Today's Sunday Brunch looks back at 9/11, asks if you've ever heard of an author named Janet Lambert, and gathers together a bunch of comments that tell us where children's writers do their writing.
Just sitting on the deck of my house, I see the world change from day to day. Yesterday morning I saw a green apple fall from one of the trees out back. My tomato plants are starting to shrivel and turn brown, and I worry that we won't have enough warm weather for the remaining tomatoes to ripen. The hummingbirds haven't been to the feeder in two days and I wonder if they've already left us for their great migration. And every night it seems the chirping of crickets gets softer and softer. I know that one evening I'll step outside and hear only silence. It seems so funny that I can note these minute changes on a daily basis, yet huge chunks of time -- such as the ten years between September 11, 2001 and September 11, 2011 -- can pass in a blink.
In fact, it seems like no time has passed at all.
I don't even need to close my eyes to remember exactly how I felt that morning when the world seemed to be falling apart.
A few weeks later I happened to be in New York and, of course, went to "Ground Zero" which looked exactly the same as it did on TV: with beams and girders sticking into the air like reaching arms and smoke still rising from the ground. The smell was awful...and you could even taste it in your mouth. I can even taste it now if I think about it.
It seems as if I can find a children's book connection to any event -- and that includes 9/11.
Of course, in this case, a children's book was front-and-center during the whole thing that morning.
Remember MY PET GOAT?
It was the book that President Bush was reading to a classroom of Florida students when he was notified of the tragedy.
In a way it's odd how littlepublicity MY PET GOAT received in the days after 9/11. You would have expected it to hit the bestseller list. You would have expected to hear the author interviewed on TV. You might even have expected a tawdry "Special September 11 Edition" of the book.
Yet none of that happened and, even ten years later, details about the book remain murky.
Over time we learned that it wasn't an individual book but rather a short story in a school textbook called READING MASTERY II : STORYBOOK 1 by Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner.
And the media didn't even get the title right! It wasn't MY PET GOAT but, instead, THEPET GOAT. According to Wikipedia, it's "the story of a girl's pet goat that eats everything in its path. The girl's parents want to get rid of the goat, but she defends it. In the end, the goat becomes a hero when it butts a car thief into submission." I'm not even sure who wrote this story. Some attribute it to Engelmann and Bruner, but my experience is that textbook editors generally select short stories from previously published books or assign the writing to freelance authors.
I'd sure love to know who wrote this story which suddenly played a role in one of my important days in a nation's history. And I'd love to read it. I just looked online and discovered that copies of READING MASTERY II : STORYBOOK I are available for as a low as $1.00 a piece. Maybe I should get one for my book collection to represent the day that everything changed for our country.
DID 9/11 HAVE AN EFFECT ON CHILDREN'S BOOKS?
Most of the 9/11 children's books I've seen have been thin informational volumes geared for school and public libraries.
Can you think of any examples of GREAT September 11 books for kids -- whether picture books, novels, or nonfiction?
FIREBOAT : THE ADVENTURES OF THE JOHN J. HARVEY by Maira Kalman comes to mind.
LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW by David Levithan is an interesting YA novel on the subject, but I'm not sure it's a truly great book.
THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS by Mordicai Gerstein isn't a 9/11 book per se, though this story of the Twin Towers does quietly acknowledge that the towers are now gone. We'll never know, but it's interesting to ponder whether this book would have won the 2004 Caldecott if the events of 2001 had not occurred and the towers were still standing. Did the memory of September 11 play any role in its selection?
Come to think of it, were the events to 9/11 reflected in any Newbery choices?
Four months after September 11, 2001, the Newbery went to a book very far away -- in both time and place -- from what was still so heavy on our hearts and minds. The winner was Linda Sue Park's A SINGLE SHARD, a novel set in 12th century Korea. (On the other hand, the story does concern two pieces of beautiful pottery being senselessly destroyed and the protagonist carrying on despite adversity...so maybe there's a tiny connection?) Actually, if you look at a list of the ten Newbery winners since September 11, 2001, you'll note that very few take place in contemporary America.
CRISPIN : THE CROSS OF LEAD by Avi and GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! by Laura Amy Schlitz are set in medieval England; THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo is a fantasy. Cynthia Kadohata's KIRA-KIRA, Lynne Rae Perkins' CRISS CROSS, Rebecca Stead's WHEN YOU REACH ME, and Clare Vanderpool's MOON OVER MANIFEST are all set in America's past from 1917 to 1979 (with a bit of the future included in WHEN YOU REACH ME.) The only two Newbery winners set in the present day since 2001 are THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman and THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY by Susan Patron, though reviews of both books pointed out that these stories seemed to take place in another time...so that the occasional mention of computers and cellphones actually seemed jarring. I'd like to draw some grand conclusion from all this, suggesting that we're still shying away from the post-9/11 world -- but then the Newbery always has had a lot of historical fiction winners, so perhaps that would be unfair.
I've been on Facebook for a few months now (feel free to "friend" me unless you're a mean person -- in which case, don't bother) and posited this question: "Did 9/11 have any effect on young adult fiction?" then offered my own theory: "I'm thinking of the untold number of YA dystopian novels featuring teenagers trying to survive in barren, wasted worlds after the "ultimate disaster" has occurred. And what of the other literary phenomenon of the past decade: vampires? More than scary stories of horror (and romance), do they really represent a longing to avoid death through supernatural immortality?"
Jenny S. replied: "Personally I think it's a combination of 9/11, anxieties about global warming, Afghanistan and Iraq, political and economic turmoil, etc. that have contributed to the general angst that makes dystopian novels generally very popular in this time period."
Sean B. replied: "I think the popularity of dystopian and vampire themes pre-dates 9/11. I remember reading Noah's Castle way back in the late 70s and the Anne Rice books in the 80s. 9/11 has probably contributed to the dystopian fad, but I think its been growing in popularity for a long time. First the cause was the Cold War, then overpopulation, now global warming. And vampires have become more and more trendy as we've become more youth-oriented (tho I confess...I do still love The Lost Boys...)"
Yes, I know that both genres have been around for decades, but I do find it odd (and somehow telling) that dystopian and vampire books have been pretty much taken over the YA field in the past ten years.
Facebook friend Liz B. offered this: "I just have to mention Mal Peet's new novel, LIFE : AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM in this context. Spanning 1960s to 2001, it's an exploration of how war affects subsequent generations, how love can survive maiming and brutality, how one's personal life is shaped by huge political events. And it is a dream to read."
Hmm...could THIS be the great September 11 novel I've been looking for?
I happen to have a galley that my bookstore friend gave me. I plan to start reading it this afternoon.
Seems like a fitting day for it.
REVIEW : A PLAGUE YEAR
Although the novel begins on September 10, 2001 and is set not far from the Pennsylvania crash site of Flight 93, Edward Bloor's A PLAGUE YEAR concerns a different American tragedy: the effect of methamphetamine addiction on a small town. The story is narrated by Tom Coleman, a junior high student whose main goal is to attend college in Florida and leave Blackwater, PA, far behind. During a school year in which his class studies Daniel Defoe's JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR and performs a play about that seventeenth-century catastrophe, Tom watches as a meth crisis consumes his hometown, bringing with it violence and murder while turning friends and neighbors into "zombies." Bloor's novels are always ambitious -- stuffed with subplots, characters, and thought-provoking insights. A PLAGUE YEAR is no exception. The author is painting a large landscape here, rather than a small portrait, so the story is overpopulated (readers may need to keep a list of who's who), filled with big scenes (including more than one major robbery at the grocery store where Tom works) and seems to be written in a purposefully-exaggerated way. How else to explain that nearly every person in Tom's life seems to be struggling with some form of substance abuse? Yet despite the novel's heightened reality and narrative sprawl, there are occasional lowkey moments involving family dynamics, friendship, romance, and personal hypocrisy which are stunningly limned. It's a scary, emotionally-draining ride and although I just finished it yesterday, I already want to read this powerful novel again.
Looking at Edward Bloor's website today, I made an interesting discovery.
In addition to the Bloor novels so many of us know and love (including TANGERINE, CRUSADER, and TAKEN), he has also written a novel available only in the e-book format.
It's called MEMORY LANE and is described this way:
Memory Lane, America’s most popular new theme park, promises to provide its guests with “golden memories.” Choose any week—from 1950 to the present—and Memory Lane will recreate it for you in amazing detail: the foods, the clothes, the TV shows, even the schools. You will soon forget about the present and start living in the past.
But is that a good idea?
Alice hopes Memory Lane will provide a week of personal healing and of family bonding. Instead, Alice and her cousins Patrick and TJ find themselves struggling with a pair of psychotic bullies, and with the pain of young love, and with a shocking family secret that was, perhaps, better left buried in the past.
Smart, funny, and frightening, Memory Lane is Edward Bloor’s most powerful and insightful novel to date.
Gee, now I want to read it. But I like books with paper pages. I hope I'm not going to have to break down and get a Kindle just to keep up with all my favorite authors in the future!
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY : BOY, WAS I WRONG!
My brother sent me an e-mail the other day asking me the value of a first-edition of Road Dahl's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.
The question was asked on a TV quiz show.
I didn't have a clue, but guessed $500.
Boy, was I wrong!
My brother wrote back to say that, according to the quiz show, the correct answer was $4000.
I then did some searching on the internet and discovered that while some first editions of this book are available in the $4000 range, there are also some in the $8000 to $12,000 range!
And if your copy is signed by Roald Dahl it may be worth as much as $19,000!
I don't have a copy of this book myself -- not even a paperback.
But if you have a hardcover copy, hurry over to the shelf to see if you have a first edition. From what I've read, it must be published in the United States by Knopf in 1964 (strangely, it was published here in America three years before it was published in England.) The binding is red, the lettering on the spine is gold, and the top edges of the pages are stained red. There must be no ISBN on the dustjacket and the publishers' colophon, found on the last page of the book, contains six lines of text. Later printings only contain five lines.
If your copy meets those specifications...congrats!
And if it's also signed by Roald Dahl...BIG congrats!
DO YOU KNOW JANET LAMBERT?
I recently came across a small collection of dustjackets by a teen writer from the 1950s and 1960s named Janet Lambert.
I must admit, I never heard of her.
Of course I wasn't around in the 1950s...well, I wasn't around for most of that decade, but I spent much of the sixties in public and school libraries and don't ever recall seeing the author's name either. Of course they are not the kinds of books I probably would have read in the sixties, but you'd think I would have picked up the name by osmosis -- the way I know Betty Cavanna, Adele DeLeeuw, Rosamund Dujardin and other romance writers of the era by name without having read any of their books.
Anyway, I figured Janet Lambert must have been less popular than those other gals since I never heard of her before.
Then I did some searching online and discovered that her novels are very collectable. No, they're not up there in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY territory, but first editions of the Lambert books are often in the $300 price range.
According to Wikipedia, she wrote 54 novels between 1941 and 1969 and most appear to be included in small series such as the "Penny Parrish" series, the "Jordan Famiy" series, and several others. I'm wondering now if her books did not appear in my libraries because they were considered "series books" or if they were there and I just didn't notice them.
Was Janet Lambert a widely popular author or a "niche" author beloved by a select few?
Based on their value today, her books are still sought after by collectors today. There are even a couple webpages devoted to them. And it appears that a few were even republished in paperback during the past decade.
Has anyone read these books?
What did you think of them?
WHERE DO THEY WRITE?
I was amused to read what author Fran Manushkin listed as a her occupation on her Facebook page: "Writing in bed as a full-time children's book writer."
This got me wondering where other children's authors do their writing.
Poking around on the internet today, I came up with these answers:
Tricia Springstubb (author of MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND): "the library where I work in the children’s room. I’m very strict about all this! I have a desk by a window that looks out on the street, so I can watch people go by."
Gary D. Schmidt (OKAY FOR NOW) : "I have a study in a small outbuilding away from the house. It has a desk, a lamp, more books than should be in any one room, and a woodstove. I work at a typewriter, and keep lots of scrap paper around me. This means, by the way, that if anything comes out pretty awful, I can just open the woodstove and burn it all. The feeling of relief is remarkable."
Ellen Wittlinger (HARD LOVE): "I have a small writing room in my home. It's overcrowded with books and papers, but it's my nest."
Maggie Stiefvater (SHIVER) : "Anywhere, so long as I have my headphones on. I do have a lovely desk that I spend a lot of time at, but I write on planes and couches and floors as well."
Jack Gantos (DEAD END IN NORVELT) : :"I have an office at home where I write. Plus I travel a lot (I visit students in schools and at book conferences) and so I write on airplanes, in restaurants and coffee shops, and just about anywhere an idea strikes me. I always have a pen and journal in my pocket so I write when the idea is fresh to me."
Sandra Scoppettone (TRYING HARD TO HEAR YOU) : "I always thought it would be wonderful to write in a diner or a cafe, but I've never been able to do it. What I do is to sit down at my desk in my office at about 9 in the morning and write until about noon or one."
Eion Colfer (ARTEMIS FOWL) : "I write in my office in the garden. It is close to the house but even crossing the garden is enough for me to feel I am going to work."
Betsy Byars (SUMMER OF THE SWANS) : :"When I started writing, I was living in a very small apartment with my husband and two little daughters. I wrote on the kitchen table. I'd keep my typewriter beside my place, and I'd push it aside to eat and then pull it back in front of me. Now I have a studio and a computer, but anyone who really wants to write will find a place."
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