Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An After-Christmas Blog

Christmas is past.

The new year is four days away.

And the Newbery and Caldecott Awards will be announced in thirteen days!

Time really flies at this time of year. I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last blog. I got caught up in Christmas preparations and suddenly it was December 25 and I hadn’t posted anything in nearly two weeks. Today’s entry is a random round-up of facts and opinions on children’s books old and new. But first, I have to say a word or two about Christmas in my new house….


Everyone loves a fireplace at this time of year and I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have two fireplaces in my new house.

There’s a gas fireplace in the living room. I turned it on Halloween night, then on Thanksgiving, and have been running it every night since the first snow of the season. When my brother came for Christmas, I was anxious to see how his dog Elgin would react to the fire. I’ve observed that most dogs are instinctively afraid of flames and figured that Elgin would stay far, far away from the hearth. I hadn’t considered the fact that his dog is always cold and loves to curl up in blankets and small pools of sunlight coming through the window. After feeling the warmth of the fire, Elgin camped out in front of the fireplace for the entire Christmas weekend!

Meanwhile, I had my own plans for the basement library. It also has a fireplace – though this one burns wood. About a week ago, I finally put the finishing touches on the library, adding a big recliner and a reading lamp. With my brother using my bedroom during his visit, I decided to sleep in my new chair. What better place to spend Christmas Eve, kicked back in a recliner, reading before an open fire? I didn’t make it downstairs until after 1:00 AM, then started my first natural fire. Okay, I cheated. I used a Duraflame log. Within seconds the fire was roaring. I picked up a book, sat in my recliner to enjoy the ambience. Here is a fifteen-second video of that peaceful Christmas Eve tableau:

The video is only fifteen seconds because that's about as long as the moment lasted. Within seconds, my Silent Night was jarred by an ear-splitting sound coming from the ceiling:


One of the smoke detectors was going off loud enough to wake the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future!

I jumped up and began jabbing at the button on the smoke detector, but couldn’t turn it off. Next I tried to pry the plastic lid off the detector in order to remove the battery. As it turns out, this smoke detector is all wired together and, further, wired into the ceiling, so it does not utilize a battery. Ultimately, my brother and I had to muffle the stupid thing by wrapping a bath towel around it.

My brother noted that the basement did look a little smoky and asked me twenty-five times if I’d opened the damper before starting the fire. I assured him that I had and then, after he went back upstairs, I double-checked the damper. (Whew, I hadopened it!) So I sat back down in the recliner, picked up my book, and then heard someone yelp upstairs. No, it wasn’t Elgin-the-dog. It was my brother, yelping in shock because he saw an older man staring into his bedroom window.

No, it wasn’t Santa Claus.

Santa may also arrive at 2:30 in the morning on Christmas, but he doesn’t peer through your windows and then knock on your front door. And he definitely doesn’t wear a red bathrobe as he goes from house to house.

No, the man on the porch was my next-door neighbor, woken from his “long winter’s nap” to let us know that he smelled smoke coming into his condo. He thought our house was on fire! I explained that I had just started my first log-burning fire and he said, “We don’t have those kind of fireplaces here! They use gas!”

I told him that our basement fireplace did indeed burn logs, and he didn’t have to worry because the fire was contained. Contained? I always say the wrong thing. Always. What I meant was, “The house is not on fire. The fire is secure inside the fireplace,” but I think my words made it sound like, “The entire basement was on fire, but I’ve now beaten it back with wet towels and it’s contained in one small corner.”

The good news is that I’ve had several more fires since that night and have never again experienced excessive smoke, beeping smoke detectors, or worried neighbors. I think the problem occurred because it was the first time that fireplace had been used since I moved in – maybe the first time it was used in several years. But everything is okay now. I’m just sorry that I disrupted my neighbor’s sleep – especially on Christmas Eve. I guess I’ll have to make it up to him by re-gifting him and his wife a fruitcake or something. I’m just grateful he didn’t call the fire department. Can you imagine what a fine “welcome to the neighborhood” moment that would have been, with sirens blaring up to my front door at 2:00 AM on Christmas Eve?


The next morning my brother gave me this book as a Christmas present:

He found it at a thrift shop for a dollar and, although he doesn’t know a lot about antiquarian books, he does know a lot about art – and he liked the illustrations. MASHA’S STUFFED MOTHER GOOSE was published by Garden City Publishing in 1946 and this copy was a stated first edition. It’s a collection of about 150 nursery rhymes – some familiar, some not. What makes the book unique is that the illustrations (in both color and black-and-white) depict the figures (Little Bo-Peep, Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, etc.) as stuffed toys and dolls. I imagine that if this book were published today, it would automatically come with a “Stuffed Mother Goose plushie” as part of the deal. Does anyone know of another nursery rhyme book in which the characters are all depicted as stuffed dolls and toys? And does anyone know anything about “Masha.” At first I thought she must have been as famous as Cher, since she only went by one name too. But doing a bit of internet research today, I’ve discovered there isn’t a lot of info about her. But I did learn that her real name was Maria Simchow Stern and she holds a noteworthy place in the field of children’s books, as she illustrated the very first Little Golden Book, THREE LITTLE KITTENS, in 1942.


Ironically, when I first opened MASHA’S STUFFED MOTHER GOOSE on Christmas morning, the book fell open to this verse:

I’ve heard this verse my entire life – but in a completely different context. I know it as this Christmas carol:

I saw three ships go sailing by,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
I saw three ships go sailing by,
On Christmas day in the morning.
And what was in those ships all three?
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And what was in those ships all three?
On Christmas day in the morning.
Our Saviour Christ and his lady
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Our Saviour Christ and his lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day in the morning.

I’ve also heard a version of the song that goes like this:

As I sat on a sunny bank, a sunny bank, a sunny bank,
As I sat on a sunny bank
On Christmas day in the morning,
I spied three ships come sailing by
On Christmas day in the morning.

And who should be upon those ships
But Joseph and his fair lady.
And who should be upon those ships
On Christmas day in the morning.

Oh he did whistle and she did sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

This is the first time I came across the “New Year’s” version, which is secular in tone and talks about the speaker’s wedding…and to think I read it the first time on Christmas Day in the morning.


Friends and relatives often ask me about the value of their old childhood books. I always feel bad having to tell them that, while the books they owned may have been meant a lot to them personally, they are not really worth a lot of money now. But the other day an older cousin (older in that she was already grown up and married when I was born) mentioned one of her childhood books to me and I was able to give her some good news.

I had never heard of PARASOLS IS FOR LADIES before. Written by Elizabeth Ritter and illustrated by Ninon MacKnight and first published in 1941, the story concerns three African American sisters who want to own parasols and describes how they go about earning the money to buy them. My cousin, who taught grade school in the late fifties and early sixties, told me she used to take her copy of this book to school and read it to her classes. When she told me that the three sisters live with their “mammy” and the book is written in dialect, I knew this was a book a teacher would no longer share with her students today!

Doing a little research, I discovered that this title is notable as one of the few children’s books from the forties to feature African American characters – but of course controversial due to the dialect and stereotyped illustrations. And it’s now worth a surprisingly amount of money. One site lists eight copies for sale, ranging in price from $300 to $725. (For once I could tell a relative that one of her childhood books is worth a lot of money!)

Is anyone else familiar with this book?


I haven’t read it yet, but there’s a new adult book that might be of interest to fans of children’s book. It’s called MR. TOPPIT and the author is Charles Elton.

According to the author:

Fifteen years ago I began writing Mr. Toppit when I was a literary agent representing the estate of A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh. I learned the story of Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, who grew to hate the fame his father's books brought him. To reshape that idea in a modern context was the single idea that was the genesis of my novel.

During the years I spent writing, another phenomenon occurred in the world of children's book publishing that made Winnie-the-Pooh's fame seem parochial: Harry Potter. Suddenly, my idea of a modern series of children's stories that take over the world did not seem so far-fetched. What had originally been conceived as a small story about my boy hero, Luke Hayman, suddenly made famous by his dead father's books widened into both an examination of the mechanics of fame and a strange journey towards a literary tipping point that has devastating consequences for the characters in my book.

Hmm…sounds intriguing.

Think I’ll track down a copy!


And speaking of books worth seeking out, next week brings the re-publication of THE SECRET RIVER by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Though the author’s THE YEARLING was published as an adult novel (and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), it has been embraced by generations of young readers. THE SECRET RIVER was discovered among the author’s papers after her death and was published specifically for children. Praised for its haunting, surreal narrative and accompany Leonard Weisgard artwork, the title was named a 1955 Newbery Honor Book.

Now the book is being reissued with new illustrations by double Caldecott winners Leo and Diane Dillon:

Should be worth a look!


Are you as sick of the “headless cover illustration” trend as I am?

I have discovered that, with some imagination and a little Scotch Tape, we can alleviate the situation by taping two dustjackets together to create one complete picture.

This week’s example involves two recent middle grade novels: JAKE by Audrey Couloumbis and BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT by Rob Buyea.

Individually, these cover illustrations seem incomplete. But tape them together and...well, now we’re getting somewhere!


The very first Borders is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When I was growing up, I loved visiting Ann Arbor, which was about an hour from where I lived in Detroit, and spending time in that one-of-a-kind store. As time went on, Borders expanded all across the country and was no longer a one-of-a-kind store. In fact, there are now FOUR different Borders stores within ten miles of my house. Although I usually spent my money at the local independent bookstore, there was definitely something to be said for Borders long hours and big selection and I have definitely bought quite a few books there over the years. In recent months, I’ve been reading a lot about Borders experiencing financial problems, but I was shocked when they decided to shut down the closest store to my house. Driving by yesterday, I saw the sign that said “STORE CLOSING. ONLY NINE DAYS LEFT. 40% OFF EVERTHING!” so decided to stop in.

I kind of wish I hadn’t.

Is there anything more miserable than a bookstore going out of business?

First off the entire huge children’s section was CLOSED – with a barrier of empty shelves and furniture blocking access to that section of the store.

All of the fiction shelves were stripped bare.

Scattered here and there throughout the store were a handful of free-standing shelving units containing a variety of leftover, marked-down books that nobody wanted.

It was a sad sight – and I hope not a trend for the future of books and bookstores.


Since we’re on the subject of trends, I was intrigued by a discussion of trends and “marketability” in children’s books that recently turned up on the Horn Book’s “Read Roger” blog.

Michael Grant, who co-wrote the Animorphs series and recently wrote the YA “Gone” series, contributed the following remarks:

Since you asked, here's what I know about the market. It's like duck hunting. (No, I don't shoot ducks.) You don't aim at the duck as it's flying, you aim just in front of the duck. You lead the target. Don't shoot at the vampire, do what my friend Michael Stearns (with Lauren Kate) did, guess what might be next and shoot an angel.

Another example: just before we sold Animorphs everyone was telling us to go after RL Stine's Goosebumps because MG horror was the big thing. We said, no way. First, it would be derivative. Second he owned an existing market and we doubted we could take him. Third, trends have a life span. 5 years give or take and the 5 years was about up. So we led the target, guessed sci fi and shot a duck.

Mr. Grant’s remarks have sure gotten me thinking.

Yeah, right now it’s all about vampires and the undead and dystopias, but where are children’s and young adult books headed in the next couple years?

What trends can we expect?

If you were going to aim “just in front of the duck,” what would you shoot at?

I’m thinking the dystopia thing has just about worn out its welcome. But what comes after controlled, doomed societies? Maybe stories of rebirth? I’m not sure exactly what that means or how it would play out literarily…. Hopefully not in a spate of novels on teenage mothers. (Though with the recent TV interest in “teen mom” TV shows – not to mention the popularity of Bristol P – I would not be surprised.)

I also wouldn’t be surprised if our current economic woes found their way into children’s books. I guess it could happen in one of two ways – we could either see a trend toward historical fiction in which long-ago characters face impoverishment (i.e. the Great Depression, the first settlers, etc.) or we could go in exactly the opposite direction. During the Depression of the 1930s, many movies featured wealthy society types…so maybe children’s books will also focus on the rich and privileged as a form of wish fulfillment.

It seems like many trends just take current literary themes and view them from a different angle. One classic theme in children’s books is MICE. There’s Stuart Little and Lily and Poppy. There’s a mouse on a motorcycle and another one eating a cookie. Redwall is infested with them. And now I see Lois Lowry’s got a new mouse story coming out. It's a standing rule of children's literature: If you’re despereaux to write a hit book, write about mice! But the thought occurs to me that no one has ever written a YA problem novel about mice. Could that be a future trend? Teenage mice misunderstood by their parents. Delinquent mice. Mice on drugs. Adolescent mice concerned with body image issues (“Is my tail long enough? Why won’t my whiskers grow?”) Clique-ish mean-girl mice attending Rodent High. Pregnant teenage mice (“One moment of passion and now she has a litter of fifteen mouths to feed.”)

It’s an idea.

Okay, I didn’t say it was a good idea, but it’s an idea.

What trends in children’s books do YOU see coming in 2011 and beyond?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Brunch for a Snowy Sunday

Today's brief Sunday Brunch identifies three valuable books for collectors, uses reverse psychology on a popular Mock Newbery contest, and includes a list of all the celebrities who have promoted children's books on the American Library Association's READ posters.


The roof of the Metrodome has collapsed in Minnesota.

Parts of Illinois and Indiana are under a winter storm warning.

Where I live, just north of Detroit, they are predicting four to eight inches of snow later this afternoon.

Here's what it looked like out my back door this morning:

I just hope the muskrats are warm in their house out on the pond:


Incidentally, are you familiar with the 1957 Edith and Thacher Hurd book pictured above? Do you by chance have an old copy of the book at your house?

If so, you could be sitting on a gold mine.

Nice first editions of IT'S SNOWING sell for $250-$400!

And if you think that's a lot, how about this book by the Hurds:

Published in 1956, first editions of MARY'S SCARY HOUSE are usually priced between $450 and $600.

While tracking down images for the two Hurd books, I came across this totally unrelated dustjacket for a 1967 book called THE GHOST OF OPALINA, OR NINE LIVES by Peggy Bacon:

If you ever find a copy of this book, snatch it right up. First editions sell for $450 to $1000!

All three of these titles are good examples of books that never won any awards or prizes, aren't popular enough to remain in print today, yet are still so well-loved by readers that collectors are willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for them.


Today's the day that the Heavy Medal folks convene at the Oakland Public Library to choose their Mock Newbery winner.

Their shortlist includes:

KEEPER by Kathi Appelt
THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
SIR CHARLIE by Sid Fleischman
THE KNEEBONE BOY by Ellen Potter
THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan
DARK EMPEROR by Joyce Sidman
A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams Garcia


But the more I thought about it, the more I began hoping that KNEEBONE BOY does win the prize.


Because the winners of the Oakland Mock Newbery never seem to actually win the real Newbery Award .

2010's prizes are a perfect example. WHEN YOU REACH ME was as close to a sure-winner as possible. But it was only named a Mock Honor by Oakland, joining other Mock Honors CLAUDETTE COLVIN and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM, as the top prize went to WHEN THE MOUNTAIN MET THE MOON by Grace Lin.

2009 was an oddball year as well. Oakland's Mock Newbery went to THE PORCUPINE YEAR, with Mock Honors going to AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER and ALVIN HO : ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL AND OTHER SCARY THINGS.

2008's mock winner was ELIJAH OF BUXTON by Christopher Paul Curtis, with honors going to THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN; GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES!, and THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt.

2007's top title was A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR by Laura Amy Schlitz, with Mock Honors going to ALABAMA MOON, THE KING OF ATTOLIA, and A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE.

One has to go all way back to 2006 to find a year when Oakland's Mock Newbery pick, CRISS CROSS by Lynne Rae Perkins, went on to actually win the Newbery. (The Mock Honors that year were HITLER YOUTH, A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, JOHN LENNON, and SHOW WAY.)

Of course noting the fact that the Mock awards almost never match the real prize in no way disparages Oakland's selections. It just proves that, when you have two groups of people discussing a similar slate of books, they may well choose different winners due to any number of variables. Personally, I think Oakland's 2007 winner, A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR, was a brilliant selection which actually should have won the official Newbery that year. On the other hand, Oakland's 2009 winner, THE PORCUPINE YEAR, pretty much stinks.

Stay tuned for the Mock winners at Heavy Medal tonight or tomorrow. And the real winners will be announced on January 10.


Yesterday I recorded a movie off TV called THEN SHE FOUND ME. It starred one of my least favorite actresses, Helen Hunt, as a 39 year old woman who had been adopted as a child and was now desperate to have a baby of her own.

Early in the movie, Helen is surprised when her birth mother turns up and wants to have a relationship with her. The birth mother is played by Bette Midler. During their first meeting, Bette recites a Dr. Seuss verse to Helen. She is surprised to learn that Helen's adoptive mother never read Helen that book.

On the one hand, it's always nice to see a reference -- any reference -- to a children's book in a big screen movie.

But, as usually happens, the movie got it wrong.

The book Bette quotes from is OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO -- the last book Dr. Seuss published in his lifetime.

THEN SHE FOUND ME was filmed in 2007.

Helen Hunt played a 39-year-old...meaning she was born in 1968.

OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO wasn't published until 1990.

So Bette shouldn't have been surprised that Helen's mother had never read her this book.

It wasn't published until Helen's character was 22 years old!


Did you know that Bette Midler was one of the earliest stars to jump on the "celebrity books for children" trend? In 1983 she published THE SAGA OF BABY DIVINE, a picture book about a baby who looks a lot like Bette Midler in diapers. She also wears a boa and high heels and her first word is "More." Unlike most of the pedantic celebrity books published in the years since, this is not a flat-footed and patronizing story directed at teaching kids a lesson, but more a faux children's book that uses colorful illustrations and rhyming text to speak to Midler's adult fans. One of those adult fans would post the following blurb on Amazon.com many years later: "A pentameter that rivals Seuss in creativity, timing, and rhyming," but the Boston Globe was a little less starstruck in this contemperaneous review: "Dr. Seuss doesn't have to stay awake nights worrying about being tumbled from the throne as the dean of children's books."


Bette Midler was shown cradling a copy of THE SAGA OF BABY DIVINE in one of the American Library Association's READ posters.

Bette was one of the first four celebrities (the others were Bill Cosby, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Sting) photographed for the inaugural READ posters in 1985. Since then, nearly 200 actors, musicians, athletes, and other famous names have been featured in the long-running series.

Some are photographed alone, some are holding adult books.

Which ones were shown holding specific children's titles?

Here's a list:

Bill Cosby / TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson / 1985
Goldie Hawn / GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS by Lorinda Bryan Cauley / 1986
William Hurt / DID I TELL YOU HOW LUCKY YOU ARE? by Dr. Seuss / 1988
Kirk Cameron / THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis /1990
Denzel Washington / GREEN EGGS AND HAM by Dr. Seuss / 1991
Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky / HOW THINGS WORK by David Macaulay / 1991
Michael Chang / CURIOUS GEORGE TAKES A JOB by H.A. Rey / 1992
Michael Keaton / THE YEARLING by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings / 1992
Whoopi Goldberg / NICHOLAS CRICKET by Joyce Maxner / 1992
Marlee Matlin / ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume / 1994
The movie cast of LITTLE WOMEN / LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott / 1995
Barbara Walters / THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine De Saint Exupery / 1996
Courney Cox / Heidi by Johanna Spyri / 1996
The movie cast of MATILDA / MATILDA by Roald Dahl / 1996
Brandy / THE CAT IN THE HAT by Dr. Seuss / 1997
Cindy Crawford / THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien / 1997
Rosie O'Donnell / BEEZUS AND RAMONA by Beverly Cleary / 1997
Muhammad Ali / GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS by Jan Brett / 1998
Rebecca Lobo / THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein / 1999
Regis Philbin / TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson / 2000
Tara Dakides / WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein / 2000
Mike Mussina / CASEY AT THE BAT / Ernest L. Thayer / 2001
Yo Yo Ma / GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown / 2001
Missy Elliot / A CHAIR FOR MY MOTHER by Vera Williams / 2003
Jeff Corwin / MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN by Jean Craighead George / 2004
Renee Fleming / ANTHOLOGY OF FAIRY TALES by Hans Christian Andersen / 2004
George Lopez / OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO by Dr. Seuss / 2005
Ice Cube / THE GREATEST by Walter Dean Myers / 2005
Jamie Kennedy / WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak / 2005
Mat Hoffman / DUCK ON A BIKE by David Shannon / 2005
Ben Roethlisberger / THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein / 2006
Dakota Fanning / CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White / 2006
Ewan MacGregor / THE COMPLETE TALES by Beatrix Potter / 2007
Sendhil Ramamurthy / THE TOWER TREASURE by Franklin W. Dixon / 2007
William H. Macy / CURIOUS GEORGE by H.A. Rey / 2007
Abigal Breslin / MEET KIT by Valerie Tripp / 2008
Eva Mendes / A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC by Shel Silverstein / 2008
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar / THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain / 1008
Rachael Ray / THE STINKY CHEESE MAN by Jon Scieszka / 2008
Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart / TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer / 2008
Hugh Laurie / TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson / 2009
America Ferrera / A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles / 2009
Cole Hamels / ERAGON by Christopher Paolini / 2009
Ne-Yo / THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaimon / 2009
Brenda Song / CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Road Dahl / 2009
Taylor Lautner / NEW MOON by Stephenie Meyer / 2009


Does anyone remember this suspense novel for teens from the seventies?

Everyone wanted to read it when I was a kid.

It was the combination of the alluring title and creepy cover illustration...the promise of crank calls...accidental death...teenage guilt...suspense...and the guy in the middle looked like Elvis....

It was wildly popular in paperback, but I don't think I ever saw the hardcover edition until a few years ago. I wonder how popular the book was in hardcover, considering what a mess the cover illustration is:

I actually think this scan improves upon the original illustration. It smooths out the fuzzy borders, tones down the blotchiness of the colors, covers up the places where the color goes outside the lines, and in general gives the image a more polished appearance. If you could see the actual hardcover book I'm holding in my hands right now, you'd notice all these irregularities -- and more. The book was published in 1971 by Dodd, Mead -- not exactly a fly-by-night publisher with no budget for art and design. So why did this title end up with a cover that looks like an untalented nine-year-old drew it with a handful of magic markers?

I guess it really does prove that "you can't judge a book by its cover," as Edith Maxwell's novel is actually quite entertaining and would be enjoyed by readers of Lois Duncan's books such as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

Every time I think about one of the books I enjoyed as a young reader, I wonder if it could be re-published for today's kids.

Right off the bat, I'd have to say this one would never get an audience.

Today's kids couldn't get past the title.


What does "dial" mean???

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Morris Morass

Yesterday ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association announced the finalists for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award for Women Writers.

The five female authors nominated for this prestigious honor are:

Eishes Chayil for HUSH



Barbara Stuber for CROSSING THE TRACKS

Blythe Woolston for THE FREAK OBSERVER

Congratulations, ladies!

...Okay, I'm being facetious.

The prize isn't really called the "William C. Morris YA Debut Award for Women Writers."

It just feels that way.

Now in its third year, the Morris Award always publishes a list of five finalists.

Of the fifteen books thus far honored, FOURTEEN have been by female writers.

The only exception has been James Lecesne, nominated the first year for ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS -- and even that novel featured a female first-person narrator.

(But to be fair, several of the shortlisted books over the years, including last year's winner, FLASH BURNOUT by L.K. Madigan, have been stories with male protagonists, despite being written by female authors.)

Noting how "female-centric" the Morris shortlists have been has gotten me wondering whether it's because most of today's top YA writers really are women...or is it simply because more women are published in the field of young-adult fiction, which of course gives award committes a much wider "talent pool" from which to make their choices?

Has anyone ever kept statistics on the numbes of male vs. female authors in the YA field?

And has the field been trending toward women writers in recent years?

Since the Morris award honors first-time YA writers, I tracked down a list of 2010 Debut Writers in Young Adult and Middle-Grade Fiction on the Goodreads site. Although I'm sure this list is far from definitive, I found it troubling that out of 310 titles listed, only 28 appeared to be written or co-written by male authors.

That's less than ten per cent!

It should be noted that my observation about the Morris shortlists have nothing to do with the quality of 2011's nominated books. To be honest (taking a humbling deep breath here) I haven't yet read any of this year's finalists. Most of these books seem to have come out of left field, with neither the "buzz" nor the string of starred reviews that usually lead up to such awards. Maybe after reading all five books, I'll agree that every one of them is superb -- each a true hidden gem discovered by the committee. But till then I'm going to wonder why fourteen out of fifteen Morris finalists have been women...and wonder if it's really true that less than 10% of debuting YA authors these days are men....

If that actually is the trend, then I think that we need -- for the sake of diversity -- to ask Jon Scieszka to start a companion to his GUYS READ literacy program.

The new one should be called GUYS WRITE.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Brunch for December 5

Among other topics, today’s Sunday Brunch anticipates this week’s Morris Award finalists, revisits adult mystery authors who also write for kids, and asks if you finish every book you begin.


I’m a big fan of Christmas movies. The holiday season wouldn’t be the same without old standards such as WHITE CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY INN, and A CHRISTMAS STORY. And I’m usually glued to Lifetime TV for the entire month of December, watching their large assortment of Christmas flicks. Last night I watched a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that I recorded earlier in the week -- NOVEMBER CHRISTMAS. It’s the story of a town that bands together to bring an early Christmas to a sick little girl. Yes, it was sentimental. But what made it especially interesting to me was that one of the characters worked in the children’s department of a library and another character, a troubled teenage girl, hoped to write and illustrate children’s books when she grew up. One scene even referenced two famous volumes, THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS and HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON.

It’s not often that children’s books get that much attention on TV. Thanks Hallmark!


There are often visual differences between the cover of an ARC (advance reading copy) and the final hardcover book. Sometimes the original illustration has been replaced; other times there are only minor changes in the artwork. Occasionally a title will even change. But this is one or the rare times I’ve noticed an author’s name changing between ARC and hardcover:

I have no idea why the ARC’s Margaret Peterson later became Margaret Stohl.

Change in marital status?

Did she decide to adopt or discard a pseudonym with this book?

All I know is that BEAUTIFUL CREATURES was one of 2009’s most popular YA titles -– and the series is still going strong with the recent publication of second volume BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS.

Though I don’t know the reason for the name change on the books, I suspect that the ARC is now worth a bit more money to collectors due to this variation in names.


Incidentally, it was just about this time last year that BEAUTIFUL CREATURES was shortlisted for the William C. Morris award.

Just three years old, the Morris award “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens.”

Within the next couple days, the five finalists for the 2011 Morris Award will be announced. I love award shortlists. They allow us prize fans to “play along at home” by reading all the nominated books and evaluating them for ourselves, rather than waking up to out-of-left-field surprises on awards day.

Which titles will be on the Morris list this week? SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi? SPLIT by Swati Avasthi? BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver? THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson? MATCHED by Allie Condie? THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Gonzalez? THE MOCKINGBIRDS by Daisy Whitney?

Those are some of the titles that spring to my mind, but the Morris Award has proven to be hard to predict. I would not be surprised to see a list of nominees that I’ve never heard of before.

Guess we’ll find out in a day or two!


If you also love award shortlists, here’s another one for you.

This past week brought the announcement of the five finalists for the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

The titles are:






The winner will be announced January 10 -- the same day we learn the winners of the Morris Award…and Newbery…and Printz…and Sibert….

I’m taking that day off work!


Nearly two years ago I wrote a blog about scary dolls from children’s books.

This week I encountered another one.

Someone at work brought me a slim black picture book that needed its call number changed. I opened the book to see this strange tableau:

The book was called GHOST DOLL, a 1983 volume written and illustrated by Bruce McMillan.

The story concerns a young girl named Chrissy who is beckoned inside an old house by a faint voice calling, "Come in. Come in. Come in and play with me."

Chrissy breaks into the house (okay, the book just says "She opened the front door and peered inside" but the next thing you know she's all over the place -- peeking under the sofa, climbing the stairs. Hasn't she, technically, committed a B&E?) while the voice taunts her: "I'm in here. I'm in here. Please come in here."

An abandoned doll, photographed to look hazy, is shown floating through the mansion. Chrissy pursues her and when the doll realizes that "You didn't run away. You wouldn't leave me. Now I'm sure! I want to be your doll" the ghost floats into a box, the box floats out the door, and Chrissy presumably keeps her. (Until, at least, Chrissy discovers boys, tosses the doll under her bed, and the ghost doll must scare up some other companion.)

I’m not sure what’s scary about the book -- the story or the stark black-and-white photographs of Chrissy and the doll. If the doll had been the least bit beguiling, I could understand Chrissy’s quest, but there’s something malevolent about this doll…especially the way she fades in and out of the pictures.

Also, there were a couple near-vulgar pictures of the doll swirling above a staircase that reminded me of a baby making its way down the birth canal. If babies were born already diapers that is.

I found GHOST DOLL so creepy that I couldn’t wait to check Amazon.com to see how many readers had submitted customer comments saying this book had traumatized them as children.

Strangely, there is not one single comment -- either pro or con -- for GHOST DOLL.
Does anyone remember this oddity?

Did it freak you out as a child?


Last Sunday I blogged about adult mystery authors who have also written for young readers.

First, I wanted to clear up the misconception that all of the books M.E. Kerr wrote under the pseudonym “Vin Packer” are out of print. Six of these super suspense novels have been brought back into print by Stark House Press , a company known for reprinting some of the best mystery novels from the past.

Also, three of the Vin Packer novels are now available on Kindle. You can read SPRING FIRE, the very first novel by the author of DINKY HOCKER SHOOTS SMACK! and GENTLEHANDS for only one dollar. And the Packer novels LOOK BACK TO LOVE and THE YOUNG AND THE VIOLENT are available on Kindle for less than $5 each.

Several people wrote in to mention other authors who have written both adult mysteries and kids’ books.

How could I have skipped over Sandra Scoppettone! She’s one of my all-time favorite young adult authors (TRYING HARD TO HEAR YOU; LONG TIME BETWEEN KISSES) and her adult mysteries (which include the Lauren Laurano series, the Faye Quick series, and three books written under the pseudonym Jack Early) contain the same type of colorful, likable characters and amazing dialogue that make her books for young readers so good.

Sam wrote to say, “I've always been amazed that the two most famous talking bear authors also wrote adult mysteries. I've never read A.A. Milne's mystery, but I've read some of Michael Bond's. I eventually had to stop because I was blushing too hard to continue!”

Milne’s “murder-in-a-locked-room” novel, THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY, was published in 1922 and still remains in print. Michael Bond’s adult books (or what Sam might call THE RED FACE MYSTERY) feature a culinary critic named Monsieur Pamplemousse.

Reka wrote to say: “Jane Langton! One of my favorite children's writers became one of my favorite authors of adult mysteries when she wrote the wonderful Homer Kelly series, set near the author's beloved Walden Pond.

Then there's Joan Aiken ("Beware of the Bouquet," anyone?) who wrote mysteries and thrillers and Jane Austen sequels as well as her incomparable Wolves chronicles.

And Nina Bawden and Penelope Lively have written a few adult mysteries, it seems.”

Ankita wrote to say, “Make an unforgettable event with our gorgeous flowers, designer flower bouquets, awesome flower arrangements, holiday gifts, birthday gifts, startling gift baskets, imported chocolate gifts and other thrilling gifts for delivery in Hong Kong.”

Thanks for your comments, Sam and Reka!

Go away, Ankita.


Blog reader CLM mentioned an intriguing tie-in between an adult mystery and a children’s novel.

In 1979, Dorothy Gilman (perhaps best-known for her “Mrs. Polifax” mysteries) wrote a stand-alone suspense novel called THE TIGHTROPE WALKER.

Throughout that book, the narrator frequently mentions her favorite childhood novel, THE MAZE AT THE HEART OF THE CASTLE. Many readers were so intrigued that they tried to track down that novel for themselves. Unfortunately, it was a fictitious title; no such book had ever existed.

However, in 1983, Dorothy Gilman actually published a children’s novel called THE MAZE AT THE HEART OF THE CASTLE, which was inspired by the fictional book she created for THE TIGHTROPE WALKERS.

This is very similar to what happened with Dean Koontz’s 1993 suspense novel MR. MURDER. That mystery for adults includes several scenes in which a father creates a rhymed bedtime story for his daughters called “Santa’s Twin.”

The tale of Santa’s Twin is truncated in MR. MYSTERY, but after publication Mr. Koontz received over 4000 letters from fans, demanding to hear the entire story. Three years later he published SANTA’S TWIN as a lavishly-illustrated book for children:

Can you think of any other titles that were conceived within the pages of an adult book and later published as children’s books?


Helen Schinske wrote to say, “I think I remember THE TIGHTROPE WALKER -- if it's the one I'm thinking of, there was some gossip a few years ago about a modern children's book possibly having been plagiarized from it.”

Yep, I remember that fuss as well.

Several readers thought there were some pretty strong similarities between THE TIGHTROPE WALKER and one of Betsy Byars’ “Herculeah Jones” mysteries, DEAD LETTER.

I read both books and did find the premise to be similar in both books, but the characters and general narrative styles were so different that I couldn’t get too incensed about it.

I do remember that at least one published review did note the similarities between the two books though.


As the year draws to a close, many people begin making predictions about what will happen in the coming year. Here’s one of my predictions buried within some thoughts about a forthcoming book.

I recently received an ARC of a new novel called NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT by Gennifer Choldenko. Having enjoyed the author’s Newbery Honor AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS and, being the obedient type, I followed the directive on the cover: “Spectacular!! Drop everything and read me!!”

So I did.

In this timely story, a widowed mother loses her home to foreclosure and must send her three children -- earnest Finn, his typically teenage sister India, and their eccentric little sister Mouse -- to live with their uncle in Colorado. Instead, they land in an odd fantasy land where nothing makes sense. The ARC I read apparently had several pages missing. Strangely, this did not seem to impact the overall quality of this novel, which read like an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fever dream, crammed with random details that neither advanced nor enhanced the plot. I was hoping the conclusion would tie everything together in one of those slap-yourself-on-the-side-of-the-head moments when one says, “Oh, NOW I get it!” But that was not the case for me. When the hardcover comes out, I think I’ll give this one another shot (hoping the chapter “India’s Cat,” which ran only two pages in the ARC, will be complete) to see if I can make heads or tails of it, but I suspect this is one of those hallucinogenic works that everyone seems to love but me. In fact, I’ll go further: I predict this is going to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it novels, and that next year at this time we will see its ardent fans (those who liked Horvath's EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE, Potter's THE KNEEBONE BOY, or Grey's FALCON'S EGG…to name three other books whose meanings totally eluded me) pushing for this to win the Newbery, while a few detractors (those of us who never understood the charms of WAFFLES, KNEEBONES, or FALCON’S EGGS) will be standing on the sidelines sputtering, "But...but...but...."


CLM, who told me about the connection between TIGHTROPE WALKER and THE MAZE AT THE HEART OF THE CASTLE, recently mentioned a thought from Natalie Savage Carlson’s book LUVVY AND THE GIRLS: that it is a sign of weak character not to finish a book.



If it’s a sign of weak character not to finish a book, I’m sure my bookstore friends think I’m the weakest character of all! Seems like every time they ask me about a recently-purchased book, I respond, “Oh, I haven’t finished it yet.”

But I have to say that I seldom set a book aside with the intention of never returning to it. I almost always doget back to it, whether it takes days, weeks, months, or (gulp) years.

Today I did some hunting around the internet to see what some famous authors had to say on the subject of “finishing every book you start.”

My favorite author, M.E. Kerr, said: “I read an awful lot. I read too much because I can't really get everything out of it that I want to when I read that fast. And now I've learned that I don't have to finish a book and it's taken me a lifetime to learn that. I always felt that if I bought it or if someone gave it to me or I took it from the library, I would have to read it all but I don't do that anymore.”

Barbara Park write: “I used to have a policy that, no matter what, I would finish reading every book I started. Recently, I have readjusted my position on this issue. These days, I give a book about 100 pages to catch my interest. Then -- if I'm still not liking it -- I drop it like a hot potato! (Word of warning: DO NOT DO THIS WITH SCHOOL READING PROJECTS…and I MEAN it!)”

Gail Gauthier says, “Like many serious readers, I've always had a need to finish reading every book I start. Over the last few years, I've been able to begin to get over that compulsion by skimming books I'm not enjoying. I've only recently started giving up altogether. Giving up on 3 books in 24 hours as I did this weekend was a liberating experience. The number of books published goes up and up and up, but for some reason or another the number of hours in the day remains constant. How much of my life do I want to sacrifice reading stuff I don't like? Not much, it seems.”

So, what about you?

Do you finish every book you start?

If you don’t, how long do you give a book before giving up? 100 pages? One chapter? A few paragraphs…?


I often enjoy Adele Griffin’s books and I look forward to reading her latest, THE JULIAN GAME.

But does the dustjacket illustration give anyone else the willies?


Hope they come up with something a little more engaging for any future paperback editions and leave the current photo for the cover of a magazine like HIP PROCTOLOGISTS MONTHLY or maybe use it for some futuristic TSA poster.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. I hope to be back with at least one or two weekday reviews this week Hope you’ll join me!