those books the same as challenging Lauren Myracle’s IM series for its language and sexual content?
And what about the controversy over a child’s right to read and a parent’s responsibilities? Should parents have the right to determine what their child is allowed to read? Or should kids have access to any book they want to/need to read, regardless of their parents’ wishes?
I’m glad these are problems I don’t have to face on my job. I'm in awe of those who work in school and public libraries and have to confront these difficult issues every day.
Kids are always eager to read books about their favorite athletes and media idols -- and many small commercial presses fill this need by producing lightweight, flattering biographies of these famous names.
But what happens when these celebrities fall from grace?
To an extent, the books may still contain valid information in their summaries of an individual’s career triumphs on golf course or movie screen, but the fawning prose (which often emphasizes that individual’s honesty, morality, ethics) suddenly sours when the subject faces public scandals.
Have books such as the following become obsolete?
Last week I’d never heard of it.
A week later, I still can’t spell it.
But the eruption of Eyafjallajokull has certainly shown us that, in the greater scheme of things, we don’t have much control when Mother Nature blows her top.
I tried to see if there had ever been a children’s book about Eyafjallajokull, but the answer appears to be no. At least not yet. The closest I came in my library was a 1986 volume called RING OF FIRE AND THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS AND ICELAND by Alice Gilbreath, a children’s book that focuses on the general region of this volcanco.
If the recent eruption has awakened an interest in volcanoes among young readers, here a few more relevant titles:
THE FIRST BOOK OF VOLCANOES AND EARTHQUAKES by Rebecca B. Marcus.
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT VOLCANOES? by Isaac Asimov.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC READERS : VOLCANOES! by Anne Schreiber.
NATURE’S SQUIRT GUNS, BUBBLE PIPES, AND FIREWORKS: GEYSERS, HOT SPRINGS, AND VOLCANOES by Alice Gilbreath (yeah, her again.)
VOLCANOES by Jen Green.
VOLCANOES : NATURE’S FIREWORKS by Hershell H. Nixon and Joan Lowery Nixon.
VOLCANOES by Franklyn M. Branley and Megan Lloyd.
DEAR KATIE, THE VOLCANO IS A GIRL by Jean Craighead George.
KIDS WHO WALK ON VOLCANOS by Paul Otteson.
THE RETURN OF LITTLE MACHINERY
Somewhere there is a Little Machinery, a magic creature.
He grew up out of some pieces of a steam engine that was in a wreck, an old trolley car that couldn't run anymore, and a broken automobile.
This Little Machinery would rather work than anything in the world.
He does things by steam like the steam engine--
Or by electricity like the electric car whichever he chooses.
And he rides merrily along on a little automobile wheel that goes by gasoline.
Note: You can find his steam engine cylinder and steam whistle and his electric motor and the gas engine inside his footwheel and all the gearwheels that go around and make his arms and legs do things.
Thus begins LITTLE MACHINERY, a picture book written by Mary Liddell, edited by May Massee, and published by Doubleday in 1926.
The dustflap of the original volume trumpeted, "This is the first picture ever done for modern children and their world."
Reviewing the volume for her magazine, Horn Book editor Bertha Mahoney proclaimed, "The moon silver polish of genius has rubbed beauty and romance over engines, steam-drills, cranes and all kinds of machinery in a picture book for small children -- the most original book yet published -- called LITTLE MACHINERY."
Despite this high praise, I must admit I had never heard of the book until recently. Looking at LITTLE MACHINERY today, I can see how a tech-minded kid of the 1920s would be drawn to a volume that follows the (androgynous-looking) little nuts-and-bolts character as he builds birdhouses, blows glass to make dishes and sharpens his animal friends' nails and teeth with a grindstone (ouch.) By modern standards, the anthropomorphic protagonist seems a little weird and both the prose and illustrations are a bit too cute.
LITTLE MACHINERY did not become the kind of classic that Ms. Mahoney might have predicted. Very few libraries own it today. No copies of the original edition are currently for sale on the internet. ...This either means that there is no interest in the title...or that it’s a pretty rare volume and worth a lot of money. I haven’t figured that out yet.
For those interested in seeing this bit of history, a "critical facsimile edition" has recently been published in paperback by Wayne State University Press.
This new volume contains the original text and illustrations, as well as a foreword by John Stilgoe which discusses the book in terms of technology and industry. A lengthy appreciation by Nathalie op de Beck profiles the volume's creator and looks at the book within historical and literary context (I think lines such as "LITTLE MACHINERY inherently expresses practical considerations of modern life ands spins a fantasy about the fate of discarded products in the natural environment itself" are kinda excessive, as is "[Liddell] mimics some collectivist ideals of Russian collectivism in a text that caters to an American capitalist audience.")
Still, LITTLE MACHINERY provides a peek back at an earlier era in literature and may be of interest to collectors of historical children’s books.
YOU CAN’T VOTE FOR PRESIDENT TILL YOUR EIGHTEEN...BUT YOU CAN VOTE FOR THE CHILDREN’S CHOICE BOOK AWARDS
According to a press release I just received, kids still have time to vote for this year’s Children’s Choice Book Awards, with the winners being announced “May 11 in New York City as part of Children’s Book Week, the oldest national literacy event in the United States.”
Go to the Book Week website to cast a vote and see the nominees in a number of age-group categories.
Vying for “Author of the Year” are:
Suzanne Collins for CATCHING FIRE
Carl Hiaasen for SCAT
Jeff Kinney for DIARY OF A WIMPY KID : THE LAST STRAW and DOG DAYS
James Patterson for MAX
Rick Riordan for THE LAST OLYMPIAN
Nominees for “Artist of the Year” are:
Peter Brown for THE CURIOUS GARDEN
Robin Preiss Glasser for FANCY NANCY : EXPLORER EXTRAORDINAIRE!
Victoria Kahn for GOLDILICIOUS
Susan L. Roth for LISTEN TO THE WIND
David Soman for LADYBUG GIRL AND BUMBLEBEE BOY
Who will win?
Well, it probably doesn’t matter.
The authors, artists, and titles on the lists are already big bestsellers and huge favorites with kids.
In that context, they’ve already “won.”
Unlike the Newbery and Caldecott Awards, which reward “distinguished” contributions, the winners of the Children’s Choice Awards will merely be confirming their popularity among young readers. It’s also a transient honor. We’ll probably look back at the winning titles a few years from now and say, “Oh, I remember when everyone was reading that book! Nobody seems to pick it up these days, though.”
Still, anything that stirs up interest in kids’ books is good thing -- and I’m sure young people will enjoy having a say in the selection of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and FANCY NANCY...I mean, er, whatever titles do end up winning!
OKAY, YOU’VE HEARD OF CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK….
…but did you know about Children’s Book Day?
It’s coming at the end of this week.
This event was the brainchild of writer Pat Mora, who said:
When I learned that Mexico celebrates El dia del nino on April 30, I thought, “Oh, I like the idea of celebrating children, of having a kids’ day. Hooray! And let’s add books to the party. Let’s celebrate children and books every day of the year and then have an anniversary party on or about April 30.”
Since 1996, librarians, teachers, parents and people who want to share “bookjoy” have been planning book fiestas – events that link children to books, languages, and cultures. Celebrations are held at home, museums, community centers, bookstores, parks, schools, and libraries. Together we are growing a nation of readers.
Ms. Mora has even written a book about the event.
BOOK FIESTA! : CELEBRATE CHILDREN’S DAY/BOOK DAY / Celebremos El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros is a bilingual picture book, illustrated by Rafael Lopez, which features kids reading books in cars and planes and reading elephants; with parents and pals and animal friends. It’s a nice introduction to an event which is growing in popularity every year.
Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books, where we too also celebrate “bookjoy” all year long. Hope you’ll be back!