Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Brunch -- Now without Spam!

It's a spam-free Sunday at Collecting Children's Books!

Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed the ridiculous amount of spam that appears in the comments section from Hong Kong Florists, Indian Gift Shops, and several other companies that I would never advertise nor buy from. Trying to delete these ads was almost a full-time job, especially when they went back and added comments to blog entries from two or three years ago.

From time to time, people have suggested that I "moderate" blog comments -- something I was hesitant to do. But last week, after a particularly overwhelming onslaught of spam, a couple friends Strongly Suggested I Do Something About It.

So I've had to begin moderating comments, which means that you must copy a random series of letters before you can post anything here, and then I will have to "approve" it before it appears on this blog. I hate doing this, especially as it may mean a lag time of several minutes to several hours from the time you post a comment and it appears online, but it will be nice to not have to wade through all that annoying spam in every comments section.

I love receiving comments, by the way, and thank you for your understanding in this matter.


Being a children's book afficionado, I thought I knew all about Mother Goose.

But I never thought I'd meet her.

One morning last fall I woke up to discover that the muskrats in the pond out back had built a winter house literally overnight. All winter they stayed comfortably indoors while the pond froze-over and snow battered their home:

The part of me that reads picture books imagined the muskrats snuggled cozily inside, sipping cocoa and stringing popcorn and cranberries for their tiny Christmas tree. The part of me that reads nature books pictured the inside of their house as being pitch-dark, crowded, and stinkin' to high heaven.

Now that spring has arrived, the snow and ice are gone -- and a pair of geese have arrived. For the first few days, they mostly splashed around in the pond and padded around the banks. Then I noticed something strange: one of the geese seemed to have taken over the muskrat house. Every time I looked out the window, she was strutting around on top, spreading her wings. After a couple days of that, she settled down. Literally. For the past two weeks the goose has been roosting on the muskrat house twenty-four/seven. That's when I realized she had turned the muskrat's home into her springtime nest. She never leaves.

Meanwhile, her husband floats in slow circles around the nest, occasionally climbing onto the grass to pace back and forth like any nervous father-to-be.

I did a little research this week and learned that the incubation period for goose eggs is anywhere from 25 to 35 days.

Maybe we'll have some baby geese out there by Easter.

Make way for goslings!

Or Gooskrats.


As I always say, you never know where a children's book or author will pop up.

A couple nights ago I sat down to watch THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, a 1944 film noir starring Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett. The story concerns a psychology professor who -- while his wife is out of town -- gets involved with a shady lady and a murder. It's very entertaining. Early in the film, the professor has a lengthy discussion about women and romance with a couple friends. After they depart, he takes a book from the shelf and sits down to read. Without giving too much away, you might say that his book selection ignites and inspires the rest of the movie. When he opens the volume to the title page, we see that it's the Heritage Press edition of THE SONG OF SONGS WHICH IS SOLOMON'S, illustrated by Valenti Angelo.

Of course, my first thought (and maybe yours as well) upon seeing this scene was, "Hey, Valenti Angelo! He illustrated ROLLER SKATES!"

Of course I've always hated the illustrations for ROLLER SKATES, which seem too stark, and cold, and old-fashioned...

...but still, it was nice to see the name of a famous children's book author/illustrator in an unexpected place.

Although Valenti Angelo (who was born in Tuscany in 1897 and immigrated to the United States at age eight) had illustrated dozens of books by the 1930s, ROLLER SKATES by Ruth Sawyer was the first children's book he illustrated. One day, while delivering some of the ROLLER SKATES illustrations to Viking, editor May Massee suggested he write his own novel. Mr. Angelo later recalled his reaction:

"With my schooling!" I exclaimed. "A story about what?"

"Your childhood memories of Italy," she answered. "I know you can do it!"

So I went home and began to write the story NINO. I shall never forget the encouragement and understanding my first editor gave me. Not only did writing open up new vistas to me, but it brought back to life old and precious memories that had been dormant in me for many years. It brought back to me things which are the beauty, the dreams, and the happiness of all childhood. NINO tells of my own life in a Tuscan village before I came to America. It was followed by a sequel, GOLDEN GATE, a story of an Italian family making a new home in a new land, really an account of Nino's early days in America. The horse and buggy days, and those of barefoot boys and dusty roads, peaceful rivers, and graceful mountains, and rich fields of golden grain and vineyards, and the invasion of the four-wheeled carriages.

Valenti Angelo received a Newbery Honor for NINO, coming in just behind the winning book, THIMBLE SUMMER by Elizabeth Enright, and scoring even higher than the now-classic MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS.

People often ask me if I've read all the Newbery Honor Books.

No, there are still a few I haven't read, and NINO is one.

I think I was put off by the illustration, but now that I know a little more about the book, I plan to read it soon.

Incidentally, this is one of the very few older Newbery Honor Books that is still easy to find for a relatively low price. Even today there are several first edition copies available online for less than ten dollars.

My copy wasn't quite that low in price, but it is signed:

Incidentally, Mr. Valenti's daughter, Valdine Plasmati, was also a writer-illustrator of children's books, including THE MAGNIFICENT PUMPKIN (1959) and ALGERNON AND THE PIGEONS (1963.) His son, Peter Angelo, was a musician who played the oboe and English horn. There's a "Peter Angelo" who played those instruments for two Broadway plays, GYPSY (the 1989 revival with Tyne Daly) and LEGS DIAMOND. Same guy?


A friend sent me an interesting article from this past week's New York Times.

Titled "Would You Sign My Kindle?" the piece describes how the continuing trend towarde e-books has affected author signings. Some fans have authors "sign the backs of their iPads and the cases of their Kindles."

Then there is "Autography," which will debut at BookExpo America in May. In the words of the article:

Here’s how an Autography eBook “signing” will work: a reader poses with the author for a photograph, which can be taken with an iPad camera or an external camera. The image immediately appears on the author’s iPad (if it’s shot with an external camera, it’s sent to the iPad via Bluetooth). Then the author uses a stylus to scrawl a digital message below the photo. When finished, the author taps a button on the iPad that sends the fan an e-mail with a link to the image, which can then be downloaded into the eBook.

Oh for the days of paper and pen! Knowing what a mess I make of anything computer-related, I doubt I'd be able to attend an "Autography" signing without a Geek Squad member in tow!


The summer before the United States enters World War II, a young British girl comes to stay with her father’s family in Maine. Eleven-year-old Felicity has never before met her eccentric American relatives, and while she slowly adjusts to the grandmother known as “the Gram,” schoolteacher Uncle Gideon, dreamy Aunt Miami, and the young orphan Derek, she continues to miss her glamorous parents, who have returned to Europe without her.

When a series of letters written in numeric code arrive at the house, the plucky and likable protagonist attempts to crack the code, and solves a few family mysteries at the same time. Astute readers will enjoy staying one-step-ahead of Felicity as they follow the busy plot, and probably won’t mind a few minor flaws along the way. The British qualities of Felicity’s first-person voice often seem heavy-handed and studied. And what are we to make of thirty-something Aunt Miami who moons around the house reciting Shakespeare all day like the heroine of a Victorian novel; didn’t single women work in the 1940s…especially during wartime? But these are small hitches in an otherwise readable historical novel given immediacy by its mystery plot and given charm by its likable young heroine.


I’m not the first person to point this out…but I might as well add my voice to the chorus here: the cover illustration of THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE may be one of the worst dustjackets of the year.

What the heck does this jumble of sneakers have to do with the story at hand?

It has nothing to do with the 1940s setting. (Did girls wear jeans and pink sneakers back in ’41?) The cover pretty much gives the illusion that this is a contemporary story. (Maybe that’s the point -- the old “bait and switch” -- drawing kids to the book before they realize it’s set seventy years in the past.)

It also has nothing to do with the content of the novel. Though Felicity has a crush on Derek, they never get this close in the book.

For years I have heard that elements such as book design and illustrations are not considered by the Newbery committee unless these things detract from the text.

Does this distracting dustjacket sufficiently detract from the text to hurt THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE’s chances with an award committee?


Wes is regular guy from an average Minnesota family. June has spent her life moving from town to town as her father constantly changes job. They meet on the first day of junior year and their relationship -- which begins cautiously and develops into a romance of great intensity -- is the subject of Pete Hautman’s best book yet. The style is unconventional. A series of brief, often understated vignettes, alternate between the perspectives of each teen, highlighting their sometimes shared, sometimes differing, perspectives on teenage love: the physicality, the confusion, the euphoria, and even the moments of boredom (“You’re playing a computer game while I’m talking to you?”)

Wes and June’s relationship weathers a mid-book move to another town three hundred and fifty miles away, but even while the teens dream about running away to Paris, they are refreshingly honest in their acceptance that life will continue to change and that their romance may not last forever. It’s rare to discover a love story for teens this elemental in its telling, this balanced in its characterizations of both the boy and the girl, and this honest its emotion. THE BIG CRUNCH has the feel of a classic.


I love the cover of THE BIG CRUNCH, which traces the evolution of Wes and June’s romance through four seasonal panels (art by Frank Stockton.)

The same can’t be said for the flap copy, which introduces us to Wes and Jen.

Yeah, you read that right. The character in the book is named June, but the dustjacket refers to her as JEN – not once, not twice, but THREE times.

Here, read for yourself. If the text is too small, you can click on the image to blow it up:

I wish someone HAD blown up (boom!) the flap copy before sending it out with the wrong info. It makes it feel like the publisher wasn't paying enough attention to what should have been one of the top books in their spring catalog.

Can you imagine what a publisher would say if someone gave a negative critique to one of their books and referred to the protagonist by the wrong name three times in the review? I imagine their response would be along the lines of, "How can anyone take that review seriously when the critic couldn't even get the name of the lead character right?"

...Well, how are readers supposed to take a book seriously when no one at the publishing house got the name of the character right?

On the other hand, maybe having the name wrong on the flap will cause this first edition to become a collector's item!

Even if the mistake doesn't add to the book's value, it's still worth getting a copy. It's a great book!


Here we go again.

I'm always interested in reading edgy young adult fiction that pushes the boundaries within the field. That's why I was intrigued by the new novel, I AM J by Cris Beam, the story of a transgendered teenager.

Unfortunately, the novel arrived in bookstores already in its second printing.

This has been happening more and more lately, and though no one has ever explained it to me, I'm guessing that in this economic era publishers are hedging their bets on smaller print runs, possibly waiting to see how many copies ends up ordering before going back to press. The problem is that all those first printings must end up in Amazon's warehouses...with second printings shipped to the regular brick-and-mortar bookstores.

It happened last year with EXTRAORDINARY by Nancy Werlin.

Year before last year with ANGRY MANAGEMENT by Chris Crutcher.

And now it's happening with I AM J.

I know that publishers need to cut corners these days, but I also know that a lot of book collectors, including me, seek out only first editions -- and if they aren't available, then we just don't buy the book.


The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced on Tuesday afternoon. Though they're not as fun as the Newbery and Caldecott, it's still interesting to see what books are honored. I'm a fan of the online Pulitzer Prize First Edition Guide and particulary enjoy their annual prediction list which uses a special "regression analysis" to figure out the winning title. Sometimes they're wrong (last year's winner, TINKERS by Paul Harding came way out of left field) but they often get at least one or two of the three finalists correct. Their #1 choice for 2011? A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan, with Jonathan Franzen's FREEDOM coming in second.

This list is prepared by a research scientist "based upon analysis that ultimately incorporates over 30 independent or predictor variables such as newspaper notable and best book lists; other awards and award nominations; and authors previously nominated for the Pulitzer and other awards."

I wonder how this research scienctist would fare trying to predict next year's Newbery winner...?

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Nancy Werlin said...

Even I did not get any first-edition hardcover copies of EXTRAORDINARY. Oh, well.


Peter D. Sieruta said...

I find that outrageous! In your next book contract, I guess you'll have to specify that your "author's copies" must be first editions.

(And I hope you have another book contract soon. I've read and enjoyed all of your books and can't wait till the next one.)


Laura Canon said...

That cover for THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE certainly would have fooled me. I'd probably never even have picked it up.
Off topic, but I bet you know that Margery Sharp of THE RESCUERS also wrote adult novels. I've tracked a couple down in the library and they're...interesting.

Roger Sutton said...

Re spam--Gail Gauthier showed me some setting on blogger which only moderates comments for posts more than two weeks old. It's really handy since most of the spam goes to old posts in any case and it allows your current posts to flourish. Now if I could only tell you just where the setting can be found . . . .

Shelley said...

We use that setting, too, Roger.

Blogger Dashboard//settings//comments. Scroll down to comment moderation, near the bottom. Select moderation for posts older than x days, and change to how many you'd like.