Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 13 Sunday Brunch

Today’s Sunday Brunch contains a random sampling of facts and opinions on children’s books old and new.


I’m sorry I wasn’t able to blog last Sunday.

That afternoon was spent in deliberations for the LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Award. I was one of the judges in the Young Adult category, along with Cindy Dobrez. The third member of our panel quit just hours before deliberations began.

I have never been on an award jury before and did not know what to expect. Cindy, however, was an old-hand at such things, having served on the Printz committee that selected AMERICA BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang. At this point, our shortlist of five titles remains a secret and will not be revealed until February 22, with the winning title announced on April 29. I will have to consult the rule book, plus ask around, to find out how much I can ever specifically reveal about the selection process, but what I can say is that the entire experience was pain-free. It was a lot of fun to talk about our favorite young adult books from 2010 -- and why we thought they were especially notable. Of course there is going to be some compromise from every judge in these deliberations, but it’s a testament to the general strength of the YA genre that there was such a large selection of great books to choose from this year. It was really, really hard to whittle our list down to just five titles. It took two hours and twenty minutes. And since it was all handled by phone, I remained in my pajamas the entire time!

Stay tuned for the list of finalists on February 22.


Helen Schinske and PJ Grath both brought up some good points regarding my recent blog entry on Joan Bauer’s novel CLOSE TO FAMOUS. Ms. Schinske said, “Okay, it's got a headless girl and cupcakes. Could there BE a more dated cover? (I mean, of course, dated to current fashions -- in twenty years it's going to scream its approximate decade, if not its approximate year.)” Very true. Headless kids and cupcakes are two of the most popular cover-motifs going right now. But the cover should get credit in one regard. Last year there were many complaints that protagonists of children’s and young adult books who were identified as people of color within the text were not depicted as such on dustjackets. Foster, the narrator of CLOSE TO FAMOUS, is subtly described as multiracial in the book and her portrait on the cover, while it may be missing its head, does at least reflect her ethnicity. Still, I must agree with Helen Schinske in general. If there is ever a cataclysmic event that destroys our civilization and some future archaeologist digs out a copy of CLOSE TO FAMOUS from some rubble-filled library, they won’t have to resort to carbon dating…or even checking the copyright page. All they’ll have to do is look at the cover and say. “Headless kid. Cupcakes. Looks like an example of ‘Liberi Librus’ – a children’s book, circa 2010, 2011 AD.”

Meanwhile, PJ Grath wrote about taking her then-twelve-year-old son to see “a real, live adult play. There was no curtain, so while other people were finding their seats and chatting before the performance, my 12-year-old was able to take in every detail of the set and watch the props being placed. There was not a peep out of him during the first act. I don’t think he moved a muscle. When the curtain went up, he turned to me and said in a hoarse, charged whisper, “I love it!” Magic, indeed.” From personal experience, it does seem to me that most people who love children’s books also love the theatre. I wonder why that is.

And many, many children’s writers started off writing plays. A few names that spring to mind: Frances Hodgson Burnett, J.M. Barrie, Rachel Field, Philip Pullman, Edward Eager, Alice Childress, Eve Merriam, Avi, Barbara Corcoran, Cherie Bennett, and Sandra Scoppettone. Perhaps this is not surprising, considering that many components of playwriting – such as visible action, strong dialogue, and highly-individualized characters -- are especially valued in children’s books.


I mentioned Sandra Scoppettone as a writer who once wrote for the theatre. I wish I’d seen one of her plays back in the day, because I certainly love her novels. My Candlewick co-author, Betsy Bird, wrote a recent appreciation of Ms. Scoppettone’s first book, SUZUKI BEANE. The author moved on to writing novels for young adults, including TRYING HARD TO HEAR YOU, THE LATE GREAT ME, HAPPY ENDINGS ARE ALL ALIKE, LONG TIME BETWEEN KISSES, and PLAYING MURDER. I’m the biggest fan in the world of those books and if anyone wants to take that title away from me, I’ll challenge them to an arm wrestling match. (I’d probably lose, but at least it would show how much I love those novels.) Sandra Scoppettone later wrote crime fiction for adults under both her own name and the pseudonym “Jack Early.” These books were superb as well.

A few months back, Ms. Scoppettone announced her plans to retire. This is the kind of news that makes me want to stick my fingers in my ears and shout, “I can’t HEAR you!” as I don’t like to imagine a world in which there is no possibility of a new Scoppettone book somewhere down the line….

Anyway, despite the fact that this blog doesn’t usually focus on adult books, and definitely doesn’t truck with e-readers, Sanda Scoppettone has contributed so much to young readers over the years that I want to publicize her latest venture here: she is beginning to publish some of her older novels on as e-books.


Published in 1984, this was she wrote under the name “Jack Early.” It won the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and was nominated for an Edgar Award.

There has only been one customer review of the e-book posted and, while the reviewer acknowledges it’s “a good murder mystery,” they also include this odd comment: “…why a female author would try to hide behind a male name as an author in this day and age is very curious.”

Let’s let Sandra Scoppettone answer that question herself:

The voice in the book came to me as a man. And in first person. I thought it might be distracting to have a woman’s name on it. And although I’d published quite a number of novels by then…let’s just say it was time for me to reinvent myself.

The Early books got great reviews and I was compared to some of the best male crime writers. That hadn't happened to Scoppettone before and it hasn’t since. In 1984 there weren’t a lot of women being nominated for crime awards. Can’t prove a thing, but I’ll never be dissuaded that using a man’s name on the book at that time accounted for its reception.

Pretty interesting, huh?

If you’re a fan of SUZUKI BEANE or the author’s YA novels, you might want to give this one a shot. And it’s only $1.99!


You’ve just read about how Sandra Scoppettone got more respect in the crime fiction field when she used a man’s name as a pseudonym.

I wonder if a male would have more success in the YA field if he used a woman’s name as a pseudonym?

A few months ago I got into all kinds of trouble when I pointed out that, since the inception of the Morris Award for a Debut Young Adult Author, fourteen of the fifteen nominees have been women.

Here I go again…

I just noticed something similiarly troubling with the 2011 “Best Fiction for Young Adults” list issued by the American Library Association.

There are 99 titles on the list but, due to books written jointly by two authors, there are 102 authors represented on the list.

Out of those 102 authors, only 32 are male.

Prejudice? Coincidence? Simply reflective of the larger pool of YA books eligible for the list?

I don’t know.

But I do find it odd that a book such as YOU by Charles Benoit -- a well-written, boy-pleasing book if there ever was one -- somehow didn’t make the cut.

What was that all about?


I’m always fascinated when a children’s book gets mentioned in the popular media. Not only does it say a lot about the zeitgeist, but it also brings titles to the attention of the public -- either triggering a childhood memory or introducing an adult to a notable children’s book for the first time.

This past week I came across two such mentions -- one nice, one nasty.

Let’s get the nasty one out of the way first.

If you’re a reader of People Magazine or the tabloids, you’ve probably been following the divorce of Sandra Bullock and biker-husband Jesse James. One of the more disgusting aspects of this case was the revelation that Jesse James has an obsession with Nazis and Hitler. About a week ago, US Magazine published a photo of him holding up a figure made to look like Hitler:

Now they could have called it a “cut out” or a “paper doll,” but they did not.

Every media report I read referred to the figure as a “Flat Stanley.”

Flat Stanley is the protagonist of the eponymous 1964 picture book, written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer.

On a more lighthearted note, designer Isaac Mizrahi visited TOP CHEF and challenged the chefs to create a dish with aesthetic appeal.

Antonia did an homage to Shel Silverstein’s THE GIVING TREE:

When she presented it to Mizrahi -- who is known as a reader of big hard classics like ANNA KARENINA and MEMOIRS OF HADRIAN -- the designer gasped and said, “THE GIVING TREE! My favorite book!”

Antonia didn’t win the challenge, but it was nice to hear a children’s book mentioned!


A blog reader wrote and asked if I could identify two books, based on her descriptions.

Can you?

1. The first had a main character who was a late 19th century girl (I think she was American) whose mother is pregnant, but they have to hide it in order to be socially correct. I can't remember a thing about the plot. This bit of info about the pregnancy may have only been an incidental point in the book, but it's the thing that has stuck with me.

2. A story set in (I believe) the 1950s. The main character was a very poor white teen girl, possibly the child of immigrants. I can't remember the plot (she may have had a younger brother who was heading into trouble?). The story ends with the family being given a spot in brand new public housing and she thinks this will solve all their problems (and this wasn't meant in an ironic way.)

Do either of these descriptions sound familiar? Let me know if you have any ideas!


I’m intrigued by a series that will be published this summer.

Hot on the heels of Catherine Fisher’s success with INCARCERON and SAPPHIQUE, Dial is issuing a new series from the author called “Relic Master.”

Actually, the series isn’t really new. The four volumes (THE RELIC MASTER; THE INTERREX; FLAIN’S CORONET, and THE MARGRAVE) were originally published in Great Britain between 1998 and 2001 under the series title “The Book of the Crow.”

Now these novels are coming to our shores with the titles THE DARK CITY, THE LOST HEIRESS, THE HIDDEN CORONET, and THE MARGRAVE.

Of course many fantasy series are imported from Great Britain, but generally the volumes are published anywhere from a few months to a year apart.

What makes “Relic Master” so unusual is that all of the volumes will be published this summer -- a book a month from May through August. This is good news for all of us instant gratification types (Robin McKinley offers this blurb for the first volume: “I want the sequel, and I want it now.”) and I love the idea of a kid reading all four books over the course of one summer. But I’ll also be curious to see how the books sell. I’ve always heard that libraries don’t want to put all their limited funds in one basket -- which is why some prolific authors write under pen names. (When Barbara Corcoran released more than one book per season, she’d publish the second title as “Paige Dixon” – the idea being that a library wouldn’t buy two Corcorans at one time, but they might buy one Corcoran and one Dixon.) So I wonder if any library will buy all four books during one year -- especially since the books are being issued as $16.99 hardcovers.

I wonder if publishing in paperback would have been a better option. Kids might then afford to buy the books on their own, and libraries wouldn’t be forced to spend a big part of their hardcover budget on one author….


Maybe I’m wrong when I say that kids would prefer to buy paperbacks of Catherine Fisher’s series.

The fact that Jay Asher’s young adult novel THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is available only in hardcover has not hurt the success of that smash hit. The copies on my bookstore shelf state the book is in its 32nd printing, which is pretty mind-boggling considering it’s only been around since October 2007! There are a reported 750,000 hardcover copies now in print.
Obviously, this shows that kids can and will purchase hardcover books on their own, if motivated.

And the book will -- if anything -- even more popular this June when it is finally released in paperback. A first printing of 500,000 copies is planned.

I am among those who are pleased to see kids so excited about a novel…yet I’m somewhat perplexed that it’s this particular novel. I read THIRTEEN REASONS WHY when it was published and thought the premise strained credibility and the “message” was worrisome. (I understand the “they’ll be sorry” kid appeal of blaming others for one’s suicide, but it also made me very uncomfortable as an adult.)

However, the fact that so many young readers continue to be devoted to this book makes me think that I need to re-read it and re-evaluate it….


If you’re at a bookstore or library this week, pick up a copy of Tammar Stein’s new novel KINDRED and read the first fifteen pages.

Then see if you can leave the bookstore or library without buying or checking out the book!


BIG RED LOLLIPOP by Rukhsana Khan has won the 2011 Charlotte Zolotow Award.

Named in honor of the Harper editor and picture book writer Charlotte Zolotow, this award is unique among children’s book prizes in that it’s given to the author of a picture book text. Most other picture book awards, such as the Caldecott, honor the illustrator rather than the writer. And while picture book texts are eligible for the Newbery, only a handful have been rewarded over the years:

MILLIONS OF CATS by Wanda Gag (1929 Honor Book)
ABC BUNNY by Wanda Gag (1934 Honor Book)
DR. DESOTO by William Steig (1983 Honor Book)
LIKE JAKE AND ME by Mavis Jukes (1985 Honor Book)
SHOW WAY by Jacqueline Woodson (2006 Honor Book)

Did I miss any?

The previous winners of the Charlotte Zolotow Award are:

2010 / WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A PALETA? / Carmen Tafolla
2009 / HOW TO HEAL A BROKEN WING / Bob Graham
2008 / THANK YOU BEAR / Greg Foley
2007 / MOON PLANE / Peter McCarty
2006 / MY BEST FRIEND / Mary Ann Rodman
2005 / KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON / Kevin Henkes
2004 / WHAT JAMES LIKES BEST / Amy Schwartz
2003 / FARFALLINA & MARCEL / Holly Keller
2001 / THE NIGHT WORKER / Kate Banks
1999 / SNOW / Uri Shulevitz
1998 / DON’T LAUGH, JOE! / Keiko Kaska


I love reading SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL’s website, but it sometimes makes me want to projectile vomit.

Case in point: a recent interview with that wonderful young adult author Hilary Duff. In this piece, the “actress, songwriter, singer, and philanthropist” talks about what led her to write a novel, identifies her literary influences, and uses that most actressy of all actressy terms: “me time.”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: why am I lambasting SLJ for getting all fan-girly and giggly about a celebrity author? After all, I write about celebrities all the time in this blog including -- earlier today – Jesse James.

Maybe I’m just trying to justify my own actions, but I see a big difference. When I write about Top Chef or Jesse James, I’m talking about the influences of children’s book on popular media. I am not getting an interview from James about his favorite Hitler bio for kids.

But SLJ IS going to Hilary Duff to ask her all about books and writing…just like they interviewed Regis Philbin’s daughter on the same topic some time back.

Don’t these show-biz people get enough press from PEOPLE and US and the NATIONAL ENQUIRER? Wouldn’t SLJ -- a literary magazine of serious intent -- be better off interviewing maybe...I don't know...a talented author who worked hard to get published…has never been in a movie...or made a recording...and doesn’t have any other famous relatives…and who could really, really use some good publicity? And who didn't write her book with the assistance of "an amazing co-writer"? And who never once talks about needing "me time"?


I was sorry to learn about the recent death of author Brian Jacques, author of the epic “Redwall” fantasy series.

What a wonderful legacy to leave behind…..

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


Jules at 7-Imp said...

Congrats on the award work, Peter. Sounds like it was really rewarding.

Liz B said...

One of the things I like about 13 REASONS WHY is that Hannah does exactly what she condemns others for. If this is a huge "if you had only thought about my feelings before you acted," what about the feelings of each of those people who got a tape? Who, just as Hannah was more fragile than some thought, may be more fragile than Hannah thought? What if one of those people reacts to Hannah's tapes with a suicide?

I think suicide is more complex than presented in the book, but if we accept the assertion that how Hannah was treated led to her suicide, I think we also have to entertain the possibility that how she treated others thru the tapes could lead to theirs.

Wendy said...

Hmm. I really thought the first book was Norma Johnston's The Wishing Star, which has a very eccentric actress-mother--it's just the kind of thing she WOULD do--and a moody teenage narrator, but a quick flip-through doesn't show me that plotline. I think I have read that book, though. Doesn't it sounds like a Norma Johnston? I'm sure it isn't The Keeping Days, though--that middle-aged pregnancy isn't kept a secret. I'll keep thinking about it.

The second book is Anne Emery's A Dream to Touch. It's about a Polish American girl who's a violin prodigy, and yes, her family moves to the newly-built projects in Chicago amid a great atmosphere of positivity. It's difficult to read.

lin said...

Hey, now, don't most covers date themselves? See a Richard Cuffari and think, "Late 1970s," or Beth and Joe Krush and know it was published in the 60s. In fact, I've got to order some new Joan Bauer paperbacks. Those Wendell Minor covers are so early twenty-first century.

Re: Relic Master series. Our library will probably buy all four titles, but I bet it would be a tough call for a lot of places. Maybe the publisher hopes to sell a lot of e-books?

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Yes, I was also disappointed that YOU by Charles Benoit didn't make the cut for the 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults. That book blew me away.

Interesting brunch, as always, Peter. said...

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Debbie Reese said...

I first came across Scoppettone while doing my dissertation. She did a book with Louise Fitzhugh called BANG BANG YOU'RE DEAD, published in 1969.

The kids are playing war. One of them is wearing an Indian headdress.

Christine Tripp said...

Wouldn’t SLJ -- a literary magazine of serious intent -- be better off interviewing maybe...I don't know...a talented author who worked hard to get published…has never been in a movie...or made a recording...and doesn’t have any other famous relatives…and who could really, really use some good publicity? And who didn't write her book with the assistance of "an amazing co-writer"? And who never once talks about needing "me time"?

I love this and YES, Oh YES!!!

Daughter Number Three said...

So excited that Wendy has identified one of the two books I asked Peter about! Thanks, Wendy.

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