Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Season for Sharing

This past weekend, I asked readers to share what books they planned to read on Christmas Eve.

Laura C. said that she likes to share "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with her son every year.

Wendy said her favorite is "CHRISTMAS ALL YEAR 'ROUND (1952), edited by Marjorie Vetter, which contains 25 Christmas stories from American Girl magazine--it used to be the official magazine of the Girl Scouts, but was similar to YM or Seventeen, and published excellent fiction. Most of the authors aren't anyone people have heard of anymore unless you're me; the most famous is probably Lenora Mattingly Weber, who wrote the cult-favorite Beany Malone books."

I want to read this book too, but it's almost impossible to find these days. And our library's copy is missing!

Linda revealed, "I usually don't have any time on Christmas Eve to read anything, but four books I must re-read before Christmas are THE TUCKERS: THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY, Kathryn Lasky's CHRISTMAS AFTER ALL, and Frances Frost's SLEIGH BELLS FOR WINDY FOOT, as well as A CHRISTMAS CAROL. If I can, I do like to read the last FEW chapters of Kate Seredy's THE OPEN GATE (starting with the Pearl Harbor chapter.)

Well, that got me excited. I'm a fan of the Tuckers books too, but have not read THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY and, in fact, did not even know it was a holiday story. Now it's going on my "find and read" list, along with the other books Linda suggested!

Brer is a fantasy fan: "I like to read "A Christmas Carol" of course, but also THE BOX OF DELIGHTS by John Masefield, THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper, HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett, and THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C. S. Lewis."

An anonymous reader contributed this: "I found my all time favorite Christmas read on a sale table in the front entry way at Schulers bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan years ago. The FOUR MIDWESTERN SISTERS CHRISTMAS BOOK is a treat to read especially for those of us who were born in the 50's. It is a wonderful collection of recipes, holiday craft projects, stories, and traditions."

I've got the same book, Anonymous! And I found mine on the sale table at Borders in Ann Arbor, Michigan, one New Year's Eve many years ago. I love it too!

And bookseller P.J. Grath said, "I'm happily all set with reading, as a friend has sent me two children's stories she's written. She's written others but is starting me with these two. What a gift! Now I feel like a kid with a big, mysterious, exciting wrapped box under the tree!"

P.J.'s comments actually have a connection with a note I got from blog-friend Mary. She wasn't able to post in the comments section, but she wrote me to say, "I will be reading two books of short stories by Katherine Paterson, one story each day, throughout the month of December. They are titled ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS : FAMILY CHRISTMAS STORIES and A MIDNIGHT CLEAR."

A few weeks ago this blog posed a question about Christmas books: since they are presumably read only for a month or so each year, are they "money makers" for publishers? Do they sell enough copies in November and December to justify remaining in print all year long? I guess they must, as Ms. Paterson's two collections have been in print continuously since they were published in 1979 and 1995. In some ways, these volumes are quite different from the author's usual books. Instead of concerning children, the stories frequently focus on old men, married women, fathers and mothers. Though Christianity has quietly informed much of Paterson's work, it is most evident in these Christmas collections. Though enjoyable to read (and read aloud) the tales sometimes seem a bit purposeful and lack the nuance of the author's very best work.

ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS was released just after Katherine Paterson's career skyrocketed with a National Book Award (THE MASTER PUPPETEER) followed by a Newbery Medal (BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA) and another NBA win (THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS.) By the time A MIDNIGHT CLEAR was published, she'd won a second Newbery (JACOB HAVE I LOVED) and was acknowledged as one of the world's most important writers for children. Yet it's possible that none of those award-winning novels would have been written if it hadn't been for the humble Christmas stories collected in ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS....

It all began in 1967, years before Katherine Paterson had ever published a word of fiction. In fact, she'd only written two short stories in her life. Neither had been published. But that year, the author's minister husband decided that, rather than deliver a sermon at his church's Christmas Eve service, he wanted to read a short story. Katherine went to the library in search of yuletide stories, found none that pleased her ("I can do better than this!" she remembers thinking) and decided to write one of her own.

That Christmas Eve her story was read at the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, beginning an annual tradition of original Katherine Paterson stories being shared every December twenty-fourth -- first in Maryland, and later in Virginia and Vermont, as the family moved to different church assignments.

The author said, "In those early years, propelled perhaps by my loving congregations' responses to my Christmas stories, I began to write fiction seriously."

In other words, if Katherine Paterson had not shared that first story forty-four Christmases ago, we might not have Jess and Leslie, Sarah Louise and Caroline Bradshaw, Gilly, Lyddie, Jip, Jimmy Jo, and so many many stories.

Katherine's husband, John, is now retired from the ministry. Today he occasionally collaborates with his wife in writing children's books -- most recently THE FLINT HEART. I don't know if Ms. Paterson still writes a new Christmas story each year, but I do know that the stories from ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS and A MIDNIGHT CLEAR continue to be shared from other pulpits in other churches each and every Christmas. And of course they are always waiting for any of us to read within the covers of ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS, that offbeat children's book, so different from most of the author's work yet containing heartfelt stories -- some written during the apprentice phase of her career -- that continue to delight and inspire readers.

...And speaking of apprentice writers, wouldn't it be fun to sit around P.J. Grath's Christmas tree this weekend, hearing those two brand-new Christmas stories written by her friend? Who knows -- Perhaps that friend will go on to have the kind of success Katherine Paterson has had.

Whether you're reading aloud a tale from one of Paterson's Christmas books...or an unpublished story written by a friend...or maybe even a holiday tale you've written yourself, what better way to celebrate the season than sharing a story with someone this Christmas Eve?

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 18 Sunday Brunch

Christmas shopping finished? Mostly.

Christmas tree and house decorated? Barely.

Christmas cards sent? No.

Christmas gifts wrapped? No.

In other words, with Christmas a week away, I am WAAAY behind and probably shouldn't be blogging, but I did have a few items to share today, so thought I'd write a quick blog now and wrap gifts later.


Seems like every year my bookstore buddy calls and asks what I'm reading on Christmas Eve.

Do you have any old books that you read every year on December 24? Or do you save up a special new book to read that evening? If you don't celebrate Christmas, do you read a book that is specific to your own beliefs or do you choose a secular book>? Or maybe you find yourself drawn to Christmas tales as well? I know several non-Christians who love to read Dickens' Christmas stories at this time of year.

In my case, I sometimes save up a new book to read, but often find myself drawn to specific "holiday chapters" of favorite old books -- for example, the Christmas chapters in Beverly Cleary's books about Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby. And every Christmas I have to read "Let Nothing You Dismay," a wonderful/spooky/weird holiday story from Betty McDonald's adult book, ANYBODY CAN DO ANYTHING.

I just ordered a book which, if it arrives by next weekend, might be the perfect Christmas story.

But you couldn't tell it from the illustrations:

Even the title sounds more like Halloween story than a Christmas tale:

But from what I understand, NATHANIEL'S WITCH, written by Katherine Gibson, illustrated by Vera Bock, and published in 1941, is a Christmas story set in 1700s Salem. Actualy, there does seem to be a tradition of scary ghost and witch tales associated with the holiday. Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW is set at Christmas (at least the framing device around the tale is) and perhaps the most well-known ghost story of all time is also set in this season, Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Speaking of THE TURN OF THE SCREW, has anyone read the recent YA novel TIGHTER by Adele Griffin? I've read that it's a modern-day companion to the Henry James' novella. Maybe I'll read them both this coming holiday season.


Yesterday on Facebook (and if you haven't "friended" me there, please feel free!) I was recalling an incident that happened to me as a kid:

Back when I was in first grade, I volunteered to bring cookies to the class Christmas party. My mother was happy to make them, but felt bad that we didn't have any Christmas cookie cutters. Strangely, we did have a set of Thanksgiving cookie cutters. The morning of the party, my mother handed me a box of the most beautiful Santa Claus cookies you've ever seen. How did she do it? She'd used the cornucopia cutter

and then turned the cookies at a 90 degree angle. The "horn" of the cornucopoia was now Santa's hat, frosted with red icing. The round "opening" was Santa's face, decorated with chocolate chip eyes and a white frosting beard.

Over the years some people have praised my brother and me for our "creativity, " but it's really a trait we inherited from our parents, who have been quietly creative all of their lives -- often out of necessity. Now I know why they say "Necessity is the MOTHER of Invention."

Anyway, this got me wondering about which children's books contain recipes for Christmas cookies. I found a few:

THE BAKER'S DOZEN : A SAINT NICHOLAS TALE, written by Aaron Shepard and illustrated by Wendy Edelson
CHRISTMAS COOKIES : BITE-SIZED HOLIDAY LESSONS, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and and illustrated by Jane Dyer
CHRISTMAS COOKIES! : A HOLIDAY COOKBOOK, written by Susan Devins and illustrated by Barbara Lehman
GINGERBREAD FRIENDS, written and illustrated by Jan Brett

Do you know any others?

I can't remember...does Robert Sabuda's COOKIE COUNT contain recipes...or does it just make you wish recipes were included?

Incidentally, here are my favorite cookies, which my mother has made for me every Christmas since I was very young:

Chinese Noodle Cookies

1. Melt in saucepan or double boiler over low heat one package of chocolate chips and one package of butterscotch chips.

2. Stir in one can Chinese noodles and one can of either peanuts or cashews. We prefer cashews. (Edited to add: a couple people have written in to ask me what kind of noodles we use. We use the following, available in the "ethnic foods" aisle of almost every grocery store:)

3. Mix all together well and drop by teaspoon onto cookie sheet. Cool.

I don't know why we associate these cookies with Christmas, but I do remember once going to someone's house in the summer and being very shocked when they served this cookie at lunch. Being offered a Chinese Noodle Cookie in the summer felt as strange as if they'd invited me to help decorate their Christmas tree in the middle of July!

Which Christmas cookie is your favorite?


I assume everyone here reads "A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy," Elizabeth Burns' entertaining and insightful blog about young adult literature over at School Library Journal.

Today, though, I had to give her a virtual noogie when I read this comment she posted on Facebook:

Read a few articles that said more sales of ereaders means opportunities for selfpub authors. Sorry, reading ebooks won't change what I read.

I responded:

Liz, I think you should print this off, hang it over your desk, and see if you're still as adamant on the topic a year from now....

Because even though I have completely resisted getting an e-reader thus far -- and plan to hold the Kindle at bay for as long as I can -- I assume it's probably going to be inevitable at some point and I can't help but believe that ebooks WILL change what we read.

Case in point:

I just learned that one of my favorite writers, Edward Bloor, has written MEMORY LANE, a young adult novel that's ONLY available as an e-book.

Bloor's website describes the book like this:

Memory Lane, America’s most popular new theme park, promises to provide its guests with “golden memories.” Choose any week—from 1950 to the present—and Memory Lane will recreate it for you in amazing detail: the foods, the clothes, the TV shows, even the schools. You will soon forget about the present and start living in the past.

But is that a good idea?

Alice hopes Memory Lane will provide a week of personal healing and of family bonding. Instead, Alice and her cousins Patrick and TJ find themselves struggling with a pair of psychotic bullies, and with the pain of young love, and with a shocking family secret that was, perhaps, better left buried in the past.

Smart, funny, and frightening, Memory Lane is Edward Bloor’s most powerful and insightful novel to date.

Of course I'm curious why this novel is available only as an e-book. Does it mean that his usual publishers turned it down? Or is this an experiment on the author's part. Ultimately, it may not matter -- at least for me. Edward Bloor is one of my favorites and I want to read what he writes.

And I suspect this is a sign of the future. As more and more publishers look for the "next big thing" -- the big concept three-volume vampire/zombie/dystopian novel -- I suspect more authors will resort to self-publishing "smaller" or more personal novels as e-books.

So I know that for me (and I suspect for anyone else who loves literature...maybe even Elizabeth Burns) we may eventually seek out at least some self-published books. So they will change the way we read. After all, they may be the types of books that end up winning the Newber e-award.


While it seems as though more mainstream authors may be self-publishing e-books in the future, it appears that self-published authors -- even wealthy ones -- would still prefer to be published in PAPER.

Most of us have heard the story of Amanda Hocking, the young writer who, after being rejected by all the mainstream publishers, opted to self-publish her novels as e-books. Within a year, she had reportedly earned over a million dollars for her efforts.

Of course that's when the mainstream publishers started to take an interest in her work....

Did she send them on their way?


Starting on January 24, St. Martin's Griffin will begin publishing Hocking's "Trylle Trilogy" in paperback with a 250,000 first printing for the first book, SWITCHED.

Already optioned for the movies, the book will be advertised on TV, on the internet, and in major magazines.

In the author's note, Ms. Hocking states, "People often ask me if I feel bitterness or resentment toward all the agents who passed on my work before, and to that I say a resounding no. It wasn't the right time or the right place, and I needed all those no's to get to the right agent and the right publisher."

She's a better person than I.

If that were me, I'd say (in the spirit of this holiday season): "People often ask me if I feel bitterness or resentment toward all the agents who passed on my work before, and to that I say a RESOUNDING YES. In fact, I've been making a list of their names and I'm checking it twice."

Anyway, it will be fascinating to see if the author's phenomenal e-book success can translate into hardcopy sales.


Exactly a month ago, I read Roger Sutton's blog about nondisclosure forms and embargoed books.

At the time, it never dawned on me that I might somehow lay my hands on an embargoed book.

But the very next day, one landed right in my lap.

Well, not literally, but you know what I mean....

Suddenly I was holding a tape-bound manuscript copy (unjustified right margin!) of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, the new novel by John Green.

Just under the title information, in big black letters, were the words:


Just beneath that, it said, "Thank you for submitting your signed affidvat. Any breach of this contract will result in your forfeiting delivery of this title at on-sale."

Ordinarily this book might have ended up in my "to be read" pile, but I was so tickled to read an "embargoed" book (you know what they say about forbidden fruit) that I read the whole thing the next day.

Unfortunately, I don't know what to do with this knowledge now.

I certainly didn't sign any affidavit, so I'm not legally bound by any sanctions placed on this manuscript.

On the other hand, I don't want to get the person who gave me this book in trouble.

So for now -- at least until the book is published on January 10, 2012 -- I'll only say a couple things:

For those who have complained that John Green keeps writing the same novel, this one is quite different and stretches his talent in new and unexpected ways.

For those who say there hasn't been a good dyingpeen tearjerker since the era of DEATH BE NOT PROUD, ERIC, and SUNSHINE, this one fills the bill.

Is it perfect? No.

Is it going to be a big hit? Yep.

It's probably the first "gotta read it" YA novel of 2012.

I hope the Literature Police don't come pounding on my door for revealing this much.


Okay, one more thing about THE FAULT IN OUR STARS: the narrator's name is Hazel.

Yes, the protagonist is a girl.

But what really intrigues me is that the name "Hazel," which I always associated with elderly woman (and TV maids) seems to be making a comeback in kids' books this year. I've been seeing it everywhere, not only in titles (the eponymous novel Julie Hearn) but also spotting here and there in other books. And the protagonist of another of this season's high profile titles, BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu is also named Hazel.

Must be something in the air.


The other day at work I happened to glance up at our collection of Caldecott winners, all shelved in chronological order, and something popped out at me.

They're BIG.

That is, with very few exceptions, all the winning books seem to be -- within reasonable parameters -- "standard picture book" size.

A few are even bigger.

The largest Caldecott on the shelf is 1977's winner, ASHANTI TO ZULU.

That book is 31 centimeters tall. (I'm using centimeters rather than inches because that's how we measure books in cataloging -- and it's somewhat more exact than inches.)

After that book, there are seven winners that are 29.5 cm. tall. They are MEI LI (1939), ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1940), MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS (1942), MADELINE'S RESCUE (1954), TIME OF WONDER (1958), BLACK AND WHITE (1991), and RAPUNZEL (1998.)

Though the remaining winners are smaller, they are -- as previously stated -- all within standard size for picture books.

Only two small books have ever won the Caldecott.

The 1966 winner, ALWAYS ROOM FOR ONE MORE is only 18 cm. tall and 22 cm. wide.

And the smallest of all is 1961's BABOUSKA AND THE THREE KINGS, palm sized at 18x19 cm.

This all leads me to a theory about the Caldecott: little books -- despite the fact that they may be "small gems" -- are far, far less likely to win than larger-sized volumes.

This is probably even more true today than at any other time in industry, when, it seems, fewer picture books are being published with small trim sizes.

Such books seem to be lost in the shuffle at libraries and bookstores (they always seem to slide to the back of the picture book shelves) and they seem to be forgotten when it comes to choosing Caldecott winners....


What will you be doing on April 23, 2012?

Will you be participating in World Book Night?

According to the organization's website,

World Book Night is an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books. To be held in the U.S. as well as the U.K. and Ireland on April 23, 2012. It will see tens of thousands of people go out into their communities to spread the joy and love of reading by giving out free World Book Night paperbacks.

Thirty titles have been selected for giving in the United States. They are:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Blood Work by Michael Connelly
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Stand by Stephen King
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I was excited to see that quite a few books for young readers are going to be distributed.

I must admit, my first thought was that, as good as they are, do authors such as Maya Angelou and books such as THE HUNGER GAMES, really need to be promoted this way when there are so many wonderful, lesser-known works that could also benefit from this type of publicity?

But then I read that one of the goals of this project is to give books to those who aren't frequent what better way to hook someone than with titles that have proven track records of pleasing a very broad range of readers?

It sounds like an interesting and fun night!


Blog reader Lin left an interesting comment on this blog last week:

Collectability: how much does it have to do with sentimental attachment to a title? You see the very high prices for original publications of "Snip, Snap and Snurr" or the "Betsy-Tacy" books; things that were well-regarded, but not necessarily considered 'award-worthy,' but evidently very fondly remembered. In fifty years, will a first printing of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" in excellent condition fetch big bucks?

This is question I have also pondered a lot over the years. Can we ever truly know which of today's books will become highly collectable in the years ahead?

Of course it goes without saying that award winners will always be collectable. But do books that are popular today always become collector's items tomorrow? Will, as Lin suggests, a first printing of WIMPY KID, be worth a bundle a few decades from now? I could be wrong, but my guess is "probably not." I'm basing this only on "recent popular trends" such as R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" and "Fear Street" series or Ann Martin's "Babysitters Club." Enough time has passed for the "nostalgia bug" to have bitten the former child-readers of those books...and while I imagine that many of them still remember them fondly, I am not seeing a run on these titles -- or skyrocketing prices for the original volumes. At least not yet. And I wonder if there ever can be much "collectability" associated with books that were mass-produced in such huge quantities. (I believe there are, for example, something like thirty million "Wimpy Kid" books currently in print.)

I tend to think that collectability hinges on having a strong sentimental fondness for titles with an almost "cult following" -- and which ere not published in huge quantities to begin with. Of course I mean no disrespect by the words "cult following." I guess what I really mean is that collectable books are usually those that are loved by a small, but very fervent group of fans. The kinds of books that makes their fans feel as if they are members of a special club.

As I said, it's very hard to predict what titles will achieve this status.

The answer only comes with time.

And sometimes they are among the last books you'd predict!


Thanks, Lin, for your note -- and for all those who send notes and leave comments on this blog. And thanks to everyone who reads Collecting Children's Books. Hope you stop back soon.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Coming soon!

Running a little late today, but will be posting a new blog late tonight (Sunday) or early tomorrow morning. Thanks for you patience.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

December 12 Sunday Brunch -- with Hog Calling and Sardines

Sorry for my recent silence. Things got busy over Thanksgiving weekend, and then last weekend I had unexpected company.

I intended to catch up with a couple weekday blogs, but fans of A WRINKLE IN TIME will remember what Charles Wallace told Meg Murray about "good intentions."

In my own defense, I should add that part of the problem involved a broken key on my keyboard. For about a week, the “B” key was stuck, so I pried it off to clean the keys and ended up breaking part of the mechanism.

How can you log about ooks without the letter B?

Thankfully, I discovered you can order replacement keys for almost any laptop for only $5 each from a company called Laptopkey. My key arrived yesterday and I am Back in Business!


As the calendar year comes to a close, most of the book review magazines are publishing their lists of 2011’s best. Since today’s “best books” are tomorrow’s award winners and collectable volumes, it’s probably a good idea to link to each of these lists in case you haven’t seen them already. You can find School Library Journal’s list here . Then there is Kirkus’s list of 2011’s Best Teen Books, as well as Publisher’s Weekly’s round-up of best books in every genre. The Horn Book has also published its 2011 Fanfare list.


This is also the time of year that award juries start publishing their shortlists.

Personally, I live for the day that the Newbery and Printz either publish a shortlist or a LOOOONG list of all their nominees. (Hey, the Newbery did it before, they can do it again.)

Till then, we’ll have to make due with the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and the William Morris

Choosing among titles published between November 1, 2010 an October 31, 2011, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults selected the following five titles for it shortlist:






The winner will be announced January 23.

The five finalists for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award honoring a “debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens” have also been announced. They are:


PAPER COVERS ROCK by Jenny Hubbard

UNDER THE MESQUITE by Guadalupe Garcia McCall



True to form, the Morris Award continues to favor fiction (no nonfiction title has ever been included) written by female authors (John Corey Whaley is only the second male ever nominated for this prize.)


Well, if I had gotten around to writing a blog on Thanksgiving weekend, this would have been the headline story:

I was excited to recently learn that Greg Hefley -- the “Wimpy Kid” himself – appeared in the 2010 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I guess I slept in on Thanksgiving morning last year, as I did not get a chance to see it.

But it got me wondering if he was the first children’s book character to float above that famous parade as a giant balloon.

Far from it.

Doing a little research, I discovered that many children’s book characters have floated over Broadway during the past few decades. The Wimpy Kid’s predecessor’s include: Raggedy Ann (1984), Humpty Dumpty (1986), Clifford the Big Red Dog (1990), Babar (1991), The Cat in the Hat (1994), Peter Rabbit (1996), Arthur (1997), Babe the Pig (1998), Wild Thing (1998), Shrek (2007), and Horton (2008.)
Granted, most of these figures didn’t appear until they achieved success in the movies or TV…but they started in children’s books, so we still hold a claim on them.


Some weeks back I blogged about author Marc Tyler Nobelman tracking down and interviewing Edward Ormondroyd, author of Marc’s favorite childhood book, DAVID AND THE PHOENIX.

In the interview, Mr. Ormondroyd revealed that, during his writing career, he never spoke at schools.

Here is a great story and video about Marc Nobelman surprising the now 86-year-old Ormondroyd with his very first “school appearance.”


Who caught Google’s tribute to Tom Sawyer a couple weeks ago on Mark Twain’s birthday:


I just spent the last couple weeks withdrawing many damaged books from our library’s collection. As usual, I was quite fascinated to get a look at titles which were apparently quite popular “back in the day.”

First I found a series of opera books geared toward children. Published in the late 1930s/early 1940s, these were billed as “authorized editions” by the Metropolitan Opera. They contained color artwork, retellings of the opera’s narrative, and occasional bars of music:

I questioned how honest these children’s books would be in presenting the more mature aspects of these operas but, as you can see, they do a pretty accurate job, right up to killing off Carmen on the final page of her book:

I wonder if any publishing company would find it profitable to release an opera-related title for kids today. I know Leontyne Price wrote one a few years ago, but would it have been published if her name wasn’t Leontyne Price? According to the cards in the pockets of these library books, they circulated pretty well throughout the forties, but hadn’t been checked out since 1948!

I was also drawn to THE HANDBOOK OF CO-ED ACTIVITIES by Edythe and David DeMarche, if only because of this dorky title page illustration:

Published through the YMCA in 1958, this 640 page book is filled with overwritten descriptions of boy-girl activities, including parties, games, dances, hobbies (including cooking, with a selection of recipes including recent teen favorite…pizza), putting on plays, listening to music, and volunteerism. It’s the kind of book that refers to its subjects as “teeners” and, in describing a game called “broom ball,” advises that it “can be too rough for girl players, so divide the boys…into two teams” and “each boy may choose a girl to ‘root’ for his team.”

Games in the book include: “Hog Calling” Contests, “Sardines” (not mentioned in the book, but here is today’s bit of trivia: did you know that actor David Niven’s first wife met her accidental death while playing “Sardines” at a Hollywood party?), “Fam-blies are Coming” (what the?), “We Won’t Go Home Until Morning” and “Tax Deductions.” (I’ve noticed that teens who don’t go home until morning frequently do end up with little tax deductions.)

The book also has this dessert suggestion for a New Year’s Eve party: Take a large fruitcake and secrete in it a thimble (for industry), a coin (for wealth), a ring (for love), and a toothpick (for dining well…another “what the?” moment.) Those who discover the objects in the cake will learn their fate for their new year. (All I’m picturing are lawsuits for broken teeth and choking deaths.)

The section on music describes some of the jargon associated with this hobby: “Tunes are torrid jumpers,’ ‘rhythm romancers’; records are ‘disks’ and ‘biscuits’’; styles are ‘rock and roll,’ ‘easygoing shuffle’ or ‘velvet delivery.’”

Finally, I was tickled by the section on manners which says that, when introducing others, “the use of ‘shake hands with’ or ‘make you acquainted with’ or ‘get to know’…should be avoided, as well as such trite responses as ‘Charmed, I’m sure.’”
When I read a book like this, I wonder if it accurately reflects 1950s “teener” culture or if it seemed anachronistic to young people even then?

Finally, I came across this book:

I wonder if this early children’s book on divorce (published 1977) strikes fear into the hearts of many kids from that era. Although the message is supportive and sympathetic:

Sometimes my Mom said bad things about my Dad.
And my Dad said bad things about my Mom.
My mom said my Dad was a liar.
My Dad said my Mom was stupid.

I couldn't stand listening to either one.

I didn't want to hear them say bad things
about each other.
I loved them both.

the documentary photographs are dark and rather cold. I just wonder how many kids were handed this book when they heard their parents were divorcing. And if you were one of them, did the book make you feel a little better, or does it just take you back to a sad, bad time in your life?

Though the book is dated, our library copy had been checked out several times in this new millennium. The only reason we’re getting rid of it is because it’s worn out….


I wonder if anyone has ever done a survey or research on sequels.

Do they mostly disappoint and make the reader wish they’d never been written, or are readers usually glad to have ANY additional story about a favorite character.

I’m not talking about books in a series which, in most cases (HARRY POTTER, etc.) were conceived as series, but rather a follow-up to a famous book – often appearing many years later. A case in point would be SMALL STEPS – Louis Sachar’s sequel to the classic HOLES. Is there anyone out there who finds SMALL STEPS a superior book? Is there anyone out there who feels this book was ultimately necessary?

I must say that I approached David Almond’s latest, MY NAME IS MINA, with a great deal of trepidation. A sequel to the near-perfect SKELLIG, I wondered if this book could possibly emerge from its predecessor’s shadow.

To my surprise, I found this unique and powerful book to be quite amazing.

Perhaps Almond beats the “sequel curse” by making this book a “prequel” to SKELLIG and by focusing on a completely different character than the first novel. In SKELLIG, Mina was the neighbor of protagonist Michael, but she comes front and center in this volume, telling her own story of the months leading up to Michael’s arrival in the neighborhood. Written in the form of a journal (the font resembles a child’s printing), Mina muses about leaving school to be taught at home, her sorrow at her father’s death, and her interest in words and writing and nature. Less a plot-driven narrative than a character study, this luminous book may not appeal to every reader, but special readers will be amazed at how brilliantly the author captures the essence of the imaginative, misunderstood, almost mystical title character in a book that can truly take its place on the same shelf as SKELLIG.


I recently needed to purchase a book for a one-year-old baby. My bookstore buddy recommended THE HOUSE IN THE NIGHT by Susan Marie Swanson; Beth Krommes won the Caldecott for illustrating the book. I immediately said, “No, I don’t think so—“ as the book was not a particular favorite of mine.

Then my friend handed me the new “board book” edition of THE HOUSE IN THE NIGHT. I didn’t really want to look at it, as I’ve always thought that “board book” versions of traditional picture books are kind of a rip-off –- just another way to make more money off a known commodity. But then I began to look at the board book version…and found myself really liking it.

In fact, I liked it much better in that format than I did the original version!

My bookstore buddy agreed. She said that she'd had a hard time selling the larger hardcover edition of this book, but “can’t keep the board book in the store – everyone loves it!”

It’s as if the story was meant to be a board book all along….

Have you seen this particular board book? Do you agree with us or do you find the board book version inferior to the original?


Have you seen THE FUTURE OF US, the new novel by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler?

Obviously this is a book destined for big things. Jay Asher’s first novel, 13 REASONS WHY, was a monster hit and here he’s paired with the popular and acclaimed Carolyn Mackler (THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS.) As we’ve all noticed in recent years, it’s suddenly hot to pair young adult authors as collaborators – something you rarely saw even a decade ago.

No money was spared on the dustjacket design either. Some months back I commented on the verso of the dustjacket for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis featuring a blueprint of the novel’s spaceship and wondered why more publishers don’t take advantage of this blank space. One blog reader wrote back to say, “The back of the dust jacket is usually blank (or white) because it costs money--generally LOTS of money--to print on the reverse side (also known as 4 over 4--4 color over 4 color). It's not really wasted space so much as extremely pricey.” So the fact that the publishers used that space -- and spent that money –- on Asher and Mackler’s novel shows that this is a “quality publication”:

They also charged $18.99 for this book –- a bit on the high side for a current YA novel.

Is it worth all the care they put into the novel?

Yes and no.

Set in 1996, the story is told in alternating chapters by teenagers Josh and Emma. Trying out a new America Online disk, Emma stumbles on a website called “Facebook” (yes, THE Facebook…which didn’t even exist in 1996) and is able to see profiles of herself, Josh, and many of their friends from the year 2011. It’s a fascinating premise. Through Facebook, Josh discovers he’s going to marry the most popular girl in school…while Emma is stuck in an unsatisfactory marriage. Or can change that, fifteen years in advance, by just altering the college she plans to attend? One of the most intriguing concepts in the story is realizing that a minor incident in 1996 can change, for instance, the number of children Josh and his wife will have fifteen years later. THE FUTURE OF US is a real page-turner -– a breezy, light novel that never delves too deeply or seriously into the topic. And the ending feels a little rushed. This is a book a lot of kids are going to read, and love, though it ultimately may not have the “staying power” of many of its contemporaries. Five years from now Facebook may no longer be the phenomenon it is today. Will kids be interested in reading the novel then? So this is a book that may date very quickly. But if you want to read a fast, fun, and timely book TODAY, then THE FUTURE OF US is a great choice.


People often ask which contemporary books are mostly likely to be collectable in the future. In the case of THE FUTURE OF US, I would say that the publicity push for this novel and its large first printing will assure that copies are always out there for purchase.

On the other hand, the fact that this book speaks so clearly to TODAY’S ERA, it may not be a book that will remain in print for years and years. It may be one of your best choices if you want a title that clearly defines YA publishing in 2011 –- the fancy dustjacket (I doubt later editions will contain illustrated versos), the two-author team, the very contemporary subject matter. Ultimately, I can’t think of a more timely book to represent the current era for any book collection.


No, this isn’t my Christmas tree:

but I saw it on Facebook today and I’d sure like to have one.

If you’re the type of person who’d also like a tree like this, feel free to friend me on Facebook.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. I will try to post more frequently in the coming weeks, so stop back often!