Today's Sunday Brunch will be more brief and random than usual. I have to report for jury duty tomorrow, so now need to spend the rest of the day fretting about getting up early in morning (what if I get there late? will they throw me in jail?) and driving a long distance into unknown territory (what if I get lost? will they find me in contempt of court?) The only good thing about the experience is that it's just as likely that I won't get empaneled at all and can spend the entire day reading books in the jury room.
On the other hand, if this blog isn't updated for a few weeks, you'll know I've been sequestered on some major case that takes months and months to resolve -- especially since there may be a lone hold-out juror who can't be budged. Listen for the news report that says, "We can't reveal his name, but he's been seen entering court each day with a children's book in hand."
Anyway, I couldn't let today go by without wishing all the dads out there:
And if I do end up sitting on a lengthy trial, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone else a Happy Fourth of July, a nice Labor Day, a spooky Halloween, a Bountiful Thanksgiving, and a Merry Christmas!
NUMBER THE STAIRS
I came across this photo of a children's-book-themed staircase on the internet. Does anyone know where it originated? Is it in someone's house? A bookstore? A library?
If my stairs weren't carpeted, I'd love to create something similar -- a real Stairway to Heaven!
STAIRWAY TO HELL
Thinking about stairs always makes me remember this book:
Published in 1974, HOUSE OF STAIRS wasn't William Sleator's first book, but it was his first science fiction novel. He's written many more since, but this one still remains my very favorite. The story concerns five orphaned teenagers sent to live in a mysterious building full of nothing but endless staircases -- and a food-dispensing machine that directs their behavior. It is not long before the commands to dance for food take a more menacing turn. This fascinating character study of five teens trapped in a mysterious reality is a science fiction book for those who don't usually like science fiction. In many ways, HOUSE OF STAIRS was ahead of its time. It would fit right in with today's "dystopian novel" trend -- though as a stand-alone novel of only 166 pages, it would perhaps be considered an oddity for today's kids who only know this genre to contain massive books in multi-volume series. Sleator's protrayal of a possible future is lean and unembellished, and ends with a sentence that will give readers the chills.
A FAVORITE ILLUSTRATOR
Another reason I like HOUSE OF STAIRS is that the dustjacket illustration was created by one of my favorite children's book artists, Richard Cuffari. Although he never illustrated a picture book to my knowledge, he was one of the kings of middle-grade and young adult dust jackets and interior drawings in the 1970s. I believe I first became aware of his work in Sylvia Louise Engdahl's THE FAR SIDE OF EVIL:
And then his work started popping up everywhere. He had a real knack for choosing the very best projects and his lined and shadowed pen-and-ink drawings distinguished many of my favorite books of the era: THE WINGED COLT OF CASA MIA by Betsy Byars, THIS IS A RECORDING by Barbara Corcoran, THE PERILOUS GARD by Elizabeth Marie Pope, THE MAGIC MOTH by Virginia Lee, and so many more.
When I think back on books from my early teens, Mr. Cuffari's illustrations are the ones I see in my mind's eye.
Richard Cuffari died at the young age of 53 in 1978. Although he left a wonderful legacy, it would have been fascinating to see what he might have accomplished through the 1980s and 1990s, if he'd continued working.
I am surprised by how little information there is on the internet about this artist's life and work. I did find one wonderful blog entry from fellow fan
Daughter Number Three who says that she has been known to pick up a book just because it has a cover illustration by Richard Cuffari.
JENNA FOX 2.0
A couple years ago I blogged about my initial encounters with author Mary E. Pearson. It started when AOL sponsored message boards devoted to a varity of topics. I used to hang out on the “Writing for Children” and “Writing for Young Adults” boards. One of the people posting there was Mary E. Pearson, who had just published her first novel, the unique and thought-provoking DAVID V. GOD. Her second book, SCRIBBLER OF DREAMS was about to be released. We exchanged a few notes before AOL shut the message boards down. Several years later Ms. Pearson published the well-regarded speculative novel THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX and a friend arranged to get a signed copy of that book for me. I was surprised and thrilled when it arrived with a note from Mary Pearson, saying that she remembered me from our AOL encounters:
And I was surprised and thrilled this past week when I learned that the author, after taking time out to write the YA novel THE MILES BETWEEN, is now returning to the world of Jenna Fox with a new book, THE FOX INHERITANCE, the second volume in a new series called "The Jenna Fox Chronicles." Set two hundred and sixty years after the first book, THE FOX INHERITANCE will likely be one of the fall's most anticipated novels.
The book will be published August 30. Sounds like great reading for Labor Day weekend.
If you're a fan of TV's ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, you know that they tape the entire season over several summer weekends at different locations around the United States.
I just read that, during yesterday's taping in El Paso, Texas, a children's book made quite a splash.
A first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT was brought in for appraisal and valued at $80,000 to $100,000!
Can't wait to watch this episode (which probably won't air till next year) to find out how a copy of this book ended up in El Paso.
I watch ANTIQUES ROADSHOW every Saturday night when it's not being pre-empted by PBS pledge drives. (Which means I watch it about once a month because it seems like three weeks out of every month are devoted to pledge drives.) Whenever someone brings in an ugly vase or overly-ornate punch bowl and learns it's worth $50,000 or more, they always say, "It's going to stay in the family."
At which point I usually scream at the TV: "Sell it! Sell it now and pay off your house! Pay off your car! Put the money in the bank! Because if you don't do it now, your kids are going to be calling Sotheby's the minute you die!"
But when I hear about a $100,000 book, I start to question myself.
If I had a book worth that much money, would I sell it?
If it was a book I really and truly treasured?
I'm not sure.
It's possible I might find myself keeping it.
BOSTON GLOBE-HORN BOOK AWARDS
The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners were announced this past week:
Fiction winner: BLINK & CAUTION by Tim Wynne-Jones
Honor Books: CHIME by Franny Billingsley and ANNA HIBISCUS by Atinuke
Nonfiction winner: THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD by Steve Sheinkin
Honor Books: INTO THE UNKNOWN by Stewart Ross and CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER by Martin Jenkins
Picture Book winner: POCKETFUL OF POSIES by Salley Mavor
Honor Books: DARK EMPEROR AND OTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen and PECAN PIE BABY written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
So what do you think -- hurray or ho-hum?
This year I'm going for the latter. The Horn Book has always had the hots for Tim Wynne Jones; this is the third time they've honored one of his books. Second time for Franny Billingsley.
Speaking of Horn Book Awards, what do you think of their 2011 Mind the Gap Awards? I was happy to see Laurie Halse Anderson's FORGE get some kind of recognition, even if it is for "Most Missed" title. I loved that book. There always are one or two books that everyone thinks will win the Newbery or Caldecott and then go completely ignored.
I wonder what 2011's "most missed" titles will be.
I hope I'm back from jury duty by then....
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