Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Book Pictures (Not Picture Books)

Yesterday I blogged about collecting coathangers, stickers, bookmarks, and other items given away free to promote children's books.

The keyword in that sentence is "free."

Today I want to talk about a type of collecting that's decidedly not free. In fact, it's downright expensive.

I'm talking about collecting original art from children's books.

I should admit that I have many more novels than picture books in my collection. Given a choice, I'd pick Newbery over Caldecott, RABBIT HILL over THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD, Scieszka over Smith. In fact, my favorite children's book art isn't found in a lushly colored picture book, but rather in the inky, comically expressive black-and-white drawings by Louis Darling that illustrated most of Beverly Cleary's books in the 1950s and 1960s. How I'd love to have one of those illustrations on my wall! One of these days when I need a good rainy-weekend project, I might photocopy a couple of my favorite Darling drawings, stick them in cheap plastic frames, and put them on display.

I just don't have the kind of money necessary to acquire original children's book art. A quick trip around the internet turns up an Ernest Shepard drawing from THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER that costs about the same amount I make each year. There's also a Dr. Seuss watercolor selling for 1.5 times my annual gross salary. We won't even discuss the Maurice Sendak illustrations currently for sale.

There used to be a gallery selling original children's book art in one of our most exclusive suburbs. One Saturday morning I attended an author event at a bookstore in that snobbish suburb and, as I stood waiting to have my books signed, I saw a lady making her way down the line behind me. "If you're interested in children's books," she'd say, handing out a business card to each person in line, "you might like to visit our gallery, which features original artwork by some of today's best illustrators!"

I've always heard that wealthy people can look at other wealthy people and immediately tell whether they're "old money" or "new money." I don't know if that's true or not, but I know from personal experience that they can immediately tell whether you're "MONEY!" or "NO MONEY!" Because when this woman reached my place in line, she gave me a single glance and then made a WIDE circle around me and began working the front of the line. She didn't invite me to visit her gallery. Didn't hand me a business card. I could almost read the thought bubble over her head: "NO MONEY. Probably the type who Xeroxes pictures of Henry Huggins and Beezus, frames them, and calls it art!"

Well, I have to admit I was hurt. But it made me determined to have at least one piece of children's book art in my I went shopping at that great marketplace for the common man -- eBay! Within a week I found a wonderful little illustration of Santa Claus that had originally appeared in a children's book. So what if I didn't know the illustator (Eleanor Dart) or the book (A LITTLE COWBOY'S CHRISTMAS, Wonder Books, 1951)? The price was right (about twenty bucks) and it really is a charming picture.

I actually now own one other piece of original art that I love. I have a copy of Holling Clancy Holling's 1949 Newbery Honor Book SEABIRD in which the author-illustrator has sketched a full-page pencil illustration. When I first saw this book, I assumed it was one of the book's regular illustrations because it was so finely drawn. It took me a while to realize that this page was normally blank (except for the word "SEABIRD" printed on it) and that Holling himself had added this beautifully-detailed beach scene. (You can click on the image for a closer look.) Converting it to jpg in order to post it here has made the picture lose a bit of its subtlety, but looking at in real life, you can practically hear the waves crashing on the rocks and smell the seaweed and saltwater. And I wouldn't trade this drawing -- or the book that contains it -- for any of the fancy illustrations ever displayed at that snooty suburban gallery.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hangin' with Al...Reflecting on Fairest : EPHEMERA

I've always envied those lucky enough to attend conventions held by the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association -- especially when they return home carrying free galleys of upcoming books, promotional giveaways (a box of candy handed out to promote a book with the word "chocolate" in its title; a stuffed animal publicizing a new children's book character), not to mention all the lapel pins and ink pens and postcards and notecards stuffed inside those fabric bags emblazoned with publisher logos which are standard-issue freebies at these conventions.

I'm too far out of the loop to have access to most of these goodies. The few pieces of children's book ephemera I own have either been gifts from friends who DID attend conventions, or things I've purchased off eBay. Two of my eBay wins are pictured above: a coat-hanger promoting Gennifer Choldenko's Newbery Honor Book AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS and a sturdy cardboard box containing a little mirror and an advance reading copy of Gail Carson Levine's FAIREST (her best book since ELLA ENCHANTED.)

I often wonder if anyone is making a concerted effort to save all these promotional materials. After all, the lifespan of ephemera is pretty short. It gets sent to bookstores, where it goes on display (or sits in the backroom) until the next publishing season rolls around and all the old material gets tossed. Or it's given to librarians, who pass out the assorted pens and stickers and bookmarks to their young patrons. Consequently, a piece of ephemera promoting a novel is likely more rare than a first edition copy of the novel itself. So I hope there are at least a f few collectors out there socking this stuff away. It's not only appealing to look at, but it also documents how (and how much) various children's books were promoted and publicized through the years. It's part of the history of children's publishing and well worth preserving.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Newbery on Layaway

Back when I was in my late teens, a small used bookstore opened in a nearby suburb. The narrow front room was filled with hardcover and paperback fiction; the back room was divided into various nonfiction subject areas -- history, philsophy, science. There was also a twisty staircase that led to the “antiquarian books” on the second floor -- an area no bigger than a large walk-in closet. During the summer the second floor was so sweltering that I’d only climb to the top of the stairs, glance at the shelves for new additions (actually old editions), then quickly clatter down the stairs. In the winter, the second floor was so freezing that the books were icy to the touch, but there was something rather comforting about browsing the shelves and listening to wind buffet the sides of the building and throw handfuls of grainy snow at the window.

Though the store was small and unpretentious, I often made some amazing “finds” there: a first edition of the 1954 Newbery winner ...AND NOW MIGUEL for $4.50. A signed first of SECRET OF THE ANDES for $8.00. One day I came across a big orange blocky book called THE PIGTAIL OF AH LEE BEN LOO by John Bennett. Though I’d never seen this volume in either a bookstore or library, I recognized the title as an old Newbery Honor Book. I took it down from the shelf and saw it was published by Longmans, Green in 1928 and the words “FIRST EDITION” were on the copyright page. Poring through the pages, I could see this collection of stories, poems, and plays about caliphs, vizards, and giants was very much dated in both its writing style (“Once onne a tyme there bin a knighte, / Was called Sir Dominoes / Johannes Houven-Gouven- Schnouver / San Domingo Mose -- / A warrior hee of noble bloode / As e’er found funne in fyghte.”) and its old-fashioned silhouette illustrations. Still, I knew it was a valuable part of children’s book history and thought it was my duty to preserve it.

I turned to the front to see what price would be written in pencil on the endpaper.


Or rather:


Okay, nowadays $25.00 isn’t a real lot of money. Even the latest Harry Potter book cost ten dollars more than that. But back then I was grilling McDonald’s hamburgers and earning a paycheck of about thirty dollars a week, so $25 seemed like a thousand dollars to me. I took the book down to the counter, explaining to the store owner that I only had a few dollars in my pocket and asking if I could put $5 down and then bring in $5 every Saturday until I paid it off. She agreed and set the book aside with my name on it.

So for the next four weeks, as winter turned to spring, I flipped hamburger after hamburger, earned dollar after dollar, and returned to the bookstore each Saturday morning with a five dollar bill in hand. I think I finally paid it off on the day before Easter.

Thirty years have passed and that little used bookstore is long gone. Since that time I’ve bought thousands of books, usually spending more than $25 on even the cheapest ones. THE PIGTAIL OF AH LEE BEN LOO will never be my favorite book (it just wasn't funne to read) but it will always have a special place on my bookshelf -- and in my memory -- because I really felt that I EARNED this book as I slowly but surely worked to add it to my collection.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Collectability : THE PEN THAT PA BUILT

Some people make friends at work or at parties or just hanging around the neighborhood. I make friends on eBay. Where else will you find a community of like-minded book collectors selling to each other, buying from each other, and bidding against each other?

Ebay is where I met David Edwards, a book collector from Tucson, Arizona. He had one of the most amazing children's book collections around: Newberys! Caldecotts! First editions! Galleys! Signed books! Ephemera! He also had plenty of great stories about different authors he'd met, book signings he'd attended, and fellow collectors that he knew.

Beyond book collecting, he was also competent at a great many things. I still recall in awe (and horror) how he dissected a snake as a science lesson for his kids. At the time I first met him online, he was also an aspiring writer of children's books.

Then came a time when we lost touch. We both moved away from eBay for a while, e-mail addresses were changed and lost, and though I tried to track him down from time to time, "David Edwards" is not exactly an uncommon name! Then, in a bit of synchronicity, about a month ago I discovered that a new children's book had been written by one David Edwards...and then we ran across each other on eBay a couple weeks later. Of course I immediately asked if I could order a signed copy from him.

It arrived today, wonderfully inscribed, and I'm thrilled to report that it's a great book! THE PEN THAT PA BUILT is a cumulative rhyme describing how a rural, nineteenth-century American family raises sheep, shears their wool, and creates yarn that will be made into a blanket for the latest addition to the family. Told in rhythms similar to "The House that Jack Built" ("This is the wheel that spins out yarn, combed and teased, straight as you please, clipped by the shears, grown by the sheep...who live in the pen that Pa built.") the rousing text begs to be read aloud as it skillfully imparts information and shows how every family member has a role to play in this annual cycle of work.

Ashley Wolff, illustrator of MISS BINDERGARTEN GETS READY FOR KINDERGARTEN, contributes rich color artwork that resembles woodcuts and contains dozen of nice touches, especially in the way she depicts the changing seasons over the course of the story: the tree outside Pa's pen blossoms, bears fruit, and sheds leaves; the kids go barefoot before donning warmer clothes; pumpkins are harvested and ice forms on the animals' water trough.

This slice of Americana will appeal to readers both young and old.

Written by David Edwards
Illustrated by Ashley Wolff
Tricycle Press, 2007

Why the book may become collectable:

It's a classic story that will not grow dated.

It's both informational and entertaining.

Those who collect books on sheep, wool, farms, nineteenth-century America, or rural life will be interested.

Those who collect variants on "The House That Jack Built" will also want a copy.

First edition points:

Copyright page at back of book states "First Tricycle Press printing, 2007" and contains the full sequence of numbers as follows: 1 2 3 4 5 6 -- 12 11 10 09 08 07.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Because of its recent publication date, the book should still be easy to find at this point.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What's the Matter with Kids Today?

I grew up during the golden age of Christmas TV specials.

I can remember the very first time A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS aired on television, as well as RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER; THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS; THE HOMECOMING (precursor to THE WALTONS) and THE HOUSE WITHOUT A CHRISTMAS TREE. So many of these programs became classics and are still shown every holiday season for new generations of kids.

Another holiday favorite from that era was a Jackie Gleason Christmas special in which Gleason, in his "Poor Soul" guise, wandered wordlessly through a world of fairy tales (The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe; Old King Cole; Goldilocks and the Three Bears) which were all performed as dance numbers and culminated in a giant gift-wrapped box opening up to reveal a set of marching wooden soldiers.

A few years ago PBS repeated this incredible program and I videotaped it. I couldn't wait to share the tape with some friends who had two sons about the same age my brother and I were when we first watched this show in the mid-1960s; I felt like I was passing a wonderful gift down from our generation to theirs. The day after dropping off the tape, I called their house, anxious to hear what they thought about it. Their mother answered the phone. "Did the boys watch the tape?" I asked excitedly.

"Oh, they watched a few minutes of it," she said off-handedly.

"What? They didn't like it?"

"Well...I can see why an adult might like it -- for nostalgia," she sneered, "but it's not really for kids today."

Not for kids today? I wanted to crawl into that giant box with the wooden soldiers and pull the gift-wrapped lid over my head.

Can tastes change that much over a couple generations? Can KIDS change that much over a couple generations?

I've been thinking about this lately because of a favorite childhood book, THE MUMMY MARKET. Written by Nancy Brelis and illustrated by Ben Shecter, the book was published by Harper and Row in 1966 (which, come to think of it, was the same year that Jackie Gleason special aired.) THE MUMMY MARKET is the story of the three parentless Martin children -- Elizabeth, Jenny, and Harry -- who live with their housekeeper Mrs. Hinchley -- AKA "The Gloom." When the children have had enough of Hinchley, they visit the thriving garden of their ancient neighbor Mrs. Cavour, who advises them to seek a replacement guardian at the Mummy Market.

"WHY PUT UP WITH AN UNSATISFACTORY MOTHER? COME TO THE MUMMY MARKET AND FIND THE RIGHT ONE FOR YOU" reads the poster outside a venue filled with booths in which various types of mothers (a folksinger, a sophisticate smoking a cigarette in a long holder, etc.) vie to be taken home by children in need of a mom.

In a series of humorous episodes, the Martin kids test out a variety of possible mothers, including a sugary woman devoted to hearth and home ("Why don't you call me Mimsey? Don't you think that's a sweet name?"), a jock addicted to field hockey and camping, and another who wants to analyze the children like psychological subjects ("I think it will be better if you think of me as a friend and don't call me mother.") before finally finding the perfect maternal match in this shimmering summertime fantasy suffused with quiet magic. Nancy Brelis only wrote one book in her career, but it's a small gem that (I WOULD THINK!) should appeal to generations of young readers.

...However, I'm beginning to fear I'm as wrong about THE MUMMY MARKET as I was about Jackie Gleason's choreographed King Cole. The book has been out of print in hardcover for years and even a paperback version (retitled THE MOTHER MARKET, perhaps because the word "mummy" conjures up images of the supernatural and Ancient Egypt) released in the early 1970s is no longer extant. Even a 1994 film version adapted by Brelis's daughter Tia and starring Sissy Spacek multi-playing all of the possible moms, failed to ignite interest in the book.

There are a number of used booksellers who apparently agree with me that this book is a keeper, as they have copies for sale at prices reaching nearly $300. Even paperback copies are listed for a minimum of $40. Yet I don't see those copies selling.

And last week I tried to sell -- for the second time -- a duplicate first edition of THE MUMMY MARKET on eBay. Thinking that it could fetch $100+, I was shocked when bidding stopped at $21.50.

So many of my blog entries end with me saying that I'm confused...and this is yet another one. I'm shocked and confused that what I perceive as a near-perfect novel of the past no longer seems as well-regarded, or as desirable, to readers today. If you can find a copy at a local library, borrow it and share it with a twenty-first century kid. Will they fall in love with it, or sneer "Well...I can see why an adult might like it -- for nostalgia -- but it's not really for kids today."

Written by Nancy Brelis
Illustrated by Ben Shecter
Harper and Row, 1966

Why the book may be collectable:

First and only book by a gifted author.

Well-remembered and well-loved by readers in the 1960s.

First printing points:

Harper first editions are often near-impossible to identify. This book contains no information on the title or copyright page that indicates edition. But the front flap does contain a $3.95 price in the top corner and a date code of 0966 on the bottom.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Copies are available at high prices, though at this point there doesn't seem to be a lot of demand for them. I'm hoping that will someday change.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Phantom Books

Have you read the book FILLET AND GRISTLE by E.L. Konigsburg?


Actually, you may have.

Yesterday I received a comment from Kyra ( who has been seeking the book SHIRLEY CHISHOLM FOR PRESIDENT : THE STORY OF SHIRLEY CHISHOLM by Leonore K. Itzkowitz, reportedly published by Random House in 1974. Kyra added, "I can't locate this book in my usual online places." I began to check around and couldn't find any reference to it either, beyond a somewhat generic listing on OCLC which was input years ago by a large book distributor. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that this book was written and submitted to the publisher, announced for publication, but then somehow never released. It happens. And since the OCLC record remains online, the title occasionally pops up and may be cited in bibliographies even though, to all intents and purposes, the volume does not exist.

I call them phantom books: titles you see listed in bibliographies, mentioned in magazines, and cited in online sources...but can never seem to lay your hands on.

I first encountered this situation when I was a kid. Every couple months our library received a thick, floppy, paperbound volume called FORTHCOMING BOOKS which listed all the titles being released in the months ahead. One day, while looking up my favorite authors in FORTHCOMING BOOKS, I discovered that E.L. Konigsburg was due out with a volume called FILLET AND GRISTLE. For the next several months, I checked the library catalog to see if FILLET AND GRISTLE had arrived. Finally a new Konigsburg did show up, but it was titled ALTOGETHER, ONE AT A TIME. I was delighted by that book, but kept looking for F&G. Finally I realized that sometime within the publication process FILLET AND GRISTLE had been given the new (more appealing and more appetizing) title ALTOGETHER, ONE AT A TIME.

So in many cases a phantom book is merely a volume whose originally-announced title was later changed. I've seen this happen many times. Chris Lynch's first novel was announced as CHIN MUSIC, but published as SHADOW BOXER. Julie Reece Deaver's WATCH OUT FOR THOSE MORTON CABS! became YOU BET YOUR LIFE. Double Newbery Honor author Gary D. Schmidt was scheduled to publish COMING TO KATAHDIN this spring, but its new title is TROUBLE. The only "trouble" is that sometimes these original titles get listed in bibliographies and, like earthbound ghosts, they never quite die.

...Not exactly a phantom, a book that exists under two separate titles is more of a doppelganger -- causing confusion by being in different places at the same time. If you are a fan of Phyllis Anderson Wood's hi-lo novels (or am I the only one left?) you might enjoy her book THE NIGHT SUMMER BEGAN (Scholastic, 1976) so much that you try to track down her earlier novel ANDY (Westminster, 1971) only to discover the two books are one and the same -- just titled differently in hardcover and paperback.

Sometimes phantom books are published -- or nearly published -- then pulled from the market. This was the case with I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT JOHN AND HE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT ME, a picture book "written" by Louise Fitzhugh and illustrated by Lillian Hoban. The book was scheduled for publication by Doubleday in 1993. When advance copies went out to review journals, an astute critic recognized the book had already been published by Harper in 1968 as MY FRIEND JOHN, with the text by Charlotte Zolotow. (Apparently a manuscript copy of the story was found among Louise Fitzhugh's papers after her death and it was assumed she had written it.) In one of my earlier blog entries I discussed the confusion over Cheryl Ware's SEA MONKEY SUMMER (1996) and FLEA CIRCUS SUMMER (1997) which turned out to not be two separate books, but the same story under two different titles due to legal issues involving the use of the term "sea monkey." Most copies with the original title were pulled from the market, though a few survive.

Another type of phantom book is one that's announced for publication...and then nothing happens...sometimes for years. Barbara Shoup's young adult novel STRANDED IN HARMONY was set to be published by Harper in 1986. It was finally Hyperion...ELEVEN years later, in 1997. After publishing groundbreaking books such as THE GOATS (1987) and CELINE (1989), any new novel by Brock Cole is a cause for celebration. As far back as the last century (that is, the mid-1990s) I have been seeing announcements for the imminent publication of a new Brock Cole novel called LOST ABOVE THE TIMBERLINE. It still hasn't appeared. Today I found a website that again lists the book for publication -- in April 2009!

Phantom books can be a cause for confusion and irritation (I'm sure my librarian was irritated when I kept asking for FILLET AND GRISTLE when the only new Konigsburg was ALTOGETHER, ONE AT A TIME) but they can also be intriguing for book collectors. Who knows if the manuscript of SHIRLEY CHISHOLM FOR PRESIDENT is available in some library archive? Or if a few galleys of I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT JOHN are sitting in a used bookshop someplace? Were any advance copies of the Konigsburg printed with the title FILLET AND GRISTLE on the cover? Will LOST ABOVE THE TIMBERLINE ever be found? These are the kind of strange, ghostlike, phantom books that collectors love to discover.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sometimes a Little Knowledge...

Many years ago, when I was new on my job, I was invited to attend a retirement luncheon for one of my co-workers.

The event was held in the banquet room of a local restaurant and, as the afternoon wore on (and the drinks continued to flow) some of the more senior employees began to reminisce about co-workers from the past -- many of whom had retired ten, fifteen or even twenty years earlier.

What happened to this one? "Oh, she's been traveling all over the country since she retired."

What happened to that one? "He moved to California to be near his son."

What about W_____ M______? "She's still in prison." (Followed by nervous laughter. And, yes, this IS a true story!)

Several times during the conversation I heard references to a former employee named T_______ R______. Finally I asked, "What about T______ R______? What happened to her?"

There was a brief sad silence around the table, then someone explained that a few years after she retired, T_______ R_______ had killed herself by driving her car into the Detroit River.


"She was getting old and had a lot of health problems. She was all alone. So one night she drove her car into the River and ended it."

From the moment I heard the story, I never could shake that image from my mind.

Many years passed. I attended many more retirement parties. No longer the "new kid on the block," I could now share my own stories about former employees who had retired and moved on.

A couple years ago I visited the big used bookstore downtown -- four stories of books stuffed into a former factory or warehouse building. While browsing through the fiction section, I came across an elegant old copy of THE BIRDS' CHRISTMAS CAROL by Kate Douglas Wiggin. I opened it up and, scrawled across the front endpaper in childlike printing, was the name T_______ R_______.

I knew T______ R_______ was the same woman who had driven into the river (she had a very uncommon name.) I could imagine her receiving this book, perhaps as a Christmas present, when she was seven or eight years old and laboriously printing her name inside the front cover. I've always liked finding notes and messages in old books. When the writing is in a child's hand, I think about that young life and all the possibilities that lay ahead as he or she scrawled their name across the blank page. I always wonder what happened to that kid, how their life turned out. It's intriguing to ponder -- a mystery story in which we never really know the ending.

But this time, standing in a bookstore just a few blocks from the Detroit River, I knew the ending.

I left the book on the shelf so it could be found by someone else. Someone who might look at T_____ R______'s signature and ponder the possibilities, innocent to how this particular mystery really ended.

Monday, January 21, 2008

These Books Were Starred!

I've always wished I could go to one of Cher's garage sales.

Several years ago I was waiting in line at the grocery store and just happened to pick up a tabloid and just happened to come across a story about Cher having a garage sale --

(Did you notice that no one will ever admit to buying a taboid? They always say they JUST HAPPENED to pick one up in the grocery line and JUST HAPPENED to see an article because they're too embarrassed to admit the truth: they buy them and read them like everybody else. the interest of telling the truth, I'll start over:)

Several years ago I bought a tabloid at the grocery store, then brought it home and read it from cover to cover, just like I always do. One of the articles said that Cher had recently held several garage sales, selling clothes, knick-knacks, and books. I wished I was there, as I would love to see what kind of books Cher reads. I was especially intrigued when the article went on to say that Cher sometimes accidentally left bookmarks in the books she sold...and she was known for using one hundred dollar bills as bookmarks!

Can you imagine?

I never did buy a book from Cher, but I do have two volumes in my collection that belonged to honest-to-goodness stars. The main reason I have them is not because they were once owned by famous performers, but because those performers had some special connection with each book.

Published in 1981, M.E. Kerr's HIM SHE LOVES? concerns the romance between middle-class, gentile Henry Schiller, whose family owns a German restaurant, and a wealthy Jewish girl named Valerie Kissenwiser, whose father is the famous comedian "Al Kiss." No one is better than M.E. Kerr at depicting the clash-of-cultures between the Haves and the Have-Nots and even when her novels are at their most hilarious, there's often a streak of melancholy lurking beneath her wise-cracking prose. That is the case here, as love-besotted Henry finds his romance becoming fodder for Al Kiss's comedy routines. I always imagined Al Kiss to be a comedian along the lines of Alan King. Several months after King's death, I discovered a copy of HIM SHE LOVES? for sale with the following inscription:

M.E. Kerr is not only my favorite writer, but she's also a special friend. So I was able to ask her directly about this inscription. She told me that she was a big fan of Mr. King and had somewhat modeled the characer of Al Kiss after him. She always hoped he'd play that role if a movie was ever made of HIM SHE LOVES?

Another special volume in my collection is A STAR FOR THE LATECOMER by Bonnie Zindel and Paul Zindel, published in 1980. In this novel, sixteen-year-old Brooke has spent her life training hard to be a dancer. The realization that is she's trying to fulfill her mother's dashed dreams of a dancing career instead of pursuing her own goals is further complicated when her mother, Claire, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. My copy of this touching and personal novel is inscribed:

"Shelly" is Shelley Winters, who was a friend of the Zindels and once did a stage production of Paul Zindel's brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning play THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-MOON MARIGOLDS. Those who only remember Shelley from TV's ROSEANNE (or, even worse, BLOODY MAMA on the big screen) may not know her earlier, first-rate work in films. If a movie of A STAR FOR THE LATECOMER had ever been made, and Shelley had played the juicy role of sympathetic stage mother Claire, she might have won her third Academy Award.

As I said, I love these volumes not simply because they were once owned by notable figures, but because of the insight they provide into the creative process, letting us know how M.E. Kerr and the Zindels envisioned their characters as they wrote these fine books.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Misstep between the Towers?

If you are a collector of Caldecott first editions, grab your copy of Mordicai Gerstein's THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS. Does the information on the bottom of your copyright page look EXACTLY like this?

If so, congratulations -- you have a true first edition!

However, I have come across some copies of the book that have confused me. They are the trade edition, with the correct ISBN number, yet the information on the verso reads:

ISBN 0-7613-1791-0 (trade edition)

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

ISBN 0-7613-2868-8 (library edition)

3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

This information indicates that the trade edition is a true first printing, while the library edition is now in its second printing. But how is it possible for a first printing of the TRADE EDITION to have any kind of number changed on the copyright page and still remain a first printing? When the printer stopped the press and removed that number "1" from the second row, wouldn't the rest of the books in that print run by considered second printings? If not, then that means not every first printing of this book is identical; some have the complete number runs listed, while others have a variation in those numbers.

Once again, I'm confused.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Breadsticks and Broomsticks

The recent blog entry on Mary Norton's BED-KNOB AND BROOMSTICK reminded me of one of the more obscure books in my collection. We all know Norton as the author of the aforementioned novel as well as her series about The Borrowers. But it crossed my mind that many of her fans may not be aware of her book THE BREAD AND BUTTER STORIES, which was published some five years after her death.

This volume is composed of short stories and articles that Mary Norton wrote, mainly for American women's magazines in the 1940s and 1950s, in order to put "bread and butter" on the table for her family.

The accompanying photos show the 1998 hardcover and 1999 paperback editions of this title, both published by Virago. Fans of Mary Norton's children's books may be interested in the entry called "Once Upon a Time (Some Random Thoughts on Story-Writing for Children." They will also discover a different aspect of Norton's talent in her stories of middle-aged, middle-class women searching for identity and independence. The introduction, by daughter Ann Brunsdon, provides a fascinating personal view of the author.

Anyone who collects Mary Norton's children's books will want to add this volume to their library.

A Double Shard?

Common sense would dictate that the older a book is, the harder it is to find and the more recent a book is, the easier it is to find.

Yet this isn't always true. Of the eighty-six Newbery winning books, two of the most difficult to find were published within the last decade. Both A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Park and KIRA-KIRA by Cynthia Kadohata were released quite early in the year with fairly small printings. They didn't seem to be on anyone's radar as possible award winners (though in retrospect, I do remember SINGLE SHARD winning a Mock Newbery competition at some point. Why didn't I pay closer attention?) Consequently, the first printings of both these books had already been sold (mostly to the library market) by the time the Newbery Medal was announced the following January, leaving just a few copies floating around to be fought after by book collectors. They can be found, even today, if you are willing to pay between one and three thousand dollars for them. My first car cost less than three thousand dollars.

I was lucky enough to find a first edition of A SINGLE SHARD at my favorite bookstore on Newbery Day and always hoped I'd find another copy which I could re-sell in order to plump up my book-buying fund. A couple years back, I saw a "first edition" of SINGLE SHARD for sale on the internet. I asked the dealer if the volume had the complete numbering sequence (10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1) on the copyright page, indicating a first edition. He said it did, so I immediately purchased it for (can you believe it?) forty-five dollars.

When the book arrived, I was ecstatic. The dustjackets were an exact match (in the picture above, my copy is on the left, the new copy is on the right.) I flipped to the copyright page and was relieved to see the full descending number sequence.

However, I quickly noticed some other differences between the two books. Here are the front flaps of the dustjacket:

In addition to being slightly different in color, my copy had a price at the top of the flap, but the new copy did not. Both, though, had the 301 publication date at the bottom of the flap.

Next I took the jackets off the books and compared them:

As you can see, my copy had a flecked oatmeal-colored binding, with a circular design imprinted in the center; the new copy was a dark color with no design imprint. I then turned the books sideways to compare the spines:

Identical, except for the different colored bindings and the fact that the author's name is a different distance from the top spine end.

Opening the books again, I noticed that my copy had red endpapers, but the new book's endpapers were white. Everything on the title page and copyright page matched in both books, except for one tiny difference. The pagination in both books has a little pen-stroke slash below each page number, like this:

However, my new copy of SINGLE SHARD also had that little pen-stroke on the bottom of the title page!

So...I'm confused.

If I didn't have both copies in front of me I would assume that each was a true first edition. After all, the complete print key on the copyright page of both books indicates this. But there are just enough variables (no price on the second copy; different binding colors; color vs. white endpapers, and that mysterious tilde-like figure on the title page of one volume) for me to know these are two different editions.

My first thought is that my copy is the publishers' trade edition and the second copy is a book club edition...yet if it were a Junior Library Guild volume, wouldn't those words appear SOMEWHERE on the book? On the title page? The spine? The dustjacket flaps?

I'm telling this story in hopes that someone out there in the blogosphere can explain the reason for these two variant editions. I also present it as a warning to other collectors. If the copy with the dark binding and no price on the dustjacket is some kind book club edition, don't even think of spending thousands of dollars for it!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

WANTED : CHILD CARE PROVIDER. Name must begin wIth letter P; some flight experience preferred

When we were growing up, our parents devised a practical division of labor. Our father would pick up old children’s books for us at the Goodwill store near his office, then our mother would read them to us at bedtime. And though I can’t recall ever having a babysitter, I felt like I knew all about them from these books, which included Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and the pre-Disney Mary Poppins.

I also remember listening to the story of Miss Price, the journeyman witch in Mary Norton’s BED-KNOB AND BROOMSTICK. I recently recommended this book to a friend and we got into a discussion of whether the two nouns in the title were singular or plural. As it turns out, the 1957 book is titled BED-KNOB AND BROOMSTICK, but the 1971 movie musical, which starred Angela Lansbury, is called BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS.

This is just one of the oddities surrounding this book, so I figured I’d set down the facts as I know them, in hopes they’d be helpful to book collectors. If I get anything wrong here, maybe someone can jump in and offer any corrections.

Author Mary Norton (1903-1992) was born in England and spent most of her life there, except for a few years during World War II when she came to the United States with her children. It was here that she wrote THE MAGIC BED-KNOB, or, HOW TO BECOME A WITCH IN TEN EASY LESSONS. It was said that she wrote the text mainly to accompany the illustrations of artist Waldo Peirce (sic.) Therefore, Norton’s book was first published not in her native country, but in the United States by Hyperion. It’s an unusual volume: tall, thin, and unpaged, it somewhat resembles a picture book in its dimensions and quantity of color artwork, though there is also plenty of text -- printed in two (offputting) columns of small type per page. My copy, which I believe to be a first edition, has no first edition points beyond the phrase “Copyright 1943 by The Hyperion Press, New York” on the title page. The price on the front flap of the dustjacket is $1.75; the front flap also informs us that the book is 48 pages, with 24 of them in full color. THE MAGIC BED-KNOB was finally published in England in 1945 by J.M. Dent, with illustrations by Joan Kiddell-Monroe. Copies of the American and English editions of this book typically sell in the hundreds of dollars, though they can be found for $75 or so if you’re lucky.

A second book about Miss Price and her young friends, BONFIRES AND BROOMSTICKS, was published by J.M. Dent in 1947 and, to my knowledge, was not published in the United States. In the coming decade, Norton would find success with her Carnegie Award-winning THE BORROWERS and its first follow-up THE BORROWERS AFIELD. At this point her two Miss Price stories were combined in a single volume called BED-KNOB AND BROOMSTICK (though the dustjacket cover on the American edition omits the hyphen) which were published in the United States by Harcourt and in Great Britain by Dent in 1957 -- both editions illustrated by Erik Blegvad. This is the book that most readers know today. First editions can be found for about $100. (Imagine my delight when I discovered the copy my father purchased at the Goodwill store for twenty cents is a true first edition!)

BED-KNOB AND BROOMSTICK was a popular junior novel throughout the sixties and seventies, and I imagine that the movie version continues to draw kids to the book, which appears to still be available in paperback. I wonder if the politically-incorrect illustrations depicting cannibals have been removed or changed in modern editions. Anyone know?

Incidentally, the young adult novel BRAS AND BROOMSTICKS by Sarah Mlynowski (Delacorte, 2005) is not a sequel.

The dustjacket description of THE MAGIC BED-KNOB makes a comparison between Norton’s book and the work of Pamela Travers. It does seem clear that Miss Eglantine Price, while not a babysitter or nanny per se (though she does take care of the Wilson children for an entire summer) is a literary descendent of Travers’ Mary Poppins. She has the pedigree. She’s a realistic character who performs acts of magic. She can fly. And, most importantly, she has a last name that begins with the letter P.

Adults featured in children’s books often have names that begin with P (remember Miss Pickerell and Mrs. Pepperpot?) but this seems to be especially true in books about caregivers with magic abilities. Poppins. Price. Piggle-Wiggle. Pickett. Pudgins. All but Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle can fly. And all are featured in well-remembered books that are constantly sought by book collectors.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was created as series of bedtime stories that Betty MacDonald told her children and grandchildren. MacDonald’s adult books (THE EGG AND I, THE PLAGUE AND I, ANYBODY CAN DO ANYTHING, and ONIONS IN THE STEW) are brilliantly humorous and her children’s books are also amusing. Kids enjoy the over-the-top portraits of naughty children with bad habits, while adults will smile at the nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor that’s directed at sophisticated grown-ups. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle cures kids (of interrupting, of staying up late, of not bathing, etc.) by a variety of methods that seem may alarming to modern sensibilities (usually slipping the kids a mickey or hiding some tonic or concoction in their food or beverage. Imagine!) Many readers think MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE’S FARM is the weakest volume in the series, because it’s the “boring” one in which the kids solve their own issues (i.e. a girl who’s afraid of the dark must get help for the injured Mrs. P-W by venturing outside at night) but it’s actually my favorite because it involves no magic and features kids who empower themselves rather than kids doped into dazed submission by kindly old Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The four books in the series are:

MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE, Lippincott, 1947
MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE’S MAGIC, Lippincott, 1949
MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE’S FARM, Lippincott, 1954
HELLO, MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE, Lippincott, 1957

They can be found in first edition from $50 to $150, with MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE’S FARM usually the most expensive, since it features illustrations by the young Maurice Sendak.

Incidentally, HarperCollins just published HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE, which is said to be written by Betty MacDonald’s daughter and concludes with a story that's said to be written by Betty MacDonald herself before she died...way back in 1958. I’m continually amazed that HarperCollins is able to discover relatives of their best-known authors (Laura Ingalls Wilder...Peggy Betty MacDonald) who have the writing ability that permits them to continue series begun by their late family members. Guess that’s what makes Harper such a $ucce$$ful publi$her!

Miss Pickett, star of THE PECULIAR MISS PICKETT (Winston, 1951) and MISS PICKETT’S SECRET (Winston, 1951) by Nancy R. Julian is another elderly babysitter who can fly. She performs her fantasy feats by staring hard at things through her magic glasses. I remember being enchanted by the first book when I read it as a kid. As an adult...not so much. It seemed slight and derivative. But apparently a lot of other readers love these books, as they are notoriously hard to find...and sell for hundreds of dollars.

Finally, we come to the lone male in our Babysitters Club (Senior Divison.) He's also got the right the intial and knows how to fly (in a bathtub!) He’s MR. PUDGINS by Ruth Christoffer Carlsen. Published by Houghton in 1951 and long out of print, this story of a jolly old babysitter with magical powers seems to be remembered by every adult. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone ask, “I’m trying to find a book I once read where a babysitter makes root beer and grape soda-pop come out of the faucets.” MR. PUDGINS is that book. Because this volume is remembered so fondly by so many, I can’t understand why it hasn’t been brought back into print.

If you own a first edition, you could probably sell it for a mint on eBay.

If you’re looking for a first edition, get in line.

It’s one of those rare books that everyone wants and no one can find.

Like they always say, it’s hard to find a good babysitter.

Quick Collecting Tip

Nowadays it's fairly easy to identify most first edition books, as the majority of publishers utilize a "printers key" on the copyright page.

The printers key is a sequence of numbers that indicate the current printing of that particular volume. Some publishers use ascending numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10), some use a run of descending numbers (10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1) and others use a line of alternating numbers (2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1.) In all these cases, the presence of the number "1" indicates a book is a first printing. When the book moves into a second printing, the "1" is lopped off and "2" will be the lowest number in the line.

Here are some examples:

This ascending sequence of numbers

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

indicates the book is a third printing, as that's the lowest number present.


This descending sequence

10 9 8 7 6 5 4

tells us the book is in its fourth printing.


And in this alternating sequence:

6 8 10 9 7 5

the absence of the numbers 1 through 4 shows us this is a fifth printing.


These numbering systems are fairly standard, but by no means universal. In the past, each publisher often had its own distinctive method of indicating printings. I will showcase some of those in later blog entries.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Growing up with the Newbery

I once read a Shirley Jackson story that had the most perfect ending.

No, not that story.

This was Jackson writing in her jolly-housewife mode (LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES; RAISING DEMONS), recounting her experiences raising four children in a Vermont college town. The story concerned the countdown to Christmas -- the gift-buying, the tree-getting, the present-hiding -- and ends with two of Jackson's children speaking simultaneously. The youngest boy says, "Next Christmas--" while his older sister says, "Last Christmas--"

I thought that moment perfectly captured the holiday spirit, with the youngest and most innocent part of ourselves already looking forward to future Christmases, while our older, wiser selves grow nostalgic for holidays past. I know I feel that way on Christmas.

I even feel that way on "Newbery Day." I always take the day off work, then get up early and sit anxiously in front of computer and telephone, waiting for the big news. Then, when it arrives, I often need to run out ("run" being the operative word, as if a thousand other book collectors and Newbery enthusiasts are snapping at my heels as we rush to locate books we could have bought last April or May if only we'd known, if only we'd known....) I remember one year in particular when I went racing out to find a copy of THE WHIPPING BOY in the middle of a blinding blizzard, car tires skidding, then having to climb through three-foot snow drifts, only to find the bookstore closing early due to the storm. But I pounded on the wooden door with ice-numbed hands and begged to be let in. The storeowner obliged and the copy of THE WHIPPING BOY I found that day still sits on my shelf. It was one of my finest (and most dramatic) moments in book-collecting.

By the end of Newbery Day, all the drama is over. I sit and think about the winning titles, dwelling on what good or bad choices they were. And I'm like those kids in Shirley Jackson's story, already thinking about "Next Newbery Day" and nostalgically remembering "Last Newbery Day."

At this point in my life, there are a LOT of Last Newbery Days to look back on. I'm not sure when the Newbery Award first drew my attention, though I do remember seeing that shiny gold seal on copies of SHADOW OF A BULL, I, JUAN DE PAREJA, and UP A ROAD SLOWLY in my grade school library...but they all looked...boring. (Years later I read them all and learned that two of them actually weren't boring.) Then came the day the school librarian held up FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER and her booktalk of the latest Newbery winner was so appealing that every kid in the class was literally sitting on the edge of their seat, waiting to run and grab the book. When the librarian told us we could get up to select a book, thirty kids all ran toward the K shelf (maybe that's where the feeling of others snapping at my heels first started) but of course someone got there before me. What a bummer. But I did have one secret weapon at my disposal: I was a frequent user of the public library. So that day after school I walked to the public library in the rain, checked out their copy of THE MIXED-UP FILES and have continued to read and love every subsquent Konigsburg book -- and every Newbery book! -- since then.

My favorite Newbery years were the early 1970s. A lot of people today believe that the selection of the award has always been a very secret, cloistered process, with no one outside the committee having any idea what books are being considered. This was not always true. For about four years in the early 1970s, the American Library Association decided to try an experiment, publishing lists of all the books "nominated" for the Newbery and Caldecott awards. Don't believe me? Go look at old issues of School Library Journal and Horn Book from about 1972 through 1975. You'll find the lists there.

I can't tell you how exciting it was to pore over these lists every year, trying to track down as many titles as I could. I'd call the Main Library downtown (which got new books months before the branch libraries) and ask them to send certain books to my local library. (After a while the librarians at the Main Library would sigh, "Hello Peter," as soon as they heard my voice on the phone.) My world kept getting bigger and bigger, as I'd get on my bike and ride to other library branches two or three miles farther away than I'd ever gone before. Or I'd ask my parents to drive me to suburban libraries and get a guest card so I could check out other "Newbery nominees."

The world of books got bigger for me as well. The titles on these lists ranged from picture books (ever heard of HENRIETTA, THE WILD WOMAN OF BORNEO?) to nonfiction (can you imagine a book called FROGS, TOADS, SALAMANDERS, AND HOW THEY REPRODUCE wearing a gold sticker on the cover? It was nominated.) to adult books with young protagonists (LIFE IS A LONELY PLACE; IN A BLUEBIRD'S EYE.) Many of the books on these lists are long forgotten (except, perhaps, by me) while others are still read and loved today. The lists of "Newbery nominees" introduced me to authors such as Ellen Raskin, William Sleator, and M.E. Kerr (who instantly became my favorite author and, many books and many years later, became my friend.)

I guess the American Library Association decided that this "experiment" didn't work because, after the mid-seventies, they quit printing lists of Newbery nominees. It might not have worked for them, but it was a total success for me -- instilling an even deeper love of books and expanding my horizons in many ways. I wish the ALA would repeat this experiment in this new century. I can see classes getting involved in reading all the nominated titles, developing their critical reading skills and becoming enthused about books. I can see discussion groups on the internet debating the merits of the nominations. I can see increased book sales and library circulation. I really see no downside to such an experiment.

These are my memories about past Newbery Days and my hope for future Newbery Days.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Collectability : THE WILD GIRLS

As I type this entry there is a battle of the books going on at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Convention in Philadelphia, where members of the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Siebert committees are locked away making their selections.

Conventional wisdom (or at least Midwinter Convention-al wisdom) would have us believe that Gary D. Schmidt’s THE WEDNESDAY WARS and Christopher Paul Curtis’s ELIJAH OF BUXTON are facing off for the gold medal this weekend. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in a lifetime of studying the Newbery it’s...expect the unexpected.

It wouldn’t surprised in the least if, when all is said and done, NEITHER of these titles makes the final list and the winner is something I’ve never even considered. It’s happened before.

Right now my bookstore friend and I are trying to send out “positive energy” about our favorite book, hoping it will float from the midwest to Philly and subconsciously influence the Newbery voters. While I’m at it, I think I’m going to send out some positive vibes for THE WILD GIRLS by Pat Murphy (Viking, 2007) in hopes that it can pick up a Newbery Honor. Even without that silver seal, I think this book may find a devoted audience.

Set in 1972, THE WILD GIRLS is narrated by twelve-year-old Joan, newly transplanted from Connecticut to California, where she meets an offbeat girl named Sarah, who prefers to be known as “Fox.” The story gets off to a slightly slow start (ever since Harry Potter, every children’s book seems to be about 50 pages too long and every young adult novel about 100 pages too long) but hits its stride when the two girls win a writing contest and present their story in front of an audience (“We are the wild girls who live in the woods. You are afraid of us. You are afraid because you don’t know what we might do.”) wearing empowering war paint to enhance their courage.

Self-empowerment is one of the themes of this novel. Both girls find their own strength (and support each other) in facing up to parental challenges (Joan’s parents are on the verge of splitting up and Sarah’s mother returns several years after abandoning her) and in taking a summer writing class for kids at the University of California. One of the most appealing aspects of the novel is seeing how the girls apply the lessons they learn in writing class ("Ask questions." "Listen to what people are saying, but figure out what they aren't saying.") to their real-life situations to gain insight and understanding of themeselves and their families.

Why THE WILD GIRLS may become collectable:

It’s the breakthrough children’s book by a noted adult science fiction writer.

Books about writing and storytelling are big with book collectors.

The dustjacket is decidedly different than the now-standard "stock-photo on glossy paper" sported by most books. This one features an arresting color illustration by Gina Triplett on rough paper that gives the book a “classic” appearance.

First printing points:

The" first printing is indicated by the number “1” appearing in this configuration on the copyright page:

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Difficulty in finding first editions:

At this point there should be no problem at all finding a first edition in bookstores. That could change if the book picks up an award or develops a cult following among aspiring young writers. Also, books of this type often end up selling their first printings mostly to libraries, so the number of copies available to individual customers can become limited. (This is why first editions of books such as A SINGLE SHARD or KIRA-KIRA are so hard to find these days; most of their first printings ended up in libraries.) So why not pick up a copy now just to be on the safe side?


The picture on top shows the first edition of THE FAR SIDE OF EVIL, which was written by Sylvia Louise Engdahl and published by Atheneum in 1971. The illustration below is a later edition of the same novel, published by Walker in 2003. One of my favorite books, this penetrating and thought-provoking novel experienced more than just cosmetic dustjacket changes in the three decades between editions. On her website, Ms. Engdahl discusses the 2003 Walker publication: "This edition has been revised to update its statements about the Critical Stage, the stage of evolution at which a species is ready to begin expanding into space. It is much more timely and convincing than the original 1971 edition, although the action of the story hasn't been changed--so old copies should be discarded."

Discard old copies? Not on your life, Ms. Engdahl!

Most book collectors will want to have both copies in their library in order to document the changes that occured between editions. We want to see how the author's thinking has developed over the years, and will examine it page by page and word by word to see if these alterations have had a positive or negative affect on the novel.

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote about Maia Wojciechowska's anger that her editor added the word "companionable" on the last page of her Newbery winner SHADOW OF A BULL. In fact, Wojciechowska was known for erasing or crossing the word out every time she happened upon a copy of her novel. Finally, after many years and many complaints, as well as the threat of a lawsuit, the publisher removed that word from later editions of the book.

Unless an author labels a book "updated," as Engdahl does, or publicly complains about the situation a lot, as Wojciechowska did, it's unlikely that most of us would be aware of the many minor and major changes that can occur between printings of a book. I have stumbled on a handful myself over the years.

In E.L. Konisburg's wonderful first book, JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY, AND ME, ELIZABETH, the protagonist appears in a school production and recognizes her friend's mom in the audience because "she was the only Negro mother there." That's what the book said upon publication in 1967. A few years later I came across a later printing and the wording had beeen changed to "she was the only black mother there." I haven't seen a recent copy, but I wonder if it's now been changed from "black" to "African American." (Incidentally, other than the illustrations, which clearly show Jennifer to black, the book's altered line is the only instance in the book where Jennifer's race is mentioned.)

Published in 1969, Konigsburg's humorous baseball-team novel, ABOUT THE B'NAI BAGELS, features an adolescent boy who has an interest in Playgirl Magazine. Clearly, Konigsburg is parodying Hugh Hefner's famous "Entertainment for Men" publication, though she gives it a different name. However, a few years later a magazine called Playgirl did come into being and this one called itself "Entertainment for Women." Obviously this would change the intentions of Konigsburg's protagonist, so in later editions of ABOUT THE B'NAI BAGELS, the name of the magazine was changed to Playboy.

In 1996, Cheryl Ware published an amusing epistolary novel called SEA MONKEY SUMMER. When her book FLEA CIRCUS SUMMER was released the following year, I assumed it was a sequel..but it turned out to be the same book under a new title. I later heard that all the copies published under the original title were withdrawn from the market, and can only assume that perhaps the term "sea monkeys" is trademarked or copyrighted and can't be used by just anyone.

Over the years, many well-known children's books have undergone alterations because they are no longer deemed politically correct. In Hugh Lofting's Dr. Dolittle books, Polynesia, the talking parrot who probably seemed quite charming in the 1920s is now recognized as a dirty bird who freely uses racial epithets -- and Lofting's ilustrations of black characters are grotesque caricatures. These components have been changed in later editions of the books. I have also heard (though I cannot document this one personally) that some of the original illustrations in Maud and Miska Petersham's Caldecott winning picture book, THE ROOSTER CROWS, have been called racially insensitive and were replaced in later editions. Changing a book's text or illustrations to reflect modern sensibilities is a double-edged sword. If emendations are made to represent modern values, the book may stray too far from the author's original intent and vision. Yet if these changes are not made, the book might not be allowed in libraries or sold in bookstores.

Of course there are also times that a book is changed not because it's wrong-headed, but just because it's simply WRONG. Genevieve Foster was one of the twentieth century's premiere writers of children's histories. She garnered four Newbery Honors throughout her career, starting with GEORGE WASHINGTON'S WORLD:

However, just a few pages into that mammoth volume, she made a rather significant error on this page. Click on the image below to get a better view:

Did you figure it out? This page was immediately corrected and the mistake did not occur in later editions.

What changes have you noticed or heard about in children's books over the years? Feel free to share them here!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Two Phrases Collectors Hate. Usually.

First there's the thrill of discovering the book you want listed in a catalog or on an internet site. Correct title! Correct author! First edition! Then your eyes light on a phrase that changes everything. Sometimes the phrase is "ex-lib," meaning the book being offered once belonged to a library and is now probably inked all over with library stamps and contains torn remnants of a pocket and date due slip. Other times the phrase is "book club edition," meaning it was mass produced on cheap paper and doesn't have the distinctive elements that one associates with a true first edition. You close the catalog or log off the internet site because no self-respecting book collector is interested in "ex lib" volumes or "book club" printings. Usually.

A friend recently asked if I had any ex-lib books in my collection. I started to say, "No way!" then remembered that I have at least two -- the 1935 Newbery Medal winner DOBRY by Monica Shannon and the 1962 Newbery winner THE BRONZE BOW by Elizabeth George Speare. Even though I now own true first editions of both titles, I still keep these duplicate ex-lib copies on my shelves. They're nothing much to look at. Both have been rebound. Both have pockets glued to the endpapers. Yet I keep these volumes because they are IDENTICAL to the copies that I used to check out of the local library again and again when I was a kid. Just seeing the colors of these bindings (DOBRY's grayish-turquoise, THE BRONZE BOW's creamy blue) takes me back thirty years, as does touching the thick woven endpapers and covers, which are always slightly cold and feel rough yet glossy. The books have no real value (I think I bought them for twenty-five cents each) but they are as important to my collection as any hundred dollar book because of the sensory, tactile memories they provide.

I also have a few book club editions in my collection. The Peoples Book Club published an edition of Mary Stolz's READY OR NOT that I keep mainly because of Victor Olsen's endpaper illustration. I'm sure the original Harper edition of this novel did not include illustrated endpapers and I appreciate that fact that the book club made this extra effort. I love the winter-in-the-city setting, with the snow coming down, the Christmas tree slung over the teenage boy's shoulder, the pensive expression of the teenage girl, and the openiness in the younger boy's face. Wish I had a copy of this picture to frame.

And here's another book club volume I own: THE WIDER HEART by Norma Johnston. I actually love most of Johnston's later books ("The Keeping Days" series, etc.) but her earlier work tends to be...well, awfully...prissy. This one is no exception, starting with the heart design on the cover, the fact that the heroine calls her mother "Mimsy," and that it was published by the "Best Loved Girls' Books" book club!

So why do I keep it on my shelves?

Because I can't separate this mellifluous, muliebral book with the folded note I found tucked inside it after I brought it home from a used booksale. Please click on the picture to enlarge the image:

I've owned this book for a good ten years, and still can't stop thinking about Pam, whose tale is potentionally more dramatic than the story found within the pages of Johnston's novel. Did she actually run away? Did she take THE WIDER HEART with her on the lam, or leave it behind with the note inside for Mr. and Mrs. Mack to find? How long did she "survive" on her $41...and did she ever return home?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Encyclopedia Brown and the Mystery of the Newbery Medal

Over the next couple days the Newbery Award committee will meet in Philadelphia to begin the mysterious process of picking the next winner. I use the word “mysterious” because, even though the names of all the committee members are known and the rules for selecting the prize book are clearly stated, the entire process is swathed in secrecy and mystery. So we will never know what titles were on the shortlist of possible winners. Or if our favorite book almost made the cut or wasn’t even considered. Or whether the final selection was a slam-dunk or a compromise choice. These are the mysteries I ponder every year when the winning book is announced.

There are also a few historical mysteries connected with the Newbery and I wish some literary-minded Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew would find a way to crack them.

Here are the top three:

1) The Mysteriously Missing Honor Books.

Every year the Newbery committee picks a winner and some Honor Books. Originally called “runners-up” (the name was changed in the early 1970s), there can be one or more Honors. On at least two different occasions there were eight Honor Books! (The more the merrier, in my opinion.) But there have also been three years, early in the history of the awards, when there is no record of which Honor Books were selected. It’s odd, because the Honor Books were duly noted in 1922, the first year the award was given. But there is no record of the Honor Books for the following year when THE VOYAGES OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE won, or the next year when THE DARK FRIGATE claimed the gold medal. We do know the Honor Books for the following two years, 1925 and 1926, but someone dropped the ball again in 1927 and there is no record of the runners-up to SMOKY, THE COWHORSE. I find it frustrating beyond belief that there are a handful of Newbery Honors out there, languishing on dusty library shelves, that we know nothing about. Not that they’d be particularly popular if we did know their names today (when was the last time anyone read the 1922 Honors CEDRIC THE FORESTER or THE OLD TOBACCO SHOP?) But would be nice to see them acknowledged -- even at this late date. I wish I’d made some attempt to solve this mystery when I was younger. Even in the 1970s and 1980s there might have been a few librarians alive who served on those early committees, but it’s now too late to get any firsthand information. Dead librarians tell no tales. The best we can hope for is that some old notebook or sheet of paper containing this information will turn up some day. Imagine someone buying an old library desk from an antique store, then getting it home and finding it once belonged to the American Library Association and one of the drawers contains a scrap of paper with the 1923 runners-up jotted on it. What a dream. And what a nightmare if the person who finds it knows nothing about the Newbery and just flips it over and writes their grocery list on the back.

2) What are the 1933 Honor Books?

According to the list presented in NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT MEDAL BOOKS : 1956-1965, edited by Lee Kingman and published by the Horn Book in 1965, there were three Honors that year:

SWIFT RIVERS by Cornelia Meigs

But wait. Another major reference volume, A HISTORY OF THE NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT MEDALS by Irene Smith, published by Viking in 1957, gives us an entirely different slate of Honors:

HEPATICA HAWKS by Rachel Field
ROMANTIC REBEL by Hildegarde Hawthorne
AUNTIE by Maud and Miska Petersham
TIRRA-LIRRA by Laura E. Richards

There isn’t even an overlap between these lists. Which one’s correct and which one’s wrong? Kingman’s list seems to be the most accepted and has been reprinted in many different reference books over the years, but Smith’s 1933 Honors have been reprinted in some subsequent reference volumes as well, giving us a case of dueling Honor books and a mystery that should be answered definitively at some point. Incidentally, here's a little mystery within a mystery: there actually isn't any book named AUNTIE by the Petershams, though they did write one named AUNTIE AND CELIA JANE AND MIKI.

3) The Newbery Honor That Wasn’t.

WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM was written by Vera and Bill Cleaver and published by Lippincott in 1969. Certainly one of the high points of their amazing literary career (and why aren’t the Cleavers’ books read as much today as they were a few years ago? They seem timeless to me. But I digress....) I think I can state unequivocally that, as much as it deserved an award, WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM was not honored with a Newbery. And yet...and yet...this book is frequently referred to as a Newbery Honor Book. It was even billed this way in the film adaptation of the novel -- on all the advertising and right there in the opening credits, “Based on the Newbery Award Winning Honor Book.....” Sorry the picture below is blurry, but if you click on the image, you can see that the poster mentions the Newbery.

I’m sure there are many more mysteries associated with the Newbery. If you know of any...or know the answers to any of the puzzles I’ve just related, please post the solutions here. Though I suspect that, for most of us, the biggest Newbery history remains, "How in the world did...(insert title of your personal least-favorite winner here)...ever win the Newbery?"

Thursday, January 10, 2008


You really CAN'T judge a book by its cover.

There's a volume on my shelf whose spine says TOMMY AT THE GROCERY STORE. That's the title of a picture book written by Bill Grossman and illustrated by Victoria Chess. However, if you take the volume off the shelf you will see that it's not really TOMMY AT THE GROCERY STORE at all. Someone has altered the pages to create a brand new book called BILLY'S RISE TO POWER. For the most part, the illustrations remain the same, but a new rhyming text has been taped over TOMMY's words. This new story parodies the career of William Morris, the library promotions director at HarperCollins, and was presented to him when he retired from the company. Inside are a few loose Polaroids of Bill Morris at his retirement party, including one of him cutting the cake:

I never met Bill Morris, but have heard nothing but wonderful things about him. At the time of his death in 2003, several trade journals published tributes to Mr. Morris and his infectious enthusiasm for children's books. He sounds like one-of-a-kind and I'm so glad to have this one-of-a-kind book honoring the man and his career.

How did I come to own it? Shortly after Mr. Morris's death, much of his personal library was sold by an auction house in New York. I knew nothing about this at the time, but learned about it later. From what I understand, boxes of books were sold in random "lots." There was great interest in his collection of titles by Maurice Sendak, but most of the other lots sold for very reasonable prices. Soon individual books began to turn up at New York bookstores, selling for $30-$60 a piece. I'm all about preserving the history of children's books, so made it a mission to collect as many of these books as I could find. Thus I have books signed to Mr. Morris by Jennifer Holm, Jean Craighead George, Bruce Brooks ("For Bill -- Always the reader (and friend) I like most to please"), Francesca Lia Block, Walter Dean Myers, and dedication copies of books by Laurence Yep and Pam Conrad/Brian Selznick. I have no idea where the rest of his collection went (I heard a rumor that some of his books ended up at a thrift store) but I always keep an eye out for other volumes that may have belonged to him. While my favorite remains the one-of-a-kind BILLY'S RISE TO POWER, I also have a soft spot for IN THE FOREST OF YOUR REMEMBRANCE, a collection of Bible retellings by Gloria Jean Pinkney and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Signed by both (and with a drawing by Mr. Pinkney), it's poignantly inscribed "Dear Bill, Miracles are given everyday." It's dated September 5, 2003, just days before his death, and may well be the last book he ever received as a gift.

My collection of Bill Morris books feels like something of a gift to me as well. I don't really feel like I'm the "owner" of these books. I prefer to think that I'm their "caretaker," holding these books and preserving this part of literary history, until they -- like the rest of my personal collection -- are eventually passed on to a library where they can be shared with writers, researchers, librarians, and others interested in the history of children's books.