Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Late Brunch

Today’s Sunday Brunch arrives a little late. I’ve spent most of this weekend working on a chapter of the book I’m writing for Candlewick with Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and Betsy Bird of Fuse #8 fame. How can it take SEVEN HOURS to write three pages? Especially when the writing is going quite smoothly and happily? Can you imagine how long those three pages would have taken if the writing was going slowly and unhappily? Anyway, I’ve spent so much time working on our book that I got behind on the blog. I’ll do better next week!


It seems like a long time since Cindy Dobrez and I conferred to choose the five finalists and winner of the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the category of young adult literature.

The award was finally announced this past Friday night in LA. The winner was A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner.

Here is the summary of the book that we submitted with our decision:

The fourth novel in Turner’s brilliant “Queen’s Thief” series, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, is a tightly-plotted story of political intrigue that examines the demands and responsibilities of leadership, loyalty, and power. Sophos, who prefers poetry to politics, is the reluctant heir to the throne of Sounis, but with sage advice from his friend and fellow king Eugenides, the teenager finally assumes his rightful authority over a country facing civil war, invading armies, and an uncertain future. This accessible, yet complex fantasy offers subtle surprises with each successive read and will send new fans back to follow the captivating story from the beginning.

Congratulations, also to the other four finalists for this year’s award:

THE RING OF SOLOMON by Jonathan Stroud

Incidentally, this is a banner year for young people’s books because the newspaper’s Robert Kirsch Award, “presented annually to a living author with a substantial connection to the American West, whose contribution to American letters deserves special recognition” was given to Beverly Cleary.


The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes began in 1980, but the young adult category did not begin until 1998.

Here is a list of the previous winners:

1998 / RULES OF THE ROAD by Joan Bauer
1999 / FRENCHTOWN SUMMER by Robert Cormier
2000 / MIRACLE’S BOYS by Jacqueline Woodson
2001 / THE LAND by Mildred D. Taylor
2002 / FEED by M.T. Anderson
2003 / A NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly
2004 / DOING IT by Melvin Burgess
2005 / YOU AND YOU AND YOU by Per Nilsson
2006 / TYRELL by Coe Booth
2007 / A DARKLING PLAIN by Philip Reeve
2008 / NATION by Terry Pratchett


The Edgar Awards were just announced by the Mystery Writers of America.

THE INTERROGATION OF GABRIEL JAMES by Charlie Price won in the young adult category.

The other nominees were:

THE RIVER by Mary Jane Beaufrand
7 SOULS by Barnabas Miller and Jordan Orlando
DUST CITY by Robert Paul Weston.

The winner in the juvenile category is THE BUDDY FILES : THE CASE OF THE LOST BOY by Dori Hillestad Butler.

The other finalists were:

ZORA AND ME by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon


Several months ago I re-read MRS. MINIVER, Jan Struthers' wonderful volume of vignettes about family life in pre-war Great Britain. The book has nothing to do with the later movie, but has a charm all its own as it captures the everyday moments that give our lives meaning. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. Around the same time, I also got a chance to watch part of the Greer Garson/Waler Pidgeon film again; it remains one of my favorites.

If you're a fan of either the book or the movie, you may be surprised to learn that, eight years after MRS. MINIVER swept the 1942 Academy Awards, Greer and Walter Pidgeon teamed up again to film a sequel called THE MINIVER STORY. Released in 1950, this stinkeroo flopped at the box office and is remembered by very few people these days.

One of the main reasons this movie flopped?

It's about Mrs. Miniver becoming ill and dying!

Can you believe it? Mrs. Miniver began as a series of popular newspaper pieces which were later collected into a much-loved book. The film adaptation, which showed the Miniver family bravely facing the horrors of World War II was an instant-classic -- a morale booster which caused Winston Churchill to say that Mrs. Miniver was more vital to his nation during wartime than a fleet of destroyers.

Anyone should know that you don't take a character as beloved as Kay Miniver and then turn around and kill her off!

You're probably wondering what this rant has to do with children's books.

Well, just last week I read a review of a forthcoming adult novel that is based on a recently popular series of young adult books. This new book has the teenage characters reunite as adults after one of their group dies. Publishers Weekly spelled out the entire plot, naming the character who dies, as well as their cause of death. I don't want to "spoil" the book for anyone, so I'm being deliberately vague about who dies and why.

Even though I only read one book in the teen series, I have to admit the news of this character's death made me feel the same way I felt when I heard they killed off Mrs. Miniver in a sequel.

It seems like a desperate move and just feels a little icky.

Yeah, yeah, death's a part of life and everyone dies...but I can't help feeling that a plot twist like this damages the integrity of the earlier books in the series. It somehow cheapens the characters. I mean, how would you feel if Beverly Cleary decided to write her first adult novel and began the book with a scene in which Beezus Quimby and Henry Huggins are gathered around Ramona's grave? Wouldn't you somehow feel betrayed? Would it put a different spin on Cleary's earlier books, causing you to no longer regard Ramona Q. as a precocious, lively, and misunderstood girl but instead think of her as a tragic figure...?


Here's a blog feature so new that I haven't even thought of a name for it.

Earlier I mentioned that the vignettes that make up the book MRS. MINIVER "capture the everyday moments that give our lives meaning." Maybe it's the "writer" in me (or maybe I'm just nosy!) but I love hearing people share their special memories, especially when they describe the minute details that gave these memories color and individuality. For example, my red-headed cousin once told me that, as a child, she used to carry around a special stuffed animal everywhere she went. I no longer have the slightest recollection of what kind of stuffed animal she carried or what its name was. But what is stuck in my mind -- and will stay there for the rest of my life -- is this small detail that she added to the story: "Once my mother insisted that she had to wash my stuffed animal. After it came out of the washer, she put it in the dryer and I remember standing there, staring through the dryer's glass window as my stuffed animal spun around and around and 'The Girl from Ipanema' played on the radio." I have no idea why this story tickled me so much but, even now, thirty years after first hearing it, every time I hear 'The Girl from Ipanema' on the radio I get this vision of my cousin, her red hair in pigtails, standing in front of a dryer and watching her stuffed animal spin in circles.

Anyway, it's crossed my mind that, for readers like us, every time we pick up a book, we create a personal memory that goes along with it. It's probably not dramatic. In fact, it's likely mundane. Yet these are the little moments that make up our lives, each one unique. So I've decided that every couple weeks I'll randomly choose a book and share my own unique (likely mundane) memory of reading it. Every time I post one of my memories, I'd love for you to send in a random book-related memory of your own. It can be about any children's or young adult book. It can be about a moment from any time in your life, from infancy to the day before yesterday. It can be a sentence long or a page long. Remember: nothing is too mundane! I'll start off with a random memory of mine:

I first came across TEACUP FULL OF ROSES in the "New Adult Books" section of the Edison Branch Library in Detroit. This was strange, as the book was actually published for young adults. I wondered if I was going to have any trouble checking it out, so looked inside the back cover and saw a minus sign in front of the author's name typed on the card pocket; this minus sign meant that kids were allowed to borrow the book from the adult section. It was a Saturday afternoon and I'd arrived at the library in the late afternoon. Now it was nearly closing time, five-thirty, and, since it was December, it was dark outside. I checked out TEACUP FULL OF ROSES and tucked it, along with my other library books, in my canvas newspaper-route saddlebags, went outside and unlocked my bike from the bicycle rack. Then I threw my saddlebags over the back of my bike and pedaled home in the dark. It was strange to be riding my bike alone in the dark, ten or twelve blocks from home as a combination of icy rain and snow began to fall. A car drove past and someone rolled down a window to throw out a cigarette and I remember hearing the song blaring from the radio: "Me and Mrs. Jones...we got a thiiiiing going on...." When I finally got home, I came through the back door and it was dark on the landing and in the kitchen. I had a momentary feeling that something was wrong (why wasn't my mother in the kitchen fixing dinner?) but the light was on in the dining room and I found both my parents sitting there. Is there anything better (secretly better, because we'd probably never admit this while growing up) than coming home as a kid and finding your parents there waiting for you and everything all right? My mother said, "Your coat's all wet. Put it front of the register." So I took my coat off and laid it in front of the dining room heating register to dry off, then turned the corner into the living room, took off my wet socks, grabbed one of my books, and lay down with my cold feet pressed against the hot air blowing from the living room register vent and began reading TEACUP FULL OF ROSES.

There you have it. My own mundane memory of reading one particular book. Now share one of yours with me in the comments section!


Aidan Chambers, best known for his Printz-winning POSTCARDS FROM NO MAN'S LAND as well as a number of big thick sophisticated books for an indeterminate readership, returns with his most accessible young adult book in years. THE KISSING GAME contains sixteen short pieces ranging from traditional short stories, to several works of "flash fiction" (brief, pithy pieces, sometimes told in dialogue only), and even an autobiographical story that the author wrote at age seventeen. A riff on Cinderella called "Cindy's Day Out," makes a fine, character-driven opener, while the title piece, a romance-turned-horror story, will produce the requisite chills. However, some of the pieces, such as "Tosca," are so vague in characterization and narrative that readers will be left scratching their heads. The same is true for the flash fiction. A few, such as "Like Life" and "Something to Tell You" come to powerful climaxes, while others seem have the feel of writing exercises that probably needed another trip through the word processor to work out the meandering dialogue and rather pointless conclusions. Though the individual entries are sometimes uneven in quality, Chambers remains a top-flight stylist and this fast-paced collection will draw readers who have heretofore been scared-off by the complex and overlong novels that have heretofore been the author's hallmark.


Whenever I see an Aidan Chambers book on the library shelves, I wonder how many kids have actually read it. While challenging, I suspect that POSTCARDS FROM NO MAN'S LAND has achieved a certain readership by virtue of its having won the Printz Award. But what of titles such as DANCE ON MY GRAVE, NIK (NOW I KNOW), THE TOLL BRIDGE, and the 800-pager THIS IS ALL? Among the most sophisticated young adult novels ever, these books would obviously increase the prestige of any company that published them, and good reviews would certainly get the books onto library shelves. But, once there, do we know how often they are read? I know that publishers can check their sales figures to see how a book is selling, and libraries have circulation records to find out how often a volume is borrowed. But has anyone ever developed an accurate analysis to determine how many times a certain title has been read??? When you consider the thousands of libraries that own a copy of, for instance, THIS IS ALL, can we assume that this novel has been read by tens of thousands of kids...or would the number be much, much smaller than that? Is it possible that only a handful of kids have ever actually soldiered through this difficult novel? I wonder if there is any legitimate way of finding out the answer?


Every day I look out the window to watch "Mother Goose" sitting on her nest atop the muskrat house in the pond outback. It's been weeks and her eggs still haven't hatched yet. But all the time I've been watching this goose, I never knew that one of the ducks out back was also about to become a mother. I couldn't believe my eyes when I glanced out at the pond on Friday night and saw this mother duck swimming along with somewhere between eight and a dozen of the tiniest ducklings you ever saw bobbing along behind her. I grabbed my camera and ran down to the pond, where I saw her huddled on the bank and all those ducklings hiding beneath her protective spread wings. I took a video and was lucky enough to catch the moment when one of the eight to twelve hatchlings popped out to say hello:

What does this have to do with children's books? Not much...until bookseller PJ Grath gave me a great title for this video: Make Way for Ducklings!

Finally, for fun, here's a short video showing what happens when Daddy Duck notices a guy with a camera standing too close to clan. He jumped out of the water and CHASED me off! The original video is actually fifteen or twenty seconds long but, out of self-respect, I cut it off at eight seconds so no one would hear me bellowing in fear as the duck attacked me and the camera took random shots of pond, grass, and sky as I went running!

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


Anonymous said...

Here's a random but cherished memory. When I was 8 years old, we did some traveling, and while in England, my parent stocked up on Puffin books for me. My dad would read books like "A Bear Called Paddington" and "Professor Branestawm" to me at bedtime. He would sit on the bed and read a couple of pages and then he would let me sit up and look at those pages and pick out all the spelling and punctuation differences in British English.

Laura Canon said...

A lot of my memories of childhood reading are connected to learning the meanings of new words. For instance there was a scene in Marilyn Sachs' POCKET FULL OF SEEDS where the girl is at a French boarding school and they give her tripe to eat and she can't swallow it. I couldn't imagine what tripe was, so I finally went and asked my mother. Then I still couldn't imagine why someone would eat tripe -- even in wartime -- but I totally sympathized with the girl!

I also completely forgot this until years later when I re-read POCKET FULL OF SEEDS and I was like "oh, yeah, this is the tripe book!"

P. J. Grath said...

Peter, let me return the favor by giving you a children’s book memory not from my own childhood but from my son’s early days. He was a year old, an active, curious child who liked stories and picture books but who had not yet developed the patience to hear a long story read through to the end. Sick with a fever, the poor little guy just lay there burning up and miserable. Enter MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, a gift from a friend. My usually active, impatient little boy let me read the whole book without interruption. Then he wanted to hear it again. Over the next year we must have read that book hundreds of times, and it was the dawn of another reading life, as my son has shared my love of books ever since.

I'll have to wait until I get near a high-speed connection to watch your video, but that gives me something to look forward to tomorrow. Thanks!

Alex said...

Not a book memory, but I can completely relate to your red-headed cousin. I was given a small stuffed Snoopy when I was young and very ill. I still have him and carry him with me anywhere I go. Some part of me still thinks he hold magic abiltites to get me through things the way he got me through that illness.
He is also my muse.

Kate Coombs said...

Laura's memory triggered one for me. I learned the word "lee" from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, as in, "the lee of the stone." Ever since, whenever I've come across a lee-type situation, I find myself thinking, "in the lee of the stone" and remembering that book, which I liked very much then, besides, and still do.

LaurieA-B said...

The novel An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle was published in 1989. I got wind that there was a new L'Engle and wanted to read it. The library (Midland branch of the Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR) had a computer catalog by then, I believe, but patrons could not place their own holds yet; you had to request books from other branches by going up to the counter and talking to library staff. I told the nice woman at the counter that I wanted a new book called An Acceptable Time. "Unacceptable Time," she said. "An Acceptable Time," I repeated. "Unacceptable Time," she repeated. I figured out what was going on, and at her request wrote the title down. L'Engle had a knack for awkward titles, at times.