Do seasonal books sell and circulate all year round? Which Caldecott title contains the fewest illustrations? Which "Little House" artist is your favorite? Does a female powerlifting champion with a crew cut know she's being used to sell a new YA novel? These are some of the questions we ask in today's Sunday Brunch blog.
Everyone has already heard this news, but I might as well include it here for the sake of future internet researchers: this past week Thannha Lai won the National Book Award in the category of Young People's Literature. The author's first book, INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN, is a verse-novel about a young Vietnamese girl whose family immigrates to the United States. .One of the charges commonly leveled against verse-novels is that they are less "poetry" than broken lines of text arranged artfully across a page. Although INSIDE OUT has been well-received by most critics, I must admit that I'm in the "broken lines of text arranged artfully" school with this particular book. The story itself is interesting, but I simply wasn't too impressed with the writing style. Every year, when the NBA nominees are announced, people assume these titles could go on to be recognized by the Newbery committee. However, only two books have won both the Newbery and the National Book Award: M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT by Virginia Hamilton and HOLES by Louis Sachar. So it now seems unlikely that INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN will win the 2012 Newbery. (Whew!)
I didn't get a chance to see the animated feature film UP when it was released in 2009, so I made a point of recording it off TV last night. I really enjoyed it -- especially the moving first half hour. I wasn't as fond of the talking dogs but, hey, what's a kids' movie without animals that talk?
Every time a movie gets made from a children's book -- or any book, really -- the usual response is, "The movie wasn't as good as the book."
The same rule of thumb applies to original movies that get adapted into children's books. They're never, ever as good as the movie. And there are so many of them! I counted at least ten children's books based on UP -- and that's not including coloring books, sticker books, and activity books:
Can you imagine one nice, short, entertaining movie spawning this many books? I can imagine many contemporary kids growing up and remembering UP as one of their favorite childhood movies. I can't imagine ANY kids growing up and remembering any of these books as childhood favorites. Decades from now, people may still be enjoying the movie, but the only place you'll be able to find most of these movies is in landfills everywhere.
With Thanksgiving just three days away, I recently took a look at the only Thanksgiving book ever recognized by the Caldecott committee. It's the 1955 Honor Book, THE THANKSGIVING STORY, written by Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Helen Sewell.
This got me thinking about the various holiday books that have been recognized by the Caldecott committee over the years.
The Dalgliesh is the only Thanksgiving book, isn't it?
There's one Hanukkah book -- the 1990 Honor HERSHEL AND THE HANUKKAH GOBLINS, written by Eric Kimmel an illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
There's one Easter book -- the 1950 winner THE EGG TREE by Katherine Milhous.
Christmas fares much better, with three winning titles (Marie Hall Ets' NINE DAYS TO CHRISTMAS, 1960, Nicolas Sidjakov's BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS, 1961, and Chris Van Allsburg's THE POLAR EXPRESS, 1986) as well as at least one Honor (THE CHRISTMAS ANNA ANGEL, 1945.)
This led me to wonder about the readership of seasonal books during the course of the year. I've been in many children's libraries in my lifetime and have noticed the varied way they handle seasonal and holiday books. Some leave all holiday books on the shelves all year round. Others keep them in a special section, but only emphasize the current holiday. Still others store them "behind the scenes," only bringing out the Christmas books, for instance, after Thanksgiving.
My question to you is this: If you work in a library or bookstore, do you notice that holiday books only circulate/sell during a very small window of time surrounding that particular day? If you publish holiday-themed books, do these titles generally earn less money than generic books not associated with holidays...or do Christmas books sell so well during the holiday season that they essentially make as much money in six weeks as other books make in fifty-two weeks?
I also wonder if "seasonal" books are somewhat limited in sales and circulation. For example, there are three Caldecott winners about snow (WHITE SNOW, BRIGHT SNOW, 1948; THE BIG SNOW, 1949; THE SNOWY DAY, 1963.) Are these books bought or borrowed as much in July and August as they are in December and January? Granted, one of the joys of reading is being transported to another place and time...yet I can't imagine myself picking out a "snow" book in summer. On the other hand, spring and summer seem to be the "default" setting for most picture books so somehow it wouldn't seem strange to read such a book in the dead of winter.
So what do you think? Are such books limited to their season or not?
BUT BACK TO THE THANKSGIVING STORY
One of the things that most surprised me about this book was how few illustrations it includes. There is the cover illustration, as well as a double title-page tableau. Beyond that, there five single-page illustrations, two half-page illustrations, and a final double-page spread featuring Thanksgiving dinner. A few pages have brown silhouettes around the edge of the page (birds, animals, grapes) and there are two additional illustrations -- one showing the interior of the Mayflower and map -- done by a completely different artist, Rafael Palacios.
So here is my question for Caldecott trivia masters. Seeing how few illustrations there are in this book has made me curious: what Caldecott winner or Honor Book has the fewest number of illustrations of all?
I have no idea what the answer is, but I'm curious if anyone else knows.
Are there are Caldecott books with fewer illustrations than THE THANKSGIVING STORY?
SEWELL'S GREATEST GIG?
Although THE THANKSGIVING STORY was the only time Helen Sewell was honored by the Caldecott committee, she had a long and distinguished career in book illustration. She entered the field in 1928 with MENAGERIE : POEMS FOR CHILDREN by May Britton Miller, but also provided illustrations for new editions of classic works (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; Emily Dickinson's POEMS) and wrote a few children's books of her own, most notably BLUE BARNS.
And in honor of the Thanksgiving season, here's a picture of a turkey from BLUE BARNS:
But to many readers, Ms. Sewell is best-known for providing the illustrations to Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series. After illustrating LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, FARMER BOY, and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRE on her own, she collaborated with Mildred Boyle for the remaining books in the series.
The reasons for this remain a bit murky. According to a letter from Laura Ingalls Wilder's publisher, Ms. Sewell was in a bad car acccient and required help with her work. She would continue doing the jackets and frontispieces,but suggested that Mildred Boyle collaborate on the rest of the illustrations. Some question the car accident story and just think that Sewell was overworked, with contracts to illustrate a number of books. Whatever the case, Mildred Boyle, whose only previous children's book was NANCY ALDEN by Eliza Orne White (1936), joined Sewell in illustrating the remaining five volumes in the series.
Though she illustrated three or four other children's books in the forties and fifties, there is not much information out there regarding Mildred Boyle. But for a couple generations, readers of the "Little House" books knew only the work of Sewell and Boyle. This all changed in 1953 when Harper editor Ursula Nordstrom decided to reissue the series in a new uniform edition. Before then, the books were published in different sizes and with different fonts (the original LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS was square and blocky with large print, while the last volume, THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS resembled a young adult book in size and typeface.) Nordstorm commissioned Garth Williams to illustrate the entire eight-volume series and, to readers from the second half of the twentieth century on, it's hard to imagine the books ever looking any different.
Although the dustjackets of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books are available for viewing all over the internet (not to mention in every library and bookstore!) I don't think I've ever seen the Sewell and Williams covers displayed together, volume by volume. To remedy that situation, I'm sharing them here -- together for the first (?) time:
LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS / Sewell, 1932
LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS / Williams, 1953
FARMER BOY / Sewell, 1933
FARMER BOY / Williams, 1953
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE / Sewell, 1935
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE / Williams, 1953
ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK / Sewell, 1937
ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK / Williams, 1953
BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE / Sewell, 1937
BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE / Williams, 1953
THE LONG WINTER / Sewell, 1940
THE LONG WINTER / Williams, 1940
LITTLE TOWN ON THE PRAIRIE / Sewell, 1941
LITTLE TOWN ON THE PRAIRIE / Williams, 1941
THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS / Sewell, 1943
THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS / Williams, 1943
THE FIRST FOUR YEARS / Williams, 1971
This was the only "Little House" book that Sewell did not illustrate, as it was not published till 1971.
ALICE DALGLIESH, CALDECOTT HONOR AND NEWBERY HONOR AUTHOR
As mentioned, THE THANKSGIVING STORY was the only time the Caldecott committee called on Helen Sewell. It was also the only time one of Alice Dalgliesh's books wore a Caldecott seal. She was much more used to being a Newbery Honor author.
Children's book editor at Scribner's from 1934 to 1960, Alice Dalgliesh was also a prolific writer. Three of her titles -- THE SILVER PENCIL, THE BEARS ON HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN and THE COURAGE OF SARAH NOBLE - were named Newbery Honors. The latter two remain in print in both hardcover and paperback today -- a rather extraordinary feat considering they were first published in 1952 an 1954 respectively.
Published in 1944, THE SILVER PENCIL is much lesser known, but should be of interest to anyone interested in children's books and writers. It's a highly autobiographical novel in which aspiring writer Janet Laidlaw (read "Alice Dalgliesh") moves from her birthplace in Trinidad to her family's home country of England, and finally settles in the United States, where she teaches kindergarten and achieves her dream of publishing a book. It's a fascinating glimpse into Dalgliesh's own life and career.
A few years later, Ms. Dalgliesh published a sequel, BEYOND JANET'S ROAD, which traces the protagonist's later career as a children's book editor.
This book never caught on with young readers for several reasons. For one thing, it didn't have the globe-trotting locations of the original novel, plus Janet is already well in her twenties when this book begins. And while many aspiring young writers might be drawn to THE SILVER PENCIL to see Janet struggle with becoming a writer, how many kids dream about becoming children's book editors? Darn few, I imagine. Still, those of us with an interest in the history of children's books often love this novel for its insights into the publishing world. Plus it's fun to speculate on who the characters represent "in real life." I'm pretty sure that one is Rachel Field, while another is likely Ernest Heminigway.
Incidentally, my copy of THE SILVER PENCIL is inscribed by Alice Dalgliesh to the book's editor, Virginia Fowler:
At the time I bought this, there was also a copy of ALONG JANET'S ROAD available, inscribed by both Dalgliesh and the book's illustrator, Katherine Milhous, to the same editor. I could not afford both books. So somewhere out there there's another reader/collector/fan who has a copy of ALONG JANET'S ROAD inscribed to the editor and wishes they also owned THE SILVER PENCIL. Meanwhile, I have a copy of THE SILVER PENCIL inscribed to the editor and wish I also owned ALONG JANET'S ROAD. We have a lot in common. I think we'd be friends.
RED LETTER DAYS
When I was looking at Dalgliesh's THANKSGIVING STORY it dawned on me that that book received its Caldecott Honor the same year that THE COURAGE OF SARAH NOBLE got the Newbery Honor.
Has any other author ever published a Newbery and Caldecott Honor in the same year?
As I pondered that subject, I thought, "It must have been a real red letter day for Dalgliesh, having two of her books cited on the same day."
No more than an hour later, this book happened across my desk:
Does anyone else remember Elizabeth Hough Sechrist's POEMS FOR RED LETTER DAYS, the go-to anthology for holiday poems in the 1950s and 1960s?
Originally published in 1951, the book went through many printings and was found in nearly every library collection back in the day. Arranged in chronological order, the volume takes us through one calendar year, with a poem for each new month followed by verses for all of the special occasions within that month, from the biggies (New Year's, Valentine's, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas) to some that are far more obscure (Robert E. Lee's Birthday, I Am An American Day, Forefather's Day.) The last section of the book covers some floating holidays (states' days, with a poem for each of them; Boy Scout Week; birthdays, Fire Prevention Week.)
From what I understand, the term "red letter day" originated with old church calendars, so it's perhaps not surprising that this volume celebrates mostly Christian holidays (Epiphany, Saint's Stephen's Day) while ignoring all other cultures. Granted, multiculturalism wasn't a big deal in fifties America, but even then, most children's holiday books would at least toss in a few reference to Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah or Passover...but none are represented here.
I was intrigued to discover that POEMS FOR RED LETTERS is once again available to modern readers, as a $32.75 print-on-demand volume. It would be interesting to know how many libraries will purchase it as an example of a children's classic, or whether they'll decide to spend their money on modern books which has a more mutlicultural focus.
ANOTHER BOOK AWARD
A blog reader recently asked me to recognize the Child Study Association Award. In recent years the name has been changed to the "Josette Frank Award" to honor the Association's former executive director. Given since 1943, "this award for fiction honors a book or books of outstanding literary merit in which children or young people deal in a positive and realistic way with difficulties in their world and grow emotionally and morally."
I'm a bit confused by that description, since at least one book on the list is clearly nonfiction (1950's PARTNERS : THE UNITED NATIONS AND YOUTH.) Looking at the list of winners is fascinating, though, since the authors range from extraordinarily popular (Betsy Byars, Paula Fox, Lois Lowry) to some I don't know at all. (Am I showing my ignorance when I say I've never even heard of Maria Gleit, Vadim Frolov, and a couple others?)
1943 / KEYSTONE KIDS / John R. Tunis
1944 / THE HOUSE / Margerie Hill Allee
1945 / THE MOVED-OUTERS / Florence Cranell Means
1946 / HEART OF DANGER / Howard Pease
1947 / JUDY'S JOURNEY / Lois Lenski
1948 / THE BIG WAVE / Pearl Buck
1949 / PAUL TIBER : FORESTER / Maria Gleit
1950 / PARTNERS : THE UNITED NATIONS AND YOUTH / Eleanor Roosevelt & Helen Ferris
1951 / No Award
1952 / JAREB / Miriam Powell
TWENTY AND TEN / Claire Huchet Bishop
1953 / IN A MIRROR / Mary Stolz
1954 / THE ORDEAL OF THE YOUNG HUNTER / Jonreed Lauritzen
HIGH ROAD HOME / William Corbin
1955 / PLAIN GIRL / Virginia Sorenson
CROW BOY / Taro Yasima
1956 / THE HOUSE OF SIXTY FATHERS / Meindert DeJong
1957 / SHADOW ACROSS THE CAMPUS / Helen R. Sattler
1958 / SOUTH TOWN / Lorenz Graham
1959 / JENNIER / Zoa Sherbourne
1960 / JANINE / Robin McKown
1961 / THE ROAD TO AGRA / Aimee Sommerfelt
THE GIRL FROM PUERTO RICO / Hila Colman
1962 / THE TROUBLE WITH TERRY / Joan Lexau
1963 / THE PEACEABLE REVOLUTION / Betty Schecter
THE ROCK AND THE WILLOW / Mildred Lee
1964 / THE HIGH PASTURE / Ruth Harnden
1965 / THE EMPTY SCHOOLHOUSE / Natalie Savage Carlson
1966 / QUEENIE PEAVY / Robert Burch
1967 / THE CONTENDER / Robert Lipsyte
1968 / WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT / Vadim Frolov
1969 / THE EMPTY MOAT / Margaretha Shemin
1970 / ROCK STAR / James Lincoln Collier
MIGRANT GIRL / Carli Laklin
1971 / JOHN HENRY MCCOY / Lillie D. Chafin
1972 / THE SOUND OF CHARIOTS / Mollie Hunter
1973 / A TASTE OF BLACKBERRIES / Doris Buchanan Smith
1974 / LUKE WAS THERE / Eleanor Clymer
1975 / THE GARDEN IS DOING FINE / Carol Farley
1976 / SOMEBODY ELSE'S CHILD / Roberta Silman
1977 / THE PINBALLS / Betsy Byars
1978 / THE DEVIL IN VIENNA / Doris Orgel
1979 / THE WHIPMAN IS WATCHING / T.A. Dyer
1980 / A BOAT TO NOWHERE / Maureen Wartski
1981 / A SPIRIT TO RIDE THE WHIRLWIND / Athena Lord
1982 / HOMESICK : MY OWN STORY / Jean Fritz
1983 / THE SIGN OF THE BEAVER / Elizabeth George Speare
THE SOLOMON SYSTEM / Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1984 / ONE-EYED CAT / Paula Fox
1985 / WITH WESTIE AND TIN MAN / C.S. Adler
1986 / JOURNEY TO JO'BURG / Beverley Naidoo
1987 / RABBLE STARKEY / Lois Lowry
1988 / THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE IN THE WORLD / Ann Cameron
DECEMBER STILLNESS / Mary Downing Hahn
1989 / SHADES OF GRAY / Carolyn Reeder
1990 / SECRET CITY, USA / Felice Holman
1991 / SHADOW BOY / Susan E. Kirby
1992 / BLUE SKIN OF THE SEA / Graham Salisbury
1993 / MAKE LEMONADE / Virginia Euwer Wolff
1994 / EARTHSHINE / Theresa Nelson
1995 / MUSIC FROM A PLACE CALLED HALF MOON / Jerrie Oughton
1996 / THE CUCKOO'S CHILD / Suzanne Freeman
1997 / NO TURNING BACK : A NOVEL OF SOUTH AFRICA / Beverley Naidoo
1998 / MY LOUSIANA SKY / Kimberly Willis Holt
1999 / No Award?
2000 / FIGURING OUT FRANCES / Gina Willner-Pardo
2001 / BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE / Kate DiCamillo
2002 / AMBER WAS BRAVE, ESSIE WAS SMART / Vera B. Williams
2003 / GODDESS OF YESTERDAY / Caroline B. Cooney
JERICHO WALLS / Kristi Collier
2004 / THE GOOSE GIRL / Shannon Hale
2005 / IDA B AND HER PLANS TO MAXIMIZE FUN, AVOID DISASTER, AND (POSSIBLY) SAVE THE WORLD / Katherine Hannigan
2006 / EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS / Deborah Wiles
2007 / CLEMENTINE / Sara Pennypacker
THE MANNY FILES / Christian Burch
2008 / HOME OF THE BRAVE / Katherine Applegate
2009 / AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER / Jacqueline Woodson
2010 / THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE / Jacqueline Kelly
WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON / Grace Lin
2011 / OUT OF MY MIND / Sharon Draper
Did you notice something else about this list, guys?
And I'm not using "guys" in the vernacular, but actually addressing the gentlemen, dudes, and misters in this audience.
There sure doesn't seem to be a place for us on this list, does there?
Okay, there was a male winner in 2007...but you have to go all the way back to 1992 to see another man's name. Then you have to go back to 1979 before that....
It's a solid list of some very good books...but it clearly seemed slanted for female writers.
BEYOND THE BEYOND
Last weekend I discussed the reissue of Palmer Brown's novel BEYOND THE PAW PAW TREES.
Helen Schinske wrote in with a link to this entry from a children's book listserve in 2001:
I corresponded with Palmer Brown a few months ago, I **really** wanted to
reprint Beyond the Paw Paw Trees.
He very nicely responded that he had talked it over with Anna Lavinia and
they decided that she belongs to another time and does not want to be
I love the story and felt like there was a death in the family when I got
his response, I wanted to revive her so badly.
Purple House Press
So it sounds like there has long been interest in reviving Mr. Brown's work. Obviously it sounds as though Anna Lavinia changed her mind about being resurrected because a few months ago, ten years after turning down Purple House Press, the author allowed his book to be reissued by the New York Review of Books.
21, RUSH, AND A "HULKING BEARER OF THE ACADEMIC FLAME"
I often wish I had my own review journal. Or maybe my own bookstore.
If so, I'd get my hands on advance reading copies of books, all kinds of promotional materials, publicity packets, and other related ephemera.
As it is, I have a regular daily job, blog on the side, and only get a freebie ARC or publicity packet about once a month.
Of course I'm grateful for everything I get (I do a happy beagle dance every time a box or large envelope arrives) but just wish such things arrived on a daily basis. Especially when I receive something as fascinating as I did this past week.
It was an ARC of a forthcoming book called RUSH by Jeremy Iversen.
The name rang a bell and I remembered that I had read his nonfiction book HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL a few years back.
I also remembered that he had written a novel called 21, which I had not read:
It turns out that 21 was the "preliminary edition" of this forthcoming novel RUSH.
Have you ever heard of a book's first edition being called its "preliminary" edition? Or having a newly-revised edition of the same novel released less than six years after its original publication?
Obviously I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy of 21 and compare the two books side-by-side. Sounds like my kind of assignment!
This new edition is being released with quite a bit of fanfare.
Accompanying the ARC was a twelve page packet of info about how the book came to be written and how it was received by critics. There's a lengthy summary of the novel and a big write up on each character. I was surprised they didn't include the author's phone number.
Oh, they did!
But the most irresistable part of the packet was the description of the book's origins:
Eighteen-year-old Jeremy Iversen had just gotten an assignment in his required freshman writing class at Stanford University. The teaching assistant, a very large woman with a crew cut and a chain wallet, had recently emerged victorious in a world powerlifting competition, and now ordered her charges to keep a detailed journal of their daily lives.
Jeremey raised a hand and asked if perhaps he might instead pen a short story. "No," she snorted. Eventually this hulking bearer of the academic flame confessed, "Oh, do whatever you like. I'm not going to read it anyway."
The packet goes on to describe the story he wrote and how, when "he mentioned the concept in class...the T.A. laughed at him."
We then learn that when the "preliminary edition" of the book was published, the author went on a nationwide promotional tour by bus and "true to her word, the T.A. still never read it."
I must admit I'm fascinated by all this. The promotional packet even includes a color photo of the "Giver of the Assignment," obviously taken at a sporting event. She's not identified by name.
I'm just dying to know if she's playing along with all this or whether the writer is using this opportunity to get even with her for laughing at him and still not reading his book.
If she's playing along with it: well, good for her, laughing along with the whole thing...even being called "hulking."
If he's getting even with her: well, good for him, laughing back at a teacher who never took his work seriously and still refuses to read it.
Either way, I'm fascinated by the book's backstory and now can't wait to read it.
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, let me say again how thankful I am to everyone who stops by this blog. Maybe there will be time for another blog entry this week. If not and this is the last time we meet this week, I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday!