Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Sunday Brunch Full of Mysteries

Welcome to Sunday Brunch at Collecting Children’s Books. Most of today’s entries concern mysteries….


The year was 1955 and the place was the "juvenile department of a highly respectable New York publishing house."

The problems started slowly but, according to this published report, they progressed with malicious abandon: “Ink was spilled on art work, manuscripts were stolen, files were jumbled, the punch at a company cocktail party was spiked, and a letter opener was misplaced -- but found soon enough, protruding from the throat of brilliant but odious young illustrator.”

A true crime story from Court TV?

It was actually the plot of an old mystery novel, DEAD INDEED by M.R. Hodgkin.

I recentlyy learned about this book in FROM CHILDHOOD TO CHILDHOOD, which was written by the late great Atheneum editor Jean Karl. Ms. Karl said that DEAD INDEED was read most avidly by those in the children’s book industry.

I tracked down a copy this week:

I was so intrigued by the Ursula-like editor in the bottom right-hand corner, as well as the girl standing on the stool leaning into her co-worker’s cubicle (how come I never work in this kind of fun office?) that I almost missed the dead illustrator with the letter opener in his neck slumped over the pool of blood (I repeat: how come I never work in this kind of fun office?) in the upper left-hand corner.

I thought DEAD INDEED would make great Thanksgiving-weekend reading, but I’ve been so busy eating leftovers and napping and putting in the storm doors and napping and working of our Candlewick book and napping that I haven’t gotten to all the reading that I planned for this weekend.

But I like what I’ve read so far. According to the jacket flap, the author “served in various capacities at the firms of Holiday House, William R. Scott, Inc., and principally the Junior Books Department of the Viking Press, Inc.” The publishing house depicted in the novel is called Brewin Books and a note informs us that “The premises of Brewin Books, Inc., have been freely, not to say impertinently, adapted from those of an existing firm of the utmost respectability.” So reading this book is a lot of fun if you’re trying to figure out Brewin’s real-life counterpart, as well as guess who’s who among the characters. The first scene takes place at the Christmas Book Festival in the Children’s Room of the New York Public Library. The event ends with famous authors standing up to take a bow as the head librarian (ACM?) reels off their names:

“Salute to Rachel Mullins!”

“Salute to Julia Pindar for giving us the incomparable horse, Trottie!”

“A salute, a Christmas salute, to Terence Oldfather!”

One wonders if this event bears any resemblance to Anne Carroll Moore’s annual Christmas events at the NYPL? And if there is a real-life counterpart for “Mrs. Drummond,” an author/storyteller who presents a “spirited story” and “always sang at some point in every story she told.” (Did Ruth Sawyer sing?) And who could resist dialogue that includes this line from an editor: “Really I think we stand a good chance for the Caldecott Medal with Fly with Me.

Reading DEAD INDEED, I wondered why no one in the five decades since it was published has ever placed a mystery novel in the colorful world of children’s books -- especially in recent years when the field has achieved some public renown? Isn’t it about time for a kids’ book roman a clef?

I think it would be a lot of fun to read a book like this.

Heck, I think it would be even more fun to write one!

Imagine creating a world of quirky editors and even quirkier authors. Writers “accidentally” electrocuted by their word processors and copyeditors felled by heavy paperweights. Dialogue such as, “This book is sure to be the next Harry Potter!” or “She would KILL -- and I do mean KILL -- to win the Newbery!” or “He was blackmailing a critic for starred reviews!”

And even someone like me, who operates on the very outside periphery of the children’s book world, knows a few editors who I’d like to bump off (figuratively) in the pages of a crime novel.

And if today’s world of children’s publishing is too cold and corporate to capture anyone's imagination, a mystery writer could find a goldmine of material writing about yesteryear. We’ve already got mystery novels featuring Jane Austen as a detective. How about a 1940/1950s “children’s book noir” that teams up Ursula Nordstrom and Anne Carroll Moore (with doll Nicholas in tow) to solve THE CASE OF THE CALDECOTT KILLER or LITTLE HOUSE OF ILL REPUTE (in which Laura Ingalls Wilder is kidnapped by a rival publisher and hidden in a brothel.)


You may be wondering about the author of DEAD INDEED, M.R. Hodgkin. Her real name was Marion Rous and, in addition to the publishing companies mentioned earlier, she was later an editor at Macmillan in Great Britain. She moved to Great Britain after marrying British physiologist Alan Lloyd Hodgkin. In 1963, Dr. Hodgkin won the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine. As if that weren’t enough, three years later, Marion Rous Hodgkin’s own father won the Nobel in the same category. Overachievers. In 1972, Alan Hodgin was knighted by the Queen of England, making “Editor Marion Rous” into “Lady Hodgkin.” Talk about a “storybook ending.”


Speaking of mysteries, are murder mysteries and detective stories starting to make a comeback in young adult fiction? For the past few years, paranormal themes have dominated YA books, but over the past few months I’ve noted more traditional mysteries being published. There’s LOSING FAITH by Denise Jaden, ALL UNQUIET THINGS by Anna Jarzab, THE RIVER by Mary Jane Beaufrand, THE SPACE BETWEEN TREES by Katie Williams, LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS by Francisco X. Stork, and several more. And true crime has hit YA nonfiction with AN UNSPEAKABLE CRIME : THE PROSECUTION AND PERSECUTION OF LEO FRANK by Elaine Marie Alphin. …A trend for the future?


Another recent trend involves writers of mystery and suspense authors for adults joining the field of children’s and young adult books. James Patterson has made his presence known with the “Maximum Ride” books. Peter Abraham has written several recent books for young readers. John Grisham has published THEODORE BOONE : KID LAWYER. By writing for kids, all these authors have broadened their fan bases and expanded their “franchises.” But as far as I’m concerned, they’re all still a bunch of pikers.

My favorite adult mystery and suspense author turned YA writer is, was, and always will be M.E. Kerr.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the author published twenty suspense novels under the pseudonym “Vin Packer”:

Spring Fire, 1952
Dark Intruder, 1952
Look Back to Love, 1953
Come Destroy Me, 1954
Whisper His Sin, 1954
The Thrill Kids, 1955
The Young and Violent, 1956
Dark Don't Catch Me, 1956
3 Day Terror, 1957
The Evil Friendship, 1958
5:45 to Surburbia, 1958
The Twisted Ones, 1959
The Girl on the Best Seller List, 1960
The Damnation of Adam Blessing, 1961
Something in the Shadows, 1961
Intimate Victims, 1962
Alone at Night, 1963
Sudden Endings, 1964
The Hare in March, 1967
Don't Rely on Gemini, 1969

Originally published in paperback and acclaimed by critics, who described her work as reminiscent of John O’Hara, these books are now considered collectors’ items and deserve to be brought back into print for twenty-first century audiences. After leaving "Vin Packer" behinad and writing a handful of novels under her own name -- Marijane Meaker -- the author entered the field of young adult literature in 1972 with DINKY HOCKER SHOOTS SMACK! As M.E. Kerr, she has continued to publish some of the best YA fiction of the last forty years. I don’t even want to list individual titles for fear of leaving off another favorite. Suffice to say, nearly every M.E. Kerr book is wonderful.

What I admire about Marijane Meaker is that, unlike the authors mentioned above -- such as Patterson and Grisham -- she didn’t just move into YA books to expand her core mystery and suspense audience. She reinvented herself and began writing a completely different type of book in a brand new genre. And succeeded brilliantly. The only “Kerr” books in which the author re-visited her “mystery book” past were FELL, and its sequels FELL BACK and FELL DOWN.

They are also among her few young adult books that went out of print.

Go figure!

Marijane Meaker would later explain in an interview:

I hadn't planned well, nor had I planted enough fascinating recurring characters. My editor said "FELL is not exactly falling off the shelves." I replied, "He's not on the shelves to fall off," taking a slap at the distributors, but despite good reviews and an Edgar nomination, sales perhaps reflected my lack of foresight. I always felt Fell should have had a brother instead of a baby sister, so he could have interaction with a close contemporary. Dib, his dull roommate, who could have been developed were he not so dull, I had to murder in the second book he was so boring to write.


As mentioned above, there are quite a few writers of adult mysteries who have later written for kids. Can you think of any writers for young people who have later attempted adult mystery and suspense novels?

I can think of a couple.

After a long line of hilarious teenage fiction, Paul Zindel published an adult suspense novel called WHEN A DARKNESS FALLS.

Chris Crutcher of STOTAN! and STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES fame published the adult mystery THE DEEP END.

Can you think of any others?


Sometimes it takes modern science to solve an historical mystery.

Louisa May Alcott died in 1888 of a stroke. She was only fifty-five, but had been complaining of ill health in her journal for many years. Even before LITTLE WOMAN was published, Louisa May had suffered from headaches, digestive issues, and fatigue, usually blaming these problems on overwork.

However, in 2007, Drs. Ian Greaves and Norbert Hirschhorn wrote a paper suggesting that the author had died from lupus. They based their “diagnosis” on a portrait of LMA that hangs at “Orchard House,” the Louisa May Alcott Museum in Concord, Massachusetts. The portrait reveals a rash that appears in a “butterfly” formation across the author’s nose and cheeks. This is usually considered a primary sign of lupus.

The doctors’ comments are considered speculation and probably wouldn’t hold up in court, but it’s intriguing to see a mystery from the past tackled one hundred years after the death of this classic children’s book author.


Nearly every children’s mystery series -- from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators -- features a story involving invisible ink.

In the past this meant mysterious notes written with lemon juice held up to a candle. Today it may refer to the rapidly changing pixels of Wikipedia.

Although I love using the Wikipedia for quick reference, I just had another lesson in why an encyclopedia that “anyone can edit” is not necessarily trustworthy.

Writing about LMA made me wonder what the character Beth March died from in LITTLE WOMEN. I believed it was the after-effects of Scarlet Fever, but wanted to check and make sure. Imagine my surprise when I checked the Wiki and read:

When Beth's health eventually begins a rapid decline, the entire family nurses her -- especially Jo, who rarely leaves her side. [...] In her last year, Beth is still trying to make it better for those who will be left behind. She is never idle, except in sleep. But soon, Beth puts down her sewing needle, saying that it is "too heavy", never to pick it up again. In her final illness, she overcomes her quietness when she discusses the spiritual significance of her death to Jo. She becomes more and more ill, until she can not talk. But Beth gradually gets better and does NOT die.

What the ???

Obviously some joker went online and inserted that last incorrect line to be funny. I’m sure that someone will remove it soon. In fact, it may be gone by the now. But the point is, it was there this afternoon and some kid who didn’t read the book and relied on the Wiki in doing their homework assignment may soon learn that “anyone can edit” does not necessarily mean “anyone can edit” correctly!


Fifteen-year-old Ames Ford leads a charmed life: a mansion, an exclusive private school, and vacations to Alaska to soak in hot springs and view the aurora borealis. But her family’s lifestyle proves to be as ephemeral as those northern lights when Dad is caught mishandling money at work and loses his job. In this timely narrative, Ames watches in stunned disbelief as her family loses everything, Dad begins drinking, and Mom becomes cold and short-tempered. The family is forced to move from Boulder to rural Texas, renting a filthy tract house from Dad’s parents, whom Ames never even knew existed. Enter Marc -- a neighbor who agrees to help the family clean and restore their home. To Mom and Dad, he’s a religious, homeschooled teenage boy. But Ames soon learns he’s much older, and very different, than he seems. In fact, he embodies the anger that Ames feels toward her parents and their sudden change of circumstances, quickly becoming a controlling and dangerous partner to the confused fifteen-year-old caught between her own need for love and a desire for revenge. There is nothing subtle about either the plot or the characters here. Many elements of the narrative seem rushed while others -- such as the introduction of Ames’ heretofore unknown grandparents (who ask her to call them Mr. and Mrs. Ames) – seem underdeveloped within the larger confines of the story. Despite these flaws, this teen-pleasing story moves quickly, and with mounting suspense, toward a pulse-pounding conclusion.


By the way, did you recognize the title DEAD INDEED from a nursery rhyme?

I did not.

The rhyme, printed at the front of the novel, goes like this:

A man of words and not of deeds
Is like a garden full of weeds;

And when the weeds begin to grow,
It's like a garden full of snow;

And when the snow begins to fall,
It is like a bird upon a wall;

And when the birds begin to fly,
It's like a shipwreck in the sky;

And when the sky begins to roar,
It's like a lion at the door;

And when the door begins to crack,
It's like a stick across your back;

And when your back begins to smart,
It's like a penknife in your heart;

And when your heart begins to bleed,
Oh, then you're dead, and dead indeed!

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Brunch : Kimba Commits Hari-Kari, but Barbie Lives On

Every Sunday morning, as I sit in front of this computer pulling out my hair as I attempt to pull together a blog, my mind wanders back to my childhood when neither blogs nor computers existed. It was a simpler time. Back then Sunday mornings usually meant watching Detroit's main UHF station (does anyone remember UHF these days?) Channel 50. The animated series KIMBA THE WHITE LION aired every week at 11:00 AM, followed at 11:30 AM by SHIRLEY TEMPLE THEATRE, which ran -- week after week -- the same handful of Shirley Temple movies in rotation. We couldn't get enough of Shirley. I probably saw CURLY TOP and BRIGHT EYES a hundred times each...and probably still know 'em by heart. KIMBA is a different story. I very clearly remember the big "build up" to the series -- with Channel 50 running many commercials for the show in the weeks leading up to its premiere. I also remember watching that first episode, which supplied the backstory of how Kimba lost his parents. I want to say it was in the spring of 1966; I know it was a beautiful sunny day because I remember running outside that afternoon with my friends, romping around and pretending we were Kimba. I continued to watch the show for the next four or five years, at least till I got out of grade school and decided "cartoons are for babies" but I can't actually remember any of the storylines other than the one from that intial episode in 1966.

Yet the show must have a strong visceral pull on me, because when I came across this clip of the opening theme on Youtube the other day, I almost hugged my computer monitor:

There's a word I rarely, if ever, use on this blog.

A word which I hate to apply to children's books.

But maybe it's okay to use the word when talking about this cartoon series:


Okay, maybe I'm looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but is there anything, well, cuter than little Kimba bounding through the savanna and then making that flying leap as the perky theme song chants, "Kimba. Kimba! Kimba. Kimba!" And I love the simple innocence of the lyrics as well: "Who believes in doing good and doing right? Kimba the White Lion is the one!"

Before you think I'm old-fashioned and square, let me add that KIMBA was actually very modern for its time. "Cartoons are for babies" indeed! Produced in Japan, this series introduced anime to the United States long before it became hip. It was even based on a manga!

KIMBA was created by Osamu Tezuka who was known as the "godfather of anime." In Japan, Kimba was called "Leo" and his story, JUNGLE TAITEI, originally appeared in Manga Shōnen magazine between 1950 and 1954. The first KIMBA TV series had only 52 episodes and ran for years on American television. There have also been a couple television and film adaptations since then, including 1997's JUNGLE EMPEROR LEO, which is based on the latter chapters of Osamu Tezuka's manga. I don't think I ever want to see this movie. According to the Wikipedia, the downbeat story concerns an older Leo (Kimba) with a family of his own. After his mate dies and he's separated from his cubs, Leo (Kimba!) assists in an effort to save the world from evil, with the white lion ultimately committing suicide -- throwing himself on a dagger so a human companion can eat his flesh and wear his pelt as he makes a dangerous escape from the bad guys.

Over the years, there have been accusations that THE LION KING "borrowed" some elements from KIMBA. Now that I read about Kimba's sacrifical death, I wonder if Osama Tezuka didn't borrow some elements from C.S. Lewis's CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and its lion character, Aslan, as well.


Suppose someone gave you an advance reading copy (ARC) to read, but neither the title nor the author's name were on the book?

That's what happened to over 3000 bookstore owners and librarians recently, when they received this unusual volume in the mail:

It turns out that the book is called MIDDLE SCHOOL : THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE, and the author is James Patterson, along with Chris Tebbetts.

The book's editor, Megan Tingley, revealed the theory behind the blind mailing to Publishers Weekly: “We wanted to recreate the feeling that many of us had when we first read it. If Jim’s name hadn’t been on the manuscript, we would never have guessed he wrote it. It almost feels like the debut of a whole new author, and that’s how we wanted to treat it. We wanted people to have that same ‘wow!’ moment of surprise.”

Mr. Patterson is known for his bestselling suspense novels for adults, though he has also moved into the YA field in recent years with titles such as MAXIMUM RIDE and DANIEL X. It seems as if every time I walk through a bookstore there's a new Patterson novel on the shelves. I guess that has something to do with all those co-writers lending a hand....

In this book, he's assisted by Chris Tebbetts, probably best known for M OR F?, a YA novel he cowrite with Lisa Papademetriou. (Doesn't anyone write by themselves anymore?)

From a collecting perspective, I think one of those untitled, unattributed ARCs would be a nice "find" for anyone who collects odd or unusual children's book ephemera. I'm also intrigued by the whole concept of reading and responding to a book when one has no idea who the author is. I know that many orchestras have "blind auditions" in which musicians try out behind a curtain, so they are being judged by their WORK and not their NAME. Wouldn't it be something if every manuscript was also submitted blindly to every publisher? I wonder what changes that would lead to in the field of children's books. Last week I talked about editor Jean Karl. When she decided to try her hand at fiction writing, she submitted her first book with a pseudonym on it to make sure that it was accepted on its own merit. And when Katherine Paterson was writing BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, she was so concerned about its quality that she considered submitting it to her regular editor under a pseudonym. In the end she submitted the book under her own name...and it won the Newbery Medal.

But it makes one wonder: have their been any other cases where famous authors have submitted manuscripts under false names, had them rejected, and never told anyone...?


The American Library Association book awards -- the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and all the rest -- are going to be announced extra early in 2011. January 10 is the big day. I'm trying to prepare by catching up on 2010 books, as well as constantly checking for updates on the Heavy Medal blog in which Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt discuss all things Newbery.

However, this week I had some problems with the blog. Nina wrote a spirited piece supporting the novel ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Garcia-Williams. In the blog she proactively addressed a couple questionable elements in the book:

Some have raised the question of the likelihood of a Japanese-American kid being named “Hirohito.” A teacher who had read the book and had Williams-Garcia visit his school emailed me directly with her response to his posing that question:

“The point that she wanted to make with Hirohito was that identity is trickier if one is “two things”, like Japanese and black. She also said that when she was growing up in northern California she went to school with one boy named Hirohito, another named Hiroshima and another named Yamashita!”

I’m good with that. It might have been interesting to have that context fleshed out a little for readers, but I’m not sure it makes the book weaker without it.

Nina also talked about some of geography in the novel and said:

In an exchange with Garcia-William’s editor, I’ve learned that they plan to change the references from “Orchard” street to “Adeline” street in the next printing, which does resolve the street layout issue.

Regarding the hill (there is one in the story, but not in actuality)…Williams-Garcia and her editor considered it, having learned of the “mistake”. But it plays such an important part in Delphine’s character development, about “how big the world looks through a child’s eyes, and how things come more into focus as they mature” that it was impossible to remove, and I recognize and support that. “We’d gain fact accuracy, but would lose a good deal of what the character and reader ultimately gain.” These quotes are from Williams-Garcia, with thanks to her and her editor Rosemary Brosnan for sharing.

Reading these remarks, I thought, "Whoa, doggie! I thought each Newbery candidate had to be evaluated from the text alone. Since when is it okay to get after-the-fact clarification from the author or exchange words with the book's editor?" Granted, Nina is not on the Newbery committee this year, but she is using the author's and editor's comments to justify her recommendation of this book. (And, let's face it, she's publishing it in a blog that this year's committee members are quite likely reading.) So I wrote a note asking if this kind of discussion would be allowed in the actual Newbery panel discussion. Nina responded:

Peter, if I were on the committee this year, I’d first of all beat the bushes to get some outside “expert” opinions on the Hirohito thing, in order to help form my own opinion. (For instance, Japanese-Americans who were the same age at that time. They don’t have to know anything about children’s lit or the award. They’d just have to be willing to read the book and let me know their reaction to it).

I wouldn’t take an author or editor’s words to the table as evidence, but I might use them to inform my own opinion. Extremely circumspectly. The book is what it is, published, and it’s the readers reaction that matters at this point. But I personally found comment from Williams-Garcia to be helpful in thinking about these issues in different ways.

In general, a chair of a Newbery committee will instruct members that all opinions at the table need to be their own. They can use reviews, expert content reviews, and child reader comments to inform themselves…and they *should* do this, in order to remove as much personal bias from the process as necessary [...] but you can’t just quote from them as evidence to justify a book. You could say, “after reading so and so’s comments, I’m convinced that X because of Y….”

This clears it up somewhat (thanks, Nina!) but I'm still slightly confused by the last statement. Does the Heavy Medal blog about ONE CRAZY SUMMER count as an "expert content review" since it does quote directly from the book's creator? If so, COULD a committee member now say, "After reading Rita Garcia-Williams' comments about geography, which appeared on the Heavy Medal blog, I'm convinced that..."?

I hope not.

Though if it's true, I would (and I'm only half-joking here) suggest that any author or illustrator whose work is likely being considered for one of this year's awards get out there and proactively address any questions the committee may raise before it's too late:

Illustrator A: Some readers have questioned the color of the horses in my new book. Horses of this color actually do exist and I'm posting a photo of my equine "models" on my blog so you can see how accurate I was.

Writer B: I understand some readers are questioning my characterization of an elderly grandmother with Alzheimer's in my novel. Just so you know, this character was based directly on my own mother's struggles with Alzheimer's disease. (Not only does this quote clear up any questions of accuracy, it gets the writer some sympathy votes.)

Illustrator C: I have heard some complaints about the last spread in my picture book not being up to the same quality as the previous illustrations. Please know that this picture was painted when I had a broken arm.

Writer D: Some people are speculating on why my nonfiction book does not contain sufficient documentation. The initial plan was to release my book along with a website that contained bibliographical references and supporting documentation. At the last moment, my publisher did not provide funding for the website, but I hope this will not reflect badly on my book and prevent it from winning any awards....


The Tea Party won 28 seats in the House of Representatives.

Gretchen won PROJECT RUNWAY on TV.

MOCKINGBIRD just won the National Book Award.

Bristol Palin is poised to win DANCING WITH THE STARS this week.

No wonder I'm worried about what's going to win the Newbery this year!


Subtitled "A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us," Tanya Lee Stone's latest nonfiction book (after last year's Sibert winner, ALMOST ASTRONAUTS : 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM) takes a compelling look at the teenage doll that has become a cultural icon. The book traces Barbie's creation by Ruth Handler who, with her husband and another partner, founded the Mattel company, as well as the doll's evolution over the next fifty years. Beginning as an impossibly shapely figure who wore high fashion and dabbled in traditional careers such as stewardess and nurse, Barbie would later become an achiever and role-model, outfitted as an astronaut, race car driver, and a myriad of other modern choices. Barbie also broke down racial barriers. After Mattel offered up a young black cousin for Barbie named Colored Francie (a shockingly dated name even for 1967) that flopped with consumers, there were soon African American, Puerto Rican, and Asian Barbies. In a copiously-illustrated volume, which includes an insert of glossy color plates, Stone explains through both sociological research and personal anecdotes why Barbie is loved by some, hated by others, and why nearly every kid undresses the doll within seconds of receiving it. Strangely, there are actually more tales about kids who twist off Barbie's head and subject her to bizarre sexual poses than there are stories about what the average girl imagined and dreamed about as she played with Barbie for hours on end. Source notes and bibliography included.


As mentioned above, one thing I found missing from Tanya Lee Stone's book was information about how individual girls played with Barbie. Did they create elaborate stories about her life and adventures? Did they view Barbie as a friend, or did they see her as their own alter-ego? I imagine that Barbie is a kind of Rorschach test on which each human playmate foists her own needs and interests.
The doll itself is pretty much a blank slate otherwise. But I was surprised to learn that much of the Barbie mythology actually came from children's books. Over the years there have been hundreds of books about Barbie, ranging from Golden Books to sticker books to coloring books, but Ms. Stone credits the following novel-length books, published by Random House in the early 1960s, with establishing "who she was, complete with a birth date, parents, and a significant other, Ken":

If it wasn't for these Barbie novels, we'd never know Barbie's full name (Barbara Millicent Roberts), who her parents are (George and Margaret Roberts), where she lives (Willows, Wisconsin), where she attends school (Willows High) and where she hangs out afterward (the Pop Shoppe.)

According to Tanya Lee Stone, "The novels establish Barbie as a modern, independent kind of girl who was not going to be bound by the 1950s sterotypes she felt kept her mother tied to the house."

Because these books are so instrumental in creating the Barbie we know today, I assumed they'd be rare collectors' items. But many can be found for less than $10 today.


I started writing this blog early today at the time when KIMBA used to be on TV. Now, after many interruptions and computer problems, I'm finally finishing it by moonlight.

And it's a blue moon.

I always heard that a "blue moon" was the second full moon in a month. Kathi Appelt must have thought the same thing, as she talks about it right there on page two of her highly-regarded new novel KEEPER ("So much had depended on tonight's moon, a blue moon, second full moon of the month.")

But this morning my cousin sent me this link which states that everything I thought about the blue moon is wrong!

It may be called a Blue Moon...

...But it's the first and only full moon in November.

Go figure.

Oh well, I still have a feeling that, somewhere out there tonight, Keeper's guardian Signe is stirring up "onions, garlic bacon...with a mysterious spice called 'file'" as she cooks up her once-in-a-you-know-what Blue Moon Gumbo.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll come back more than a once in a blue moon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Gee Miss Landers, I Really Messed Up This Time, Didn't I?"

Does anyone remember the episode from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER in which Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver struggles over reading THE THREE MUSKETEERS for a book report? One of his friends suggests that, rather than read that thick old novel, he instead watch a film version which (conveniently) is playing on TV that evening.

What the Beaver doesn't realize is that the movie he watches is not a true adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas classic, but instead a slapstick farce. Hilarity ensues when Beaver reads his comical book report aloud to the class. His teacher does not find it funny and the Beav learns a valuable lesson about the importance of education and the folly of cheating.

It's been years since I've seen the show, but I think we can safely say that the following lines of dialogue were used somewhere in that episode:

Beaver's friend Gilbert or Whitey or Larry Mondello (it doesn't matter which one; they all served mainly to get him in trouble) : "Go ahead, Beav, just watch the movie instead!"

Beaver's teacher, Miss Landers or Mrs. Rayburn (it doesn't matter which one; they both served mainly to keep him on the straight and narrow) : "Children, children, stop laughing! And Theodore, I want to speak to you after class."

Wally Cleaver: "Gee Beav, you really messed up this time."

June Cleaver: "Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver."

Ward Cleaver: "Beaver, I think we need to have a little talk."

Eddie Haskell: "That's a lovely blouse you're wearing, Mrs. Cleaver."

I thought about this particular episode today when I realized how many of 2010's most talked-about children's books have very familiar titles...titles that have already been used on the silver screen.

Oh what trouble Beaver could get into if he was assigned to write a book report these days!

I suspect he'd sign up to read ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia because he heard there were panthers in it. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be an animal story. And because there are no African Americans in his hometown of Mayfield, the Beaver doesn't really "get" this book... he instead watches this 1986 brat-pack flick starring John Cusack and Demi Moore.

Everyone gets Demi Moore.

Bogged down by the informational sections in COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles...

...he opts instead for this 1968 James Caan film about an astronaut on the moon:

With his head still stuck in the fifties, Beaver finds this movie silly. "A man on the moon? That's about as hard to imagine as an African American in Mayfield."

While it's true that Pam Munoz Ryan's THE DREAMER utilizes a large font, big margins, and lots of white space, 372 pages is still 372 pages... Beaver watches this similarly-titled movie instead:

Miss Landers decides that Dakota Fanning is no substitute for Pablo Neruda.

Assigned to read the new fantasy RECKLESS by Cornelia Funke...

...the Beav opts for a funky juvenile delinquent film from 1984 starring Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah:

Now what schoolboy -- even a nice, wholesome Mayfield boy like the Beaver -- would choose to read Sonya Hartnett's sensitive and lyrical novel BUTTERFLY...

...when the movie BUTTERFLY promises "Incest, murder, and revenge" -- plus Pia Zadora!

When June learns Beaver has watched this film, she cries. She then tells Ward he needs to have a little talk with their son.

Finally, Beaver finds Andy Mulligan's story of teenage trash pickers so depressing...

...that he orders the 1970 Andy Warhol movie TRASH from Netflix instead.

Miss Landers is so horrified by the Beaver's oral book report that she expels him from school!

And these aren't the only 2010 titles that have been used by filmdom. There's DARK WATER...REVOLVER...LOCKDOWN...probably many more.

Of course none of these events actually happened. Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver is a fictional character and, even if he were a real person, he'd now be long grown and probably living in a retirement community.

But the themes and stories from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER have proven to be both universal and timeless. That's why it's still a success in reruns.

So while the scenarios in today's blog didn't actually happen on the old series, I suspect that they will occur in a school near yours sometime in the future.

It may happen tomorrow, or next month, or next year, but one of these days a young boy or girl will get up to give a book report on ONE CRAZY SUMMER and say that their favorite scene was when Demi Moore and John Cusack first meet...or they'll describe the main characters in Andy Milligan book TRASH as a heroin addict and his transvestite girlfriend....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Brunch with CliffsNotes

Today’s Sunday Brunch looks at Cliffsnotes for kids, highlights a couple odd bibliotherapeutic books I found in the library, and reviews some 2010 titles.


Most of us get the title wrong.

We call them CliffNotes though they’re really named CliffsNotes.

They were named after their creator, Cliff Hillegass, who, along with his wife, began producing this series of literary study guides in the basement of their Lincoln, Nebraska home in 1958. The first books were devoted to Shakespeare’s plays, but within a few years nearly every classic work of literature was featured in those familiar yellow-and-black-striped paperbacks which contained summaries of the texts, examined the characters, listed themes and motifs (the first time I ever read the word “motif” was in a CliffsNote), and included sample test questions.

As a kid I was fascinated by these books, which were always carried around by the coolest high school and college kids. I loved how they were stored in unreachable racks, high up on the walls of the bookstore, and could only be retrieved by a clerk who held a special ten- or twelve-foot long pole with a “grabber” on the end of it. I couldn’t wait for the day when the bookstore clerk would have to pull down one of these titles for me and, in exchange for a single dollar bill, I could carry a CliffsNotes volume around with my looseleaf, looking all cool and grown up.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that CliffsNotes wouldn’t make me look cool. My first pair of bellbottoms didn’t do it. The sunglasses didn’t either. So why did I assume CliffsNotes would? I eventually learned that I am one of those people who is genetically unable to “look cool.”

I guess that would have been okay if strutting down the high school hallway with a CliffsNote slung against my hip at least made me look intellectual.

But it took me a while to realize you never saw the smartest kids at school carrying around CliffsNotes.

They didn’t need ‘em!

For the last couple years I have toyed with the idea of writing a spoof version of CliffsNotes for a children’s book such as GOODNIGHT MOON. I thought it would be fun to write up questions such as “What was Margaret Wise Brown’s opinion on middle-class morals and manners based on their representations in the text and illustrations of this book?” and “Clearly, the bowl of mush is an important symbol in this book. Please describe, in five paragraphs, its significance” and “Does the Quiet Old Lady evolve as a character or does she remain static?”

I also wanted to include a play on that dire (hey, it was written in all caps) warning that appeared inside every CliffsNotes:


How about this one for GOODNIGHT MOON:


Of course the problem with spoofs is that, while you're sitting around laughing about the concept of Cliffsnotes for Kids, someone else is taking the idea seriously and actually begins making money by publishing them. I was dumbfounded when I recently came across this volume:

And what about this one, which covers ten Newbery winners in a single blow:

I guess I should have copyrighted my GOODNIGHT MOON idea.


I never like seeing an author referred to as “Dr.” on the title page of a children's book.

The obvious exception: Dr. Seuss.

Otherwise, it seems an affectation. Show-offy.

Sure, plenty of children’s book authors have had docorates (Herbert Zim and Isaac Asimov come to mind) but they never felt the need to crow about it on the front covers of their books.

Those who feel the need to attach their professional title to their names usually write very, very bad children’s books. Case in point:

The other day I came across another such gem in the library: DR. GARDNER’S STORIES ABOUT THE REAL WORLD, a 1972 collection of children’s tales by a psychologist. In the introduction, the author explains why he is writing stories set in the “real world”:

At the time in the lives of our children when we are most concerned with teaching them about reality, we simultaneously expose them to a world of unreality -- a world of fairy tales, fancy, and myth. Although the child certainly derives many benefits from fantasy, such exposure, at the same time, often engenders unreal expectations about living which may contribute to life-long feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration.

So, instead of writing something along the lines of CHARLOTTE’S WEB or MARY POPPINS and contributing to the life-long feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration experienced by so many of us, Dr. Gardner gives us instead such realistic (i.e. condescending and patronizing) fare as “Oliver and the Ostrich” in which bratty Oliver learns that, in the real world, ostriches don’t hide their heads, but instead stand up and face their problems. At the end of the story, we read the following lines, dripping with didacticism:

It took a long time, but gradually Oliver learned the lesson from the ostrich Then he did better and better in school and he was a happier boy.

Oliver also started to look at what he was doing with his friends. He didn’t like to hear that he was selfish, that he always wanted to go first and tha the wouldn’t let other children play with his toys. But he realized – for the first time – that loneliness was even worse. So Oliver thought about how he acted with the other children. It made him feel bad but he knew that thinking about his problems would help him change them.

This is the kind of writing one might see in an antiquarian Sunday school tract, but who would expect to find it in a children’s book from the seventies?

A few years later, Dr. Gardner apparently changed his mind about that foolish fantasy stuff, as he published a couple volumes of fairy tales -- some original and some based on traditional stories. Here’s how he explains his tale “Mack and the Beanstalk":

The traditional Jack and the Beanstalk tale deals primarily with what psychoanalysts refer to as the oedipal theme, namely the desire for each child to remove the same-sexed parent from the family and to take possession of the opposite sexed. The story is basically one in which Jack accomplishes this. The giant in the sky who represents Jack’s father, is progressively robbed of various possessions – each of which relates to the gratification of Jack’s oedipal wishes. Coins, egg-laying goods, and harp.

Then Dr. Gardner explains the meaning of the harp for us: “this curvaceous, sweet music-producing instrument, on which one plays lends itself to symbolizing the sexual female – in Jack’s case again, his mother” before wrapping up his introduction with a pat on the back for himself: “My story provides what I consider a more realistic solution for Mack’s oedipal conflict, while retaining, I would like to believe, much of the richness of the original tale.”

He might like to believe it, but he’d be wrong. Gardner's poorly written story doesn’t have Jack…er, Mack…stealing from the giant in the sky, but instead stealing stuff from his own father.

At the end of the story, Mack’s father tells him: “This harp is mine. But I’m certainly willing to let you play on it once in a while.”

But wait a minute. Didn’t Dr. Gardner already tell us that curvacious harp represents Jack’s mother?

Then what exactly is his father offering him at the end of the story?

The mind boggles.

When I first came across these books by Dr. Gardner in the library, I regarded them as curiosities and wondered how many readers had been raised on these bibliotherapeutic blunders.

Still, I was willing to give Dr. Gardner the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone has the ability to write fiction – especially fiction for children. Maybe he was better at writing factual material. According to one source, his BOYS AND GIRLS BOOK OF DIVORCE, which was published in 1970, was one of the first books aimed at young people whose parents are getting divorced. Forty years later, the book remains in print, though customer reviews on are widely divergent. One reader said, “My daughter (age 12) carried this book with her for many weeks. She was able to contact her father and begin a series of meetings each Monday evening, which gave them both the opportunity to openly discuss their feelings. Good and bad. The book helped her to be honest about her feelings and helped us as parents be honest about ours. She eventually started a group of children at her school to meet and discuss their own family issues. She shared this book with them. She worked through her anger at her father for leaving and they shared a loving relationship until he, unfortunately, died of leukemia, when she was in Medical School, years later.” Another reader reports that this book influenced his or her decision to become a psychologist. Other readers say “Don’t buy this book!” and refer to it as “awful.”

But then I did a little more research on Dr. Gardner and realized that his children’s books were the least of his problems.

At the time of Gardner’s death, London’s INDEPENDENT newspaper printed this damning obituary:

In a contentious child custody dispute in the suburbs of Pittsburgh a few years ago, three teenage boys begged a family court judge not to force them to continue visits to their father because, they said, he was physically abusive towards them. Rather than believe the boys, the judge relied on the testimony of an expert witness retained by the father, a Columbia University professor of clinical psychiatry, Richard A. Gardner.

Gardner insisted the boys were lying as a result of brainwashing by their mother and recommended something he called "threat therapy". Essentially, the Grieco boys were told they should be respectful and obedient on visits to their father and, if they were not, their mother would go to jail. Shortly afterwards, 16-year-old Nathan Grieco, the eldest of the brothers, hanged himself in his bedroom, leaving behind a diary in which he wrote that life had become an "endless torment". Both Gardner and the court were unrepentant even after the suicide, and it was only after an exposé in the local newspaper that custody arrangements for the two surviving boys were changed.

This "threat therapy" was part of a much broader theory of Gardner's known in family courts across the United States as "Parental Alienation Syndrome". The theory - one of the most insidious pieces of junk science to be given credence by US courts in recent years - holds that any mother who accuses her spouse of abusing the children is lying more or less by definition. She tells these lies to "alienate" the children from their father, a shocking abrogation of parental responsibility for which she deserves to lose all custody rights in favour of the alleged abuser.

Incidentally, Dr. Gardner’s own death was caused by suicide. Facing a painful and incurable illness, he didn't emulate an ostrich but instead stabbed himself repeatedly in the neck and chest with a kitchen knife.


We’re heading into the season when magazines and newspapers begin publishing their “best of the year" lists. The first one I've seen this year comes from Publishers Weekly. Want to know what they picked for the “Best Children’s Books of 2010?” Click right here!


Meanwhile, Nina and Jonathan at Heavy Medal have posted their shortlist of Newbery titles.


…but only three of the titles on Heavy Medal’s shortlist made PW’s best-of-year list: ONE CRAZY SUMMER, SIR CHARLIE, and THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK. Will the other five titles be cited by SLJ, Horn Book, Booklist, or the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books? We'll see...

REVIEW: CANDY BOMBER by Michael O. Tunnell

After World War II ended and Germany was divided into four occupied areas, West Berlin lay deep within the Russian zone. When Soviet authorities instituted a blockade, preventing the Western Allies from delivering food into the city by land or water, the United States, Great Britain and France began airlifting supplies into West Berlin. In CANDY BOMBER : THE STORY OF THE BERLIN AIRLIFT’S “CHOCOLATE PILOT," author Michael O. Tunnell introduces Gail S. Halvorsen, whose chance meeting with a group of hungry German kids inspired the American airlift pilot to begin dropping candy and sweets from his plane to the children of Berlin.

Relying initially on rationed candy donated by himself and his crew, Halvorsen’s plan soon received military and public support. Donations came from both candy companies as well as charitable groups -- and the Air Force adopted the name “Operation Little Vittles” for the candy drops. American schoolchildren donated handkerchiefs which were used as parachutes to float the sweet treats down over West Berlin. Unfortunately, CHOCOLATE BOMBER is a bit skimpy at providing biographical information about its hero, Gail Halvorsen; even basic facts such as his date of birth are not provided. But the stories and anecdotes about the letters he received from children (many reprinted here) and the lifelong friendships that he made with his young beneficiaries make for engaging reading in this uplifting volume about a little-known chapter in postwar history.


I have this awful habit. Whenever I need to reference a famous children’s book editor, I fall back on the usual go-to gal in such matters -- Ursula Nordstrom. So whether I’m writing a blog or writing a book or just speaking in conversation and the topic of editing comes up, the name “Ursula Nordstrom” is the one that trips off my tongue. On the one hand, she deserves all the glory she can get; she is probably the most important children’s book editor of all time. On the remaining hand, there are plenty of other editors who deserve some notice as well: May Massee, Alice Dalgleish, Margaret McElderry…so many more. But the one I’d like to single out today is Jean Karl. Looking back at my own lifelong "best of" list, I’m surprised to see how many of my favorite authors she discovered…and how many of my favorite books she edited.

Born in 1927, Jean Karl started her career at Scott Foresman, then was the children’s book editor at Abingdon Books, which I believe is affiliated with the Methodist church. In 1961, she started the children’s book department at Atheneum. Four years later Atheneum won both the Newbery (SHADOW OF A BULL by Maia Wojciechowska) and Caldecott (MAY I BRING A FRIEND illustrated by Beni Montresor and written by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers) and over the next 39 years (Ms. Karl retired in 1985, but continued to edit occasional books until her death in 2000) she published a total of five Newbery winners and six Newbery Honors, as well as two Caldecott winners and one Honor. She discovered E.L. Konigsburg, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Barbara Corcoran, Robert C. O’Brien, and rescued Phyllis Reynolds Naylor from the world of B-list publishers. Atheneum was particularly known for its fantasy and science fiction books, and included Ursula LeGuin among its authors. Late in her career, Jean Karl would write a handful of fantasy and science novels of her own.

Looking at the list of authors she edited, I can’t help wishing that Ms. Karl had written a memoir about her publishing career, or a volume profiling the famous names she worked with. I imagine it would have made fascinating reading.

Has any children’s book editor written such a volume? Or is the relationship between author/editor considered privileged and confidential, the same way that clerics and lawyers are not supposed to reveal information from those they counsel?

You don’t hear the name “Jean Karl” mentioned much in children’s book circles these days, but you should. She truly was one of the greats.


Seven kids take turns narrating the story of their fifth-grade year and the teacher who changed their lives. While Mr. Terupt gives assignments both wacky (calculating how many blades of grass are in the school soccer field) and profound (spending time with kids in a special needs class), his students grapple with problems at school and at home. There’s mean girl Alexia, trouble-making Peter, and overweight Danielle. One boy struggles with the death of a brother; a girl is ostracized because her mother has never been married. When a schoolyard accident results in Mr. Terupt’s hospitalization, the kids deal with their own individual and collective guilt.

Rob Buyea makes a promising debut, juggling seven distinct voices and personalities to tell one cohesive story. While Mr. Terupt is a nice guy and a good teacher, readers may find themselves wishing for that one bit of dialogue or single pithy anecdote which would elevate him into a truly individual, memorable character; instead, he pretty much remains a “blank slate” catalyst for the changes that occur within the lives of his students. Though the story occasionally gets a bit sticky-sweet, BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT is fast-paced, likable, and sure to find an audience for those who enjoy “school stories.”


Incidentally, not only does the dustjacket of BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT contain an enthusiastic blurb from John Irving, but inside there's also a forward by this adult author. I’m sure that Mr. Irving has never blurbed a book for young readers before…so it's pretty neat that Buyea's book snaggged him.

But I cann’t help but wonder how many of MR. TERUPT’s young readers will neither know nor care who John Irving is….


One of the neat things about MR. TERUPT is that the story contains references to a number of notable children’s books. They include:


Pretty good reading list, huh?

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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Brunch

Today’s briefer-than-normal brunch shares the TV commercial that traumatized me as a child and the one that scares me now…includes a couple new book lists…and extends an invitation to join me on Goodreads.


When I was a little kid, this TV commercial for Anacin used to terrify me:

At that time, I was about the same age as the boy in the ad and probably interrupted my own mother’s sewing more than once to show her a stick-figure masterpiece I’d just finished creating. It was scary to imagine your mother turning on you with that kind of fury. Anacin Mommy was one fierce woman! In fact, I can’t think of any commercial since in which a mother attacks a small child with that much venom. I remember staring at the TV in horror whenever the commercial aired -- and I never believed it when the old bag (because the actress looked ancient to me back then; now she looks downright youthful) – later came in the kid’s room and tried to make nice. After the way she screamed at him, I figured she either had a switchblade in her pocket or planned to slip something into his Bosco at bedtime.

Obviously that commercial had a big impact on me.

Who knew that, in 2010, I’d see another commercial that terrified me even more:

The opening line chills me to the bones: “Once upon a time, there were books.”

It’s bad enough that this commercial for V.Reader (a kinda kiddie Kindle) anticipates a future without books, but did you get a load of the stories you read (er…view…watch?) on this infernal machine? With one or two exceptions, such as Ian Falconer’s OLIVIA, most of the “books” on the V.Reader are cheapie TV and movie tie-ins. TOY STORY. SCOOBY-DOO. SHREK -- and not the William Steig kind.

Now don’t get me wrong, any product that inspires learning and reading has to be a good thing. But is it good enough? Is it as good as a real book? They say that these electronic readers offer “character voices, vivid graphics, and music.”

So do the best books.

Although in the case of books, the reader hears the voices and music in his or her head as they interpret the story for themselves. At least that’s how it used to be when we had imaginations...once upon a time...when there were books….


At least I can console myself with the fact that children’s e-readers -- like everything else in this world of ours -- will one day experience a backlash.

I can already anticipate some of the future problems we’ll be reading about:, November 26, 2010 : Children’s e-readers, this year’s hottest must-have Christmas gift for kids, caused a riot during today’s Black Friday sale at a New Jersey Walmart. Priced at only $9.95 (with purchase of SOUTH PARK children’s e-book), four customers suffered injuries when they were crushed by a group of two hundred shoppers keen on getting one of the e-readers before they were sold out.

DRUDGE REPORT, May 11, 2011 : Parents buy “Toy Story” e-book for five-year-old, but it turns out to contain sexy Jackie Collins novel instead. Company that manufactured e-reader believes a discontented employee pulled switcheroo.

NATIONAL ENQUIRER, September 13, 2013 : SCOOBY-DOO ELECTROCLUTION! Girl reading in in bathtub drops e-book and gets zapped. Fry Baby’s Brave Final Hours!

EDUCATION DIGEST, April 2015 : First-grade teachers are reporting a startling phenomenon. Their students, raised on animated e-books, are pressing down on the words in their school primers expecting the words to honk, meow, or fly off the printed page as they do on their V.readers.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, August 2016 : Since changing their name from Horn Book Magazine to Horn E Reading, the Boston-based publication has seen a rise in circulation.

COLLECTING CHILDREN’S BOOKS, January 2, 2017 : Beginning next week, this blog will change its name to COLLECTING CHILDREN’S E-BOOKS.


The New York Times announced its annual “Best Illustrated Children’s Books” list in today’s newspaper. Judges were illustrator Robert Sabuda, Elizabeth Bird from the famous Fuse #8 blog, and designer David Barringer. The honored books are:

CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS written and illustrated by Peter Brown
SEASONS written and illustrated by Blexbolex
SHADOW by Suzy Lee
BUSING BREWSTER by Richard Michelson ; illustrated by R. G. Roth
BIG RED LOLLIPOP by Rukhsana Khan; illustrated by Sophie Blackall
HENRY IN LOVE written and illustrated by Peter McCarty
A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE by Philip C. Stead; illustrated by Erin E. Stead (yay, they live in Michigan!)
SUBWAY written and illustrated by Christoph Niemann
BINK & GOLLIE by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee; illustrated by Tony Fucile


I am also intrigued by the 2010 ABC New Voices list of “outstanding debut books by authors for middle-grade and young-adult readers.” These selections were made by a “committee of independent children's booksellers from around the country who all belong to The Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC).”

This year’s selections are:

THE FAMILIARS by Adam Jay Epstein and Andew Jacobsen
THE SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS by Marianne Fineburg
WALLS WITHIN WALLS by Maureen Sherry
MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool
THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
WHAT MOMMA LEFT ME by Renee Watson
ZORA AND ME by Victoria Bond and TR Simon

BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver
DARK LIFE by Kat Falls
SPIES OF MISSISSIPPI: The True Story of the Spy Network That Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement by Rick Bowers
SPLIT by Swati Avasthi
THE FREAK OBSERVER by Blythe Woolston


I’m intrigued by the titles on the “New Voices” list and wonder if any of the YA books will be nominated for the Morris Award next month.

The William C. Morris Award was named after (and endowed by) the late, much-admired library promotions director at Harper and honors a debut young adult novel. What makes this award different than many others (Printz, Newbery, etc.) is that a shortlist of five titles is released every December, with the winning title announced during the American Library Association conference in January.

The winning of the first award, in 2009, was Elizabeth C. Bunce for A CURSE DARK AS GOLD.

The other finalists included Kristin Cashore for GRACELING, James Lecesne for ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS, Christina Meldrum for MADAPPLE, and ME, THE MISSING, AND THE DEAD by Jenny Valentine.

The 2010 winner was FLASH BURNOUT by L.K. Madigan.

The other shortlisted titles were BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, THE HEREAFER by Amy Huntley, HOLD STILL by Nina LaCour, and ASH by Malinda Lo.

What titles will be shortlisted for 2011? We’ll know in about a month!


Has anyone read HOTHOUSE, the new novel by Chris Lynch? What did you think? I just finished reading it this morning and admired the book, as I admire most of Lynch’s work…but I also found myself wondering about its potential audience. The story is narrated by high school senior Russell, whose fireman father was just killed on duty. The father of Russell’s former best friend, DJ, also died in the incident The tightly-focused novel does a good job exploring the deep pain experienced by both boys, as well as the pride they feel as the community salutes their fathers as heroes. However, halfway through the book, things suddenly change. First come rumors…then an investigation by the Fire Department’s Board of Inquiry. Then it’s revealed that both firefighters were under the influence of alcohol and drugs during their fatal call; their actions may have made things worse for the elderly neighbor they were trying to save. Lynch has written an elemental tale of hero-worship leading to inevitable disappointment -- made that much worse because, in this case, the object of Russell’s adulation is now deceased and any reconciliation must be one-sided. This is a powerful story, honest its emotion, yet -- as with many of Lynch’s recent novels -- I questioned the voice. The author employs an affected, almost experimental, writing style replete with repetition, run-on sentences, and self-conscious banter. Although beloved by critics, award committees, and English teachers, I wonder how teenage readers feel about meandering sentences such as:

It is a few minutes past six a.m. and we have just finished breakfast because he got home around five and I was already up waiting for him, the eggs and sausages and the yogurt and berries, all lined up and ready to roll because I knew he was coming because I always know when he’s coming and it’s time to roll with the breakfast.

Or how about:

I know I know and I know we would have been talking about the old handwriting chart, or classroom flagpole or ancient leather-bound class register book or pull-down map of an unrecognizable world, for days, after he got home from saving Mrs. Kotsopolis and her house and her life from the fire.

(I know I know and I know it all sounds very artistic, but what is the difference between saving Mrs. Kotsopolis and saving her life?)

And am I the only one who cringes at this kind of silly banter:

”We should get a dog,” Dad says.

“Should we? Why should we do that?”

“What, you don’t like dogs? Who doesn’t like dogs? What kind of person doesn’t like dogs? I didn’t raise no dog-hating kind of a kid.”

He likes to pretend to get outraged at things he knows damn well are not even true.

“I like dogs as much as the next guy,” I say.

“Not if the next guy is me, you don’t. And if you look, I think you will notice that the next guy, right here next to you, is in fact me.”

“Then why don’t we have a dog, dog-daddy?”

(After using the word "dog" eight times in barely over a hundred words, I wanted to scream, "Please stop talking about those DOOOOOGS!" a la Lily Tomlin in "Lud and Marie Meet Dracula's Daughter.")

Is that father-son exchange honest and accurate, or showy and false? I tend toward the latter. While I can see many adults loving this sort of exchange, I can also imagine many young readers wishing the author would cut through the blather and get to the point.

Chris Lynch has written over a score of books, many of which are excellent and some that seem overwhelmed by affectations. He’s won a Printz Honor (FREEWILL) and been a National Book Award finalist (INEXCUSABLE.) But the question I want to know is whether kids themselves enjoy Lynch’s writing or whether they sometimes find it tedious?


A book collecting friend recently told me that he’d been contemplating the purchase of a very expensive novel. While he was still trying to make up his mind someone else swept in and purchased the book.

I asked how he felt about losing the book and he said, “Sad but relieved.”

Truer book-collecting words were never spoken!

I knew exactly how he felt, as I’ve “lost out” on books I really wanted as well, and have felt simultaneously sorry I couldn’t own them and glad I didn’t have to pay for them.

And of course the converse is true as well. There have been many times I’ve purchased a book and then thought “How am I going to pay for this?” I guess the phrase for that feeling is “Happy but worried.”

Sad but relieved.

Happy but worried.

The battle between wanting and getting is always waged around the wallet.


Over the past year or so, a few blog readers have invited me to join

I wasn’t sure how it worked, so I never really investigated it.

A few weeks ago I decided to try it out…even though I’m still not exactly sure how it works.

For several years I’ve been cataloging my book collection on and I plan to continue doing so.

But I think that Goodreads is different in that you are not compiling a list of your collection, but instead listing all the books you are currently reading and sometimes sharing your opinions on them.

Both LibraryThing and Goodreads allow you to make friends and connections among fellow readers.

If you’re a member of either of these groups, feel free to add me to your list of friends.

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