Friday, May 14, 2010

Sunday Brunch with Nuns and Goblins

Welcome to another brief brunch at Collecting Children’s Books. Moving Day is only three days away and I’m getting worried. Here’s some advice for anyone contemplating a move: start packing a year in advance. Yes, you’ll miss your frying pan for a few months, but at least you won’t be in a blind panic three days before you move because half your stuff is still sitting in drawers, on shelves, and behind those bulging closet doors.


One of the delights of moving...well, there are no delights in moving...but one of the things that makes it somewhat more bearable is the discovery and rediscovery of little bits of the past. Saturday I was at the new condo and needed a nail, so went looking in the previous owner’s kitchen junk drawer, where I discovered a little plastic box of nails. They were purchased at K-Mart, according to the sticker on the package, in October 1984. Although 1984 doesn’t seem that long ago to me, I was stunned by how old-fashioned the writing and graphic on the box looked. And surprised you could buy anything for only seventy-six cents. Later that day, I was emptying papers from my file cabinet and was even more shocked to find notebooks I’d purchased in junior high that cost only twenty-nine cents. The files were also full of mostly half-finished, mostly half-baked stories I’d written over the years and it was fun to see the progression from handwritten tales to those banged out on our old manual typewriter. Then came the electric typewriter years, followed by the early dot-matrix computer era.

One of the most fascinating items came from a children’s writing workshop I attended in the early 1980s. It was a list of all the people who attended the conference, all dreaming of becoming famous children’s writers. I’d love to say that several names on this twenty-five-year-old list are now well-known authors...but I have to admit that I don’t recognize a single name. I guess this shows how really hard it is to break into the field of writing. I had a similar experience when I came across a bunch of old theatre programs in my file cabinet. Many were from local high school and college productions and, in the biographical notes, many of the young performers wrote about their dream of becoming professional actors on Broadway or in Hollywood. I’m sure some of them do continue to act -- perhaps even professionally -- but, looking at these programs today, none of the names looked familiar to me. None of them became big “stars.”

What’s that line about “many are called, but few are chosen”? We celebrate famous actors and writers, but for every one who makes it, there are hundreds who trained for the stage and developed their writing craft -- yet never quite made it....


A few weeks ago I listed the nominees for the Children’s Choice Book Awards sponsored by the Children’s Book Council. Boy, were my predictions I wrong! Here are the winning titles, which were announced this past Tuesday:

Author of the Year
James Patterson for MAX

Illustrator of the Year

Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year
LULU THE BIG LITTLE CHICK by Paulette Bogan (Bloomsbury USA)

Third Grade to Fourth Grade Book of the Year

Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year

Teen Choice Book of the Year
CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins


Nuns were hot in the the mid-sixties.

Let me rephrase that.

The mid-sixties were lousy with nuns.

Let me rephrase that again: during the mid-sixties, nuns were the subject of many popular films and TV show. On TV we had THE FLYING. At the movies we had LILIES OF THE FIELD; THE SINGING NUN; THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS; WHERE ANGELS GO, TROUBLE FOLLOWS, and, of course, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. In our neighborhood a number of older Catholic schoolgirls were besotted with such movies. I still remember them returning from a Saturday double-feature of Debbie Reynolds movies that included THE SINGING NUN and THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN. The highlight of the afternoon was that “an entire row of REAL NUNS came and sat right in front of us!” They added that the sisters had left right after THE SINGING NUN, not staying for MOLLY BROWN “because that movie has a word in in that nuns aren’t allowed to hear!”

“What word? What word?” I asked.

The oldest and most daring of the neighbor girls leaned over and whispered the offensive word in my ear:


I gasped.

Well, I was only six.

I also remember when those girls went to see Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell in THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS. For weeks afterward, they tossed out the phrase, “I’ve got a scathingly brilliant idea!” just like Hayley in the movie. A couples years after that, I finally caught THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS myself -- on TV -- and began using the phrase “scathingly brilliant” myself. It’s that kind of movie.

Let me say right off that THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS is no Oscar-calibre film. Yet it is a thoroughly enjoyable light comedy -- with a few poignant moments -- that everyone seems to like. You’d think a story about teenage girls at a Catholic boarding school would have a limited audience, yet I’ve heard people of every gender, race, and religions mention how much they like this movie. When Elizabeth Smart returned from her kidnapping ordeal, this was the video she watched on her first night home -- it was said to be her favorite movie.

But if there’s one thing that inspires even more devotion than this old film, it’s the original book. Written by Jane Trahey, LIFE WITH MOTHER SUPERIOR was published by Farrar, Straus and Cudahy in 1962. (Must’ve been a banner year for the publisher, as that was the same year they released Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME.) Although published for adults, this humorous memoir of Trahey’s experiences in an all-girls Catholic boarding school was also embraced by young readers. In fact, I found a copy in the children’s department of the library this past week, so checked it out and read it for the first time.

Reading the book closely, one can tell it was originally intended for adults. The tone is nostalgic and the writing lacks the immediacy found in most children’s books. But readers of any age will relate to young Jane’s battles with the sisters of St. Mark’s as she and best friend/fellow troublemaker Mary Clancy smoke cigarettes, give tours of the nuns’ private quarters, skip gym class, and contrive for their school to win a music contest. The movie is surprisingly faithful to Trahey’s episodic book, capturing both the hilarity of the girls’ swimming exam and the sadness of an unexpected death among the faculty. Although she gets her name in the title, the book’s Mother Superior seems a fairly generic character, lacking the towering presence and sly wit of Rosalind Russell’s portrayal in the movie. Oh, and the praise, “scathingly brilliant” isn’t used a single time in the book.

I mentioned earlier that LIFE WITH MOTHER SUPERIOR has inspired some very devoted fans. Even paperback copies sell for over twenty dollars, and a nice hardcover edition could cost $100 or more.


This past week I received the following note and quiz from Karen Liston:

Last Thursday, John Matteson, Louisa May Alcott's Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer (Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father) moderated a discussion about two Little Women mash-ups at an event in New York City called Monster Throwdown: Vampires, Werewolves and Louisa May Alcott. The conversation, which lasted an hour and a half, touched on many subjects, including whether Alcott herself would be offended or appalled by these books. Matteson started off the evening with a game he called Alcott or Faux-cott, in which he read selections from Alcott's "blood and thunder tales" alongside selections from Little Vampire Women and Little Women and Werewolves to see if the audience members could distinguish Alcott's work from the mashups. In many cases, they could not.

Here are the quotes in John Matteson’s quiz. The answers follow:

1) Nothing human ever wore a look like that of the ghastly, hollow-eyed pale-lipped countenance below the hood. All saw it and held their breath as it slowly raised a shadowy arm.

2) Restless mind and lawless will, now imprisoned in a helpless body, preyed on each other like wild creatures caged, finding it impossible to escape, and as impossible to submit.

3) She advanced upon one of the women and thrust her to the ground, where she ripped off the bodice of her dress and one of her breasts with one efficient bite. The other woman screamed, and the men stood in a shocked stupor.

4) [She] knew nothing till, with a stifled cry, her lover started, swayed backward form her arms, and dyeing her garments with his blood, fell at her feet, stabbed through the heart.

5) She...tasted his fear, a salty thing with a desperate edge, and heard a sob. Someone was crying, either the man or the woman, and pleading for mercy.

6) With a ferocious slam of the door, she was off, a predator in the night hunting for justice, for even if the victims she found were innocent of the crimes committed against her, they were still guilty of something.

7) For an hour she sat so, sometimes lifting the glass to her lips as if the fiery draught warmed her cold blood; and once she half uncovered her breast to eye with a terrible glance the scar of a newly healed wound. At last she rose and crept to bed, like one worn out with weariness and mental pain.

8) The gazes of hunter and prey were locked, and Mr. Davis could not look away from the gleaming golden eyes.

9) My one hope died then, and I resolved to kill myself rather than endure this life another month; for now it grew clear to me that they believed me mad, and death of the body was far more preferable than that of the mind.

10) Oh, what am I doing? I am mad, for I, too, have taken hasheesh.


1) Alcott, "The Abbot's Ghost
2) Alcott, "A Modern Mephistopheles"
3) Faux-cott, "Little Women and Werewolves"
4) Alcott, "V.V."
5) Faux-cott, "Little Vampire Women"
6) Faux-cott, "Little Vampire Women"
7) Alcott, "Behind a Mask"
8) Faux-cott, "Little Women and Werewolves"
9) Alcott, "A Whisper in the Dark"
10) Alcott, "Perilous Play"

How did you do on the quiz? Probably better than I did!


So I see that the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” is ending its run next month, after nearly eighty-five years.

I didn’t know it was still running.

In fact, I never knew that it ran during my lifetime.

Created by Harold Gray in 1924, the strip was once hugely popular, but now appears in less than twenty newspapers. (Meanwhile, Annie has exchanged her familiar red dress for blue jeans.)

Since Annie never appeared in any of my local papers, I only knew about her vaguely, in the way we somehow know about cultural icons we’ve never seen before. I knew her general story, knew the name “Daddy Warbucks” and knew that she said “Leapin’ lizards!” a lot. It wasn’t until the late seventies, when the Broadway musical ANNIE debuted, that I learned more of her story.

Actually, for many years I think I confused the Glorioski Girl with the scary-weird protagonist of James Whitcomb Riley’s poem, “Little Orphant Annie.” That’s not a surprise, since it turns out that the original title of the comic strip -- “Little Orphan Otto” -- was changed to capitalize on the popularity of Riley’s 1884 poem.

I don’t know exactly where I first encountered “Little Orphant Annie,” but i had to be a school textbook. What I remember, almost more than the words of the poem, was the accompanying color illustration, which was either drawn by, or in the style of, Trina Schart Hyman. It’s haunted me for over forty years.

Here, just for the pleasure of remembering, are the words to the poem:


by James Whitcomb Riley


To all the little children: -- The happy ones; and sad ones;
The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones -- Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

And the gobble-uns ‘ll get ME if I don’t finish this blog and get back to packing. My next blog entry should be written from my new residence. Hope you’ll join me there. In the meantime, I’ve got some books to pack.... If you’re anywhere around these parts today, you will probably hear me slamming books and papers around in frustration and uttering quite a few words that nuns are “not allowed” to hear!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Very Brief and "MISC" Sunday Brunch

Everything went wrong this week.

I bought a digital camera, then discovered I couldn’t install the camera’s software onto my computer because my computer’s operating system is too old.

AOL has been giving me problems all week (nearly every search ends with a blank screen and a message saying something about an “unresolved host.”)

My printer died on Friday night, so now I can’t print off the daily Sudoku.

Oh, and I’m moving in ten days and still have a few hundred books to pack!

I remember those early, naive days, when I first began packing books for this move. I’d carefully dust each volume, before gently placing it in a box according to size, taping the box shut, and then painstakingly labeling it (“Newbery Books, 1948-1949” or “Fiction, authors beginning with Letter A.”)

To quote S.E. Hinton: THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW.

At this point, “packing” means shoveling a bunch of dusty books helter-skelter into a box, folding the flaps closed, scrawling “MISC.” on top and then trying to slide the box down the stairs because I’m too exhausted to pick up one more !#$@# box of books!

However one good thing happened this week.


I’ve been asked to be a judge for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards! I will be one of three judges picking the five finalists and, ultimately, the winning title in the category of Young Adult Books in 2011 and 2012.

The most recent winner of the LA Times Book Award for Young Adults was MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge.

I’m very excited to be on the jury for such a prestigious prize.

(Though, come to think of it, the only time I was on a criminal trial jury we came to a deadlock and the judge ended up dismissing the case!)


Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who’s ever had a kid...and every kid who’s ever had a mother.

A couple years ago a friend gave me a bookmark that contained the words to a poem called “The Reading Mother.”

When Mother’s Day rolled around this year, I thought I’d include that poem in this blog. But then I worried that I’d be violating all kinds of copyright laws by publishing someone else’s work on my blog. Then I did some research and discovered that the author of this poem, Strickland Gilliland, died nearly sixty years ago. He’s not going to care if I use his poem on today’s blog. He wouldn’t even know what a blog is. Besides, I’m going to assume this verse is now in public domain since, according to the Wikipedia, it’s used a lot on greeting cards these days.

So here it is:

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me.


If Mr. Gillilan’s poem is a little too treacle for your taste, here’s a dissenting verse about a mother who doesn’t read at all:

I had a mother who watched TV
I knew the letters C-S-I before I heard of A-B-C.
So I saw ten thousand murders -- maybe more
...All before I’d even turned four.

I had a mother who loved daytime chat
Maury and know, shows like that.
“My wife had ten affairs! My son can’t be controlled!”
...Yep, that’s what I watched when I was six years old.

I had a mother who loved reality shows
The kind where people vote, then the weakest player goes.
At nine I was scared I’d get voted from my family
(Where’d I get that idea? I learned it from TV.)

If only my mother had read to me
If only my mom had turned off the TV.
If only she’d taken a book from the shelf...
...I wouldn’t be a ten-year-old who can’t read himself.

Thanks for reading Collecting Children’s Books. So for being so brief today. I have to go pack more books!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Brunch, a Little Heavy with Memories

Today’s Sunday Brunch will be brief. As I prepare to move, I’m so exhausted from packing and hauling boxes that every time I sit down at the computer I start to doze off. I wish I could blog with my eyes closed, but tha’ts pobabllly not a goodd iddea.


This week the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the 2010 Edgar Awards.

CLOSED FOR THE SEASON by Mary Downing Hahn won Best Juvenile Mystery.

The other finalists were:

THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY [no, I’m not still typing with my eyes closed; that really is the title] by Mac Barnett

The Edgar for Best Young Adult Mystery went to Peter Abrahams for REALITY CHECK.

The other finalists were:

IF THE WITNESS LIED by Caroline D. Cooney
SHADOWED SUMMER by Saundra Mitchell


Also announced this week were the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards, which honor titles “that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence.”

The Jane Addams Award in the category of Books for Younger Children went to NASREEN’S SECRET SCHOOL : A TRUE STORY FROM AFGHANISTAN by Jeannette Winter.

Honor Books were:

SOJOURNER TRUTH’S STEP-STOMP STRIDE by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
YOU AND ME AND HOME SWEET HOME by George Ella Lyon and Stephanie Anderson.

The Addams winner in the category of Books for Older Children went to MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge.

There were two Honor Books:



Book Expo is coming to New York late in May and I just read a schedule of events in Publishers Weekly.

This one caught my eye:

CHILDREN’S BOOK AND AUTHOR BREAKFAST: Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and author of HELPING HANDS BOOKS : EMILY’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL (Sterling Children’s Books) will host Cory Doctorow, FOR THE WIN (Tor Books/Tor Teen), Mitali Perkins (BAMBOO PEOPLE (Charlesbridge); and Richard Peck, THREE QUARTERS DEAD (PENGUIN/DIAL BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS) at 8:00 a.m.

Okay, I’m sure it was quite a coup to get Sarah Ferguson to host this event, but it kind of makes me laugh too. Having an “author” like Fergie play host to Cory Doctorow, Mitali Perkins, and Richard Peck is a little like having “actress” Pamela Anderson host an event for Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro and Daniel Day-Lewis....

Anyway, this is the first I’d heard of a new book by Richard Peck, so I immediately rushed over to and looked it up:

When I started off today’s blog talking about the Edgar Awards, I thought, “It’s nice to see mystery books for young readers get rewarded, but I really don’t think they hold much prestige for readers.” So I was a little stunned, considering all his other honors (including a Newbery!) to see Mr. Peck billed as an “Edgar winner” on the cover of this new book. I guess mentioning an Edgar DOES draw readers to books.

Considering the title and the cover illustration, I’m wondering if Mr. Peck has joined the vampire/undead trend of today’s YA fiction. I’ll be surprised, as this is an author who usually bucks current trends rather than jumping on board.


Many years ago...maybe around 1980 or so...I special-ordered a book about writing from a chain bookstore. I can’t even remember the title now. I just remember that when the book arrived, the dustjacket was really crumpled at the top of the spine.

When the clerk handed me the book, I kind of pulled back and frowned, not really wanting to buy a damaged book. The clerk immediately said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. Just write the publisher and they’ll send you a new dustjacket.”

I said, “They will?”

“Sure, they do it all the time.”

Frankly, I’d never heard of such a thing...but I went home and typed a letter to the publisher telling them I’d purchased the book with a damaged cover and asking if they could send a replacement.

A couple weeks later I received a round mailing tube from the postal carrier, opened it up, and a brand new copy of the dustjacket was rolled up inside!

Somehow I don’t think that would happen today.

If I sent such a letter to a publisher today, I don’t think they’d pull out a round mailing tube...I suspect they’d instead toss my note into the “round file” sitting on the floor next to their desk.

But it was a different, more innocent world then.

I was thinking about that experience this weekend when I purchased the new Deborah Wiles book, COUNTDOWN, a title which has been getting a lot of positive attention and will likely be one of this year’s award contenders. I found a whole stack of COUNTDOWNS under the front table at my favorite bookstore; it had just arrived and had not yet been shelved. Having had past experience trying to pluck a book from one of this store’s famously precarious stacks (AVALANCHE!) I instead asked one of the employees if she could grab a copy for me. She kindly did so, rang up the book, and it wasn’t until I was home that I took the book out of the bag and saw that the top spine edge of the dustjacket was bent and slightly split.


Now I have to add that I’m not usually super-fussy about the condition of my books -- especially if they suffer slight accidental damage when I’m reading them. That kind of thing shows the books have been used and read. And they keep memories alive; I actually have a book here (well, it’s packed away in a box at the moment) that contains a yellow splotch on two or three pages. It looks ugly, but every time I pick up that volume I remember sitting at the dining room table all by myself in the fall eating a hot dog with mustard and dripping it on the book.

But somehow I hate to get a book when it’s already damaged -- especially one that appears to be a special title that could end up on my “award book shelf” someday.

...Guess I’ll take my copy of COUNTDOWN back to the bookstore next week and see if they’ll let me exchange it for a pristine copy.


I got a nice note from blog-reader Alison this past week, in which she voiced her excitement over stumbling across a copy of the new Neil Gaiman/Charles Vess book, INSTRUCTIONS, at the bookstore:

I found it yesterday by happy accident while browsing at my local B&N store. I knew it was in the process & nearly done but didn't realize the release date was near. I was so THRILLED to be holding the beautiful little book in my hands & stood looking around the store for someone to share my joy...and started wondering...why wasn't there a HUGE display? Fanfare? Trumpets?

I know the feeling, Alison. Happens to me all the time.

I’ve been trying to think if there was one such incident that stands out for me more than any other. That’s when I remembered something that happened in the summer of 1983. Nowadays, children’s books are published all year ‘round. A month doesn’t pass without some great new title being released. But back in the 1980s, most children’s books were still being published as “spring” or “fall books.” If you look through the ads in children’s books magazines from that era, you’ll notice that most spring titles were released in March and April, while most fall titles were released in September and October.

That’s why I was so surprised when I happened upon not one, not two, but THREE much-anticipated fall titles in the bookstore in August 1983, a full month or two before they were supposed to hit the shelves.

I still remember the day of the week (Friday), the temperature (humid) and the even the color of the sky (filled with dark clouds) when I wandered into a small local bookstore and found DEAR MR. HENSHAW by Beverly Cleary, A SOLITARY BLUE by Cynthia Voigt, and THE SIGN OF THE BEAVER by Elizabeth George Speare all sitting on the shelf.

Talk about major books! DEAR MR. HENSHAW was a book unlike anything Beverly Cleary had written before; A SOLITARY BLUE continued the story begun in Voigt’s HOMECOMING and DICEY’S SONG...and SIGN OF THE BEAVER was the first children’s novel Elizabeth George Speare had written in over twenty years.

Like Alison, I also thought: “Where’s the fanfare? Where’s the trumpets?”

Thank goodness I happened to have enough money in my wallet to buy all three. I rushed home in the driving rain and immediately began reading those special books.

And I wasn’t the only one who found those books special. Five months later DEAR MR. HENSHAW won the Newbery and both SOLITARY BLUE and SIGN OF THE BEAVER were named Honor Books.

What was your most exciting and unexpected bookstore moment?


Don’t you love to look at other people’s bookshelves?

I do.

Right now about half my books are packed away in boxes at my new house. The other half are still here, crammed onto shelves and waiting to be packed.

As I pack them away, I thought I’d just grab a random handful of books from one shelf and share them. These titles were all sitting together because they are the same general size. Although very different in content, they represent the range of my collection.

Think of it as taking a peek at my (virtual) bookshelf:

First there’s CRUSADER by Edward Bloor, one of my all-time favorite young adult novels.

Next comes COUNTRY OF BROKEN STONE by Nancy Bond, a beautifully written YA novel. It’s been too long since we’ve had a new Nancy Bond book...I hope there’s another on the horizon.

THIS DAME FOR HIRE is an adult mystery by Sandra Scoppettone. I love this 1940s detective story and wish she’d continued the series beyond the second book, TOO DARN HOT.

SECRETS OF THE NIGHT SKY by Bob Berman is nonfiction book that explores the mysteries of space one can see with the naked eye. I bought this book more than fifteen years ago and still haven’t read it, though I continue to have a great interest in the stars and space. Maybe I’ll read it this summer. (I’ve been saying that since 1995.)

TROY by Adele Geras is a novel based on mythology. I’ve never been big on reading myths, but this book won me over!

WRITERS OF MULTICULTURAL FICTION FOR YOUNG ADULTS is special to me because I wrote a piece for the book. A few years ago it used to be relatively easy to find writing jobs on the internet. Editors of reference books would frequently advertise for writers on children’s book listserves and I got a lot of work that way. Unfortunately, that work has dried up in recent years and now I’m writing a blog for free!

PLAY PARADE is a collection of Noel Coward plays, including PRIVATE LIVES and DESIGN FOR LIVING. It’s the only book shown here that I didn’t purchase for myself, but was given to me.


One of the themes of this blog is that every book has several stories: the story you read inside the book, the story of how the book came to be written by the author, and the story of what the book means to you, the reader.

PLAY PARADE is one of the books I keep on my shelves because of that latter category. When I see this book, it reminds me of my childhood and people I used to know.

Growing up I was friends with a girl who lived across the street. When I was about seven or eight Jody invited me to go to a concert with her, her parents, and her grandparents.

The funny thing is that I have almost no memory of the concert. I think it was held outside in a park and I seem to remember the orchestra played a selection of songs from THE SOUND OF MUSIC. What I remember most was sitting in the backseat of her grandfather’s car. Her grandfather had had a stroke and couldn’t use his feet for braking or accelerating -- so the car had been rigged with special hand controls, which now strikes me as unusual and pretty modern for the mid-1960s. It was special to go out on a school night and we rode with the windows open and could smell the blossoms from the trees, which were in full bloom.

Then on the way home from the concert, we stopped at the Dairy Queen and Jody’s grandfather gave us each quarter to get an ice cream. While standing in line, Jody and I decided we’d each get a ten-cent cone (can you imagine anything costing ten cents these days?) and then we’d each have fifteen cents leftover which we could use to buy candy at the corner store the next day after school.

When I got home, I told my folks about the concert and the car with the hand controls and stopping at the Dairy Queen and ending up with fifteen extra cents to keep.

My mother was horrified by that.

Not just horrified, but HORRIFIED!

“If Jody’s grandfather gave you a quarter to buy an ice cream cone, you should have given him the change back. You had no right to keep that money. That is the same as stealing!”

“Jody did it too!”

“Jody is his granddaughter. You are not related to him. You have to give that money back!”

The next day she made me "march right across that street" and give the fifteen cents to Jody’s parents so they could return the money to the grandfather.

Of course Jody’s parents just laughed and said to keep the change. But my mother never forgot that incident and brought it up often during my childhood as an example of my “lack of common sense” and overall bad behavior.

Many years later, Jody’s grandfather died. I remember Jody’s mother telling me that, after the funeral here in Detroit, they took the urn containing his ashes down to Ohio for burial.

“You carried it in the car with you?” I said, grossed-out to think of someone holding the urn in their lap as they drove down the Ohio Turnpike.

“Yes, it was really a wonderful trip,” said Jody’s mother. “The entire way there we laughed and talked and told stories about Grandpa.”

I shuddered.

Well, I was only a teenager then. I’m much less squeamish about things like death and urns full o'ashes these days. I’ve now lived too long and have heard too many stories. I even know someone who kept her former mother-in-law’s ashes in a box under her bed for twenty years. (How’s that for a opening line of a horror story: “For twenty years, Sandra slept with the ashes of her ex-mother-in-law under her bed.”)

A couple months after Jody’s grandfather died, her family -- knowing I was a collector -- gave me a couple of his old books. Here’s the bookplate in PLAY PARADE:

Every time I see the book on my shelf, I remember him and his hand-controlled car, the excitement of going out on a school night, and keeping fifteen cents I should not have kept. I also think about Grandpa’s last car ride, with his family sharing memories of him as they drove from Michigan to Ohio. Actually, that kind of sounds like a nice trip. What better way to end things than surrounded by loved ones sharing stories?

PLAY PARADE serves to remind me that not all stories are found in books.

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