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.


Anonymous said...

Someone from Harper once told me that the only way to identify a first edition is to compare the price and the code (0966) with Horn Book citations, with the 0966 representing month and year of publication. If they all match up, it's a first edition. (That's assuming, of course, you have the original dust jacket.)

Anonymous said...

I remember reading and loving this also - but my alltime favorite was THE MAD SCIENTIST CLUB (The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake)by Bertrand R. Brinley, a series about kids creating havoc out-of-doors - another dustbin relic. I just noticed his son is keeping the flame alive at MAD SCIENTIST CLUB

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Worththetrip: Harper is absolutely screwy when it comes to identifying first editions! I think you're right about how to identify MOST Harper firsts, but there are also strange exceptions. For example, Meindert DeJong had two Newbery Honors in the same year. HURRY HOME, CANDY can only be identified by the method you suggest, but SHADRACH actually has the words "First edition" on the title page. SOUNDER has first edition numbers in the BACK of the book, for some reason.

Cary: When I was a kid, the public libraries steered clear of "series" books, so I don't recall reading the MAD SCIENTIST CLUB. I'll have to look into them.

Incidentally, I had an idea about MUMMY MARKET after writing this blog entry yesterday. Maybe the reason the book seemed so unique in the sixties is that almost every kid just had one mother and the idea of getting a new one seemed very strange. But nowadays, with divorce so prevalent, many kids do experience various parenting styles as they grow up -- dealing with stepmothers, stepfathers, revolving door parental-girlfriends, etc. So the concept is no longer foreign....

Sarah said...

I found your blog and this post, by accident, while looking for a newer copy of "The Mummy (Mother)Market." My Grandmother bought me my copy at a used book store when I was a little girl. This book is one of my favorites. My children love it, but our copy is falling apart. I would love to be able to purchase a copy for $60+, but with 4 kids in the house I think I had better put food on the table. Right now I am making myself content with my well taped copy, but I will eventually have to purchase another one as I plan on reading this one to my grandchildren in about 20 years.

Laura said...

This doesn't have to do with a book, but I have been looking everywhere for a copy of the Jackie Gleason Christmas special you talk about. Do you have a copy of it for sale or know where I can get one?

Anonymous said...

A timeless calssic in my humble opinion is Conrad's Castle by ben Shecter published by Harper Collins. This book so masterfully illustrated and written by Mr. Shecter celebrates individuality and creativity when confronted with peer pressure. A must read and reread for all ages.

Anonymous said...

Dittos on The Mummy Market! I, too,checked out this book over and over from my elementary school library when I was a kid. I just remembered it the other day - the title just came as a random thought.( I hate that about getting older!) Another fav of mine was The Curious Clubhouse, which I've found available on ebay in paperback. I'm looking for a copy of The Mummy Market and I don't want to pay $60+ for it. I think my grandkids would love it. If anyone has it....

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembers The Mummy Market, which I owned as a kid in the 1970s and read and re-read many times. It was unflinching about the dark thoughts children have about mothers while still offering a happy ending. I am going to hunt down a copy.

--Young Adult Fan

Anonymous said...

I LOVED The Mummy Market - so much that I broke down and photocopied it from the library when I realized how expensive a hard copy was. I know...I know...but I just can't shell out $55+ for it! I'm heading to the library with my 4 y/o tonight, to see if they have it, and I'm definitely checking it out.

Rosie in Vancouver, WA said...

I have had this on my "to buy" booklist forever. As others have found, it is quite expensive to buy, even used. I am half-tempted to check it out from a library somewhere (ours doesn't have a copy, can you believe it?!) and photocopy it as one reader suggested. I know, totally illegal. And, I think you are right that many kids are desensitized to the displacement or loss of a parent because getting a "new" parent is very common in our society these days. Thanks for your comments and reflections about this "near perfect" book.

Anonymous said...

I have been on a search for The Mummy Market for years. I had no idea that others love this book as dearly as I did as a child. I checked this book out of the school library every chance I got. I am still in search of it, though I too have to feed my family and cannot afford the steep prices being asked. I can still remember what that book looked like. I'm so glad that there are other people who enjoyed this book as much as I did.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved this book as a kid growing up. However, I feel the same way that several others do, in that I do not have the extra $60-$200 plus dollars to buy it. My kids are older but would definately share the book with them. I agree that kids today are different. I was excited to share The Wizard of Oz with my youngest but it only lastest 20 mins into the movie and she was bored.

Anonymous said...

This was one of my all time favorite reads as a child. I have searched off and on over the years and even went to the reference department of my library where I could find no information. I was absolutely delighted to find so many other enthusiasts online. I may drop a few hints to my husband and see if he will pick up on my leads and surprise me with this wonderful tale. What a romantic gift it would be.

Anonymous said...

I too loved this book as a child and read it many times. I was wondering whether it would be possible to find a copy to read to my son when I stumbled across this copycat version published just last year:
"The Mommy Store,"
Caroline Bryan (Author)
Rich Sigberman
Product Description
"If you could pick out any kind of Mommy, which one would you pick? In this delightful story you are invited to come along with Oliver as he takes a few trips to The Mommy Store to pick out the perfect Mommy. The job of picking a Mommy is hard work, and Oliver soon discovers it is not easy to find just the right one. Luckily for Oliver, The Mommy Store has a liberal return policy! Through a process of trial and error, Oliver learns that what you wish for and what you really need can be two very different things. The Mommy Store is a classic fable that people of all ages will enjoy reading again and again."

I was surprised to find it....and disappointed in how difficult it is to find the original. Although gratified that it has so many fans! Thanks for the blog!

Hilary said...

Just ran across your blog ... I recently managed to get "The Mummy Market" from the library and read it to my kids, ages 8 and 11, who both LOVED it. I was so thrilled that it held up, and am so baffled that it's out of print.

buy jeans said...

The permanence of the internet makes this kind of joke even more amusing. I just saw this today, and it wasn't until the photo was MENTIONED in the post that I looked at it closely and scrolled back up to the date to see if it was an AF.

beachglass said...

We still have a hardback of The Mummy Market in our family, from my childhood - one of my favorite books in memory. I just read it to my 7-year-old daughter in almost one sitting today, and am delighted to say that she loved it unequivocally. But then I've inculcated her with my old books since she was tiny, so maybe great books feel great and not just "nostalgic"...