Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Sunday Brunch...Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

Today’s Sunday Brunch talks about grandfather clocks, challenged books, and wonders if a small press book could ever win the Newbery or Caldecott.


Thanks to my brother’s childhood toy...

...and Suzanne Whang...

...and a couple kids named Tom and Hattie...

...I am now the proud owner of a grandfather clock!

I guess it all started with my brother’s toy clock, which was produced by Fisher-Price in the early 1960s. Made mostly of wood, as I recall, the open slot on the dial spun slowly around, showing pictures of a child’s daily activities while playing the melancholy song “My Grandfather’s Clock.”

Ever since then, I’ve wanted a grandfather clock of my own.

Over the last few months, I’ve been looking to buy a house. A couple months back, the realtor took me to see a condo. I knew almost as soon as he opened the door that this was the place for me.

Just inside the door was a heavy fabric doorstop in the shape of a cat.

Though I love dogs, I’ve never been a big fan of feline types.

But this cat was different.

It was a Calico Cat, just like the one in the famous children’s poem “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat” by Eugene Field.

And just a few feet down the hall was a large grandfather clock, painted my favorite color -- blue -- with a clock-face that contained images of blue jays.

Shades of Palmer Brown’s Hickory and Philippa Pearce’s Tom and Hattie!

It wasn’t just these children’s book associations that made me choose this condo...but they may have helped.

Of course I knew that the furnishings wouldn’t be staying with the house but, as an inveterate viewer of HGTV’s HOUSE HUNTERS, hosted by Suzanne Whang, I’d frequently seen prospective buyers on the show ask their realtors, “Do you think the homeowner would include that _______ (fill in the blank: desk, sofa, lamp, etc.) in the deal?” to which the realtors always respond, “Never hurts to ask.”

So I asked my realtor, “Think the homeowner would include that grandfather clock in the deal?”

He said, “Never hurts to ask.”

I later learned the homeowner had recently died at the age of ninety (putting me in mind of the song’s lyrics, “Ninety years without slumbering, / Tick, tock, tick, tock, / His life seconds numbering, / Tick, tock, tick, tock”) -- though in this case the house belonged to a grandmother, not a grandfather. I told a couple people about my hope of getting this clock, but they threw cold water on my dreams: “That grandfather clock is probably an heirloom, and someone in the owner’s family will surely want it.”

...Well, this past Friday I closed on the house and the owner’s family DID include the clock as part of the deal!

Turns out the clock was actually handmade by one of their relatives in the early 1960s...but since every member of the family already has a grandfather clock of his own, they didn’t mind letting this one go.

Friday afternoon, after signing all the papers, I drove to the condo -- the very first home I’ve ever owned -- and opened the door. Down the hallway I could see the colonial blue grandfather clock, plus curled at my feet was the Calico Cat -- and I hadn’t even asked for that!

It was already starting to feel like home.


Now I’ve got to find a matching Gingham Dog doorstop for the back door.

And I have to learn how to get that clock working. I found some Grandfather Clock instructions on the internet, but considering I’m the type of person who leaves my car clock set on Daylight Saving Time all year because I can’t figure out to reset it, this may be problematic.

People will think I messed up if they ever hear it chime thirteen times -- but for a children’s book fan, a clock chiming thirteen times means merely that it’s time to go out in the garden and visit Hattie....


It’s not very often that you hear a children’s book mentioned on the radio news, but that’s what happened one morning this week as I drove to work. The newscaster mentioned that the American Library Association had released their list of 2009’s most frequently challenged books, which was headed by “Lauren Myracle’s IM series.” I must admit I felt a bit of pride that I actually knew what titles he was talking about -- though I have to admit that the instant messaging format of Myracle’s novels TTYL, TTFN, and L8R G8R gives me a headache. (Of course, these books aren’t really meant for me -- they’re for an audience who spends much of their time instant-messaging and texting.)

Rounded out the top ten, are these titles which were challenged by censors:

2. AND TANGO MAKES THREE by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell



(Pulitzer Prize winner. Classic. One of the most beloved novels of all time. Lotsa luck banning this one.)

5. TWILIGHT series by Stephenie Meyer

6. CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger

7. MY SISTER’S KEEPER by Jodi Picoult


9. THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker

(See comments for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD above.)

10. THE CHOCOLATE WAR by Robert Cormier

(Geez, they’ve been trying to ban this one since I was in high school in the seventies!)

The director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom responded to the list with “Protecting one of our most fundamental rights -- the freedom to read -- means respecting each other's differences and the right of all people to choose for themselves what they and their families read.”

Right on! (Hey, I told you I came of age in the seventies.)


If you’d like to see the top one hundred books challenged during this past decade, 2000-2009, just click here and weep.

You’ll see books by Nobel laureates (John Steinbeck), Pulitzer winners (Toni Morrison), Newbery medalists (Katherine Paterson, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor) and Caldecott artists (Maurice Sendak.)

What can you say about a list that includes such titles as BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (Katherine Paterson)...HARRIS AND ME (Gary Paulsen)...A WRINKLE IN TIME (Madeline L’Engle)...JULIE OF THE WOLVES (Jean Craighead George)...and A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE )Robert Newton Peck_ except...

...some day I aspire to write a book good enough to take its place beside them on this list!


I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw that FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury placed sixty-ninth on that Top 100 list.

Do those who aim to censor see the irony there?


A number of well-known books and authors were mentioned as possible 2010 Pulitzer contenders.

The the prizes were announced this past Monday and nearly everyone said, “Huh???”

The award for fiction went to a novel called TINKERS by first-time author Paul Harding.

According to an article by in Jessie Kunhardt in the Huffington Post, TINKERS “was turned down by every major publisher over the course of several years. It was finally published by Bellevue Literary Press, a small publisher associated with the NYU Medical School.”

Though the novel received superb reviews, it remained little known (it wasn’t even reviewed by the New York Times Book Review) until nabbing the Pulitzer this week, at which point everyone began talking -- and its ranking shot up like a rocket.

Or, to quote my personal motto:

Editors, take heed! Writers, take heart!


This Pulitzer news makes me wonder if the same situation could occur in the world of children’s books.

Could a kids’ book published by a small press ever come out of nowhere to win the Newbery or Caldecott.

No reason it couldn’t.

In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now.

Yet going through the list of previous Newbery winners and Honor Books, nearly all seem to have been published by major, mainstream publishers. Sure, a few of the early books were issued by publishers that now sound unfamiliar (such as Longmans, which released winner WATERLESS MOUNTAIN and number of Honors from the twenties and thirties) those companies were well-known at the time.

The Caldecott seems to be the more daring of the two major awards. In recent years they honored CASEY AT THE BAT (Christopher Bing) which was released by the smallish Handprint Books as well as A RIVER OF WORDS: THE STORY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS, which was published by Eerdmans, a company best know for publishing religious books, and which is located right here in Michigan.

So there is a precedent....

It’s fun to imagine the shock and subsequent fireworks that would occur if an unknown book by an unknown author, published by a teeny-tiny press, ever won the Newbery or Caldecott!


Though I’m looking forward to moving into a house with a calico cat and a grandfather clock, I’m about going crazy packing and lifting boxes. This is the only time I’ve ever wished my entire book collection was electronically stored on a palm-sized Kindle instead of packed in dozens and dozens (maybe hundreds by the time I finish packing) boxes!

And all this time spent packing is putting my woefully behind in my reading.

However, one of these evenings I’m going to take a break from packing and kick back with FIRE WILL FALL by Carol Plum-Ucci -- a novel I’m desperately longing to read.

Ms. Plum-Ucci exploded onto the young adult scene with THE BODY OF CHRISTOPHER CREED, a suspense novel which I felt was a perfect selection as a Printz Honor Book.

Since then the author has published several other YA books which, although I found them interesting, seemed over-the-top in content and over-the-top in writing style. It was as if she were stretching her wings as a writing, seeing how far she could go...and not always receiving a restraining hand from her editors.

But she was back on track with her last novel -- a tight and compulsively-readable story about bioterrorism called STREAMS OF BABEL.

The novel’s sequel, FIRE WILL FALL, has just been published and I’m dying to get back into the story. Right now the book is in a paper bag in the trunk of my car, surrounded by boxes I’m moving from one location to another. But, as indicated, I plan to take a night off from moving preparations, just to relax with this new novel.

It guess that shows how hectic life has been lately.

I mean, reading an edge-of-your-seat story about bioterrorism hardly seems like a calm and relaxing way to spend to an evening, does it?

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


Nine Mile said...

Congratulations on the condo, can we expect to see photos soon?, I'd love to see your charming clock.

I recently reread F451, the last time I read it was BFS (before flat-screens) life imitating art?

Sam said...

Congratulations! A permanent home for your books!

As for that clock, forget fixing it. Remember it stopped never to run again when the old man died.

Bybee said...

I'm torn between rage at anyone wanting to ban books and bliss at being presented with such delicious irony regarding Farenheit 451.

Lisa Jenn said...

Your story of the grandfather clock and the calico cat makes me smile. Congratulations. :-)

I just read Streams of Babel last week after reading a terrific review for Fire Will Fall. Can't wait.

Stephanie said...

What do you want to bet that you'll be stopping to read at least a few books as you unpack them?

As for F451, it's less of a "what were they thinking?" than many others on the list: People who ban books certainly don't want books out there that would cause people to think it's bad to ban (or burn) books, do they? (Come to think of it, it seems book-banners don't want books out there that cause people to think, period.)

I, too, would love to see pix of the clock – and doorstop.

Linda said...

The clock and cat sound charming...I add to the request for pics.

I recall hearing that My Friend Flicka was banned in one school for using the term "bitch" in reference to a female dog. That parent would be appalled to attend a dog show.

Vonna said...

Thanks for highlighting Streams of Babel. It looks like something I'd like to pick up.

Stephanie said...

I'm feeling very different this morning about my comment of yesterday. My girls are bright, and I remember reading of a site that recommends books for kids who are ready for more complex language but not necessarily more complex content. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the site.

I learned, in the course of hunting through the Web last night, that I had no idea how controversial it was to use the words "age-appropriate" and "books" in the same sentence. I also discovered, to my astonishment, that in talking about "Banned/Challenged" books, "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.

(I also learned that I'm pretty safe with the classics, as, according to the Accelerated Reader folks, the Beatrix Potter books are at a 4th-grade reading level, and the Oz books are at an 8th-grade level. Which says to me that it's not so much that my child is bright as that she hasn't grown dull.)