Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Brunch with Lots of Links

Last week we were wondering what would win (seven “w words” in a row!) the American Library Association’s children’s book awards. Now we know. This week’s Sunday Brunch looks back over our shoulder at DEAD END IN NORVELT and A BALL FOR DAISY and then starts looking ahead to Newbery/Caldecott Day 2013. Hey, it’s never too early! We also ask what books made you cry as a kid and what books you promise to (finally) read in this coming year.


I'm still excited about this week's book awards.

The more I think about DEAD END IN NORVELT winning, the better I like it as a selection.

If you'd like to relive the moment you can watch the Newbery announcement here:

And there's an interview with Norvelt's author, Jack Gantos, here:

Everyone loves to hear the stories of where the medalists were and what they were doing when they received The Phone Call. Thanks to Publishers Weekly, you can read those stories right here.

And here is a round-up of all things Newbery and Caldecott by Fuse #8 herself, Betsy Bird.

For my fellow book collectors, had you already preemptively purchased copies of the winning books, or did you have to rush out on N/C morning, hoping to find prize winners? Did you have good luck? I'm still trying to track down first printing numbers for these books (does anyone know?) My guess is that, due to the popularity of illustrators Chris Raschka and Lane Smith, both Caldecott winner A BALL FOR DAISY and Honor Book GRANDPA GREEN had large first printings. I would also assume that DEAD END IN NORVELT had a respectable first printing due to the success of many of the author's previous books. The other books I'm too sure about.

As of this week, I have seen many first printings of Newbery Honor Book BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE in the bookstore.

However, Newbery Honor INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN is already in at least its seventh printing.

A BALL FOR DAISY is now in at least its second printing, though I imagine you might still find some firsts out there.

I believe Caldecott Honor BLACKOUT was in at least its second printing before the awards were announced.

Does anyone have any more definitive or up-to-date info on these figures?

This year I was lucky enough to already have all the Newbery and Printz titles except one, JASPER JONES -- which I picked up on the day of the awards. I also had several advance reading copies (ARCS) of the Newbery and Printz books. I was very intrigued by this comment about DEAD END IN NORVELT in Fuse #8's award round-up:

By the way, I know for a fact that there were a couple limited editions of this book released in proto-galley form way way back in early 2011. These editions had brown covers and photographs in the back that I always assumed would appear in the final edition (they didn’t). This book also sported an image on the spine of Jack the hero holding binoculars up to his eyes, his shirt covered in bloodstains. This image (which would have sold a lot of books) has never appeared anywhere else. So if you are one of the lucky souls who has one of these editions, good news! That puppy is going to be worth an awful lot of money someday.

Indeed it will! If you work in a library or bookstore and come across such an item, don't toss it out! Try selling it on ABEbooks. Try selling it on eBay. Try selling it to me!

Here are a couple random facts about Jack Gantos. The Newbery is the fourth major award he has received from the American Library Association. He also had a Newbery Honor for JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL in 2001, and his memoir HOLE IN MY LIFE was a 2003 Printz Honor and Sibert Honor. That novel dealt with the years that Gantos, as a young man, spent in federal prison, leading blog reader Wendy to ask if Jack Gantos is the first convict to win the Newbery. Monica Edinger beat me to the joke, pondering, "How would we find out if Ann Nolan Clark was taken in as a teen for cow tipping or something equally inappropriate?" (I was going to suggest that Lois Lenski and Eleanor Estes may have once been rum runners.) As it turns out, there is at least one more former con in the Newbery canon, as Sam E. wrote in to say that "Will James, 1927's winner, served time in Nevada for cattle rustling." At age sixty, Jack Gantos is one of our older Newbery winners too. In fact, only nine winners were older than him when they won the award:

Irene Hunt / UP A ROAD SLOWLY / 60
Marguerite De Angeli / THE DOOR IN THE WALL / 61
Elizabeth Bordon de Trevino / I, JUAN DE PAREJA / 62
E.L. Konigsburg / THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY / 67
Sid Fleischman / THE WHIPPING BOY / 67
Richard Peck / A YEAR DOWN YONDER / 67
Beverly Cleary / DEAR MR. HENSHAW / 68
Carolyn Sherwin Bailey / MISS HICKORY / 72

Blog reader Esperanza wondered why I had so little to say about the Caldecotts. It's probably because I don't follow picture books that closely and don't really know how to evaluate them. If I were on the Newbery committee, I think I'd be able to compare and contrast LITERARY works of many different genres, but if I were on the Caldecott committee I think it would all just come down to personal taste.

But I can, at least, provide a couple random facts about author/illustrator Chris Raschka. This is the third time he has been honored by the American Library Association. He received a 1994 Caldecott Honor for YO! YES! and won the 2006 Medal for THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW. As a time-two winner, he joins a select club whose only other members are Robert McCloskey, Barbara Cooney, Nonny Hogrogian, Leo and Diane Dillon, and Chris Van Allsburg. At age 52, he's just a bit older than the average age of Caldecott winners.

Okay, now on to rants:

A big "boo" to NBC's TODAY show for not featuring this year's Newbery and Caldecott winners on the show. Even though TODAY's annual N/C segment never lasted more than a couple minutes, it was always good to see children's book creators in the spotlight...and even that brief TV appearance helped sell books. Last year, the winners were pre-empted by a segment on Snooki, and this year they werekn't shown either. Someone did suggest that the American Library Association should have been lobbying for this appearance and perhaps they had not done so...which leads me to my next rant.

Though I love the ALA for presenting these awards...for providing us with the live broadcast...and, well, just everything they do on behalf of libraries, I still have a few bones to pick with this organization. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Why does an organization whose primary goal is dispensing information to the public have the most arcane, most difficult to navigate website in the history of the internet? Why does an organization that fights the good fight for freedom of information block some of its website content -- such as some of the Printz acceptance speeches -- from the public, sharing this information with "members only"? Why haven't this page and this page been updated yet, since they are supposed to include the Caldecott and Newbery titles "to present"? And why in the heck does this page refer to the "lastest ALA Youth Media Awards."


I'm assuming it's just a simple typo, but it has been there for a long time without being corrected.

I'm glad I don't ever make any typos on this bloog.


Now that the 2012 awards have been announced, all eyes (well, some of us) turn toward 2013 and start to wonder what titles will be announced next January.

Do you have any early predictions? Titles you've read, or maybe just heard about, that already sound promising?

Last summer I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen and provide a rave preview on my blog. It's due out in April and I think it's going to be a critical and popular hit. Newbery-ific? We'll see. I just saw a copy of the ARC, which looks like this:

Apparently the dustjacket on the hardcover edition will be gussied-up with foil and embossing, but I'm still not sure what I think of it. Does it have the look of a "classic" or (as I'm fearing) is it so generic looking that it will blend in with a hundred other current books on the children's and YA shelves? What do you think?


Looking ahead, a lot of people are already predicting that John Green's new novel, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, is the frontrunner for next year's Printz Award.

It is a strong book, but I tend to think that when books are published so early in the year and deemed future award winners from the get-go, they sometimes lose steam over the course of the next twelve months.

"CHIME" in with your theories.

One of the most unusual things about THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is that the first printings were signed by the author. According to a recent interview with Ilene Cooper in BOOKLIST, John Green originally had the idea of signing all the preorders of the book. There had been 1200 preorders of his previous title, PAPER TOWNS. However, his publisher said that due to warehousing issues and other problems, the only way he'd be able to sign the preorders would be to sign the entire first printing. Green's early books all had first printings of about 20,000. ...Then he learned the first printing of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS would be 150,000 copies!

According to a Book Page interview, the author signed books for twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for an entire month. He told Ilene Cooper, "I signed every single one of those books. I did not cheat ever, but I didn't always sign them well. In fact, when I messed up a signature, there's a secret URL that I would write at the bottomn that takes you to a video of me apologizing for your terrible signature."

I wonder if the books with the secret URL will be especially valued by collectors....

According to the author, he watched television while signing the books, including PBS documentaries, "every episode of MYTHBUSTERS" and "the entire five seasons of this show called PAWN STARS that I didn't even like."

Here's my own copy of the book:

I've heard some people don't like the sticker on the front, as it can't be removed without damaging the dustjacket. But I don't mind it. I would never remove it because the book came this way. Here is the signature inside my copy:

I've read a lot of discussion on Facebook and other internet sites about people "sobbing" over this book. What is it about human beings that we are so drawn to "tearjerkers." From my own perspective, I find stories about sick and dying people -- especially young sick and dying people -- very difficult to read, especially as I've gotten older and become more and more aware of my own mortality.

But as a kid I loved them.

In fact, when I was a kid there seemed to be a cottage industry in books about sick and/or dying children. KAREN by Marie Killilea was big back in the sixties and seventies. I was fond of THE STORY OF GABRIELLE by Catherine Gabrielson, a book I discovered in a Reader's Digest treasury. Cowgirl Dale Evans wrote volumes about three of her kids who died untimely deaths. Then there was DEATH BE NOT PROUD by John Gunther and ERIC by Doris Lund.

But the book I most remember seeing other kids read was this one:

Based on a TV movie of the same name and adapted by YA author Norma Klein, SUNSHINE, with its black-bordered cover, was THE "tearjerker" of the seventies.

It was followed up by two other books, which dealt with the widowed husband and daughter of SUNSHINE's ill-fated protagonist:

These titles were much lesser-known (did Norma Klein really write them, or just lend her name to them as author the first book?) than SUNSHINE, which remained in print for many, many years.

The 1980s brought us Lurlene McDaniel, who never wrote about a kid she couldn't kill off.

And a couple years back there was the popular English import BEFORE I DIE by Jenny Downham.

What were your favorite "five-hanky books" from your childhood and teenage years?

Do they still move you today?


Since we're on the subject of death, I thought I'd highlight an interesting publishing practice. If you work in a library or bookstore and have access to literary "trade journals," you've no doubt noticed ads that pay tribute to deceased authors and illustrators. But for those who don't see magazines such as Publishers Weekly, here are a couple examples. Quite frequently, when a popular or critically-acclaimed "book person" dies, the publisher will take out ad space to say goodbye. Here are two recent tributes to the late Caldecott winner Simms Taback, both which appeared in Publishers Weekly:


I've been reading that a recent trend in adult books involves shortening the time between the appearance of the original hardcover and its subsequent paperback edition. I wonder if this trend is now beginnning to impact books for young people as well.

Moira Young's BLOOD RED ROAD was published in hardcover on June 7, 2011:

I was surprised to see that the paperback edition is already on bookstore shelves, having been released on January 3, 2012:

Is it just a fluke or are books for young readers now also following this new trend? Stay tuned!


Yesterday I watched Woody Allen's latest movie, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, which concerns the American expatriates who lived in France during the 1920s.

This got me wondering two questions:

1) Have there ever been any children's books about this era, perhaps from the perspective of a child whose parents American parents were living in France during the twenties? I feel like there must be some, but I can't think of any titles? Can you?

2) Were any children's books written by the famous American writers living in Paris during that era?

To partially answer #2, I can only think of one -- THE WORLD IS ROUND by Gertrude Stein.

However, American author Esther Averill, who moved to Paris as an assistant to a photojournalist in 1925 and stayed there until World War II, founded her own publishing company there called Domino Press. Specializing in picture books with
color lithograph illusrations, Ms. Averill wrote and published DANIEL BOONE, with illustrations by future Caldecott winner Feodor Rojankovsky along with several other children's books.

Some of these books would later be reissued by American publishers after Averill returned to the States, but the original editions from Domino Press remain the ones most valued by collectors.


MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was one of nine movies nominated for a "Best Picture" Oscar this past week. The nominations were notable in that two films based on children's books -- HUGO (based on THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick) and WAR HORSE (based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo)-- were nominated for Best Picture this year. This is the first time two children's books were represented on that list. In the past, it's been rare for any movie inspired by a children's story to be nominated. In fact, there have been only a handful, and none has won. They are:

2012 HUGO
1995 BABE
1991 BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (based on a generic fairy tale, rather than a specific book)
1959 THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (originally published for adults, some later editions were issued specifically as children's books)
1953 SHANE (ditto)
1946 THE YEARLING (ditto)
1943 THE HUMAN COMEDY (ditto)

Have I missed any?


I am intrigued by today's Heavy Medal blog in which Jonathan Hunt asks, "Is there a Newbery book that you’re ashamed to admit that you haven’t read yet? Perhaps one that is considered a classic? That everyone else seems to have read but you? Don’t we all have these books on our own personal shelf of shame?"

He reports his own experiences trying to read Virginia Hamilton this past year. He got through M.C. HIGGINS but still hasn't read THE PLANET OF JUNIOR BROWN and SWEET WHISPERS, BROTHER RUSH.

Oh Jonathan, those are the two best!

I also groaned when I learned he hadn't yet read THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND and THE BRONZE BOW by Elizabeth George Speare, two novels so magnificent that I can't decide which I like better.

I then continued groaning when I read the reader comments.

Someone hasn't read JOHNNY TREMAIN, acknowledged by many as the best Newbery ever?

Someone else has only skimmed JACOB HAVE I LOVED, one of the greatest winners ever?

Someone hasn't read Scott O'Dell?


...Then I remembered that I've never read Susan Cooper's five-volume DARK IS RISING series -- titles which others tell me may be the best children's novels ever written!

Actually, I should amend that. I did turn the pages all the way through DARK IS RISING and THE GREY KING, but the stories meant nothing to me. I didn't understand them, didn't like them.

So now is your chance to groan back at me: ARRGGH!

I guess my goal for 2012 is to read all five of the titles in Susan Cooper's series!

What author or book from your own "shelf of shame" are you going to read in 2012?

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Let's see if I can muster up enough energy to write another blog later this week. Please check back!

Monday, January 23, 2012

We Neeeeeeed Bookmarks!

I once thought I was the only person who looked forward to the American Library Association awards as if they were Christmas.

But over the past few years, thanks to children's book blogs, listserves, Facebook, and Twitter, I've realized that I am part of very large community of people who feel the same way.

I also wondered what I'd do if a "Newbery Day" ever rolled around and I was unable to participate. What if I had to attend a funeral that day? What if I was in the hospital or something? (I had visions of myself sneaking out of the funeral home to read the award announcements on a laptop in my car...or ripping out an IV and running to the nearest bookstore to buy the winning books.) Such extreme events did not occur this year -- thank goodness -- but it was a bit of a bad day anyway, due to some other painful, personal events going on in my life right now. A friend who knows me well said, "I cannot think of the word Newbery, at any time during the year and not think of you, and to imagine you not almost physically buzzing with excitement is very sad."

Yeah, it was kind of sad, but I realized today that Newbery Days come in all types: happy, sad, good, bad....

All are memorable in their own way.

Last night found me sitting in front of the computer till 2:00 AM, looking for clues about the awards and trading Newbery gossip with friends.

Then I got up at 7:30 AM and fired up the computer again. I always take Newbery Day off work, so that was not an issue. Then began The Wait until 8:45 AM. After years of getting the award info a week late...a day late...or (in recent years when a dial-up computer connection) a few minutes late, for the second year in a row I was able to watch the live webcast while sitting at my desk in my pajamas.

As always, it was full of surprises.

Which is another way of saying, I was completely wrong in nearly all my predictions!

But then so was nearly everyone else and that's part of the fun of the awards.

Just for the sake of keeping a record here, let's go over the winning books:

The Caldecott Honors were BLACKOUT by John Rocco:

GRANDPA GREEN by Lane Smith:

and ME...JANE by Patrick McDonnell:

The 2012 Caldecott Medal went to A BALL FOR DAISY by Chris Raschka:

Think they'll place the gold medal sticker right over one of those big orange balls on the cover? This is Chris Rashka's second Caldecott, having won in 2006 for THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW.

This year's Printz Honor Books were WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler:

THE RETURNING by Christine Hinwood:

JASPER JONES by Craig Silvey:

and THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater:

The 2012 Printz Award went to WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley:

I have mixed feelings about this list. I didn't like WHERE THINGS COME BACK at all (should I read it again to see what I missed?) and thought WHY WE BROKE UP was interesting, but too long by a third. I enjoyed THE SCORPIO RACES, but haven't quite finished either THE RETURNING or JASPER JONES yet.

This year's Newbery Honor Books were INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai:

and BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE by Eugene Yelchin:

The 2012 Newbery Medal went to DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos:

I have not read BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE yet, but have to admit that I wasn't a big fan of INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN. People often criticize novels in verse for being less poetry than prose stories chopped up into artistic lines. In the case of INSIDE OUT, I sometimes found myself agreeing with that criticism. On the other hand, I now believe that DEAD END IN NORVELT may be a stronger selection that I first thought. When I first read the book, I had a few criticisms, but also realized that it was the kind of novel I would have loved when I was a kid. I think this offbeat, quirky book is going to please a lot of readers and will probably go down in history as one of the better choices. Of course only time will tell....

This morning, as soon as the webcast ended, I took stock of which titles I had in my collection. I try to have an ARC (advance reading copy) and a first edition of every Newbery and Printz winner.

This year I had an ARC and first edition of:


I had first editions, but no ARCS of:


And I had an ARC, but no first edition of:


Fortunately, my independent bookstore had a hardcover copy in stock, so I rushed over there to pick it up. Now I have all the books in first editions and just need a few ARCS, which I hope will turn up over time.

In years past, Newbery Day has seen me rushing to other bookstores trying to pick up extra copies of these books in hopes of reselling them for a profit at a later time. This year I did not do that. Part of the reason is that I used to make a quick run to all the local Border's stores (four within six miles of where I live) but now they are gone. The other reason is that there was always so much competition for the books. I felt bad when someone grabbed the last remaining copy just as I was reaching for it. And felt even worse when I grabbed the last copy when someone else was reaching for it.

This year I decided to leave them all for other collectors.

Good news for them.

Good karma (I hope) for me.

So that was one thing that made Newbery Day different this year.

Another thing was the weather. Some years Newbery Day is bright and cold. Some years it's gray and chilly. One year we had a blizzard. This year was warm and rainy.

Normally I go to lunch at Ponderosa on Newbery afternoon, but my Ponderosa closed last summer, so this year I just went to a take-out Chinese place.

Something else different: normally I take one of this year's winners to read at lunch. This year I took a brand-new book from 2012 to read. Who knows -- maybe it will be next year's Printz winner. Newbery Day is always a day for looking back and looking forward. Looking back at the books we read and loved the previous year, and already thinking about the books we'll be reading in the forthcoming year.

Today I found myself thinking about the many children's and young adult books that have changed my life...the people in this field that I met, either in person or via the computer...and the libraries and bookstores where I have spent so much time.

Way back in the early 1980s, I used to shop at a mall bookstore called The Children's Bookmark. That was where I got my first Cynthia Voigt book, HOMECOMING. M.E. Kerr's LITTLE LITTLE. Robert Cormier's EIGHT PLUS ONE. Katherine Paterson's Newbery winner JACOB HAVE I LOVED. I have many fond memories of that little store. I also remember one incident I witnessed outside the store. A mother and father were heading for the mall exit, when a little girl, maybe six or seven years old, drawn by the word "children" on the sign, started begging to go in the store. In a hurry to leave, her parents dragged her away from the Children's Bookmark, while she kicked and whined, "But I NEEEEEEED bookmarks!"

That girl is probably now pushing forty, perhaps with little kids of her own. But I still think of her plea for "bookmarks" after all these years. For me, each Newbery Day is slightly different -- a happy day, a sad day; a day when I like the winning books, a day when I don't; a snowy day, a warm day; a day when I eat at Ponderosa or end up with Chinese take-out; a day when I look back at last year's books and look forward to next year's books.

I celebrate every "Newbery Day" and I remember each one of them, going back years and years.

They are bookmarks marking the pages of my life.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Day Before Newbery Brunch

It’s the Night Before Newbery.

Caldecott Eve.

Will you be getting up early tomorrow to watch the award announcements on your computer via the live webcast at 7:45 AM Central Standard Time?

Or will you already be at work, sneaking a peek at the ALA website to watch the proceedings?

At 6:30 AM on January 22, 2007, Susan Patron was up fixing a chicken sandwich to take to work that day. She was a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library and planned to head in early to watch the live webcast of the book awards with her colleagues. That’s when she got the call informing her that she’d won the Newbery for THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY. After a few moments of disbelief, the new medalist ran up the stairs to tell her husband, then showed up at work to watch the webcast, not telling her fellow librarians that she had won the prize. One can only imagine how they reacted when the winner was announced and they learned the latest Newbery winner was sitting amongst them!

Stories of “The Call” – arriving in the middle of the night or in the early hours of the morning, are now part of the Newbery/Caldecott legend, yet there was once a time when the news arrived via a regular letter in the mail. And at one time the author learned of the award in midwinter, but had to keep it secret until the public announcement in the spring.

Long-time readers of this blog have already heard my stories of trying to find out the winners every year as a kid. At first it was simply a matter of asking the librarian at the local library a few days after the announcements where made. But then it reached a point where I wanted to know right away. In fact, I wanted to know first. So I’d take a pocketful of change from my piggybank and call the American Library Association in Chicago from a payphone. Sometimes I’d get the information there. Other times they’d give me the number to the “press room” of the convention and I’d call some far-off city, asking for the press room and pretending to be a reporter. (I’m sure I fooled no one.)

Next I had to find the books. When I was a kid, that meant borrowing them from the library -- often waiting for the library to order and receive them. When I got older and began collecting books, it meant visiting bookstores. If the books weren’t in stock, I had to order them and wait some more. It wasn’t until the late eighties/early nineties that I noticed any kind of frenzy associated with the awards. Then it became a matter of RACING – once during a blizzard – with a scrawled list of the winning books. In the bookstore, I’d often encounter other people already seeking the same titles, while the phone would ring repeatedly and I’d hear the clerk saying, “WALK TWO MOONS? Let me check our computer. …And what are the other titles? CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and THE EYE, THE EAR, AND THE ARM? Let me see….”

I’ve never known for sure if all the people who rush to bookstores or drive the winners to the top of the sales charts on Newbery Day are collectors, like me, or simply people who want to read the winning books right away. 2012 may be the year we figure that out. If sales for the e-editions of these books go crazy, we’ll know that many people are seeking the experience of READING the winning titles; if hard copies of these books sell big, we can assume that many of the buyers are collectors.


I don’t know.

Heavy Medal , the School Library Journal blog, voted for AMELIA LOST by Candace Fleming as the winner, with A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness and I BROKE MY TRUNK by Mo Willems as Honor Books.

Elizabeth Bird from Fuse #8 is also predicting AMELIA LOST for the winner, with Gary D. Schmidt’s OKAY FOR NOW as an Honor Book, along with THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA by Jennifer L. Holm and JEFFERSON’S SONS by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

School Library Journal’s Someday My Printz Will Come blog , gave its Mock Honors to CHIME by Franny Billingsley, with a MONSTER CALLS and Mal Peet’s LIFE : AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM as Honors.

Over at the Horn Book, the Calling Caldecott blog gave their top prize to ME…JANE by Patrick McDonnell, with Honors going to BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY : THE TRUE STORY OF THE PUPPETEER OF MACY’S PARADE by Melissa Sweet; BLACKOUT by John Rocco; GRANDPA GREEN by Lane Smith, and I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen.

As for my selections…?

I still don’t know.

When I imagine this year's Newbery list, I sort of see a big hole up there at the top, with no particular book rising to the very highest level. Earlier in the year, SPARROW ROAD by Sheila O’Connor struck me as a strong possibility, acknowledging even then that its plot and themes were so reminiscent of past Newberys(including last year’s winner!) that I really couldn’t see it being chosen. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos, a book that seems somewhat flawed to me as an adult…yet a novel I know I would have loved as a kid. Although I don’t know what will win, I do think the following titles have a good shot as Newbery Honors this year: A MONSTER CALLS, AMELIA LOST, THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA (Jennifer Holm’s fourth Newbery Honor?), BLUE FISH (Pat Schmatz), THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL (Kirby Larson) and BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys. And is there room for the graphic novel/big old picture book WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick on the list, or will it be recognized by the Caldecott committee?

I’m not any better at selecting Printz winners. Earlier this year I started my own Mock Printz blog but, due to time restraints and serious family issues, it never really got off the ground, reviewing no more than a dozen Printz possibilities. I’m going to fix that this year, renaming the blog “Printz Picks 2013” and adding titles to it all year so that it’s more helpful to readers. As for Printz 2012, I have a feeling that BLINK & CAUTION by Tim Wynne-Jones may win the gold. Unlike the Newbery and Caldecott, the Printz award places a limit on its Honor Books. Only four may be chosen. I think those four will be drawn from this pool of six: CHIME, PAPER COVERS ROCK (Jenny Hubbard), A MONSTER CALLS, THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT (Allan Wolf), LIFE : AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM, JASPER JONES (Craig Silvey), and IMAGINARY GIRLS.

If I was voting, the following books would be Printz contenders: QUEEN OF HEARTS by Martha Brooks, RECOVERY ROAD by Blake Nelson, FIVE 4THS OF JULY by Pat Raccio Hughes, MY NAME IS MINA by David Almond (a bit young, I guess, but its companion, SKELLIG was an Honor, so why not?) and – probably my favorite – THE BIG CRUNCH by Pete Hautman. But these books have gotten so little “buzz” that I doubt we’ll see a single one on the list.

On the other hand, a few YA books that have received lots of buzz – EVERYONE SEES THE ANTS by A.S. King, WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corley Whaley, and THE PIPER’S SON by Melina Marchetta – are all strong contenders, though I myself was a not a fan of them.

All these predictions…prognostications…guesses…hopes…and still…you never know!
Last year’s Newbery winner seemed to come out of NOWHERE. I’m not sure if it appeared on any Mock Newbery lists. I did see the title bandied around a tiny bit, but it never seemed to have much buzz or support.

But here’s something funny….

A year ago today, as I wrote my night-before-the-Newbery post for 2012’s winners, the very first person who left a comment mentioned MOON OVER MANIFEST as their selection.

And then it won!

So today I’m extra curious what you all are thinking.

What books will be honored tomorrow?

Please leave your comments! The worst that can happen is that we’ll all be wrong.
The best that can happen is that you’ll be the sole person to pick an out-of-left-field winner and you'll have your prescient comment memorialized online, just like Kristen did last year!


I got a kick out of Betsy Bird’s theory that Newbery books follow patterns. According to Betsy, here’s how the pattern works: "The Year of Breaking Barriers followed by The Year of Playing It Safe followed by The Year of the Givens followed by The Year of the Wild Cards.”

I’m not sure it’s that cut-and-dried, but it is interesting to consider.
And it got me wondering if other Newbery “years” or even decades could be titled.
Here’s what I came up with:


THE DECADE OF MEN, since all the winners were male.

THE DECADE OF FIRSTS, since the winners were mostly firsts of their kind. That is, first nonfiction winner (THE STORY OF MANKIND), first western (SMOKY), etc. However, even within that truncated decade (the award wasn’t given in 1920 or 1921), there is a little repetition in the awards. For example, the 1925 winner, TALES FROM SILVER LANDS, is the first collection of short stories…but then, strangely, the 1926 winner, SHEN OF THE SEA, was also a collection of short stories. That’s especially strange since there have been no prize story collections since.


THE DECADE OF WOMEN, since all the winners were female.

THE DECADE OF LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING BEYOND. This decade was about looking “back” at America’s history (HITTY : HER FIRST HUNDRED YEARS, INVINCIBLE LOUISA, CADDIE WOODLAWN, ROLLER SKATES) and exploring lesser-known cultures within our country (WATERLESS MOUNTAIN) or beyond our shores (Japan, China, Bulgaria, and Hungary.) The only book with a contemporary, “typically” American feel was the last winner for that decade, THIMBLE SUMMER.)


THE YEARS OF WAR, PEACE, AND SOCIAL JUSTICE, touching on themes of conflict, courage, war, and peace, the winners DANIEL BOONE, CALL IT COURAGE, THE MATCHLOCK GUN, JOHNNY TREMAIN and even RABBIT HILL (with its message “There is enough for all”) reflect the ongoing war years. STRAWBERRY GIRL looks at a social issue within this country. The only exception is the 1943 winner, ADAM OF THE ROAD, which seems to be mostly a “past due” prize for multiple honor winner Elizabeth Janet Gray. Interestingly, she would later play a small postward role in uniting former enemies Japan and the USA when she served as the private tutor to the Crown Prince of Japan.


THE YEARS OF READING FOR ENJOYMENT. Now that the war was over, books such as MISS HICKORY, THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS, and KING OF THE WIND took the top prizes – solid, entertaining novels for the post-war era.


THE YEAR OF HISTORY, with winner THE DOOR IN THE WALL and four of the five Honor Books set in historical times.


THE YEAR OF BIOGRAPHY, with winner AMOS FORTUNE, FREE MAN and three of the four Honor Books being biographical. This never happened before or since.


THE YEAR OF MAKING UP, with Eleanor Estes winning for GINGER PYE, a good book which many consider somewhat inferior to her early Honor Books about The Moffat family and THE HUNDRED DRESSES.


THE YEAR OF HUH? People are still scratching their heads over SECRETS OF THE ANDES winning over CHARLOTTE’S WEB.


THE YEARS OF DEJONG. With two Honors in 1954 (HURRY HOME, CANDY and SHADRACH…the first and only time an author has scored two Honors in the same year) and THE WHEEL ON THE SCHOOL winning in 1955, the fifties were dominated by this Dutch-born writer, who also received Honors in 1957 and 1959. Strangely, his later work never achieved the same critical acclaim or popularity as the books he wrote during his golden decade.


THE YEARS OF SURPRISES. Many authors win the Newbery after having written several popular or acclaimed books…or having previous Newbery Honors. During these years, three solid authors, Jean Lee Latham, Virginia Sorensen, and Harold Keith, came out of nowhere to receive the top prize. None would ever write anything this highly acclaimed or popular again.


THE YEAR OF UNANIMITY. For the first and only time that we know of, a Newbery winner, THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, won with a rare unanimous vote.


THE YEAR OF SECOND HELPINGS. For the first time, an author (1954 winner Joseph Krumgold) returned for a second Newbery. Strangely, his second winner is not considered one of the better Newbery choices. In fact, two of that year’s Honor Books, MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN and THE GAMMAGE CUP have gone on to become classics.


THE YEAR OF WHERE DID HE COME FROM? At 62 years or age, Scott O’Dell published his first children’s book and immediately won the Big N. No flash in the pan, he went on to write three more Newbery Honors in the 1960s.


THE SECOND YEAR OF SECOND HELPINGS. Elizabeth George Speare won her second Newbery for THE BRONZE BOW, a rare historical novel set during the era of the Bible.


To quote Betsy Bird, these are THE YEARS OF BREAKING BARRIERS. The winners include a science fiction classic (A WRINKLE IN TIME), a very contemporary NYC kid story (IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT), a stark, polarizing novel about bullfighting (SHADOW OF A BULL), and an unusual novel featuring a black protagonist who is an adult for most of the book (I, JUAN DE PAREJA.)


THE YEAR OF PLAYING IT SAFE. Irene Hunt’s UP A ROAD SLOWLY is an old-fashioned novel that harkens back to an earlier era.


THE YEAR OF MODERN VOICES. E.L. Konigsburg scored with both the year’s winner (FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES…) and an Honor Book (JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH…) – the first time an author received both prizes in a single year. These two titles, plus Honor Book THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, seemed to speak to a more modern generation than most previous winners.


THE YEAR OF FANTASY. THE HIGH KING ushered in an era of fantasy fiction winners and Honor Books.


More YEARS OF BREAKING BARRIERS, with a novels featuring an African-American family (SOUNDER) and concerning a mentally-retarded boy (THE SUMMER OF THE SWANS.)


THE YEAR OF CHANGE. Though the winner was an old-fashioned animal story (MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH) that quickly became a modern classic, the other books on the slate included an adult novel (INCIDENT AT HAWK’S HILL), a picture book (ANNIE AND THE OLD ONE), a high-end fantasy (THE TOMBS OF ATUAN), a mystery (THE HEADLESS CUPID) and a sophisticated urban tale (THE PLANET OF JUNIOR BROWN.) For the first time, these books were called Honor Books (from 1922-1971 they’d been “runners-ups”) and were now given their own silver seals for the front cover. This retroactive change ushered in a new era of appreciation for Honor Books.


I’m not sure what to call the year that JULIE OF THE WOLVES won. A year for ecology? A year of rewarding favorite authors (in addition to Jean Craighead George, Arnold Lobel and multi-Newbery-Honor author Zilpha Keatley Snyder were honored.)


THE LITERARY YEARS. They may not appeal to every young reader, but there is no doubt that THE SLAVE DANCER, M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT and THE GREY KING are written with a touch of literary brilliance.


THE YEARS OF CLASSROOM FAVORITES. With ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, the Newbery crowned two books that would be used in classrooms for decades to come.


A WILD CARD YEAR. Not just a mystery, but a comic-mystery, THE WESTING GAME is unlike any other Newbery winner…and coincidentally happens to be many readers’ choice for all-time favorite Newbery.


THE SERIOUS YEAR. Perhaps as a response to the previous year’s comic romp, A GATHERING OF DAYS was a slow, sober historical novel – and an out-of-left-field winner.


Again, I’m stumped on how to describe this year. JACOB HAVE I LOVED was certainly a worthy winner, neither expected nor totally unexpected. Perhaps this is a year for “older readers” since the protagonist of JACOB is a teenager (and later adult) in the final chapters of the book, and one of the Honors, A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT also focuses on a teenager character.




THE YEARS OF GIVENS, with the award expectedly going to sequels DICEY’S SONG and THE HERO AND THE CROWN, and belatedly given to the great Beverly Cleary. 1986 seems like a given as well, with instant-classic SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL getting acclaim from the moment of publication.


THE MAKE-UP YEAR. I can’t get excited about any of the books on the 1987 slate. It was either a bad year for books or a bad committee. But it was nice that Sid Fleischman finally got the prize after many years of excellent books.


MORE YEARS OF BREAKING BARRIERS with poetry and nonfiction taking the top prizes.


ANOTHER MAKE-UP YEAR. I can’t get enthusiastic about this year’s selections either, with NUMBER THE STARS feeling like a rather humdrum “classroom” book, perhaps given to Lois Lowry in recognition of earlier, better books. However, if they’d only waited a couple years they could have given it to Lowry's THE GIVER, one of the best-ever novels to win the Newbery.


THE YEARS OF STEPPING INTO THE SPOTLIGHT. After a long apprenticeship, Jerry Spinelli went from a solid, reliable writer to a brilliant author with winner MANIAC MAGEE. Avi did the same with that year’s Honor Book THE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE. The following year, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, who had already written dozens of books, wrote the novel that changed the course of her career, SHILOH.


ANOTHER YEAR OF THE GIVEN. MISSING MAY received strong reviews upon publication, plus it won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Its selection for the Newbery was expected…but now seems a bland, unexciting choice.


AN EXPECTED YEAR. From the moment THE GIVER was published, it seemed to be the de facto Newbery winner. Expected, but still a highlight among winners.


AN UNEXPECTED YEAR. A little known book from a new author, WALK TWO MOONS, stunned Newbery watchers.


ANOTHER EXPECTED YEAR. Karen Cushman got a Newbery Honor for CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY, and this year the committee gave her the whole enchilada for THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE.


A YEAR OF RETURNS. E.L. Konigsburg returned for her second Newbery, while Nancy Farmer and Eloise McGraw were back for more silver. (It had been 35 years since McGraw’s last Newbery Honor and 43 years since her first. This was a new record.)


A YEAR OF BREAKING BARRIERS with OUT OF THE DUST the first novel-in-verse to win the Newbery.


THE YEAR OF BREAK THROUGHS. Like 1991 and 1992, this was a year for previously unrecognized authors to step into the spotlight. Louis Sachar had mostly written undistinguished fiction before suddenly spinning literary gold with HOLES. Richard Peck had written many wonderful books, but most seemed more “young adult” than children’s volumes. With A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO, he finally received Newbery recognition.


YEARS OF GIVENS. After writing an instant-classic (and Newbery Honor) with THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963, it seemed an obvious choice for Christopher Paul Curtis’s second, well-received novel, BUD, NOT BUDDY, to win. Richard Peck’s 2001 win for A YEAR DOWN YONDER didn’t seem obvious in the days leading up to the Newbery ceremony, but as soon as most people heard the sequel to A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO won, they thought, “Oh, of course.”


ANOTHER SURPRISING YEAR. Linda Sue Park’s A SINGLE SHARD had been out for nearly a year before it won the Newbery. When the award was announced, surprised collectors scrambled for the few remaining first editions.


ANOTHER MAKE-UP YEAR. With five solid Honor Books, it wasn’t as if 2003 lacked in good children’s books, yet somehow the award went to CRISPIN : CROSS OF LEAD by Avi, an author who has written many, many better books (including this year’s CITY OF ORPHANS.) Was it a “career” award for his entire body of work?


A BORING YEAR. Everyone expected THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX to win.


A SURPRISING YEAR. No one expected KIRA-KIRA to win.


A STRETCHING YEAR. Everything about this year’s selections points to expansion and opening up. The winning book, CRISS CROSS, featured multiple points of view and the Honor Books encompassed a wide range of genres – nonfiction, picture book, fantasy.



None of the books on the slate had received much talk before the Newbery announcement.


A YEAR OF SURPRISES. A book of medieval monologues winning the Newbery? It can happen.


THE YEARS OF THE GIVENS. Both winners, WHEN YOU REACH ME and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK were touted for so long and by so many that a riot might have broken out at ALA if they hadn’t won.


THE YEAR OF SURPRISES. There was a gasp when the winning title was announced.


????? We’ll know tomorrow morning….


This week someone sent an interesting comment to this blog:

My advisor in library school…was on the Newbery Committee in 1974 and was often quite candid about what it was like. During her year, the committee was completely divided over which of two books should win the gold: The Slave Dancer or The Dark is Rising. It was a tie, and the argument got so heated that all other books simply fell into the background. Finally, at 5:00 a.m. the committee chair stood up and said something to the effect of, "That's enough! I say Slave Dancer wins, and Dark is Rising will be the only honor book." The rest was history.

[The advisor’s] theory is that whenever you have a year with just one Newbery Honor book, a similar argument took place in the committee meeting. Heh.

Needless to say, I found this fascinating! Personally, I have often wondered at the super-secrecy of the award committees. Is it truly necessary? Would it hinder debate/selection if the discussions held in the jury room were made public? What if they were held secret for a specified time (say five years) and then made known? Would that hurt the process? Just in the interest of literary history (not to mention personal nosiness) I’d love to know what titles were discussed each year…why some were eventually dismissed…why others rose to the top. And if negotitations were made so that a so-so book ended up winning over two or three brilliant but divisive titles.

How do you feel about this?

I also wonder how you feel about the number of Honor Books every year. In the early days of the Newbery, it was not unusual to have six Honor Books. One year there were even eight! Do a large number of Honors dilute the distinction of the award? Personally, I love it when there are multiple Honors and hate when there’s just a single Honor title.

Finally, want to hazard a guess on how many Honors we’ll see for this year’s Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz? The Printz is limited to four, but the other actually have no limit that I know of. There have been four Newbery Honors for the past three years. There were five in 2003, but only one in 1999. What’s your guess for tomorrow?

And, again, what are your guesses for the winning and Honor Books? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section. I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books! See you tomorrow!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Today's post isn't about children's books, per se.

But it is about young people and it is about books.

Close enough.

The other day I was fooling around on the internet and came across some information about a soon-to-be released book called DIVATIEL: REFLECTIONS OF A BIRD'S COMPANION. Described as "the true tale of a diva cockatiel and her loving owner," I immediately ordered a copy.

Why did I order this book?

I don't usually read self-published books.

And while I like birds, I'm not a huge bird lover.

The main reason I ordered the book is because of the author, Cindi R. Maciolek.

You're probably saying, "Who is she? Is she famous?"

Not to you, perhaps. But she is to me.

Many, many years ago, Cindi and I attended the same high school in Detroit. I remember her from journalism class, held in Room C309, the "Cody Star" office. We both wrote for the school paper. Cindi was known for making all her own clothes, wearing a necklace with a "Ms." charm (hey, it was the seventies), and for being a real go-getter. She was the kind of person who was going to do Big Things with her could tell it even back then. From what I've read about her on the internet, she really has lived an impressive life -- hosting a cable news show, working in fashion design, and writing for various publications.

And now this book!

The day after I ordered DIVATIEL, I got an e-mail from Cindi:

Hi Peter!

Thanks for purchasing Divatiel. Printed copies should be here by the end of the month, so I’ll get one in the mail as soon as they arrive.

Thanks again!


Sounds like a form letter, doesn't it?

She doesn't remember me, does she?

But I remember her. She sat at a table a couple rows back, just over my right shoulder. I remember most everyone from Room C309 -- probably because journalism was my favorite class. I thought that a lot of us would end up as famous writers. So it makes me feel good that someone from that class has now published a book.

Incidentally, Cindi R. Maciolek (and, yes, she included the middle initial in her name back then. So did I. It's a writer thing.) is not the only young person I knew who went on to write a book. When I was in college, I took a couple creative writing courses with a guy named David Sosnowski. He was the star of the class and it was never a question of IF he'd publish a book...but WHEN. I was so certain of his eventual success that I always made sure to check the "S" section at the bookstore, and when I later had access to the OCLC database at work, I'd frequently check his name to see if he had a forthcoming book listed. And one day he did! It was called RAPTURE, and turned out to be quite an amazing novel.

I am excited about what happened to my old classmates -- even if they don't remember me. Thinking back on my school years, I didn't like every class I took and I didn't like every teacher, but one thing I always loved is that school was the place where so many dreams were born and fostered. Not just the hopes and dreams of aspiring authors in journalism and writing classes, but dreams of aspiring athletes in the gym, dreams of aspiring scientists in the lab, on and on. And dreams are never stronger or bigger than when you are young. Some dreams die, but sometimes they do come to fruition...even if it takes ten...twenty...or thirtyplus years.

I'm assuming that most readers of this blog have met or even become friends with an author or two as adults...but how many of you knew young people who eventually grew up to write books?

I'd love to hear about them! Please share your stories!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

First Sunday Brunch of 2012

Welcome to the first Collecting Children's Books Sunday Brunch of 2012.

Obviously we're running a bit late, since it's now January 8.

Unfortunately, the year got off to a bad start for my family...but I'm hoping that the "in like a lion, out like a lamb" description of March also holds true for entire years. That is, if 2012 starts badly, it's bound to end well. Let's hope that's true -- for everyone!


Thanks to everyone who wrote in with suggestions for books to read on Christmas Eve.

One title that came up several times was THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY by Jo Mendel, a book in the Whitman "Tuckers" series.

Books about the Tucker Family were one of my childhood guilty pleasures. They sold for a dollar in the toy section of my local Woolworth's and, though I only bought two, I read them over and over as a kid. As an adult I've purchased a couple more, but never realized THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY was a Christmas favorite until a couple weeks ago when blog reader Linda said, "Peter, you must find a copy!"

Well, guess what?

I did!

In fact, I found it online for only $3.98!

It just arrived in the mail this week, and though my copy is a bit grubby and there are a couple torn pages, it's perfectly readable and now sitting beside my own desk, just waiting to be read!

I'm not waiting till next Christmas to read it either. I'll probably get to it in the next couple weeks -- which is fitting because, considering how unproductive I can, the Christmas tree and wall decorations will probably still be up for two more weeks!

Incidentally, the back of every Tucker book was, I believe, always pretty much the same. The background color varied from book to book but the illusrations of the Tuckers remained the same, as did the boxed "It's Tucker Time!" description of the series:

It's a masterpiece of marketing ("Time for fun! Time for excitement!" Time for picnics, parties, vacation trips, adventures -- even mysteries!") that practially begs the reader to pick up the book.

All those exclamation points!

I love it!

Of course nowadays it would never be presented in cursive writing, as so many kids can't read cursive anymore....


Another holiday book I'm trying to track down is STAR MOTHER'S YOUNGEST CHILD by Louise Moeri. I became interested in this title when I saw a Facebook posting by poet Helen Frost (author of last year's HIDDEN and this year's STEP GENTLY OUT) in which she described her cures for "Christmas nostalgia," which included reading the Moeri book for the thirtieth Christmas in a row. If Helen Frost is that devoted to this book, I need to read it!

This also got me thinking of Louise Moeri and her books. I've only read a couple, but maybe I'll try to read them all this coming year. Just looking at the titles and subject matter proves what a broad range she has as a writer. There are fantasies (THE UNICORN AND THE PLOW), frontier stories (SAVE QUEEN OF SHEBA), YA problem novels (FIRST THE EGG) and books about social issues, such as DOWNWIND, which concerns a nuclear meltdown. I remember being highly impressed by her novel THE FORTY-THIRD WAR, about a boy fighting in Central America's conflicts -- an unusually timely (in 1989) and challenging book for an American writer to attempt.

There is not much info available on the author, but I did find this quote about her writing career in Contemporary Authors: "The thing that kept me going is a picture I have in my mind. I see myself as a very old lady in a rest home with a blanket over my knees with a choice of two statements to make: `I tried very hard to write-- gave it everything I had' and `how I wish I had tried harder'."

Apparently she's still giving it everything she has. Though 87 years old and apparently ailing (on her Facebook page she lists her main activity as "chemotherapy"), she has published two adult novels in recent years -- one in paper, and one only in a digital edition!


Thinking about Christmas Eve books got me wondering about New Year's Eve reads.

Do you know any good ones?

And can you think of any titles geared to specific years?

My first thought was perhaps Tomie de Paola's "26 Fairmount Avenue" books, but I'm not sure that each volume represents a different year.

One intriguing title comes to mind -- a title that also shows the downside of highlighting a specific year in fiction.

That title is CINDERELLA 2000, a young adult romance by Mavis Jukes.

Published in the fall of 1999 to commemorate the new millenium, the book was released in a rather inexpensive format (small trim size, no dustjacket, glossy illustration printed on its cardboardy cover, low price) which made it clear that this was probably an ephemeral offering not destined for years of success.

The following year it was released in paperback, with the title captioned "Looking Back..."

In other words, what seemed so dazzling and "new" in the fall of 1999 was already history by 2001.

Thinking back, though, this might be a nice book to add to an historical children's book collection -- the only (?) example of how YA fiction celebrated, however briefly, the new millenium.


A new novel by Christopher Paul Curtis is always an occasion. His first book, THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963, received a Newbery Honor and is acknowledged as a modern classic. His next effort, BUD, NOT BUDDY, won the Newbery, and he received yet another Newbery Honor for ELIJAH OF BUXTON in 2008. And there will special interest in his newest novel, THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE -- due out this Tuesday – because the protagonist will be familiar to readers of BUD, NOT BUDDY.

Called the “The Mighty Miss Malone” by her alliteration-loving father, Deza is a smart, happy twelve-year-old girl. Although the Depression has hit the Malones hard -- Father can’t find work and there’s no money to get Deza’s rotting teeth fixed -- the protagonist is growing up secure in the love of her stable family, which includes her fifteen-year-old brother, Jimmie, who has a rare talent for music. Like ELIJAH OF BUXTON, this novel also begins as a series of vignettes -- Deza’s teacher offers an unexpected gift; Jimmie steals a pie from a neighbor; Father is involved in a boating accident; the world awaits the 1936 Joe Louis-Max Schmeling boxing match (also highlighted in Andrea Pinkney’s recent novel BIRD IN A BOX) -- before settling into a more conventional plot-driven narrative when Father leaves home to find work and, uncharacteristically, breaks contact with the family. Eventually, the Malones leave Gary, Indiana in order to find Father, ending up in a Flint, Michigan "Hooverville."

Anyone who writes about children's books should probably have a hotkey on their computer for the words "the plucky protagonist." While the phrase is clearly overused, it's almost always applicable. It certainly is here, as "the plucky protagonist" makes the best of life in the shantytown, then embarks on a daring solo trip to Detroit, hoping to bring together her now-broken family. Christopher Paul Curtis has written another big-hearted historical novel full of memorable characters and events. Though it contains a few flaws (Jimmie's lack of height is presented as a major issue in the first half of the book, but disappears in the second; Deza's repeated misuse of the word "geologically" seems patronizing to this otherwise intelligent narrator), THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE deserves its place on the shelf with the author's previous books -- all classics in the making.


Although the hardcover of THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE will not be released till Tuesday, I was lucky enough to get an ARC (advance reading copy) of the novel last week from my bookstore buddy.

So often when I read an ARC, I'm saddened by the fact that it contains fascinating background information that will not appear in the hardcover edition of the book. I always wish this info was available to every reader. I felt that way again when I saw the "Dear Reader" letter at the front of THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE ARC which explains how Mr. Curtis came to write the book.

I thought I'd share a bit of it here, for those who are interested:

The foundation for this book was the question that kept popping up during many "author visits" I made to schools and communities. This question was always asked by a girl, and she would preface it by saying, "Mr. Curtis, I like your books, but...."

The inevitable "but."

I'd developed a set answer for these girls. It ran along the lines of, "There are so many wonderful women authors doing books about girls, and if you
really want a story about a girl, who is more qualified to do it, me or you?"

Not the best answer in the world; and it bothered me. I felt like I wasn't being completely honest. But when I thought about the question later, I couldn't come up with a better reply. However, mulling over question set in place the foundation for this book.

The first bricks in Deza's story were laid by a reporter for the DETROIT FREE PRESS, Cassandra Spratling. Ms. Spratling invited me to speak at an African American mother-daughter book club in Detroit. She told me the club had read BUD, NOT BUDDY and would love to have me address the group. I said I'd be happy to.

Big mistake.

Before I was introduced, several of the moms pulled me aside and said in rather threatening tones, "We really like your stories, but..."

To quote Bud, "Here we go again."

"...what we'd
really like to know is what business that little girl in the Hooverville had kissing a stranger like Bud Caldwell the way she did."

We've all heard about the two reactions humans have when confronted unexpectedly by a threatening situation: fight or flight. I discovered there's a third response: heavy rationalization. I replied, "Oh, you're just getting his side of the story,
she has a completely different take on what happened."

I saw that wasn't enough and added, "Besides, you know how boys just love to lie about these things."

Rationalization or not, I found this a fascinating response and only wish it were available in the hardcover edition so that readers of BUD, NOT BUDDY will understand the discrepancy between the "kissing scene" that is presented in both books.

Some readers may be disappointed that the Deza and Bud story (trumpeted with the dustjacket tagline: "Deza Malone from BUD, NOT BUDDY is back!") has such a small role in THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE, but placing too much of an emphasis on their brief encounter might have tilted the focus of the book. The succinct, two page scene presented here strikes me as particularly well-played.


The lesson I have to keep learning over and over is that no one -- and that includes intelligent, informed people of good will -- is ever in 100% agreement on the merits of any single book.

Oh sure, there are titles that nearly everyone loves -- such as CHARLOTTE'S WEB, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, and many more. But I guarantee that if we got a big group of children's book fans together, we'd discover that at least a few of them are ambivalent toward...or even downright hate CHARLOTTE'S WEB and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

I was reminded of that last week when reading School Library Journal's Heavy Medal blog on "the ones that got away" -- titles that readers believe should have won the Newbery but didn't.

The comment that made me rear back in my seat came from that extraordinary writer Nancy Werlin -- and I mean that both literally (she wrote a novel called EXTRAORDINARY) and descriptively (she's a great writer.) However, I was shocked when she mentioned 1964 as a bad Newbery year, calling the winning title, IT'S LIKE THIS, CAT "that piece of mindless drivel" and adding, "The honor books don’t shine in memory for that year, either (RASCAL by Sterling North and THE LONER by Ester Wier). A bad committee. It happens."



Maybe it's a boy-thing. Or maybe it's because I'm such a huge fan of New York City, the book's setting. Or maybe it's because I'm a lot older than Ms. Werlin and remember the sixties, the book's time period, so well. But whatever the case, I really like this book. And while even I might agree that it's not in the top 10% of all Newbery winners, I think it's a fine choice.

I also don't agree about those Honor Books. RASCAL is pretty much a classic, and I regard THE LONER as one of the great unknown Honor Books of all time.

As I said: even intelligent, informed people of good will are going to disagree on books!

But the line that really got me thinking was this: "A bad committee. It happens."

It got me wondering if there were any Newbery years in which the committee made across-the-board excellent picks or, conversely, choose nothing but stinkers?

We've already acknowledged that not everyone is going to agree on anything, but just speaking in GENERAL terms, are there years where MOST readers would GENERALLY AGREE the committee did a bang-up job?

And years where MOST readers would shrug and say, "Bad committee. It happens."

Take a look at this complete list of winners and Honor Books to refresh your memmory.

Granted, there are a lot of factors involved in any year's selections -- starting with the pool of eligible books. It's possible that some years have an abundance of riches while other years are so weak that the committee must pick the best of a bad lot.

Looking at the list myself, I don't see any single year where I think every title is amazing...except a couple times when only one Honor Book was chosen (for instance, 1991 when MANIAC MAGEE won and THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE honored, and 1999 with its duo of HOLES and A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO.)

Otherwise, I think 1975 may be my favorite year, with the medal going to M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT and Honors won by FIGGS & PHANTOMS, MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD, THE PERILOUS GARD, and PHILIP HALL LIKES ME, I RECKON MAYBE. In this case, I love all the Honor Books and admire (but am not emotionally connected to) the winning title.

I used to think that 1967 was a stellar year as well, with FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER winning and JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY, AND ME, ELIZABETH and THE EGYPT GAME honoring...but the remaining honors, THE BLACK PEARL (not Scott O'Dell's finest) and THE FEARSOME INN, seem a step down in quality from the other three titles.

It's even harder to pick across-the-board weak years. While there are a few middling years (2007 comes to mind), it seems that nearly every year contains at least one good, surprising, or inspired choice. It may not be in the gold medal position, but at least it received recognition.

Perhaps it's silly to expect any single slate to appeal to any one person. The honored books cross a wide range of genres and are written in many styles -- so somewhere out there, for sure, there is someone who loves every title I hate, and hates every title I love.

But still, I'm curious: what do YOU think were the Newbery's best and worst years?


By now you have probably read that Walter Dean Myers has been named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

You've also probably heard about the backlash, if "backlash" means one inflammatory article that talks about how kids should be reading Homer and Virgil instead of contemporary YA books. Whatever. I'm still perplexed by the article's timeline (the author says he taught at a Flatbush middle school some years ago, yet mentions Myers's 2010 novel LOCKDOWN as among his students' favorites.)

All I know is that the influence of Walter Dean Myers's books, and the importance of his work as ambassador, will be remembered long after that article in the newspaper is used to wrap fish or line a birdcage.


Well, I've been saying for years that I don't want an e-reader.

Now I've learned that my favorite author will be publishing her next novel only in the e-book format.

What's a reader to do?

Stay tuned to see what happens next!


And I hope you "stay tuned" to Collecting Children's Books throughout 2012. There's lots to look forward to in the coming months, including the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz announcements in just a couple weeks.

Thanks for visiting -- and Happy New Year!