Sunday, June 26, 2011

A "Let's Pretend We're Eating Osso Bucco" Brunch

Among other topics, today's Sunday Brunch looks ahead at a couple young adult novels, looks back at previous Newbery/Caldecott banquets, and discusses what's cooking (literally and figuratively) in New Orleans tonight.


THE RETURN OF CHRISTOPHER CREED

Last week I talked about how excited I was to learn Mary E. Pearson is continuing the story she began with 2009's THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX in a new novel coming out this fall, THE FOX INHERITANCE.

This week I learned that Carol Plum-Ucci has written a sequel to her Printz Honor Book, THE BODY OF CHRISTOPHER CREED. I've always felt that CHRISTOPHER CREED was a near-perfect Printz selection -- a novel both literary and appealing to young readers. So I have big hopes for FOLLOWING CHRISTOPHER CREED, due out September 5 from Harcourt:



"DON'T THINK. JUST JUMP."

A good friend on the east coast got wind of a booksigning for Veronica Roth's very popular YA debut, DIVERGENT:


and arranged to get me a signed copy:


I love the silver ink against the black background -- and I've read enough of the book so far to understand what "Don't think. Just jump" means within the context of the novel.


DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?

This weekend the American Library Association is having its annual summer convention in New Orleans.

I'm not there. I'm sitting here in my pajamas writing this blog.

If you're sitting there in your pajamas reading this blog, you're not there either.

Isn't it a bummer?

Although I've never been to ALA, I have this "image" of the event in my mind. I imagine strolling up and down the convention floor, picking up stacks and stacks of ARCs from publishers' booths.

I imagine meeting with colleagues to discuss our children's book careers.

I picture myself hobnobbing with famous authors.

I imagine attending the Newbery-Caldecott banquet.

But maybe attending ALA is best left to my imagination.

I've heard that the publishers are persnickety about who gets ARCs; they don't hand them out to "just anybody" who wanders by.

To be honest, I don't have any "colleagues" in the book world and certainly have never had any kind of "career."

And while I've met a couple famous authors in my lifetime, I can't envision ever hobnobbing with them.

No...it's probably better that I just stay home in my pjs.

But even from home, those of us who are un-Conventional can get a sense of what's happening in New Orleans today.

Here's a copy of today's convention newspaper.

And if you go to search.twitter.com and type in "ALA" you can read all kinds of tweets and see a huge number of photos right from the convention floor.

Have you ever wondered how the winning authors and illustrators are announced at the big banquet? If so, here is a Youtube clip of Grace Lin receiving her Newbery Honor certificate for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON at last year’s banquet.

And here's a video by fellow-Michigander Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes fame, which encapsulates all of 2010's conference into less than two minutes and ends with scenes from the big banquet.

Do you want to attend tonight's banquet vicariously? Here is some info about tonight's festivities, courtesy of ALA's website:

The banquet will be held in the Grand Ballroom of the New Orleans Marriott at 555 Canal Street. The ALA says, "The Newbery Caldecott Banquet is a very special celebratory evening. Guests are encouraged to dress in cocktail attire. Please bring a wrap or sweater as the room is large and can become cool."

The doors open at 6:00 PM for a pre-banquet cash bar reception in the Mardi Gras Balloom. The site says to "Come early to mingle with friends and colleagues." See why I couldn't go? I don't drink. Plus no friends and definitely no colleagues.

The banquet room doors open at 6:45 PM.

At 7:00 PM, the ALSC president offer opening remarks and dinner is served.

Here's the menu:

Bibb lettuce salad with roasted tomatoes, artichokes, and feta cheese with a lemon thyme vinaigrette.

Osso bucco style short rib served over smoked gouda grits with asparagus and root vegetables.

Strawberry chocolate shortcake with whipped cream.

Iced tea, coffee, tea.

Yeah, I had to look up what "osso bucco" meant. It's always a little scary to learn the definition of any food term. I mean, sweetmeats sound good until you know what they are. According to Barron's Food Lover's Companion, osso bucco is an "Italian dish made of veal shanks braised with olive oil, white wine, stock, onions, tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, carrots, celery and lemon peel. Traditionally, osso buco is garnished with gremolata and served accompanied by risotto. In Italian, osso buco means 'pierced bone.'" (The problem with looking up any word is that it leads you to other words you don't know. Like "gremolata." I tracked that one down in the Wikipedia. It means "a chopped herb condiment typically made of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley.")

I'm intriged by "smoked gouda grits" and wish Quaker Oats made an instant version so I could try it. On the other hand, I would have to scrape the strawberries off my shortcake because strawberries are one of the very few foods (besides sweetmeats) I do not like and won't eat.

After dinner, the award presentation and speeches begin at 8:30 PM, followed by a receiving line at 10:00 PM. The creators will not be signing books at the event (don't even try!) but you can meet them personally IF you follow "Receiving Line Etiquette" which "is a great way to say hello and convey your congratulations to the Awardees and Honorees. However, with 1,200 people going through the line, we do ask that you keep your comments as brief as possible so that everyone has a chance to meet the Awardees and Honorees."

In other words: shut up, smile, shake hands, and keep it moving, folks.


SCENES FROM BANQUETS PAST

1922: The very first Newbery banquet was held in my hometown of Detroit. No one bothered to save Hendrik Van Loon's acceptance speech for THE STORY OF MANKIND, though it was noted that he spoke "in a merry vein."

1924: Dorothy Cable Hewes had to deliver her husband's acceptance speech for THE DARK FRIGATE because Charles Boardman Hawes died before the awards were announced.

1932: Just like this year, the convention was held in New Orleans. Newbery winner Laura Adams Armer was living in the Hopi village of Oraibi when she left for NOLA and said, "Traveling by train across New Mexico, through Texas to New Orleans, I found myself as homesick as were the Navajoes themselves when forced to take 'The Long Walk' to Fort Sumner." What a drama queen.

1934: When accepting the Newbery for INVINCIBLE LOUISA, Cornelia Meigs gestured to the spirit of Louisa May Alcott with her hand and said, "If I could stretch my voice across the years, I would say, 'Louisa, this medal is yours,'" and brought several librarians in the audience to tears.

1937: Dorothy Lathrop gave the very first Caldecott acceptance speech, stating, "You must all know how happy it makes me to receive the first medal ever given to a picture book for children, and one that bears the name of so beloved an illustrator as Caldecott. When you think that not many years ago the illustrators of children's books were as anonymous as sculptors are now at the unveiling of their own statues, you will realize how much has been done for illustration. We also hear a great deal about how much illustration has done for children's books, thanks to such people as Frederick Melcher, Anne Carroll Moore and Bertha Mahony, and no one cries 'Hear! Hear!' more loudly and enthusiastically than the illustrators."

1942: Walter D. Edmonds (THE MATCHLOCK GUN) despaired of ever having to write and deliver a speech "not to run much over 45 minutes" than proceeded to give a speech that was over 13 pages in length. Think he made the time limit?

1945: In his acceptance speech for RABBIT HILL, Robert Lawson suggested that his winning the medal was predicted by a rabbit who always showed up on his lawn just before he received good news.

1952: When a nervous Eleanor Estes got up to give her acceptance speech for GINGER PYE, she fell to the floor. Her tablemates thought she'd fainted away but, in actuality, her long poufy dress had gotten caught on her chair. She came up laughing and delivered her speech with aplomb.

1956: Caldecott winner for FROG WENT A-COURTIN', Russian-born Feodor Rojankosky apologized to the audience for his accent, saying, "I am really handicapped as a speaker...my English pronunciation is not exactly that of Sir Laurence Olivier."

1958: Accepting his second Caldecott for TIME OF WONDER, Robert McCloskey said, "Since you are predominately an audience of ladies..." then went on to discuss how airbrushing is used to depict weight loss in advertisements. It was a different time. Today those "ladies" would be throwing osso bucco at him for his sexist remarks.

1960: The first two-time winner of the Newbery, Joseph Krumgold began his acceptance speech for ONION JOHN saying, "Surely the most useful, the most proper way to accept this honor is to offer you the one report that, by your bounty, I'm uniquely qualified to make. This is the first time that you've put anyone up here who is able to bring back to you some idea of how it feels not only to accept the Newbery Medal, but to live with that distinction. So I propose to give you a record of that extraordinary experience."

1962: Elizabeth George Speare accepted her Newbery for her religious-themed novel THE BRONZE BOW admitting, "In my portrait of Jesus I failed. I know that failure was intrinsic in the attempt, but I wish that I could have climbed higher."

1963: In accepting her Newbery for A WRINKLE IN TIME, Madeleine L'Engle said that the Medal's founder, Frederic Melcher had written her a letter saying how excited he was about her book; it was one of the last letters he wrote before his death.

1965: When she finished writing her manuscript for SHADOW OF A BULL, Maia Wojciechowska approached a well-regarded librarian about her chances of publishing a children's book concerning bullfighting. The librarian thought it was unlikely. At the 1965 N-C banquet, where Maia accepted the Newbery for that book, she saw the librarian in the audience and reminded her of their conversation. The librarian denied that they'd ever met.

1970: A shy William Steig gave perhaps the shortest acceptance speech on record when he won for SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE.

1971: Betsy Byars recalled her experience winning the Newbery for SUMMER OF THE SWANS: "The banquet was held in Dallas and the room was huge and elegant. Eighteen hundred people were there, and the people who were to sit at the head table formed a sort of procession through the tables. Leading us were two teenaged boys in kind of King Arthur page boy suits and they were bearing large banners. The boy preceding me had a banner on which there was a swan made of real swan feathers (hand sewn, one by one) and it was gorgeous, I almost felt like I was back in medieval times. Then just before we were to enter, the boy turned to me and said, 'I could just kill my mom for making me do this.' Instantly I was back in the twentieth century."

1972: Real or imagined health problems prevented Robert C. O'Brien from delivering his own acceptance speech for MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH. His editor, Jean Karl, presented the speech.

1973: During her acceptance speech for JULIE OF THE WOLVES, Jean Craighead George recalled her son's sixth grade teacher saying, "at the end of a long discouraging day: 'Look, kids, if you'll just read all the Newbery books, you'll get a terrific education, and it'll be a lot more pleasant for both of us.'"

1975: Accepting the Newbery for M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT, Virginia Hamilton noted, "I am the first black woman and black writer to have received this award. May the American Library Association ever proceed."

1981: Second-time winner Katherine Paterson (JACOB HAVE I LOVED) teased that she was tempted to tell the ALA "We have got to stop meeting like this" during her speech.

1983: Maria Brown won her third Caldecott for SHADOW and noted in her speech that "I suspect it took a certain courage for those on the Caldecott selection committee."

1989: Stephen Gammell's infamous Caldecott acceptance speech for SONG AND DANCE MAN has gone down in history. Read about it in the forthcoming book Elizabeth Bird, Julie Danielson, and I are writing for Candlewick.

2002: Winning the Newbery for A SINGLE SHARD, Linda Sue Park walked off the stage and gave the medal to her father, who had inspired her love of books.

2008: Accepting the Caldecott for THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, Brian Selznick was the first winner to use a Powerpoint presentation as part of his speech.

2011: Tonight, first-time author Clare Vanderpool will accept her award for MOON OVER MANIFEST and first-time illustrator (and youngest Caldecott winner ever!) Erin Stead will accept hers for A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE.


JUST READ A GREAT BOOK

I just read an ARC of THE SUMMER I LEARNED TO FLY by Dana Reinhardt and think it's one of the year's standout novels. Set in 1986, the story concerns thirteen-year-old Drew, a lonely girl who works in her mother's gourmet cheese shop, secretly reads a diary kept by her long-deceased father, and carries a pet rat in her backpack. Drew's summer -- and life -- changes when she meets a mysterious boy named Emmett Crane.


When she learns Emmett's secret, the two teenagers set off to pursue a legend -- the only element in the novel that, due to its shaky introduction by the author, strains plausability. THE SUMMER I LEARNED TO FLY is a strong portrait of a lonely girl learning to love, learning to let go, and learning, in her own way, to fly.


JUST READ A LOUSY BOOK

Then there's 12 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU CRASH AND BURN by James Proimos. Writer-illustator Proimos has created some fun, goofy books for younger readers (most notably the "Johnny Mutton" stories), but his first novel for teenagers pretty much does crash and burn. After the death of his TV performer father, teenage Hercules Martino is sent to spend some time with his uncle in Baltimore. Uncle Anthony gives Herc a list of twelve tasks (the twelve labors of...you got it) which includes "Clean out the garage. Find a place of worship and pray. Eat a meal with a stranger."


Herc accomplishes these tasks, all the while pursuing the "Beautiful and Unattainable Woman" he met on the train, in a rushed and slipshod fashion. The text -- big print, lots of white space, tiny chapters -- almost reads as an outline for a novel instead of the real thing. The tone is sophomoric throughout -- more like a book for young readers with lots of cursing and a sexual episode tossed in. Reluctant readers, put off by the mammoth size of most of today's YA offerings, may be drawn to this skinny book, but the humor is puerile, the plot is contrived, and Herc's eventual insights are superficial and unearned.


STEPPING UP WITH THE ANSWER

Last week I included a photo of this wonderful children's book themed staircase:


I'd found the picture on the internet, but had no idea where it could be found in real life. A big thanks to "Snappy Di," who provided the answer: the stairs are at the "Magic House," a children's museum in Kirkwood, Missouri.

Thanks, Snappy Di!

...And thank you to everyone who wrote to explain why I might have been kicked off jury duty last week. And those who shared their own feelings of rejection and inadequacy when they too were kicked to the courtroom's curb. There was an article in Friday's paper saying the defendent was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Maybe it's just as well I didn't make that jury. Thursday morning I had a plumbing disaster that filled my bathroom with several inches of standing water and it took so long to clean up that I probably would have been late for court. Then the judge would have thrown me in a holding cell for tardiness. Better to pay $525 for a toilet repair than end up in jail.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rejections and Acceptances

The last time you heard from me I was whining about being called for jury duty.

I couldn't imagine anything worse.

I have since discovered that there is something worse than jury service: getting REJECTED for jury service!

The day actually started well.

I'd been worried about getting up at the crack of dawn and finding my way to the remote city where the courthouse was located. But I neither overslept nor got lost on the unfamiliar commute. And when I entered the jury waiting room, lugging my battered briefcase containing six or seven children's books (hey, they said we might have to wait around all day), I was cheered to see how many of the potential jurors had their noses buried in books or hovering above Kindles. I haven't been around that many readers in ages. A judge welcomed us, then we watched a movie about the civic duty of serving on a jury -- or, as the narrator called it, "one of the most important things you may ever do for your community."

I had barely begun reading my first book when my juror number (#110) was called over the loudspeaker and I joined about fifty others in filing to a courtroom. We were told that the pending case was for pre-meditated first degree murder. They began drawing numbers for the jury and -- surprise! -- I was seated in the eighth seat. The judge questioned each of us about our backgrounds, then the lawyers began asking questions of individual jurors. Some of the questions were odd. Example: "If someone with a knife attempted to cut your _____ off, would you have the right to shoot them first?" (This question was directed at males.) Another example: "If you hear bad words in this trial, words that rhyme with 'itch' and 'truck,' will you be offended?"

So anyway, I'm sitting there feeling pretty good. I woke up on time. I got to the courthouse without getting lost. I was seated on what looked like a fascinating trial. And I was suddenly bursting with civic pride about participating in "one of the most important things I may ever do for my community."

Then the lawyers began to use their "peremptory challenges" to dismiss people from the jury. This means they are kicking you off for no stated reason, though it could mean, among other things, that they merely want to change the balance, or make-up, of the jury. It could mean they think you will not be impartial. It could even mean that they just don't like your stinkin' looks. You're not supposed to take it personally.

So they dismissed the woman sitting in front of me. Then they dismissed the young father of six-month-old twins (he was showing pictures of the kids while waiting in line.) Next we said goodbye to the guy with all the piercings who had been in trouble with the law himself a few times. I felt fairly secure. I thought I'd answered the questions well and humbly figured that I'd be an asset to any jury.

That's when the lawyer said, "The prosecution excuses Mr. Sieruta."

I was dumbfounded.

It would have been bad enough if the defense attorney had released me, perhaps thinking I couldn't be fair to his client. But it felt even worse for the prosecution attorney -- or, as they called him in court, "the government" -- to dump me. THE GOVERNMENT kicked me off this case???

Here's the part where I have to share a little personal history.

"Rejection" is the main theme of my life.

I think it started when I was five years old and got kicked out of a swimming class within the first five minutes -- for reasons I'm still puzzling over nearly fifty years later.

And it's only gotten worse since then.

I've been fired from job after job. (Not my fault -- really!)

I've had stories, books, and plays rejected by publishers and agents. (I know: welcome to the club!)

So I guess I should have expected I'd be dumped from this jury since, Heaven knows, I've been dumped everywhere else! But it still came as a surprise and it still hit me like a hard punch in the stomach. I sat there in jury seat #8 for a second, thinking "What is wrong with me? Why don't people like me? What negative thing do people see in me that I don't see in myself?" These were questions worth reflecting on, and maybe someday I'll ponder them while sitting on the banks of Lake Woe-Is-Me, but it was time to leave and I departed the courtroom the same way I move through life: inching sadly along like a snail, leaving a slime trail of leaking self-esteem...and lugging a battered briefcase containing six or seven children's books.

Later that day, however, my thoughts turned from "rejection" to "acceptance" when I received an interesting bit of literary ephemera via e-mail. Open Road Media is releasing one of my favorite children's books, MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS (which, strangely, I did not even read until I was an adult) as an e-book. Those who read this blog regularly know that I'm a fan of books -- I love holdling them, smelling them, hearing the rustle of the pages as I turn them -- and I have not jumped on the e-book bandwagon. But what intrigued me about this e-book version of the classic Richard and Florence Atwater novel is that it comes with additional content, such as a biographical essay, photos of the authors and their family and other archival material. Learning about this, I actually began to see one advantage that e-books could have over their paper-and-ink counterparts; they could include supplemental information and ephemera...just like a DVD with extras and Easter eggs!

One of the most intriguing items offered in this new edition is a copy of the original submission letter for MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS. I'm including it here. Click on the image in order to enlarge it.


Pretty fascinating, isn't it?

I was aware that Mr. Atwater was ill when the book was written, but didn't really know the full circumstances till now.

And I wonder if Florence herself, while carefully explaining what type of penguins should be used in the artwork, could ever have imagined how perfect Robert Lawson's eventual illustrations would be for this novel -- the one and only book she or her husband would ever write.

And, hey, do you think she's dissing Laura Ingalls Wilder in that crack about pioneer stories?

Reading this letter made me think that someone who has access to the papers of many authors, or access to publisher archives, should assemble a collection of the submission letters and acceptance letters of famous children's books. It could even include rejection letters for books that were later published and became big hits. (I'd love to see some of the many rejections that Madeleine L'Engle received for A WRINKLE IN TIME before Farrar accepted it...and it won the Newbery. Or how about Ursula Nordstrom's rejection of Robert Cormier's now-classic THE CHOCOLATE WAR?)

Wouldn't that be a cool book?

Wouldn't it be a happy book?

I can just imagine myself turning the pages and reading the various submission letters (some, perhaps, hesitant and timorous; other perhaps boastful; some perhaps naive to the world of publishing) and the corresponding publisher acceptance letters. I can easily imagine the author's joy upon receiving a positive editorial response. Acceptance is so much better than rejection.

...Which brings me back to my jury experience.

Ever since being dismissed (rejected! expelled! ousted! ostracized! kicked to the curb!) yesterday, more than one person has asked me: "Why do you even care? You said you didn't want to serve on a jury anyway, so what difference does it make if you were let go?"

I tried to explain my feelings with this analogy: "What if you were invited to a party by someone you hardly knew and didn't particulary like? You really, really didn't want to go, but you somehow felt obligated to attend. So you FORCE yourself to go and when you arrive, the host tells you that they don't really want you there. How would that make you feel?"

It's bad enough losing jobs you've loved, having favorite manuscripts rejected, or being dumped by long-time friends...but to be rejected for something you didn't even want to do is the lowest feeling of all.

It's like being turned away from a party you didn't want to attend!

Next time I get a jury summons, maybe I'll conveniently ignore it.

I'd rather spend my time daydreaming about authors nervously sending out submissions, getting those happy acceptance letters, and then planning big parties to celebrate the event.

Now those are parties I'd like to attend!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Brunch for June 19

Today's Sunday Brunch will be more brief and random than usual. I have to report for jury duty tomorrow, so now need to spend the rest of the day fretting about getting up early in morning (what if I get there late? will they throw me in jail?) and driving a long distance into unknown territory (what if I get lost? will they find me in contempt of court?) The only good thing about the experience is that it's just as likely that I won't get empaneled at all and can spend the entire day reading books in the jury room.

On the other hand, if this blog isn't updated for a few weeks, you'll know I've been sequestered on some major case that takes months and months to resolve -- especially since there may be a lone hold-out juror who can't be budged. Listen for the news report that says, "We can't reveal his name, but he's been seen entering court each day with a children's book in hand."

Anyway, I couldn't let today go by without wishing all the dads out there:


And if I do end up sitting on a lengthy trial, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone else a Happy Fourth of July, a nice Labor Day, a spooky Halloween, a Bountiful Thanksgiving, and a Merry Christmas!


NUMBER THE STAIRS

I came across this photo of a children's-book-themed staircase on the internet. Does anyone know where it originated? Is it in someone's house? A bookstore? A library?


If my stairs weren't carpeted, I'd love to create something similar -- a real Stairway to Heaven!


STAIRWAY TO HELL

Thinking about stairs always makes me remember this book:


Published in 1974, HOUSE OF STAIRS wasn't William Sleator's first book, but it was his first science fiction novel. He's written many more since, but this one still remains my very favorite. The story concerns five orphaned teenagers sent to live in a mysterious building full of nothing but endless staircases -- and a food-dispensing machine that directs their behavior. It is not long before the commands to dance for food take a more menacing turn. This fascinating character study of five teens trapped in a mysterious reality is a science fiction book for those who don't usually like science fiction. In many ways, HOUSE OF STAIRS was ahead of its time. It would fit right in with today's "dystopian novel" trend -- though as a stand-alone novel of only 166 pages, it would perhaps be considered an oddity for today's kids who only know this genre to contain massive books in multi-volume series. Sleator's protrayal of a possible future is lean and unembellished, and ends with a sentence that will give readers the chills.


A FAVORITE ILLUSTRATOR

Another reason I like HOUSE OF STAIRS is that the dustjacket illustration was created by one of my favorite children's book artists, Richard Cuffari. Although he never illustrated a picture book to my knowledge, he was one of the kings of middle-grade and young adult dust jackets and interior drawings in the 1970s. I believe I first became aware of his work in Sylvia Louise Engdahl's THE FAR SIDE OF EVIL:


And then his work started popping up everywhere. He had a real knack for choosing the very best projects and his lined and shadowed pen-and-ink drawings distinguished many of my favorite books of the era: THE WINGED COLT OF CASA MIA by Betsy Byars, THIS IS A RECORDING by Barbara Corcoran, THE PERILOUS GARD by Elizabeth Marie Pope, THE MAGIC MOTH by Virginia Lee, and so many more.

When I think back on books from my early teens, Mr. Cuffari's illustrations are the ones I see in my mind's eye.

Richard Cuffari died at the young age of 53 in 1978. Although he left a wonderful legacy, it would have been fascinating to see what he might have accomplished through the 1980s and 1990s, if he'd continued working.

I am surprised by how little information there is on the internet about this artist's life and work. I did find one wonderful blog entry from fellow fan
Daughter Number Three who says that she has been known to pick up a book just because it has a cover illustration by Richard Cuffari.

Me too!


JENNA FOX 2.0

A couple years ago I blogged about my initial encounters with author Mary E. Pearson. It started when AOL sponsored message boards devoted to a varity of topics. I used to hang out on the “Writing for Children” and “Writing for Young Adults” boards. One of the people posting there was Mary E. Pearson, who had just published her first novel, the unique and thought-provoking DAVID V. GOD. Her second book, SCRIBBLER OF DREAMS was about to be released. We exchanged a few notes before AOL shut the message boards down. Several years later Ms. Pearson published the well-regarded speculative novel THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX and a friend arranged to get a signed copy of that book for me. I was surprised and thrilled when it arrived with a note from Mary Pearson, saying that she remembered me from our AOL encounters:


And I was surprised and thrilled this past week when I learned that the author, after taking time out to write the YA novel THE MILES BETWEEN, is now returning to the world of Jenna Fox with a new book, THE FOX INHERITANCE, the second volume in a new series called "The Jenna Fox Chronicles." Set two hundred and sixty years after the first book, THE FOX INHERITANCE will likely be one of the fall's most anticipated novels.


The book will be published August 30. Sounds like great reading for Labor Day weekend.


SUMMER WEEKENDS

If you're a fan of TV's ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, you know that they tape the entire season over several summer weekends at different locations around the United States.

I just read that, during yesterday's taping in El Paso, Texas, a children's book made quite a splash.

A first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT was brought in for appraisal and valued at $80,000 to $100,000!

Can't wait to watch this episode (which probably won't air till next year) to find out how a copy of this book ended up in El Paso.

I watch ANTIQUES ROADSHOW every Saturday night when it's not being pre-empted by PBS pledge drives. (Which means I watch it about once a month because it seems like three weeks out of every month are devoted to pledge drives.) Whenever someone brings in an ugly vase or overly-ornate punch bowl and learns it's worth $50,000 or more, they always say, "It's going to stay in the family."

At which point I usually scream at the TV: "Sell it! Sell it now and pay off your house! Pay off your car! Put the money in the bank! Because if you don't do it now, your kids are going to be calling Sotheby's the minute you die!"

But when I hear about a $100,000 book, I start to question myself.

If I had a book worth that much money, would I sell it?

If it was a book I really and truly treasured?

I'm not sure.

It's possible I might find myself keeping it.

Would you?


BOSTON GLOBE-HORN BOOK AWARDS

The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners were announced this past week:

Fiction winner: BLINK & CAUTION by Tim Wynne-Jones
Honor Books: CHIME by Franny Billingsley and ANNA HIBISCUS by Atinuke

Nonfiction winner: THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD by Steve Sheinkin
Honor Books: INTO THE UNKNOWN by Stewart Ross and CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER by Martin Jenkins

Picture Book winner: POCKETFUL OF POSIES by Salley Mavor
Honor Books: DARK EMPEROR AND OTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen and PECAN PIE BABY written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Sophie Blackall

So what do you think -- hurray or ho-hum?

This year I'm going for the latter. The Horn Book has always had the hots for Tim Wynne Jones; this is the third time they've honored one of his books. Second time for Franny Billingsley.

Speaking of Horn Book Awards, what do you think of their 2011 Mind the Gap Awards? I was happy to see Laurie Halse Anderson's FORGE get some kind of recognition, even if it is for "Most Missed" title. I loved that book. There always are one or two books that everyone thinks will win the Newbery or Caldecott and then go completely ignored.

I wonder what 2011's "most missed" titles will be.

I hope I'm back from jury duty by then....

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

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Brunch with a Little Help from My Friends

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


A BABY BIRD HATCHES!

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


And this past week, Lillian Blackwell Bird was born!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh. Yeah…I did read that.”

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

“Yeah, I guess that was.”

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

“Oh yeah…I did read that.”

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

“Uh…I don’t know.”

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

I’m the dumb one.


I HATE WHEN PEOPLE DO THIS...SO WHY AM I DOING THIS?

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

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

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

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

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

And you’re probably thinking, “Unfair!”

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

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

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

Then a curious thing happened.

My friend called it fate.

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

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

Wow!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


IT DOESN'T ALWAYS WORK....

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

Case in point: GOLDEN & GREY (AN UNREMARKABLE BOY AND A RATHER REMARKABLE GHOST) by Louise Arnold.

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



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

I'd never heard of it before now.

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

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

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


AWESTRUCK BY WONDERSTRUCK

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

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


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


WONDER STUFF

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

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

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


MY FRIEND'S IDEA

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

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

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

I think it's a great idea.

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

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

And don't get me started on Jon Scieszka!

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

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

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


A RECEND TREND IN YOUNG ADULT TITLES

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


IS THERE A NAME FOR THIS?

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


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

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


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

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

Is there a name for this style?

Anyone know?


THERE IS A NAME FOR THAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, I don't get it.

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

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

Or how about creating our own?

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

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

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

Any others?


OVERUSED IMAGERY IN KIDS' BOOKS

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday Brunch for June 5, 2011

Among other topics, today's blog talks about what's hot in new children's books and recalls a time when some books were "smoking" hot.


GOOGLE IS SCARRY TODAY

Have you used Google today? If so, you've noticed that the iconic Google logo has been tricked-up to celebrate the 92nd birthday of author-illustrator Richard Scarry:


Or maybe we should say it celebrates the 92nd anniversary of Mr. Scarry's birth, since he actually died a good seventeen years ago.

Either way, it's always nice to see children's books noted in pop culture.


BOOK BUYERS ARE SCARY TODAY

That gentle new lullaby book by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cort├ęs, GO THE F**K TO SLEEP, is turning into something of a phenomenon.

Although not officially released until June 21, Publishers Weekly is reporting sales of over 275,000 -- and the publisher hasn't even tapped the foreign market yet.

This makes me think about all the children's book writers who labor away as teachers, office workers, librarians, and even janitors (a category that once included Meindert DeJong and Richard Kennedy) while writing at night...all the while dreaming of publishing that bestseller that would allow them to quit their day job and pursue their craft full-time.

Now they're probably wondering why the, er, heck, they didn't get the silly, one-note idea for this book first.


JUNONIA

Speaking of hit books, Kevin Henkes' latest novel, JUNONIA, seems to be selling rather well. I ordered a copy from my local bookstore but it arrived as a second printing. The bookstore had to go to three different distributors before they could track down a first printing. With its squarish trim size, illustrated endpapers, and vignettes in blue ink at the start of each chapter, this is an exceptionally well-made book. I've always preferred Kevin Henkes' picture books to his novels, usually finding the latter well-written and sharply-observed, yet too self-conscious, too introspective, too quiet, and laden with metaphor -- the type of books that many adults love, but only "special" child readers will really appreciate. JUNONIA is true to that form. The story of Alice, celebrating her tenth birthday and learning to accept change while vacationing on Florida's Sanibel Island, is the type of book that will likely be praised by critics and appear on many Mock Newbery lists, despite its somewhat limited child appeal. Though it's not a beach book in the traditional sense (that is, a lightweight page turner to be read while marinating in suntan lotion and listening to a beach volleyball game), it is a volume one might take to a sandy cove on a peaceful sunny afternoon to read, to reflect, and to quietly appreciate as waves gently lap accept the shore.


TWO MORE BOOKS WITH BUZZ

I'm also hearing a lot of buzz about two other books -- one just out, the other not arriving till the end of summer.

DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth is the first book in a trilogy that has echoes of THE HUNGER GAMES. Though just published May 3, it already has over 150 customer reviews on Amazon.com -- a sure sign of popularity. The book is still available in first edition, but probably not for long!

I'm also intrigued by WILDWOOD, a forthcoming novel written by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Ellis Carson. I'm told that Colin Meloy is part of the rock band The Decemberists and Ellis Carson, his wife, has illustrated covers their albums, as well as children's books such as THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY.

The reason I'm so curious about this book is because my friend recently told me that ARCs (advance reading copies) of WILDWOOD have become highly sought after by collectors.

We'll have to wait till WILDWOOD'S publication on August 31 to see if the book lives up to the buzz.


THE GOOD OLD DAYS

I've been awash in nostalgia the last few days, reading THE VIRTUE OF SUSPENSE : THE LIFE AND WORKS OF CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG by Rick Cypert.


Although the book is more of an academic study than personal biography, I'm enjoying reading about how suspense author Charlotte Armstrong created her many wonderful books. And the reason I'm feeling nostalgic is because I originally read all those books in high school. Every Saturday morning, after finishing my paper route, I would head down to my favorite local bookstore. It was located in a very sketchy neighborhood, directly across from a public housing project and, indeed, the bookstore owner would eventually be shot and killed during a robbery on the one Saturday I didn't visit the store because I was out of town. I was fourteen when I first encountered a Charlotte Armstrong book on the new paperback shelf at the front of the store. It was THE ALBATROSS, a novella which had originally been published as part of a hardcover short story collection. It was the mid-seventies, the heyday of "gothic mysteries" -- a time when entire walls of bookstores were filled with paperbacks featuring women in nightgowns and long dresses fleeing from moonlit mansions, and all of Charlotte Armstrong's books were being reissued in this gothic format. This was misleading since her novels were actually standard detective tales or domestic suspense stories that didn't follow the gothic formula. Besides, it was embarrassing for a fourteen-year-old guy to carry around those moonlight-and-nightgown books. But Ms. Armstrong's stories were so gripping, so well-characterized, and so suspenseful that I couldn't stop reading.

I still remember bringing THE ALBATROSS home from the bookstore on a June afternoon and reading it in my bedroom during a thunderstorm. Then the rain stopped, the sun came out and -- no air conditioning! -- I went outside and leaned against the gritty wall of the house, walked up and down the driveway, and bent over the back of the family car as I kept turning the pages to the satisfying conclusion. After that I was hooked. Every Saturday I'd go back to the bookstore and stand in front of the paperback racks, debating and debating which Armstrong book to read next -- an activity that kept me busy all that summer and fall. I still have all those books on my shelves, and still love them.

But you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with kids' books.

One of the things I learned from the Cypert biography was what a tough go Charotte Armstrong seemed to have with publishers. Even at the height of her fame, she was constantly having short stories rejected by magazines, or accepted with the provision she do substantial rewrites. And, from the biography, I get the feeling that her book publisher, Coward-McCann, wasn't particularly encouraging either. It sounds as if, despite her success, the author was constantly having to approach them, or make overtures toward them, with each new manuscript.

One of the manuscripts that didn't get published was a children's book called CLANCY, about the relationship between two dogs. The author's agent

reported to Charlotte that Miss Alice Torrey from Coward-McCann's juvenile section had noted that "the story is obviously the work of an experienced writer; but inexperienced, naturally, since this is a first effort, in the children's field. Young Clancy and old Bruce make a nice contrast in dog character and there's a certain amount of amusement in the author's idea of seeing human eccentricities through a dog's eyes. But this idea is developed through much talk and almost no action. The story is really a series of conversations. It's hard to see how pictures could provide the action the text lacks. Also the story runs definitely long for the age who would be interested in a picture-story book."

I had to laugh at Charlotte Armstrong's response to her agent because she uses the same "my kids loved it!" defense that so many aspiring and inexperienced authors use when trying to sell a manuscript to a children's book editor:

Of course I think this dame is dead wrong. I may not have experience as a writer of children's books but I have had one hell of a lot of experience with the ultimate consumer.... Naturally it is in dialogue. You might as well view with alarm the fact that Hamlet has soliloquies or that The Green Mansions has an awful lot of description. The point is...kids love it. A lively reading of the dog's speeches tickles them to pieces.

However, none of the other editors to whom the manucript was submitted wanted it either and the book never was published.

I couldn't help but contrast this series of events with today's world of publishing. Based on the number of "adult authors" who have entered the field of children's books in recent years (as well as the huge number of celebrities who have done the same), I would guess that if a well-known author such as Charlotte Armstrong submitted CLANCY to publishers today, it would be purchased immediately, get a huge publicity budget, and sell quite well based on the author's name value...even if the story itself was not up to snuff.

Apparently publishers in the 1950s and 1960s had a bit more integrity than those who publish today....


A SMOKIN' CENTERFOLD

Because I've been on the Charlotte Armstrong kick this week, I've been revisiting some of those paperback books I bought nearly forty years ago. I just re-read THE ALBATROSS and loved it just as much as I did at age fourteen.

Then I looked at her book of short stories, I SEE YOU.

See what I mean about the gothic-style covers?


But what intrigued me even more was coming across a hard cardboard centerfold in the middle of the book: an ad for cigarettes!


Does anyone remember that time in the early to mid-seventies when paperbacks regularly included advertisements midway through the book? As I recall, they were mostly for cigarettes, though I also seem to remember ads for book clubs and even home education opportunties ("Become a licensed court stenographer on your own time!") as well.

Did this trend ever extend to children's books? If so, what products were advertised?

Considering how commercials are encroaching on everything these days -- product placements in every movie and TV show; sports stadiums and Broadway theaters named after corporations -- I'm surprised that advertising inserts haven't found their way into books lately.

Actually, I see how it could easily happen in the future.

The cheapest version of Kindle includes "special offers and sponsored screensavers" as part of the display. I imagine that it won't be long before ALL e-readers feature screensavers, scrolling ads, maybe even video commercials.

Just imagine ordering some classic children's book for your Kindle.

You click on it and the title page for CHARLOTTE'S WEB appears....

But first, a word from our sponsor:

Cue the Doritos and Pepsi ads!


NEWBERY/BLUEBERRY

In my last blog post, I mentioned a spoof of the Newbery Award (called the "Blueberry Award") which appears in Sarah Weeks' new novel PIE. At the end of that post, I solicited reader opinions on which 2011 titles are likely Newbery candidates.

Mary suggested OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt.

Carter opted for BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu.

Any other titles you'd like to suggest?

And what about the Printz Award? I'm currently reading FIVE 4THS OF JULY by Pat Raccio Hughes (review to come) and am very impressed. Maybe I can get some buzz started in this blog.


BLUBERRY/NEWBERY

I was laughing as I typed up my last blog about the Blueberry Award, never realizing there actually is a Blueberry Award for children's books! As pointed out by blog readers Gregory K. and Sandy D., the Blueberry Award seeks "to reward the best children’s book author and/or illustrator for presenting fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds in a positive light and in a way that is fun and entertaining to children."

Who knew?

Sponsored by Clementine Art (makers of natural modeling dough, paint, and markers), The Blueberry Patch ("the first place anywhere to feature reviews of children's books about fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds"), and RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com, the first winners were given in 2010. They were:

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK, given annually to the children’s or teen’s fiction or non-fiction book that best inspires and encourages readers to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and/or seeds : TOO MANY MANGOS, written by Tammy Paikai and illustrated by Don Robinson


BEST RAW CHILDREN’S BOOK, given annually to the children’s or teen’s fiction or non-fiction book that best inspires readers to learn about fresh, raw fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds and/or to eat raw food recipes made from them, celebrating the raw vegan cuisine (which is great for health, keeps people lean, helps fight obesity and taste delicious) : FROM SEED TO APPLE TREE, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jeff Yesh.

AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE, given annually to an outstanding American who inspires children, teens and their families to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds: First Lady Michelle Obama.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

ARTICHOKE BOY, written and illustrated by Scott Mickelson
COLOR & COOK HEALTHY SNACKS, written and illustrated by Monica Wellington
NIBBLES, A GREEN TALE, written and illustrated by Charlotte Middleton
STREGA NONA'S HARVEST, written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola


SLIGHTLY ALTERED TITLES

Over the years, many British titles have been changed when the books were published in the United States -- and vice versa.

I'm not sure if this trend is quite as common these days, possibly because the internet and modern communication gets the original titles out there -- and universally known -- long before they're exported to other countries. Even Louise Rennison's ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING wasn't changed to ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL KISSING when it crossed the pond. (Though some of her later titles did change up, as when IT'S OK, I'M WEARING REALLY BIG KNICKERS became ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, I'M NOW THE GIRLFRIEND OF A SEX GOD in the U.S.)

But today I'm not thinking so much about changed titles as children's books which, due to variations in British/American spelling, have very slightly altered titles. Here are a few I found:

American edition:


British edition:


American edition:


British edition:



British edition (it came first):


Amerian edition which followed:


Original British spelling:


American spelling:


Original edition from England:


Later imported to the US of A:


Can you think of any more?


A DAY OFF!

I have tomorrow off work! I hope to run some errands, transplant my tiny tomato and pepper plants into big containers, and READ.

My very kind and generous bookstore buddy recently gave me a huge stack of ARCs. Here are just a few of them:


Yes, I am one very lucky guy.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll be back. Don't forget to send in your Newbery and Printz ideas. And feel free to "friend" me at "Peter D. Sieruta" on Facebook if you are so inclined.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Newbery Gets Spoofed, or, Maybe Cynthia Voigt's Son Was Right

Back in 1983, when Cynthia Voigt won the Newbery Medal for DICEY'S SONG, she closed her acceptance speech with an anecdote about her young son announcing, "Mommy won the Blueberry Award!"

A long time has passed since then. Ms. Voigt went on to write several more books about Dicey's family, as well as a number of other outstanding novels in a variety of genres. Her son must now be in his thirties. I doubt he still talks about his mom's "Blueberry Award."

But now I have more news about the Blueberry...er, Newbery...Award.

A few days ago, my bookstore friend gave me an ARC (advance reading copy) of PIE, a novel by Sarah Weeks which is due out in October. It's the story of a young girl, her recently-deceased pie-baking aunt, and the search for an elusively perfect pie crust recipe.


Is it a good book?

I don't know yet.

I'm only up to page 28.

So far so good.

But the reason I've momentarily stopped at page 28 was because I wanted to share a fun moment from the book with you. Alice, the protagonist of the book, recalls that Aunt Polly kept her "Blueberry Medals" under the the bed so she couldn't look at them and "get a swelled head."

We are told:

The Blueberry Award was established in 1922 to celebrate the most distinguished contribution to American pie making. Each year during the month of August, people from all over the country would box up their pies and deliver them to the Blueberry committee for consideration. The committee members would carefully evaluate the pies, "Blueberry Buzz" would spread as the top contenders emerged, "Mock Blueberry" clubs would choose their own favorites, and finally on the first Monday in September, amid a great deal of fanfare, the Blueberry committee would announce the winner.

Incidentally, the commitee member responsible for Aunt Polly's first Blueberry Award happens to be named Melcher!

However, in the book Aunt Polly goes on to win thirteen Blueberry Awards in a row -- a feat that has not been repeated in the history of the Newbery Award. Not even by Cynthia Voigt.

Anyway, it was great fun to see the Newbery skewered in such a good-natured way. Can you think of any other examples of the Newbery or Caldecott being spoofed within a children's book?

Speaking of which, have you heard of any new books already getting Blueberry Buzz? I mean Newbery buzz? Which recent titles would turn up on your Mock Blueberry...um...Mock Newbery list?