Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Brunch with a Little Help from My Friends

Among other topics, today’s blog welcomes a teeny-tiny new reader, talks about a book being released a long time from now, and lists some syndromes, complexes, and principles named after children’s book characters.


Regular readers of this blog know that I am writing a book for Candlewick Press with Elizabeth Bird of the Fuse #8 blog and Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast . After eighteen months of hard work, we are nearing completion of the project. Only one more chapter needs to be written. No, I won’t tell you which of us three is late writing that final chapter. It would only embarrass… him. After that chapter’s finished, we’re going to have one more go at editing the manuscript as a whole, then collect up all sources and citations and documenting material, and send it off to our smart and savvy editor. Some compare writing a book to giving birth. We’ll have to ask Betsy Bird if the two events are comparable. You see, during the past few months of writing and re-writing, she’s also been hatching a baby bird.

And this past week, Lillian Blackwell Bird was born!

Big congrats to Betsy and her husband on their new family member.

By the way, it’s always interesting to see how, in any group of three, each individual creates their own identity.

In the Bird family, there’s now a Mommy, a Daddy, and a baby.

In Charlie’s Angels, Kate Jackson was “the smart one,” Farrah was “the sexy one,” and Jaclyn was “the beautiful one.” [Note: my brother just wrote to tell me I got this all wrong. Kate was the "smart one," Farrah was the "athletic one," and Jaclyn was the "street smart one."]

In the Three Stooges you had the bald one (Curly), the one with the soupbowl haircut (Moe), and the one with the funny hair (Larry.)

Over the past few months, I have wondered how the individual members of our Candlewick trio -- Betsy, Julie, and I – will be identified.

I finally figured out my role in the triumvirate this past week.

When we learned that Baby Lily was born, Jules Danielson and I sent e-mails back and forth, saying, “Eeeee!” and “Wheee!” and giving each virtual high-fives in cyberspace.

Then I said to Jules, “You know, for some reason I really thought Betsy was going to have a baby boy.”

Her response: “Um…didn’t you read her blog entry about having a baby shower and receiving 84 children’s books, all inscribed to Molly…then she mentioned they’d decided against the name Molly?”

“Oh. Yeah…I did read that.”

“Wasn’t that a clue that she was expecting a girl?”

“Yeah, I guess that was.”

Jules continued: “And didn’t you read her blog a couple days ago when she reprinted Tina Fey’s funny prayer for a daughter?”

“Oh yeah…I did read that.”

“Then why in the world did you EVER think she was having a boy???”

“Uh…I don’t know.”

Oh well, at least I’ve finally figured out my role in our little group.

I’m the dumb one.


Don’t you hate it when someone from a blog or listserve raves about a new novel that “you’ve just got to read!” and then adds, “The book will be published in six months.”

People who write such posts might as well be saying, “Ha-ha. I’ve got something you don’t have -- and I’m rubbing your nose in it.”

Believe me, I’ve been there as a reader!

When I started this blog, I told myself I’d never be one of those smug types who writes about books that are months and months away from publication. I mean, it’s one thing to discuss a book that’s coming out next week or next month; it’s quite another to talk about a title that won’t be published till next February or April!

But now I find myself writing about a book that’s going to be released “sometime in 2012.”

And you’re probably thinking, “Unfair!”

But the reason I’m doing it is because I want to share some info I’ve only recently learned about the way publishers create “buzz” for a book months before it’s ever released.

It all started on Thursday when my bookstore buddy phoned to tell me about a new book she’d just read, THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen. The first title in a series called “The Ascendance Trilogy,” the volume will be published by Scholastic in 2012. My friend was overwhelmed by the novel, saying she was having a hard time returning to “the real world” after living within the pages of this book for the past couple days. She’s always had an instinct -- and the knowledge -- for picking out “the next big thing” in children’s books and when she loves a title, she gets right behind it. She told me, “I want to sell a hundred copies of THE FALSE PRINCE. I want to sell it to everyone!”

She then offered to let me read it next. It was Thursday afternoon and I could hardly wait until Friday evening to pick up the book when I made my usual weekly visit to the bookstore.

Then a curious thing happened.

My friend called it fate.

An hour after she called me at work to tell me about this book, the lights went out in my office. Not just in my office, but all over downtown Detroit. Due to this power outage, we got to leave work early…so on the way home from work I stopped at the bookstore to pick up THE FALSE PRINCE.

“It was meant to be!” said my friend, and maybe she was right, as the power outage lasted all day Friday too, so I got to stay home the next day and read the entire novel from cover to cover.


Set in a mythical kingdom, THE FALSE PRINCE concerns shrewd and sneaky Sage competing with two other orphans to assume the role of their country’s long-missing prince, now the sole heir to the crown. Reminiscent of both THE HUNGER GAMES and Megan Whalen Turner’s “Attolia” series, the novel is full of twists, turns, surprises. And for those who are somewhat overwhelmed by Attolia’s detailed political and cultural milieu, THE FALSE PRINCE cuts right to the chase, offering a you-can-barely-turn-the-pages-fast-enough story, heavy on dialogue, that will appeal to even the most reluctant reader.

I agree with my bookstore friend: THE FALSE PRINCE is going to be a big hit.

As mentioned earlier, the reason I’m discussing it in today’s blog is because I want to explore how publishers create early buzz for such a book.

We’ve all seen ARCs -- advance reading copies of books sent out to reviewers, librarians, and bookstores months before publication. They are usually issued as paperbacks, often with the book’s dustjacket illustration printed on the cover and internal warnings that these uncorrected proofs are not to be sold, or even directly quoted from.

But in the case of THE FALSE PRINCE, the publisher sent out a manuscript in a spiral binding:

This is a fairly rare practice. I've seen it done a few times in the past with books such as THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins and OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt. Those books were eventually issued in ARC editions, as will (I assume) THE FALSE PRINCE, but this spiral-binding edition is a way of getting a buzz-worthy book out there especially early. Needless to say, a bound manuscript copy like this is even more special to collectors than an ARC.

Accompanying the manuscript is a letter which states, "Rare is the book that moves and enchants an individual, let alone so many of us. Well, we are writing because we cannot contain ourselves -- we have fallen in love with Jennifer A. Nielsen's extraordinary novel THE FALSE PRINCE, which we are sure will be (deservedly) one of the biggest books of 2012." You can click on the image below to enlarge the letter:

Having the entire staff of Scholastic sign the letter, rather than just the editor, adds strength and urgency to the package. It adds to the "buzz factor." Makes us think this book is Important.

Based on the quality and accessibility of this novel, I think Scholastic is correct in promoting this book so strongly.

It will be very interesting to see if both reviewers and general readers agree with Scholastic, giving THE FALSE PRINCE the kind of critical kudos and sales that the publisher seems to anticipate.


Just because a publisher anticipates a hit, going as far as releasing a way-early bound manuscript, does not necessarily mean a book will be a smash.


My bookstore buddy also gave me this bound manuscript which, according to the cover letter from Margaret K. McElderry's editorial director, is "one of the most exciting, original, and hilarious books I've had the pleasure of publishing." She also mentions that "We knew we had something special" because "everyone who read the beginning chapters came running to [the editor's] office for more, having been unable to put the book down."

I was excited to read these raves as well...then turned to the copyright page and learned GOLDEN & GREY had been published in 2005!

I'd never heard of it before now.

Which isn't to say it's a bad book. It might be great. But the reviews on aren't too encouraging. One even mentions the book's "slow start." (What about all those people so enthused by the beginning chapters mentioned in the letter?) There aren't a lot of reader comments on Amazon either. Which isn't to say that the book hasn't had some success; after all, the publisher has issued two sequels.

But the kind of success hinted at with the bound manuscript and effusive publisher praise doesn't seem to have happened for this one.

Publishing children's books...who can predict the future? It's always a crapshoot.


The same day my friend gave me THE FALSE PRINCE, she also gave me an ARC of WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick, the long-awaited follow-up to his Caldecott winner THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET. I had mixed feelings on HUGO. A few years after publication, I could barely remember its plot. And though the illustratons were wonderful, I found myself wondering if they were slightly excessive; I finally decided they "worked" within the context of the book because the moment-by-moment "storyboard" artwork mirrored the style of film-making central to the narrative. However, I wasn't sure if such painstaking art (a tableau of a boy running, a close-up of his feet, another distant full-body shot of him running, etc.) would work within any other context.

Happily, Mr. Selznick does "make it work" in WONDERSTRUCK -- a book that's even better, more emotional, and stronger in both writing and, yes, illustration, than its predecessor. The book tells two stories which at first seem unrelated. In 1977, recently-orphaned Ben discovers some clues about the father he never knew. Already deaf in one ear, Ben completely loses his hearing when hit by lightning. Leaving his hospital bed, he runs away to New York, hoping to find his father. Ben's story is told completely in prose, but interspersed throughout is another story -- told completely in exquisite art -- of a deaf girl named Rose growing up outside New York in 1927. Eventually the two stories merge in picture and words as Ben meets the now-elderly Rose in New York City.

The story is filled with as many wonders as the American Museum of Natural History, where Ben hides out in New York -- and is filled with wonderful ideas as well -- suggesting, for example, that we are all curators of our own lives. In an enlightening afterword, the author/illustrator reveals that he's hidden several references to a much-loved Newbery-winning novel within the pages of WONDERSTRUCK. Which novel? I'll let that be a surprise -- just one of many surprises to be found in this compelling and memorable novel.


The suggested retail price for WONDER STRUCK is $29.99. Is this a new all-time high for a children's novel?

I've heard a rumor that, due its extraordinary length (640 pages) that WONDER STRUCK may never be released in paperback.

How's this for a coincidence: WONDER STRUCK ends with New York's famous 1977 power outage. I read the book during this week's power outage in Detroit. Talk about "meant to be."


How would I have written today's blog without input from my bookstore buddy?

Yesterday we were talking about an old author of animal stories, fumbling over the name "Jim Kjelgaard" because neither of us knew how to pronounce it -- and she came up with an idea.

She thinks the pronunciation of every author's name should be included in the CIP data on the copyright page of every book.

I think it's a great idea.

I've heard people refer to Robert Cormier as Robert Cor-ME-air, Cor-me-AY, and Cor-MYER.

Once heard a kid in a bookstore talk about "Madeleine L. Engle."

And don't get me started on Jon Scieszka!

I know there are magazine articles and internet pages that include the pronunciation for many author's and illustrator's names, but wouldn't it be helpful if it were included on the copyright page of each book?

If we all learned to pronounce them, we'd all talk about them.

And the more we talk about them, the more people will read their books.


BURNED / P.C. Cast
CLOAKED / Alex Flinn
LOVED / Morgan Rice
TANGLED / Carolyn Mackler
COMPROMISED / Heidi Ayarbe
JUMPED / Rita Williams-Garcia
BURNED / Ellen Hopkins
BUMPED / Megan McCafferty
MATCHED / Ally Condie
ENTWINED / Heather Dixon
BIRTHMARKED / Caragh M. O'Brien
SPOILED / Heather Cox
STARCROSSED / Josephine Angelini
WARPED / Maurissa Guibord
TRAPPED / Michael Northrop
EXPOSED / Kimberly Marcus


I'm reading a new young adult novel by Elizabeth Woods called CHOKER (can't believe they didn't call it CHOKED!) and most of the chapters end and begin like this:

That's pretty much standard for most books. A chapter ends on the left page and a new chapter starts on the right page.

However, in this book, if a chapter ends on the right page, the following page is blank and the next chapter begins on the right page:

I've seen this technique in many books over the years, but I've never quite understood it.

Is there a reason why some books follow this style -- never beginning a chapter on a left-side page -- while others don't?

Is there a name for this style?

Anyone know?


Have you ever noticed how many principles, syndomes, and complexes are named after children's book characters?

The "Peter Pan Syndrome" refers to an adult who refuses to grow up. According to the Wikipedia, "The term has been used informally by both laypeople and some psychology professionals in popular psychology since the 1983 publication of THE PETER PAN SYNDROME : MEN WHO HAVE NEVER GROWN UP by Dr. Dan Kiley."

Dr. Kay also coined the term the "Wendy Dilemma" to describe women who have to deal with husbands suffering from the PP Syndrome.

The "Cinderella Complex" is a term created by Colette Dowling to describe "women's fear of independence, as an unconscious desire to be taken care of by others, based primarily on a fear of being independent."

The "Cinderella Effect" refers to stepchildren being abused or neglected by step-parents.

Does anyone definitively know what the "Snow White Syndrome" is? I've seen conflicting definitions. One refers to someone sleeping through life, waiting for something important to happen to them (i.e. waiting for Prince Charming to pucker up) instead of going out and making things happen for oneself.

And the "Pinocchio Paradox" makes my head spin. Created by an eleven-year-old girl, this paradox (if I'm understanding it correctly) occurs if Pinocchio says, "My nose is growing." Since his nose only grows if he's lying, yet if his nose is truthfully growing, the statement cannot be neither true nor false.

Okay, I don't get it.

Remember, we've already established that I'm the "dumb one."

Anyway, can you think of any more syndromes, complexes, and principles named after characters from children's books?

Or how about creating our own?

The "Ramona Quimby Syndrome" for people who WANT to be good, but can't help impulsively doing things like opening the washing machine when it's running or eating the first bite of every apple in the bushel basket or pulling a girl's pigtails.

The "Stanley Yelnats Complex" for kids who won't accept responsiblity but blame all their issues on a family curse.

The "Joey Pigza Syndrome" for kids who can't sit still.

Any others?


What's the most overused image/scene/motif in children's and young adult fiction these days?

For a long time, I thought it was the mirror. Specifically, the mirror used as a device to describe the protagonist's appearance, a la "She stood in front of the mirror, biting back tears as she stared at her limp brown hair, bulbous nose, and thin lips."

Editors seem to have gotten wise to that one in recent years and it hasn't been appearing in novels as much as it used to.

Another over-used image from nearly EVERY book about siblings sharing a room: the chalk mark drawn across the floor or the masking tape across the carpet to divide the room in two.

However, my #1 overused image over the last couple years HAS to be glow-in-the-dark star stickers on the ceiling of the protagonist's bedroom. Once I noticed it, this scene seemed to appear in staggering frequency: the character turns off their lights and stares up at the glow-in-the-dark star stickers that Dad (now deceased or run away) or Mom (ditto) once pasted to the ceiling. Sometimes we're told that some of the stars have fallen off the ceiling.

What overused images are you seeing in today's books for kids?

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


Daughter Number Three said...

My first thought when reading about The False Prince was that it seemed likely publishers would start doing extra-early spiral-bound copies too frequently as they try to push their books to a busy, distracted audience. I'm glad you followed up the section on the section about The False Prince with the 2005 book that was promoted that way. It sounds like the method hasn't really picked up steam.

Hopefully, the threat of becoming the little boy who cried wolf will keep them from using this medium too much.

Bybee said...

I just saw the mirror imagery used when I read Martin Eden a couple of weeks ago. That was published in 1909, so it's been around for a long time! Surprise, Martin looks exactly like Jack London.

Calliope said...'s "list price" for the hardcover Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is $34.99. Could that be correct? I do remember being stunned by its price at the time it was published, but of course forked it over immediately.

Chris in NY said...

I have not read The False Prince, but based on your description of the story I know what other Newbery winner it reminds me of (I even checked to make sure the title won and was not an Honor Book). Jamie and Claudia are two of my favorite characters so it would be nice if they or their story "appears" in the new title.

Anonymous said...

"Is there a reason why some books follow this style -- never beginning a chapter on a left-side page -- while others don't?"

Publisher wants to pad the page count. It might be a matter of filling out the existing signatures (to prevent lots of blank pages at the end), or it could be to make a short book look like bigger, especially in these days of big fantasy novels.

Brooke said...

I remember a list that circulated the internet a few years ago that compiled over-used images, etc. from YA literature. The ones I remember most were:

Using the phrase "almond-shaped eyes" to describe Asian characters, and comparing any person of color's skin to coffee or cappuccino.

The list also pointed out that many, many YA protagonists have a best friend with red hair (true) and that far too many protagonists in both YA and middle-grade fiction spend time making lists (which is printed as part of the story). Lists were the #1 over-used cliche of YA fiction, and I agree -- it seems like they are everywhere, especially in contemporary fiction.

Alex said...

I can't wait to read Wonderstruck. My dad worked in the museum and I always think of it as my childhood playground. It always makes me happy when someone writes a book that includes it and maybe incites the desire to visit the museum in a reader.

Sean said...

The "Oz Factor" is a term invented by Jenny Randles in 1983 to describe the strange, seemingly altered state of consciousness commonly claimed by some witnesses of unidentified flying objects and other similar paranormal events.

Loved Hugo. Can't wait to read to read Wonderstruck.

Michael S. said...

I had been concerned that Wonderstruck would be too 'gimmicky' with its illustration style -- a book that was written in order to become a movie, something like that. What relief I felt to read a compelling tale that perfectly suited Mr. Selznick's style. Can't wait to get it hardbound!

Heather said...

I have noticed that many books use parallel universes or "stepping though the looking glass/door/mirror/hedge, ect"
Personally I love parallel universes but the "doorway" is a bit over used. Still I think that since science tells us there different dimensional planes, there is a natural tendency to want to explore the possibility of alternate universities.
More interesting to me than parallel universes is alternate history plot lines; Philip K Dick's The man in the High castle... Just my observations...

Ceska said...

Wonderstruck is incredible, most amazing, rich and full. I loved every page!