Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Brunch for March 25

Welcome to another Sunday Brunch at Collecting Children's Books. Today's blog talks about a book party I attended, asks some questions about the acclaimed new novel WONDER, and rounds up all the official author sites for Newbery winners.

My love of old children's books may be informed, in part, by a sense of nostalgia...but this month all I'm feeling nostalgic about is old-time winters. Growing up in Michigan, I got used to long, cold winters. Sub-zero temperatures. Snow on Thanksgiving. Blizzards. Snowdrifts. White Christmases. Snow Days. Ice storms. And even snow sometimes on Easter. What happened to that world? I'm still in Michigan but now we have balmy winters. Warm Thanksgivings. Green Christmases. Barely any snow. And now, in March, all the trees are in blossom and mosquitoes are out.

Yes, I know that:

but this doesn't even feel like spring. It feels more like mid-summer!


People often ask me what children's books they should collect.

The answer, of course, is to collect what you love.

Yes, if you're collecting as an "investment," you should go after award winners and famous authors...but if you're collecting for personal satisfaction, don't follow the dollar signs, follow your heart. This means seeking out the books and authors that mean the most to you personally. Of course there are also collecting perimeters within those catetgories.

When adding a specific TITLE to your collection, the most valuable copy will be a first edition. It's even more valuable if it's signed. And of course condition may be the most important factor of all.

When collecting a specific AUTHOR, it's always a good idea to seek out their earliest (and usually hardest-to-find) books, as well as anything unusual of unique they have published.

The aforementioned Jean Little is a good example. This well-loved Canadian author has published a variety of books over her long career. A signed first edition of her very first novel, MINE FOR KEEPS, first published in 1962, generally sells for $200-$250. But I imagine her rarest book is actually IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD, a small volume Jean Little published herself in 1947, when she was only fifteen years old. I have not seen a copy of this book for sale, but imagine it would be worth at least $300 or more.

What many readers don't know is that Ms. Little continued to privately-publish small books as Christmas presents for friends and relatives throughout most of her career. Talk about "unusual or unique" volumes to add to a private collection! And the best news is that, when these books do turn up at used bookstores, they can often by found for $25 to $50 -- perhaps because they have the look of "amateur publications" and are unknown by most readers. By if you're a Jean Little fan, these rare books are pricless.

Incidentally, in 1976 Ms. Little self-published a little volume called HEY WORLD, HERE I AM!

Over a decade later, HarperCollins issued this same book in a mainstream, trade edition, and it remains one of the author's best-known works:

Wouldn't it be great to have the original volume in one's own collection? And wouldn't it be fascinating to compare both editions side-by-side?


Last Saturday I attended the book launch party for STEP GENTLY OUT, a beautifully written and photographed celebration of insects by poet Helen Frost and illustrator Rick Lieder.

If we're friends on Facebook, you've already heard about the experience. If we're not friends on Facebook, why aren't we? (Feel free to "friend" me at "Peter Sieruta.") The evening started off with me (accidentally?) misplacing my wallet and then sitting outside the bookstore getting up the nerve to go inside. I'm very shy to begin with, and it's even more difficult to have to interact with creative people you admire so much. But it turned out to be a delightful evening in Bookbeat's cozy gallery, as people admired Mr. Lieder's photographs on the walls and got their books signed by the kind and down-to-earth Helen Frost (a Printz Honor winner for KEESHA'S HOUSE) and Rick Lieder, who has a great love for antiquarian book illustrations. You may not be familiar with Mr. Lieder's name -- yet! -- but you are no doubt familiar with his work, as he has created the cover illustrations for a number of important children's books, including the paperback edition of Linda Sue Park's Newbery winner, A SINGLE SHARD.

I was very excited to learn that Ms. Frost's next novel-in-verse, many years in the writing, has been accepted for publication. I didn't ask her permission to report on the title and subject matter here, so I'll leave you guessing on that...but it sounds fascinating.

Here is the copy of STEP GENTLY OUT that Helen and Rick signed for me. (Notice the hand-drawn illustrations of insects that Rick added in the bottom right corner.)

Helen also gave me an unbound advance copy of the book for my collection! Here is how they signed that one:

I had also brought along with me, the author's 2011 novel:

which she also kindly inscribed:

Also attending the event was local author Sarah Miller, author of MISS SPITFIRE and the recent, wonderful THE LOST CROWN:

which she also kindly autographed:

Even though I'm sure that EVERYONE Sarah Miller meets offers a suggestion for the subject of her next novel, I couldn't resist giving her one of my own. She told me she liked it!

The fourth person in attendance was Rick Lieder's wife, Kathe Koja. We children's book fans know her best for straydog, THE BLUE MIRROR, TALK, BUDDHA BOY, and several other insightful, offbeat novels for young adults. But Ms. Koja also write for adults. Her most recent novel, UNDER THE POPPY, falls into that category:

and it's most definitely for adults, as you can tell from the inscription:

Ms. Koja's next book is a sequel to UNDER THE POPPY and I asked if she planned to return to young adult fiction. She said, "I'm still in the same's just that right now I'm in another room."

Isn't that a great way of putting it?

I could think for a year and never come up with a response that perfect.

I was very much honored to spend St. Patrick's Day in the company of such talented creators.


Browsing in the library this week, I came across two intriguing books.

Have you seen this novel by Madeleine L'Engle?

Published in 1968 by Vanguard, PRELUDE is a lesser-known young adult novel in L'Engle's body of work. Unlike many of her YA books, which continue to be reprinted and read, this story of young pianist Katherine Forrester never really caught on with young readers. This may be because Katherine's story was never written for kids to begin with. The novel known as PRELUDE was originally published as the first half of L'Engle's first (adult) book, THE SMALL RAIN, which was released in 1945.

Publishers would later do the same thing to L'Engle's 1951 adult novel CAMILLA DICKINSON, re-publishing it various young adult incarnations (all called, simply, CAMILLA) in 1965, 1981, and again in 2009.

Despite these many efforts to find a young audience, CAMILLA, like PRELUDE, never gained the wide readership of many of L'Engle's young adult works. But the characters of Katherine Forrester and Camilla Dickinson clearly remained very important to their creator. Katherine turns up again, as an elderly woman, in L'Engle's 1982 adult novel A SEVERED WASP and Camilla pops up again in A LIVE COAL IN THE SEA, which was published in 1996.

This week's other highlight from the bookshelves is TEENAGERS WHO MADE HISTORY, a 1961 volume that profiles a number of famous names -- including Louis Braille and Sam Colt -- who achieved success while still teenagers.

This book is notable for being the first book written by Russell Freedman, who would go on to create a singular career writing nonfiction for children and young adults, and would later win the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN : A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. TEENAGERS WHO MADE HISTORY displays many of the characteristics that made the author a literary giant. It would be interesting to have Mr. Freedman update this early book, some five decades after writing it, to include a few more notable young people who have "made history" since 1961.


Looking for info on Russell Freedman just now, I was surprised to discover that he does not have an official website of his own. Sure, there are plenty of internet sites devoted to the author and his work (some of these are publisher "author" sites) but, as far as I can tell, he is not a master of his domain.

This got me wondering which Newbery winners have offical sites and which do not.

NEWBERY AUTHORS WITHOUT OFFICIAL SITES : Hendrik Van Loon; Hugh Lofting; Charles Hawes; Charles Finger; Arthur Bowman Chrisman; Dhan Gopal Mukerji; Eric P. Kelly; Rachel Field; Elizabeth Coatsworth; Laura Adams Armer; Elizabeth Lewis; Cornelia Meigs; Monica Shannon; Carol Ryrie Brink; Ruth Sawyer; Kate Seredy; Elizabeth Enright; James Daugherty; Walter D. Edmonds; Elizabeth Janet Gray; Esther Forbes; Robert Lawson; Lois Lenski; Carolyn Sherwin Bailey; William Pene Du Bois; Marguerite Henry; Marguerite De Angeli; Elizabeth Yates; Eleanor Estes; Ann Nolan Clark; Joseph Krumgold; Meindert DeJong; Jean Lee Latham; Virginia Sorensen; Harold Keith; Elizabeth George Speare; Scott O'Dell; Emily Cheney Neville; Maia Wojciechowska; Elizabeth Borton De Trevino; Irene Hunt; E.L. Konigsburg; Lloyd Alexander; William Armstrong; Mildred D. Taylor; Ellen Raskin; Joan Blos; Nancy Willard; Patricia Maclachlan; Russell Freedman; Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; Cynthia Rylant; Karen Hesse; Christopher Paul Curtis; Richard Peck; Laura Amy Schlitz.

While they may not have "official" sites, most of the above authors do have a presence on the web, either through publisher sites, fan pages, blogs, or even Facebook fan pages. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, none maintain an official site. (Hey, if you're a web designer, maybe you should contact these authors and see if they're interested in creating an official site.)

The following Newbery winners do maintain offical sites and you can visit them by clicking the highlighted links:

Will James has an offical site thanks to the Will James Society.

Perhaps not an "offical" site, but this Armstrong Sperry site, maintained by his granddaughter is the closest thing going.

Madeleine L'Engle appears to have an official site.

Click here to check out the offical site of Betsy Byars.

Jean Craighead George has an offical site.

Here is Virginia Hamilton's site.

Susan Cooper has an offical site.

Katherine Paterson's official site is called

You can find Cynthia Voigt's site here.

Beverly Cleary has a home in cyberspace.

As does Robin McKinley.

And Sid Fleischman.

As well as his son Paul Fleischman.

Lois Lowry has a home on the net.

Jerry Spinelli's official site looks like it hasn't been updated in a while.

Sharon Creech has a site.

Click here to visit Karen Cushman.

And here to drop in on Louis Sachar.

Linda Sue Park has a site.

So does Avi.

And Kate DiCamillo.

Cynthia Kadohata's site is named after her Newbery-winning novel.

Lynne Rae Perkins has her own site.

Susan Patron too.

Of course Neil Gaiman has a site.

You can reach Rebecca Stead here.

And Clare Vanderpool is here.

And our latest winner, Jack Gantos also has an official site.


It may be unfair, but we tend to look for prevailing themes and subjects in each year's crop of new books.

Recent trends have included "vampires" and "dystopian."

Based on three great new books I read this past week -- WONDER by R.J. Palacio, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate and BOY 21 by Matthew Quick -- this season's theme seems to be "empathy."

And people seem to be LOVING these three titles. BOY 21 got a rave in the New York Times book review. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN was starred by Kirkus and School Library Journal. And WONDER has racked up so many stars and so much buzz that it appears to be on the fast track to the Newbery. A recent news round-up by my friend and co-writer Betsy Bird (aka Fuse #8), brings up some interesting background on WONDER's author. I was particularly struck (WONDERstruck?) by one particular comment Betsy made about the book:

"It’s smart, it’s clever, and the criticisms haven’t made a dent in it (if there are any)."

Hmm...I took that line as a challenge. Before I go on, let me again repeat that I LOVE this new novel, LOVE the character of August Pullman, LOVE his voice, LOVE the little details of family life sprinkled throughout the novel...but I'm not convinced the novel is without flaws.

Does it still deserve the Newbery? At this point in the year, I'd slap a gold star on it myself...but who knows what books are coming out next?

And before the Newbery committee makes any decisions, I'd like them to seriously discuss the following questions I had while reading WONDER. Warning -- SPOILERS AHEAD! -- so if you haven't read the novel yet, you might want to skip down to the next section.

Questions I had about WONDER:

* Did Auggie and his pals seem like fifth graders, or did they seem more like seventh graders?

*Was it necessary to use the alternating first-person voices of several characters throughout the novel?

* Considering the novel is suggested for ages eight and up, do the first-person sections in the voices of three high school students seem necessary or intrusive?

* Do the voices of the several narrators sound sufficiently different from one another? (Yes, Justin's section is written in lowercase with no quotation marks, but beyond those cosmetic differences, does he sound very much different from the other characters?)

* The idea that Via's school almost produced the play THE ELEPHANT MAN makes for a powerful anecdote, but is this challenging drama -- with adult themes and nudity -- a likely selection for a high school play? (Perhaps there's a "student edition" of the play that I don't know about; some shows are published in editions for high school actors.)

* Does the scene in which Auggie switches Halloween costumes at the last minute seem believable? It's one of the most powerful sections of the book, but rather than emerging naturally from the narrative, we get Auggie switching costumes with no true motivation ("...but all of a sudden I didn't feel like wearing it. I'm not sure why...") then going to school and, again for no motivation (except to make a plot point), he doesn't go to his usual desk but "...for some reason, I don't know why, I found myself walking over to a desk near them....") My feeling is that both these moments could have been handled with far greater finesse.

* Does the climax of the entire book -- the attack in the woods -- seem a bit anti-climactic compared to other scenes in the novel?

* Maybe this is a New York thing, or a private school thing, but do schools generally have a fifth-grade graduation or commencement ceremony when the kids aren't even leaving their school but just moving up a grade?

* Finally, did anyone find the scene in which the principal repeatedly gets choked up at the graduation ceremony a little maudlin and saccharine?

Again, I really do think that WONDER is one of the year's strongest books, and bring up these questions not to undercut its acclaim, but rather to point out issues that I'd love to hear discussed. It's very possible I could be convinced to change my opinion on some of them, especially if I read the book a second time.


This weekend is all about THE HUNGER GAMES. The release of the new movie, to strong reviews and large advance sales, has to be a good thing for young adult literature. On Friday a librarian friend posted on Facebook that, during her shift at the reference desk that day, she had five requests for the book...and the number of holds on the book in her library was well over a two thousand!

To celebrate this weekend's most talked-about film, I can't help but post a picture of one of the most treasured items in my personal library -- a spiral bound "second draft" of the manuscript, personally inscribed by author Suzanne Collins:


Finally, though this blog is often concerned about children's books from the past, we also love to look ahead to see what is coming down the pike. And just yesterday I learned that this coming summer Patrice Kindl will be releasing her first novel in more than a decade:

That's what I love about children's books. There's also something to look back on and always something new to look forward to.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Brunch for March 11

I'm sorry I have not posted in a couple weeks. First I was involved in another round of revising the manuscript I'm writing with Elizabeth Bird and Julie Walker Danielson for Candlewick Press (we cut it from 570 pages to 424...falling short of our goal of cutting it to 350) and then last week my father got out of the hospital/rehab center after breaking his arm and we had to deal with visits from home health visitors over the weekend. While I've been "away," lots of book award shortlists and winners have been announced. For example:


The Mystery Writers of America have announced their nominees for the 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Awards.

The nominees for "Best Juvenile" are:

HORTON HALFPOTT by Tom Angleberger
VANISHED by Sheela Chari
ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby
THE WIZARD OF DARK STREET by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

The finalists in the "young adult" category are:

SHELTER by Harlan Coben
THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson
THE SILENCE OF MURDER by Dandi Daley Mackall
THE GIRL IS MURDER by Kathryn Miller Haines
KILL YOU LAST by Todd Strasser

The winners will be announced April 26 in New York City.

And here is the shortlist for the 2012 Andre Norton Award, for the year's best science fiction or fantasy novel:

AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor
CHIME by Franny Billingsley
THE FREEDOM MAZE by Delia Sherman
ULTRAVIOLET by R.J. Anderson

The winner will be announced in mid-May.

The finalists for the Irma Simonton Black & James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature ("given to a book in which the text and illustrations work closely together to create a vibrant whole") are:

I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen

The winner will be announced April 9.

The shortlist for the LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Prize has also been announced and this list is my very favorite! (Of course I may be prejudiced, since I was one of the judges, along with Cindy Dobrez and Angelina Benedetti.)

The finalists are:

THE BIG CRUNCH by Pete Hautman
THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

The winner will be announced April 20.


I've always thought that E.L. Konigsburg's first book, JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY, AND ME, ELIZABETH, was one of the most perfect middle-grade novels ever written. It was named a Newbery Honor Book the same year that Ms. Konigsburg's FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER won top prize (though I, like John Rowe Townsend, think the order probably should have been reversed.) It was also the first-ever title issued by Aladdin Books:

Though perfect in my eyes, the book has been slightly altered at least once. A reference to Jennifer's mother being "Negro" was later changed to "black." I've often wondered if someone will ever request they cut the line in which Jennifer fantasizes that she's smoking a cigarette. But one thing I never thought they'd change is that memorably lengthy title. And they haven't -- at least here in the USA (or, as Elizabeth would call it, "the US of A.") But I recently came across the British edition of the book and was surprised by the title:

I guess they figure English kids won't know who William McKinley was. ...Though, come to think of it, how many American kids know who he was.

It's not uncommon for American titles to be changed when the book is pubished in England -- and vice versa. But E.L. Konigsburg seems to get her titles changed more than the average bear.

Remember her early novel (GEORGE)?

They used the same cover in Great Britain, but changed the title to BENJAMIN DICKINSON CARR AND HIS (GEORGE):



Actually, you don't even have to cross the pond to see some Konigsburg titles changed. What used to be:

has now been re-released right here in the United States as MY FATHER'S DAUGHTER:

This edition's neither British nor American, but I had to include it anyway. Even though the title is written in Russian, I'm sure you'll recognize what book it is:

But what I love best is the translation of that title, as provided by Amazon: FROM THE ARCHIVE OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKVAYLER, MOST COMPLICATED IN THE WORLD.


For many years now I've been hearing that kids HATE cursive fonts in books. Many schools no longer teach "handwriting" at all, and thus some kids can't read it at all. Some kids won't pick up a book if the title is written in cursive on the front cover. Although I don't particularly have a problem with cursive writing, I must admit that overly fancy fonts often cause me to puzzle over a title. Here's the one that tripped me up last week:

Do you know what it says?






I finally realized the title was GRIM:

Maybe I was just having a bad day. ...But if it took me a couple seconds to puzzle out the name, I wonder how many young readers -- many of whom never learned cursive to begin with -- will hang around look enough to figure out the title...or just reach for another book?


How neat is this?

One of the perks of owning a bookstore is that publishers often send you promotional pieces publicizing books. My bookstore buddy just received this bag celebrating the 50th anniversary of Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME, featuring the well-remembered original dustjacket illustration by Ellen Raskin. And she gave the bag to me! I was quite thrilled...except I feel it's too special to use on a regular basis.

I think I'll just put it on display in my library instead.


This picture-book length poem begins:

"Step gently out,
be still,
and watch
a single blade
of grass,"

then continues, through Frost's lilting, limpid words and Lieder's close-up photographic images, to celebrate the insects that share our world.

The entwined art and text open the reader's eyes and bring renewed appreciation to ants, moths, fireflies and other creatures that "shine with stardust" or are "splashed with morning dew." A final spread identifies and provides information about each insect highlighted in the text. STEP GENTLY OUT has the feel of a classic and, one hopes, will lead to further collaborations between this poet and photographer.


Rick Lieder's photographic art from STEP GENTLY OUT will be on display in the gallery of Bookbeat, an independent bookstore in Oak Park, Michigan, from March 17 through April 30. The opening of the exhibition, on March 17 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM will be attended by both Mr. Lieder and Ms. Frost. The following day both creators will join other authors at a speaking/booksigning public event in nearby Berkley, Michigan called Read in the Park.

As more and more bookstores close, we are losing "meeting places" where authors and readers can gather to exchange ideas. Several years ago, Bookbeat hosted an author signing for Helen Frost, Kathe Koja (BUDDHA BOY) and Sarah Miller (MISS SPITFIRE.) I believe this was where these authors first met and became friends. And I suspect that this meeting somehow led to the creation of STEP GENTLY OUT. You see, Rick Lieder is married to Kathe Koja and had provided the photographs for the dustjackets of many of her young adult novels. If it hadn't been for Bookbeat bringing these authors together, perhaps this great new book might never have been "born."


Did you hear about this new movie due out soon? I can't remember the title exactly...something about Hungary...or Hungry...oh yeah, it's called THE HUNGER GAMES!

Just kidding.

I'm not sure there's anyone alive today who hasn't heard of the movie and books by now. From what I've heard, advance ticket to the film are selling like crazy. It's shaping up to be a big hit before anyone's even seen it.

And the books are selling like crazy!

In addition to the trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, there are now "companion" books to the movie, parodies (THE YOUNGER GAMES; THE HUNGER PAINS) and even an unoffical, unendorsed cookbook! And PEOPLE magazine just put out a special issue devoted entirely to the movie.

Although the blatant commercialism is annoying, I have to admit I'm pleased to see that a book written for young people is getting this kind of public interest.


If the special edition of PEOPLE devoted to THE HUNGER GAMES is a testament to the popularity of the book and movie, then the cover of the weekly issue must say something about what's currently of interest to the magazine's regular readership. After virtually ignoring the deaths of much bigger stars over the past few years, this week PEOPLE has a cover story on the death of Davy Jones from the Monkees. That really surprised me since he had been out of the limelight for decades. But apparently those who grew up in the sixties and seventies have never quite forgotten this singer and performer.

I wondered if The Monkees had any impact on books for kids and came across these paperbacks:

as well as this hardcover novel from Whitman:

That last book was written by William Johnston, an author who wrote a few adult novels of his own, but was probably best known for adapting TV shows and movies into drugstore paperbacks for young readers. Among his dozens of books are adaptations of Dr. Kildare, The Munsters, Get Smart, The Flying Nun, The Brady Bunch, Room 222, The Mod Squad, Happy Days, and many more.

Obviously Mr. Johnston never won any literary awards. I've read a few of his books over the years and they are exactly what you'd expect: facile, slight, and superficial. Yet you have to give this author credit for churning out book after book and, I strongly suspect, providing reading material to a lot of kids who probably never borrowed a book from the library in their lives. For many, a cheap adaptation of Gilligan's Island or Welcome Back, Kotter might be one of the few books they read in their lives.

Needless to say, there is very little info out there on the author. From what I tracked down in Contemporary Authors, he was born in 1924 in Lincoln, Illinois and wrote his books while living in Massapequa, New York with his wife and five children. He may still be alive today. The only personal quote he offered Contemporary Authors was, "I am interested only in writing entertaining stories and remaining as anonymous as possible."

Of course this makes me more interested in him than ever. I'd love to know how he fell into writing TV adaptations...if it paid the job was fulfilling...and how he felt about his career on the whole. Not every writer is Hemingway or Faulkner. And there's something to be said for writing books directed at those who will appreciate them most -- that is, ardent fans and reluctant readers. In the greater scheme of things, these books may be quite ephemeral...yet they say a lot about popular culture at the time they were written.


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