Children's books have really been in the news this week!
Needless to say, a lot of media coverage has centered on THE HUNGER GAMES, which is breaking records at the box office. We too have several HUNGER GAMES stories to share, as well as news reports on an upcoming picture book from a political wife, a re-release of a young adult novel from the seventies, a new study on the popularity of various Newbery winners, and a tragic tale about the loss of a beloved children's book icon. Read on for a round-up of recent children's book news stories, presented Sunday Brunch style.
REAL LIFE HUNGER GAMES PLOT FOILED
Cuts in library budgets. An overworked public servant. A popular children's book, recently made into a major motion picture.
These three components came together last week in a near-tragic incident that resulted in the arrest of a beloved children's librarian.
Delores Clemmons, 38, was head children's librarian at the Collingswood, Colorado Public Library. Popular with both young patrons and their parents, Clemmons was known for afterschool programs such as "Westing Game Mini-Mysteries," "Sew Your Own Joseph's Little Overcoat," and every Christmas Eve she would dress up as a train conductor and take young library patrons on an imaginary trip aboard the Polar Express.
However, city budget cuts for fiscal year 2011-2012 resulted in Clemmons' staff being reduced from four full-time librarians and six part-time paraprofessionals, to one librarian -- Clemmons herself -- and two teenaged book shelvers.
Clemmons (shown below in an unrepentant arrest photograph) has become a fixture at Collingswood City Council meetings over the past year, complaining of overwork and demanding increased staffing. Her parting words at last week's Council meeting -- "We either need a bigger staff or fewer young patrons!" -- seem particularly chilling in light of what would happen several days later. To celebrate the release of the new movie, Clemmons planned a Friday night "Hunger Games Party" in the basement of her library. Children between the ages of five and twelve were invited to dress as their favorite character from the book. When they arrived, Clemmons locked the children in the basement with hunting bows and arrows, razor-tipped lawn darts, and flame throwers, as well as an assortment of loaded firearms. Fortunately, Collingswood Police -- contacted by a Facebook friend of Clemmons -- were able to break down the doors and remove the weapons before any children were hurt.
"Social networking saved those kids!" declared Police Chief Dan Landale.
In the days leading up to the Hunger Games Party, Ms. Clemmons had posted a number of disturbing messsages on her Facebook wall, including:
CALL ME KATNISS!
ONE LIBRARIAN + 2000 PATRONS = MADNESS!
JUST THINK OF IT AS "THINNING THE HERD."
AND YOU THOUGHT IT WAS JUST A GAME!
Concerned by these messages, Ms. Clemmons' Facebook friend contacted authorities just minutes before the party was to begin.
Delores Clemmons is currently being held without bail at the Collingswood City jail, charged with child endangerment and conspiracy to commit murder. Her lawyers are seeking a plea bargain, but the librarian says she is ready and willing to go to prison and looks forward to possibly working in the prison library and organizing events such as ground-digging/tree-planting parties inspired by the children's book HOLES.
A NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK
No, Suzanne Collins does not plan a fourth book to her very popular series...but the success of the movie version has inspired a coloring book based on the novels. "Why should older kids have all the fun?" asks Richard Deeth, vice-president of marketing for Colormore Coloring Books. "Kids five and under may be too young to read the books or see the movies, but there's no reason they can't 'Color Along with Katniss.'"
Mom-of-two Jackie Oberg has a different perspective on the issue, stating, "Preschoolers are too young for all that blood and gore," but Deeth countered by asking if she'd even looked at the coloring book "which contains many character studies and lovely pastoral landscapes."
Oberg then asked why the accompanying "Hunger Games Crayon Set" was issued with every crayon a different shade of red, all labeled with names such as Plasma, First Blood, Splattered Scarlet, Transfusion Red, and Type O Negative.
Deeth stated that it's not unusual for Colormore to release boxes of only color tone, pointing out the recent set of gray crayons that accompanies the company's new coloring book based on the internet literary sensation, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.
ONE LAST HUNGER GAMES STORY
Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding this week's release of the HUNGER GAMES movie had nothing to do with the film's violence. It turns out that some fans were upset by the movie's depiction of Roo, a young participant in the Hunger Games ceremony. "She didn't look like I expected," tweeted one, adding, "and I think you know exactly what I mean!"
Several other viewers took to Twitter with complaints that usually began, "Don't call me a bigot, but...."
One Twitter user finally said it straight out: "I pictured Roo being a blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl. I never dreamed they'd cast this part with a male kangaroo!"
The young actor playing this role is disappointed in the reaction "from a few bad apples," but says the majority of moviegoers have been nothing but supportive. Roo (shown on the left with actress mother Kanga in an earlier, undated photo) said times have been rough since he outgrew the Winnie the Pooh movie franchise some years ago. "I was thinking of chucking my acting career and heading off to Australia or someplace," says Roo, now basking in great reviews for his comeback performance in the year's hottest film. "If a few of the book's fans feel I don't have the right 'physical appearance' for the role, they can bite me. I thought we'd outgrown the era when actors were judged by the color of their pelt. Look around yourselves, folks. I mean, there's nothing wrong with blonde, blue-eyed girls, but thank goodness our world is filled with a lot more variety than that!"
OF COURSE HE'D LIKE IT
However, those who do have an interest in blonde, blue-eyed girls can still find one hanging out on the cover of Fran Arrick's 1978 young-adult novel, STEFFIE CAN'T COME OUT TO PLAY.
One of the first YA novels to deal with the subject of teenage prostitution, the novel was a groundbreaker in 1978 and still speaks to youth today, according to publisher Deb McClain-Volson, who has just re-issued the book for twenty-first century readers, along with a cover blurb from an individual known for his strong feelings on the subject:
BAN THE HOODIE FOR GOODIE?
Meanwhile, Limbaugh's colleague Geraldo Rivera stuck his foot in his mouth this week when he advised young people to avoid wearing "hoodies."
Spurred on by Geraldo's remarks, thousands of Fox News viewers mounted a "ban the hoodie" campaign and directed it at an unlikely enemy: children's books.
In a petition to several major publishers, Fox viewers demanded a number of high profile novels have their texts altered and illustrations changed to eliminate hoodies from the pages of children's books. Favorite characters who could be affected by this petition include Harriet M. Welsch:
and Ramona Quimby:
Needless to say, Harriet and Ramona are two of the most formidable children's book protagonists of all time.
Something tells us that the Fox crowd have picked the wrong kids to tangle with!
HAS THE NEWBERY FOUND ITS WAY AFTER ALL?
The question that has confounded children's book critics for generations may finally be answered: do children really like books that have won the Newbery Medal? Past criticism has centered around the award winners being appreciated much more by adults than by young readers. However, a new poll from KidReadUSA -- the first of its kind -- may stand conventional thinking on its ear. According to this poll of 3000 grade school kids who characterize themselves as "average to compulsive readers" ("average" being described as "reading 2 to 4 books per month" with "compulsive readers" reading "between 12 to 1800 books per month"), the Newbery books are among the most popular volumes being read by youngsters today. Which Newbery titles are their very favorites? According to the poll, which ranked the individual titles from first to last, the #1 favorite among young readers is the 1966 winner I, JUAN DE PAREJA by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. As Melinda W., age 8, said, "If I have to choose between a book cover that shows a boy playing with his dog, or a couple girls talking, or a grown-up man with a mustache and pantaloons...well, I'm always going to choose the man with the pantaloons." Danny G., age 10, stated, "You can never go wrong with a book by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino -- and this may be the very best!" Kristin K., age 6, said, "Stories about modern kids having problems at school and home are okay, but I always prefer a good novel about a thirty-five-year-old illegitimate slave serving a Spanish artist like Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez."
The #2 favorite in the poll was 1928 winner GAY-NECK : THE STORY OF A PIGEON by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. According to Matt S., age 11, "Some kids like boy-and-dog stories. Me, I like a good boy-and-pigeon story!" Another reader, Morgan Y., age 11, said, "Some of the Newbery books tend to stretch credibility. Kids running away to a museum? A dead kid living in a graveyard? C'mon. For me there's nothing better than a good, ol' realistic story told in first-person by a pigeon." Finally, Heather A., age 5, had this to say: "Gay-neck's insights into India's caste sysem are fascinating!"
Rounding out the top three favorites among average-to-compulsive readers is SECRET OF THE ANDES by Ann Nolan Clark, which won the Newbery in 1953. Of this book, Jacob C., age 9, said, "Llama herders living alone in Peru? It doesn't get more exciting than that!" Boyd M., age 8, reported, "A lot of people pre-judge this book because it beat out CHARLOTTE'S WEB for the Newbery. My advice? Read the book! By the time you get done with SECRET OF THE ANDES, you'll be saying, Charlotte WHO?" Perhaps Katherine R., age 12, summed it up best when she said, "Who doesn't love a 'SECRET'?"
THE GROWING THREAT OF SELZNICK SYNDROME
This is Bobby.
Bobby has Selznick Syndrome.
You've never heard of this condition?
You will soon.
Selznick Syndrome has increased by 300% during 2011 and, experts predict, it may double yet again by the end of this year.
Bobby, like thousands of other children in the United States, suffered a broken arm when he attempted to lift Brian Selznick's WONDERSTRUCK off the picture book shelf at his local public library.
"It was the fifth time this year that we've had to call EMS for a child who tried to read a Brian Selznick book," reports Richard Warrington, children's librarian at the Peoria, Illinois main library. "Folks, there's a reason that picture books traditionally had very few pages. Children's bones are not fully-formed and they don't have the strength to hold such heavy books. It was bad enough that THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET was 533 pages. Two of our young patrons broke their arms just carrying the book to the circulation desk. Then WONDERSTRUCK came out this year and it's over 600 pages! One little girl put the book in her backpack and is now hospitalized with a broken spine."
Because of the high incidence of injury associated with Selznick's books, many libraries will not allow children under ten to borrow these volumes without bringing in either a muscular parent or a wheeled cart to transport the book home.
PEEPY, WE HARDLY KNEW YEE
For years now, award-winning author Lisa Yee has traveled with a special mascot in tow -- the much-loved Peepy.
Peepy has many friends and fans in the children's book community, ranging from ORIGAMI YODA author Tom Angleberger:
to Newbery winners Richard Peck and Avi:
And then of course there is Peepy's BFF (Best Friend FOREVER), Judy Blume:
So it's with a heavy heart that we report the sad news that Peep met her maker this past week during the author's visit to Sarah Palin Grade School in Dayton, Ohio.
"I'd been invited to the school to discuss my novels MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS and WARP SPEED," sobbed Yee, "and of course I brought Peepy with me, never realizing it might be her...her last school visit. I handed her to the students, saying, 'I'd like you to meet Peepy' and the next thing you know, Peepy was...gone!"
"So I misunderstood her. Big deal!" said fifth-grader Tommy Dumbas. "Meet, eat...they sound a lot alike. Hey, it's Eastertime. I thought she was passing out candy!"
"We couldn't believe it!" exclaimed Tommy's classmate Kaylee Johnston. "Mrs. Watson told us to use our best 'company manners' when Ms. Yee visited, but Tommy never listens in class, which is why he got a D in behavior last semester AND got sent to the office twice this year."
A memorial service for Peepy was held in the school library during lunch period. Weepy Peepy owner Lisa Yee thanked Mr. Harnell's shop class for making a special bunny-sized casket for her big-earred yellow companion, whom she tearfully described as "my pal...my mascot...my, as Philip Pullman would say, daemon."
However Yee cheered up considerably when the students pooled their milk money and class president Kaylee Johnston walked over to the local K-Mart during recess and purchased a new Peepy for the visiting author.
"Big deal!" said Tommy Dumbas. "If they'd just waited till next Monday they could have gotten it for half-price when all the Easter junk goes on sale."
In a kind gesture of forgiveness, Lisa Yee later presented Tommy Dumbas with an autographed copy of her newest book -- and said it was "most likely a mistake" that she misspelled his last name in the inscription.
FROM THE "WHO REALLY CARES?" DEPARTMENT
Why is that every politician's wife thinks she needs to write children's books? Laura Bush...Lynne Cheney...Callista Gingrich. Now Ann Romney, wife of aspiring GOP presidential candidate joins their ranks with SEAMUS GOES ON VACATION!
"The book is based on a real-life incident involving the Romneys' dog Seamus," said publisher Harvey Cooper, who recently inked the half-million deal with Ms. Romney. "It's about a dog who's a bit..put out...by the fact that he has to travel in a cage on top of a car, but eventually learns he's got 'best seat in the house' -- or, as Ann's lovely rhymes tell us:
Sitting on a rooftop is the very best place to be,
To view the good old USA, from sea to shining sea."
Asked if the book was an attempt to rehabilitate the Romney family image after the political fallout from, you know, sticking a big dog in a little cage and then chaining the cage to the roof of a speeding car and traveling several hours until the dog gets sicks out of both ends, publisher Cooper simply said, "Pshaw."
He added, "We could take a real loss on this book. If Mitt gets elected in November, it could be a bestseller. But if he loses...well, expect to see SEAMUS GOES ON VACATION! at a remaindered store near you for $1.98 by Thanksgiving."
AND SPEAKING OF GIVING THANKS....
Thanks, as always, for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you enjoyed the April Fool's Brunch!