Friday, March 25, 2011

A Sunday Brunch with Fire and Water

Today's Sunday Brunch recognizes Laura Adams Armer and other children's book creators who have been honored by both the Newbery and Caldecott committees, discusses a "novelization" of a TV movie that has been in print for an astonishing three decades, and notes the recent passing of that famous children's book author Elizabeth Taylor.


Just heard that Paul Fleischman and Chris Raschka are the American nominees for the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award. These awards are presented every two years to a living author and illustrator for their complete body of work. Paul Fleischman's father, Sid Fleischman, was the American nominee for this award in 1994. I haven't seen a complete list of all the 2012 nominees, but I did read that Philip Pullman and John Burningham are representing Great the competition is already tough!


Winning an Academy Award changes your life. Actress Sissy Spacek may have summed it up best: "On my obit it will say, 'Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek,'" she said, adding, "It's like being knighted."

The same is no doubt true of winning the Newbery Medal.

For some writers, it’s a culmination of decades of work. Others get lucky the first time out of the box. That’s how it was for Laura Adams Armer, who wrote her first book at age fifty-seven. When her debut novel, WATERLESS MOUNTAIN, won the 1932 Newbery Medal, Ms. Armer had never even heard of the award, and her acceptance speech reflected that attitude, ending with this underwhelming sentiment: “It is pleasant that you considered it the most distinguished book for children publisher in 1931.”

Yet when she died over three decades later, her obit probably did begin “Newbery winner Laura Adams Armer died today….”

That’s certainly how I always thought of her…when I thought of her at all.

To be honest, I only read her Newbery-winning novel -- an episodic tale about a Navajo boy who dreams of becoming a medicine man -- once as a child and remember being bored by it. Perhaps I need to give it a second chance as an adult. From what I’ve read, it appears that early reviewers praised the author's portrait of the Navajo as authentic, but more recent critics have found the tone patronizing. I'd be curious to know what Dr. Debbie Reese, who writes the American Indians in Children's Literature blog thinks of the book.

I knew that Laura and her husband Sidney were both credited with the artwork in WATERLESS MOUNTAIN. Most of the illustrations are his, a few are hers, and in this one she drew the deer and he completed the background:

It was not until this week, however, that I realized Ms. Armer is probably better known as a visual artist than a writer. It started when a good friend of mine bought a copy of THE FOREST POOL, a title both written and illustrated by Laura Adams Armer which was named a 1939 Caldecott Honor Book.

I tracked down a copy of the book at my library and read it this week. The story, about two Mexican boys hoping to catch an iguana, is fairly negligible -- far too wordy for a “picture book” and with an element of mysticism that seems forced and a prose style that tries too hard to sound poetic. However, the flat, richly-colored ink-and-opaque illustrations are terrific. Some critics have compared them to the work of Gaugin, though most commentators see the influence of Diego Rivera:

Creating a picture book probably came more naturally to Laura Adams Armer than writing a novel. She had trained at the San Francisco School of Art for six years, then worked as a photographer and artist for much of her life. Although she made her first trip through the American Southwest in 1902, it was her return trips in the early 1920s that truly fired her imagination. She photographed and painted Native Americans, sometimes blending both talents (the cover of WATERLESS MOUNTAIN, shown above, is a painting based on one of her photographs.) She gained access to Native ceremonies and was the first to copy Navajo sand paintings; her requests had originally been turned down because this was considered a sacred ceremony, but she was later allowed to photograph them if sacred elements were left out of the paintings.

She also wrote, produced and directed a film of the Navajo "mountain chant" ceremony which, when shown to audience, was narrated by Navojo Indians in their own language. Many of Ms. Armer's artworks are owned by museums; the mountain chant movie is owned by the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I do not know whether these examples of visual art are held in high regard these days, though I do have evidence that Armer strove for authenticity in her work. I have one bit of Laura Adams Armer memorabilia in my collection -- a 1923 letter that references a model shooting in which she mentions reversing some of the prints so that the model's left shoulder was bared in "Hopi fashion."

On a lighter note, I laughed when I read that Laura Armer used her son as a nude photographic model from the time he was an infant until he finally age sixteen. Now THAT would have made an interesting young adult novel!

Examining Laura Adams Armer's career, it appears she was talented in many areas. Although she remains known today mostly as a writer because she was lucky enough to join that small pantheon of Newbery winners, I suspect her best work -- and her greatest love -- was for the visual arts.


Laura Adams Armer may have snagged both a Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor, but she's not the only multi-talented creator to score with both major award committees.

Here are fourteen more:

Robert Lawson remains the only person to actually WIN both awards. He received the Caldecott in 1941 for THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD and the Newbery in 1945 for RABBIT HILL. He also had two Caldecott Honors (FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS, 1938; WEE GILLIS, 1939) and one Newbery Honor (THE GREAT WHEEL, 1958.)

Dorothy Lathrop won the first Caldecott Medal (ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE, 1938) but also had a 1932 Newbery Honor, THE FAIRY CIRCUS.

Ludwig Bemelmans got a 1937 Newbery Honor for writing THE GOLDEN BASKET and went on to win the 1954 Caldecott Award for illustrating MADELINE’S RESCUE.

William Steig won the Caldecott in 1970 for SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE and had a 1976 Caldecott Honor with THE AMAZING BONE; he received two Newbery Honors for ABEL’S ISLAND (1977) and DR. DESOTO (1983.)

Another double-duty creator, Arnold Lobel won the 1981 Caldecott for FABLES and had Honors with FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS in 1971 and HILIDID’S NIGHT in 1972; meanwhile FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER garnered a Newbery Honor in 1973.

Tomie DePaola had a 1976 Caldecott Honor (STREGA NONA) and a 2000 Newbery Honor (26 FAIRMOUNT AVENUE.)

Kevin Henkes won the 2005 Caldecott for KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON, and has a 1994 Caldecott Honor (OWEN) in addition to a 2004 Newbery Honor (OLIVE’S OCEAN.)

Wanda Gag had two Newbery Honors (MILLIONS OF CATS, 1929; ABC BUNNY, 1934) and two Caldecott Honors (SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, 1939; NOTHING AT ALL, 1942.) Classics all.

James Daughtery won the 1940 Newbery for DANIEL BOONE and had a 1939 Honor Book with ANDY AND THE LION and a 1957 Honor with GILLESPIE AND THE GUARDS.

Holling C. Holling had a pair of Newbery Honor Books (SEABIRD, 1949; MINN OF THE MISSISSIPPI) and one Caldecott Honor (PADDLE TO THE SEA, 1942.)

Mary and Conrad Buff won Newbery Honors for BIG TREE (1947), THE APPLE AND THE ARROW (1952) and MAGIC MAIZE (1954), in addition to a 1943 Caldecott Honor for DASH AND DART.

Marguerite de Angeli won the 1950 Newbery for DOOR IN THE WALL and had a 1957 Honor with BLACK FOX OF LORNE; she got Caldecott Honors for YONIE WONDERNOSE (1945) and BOOK OF NURSERY AND MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES (1945.)

Kate Seredy won the 1937 Newbery for WHITE STAG and had a pair of Newbery Honors with THE GOOD MASTER (19353) and THE SINGING TREE (1940). She also received a 1945 Caldecott Honor for THE CHRISTMAS ANNA ANGEL.

William Pene du Bois won the 1948 Newbery for THE 21 BALLOONS and received a Caldecott Honor in 1952 for BEAR PARTY and again in 1957 for LION.


Thirty years ago, the ABC television network produced a forty-four minute film called THE WAVE.

The story was based on a real-life incident in which high school history teacher Ron Jones, teaching a Holocaust unit and struggling to understand how so many Germans could have blindly followed Hitler, conducted an experiment with one of his classes. Using the motto, "Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride,” Jones enforced strict discipline in his classroom, taught his students a special “salute,” and established a near-militant group mentality in less than one week. He wrote an essay about this experience for THE WHOLE EARTH CATALOG. The movie based on this article was originally scheduled as an ABC Afterschool Special, but when network executives watched THE WAVE, they felt it was powerful enough for prime-time and ran the show one evening in October 1981. (It was eventually broadcast as an Afterschool Special in 1984.) THE WAVE, which starred Bruce Davison as the teacher, won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award.

A paperback “novelization” of THE WAVE was published to coincide with the TV broadcast. Television and movie “tie-ins” are still published today, but the 1960s through 1980s were their heyday. Produced by unknown writers (or well-known authors using pseudonyms) these cheap paperback potboilers are usually written for a flat fee (rather than the standard advance plus royalties deal) and have few literary aspirations (the prose style is serviceable at best.) By its very nature, a TV or movie novelization nearly always enjoys a brief lifespan, disappearing from bookstore shelves within a few weeks or months of publication. I assume the same was expected of THE WAVE. Written by an unknown author named “Morton Rhue” and published by Laurel Leaf on September 15, 1981, who could have predicted this book would still be in print thirty years later? Last evening I picked up a copy at the bookstore and noticed the novel is now in its jaw-dropping fifty-eighth printing! I suspect there are other movie novelizations that have sold more copies during their first big flush of success (I recall William Kotzwinkle’s version of E.T. : THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL being huge) but has there ever been another novelization that has remained consistently in print for three decades? Especially one aimed at a young-adult audience?

I mentioned that the book was initially attributed to Morton Rhue. The copy I saw at the bookstore last night looked like this:

Soon after the book's publication, it was revealed that young adult author Todd Strasser was its actual author. Back in 1981, he'd only written two YA novels (ANGEL DUST BLUES and FRIENDS TO THE END) and opted to use a pen name for this work-for-hire novel. He has since gone on to write over one hundred books for young readers, including the recent, hard-hitting BOOT CAMP and the just-released FAMOUS. His real name now appears on the over of THE WAVE as well. To be honest, THE WAVE doesn't reveal much of the usual Strasser finesse; the writing is flat, the characterizations shallow. That's not untypical of TV novelizations.

Yet one has to ask what has made this particular novelization so popular for such a long time? I think it's safe to say that the appeal of this unnuanced novel isn't really about the characters, or the dialogue, or the quality of its prose; it's all about the MESSAGE. And Strasser's novel delivers that in spades. Young readers are fascinated by THE WAVE'S blatant lessons about peer pressure, mind control, the corruption of power, and the plight of one individual (in this case, student Laurie Saunders) against the system. Another factor in the book's popularity is that the 1981 film is still shown in schools, and the novelization continues to be assigned for book reports. I was fascinated to learn that THE WAVE has struck a particular chord in Germany. In an article from the ALAN Review , Susan Stan reported that this book -- DIE WELLE -- is considered "a significant turning point in German youth literature." Germany has released its own movie-version of Strasser's book (a film based on a novelization -- how's that for a twist?) as well as a graphic novel version of the story.

In this country, the book has gone through many editions (including some in hardcover) and shows no signs of stopping. According to, THE WAVE is their top-selling Todd Strasser book.

After thirty years!

I hope Mr. Strasser didn't write this volume for the standard "flat fee" novelization rate, but continues to receive royalties for producing this monster hit!


When Elizabeth Taylor died this past week, the newspapers praised her beauty, talent, and humanitarian work...but nobody said anything about children's books!

But looking at this Hollywood legend's filmography, I was struck by how many of her film roles were based on books for young people.

One of her first movies was LASSIE COME HOME, adapted from the book by Eric Knight. Then there was NATIONAL VELVET, based on the novel by Enid Bagnold. There was her performance as Amy in LITTLE WOMEN, as well as work in movies made from classic novels that are read by both adults and kids, including IVANHOE, JANE EYRE, and LIFE WITH FATHER. Then there was A PLACE IN THE SUN, whose true-crime source material would later inspire the Printz Honor Book A NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly.

But did you know that she also wrote a children's book? Long before the current "celebrity author" trend, thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor penned a memoir of life with her pet chipmunk, Nibbles, who was given to her while making the first Lassie movie. Originally published by Duell, Sloan, and Pearce in 1946, NIBBLES AND ME was reissued a few years back by Simon and Schuster. I reviewed it at the time (a few years ago, I mean. Not in aleck) and thought the writing was a bit precious, but was really impressed by what a good artist Elizabeth was; her drawings of Nibbles show talent far beyond her age. If you're interested in seeing the book, the 2002 reissue is available at many used bookstores for less then ten dollars. The 1946 edition is considerably more pricey. I've seen copies of the original book, signed by both Nibbles and Elizabeth Taylor, listed from $500 to $2200. A lot of money, true. But, as one book dealer jokingly noted, "Books signed by chipmunks are rare."


Friday marked the one hundredth anniversary of a landmark American tragedy -- the fire at New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Company. This event is remembered in a new book for young people by Albert Marrin, FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP : THE TRIANGLE FIRE AND ITS LEGACY.

Marrin's clear text capably explores the historical events -- such as mass immigrations from Europe at the turn of the twentieth century -- and social conditions -- including the hardships of tenement life -- that lead to creation of the American sweatshop. Although this information is integral to the narrative, it takes quite a while before the book's focus shifts specifically to the events at the Triangle Factory, and a powerful account of the events of March 25, 1911. The volume shows how this tragedy, in which lives of 146 workers (mostly young women) were lost, led to necessary labor and political reforms, but also acknowledges that sweatshops are still flourishing overseas and, perhaps even more troubling, are illegally operating once again in New York City at present. Illustrated with black-and-white archival images, the text is printed in double columns (unfortunately reminiscent of many textbooks) and documented by endnotes and a thorough bibliography.


THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE by Elaine Landau / Children's Press, 2009
THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE by Donna Getzinger / Morgan Reynolds, 2008
THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE by Mark Tyler Nobleman / Compass, 2008
THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE by Brenda Lange / Chelsea House, 2008
(geez, they all the exact same title!)
THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE by Jacqueline Dember Greene / Bearport, 2007
THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE by Jessica Gunderson / Capstone, 2006 (this one's presented in a "graphic novel" format)
THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE OF 1911 by Janell Broyles (unfortunate last name, considering the subject) / Rosen, 2004
THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE by A.R. Schaefer / World Almanac, 2003
THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST COMPANY FIRE OF 1911 by Gina M. De Angelis / Chelsea House, 2000
THE TRIANGLE FACTORY FIRE by Victoria Sherrow / Millbrook, 1995

THREADS AND FLAMES by Esther Friesner / Viking, 2010
UPRISING by Margaret Peterson Haddix / Simon, 2007
HEAR MY SORROW : THE DIARY OF ANGELA DENOTO, A SHIRTWAIST WORKER by Deborah Hopkinson / Scholastic, 2004 (part of the "Dear America" series)
ASHES OF ROSES by Mary Jane Auch / Holt, 2002
FIRE! : THE BEGINNINGS OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT by Barbara Diamond Goldin / Puffin, 1997
FIRE AT THE TRIANGLE FACTORY by Holly Littlefield / Carolrhoda Books, 1995


Thanks to everyone who wrote in with comments and questions last week. I was particularly interested in seeing how widespread the "pinching on St. Pat's" tradition was, considering I'd never heard of it before. Apparently it's done all over this country...but not in Ireland!

I had asked if this pinching custom or our "birthday spanking" tradition had ever turned up in a children's book. Helen Schinske said she remembers birthday spankings from LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS and an anonymous reader wrote to say:

Try Chapter Eleven, "The Wearing of the Green" of the book Kid Sister by Margaret Embry (1958), which says, "The next day was St. Patrick's Day, and in the excitement of having Rosemary at school, Zib completely forgot to wear something green. By recess time her arms were so sore from having all the other kids pinch her and yell "Greenie on you!" she decided she'd ask Miss Barnes if she could stay inside and look through the supply cupboard for a piece of green crepe paper to make herself a hair ribbon."

Thanks Helen and Anonymous for these great examples!

...And thank you for reading Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll be back. I definitely intend to do a blog or two before next Sunday, so please keep checking back!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Sunday Brunch with Pinches and Promises

Today's Sunday Brunch asks if you're a graduate of the public library system, wonders if illustrations are making a comeback in novels, and recommends a new memoir that will interest everyone who likes children's books.


This blog normally focuses on books for children. WE JAPANESE by H.S.K. Yamaguchi was not published for young readers, but this two-volume set was such a big part of my childhood that I always consider it a book for kids. My aunt, who served in the military, was stationed in Japan for several years after the war. She brought this book back from there and gave it to me when I was ten. I remember taking it to school for a social studies report and, for a long time, considered it one of the most valuable titles I owned.

It does have an exotic appearance, as it's printed on onion-skin paper, the binding is handstitched, and the dustjacket is beautifully designed. (I understand that some copies come in boxes fitted with bone clasps, though mine are not boxed.) Over time, I've come to realize the books aren't particularly rare or expensive; I believe they were probably published for the post-war tourist trade. But the information inside remains fascinating, as the two volumes cover nearly every aspect of Japanese history and tradition you can imagine, with one and two page vignettes describing subjects such as kites, foods, and sumo wrestling. I remember poring over these volumes as a kid and, in light of last week's tragic earthquake, tsunami, and the continuing nuclear fears, I found myself drawing to them again this week at a time when we're all feeling a little Japanese in spirit.


The crisis in Japan, plus the problems in Libya, seem to have pushed the Madison, Wisconsin story right off the front pages of the newspaper.

But if you do a Google news search of the word "teachers" you will find that educators continue to face some real issues. Among today's top "teacher" headlines:

* Chicago -- "Teachers Union Official, 1 Other Arrested in School Funding Protest"

* Tennessee -- "Teachers' Bargaining Rights May Hinge on Battle within GOP"

* Michigan -- "Union Preps for Statewide Strike"

I hate to think what will come next.

I was talking to my bookstore friend about this and she told me that her favorite scene of learning from a recent children's book is in A WIZARD FROM THE START : THE INCREDIBLE BOYHOOD & AMAZING INVENTIONS OF THOMAS EDISON by Don Brown. This biography mentions that, at age twelve, Thomas Edison began selling newspapers and candy on the train that ran between Port Huron and Detroit.

The book tells us, "Most days, waiting in Detroit for the return ride home, Tom visited the public library. He'd start at the first book on the bottom shelf and read one after another until it was time to move to the next shelf."

This scene reminded me of something I once read about the great Vera and Bill Cleaver, who wrote some of the best children's books of the sixties and seventies and whose work is now largely, and sadly, forgotten. Both Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver grew up during the Depression, moved around a lot in their youth, and had interruptions in their formal education. Bill would say later that both considered themselves graduates of the public library system of the United States.

Do you too consider yourself a "graduate" of the public library system? Do you feel that libraries supplemented your regular education to a great extent?

With the problems facing our public school system, it seems as if more and more kids may -- by necessity, rather than choice -- end up having to educate themselves in libraries.

...Though I suspect that elected officials who have such little regard for teachers and schools aren't going to be big supporters of libraries either....


For years now I've been bemoaning the absence of illustrations in middle-grade novels. When I was growing up (and you know you're getting old when you start sentences with "When I was growing up") nearly ever intermediate book featured artwork, and even today I picture Henry Huggins and Beezus looking exactly the way Louis Darling drew them.

It was such a loss when, around the late seventies or early eighties, illustrations disappeared from most midgrade novels.

I'm not sure for the reasons behind this.

Maybe authors didn't like sharing their royalties with illustrators.

Maybe kids found it "babyish" to read books that featured pictures.

Whatever the case, they were virtually gone.

I doubt there's any connection, but I do find it interesting that, just as artwork in fiction suffered its demise, we saw the rise of "graphic novels." So maybe artwork didn't "go away" so much as it moved into an exciting and respected new genre.

This spring, however, I've noticed a hopeful new trend. At least three novels I'm reading surprised me by containing supplemental artwork:

Holly Thompson's ORCHARDS -- the story of an American girl spending the summer with relatives in Japan -- contains woodcut illustrations.

DEADLY, a novel about Typhoid Mary by Julie Chibbaro, contains utilitarian artwork (such as diagrams, maps, textual decorations) by Jean-Marc Superville Sovak.

Jennifer L. Holm's latest, THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA, contains illustrations by Adam Gustavson.

While Gustavson's work, shown here, is confined to chapter-heading vignettes, it's interesting to see any artwork in the novel, especially since its predecessor, the 2000 Newbery Honor, OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, did not contain any illustrations at all.

I hope the inclusion of this inclusion of artwork is a sign of the future.


This past week, Travis of the outstanding 100 Scope Notes blog wrote an entry called "Bag It," highlighting the cover of Gary D. Schmidt's brand-new novel, OKAY FOR NOW

and featuring other dustjacket images that utilize a bag-on-head motif. You can read about it here.

At the end of his blog, Travis asked if there were any more to add.


He did not add it to his blog, nor did he write me back.

Now I'm hoping (best case scenario) that my note was lost in cyberspace and he never got it.

Otherwise, I'm worried that he received it and thought my note came from stalker/obsessed fan or that I was making some kind of comparative comment about our two blogs!

In actuality, all I wanted to do was tell him about my favorite head-in-a-bag cover, from my favorite author, M.E. Kerr:

I'LL LOVE YOU WHEN YOU'RE MORE LIKE ME was published in 1977. Can anyone find an example of a "poke on the face" earlier than this one?


Two children's books creators.

Two Caldecott-winning books.

Two Newbery-winning books

Two book signings.

I was excited to learn that my favorite local bookstore, BOOKBEAT of Oak Park, Michigan, is hosting two important author signings next month.

Two-time Newbery winner Lois Lowry will be in town to sign her latest volumes BLESS THIS MOUSE and LIKE THE WILLOW TREE, on April 1, 2011.

And, in a rare appearance, two-time Caldecott winner Chris Van Allsburg will visit Bookbeat on April 6 to sign his latest, QUEEN OF THE FALLS, a nonfiction account of a 62-year-old woman who was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

If you're interested in seeing Ms. Lowry or Mr. Van Allsburg, or would like to order signed copies of their books and have them mailed to you (it's never too early to get copies of THE POLAR EXPRESS as gifts for next Christmas!) feel free to call the Bookbeat at (248) 968-1190.


Let's face it: People have such subjective tastes that it's nearly impossible to recommend a book that "everyone will love."

But I think I can say with some certainty that anyone who reads this blog -- that is, anyone who loves children's books -- will be fascinated by the soon-to-be-released memoir THE READING PROMISE : MY FATHER AND THE BOOKS WE SHARED.

Okay, let's start with the author's name. Her real name is Kristen Alice Ozma Brozina. Her father, a school librarian, gave her the middle monikers and anyone who knows children's books will immediately recognize "Alice" and "Ozma" as iconic names from fiction. By the time Kristen Alice Ozma Brozina was in high school, she was ready to dump the first and last name and has since been known, and has now published her first book, as Alice Ozma.

The book concerns a promise that Alice's father makes when the girl is in fourth grade: that he will read aloud to her for the next one hundred nights. When they complete that goal, Alice proposes that they extend the project for one thousand nights. Instead, they continue for another 3218 nights, finishing on the day Alice begins college.

It isn't always easy. The reading "Streak" is kept during tough times (when grandpa dies... when mom moves out...when Alice and Dad are angry at each other) and awkward times (with Dad reading aloud over the phone when Alice is at a sleepover... leaning beside their car after picking up Alice at late-night school function...or with Alice in evening gown and make-up as she's about to head off for her senior prom.)

At the beginning of the book, the author calls the volume "embarrassingly mushy" and she's right. However, the characters (Dad's a true eccentric, and Daughter has inherited a few of those tendencies herself) usually keep the episodic narrative from becoming too precious. The backbone of the novel always remains the nightly ritual between father and daughter -- and the books that they share. For many readers, seeing titles such as HATCHET and DICEY'S SONG and SURVIVING THE APPLEWHITES quoted at the beginning of chapters, analyzed, just mentioned in passing, or included on the "List of Books from the Reading Streak," will be like encountering old friends in unexpected places and they'll feel an instant connection to Alice and Dad. At the end of the volume, the author reflects on the significance of the eight years of nightly reading she shared with her father:

We called it a reading Streak, but it was really more of a promise. A promise to each other, a promise to ourselves. A promise to always be there, and to never give up. It was a promise of hope in hopeless times. It was a promise of comfort when things got uncomfortable. And we kept our promsie, to each other.

But more than that, it was a promise to the world; a promise to remember the power of the printed word, to take time to cherish it, to protect it all costs. He promised to explain, to anyone and everyone he meets, the life-changing ability literature can have.

As does Alice Ozma with this book.


Last Sunday I showcased two different books that used the same "stock photo" image on their covers and asked if anyone had further examples.

Thanks to Rebecca Moore, who spotted this pair of twins:


Somewhere back in my family tree there's a little Irish blood. But even if there wasn't a drop, I'd probably still celebrate St. Patrick's Day. EVERYONE is Irish on St. Pat's, aren't they?

This March 17 I had corned beef and cabbage for dinner, plus cake with green icing.

I also learned something new.

Twice that day -- from two completely unrelated sources -- I heard that it's traditional to pinch someone if they don't wear green on St. Patrick's Day. I'd never heard that in my life, so of course I quickly O'Googled it and was shocked to discover that this tradition goes back to the 1700s!

Who knew?

I asked others if they'd heard about this custom on my Facebook page. (And if we're not Facebook friends already, who not? "Friend" me at "Peter Sieruta.") One person said she'd heard of it, and a couple others had not.

Have you ever heard of it?

And has "pinching on St. Pat's" ever been fictionalized in a children's book?

Come to think of it, has that other funny/cruel holiday custom -- getting spanked on your birthday -- ever been portrayed in a book for kids?

Getting a "birthday spanking" (one slap for every year) was a BIG DEAL when I was growing up; our kindergarten teacher even spanked us on our birthdays. Is this something that was only done here in the midwest in the sixties and seventies, or is it known throughout the country? Maybe the custom died out when child abuse became a known social issue. Personally, I'm surprised there has never been a picture book on the topic.

Or has there been?

Thanks for reading Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll return!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sunday Brunch with Two Helpings of Lois Lowry

Today's Sunday Brunch suggests some good informational books about the Newbery and Caldecott Awards, looks at two new books by Lois Lowry, and explains why you may want to watch (or skip) tonight's CELEBRITY APPRENTICE.


Julie Danielson, of the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog and (along with Elizabeth Bird) one of my co-writers for the forthcoming Candewick book, is now blogging for Kirkus Reviews. Check out her first Kirkus column.


If you're one of my Facebook friends (and if you aren't, feel free to "friend" me), you'll notice that all the TV series I've "favorited" on my FB page are reality shows.

Yeah, I'm a reality show addict.

One friend calls them "staged." Another calls these shows "trainwreck TV." They're both right to an extent, but I still can't stop watching. Personally, I think reality TV provides a lot of insight into human behavior, which is shown at its best, worst, and (especially) most contradictory, on these shows.

Last Sunday Donald Trump returned with a new season of CELEBRITY APPRENTICE.

According to SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL's website, tonight's episode of CELEB APPRENTICE will either be a "don't miss" or "don't watch" episode for children's book fans:

Margery Cuyler, the publisher of Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, will appear in the episode alongside a star-studded cast that includes Gary Busey, La Toya Jackson, David Cassidy, and Dionne Warwick -- all of whom battle it out for their favorite charities.

The episode will focus on what most of us would consider a dream assignment --children's literature -- as Cuyler, an author and publisher of the Marshall Cavendish imprint, along with actress Robin Holly, judge two teams of celebrities as they author an original picture book.

Okay, first of all, since I seem to be the only blogger in the world not making an income from my blog and I'm poor as a church mouse (see Lois Lowry entry below), would SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL like to hire me as a copy editor for their website? Margery Cuyler is not going to appear alongside David Cassidy, as he got the heave-ho last week. And who the heck is "Robin Holly"? I think they meant "Holly Robinson." Call me, SLJ, I work cheap.

But I digress....

As mentioned earlier, the children's book competition on tonight's Trump show has both positive and negative ramifications.

On the plus side, it's great to see children's books discussed on any prime-time TV show. And it will be nice to see a noted publisher such as Margery Cuyler get some attention.

On the minus side, I hate to see any program promote the idea that anyone (even Gary Busey!) can write a children's book, or that such an endeavor can be completed in a number of hours, as opposed to the weeks, months, and sometimes years required to create a "real" children's book.

Remember, this is not the first time the APPRENTICE has dabbled in children's books. A few years ago, when Martha Stewart hosted her own version of this show, the contestants also competed in a challenge to write a children's book for Random House. The resulting book was even published:

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY called it "a true insult to children's book authors, illustrators and booksellers."


Okay, THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE is not the best place to find emerging literary talent...but could television be used to discover the next Katherine Paterson or Maurice Sendak?

A couple years ago I wrote a blog containing my idea for a children's book reality show. Since it fits in with the current discussion, I'm, in today's column:

I once had a discussion about reality TV with a former friend who had worked in the field of children’s books for many years. She wistfully said, “I just wish we could find some way to use such reality shows to launch new children's book creators!”

Why not?

Wouldn't that be a great concept for a reality series? Doesn’t everyone want to a write a children’s book these days? Every time I mention my work, people either tell me, “Oh, I love children’s books!” or “I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book!”

Okay, let’s give them a chance. They can try out for...well, let’s call it PROJECT NEWBERY or FINDING THE NEW SEUSS or WRITE ON! or ROWLING FOR DOLLARS.

Obviously it wouldn’t be a major network "American Idol" type of show, but more of a niche series on a network farther up the cable dial, like A&E or Bravo. You get ten or twelve aspiring children's writers and find some cool, funny, quick-witted children’s book person to host the show (paging Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith) and a panel of judges. Maybe one judge is a supportive fellow children’s author. Another is a ruthless agent. The third is a nasty editor (I can offer a list. A long list.)

And of course the weekly writing assignments would have to be humorous and entertaining:

Week 1) Each contestant is given a dog to take care of for a day. Hilarity ensues. Then they have to write a story about the dog.

Week 2) Each contestant has to attend a modern high school for a day. Hilarity ensues. Then they have to write a fictional story using what they learned about high school life.

Week 3) A 24-hour write-off in which each contestant has to write a 100 page children's book in one day. Hilarity ensues as contestants yawn and fall out of their chairs while writing.

The viewers see each contestant reading parts of their stories out loud to the judges (of course the film editors would include REALLY bad sections so they can show the judges wincing, as well as really good sections which make the judges nod and smile.) All the complete stories would be included on the show's website so viewers at home could read the entire texts.

At the end of each show the judges praise the best stories, criticize the worst and someone is handed a "rejection slip" and, in a nod to children’s book character Philip Hall, told to “Get on out of here.”

The last contestant standing gets a publishing contract and the series is timed so the winning book is available the week after the show ends. Because of the TV exposure, the book becomes a bestseller.

Hey, I'd watch it.



I guess that should really read "The Trouble with Stock Photographs."

In recent years, publishers have turned away from original cover artwork on dustjackets, relying more and more on stock photographs. This has resulted in a lot of nearly indistinguishable dustjackets featuring close-up shots of feet (sometimes bare, sometimes clad in tennis shoes or funny socks), an infinity of chopped-off heads, and occasionally a single flower or random tchotchke.) It can also cause unwitting publishers to select the exact same image for two completely different books.

Case in point:

Have you seen any other examples of the same photo being used on two children's or young adult books? If so, let me know and I'll post them here.


Children's book fans frequently ask me if I can recommend a book about the Newbery and Caldecott Awards.

Looking through my own collection, here are my four favorites:

NEWBERY MEDAL BOOKS: 1922-1955, WITH THEIR AUTHORS' ACCEPTANCE PAPERS & RELATED MATERIAL CHIEFLY FROM THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE. Edited by Bertha Mahoney Miller and Elinor Whitney Field, the volume was published in Boston by the Horn Book in 1955.

There is also a Horn Book Caldecott volume that covers the years from 1938 to 1957, as well as supplemental Newbery-Caldecott volumes issued about every ten years since then. Though seeking the texts of the winners' speeches, as well as biographical sketches of these creators will find them here. Not every volume in this series is the same, but some contain critical discussions of the winners, recaps in which the winners reflect on life since the award, and other intriguing additions and articles.

A HISTORY OF THE NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT MEDALS by Irene Smith. New York : Viking, 1957. Another edition was published in 1962.

This volume provides an historical summary of children's books before the advent of the awards, as well as details on how the prizes came to be. My favorite section compares the relative popularity of the winning titles circa the late 1950s.

NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT AWARDS : A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF FIRST EDITIONS. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1949.

If you're a true bibliophile, this is the book for you. An entry for each award winner gives specific, detailed info on how to identify a first edition of that title. Each book's original publication date and award date are provided. (For example, JOHNNY TREMAIN was published November 15, 1943 and received the Newbery on May 11, 1944.) The only problem with this book is that it only covers the winners through 1948. Man, do we need a new edition that takes us into the twenty-first century!

NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT MEDAL AND HONOR BOOKS : AN ANNOTATED BIOGRAPHY by Linda Kauffman Peterson and Marilyn Leathers Solt. Boston : G.K. Hall, 1982.

After chapers describing general "characteristics and trends" of the Newbery and Caldecott winners, the book provides a detailed description of every award winner and Honor Book. Often running a full-page in length, each entry includes a plot summary and critical appraisal which is usually positive in tone, though not always. The information on Honor Books is especially valuable, as most award volumes don't usually recognize the Honors this thoroughly. The book is also notable for its comprehensive listing of the illustration style, page size, and media utilized in each Caldecott winner and Honor Book. Published by an academic press, this book -- with its bland cover and "typeface" font -- isn't much to look at it, but belongs in every award fan's personal library. Again, though, we really need an update edition to cover the winners since 1982!

Do you have any favorite informational books about the Newbery and Caldecott to add to this list?


While wandering the library stacks this week, I came across a series of children's art books by Ernest Raboff. Each thin volume was devoted to an individual artist, including, among others, Paul Klee, Frederic Remington, Marc Chagall, and Pablo Picasso.

Essentially, the books were just compilations of the artist's work, with a single page of simple analysis for each painting. For example, here is Picasso's 1901 painting "The Gourmet":

On the opposite page, we learn these simple facts:

* Picasso was only twenty when he painted this picture.

* It was created during his “blue period,” three years in which “a warm blue light is seen in all his paintings.”

* “The lines of her hair, the folds of napkin around her throat, across her shoulder and down her back, keep oureyes moving.”

* “The circle formed by the head is repeated by the position of her arms, the bowl, the top and bottom of the tablecloth, and the hem of her dress.”


* “Even the lines of the floor and curtains give life and moment to the painting.”

I was amazed that just a few lines of text (printed in a visually arresting way) could provide so much information -- not just basic facts about the painting, but also explaining the techniques Picasso used in line and form to achieve his desired effect. As old as I am, it certainly made me view the painting more closely. So I can only imagine the effect this type of analysis could have on a young reader -- perhaps turning him into an art afficionado at an early age.

Looking at these Ernest Raboff volumes today, I thought, "Why didn't they have books like this when I was a kid?" Then I looked at the copyright pages and, noting they were all pages in the late sixties and early seventies, I realized they DID have these books when I was a kid...but I never came across them in the library stacks, nor did anyone introduce me to them.

But the books are still out there. I hope today's kids stumble across them at the library. It would great if they learned a bit about art and increase their "cultural intelligence" while young instead of waiting till age 52 like me!


One of our most-acclaimed children's writers, two-time Newbery winner Lois Lowry, seems to have entered a new phase of her career in recent years. After a succession of ambitious novels such as the "Giver Trilogy" and THE SILENT BOY, a book which never got as much attention as it deserved, she has spent recent years experimenting with a variety of styles and formats, including a series for early readers (the "Gooney Bird" series), a picture book, and satires of Victorian novels and fairy tales. This spring brings us two more unexpected works, an animal fantasy and a volume in the popular "Dear America" historical series.

The latter book, LIKE THE WILLOW TREE : THE DIARY OF LYDIA AMELIA PIERCE, concerns an eleven-year-old girl who, along with her older brother, is orphaned by the influenza epidemic of 1918. Lydia and Daniel are eventually taken to the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake. Lydia's diary describes the simple customs of her new life, as well as her fear when Daniel runs away from the religious community. Real figures in Shaker history appear throughout this quiet story of growth and acceptance. The book only covers a few months in the lives of the siblings and some readers may wish for a longer story that could have explored the dramatic events of Lydia and Daniel's later lives which are summarized rather quickly in the epilogue. As in all the "Dear America" books, back matter includes background information and black-and-white photographs that place the fictional work in historical context.

BLESS THIS MOUSE also has a religious component, as the story is populated by 220 ice, led by Mistress Mouse Hildegarde, who live hidden inside an (apparently Episcopalian) church. When a few of the mice are spotted by parishoners ("Eek!") the church calls in an exterminator and the rodents make an "exodus" to live outdoors. Profusely illustrated by Eric Rohmann, this is one of those animals fantasies where the mice where shirts, hats, and glasses but no pants. (Why do so many animals in kids' books dress up and then go without pants? It's so pervy.) And the gently humorous story comes to a strong conclusion as the community of church mice figures out how to foil the exterminator's glue traps and Hildegarde eventually participates in the church's annual "Blessing of the Animals."

Though not major Lowry works, both novels are written with the author's assured, professional prose and will please many young readers.


About three years ago I wrote a blog about THE GOLDEN BOOK OF 365 STORIES, which contained a story or poem for every day of the year. It turned out to be one of the most popular blog entries I ever wrote -- not, I should quickly add, due to my cogent literary analysis or scintillating prose, but simply because so many people remember this book so fondly from their childhoods.

In the original blog, I bemoaned the fact that the GOLDLEN BOOK entry for my birthday was a blandly sweet poem about being twins. Yesterday I received an e-mail from a reader asking, "Can you please post a copy of the 'Two of us' poem? I have been searching for it for years as a teacher gave it to my sister (my twin) as a child. I know it's sickly sweet...but it's a twin thing! Thanks!"

Sure, I'm glad to help. Here's the poem:

If it's difficult to read the text, click on the image to make it bigger.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Brunch for March 6

Today’s Sunday Brunch identifies the children’s book author who won an Oscar last week, takes a peek at the correspondence between two major twentieth-century authors, and asks if bookstores need a bill of rights. Oh, and then there’s the little matter of a twenty-six-year-old literary newbie making a million dollars on….


I can’t stop thinking about this article and video clip from the Huffington Post.

It concerns twenty-six-year-old Amanda Hocking who, a year ago at this time, was an aspiring writer of young adult novels. Rejected by all the major publishers, she decided to release her novels as e-books. Available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble for prices ranging from ninety-nine cents to $2.99 each, Ms. Hocking’s books have become very successful.

How successful?

In less than a year, the young author has become a millionaire.

Yeah, you read that right.

Granted, Ms. Hocking writes in a genre that is currently huge with young readers -- romantic horror. (Many, many readers compare her work to the TWILIGHT series by Stephenie Meyer.) But how does someone go from an unpublished wannabe to a bestselling author in less than a year?

It would be interesting to know how these books were promoted and publicized.

I’d also like to know if her success is a fluke, or if any other young-adult authors are experiencing this type of success. Heck, even if an author sold one-tenth the number of e-books Ms. Hocking does, they’d be considered a literary smash.

What does all this portend for the future? Will other aspiring authors, tired of dealing with the whims of the publishing industry, begin releasing their own manuscripts as e-books, thereby “eliminating the middle-man”? And how would that affect the quality of young adult literature? The main criticism of the Hocking books is that they’re poorly edited, contain many copy-editing errors, rely on repeated pet stock phrases -- all elements that would probably be corrected if they’d been professionally edited and published by a mainstream press.

I haven’t read any of Amanda Hocking’s books, as I do not own a Kindle or Nook.

I’m the guy who rails against e-books as opposed to paper copies.

But when I read about Amanda’s success (a millionaire! at twenty-six!, I’m beginning to think she’s a pretty smart cookie. Isn’t it better to have thousands of people reading and loving your words in an e-book than to have a whole file cabinet full of manuscripts that no one will ever read?


So many successfully self-published novels eventually get picked up by mainstream publishers.

Christopher Paolini’s ERAON comes immediately to mind.

Now I’m wondering how many mainstream NY publishers (including those who once rejected her work) will soon be knocking on Hocking’s door, offering her huge offers to release her novels in hardcover.

I think it’s inevitable and am counting the days till we see a press release in Publishers Weekly or elsewhere, stating, “E-BOOK PHENOM OFFERED MILLION $$$ DEAL FOR YA HORROR SERIES.”


Gee, what’s a reality-show-freak like me supposed to do tonight with every station running some competing show? There’s AMAZING RACE on CBS, some new restaurant show and CELEBRITY APPRENTICE on NBC, CHOPPED ALL-STARS on the Food Network… Oh, for the good old days of last week when the only show we had to worry about was the Oscars. And our worry was well-founded. Has there ever been a more poorly-hosted ceremony with so many predictable winners? The highlight for me was seeing children’s book author Shaun Tan win an Oscar for his animated short, THE LOST THING. By the way, “The Lost Thing” is the second of three stories presented in Mr. Tan’s new book for kids, LOST & FOUND, which was just published this past Tuesday. I haven’t seen the book yet, but if it’s even half as good as Tan’s THE ARRIVAL or TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA, it’s going to be a treat.

Is Shaun Tan the first children’s book creator to win an Oscar in the category of Best Animated Short Film? You would think that many children’s book illustrators would work in animated film, but I checked this Wikipedia list and didn’t see any familiar names among the winners. …But then again, I am not as familiar with illustrators as I am writers. Did I miss anyone?

Incidentally, I was tickled to see that THE CRUNCH BIRD won an Oscar in 1971. I never saw the animated film -- never knew one existed -- but in 1971, the “crunch bird”was the most repeated joke at my junior high. Now I know where it came from!

Anyway, congratulations to Shaun Tan for winning that Oscar. Can’t wait to read the book!


Should bookstores have a Bill of Rights posted on their walls? After reading this blog about customers who use bookstores “as showrooms” for the titles they’ll later purchase online, I think it might be a good idea.

What items would you include on a Booksellers’ Bill of Rights?

NOTE: PJ Grath pointed out that the above link does not work. I can't get it to work either. Until I figure out the solution, you can access the article via this url:


One of the most talked-about titles of this new publishing season is SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS by Ellen Booream. It’s the story of Mellie Turpin who, as a young child, had a fairy friend named Fidius. (Correction: according to Fidius, “We are not fairies. We are Small Persons with Wings.”) After causing Mellie to become a grade school laughingstock, Fidius disappears -- not returning until the protagonist is thirteen years old and moves into an inherited inn and tavern overrun with fair -- er, Small Persons with Wings. The plot hinges on a hidden moonstone ring that has magical properties, a mannequin made up to be a nefarious realtor, and a grandfather imprisoned in a grandfather clock. While reading the book, I could already imagine the CGI special effects that will be employed in the inevitable movie -- the old man turning back and forth into a clock, Mellie transformed into a frog, the circle of Small Persons with Wings spinning through the air -- even as I found myself not caring much about the magic that moves the plot. I wasn’t interested in the history of the fairies or their plight. Take a look at this passage:

The Parvi’s first, true magic, the Magica Vera, gave us skills we needed to live, bu also it protected us from spells. We saw through all lies and illusion. This was our salvation when sorcerers were everywhere, so many centuries ago. In your year 453, the last of them helped us invent the Magica Artificia, but our native magic prevented us from seeing the beauties it created. We cast the Magica Vera out of ourselves, transferring it into the Gemmaluna so we would have it at need. But we rarely used the Gemma, and three hundred years later we were giving it to you, the Turpini

Now if you’re a fantasy fan, you’re going love all that convoluted magica stuff…but it nearly put me to sleep. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the more “human” side of this story -- the characterizations of plump, prickly Mellie and her offbeat parents, as well as the boy next door. The sarcastic first-person narration and the humorous, pitch-perfect dialogue are pretty great too. But add in the magic stuff, and the book becomes an uneven mix of reality and magic. Some readers may find it the perfect blend, but I suspect that true fantasy addicts will find the novel too grounded, while fans of realistic fiction will complain that the whole thing’s a little too twee.


Here is the Table of Contents from SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS.

Notice anything unusual?

While the title of each chapter is listed, there are no corresponding page numbers.

At first it struck me as odd but, the more I thought about, the more I realized it probably isn’t truly necessary to have a page number listed after each chapter. It may be just as easy for the reader to “flip through” the book to find the chapter, rather than go through page-by-page looking for the number.

I like tables of contents because I enjoy seeing the specific titles of chapters…but I seldom utilize them to find anything within a book. Do you?


Last Sunday I blogged about Eleanor Cameron’s “Julia Redfern” books, a series of autobiographical novels that were written out of sequence. Since I only had one of these books -- A ROOM MADE OF WINDOWS -- in my collection, I decided I’d try to add the other volumes as inexpensive copies became available.

I then did an internet search and found a copy of JULIA AND THE HAND OF GOD, the second book in the series which wasn’t inexpensive because it was autographed and included a personal letter from the author tipped in.

I didn’t really have the money (story of my life) but I decided to buy the book anyway (the other story of my life), spending money I didn’t have on a book I couldn’t afford (the real story of my life) because I couldn’t resist reading the letter that came with the book.

The letter, written on December 3, 1959, was written by Eleanor Cameron to fellow children’s book writer Doris Gates.

The book arrived yesterday and it was absolutely fascinating to read the included letter. It made me wish I could read the entire correspondence between these two important writers.

Ms. Cameron describes Ms. Gates’ previous letter as “so full of meat and vitality…so full of your particular personality” that her husband “was moved to say when he put it down, ‘What a gal!’”

The letter, which discusses both authors’ current projects, contains the usual writer’s lament: “Why will I never learn that this is always possible, that each book is a completely new experience, will not go with ease simply because others have preceded it, and that I will always seem to myself to never have written before. Something has been learned from each book – yes, but there is so much still to be learned, limitless expanses, that I am always an amateur.”

There is much talk about Virginia Woolf’s novels, the role of women writers, a complaint about “novels that were fairly good in content – but written so flatly, so without evocation, vividness, dimension. <…> And this is what is lacking in so many children’s books.” Mrs. Cameron goes on to praise Lucy Boston’s “Greene Knowe” series and Mary Norton’s “Borrowers” books as exceptions to this rule. Ms. Cameron adds that she’d recently read THE TREASURE OF GREEN KNOWE to her mother (who lived with Cameron’s family) “and she was enchanted.” It was the third time Eleanor herself had read the novel and “for the third time I make respectful, wistful obeisance.”

Ms. Cameron ends the letter by saying that if Doris Gates would come to visit “Mother says…she would be able to do nothing but sit in the background and listen. Well, she might find it difficult, what with all the things we would be bursting to toss back and forth, to squeeze in a word….” She adds that her fourteen-year-old son “says that at parties given by our group, everything goes so fast that by the time he finally does get his word in, that subject of conversatioin has been left so far behind that nobody knows what he’s talking about!”

Wouldn’t it be fun to have been at one of Eleanor Cameron’s parties? Or to listen to a conversation between her and Doris Gates?

I’m so glad I got to witness part of their “written conversation” by reading this one letter.


In her letter, Eleanor Cameron references the novel THE CAT AND MRS. CARY, which was one of the few fantasies that Doris Gates published during a long literary career that included animal stories, retellings of Greek myths, and realistic novels. As an author, she broke new ground writing early books with African American characters (LITTLE VIC, 1951) and dealing with social issues such as criminal justice (MY BROTHER MIKE, 1948) and the plight of migrant workers. Employed as a librarian in Fresno, California, Doris Gates had the opportunity to visit migrant schools and meet children who had been uprooted by the Depression and Midwestern Dust Bowl. When the economy caused a cutback in library hours, Ms. Gates used her extra day off to write books for children…including BLUE WILLOW, the story of Janey Larkin, a Texas girl who has roamed the country with her migrant-worker family for five years before temporarily settling in a Fresno shack. During their travels, Janey has carried a blue willow plate which she plans to display when her family finds a permanent home. The symbolism of the china plate, the dimensional portrayals of the family members, and a solid sense of place make this realistic novel – a sort of junior GRAPES OF WRATH – an important work in the history of children’s literature. It was named a Newbery Honor in 1941, the year that Armstrong Sperry’s CALL IT COURAGE won the top prize. Although Sperry’s lean, mythic novel is considered a classic by many, its remote location and emotionally-distant hero leave some readers cold. Amid many good customer reviews on Amazon, there is also a contingent that refers to the CALL IT COURAGE as “one of the most boring books in the world,” “one of the slowest books I've ever read,” and “so boring that it actually takes courage to turn the page.” I wonder if BLUE WILLOW wouldn’t have made a stronger Newbery winner, for its immediacy, strong characterization, and for shedding light on an issue of great social significance. It certainly would have been a daring choice for its era.

Although she did not win the Newbery, the Fresno Public Library honored the author by naming its children’s department the “Doris Gates Room.” This month the Fresno Public Library is celebrating Cesar Chavez Day with a display called “The Migrant Experience : Books for Children and Teens.”

Strangely, BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates -- one of the first and most-important novels about migrant workers ever published for kids -- is not among the books included.

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Smud-ged in Earthsea

Most book collectors are pretty persnickety about the volumes they add to their shelves.

The books must be first editions. The dustjackets must be crisp, with no chips or tearing. The pages must be unmarked with no stains, spots, or smudges.

But I know at least one volume which collectors want to find smudged.

The book is A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, written by Ursula K. Le Guin and published by the Parnassus Press in 1967. Founded by Herman Schein in 1957, this small, Berkeley-based children's book publisher had a hit almost right out of the box when BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS, written by Ruth Robbins (AKA Mrs. Herman Schein) and illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov, won the 1961 Caldecott Medal. Although perhaps best known for picture books, Paranassus also published works for older readers, including novels by Edward Ormondroyd (TIME AT THE TOP, 1963) and the biographical account ISHI, LAST OF HIS TRIBE (1964) by Theodora Kroeber. Ms. Kroeber was the mother of Ursula K. Le Guin who, during the 1960s, was making her mark as a poet, short story writer, and author of several paperback science fiction novels. In 1967, Herman Schein invited Ursula Le Guin to write a novel for young adult readers. A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA was the result. This coming-of-age story concerns Ged, a boy growing up on one of the islands of Earthsea. When he discovers he has a talent for magic, he is apprenticed to a "mage," then sent to a school for wizards. (No Quidditch at this school.) Ultimately, he must battle an evil spirit which he has recklessly summoned into the world. Met with great critical acclaim, A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA won the 1968 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and, though originally conceived as a stand-alone novel, was followed by several more "Earthsea" books including the 1972 Newbery Honor THE TOMBS OF ATUAN and the 1973 National Book Award winner THE FARTHEST SHORE. With millions of copies sold, the "Earthsea series" is considered a landmark achievement in twentieth century fantasy writing.

Needless to say, A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA has become one of most collectable fantasy novels of all-time. Over the years, dozens of editions have been printed in both hardcover and paperback, but readers seeking the true first printing always want a copy of that 1968 edition published by the now-defunct Parnassus Press. Unfortunately, they're as hard to find as dragon's teeth. The original first printing was only 6800 copies, most of which went to libraries. There would later be two more Parnassus printings totally 16,200 copies. Unlike most publishers, which utilize copyright page statements or other measures to distinguish between various printings/editions, Parnassus did nothing to indicate the difference between a book from the 6800 first printing and the 16,200 copies that followed.

Or at least they did nothing intentionally.

But as L.W. Currey noted in SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY AUTHORS : A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF FIRST PRINTINGS OF THEIR FICTION AND SELECTED NONFICTION (1969), a minor printing error helps collectors learn if their copy is one of those precious 6800 books from the original run. Currey states, "All examined copies have a faint vertical line or smudge from the top to the base of the title page, generally running through the r or d of Wizard to the p or s of Press."

In other words: If you find a copy of A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA published by Parnassus and it does not include the smudge on the title page, it is one of the 16,200 later printings and is worth a nothing-to-sneeze-at $150 to $200.

However, if you run across one of the rare copies with a title page smudge, you've found a true first printing, valued at $1000 to $3000.

I mentioned before that book collectors are notoriously persnikety.

Right now I'm imagining one of those finicky folks coming across an extremely underpriced Parnassus Press edition of A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA in a used bookstore and taking out their monocle or lorgnette (AKA glasses-on-a-stick) or jewelers loupe (note: the more persnickety you are, the more likely you are to use a monocle, loupe or lorgnette) in order to slowly examine the volume page-by-page. After much page-turning and sighing, they'd cast the book aside, declaring in a snooty voice, "Oh this copy won't do. It won't do at all! The title page is smudged! I refuse to pay $20 for any book that is less than PRISTINE! I will wait for an unsoiled copy of A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA to turn up...even if it does cost a few dollars more!"