This and that about children's books old and new on a hot summer Sunday....
SHE WAS NICE TO MIKE
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW was a staple of afternoon television. Every weekday at 4:30 PM, the amiable host would interview a variety of actors, singers, athletes, and other celebrities -- ranging from TV sitcom sidekicks to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Considering that I had an afterschool paper route and was rarely around during those hours, I'm surprised by how many of those shows I remember watching. I still recall Cass Elliot telling Mike that she loved to read and "It's not unusual for me to go into a bookstore and spend one hundred dollars at a time." I remember gasping. And feeling jealous. I wondered if I'd ever be "rich enough" to spend $100 in a bookstore. What a dream for the future! Now, many decades later, there have been times I've spent $100 at a time in a bookstore. The only difference is that Cass probably left the store toting bags containing ten or twelve hardcovers and maybe thirty or forty paperbacks, while I leave the bookstore with a single bag containing four hardcovers and two paperbacks. A hundred dollars ain't what it used to be....
I was also jealous of all the "famous kids" who appeared on Mike Douglas's program. Teen actress Linda Blair. Tiger Woods, barely out of diapers and already playing golf. A kid who advertised canned deviled ham even got to co-host for the entire week. But I was most envious of a twelve-year-old girl who appeared on the show in 1975. Her name was Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy and she'd written a novel about a mouse who lived in England's royal court, SHE WAS NICE TO MICE : THE OTHER SIDE OF ELIZABETH I'S CHARACTER NEVER BEFORE REVEALED BY PREVIOUS HISTORIANS. The little girl talked about how she'd come to write a book, and then read a few paragraphs aloud to Mike Douglas. I wished I was sitting there reading a book I'd written to Mike Douglas. Of course I hadn't actually written a book, but that was beside the point.
The next time I was at the bookstore, I skimmed through a copy of SHE WAS NICE TO MICE. (I didn't have $100 to buy books from a bookstore. Heck, I didn't even have $5.95 to buy this book!) It wasn't my kind of story, but I still wished it was my smiling juvenile face that appeared on the dustjacket instead of Alexandra's.
A couple years later the book was even released a Yearling paperback, with the author's age emblazoned on the front cover:
Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy never became a major writer or literary star, but she did become a movie star. Ten years she was all over the big screen -- as Ally Sheedy -- starring in such "brat pack" favorites as THE BREAKFAST CLUB and ST. ELMO'S FIRE. Who can imagine that one person could be both a young movie star and an even younger author! (It probably didn't hurt that her mother was a well-known literary agent either.)
BRUCE BROOKS BACK?
How did I miss this?
Way back in February, Candlewick published a book called PICK-UP GAME : A FULL DAY OF FULL COURT. Edited by Marc Aronson and and Charles R. Smith, Jr. the book contains a series of linked stories set on a New York City basketball court. Some of the literary stars who wrote these stories include Ally Sheedy (just kidding)...Walter Dean Myers, Joseph Bruchac, Robert Lipsyte, and Rita Williams-Garcia. But the reason I'm now itching to read PICK-UP GAME is because one of the included authors is Bruce Brooks. It's been a long time since we've read any of his fiction, and I've been hoping he'd make a comeback. Brooks burst into the field of children's books in 1984 with THE MOVES MAKE THE MAN, a Newbery Honor, and two years later returned with MIDNIGHT HOUR ENCORES, a novel totally unlike MOVES, but just as brilliant in style and execution. He received another Newbery Honor for WHAT HEARTS (1992) but over the next decade produced books that seemed below his abilities (the self-indulgent "Wolfbay Wings" series, the picture book text EACH A PIECE (it had to be a work-for-hire job. Had to be) and some rather thin (in quality and content) middle-grade novels -- though I'm a huge fan of the under-appreciated ASYLUM FOR NIGHTFACE. It's been nearly a decade since he's published a book, so learning that he has a short story in PICK-UP GAME is a real source of celebration for me. Let's hope he's soon back with another of his brilliant novels!
SOMETHING I'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE
By now everyone knows about the "printers key" that appears on the copyright page of most books. Here's how I described it in one of my earliest blog entries:
Nowadays it's fairly easy to identify most first edition books, as the majority of publishers utilize a "printers key" on the copyright page.
The printers key is a sequence of numbers that indicate the current printing of that particular volume. Some publishers use ascending numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10), some use a run of descending numbers (10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1) and others use a line of alternating numbers (2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1.) In all these cases, the presence of the number "1" indicates a book is a first printing. When the book moves into a second printing, the "1" is lopped off and "2" will be the lowest number in the line.
Here are some examples:
This ascending sequence of numbers
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
indicates the book is a third printing, as that's the lowest number present.
This descending sequence
10 9 8 7 6 5 4
tells us the book is in its fourth printing.
And in this alternating sequence:
6 8 10 9 7 5
the absence of the numbers 1 through 4 shows us this is a fifth printing.
These numbering systems are fairly standard, but by no means universal. In the past, each publisher often had its own distinctive method of indicating printings, so it's important to check with a reference volume on book collecting to learn how each publisher designates its printings.
Collectors are often worried that their first edition book may not be accompanied by a "first state" dustjacket. This is a valid concern since it's obvious that someone could easily remove a dj from a later printing and place it on a first edition to "dress it up" and raise its value. (A first edition with dustjacket is always going to be worth more than one without a dj.) There are several ways to make sure that you have a true first editon dustjacket on your book.
First, look up the cost of the book when it was originally published. If the original price was $15.95 and your copy says $16.95 or any other price, you've got a later printing.
Secondly, check to make sure that no books published AFTER this one are listed among the author's credits. For example, if you're looking at first edition of Lois Lowry's NUMBER THE STARS, which was published in 1989, the dj should make no reference to THE GIVER (published 1993), SILENT BOY (2003) or THE BIRTHDAY BALL (2010.)
It is important to check for reviewer quotes on the dustjacket as well. Be wary if you see a rave from one of the literary journals printed on the front flap or back cover, as it's likely that the review was published AFTER the book...and added to the dj at a later time. HOWEVER, this is not always the case. There are occasions when a review publication (typically Kirkus) publishes their review early enough that it actually does appear on the original dustjacket. Again, this is a case where your best bet is to track down a true first edition and compare it to the questionable copy.
Some people assume that if an award sticker is on a dustjacket, then it cannot be a true first-state dj. I don't hold with that idea. In many cases, there are copies of the true first edition with the true first state dustjacket in warehouses when the awards are announced. At that point, the stickers are affixed to the books...so these djs are not second state or reprinted, but simply first state djs with stickes affixed.
I bring up this long, wordy issue because of something I encountered this past Friday. In the bookstore I saw a novel called FLUTTER by debut novelist Erin E. Moulton.
The copyright page had one of a printers key with alternating numbers indicating this was indeed a true first edition:
But what surprised me was that the front flap of the dustjacket also had a printers key, albeit one using a different number run, indicating it was a first printing:
I've never seen something like this on the dustjacket of a book before, have you? Is it just an oddity, or is it the start of a new trend?
If it is a trend, it will at least be one way for readers to know they have both a true first edition and a true first-state dustjacket.
THE YEAR'S CREEPIEST YA NOVEL
The year is only half-over, but I think I've already identified the creepiest, most unwholesome, bizarre, and perverse young adult novel of 2011: VICIOUS LITTLE DARLINGS by Katherine Easer. Promiscuous California girl Sarah narrates the story of her first-year at Wetherly, an east-coast women's college. Assigned a dorm room with beautiful, unstable Maddy, she soon meets Maddy's lifelong best friend Agnes, a wealthy and rigid pre-med student who, while proclaiming that she's not a lesbian, is clearly in love with her BFF. Almost immediately, the girls injure a fawn in a car accident and let him live in their dorm room. Then Sarah sleeps with two guys (including Maddy's boyfriend) and suffers a pregnancy scare. Finally, the trio moves to an off-campus house (paid for by Agnes) where they engage in lies, betrayals, and psychosexual games. Readers will need a score card to figure out who's lying, who's truthing, and who is downright crazy. Nearly all the novel's characters -- from narrator Sarah and her roommates to the most minor secondary figures -- are cold and unsympathetic, and what propels the story isn't the reader's concern for the protagonists' well-being, but rather the increasingly disturbing elements of the plot: a gypsy's prediction that Maddy will die young, the gun that Agnes carries in her purse, and Sarah's curiously malleable agreeance to a murder scheme. If the author intended to buck trends by writing a twisted, unnerving book without relying on supernatural components, she's done her job well. This is a novel for sophisticated YA readers (it's also the first young adult novel I've read in which female/female rape becomes a plot point) and may appeal to many for its over-the-top perversity. When I was in high school there was a certain "type" of girl who dressed all in black and read books such as Francis Farmer's WILL THERE REALLY BE A MORNING? and Joanne Greenberg's I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN. This "type" of girl always ate a plain -- not raspberry, not strawberry -- but a plain yogurt at lunchtime and loved to describe -- in graphic detail -- the lobotomy scenes in those books just as you were biting into your meatloaf-and-catsup sandwich. VICIOUS LITTLE DARLINGS is a novel for this type of girl: dark, disturbing, and hard to forgot. I'm having a hard time shaking it myself. Personally, I can't say I "enjoyed" it. In fact, when I finished the novel I immediately felt like I needed to take a shower. And even after taking the shower, I still feel a little dirty.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about how much I enjoyed Dana Reinhardt's new novel, THE SUMMER I LEARNED TO FLY.
This week my bookstore friend received a signed copy as a promotional piece. Knowing I was a fan, she asked if I'd be interested. I said, "Of course!" Then when I tried to pay for it, she gave it to me free. How cool is that?
Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll be back.