Sunday, August 31, 2008

Brunch for Labor Day Weekend

This three-day holiday weekend includes the last day of August and the first day of September. I’ve always thought of September first as the beginning of a new year, probably because this is when school starts up again. Today’s Sunday brunch entry includes odds and ends about starting kindergarten and going to reform school (talk about the opposite ends of a spectrum!) as well as hurricanes, crayons, scarecrows, and other random opinions and information on children’s books old and new.


My “stat counter” allows me to see what keywords people use on their way to finding this blog. Lately a lot of people have come looking for books on the first day of school. I'm assuming that’s a subject tackled mostly in picture books -- and picture books have never been my specialty. If anyone has any picture book suggestions on this topic, please include them in the comment section below.

Personally, the first day of kindergarten was very traumatic for me. I was very anxious to start school and remember getting dressed up in brand new clothes and going out the front door firmly clutching my “record” (a manilla envelope containing parental info, medical forms, and whatever else you had to present on your first day of kindergarten.) My mother took a movie of me stepping off the porch and heading down the walkway to the street. Then she accompanied me across the street (reminding me to “stop, look, and listen before you cross the street”) and around the block, then across another street (“stop, look, and etc., etc.”) to Horace Mann Elementary School.

It was the perfect autumn day -- bright but sunny, with the first hint of autumn in the cool breeze and just-starting-to-change-color leaves. I wanted to run right up to the big wooden school doors and rush inside, but my mother had to film me walking slowly up the concrete path and standing next to the fence, waiting for the school bell to ring.

We still have the movie.

This scene starts with me proudly grinning and holding my manilla record, the first in line for the first day of school!

After a couple minutes, my smile starts to fade a bit. ...Where are the other kids?

A couple minutes later I’m looking worried. Where is everyone? Why is the building dark inside? Why hasn’t the bell rung?

That’s around the time we figured out that we’d come on the wrong day.

Can you imagine what a letdown that was? Especially for an excited four-year-old? I didn’t learn to spell the word “traumatic” until sixth grade. But I learned what it MEANT before I even started kindergarten.

My brother’s first day of school was equally traumatic. My mother knew what day school started (she wasn’t going to make THAT mistake again) but she wasn’t prepared for my brother refusing to wear the brand new clothes she’d laid out for him AND refusing to carry his manilla record. He decided he was going to wear what HE wanted to wear and carry a PHONOGRAPH record to school. ...Fortunately, by the time he got to school and saw all the other kids carrying their manilla folders, he got scared and was more than willing to trade his 45 RPM single for the manilla envelope our mother had in her purse.

I guess starting school is traumatic for every kid in his or her own way. Remember Ramona Quimby’s first day of school in RAMONA THE PEST by Beverly Cleary (1968)? When her kindergarten teacher Miss Binney tells her to sit at a certain table “for the present,” Ramona refuses to budge because she’s waiting for her present. ... And then there’s that confusing song they have to sing about “the dawner lee light.” Ramona decides that a “dawner” is some kind of lamp that gives off “lee light” -- whatever THAT is!

The whole book is great, but there are two brilliant touches that I’ve never heard anyone mention with regard to RAMONA THE PEST. One is that Ramona’s classmate Davy is clearly dyslexic, though that term is never used in the book. The other is the name of the kindergarten teacher, Miss Binney. Up until very recently Crayola Crayons were manufactured by the Binney-Smith Company and that name was on every box (possibly on ever single crayon) so it’s a word that kindergarteners would know or at least recognize when they read about Ramona.


As I write this blog entry, Hurricane Gustav is in the Gulf of Mexico and heading toward Lousiana. No one knows yet if this is a hurricane to equal Katrina or whether it will fade to a Category 1 or 2 before it makes landfall. Will Gustav find its way into a children’s or young adult book someday?

Katrina has appeared in a couple YA novels, starting with SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER by M.E. Kerr. Katrina’s approach is mentioned in the final couple pages of Kerr’s book and is used to tie to together one of the book’s themes in a brilliant fashion. And now there’s a new young-adult novel about that storm by Paul Volponi called HURRICANE SONG:

I haven’t read Volponi’s book yet, but I did read this new release by Terry Trueman, which has a similar title and cover image:

However, Trueman’s book concerns Hurricane Mitch, which hit Honduras in 1998. I wasn’t wildly impressed with this novel, finding it somewhat rushed and businesslike instead of emotionally involving. As books go, it’s the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane -- rather weak.

Incidentally, even though Mr. Trueman is American and most of his books have been originally published in the States by Harper, HURRICANE is a rewritten edition of the author’s book SWALLOWING THE SUN, which was published in Great Britain in 2003. I wonder how that happened.


If you’ve been hearing lots of buzz about Suzanne Collins’s new novel, THE HUNGER GAMES, I’m happy to report that the book has finally hit the stores. Sure to be one of the most-talked about novels of the year (some love it, some hate it), it’s already on its way to the bestseller lists. A number of knowledgable people have told me they think THE HUNGER GAMES will be a major contender for this year’s book awards too. So why be late to the party? Get your copy now!

Incidentally, I had to laugh when I saw the book’s dedication. THE HUNGER GAMES, one of the darkest and most violent children’s books of recent years, is dedicated to James Proimos, author JOHNNY MUTTON and other volumes which happen to be among the sunniest and funniest children’s books of recent years. Talk about strange bedfellows.


Speaking of James Proimos, every time I see that animated TV commercial for Soyjoy in which a woman eats a soy bar and begins jumping rope, I’ve wondered if he didn’t do the artwork. The style looks very similar to his.

Today I did some research and discovered the artist who did the Soyjoy commercial is named Roman Klonek. He’s definitely got a style compatible with today’s children’s books. Some smart and savvy editor should track him down to illustrate a picture book. Then send a 10% “finder’s fee” to me at


Yesterday I was listening to a CD of the 1968 Broadway musical, GEORGE M! (which starred Joel Grey and a young Bernadette Peters) and noted that one of the writers was “Fran Pascal” who later became even more famous as Francine Pascal, the author of “Sweet Valley High” paperback series, which sold upwards of 150 million copies.

I wonder what she found more exciting -- the opening night of her first Broadway play or holding the first copy of her book?

And which award would she rather have won -- a Tony or a Newbery?

I’ve actually touched both awards (Angela Lansbury’s Tony and Joan Blos’s Newbery) and BOTH events were exciting!


I’m currently reading LOVE & LIES : MARISOL’S STORY by Ellen Wittlinger, a sequel to HARD LOVE, which was an Honor Book for the very first Printz Award. In this book, the protagonist, Marisol, is attempting to write her first novel. One of the passages she writes seemed particularly apt for a book collecting blog. In the story, a girl goes into a bookstore that is soon to close. She asks the owner what will happen to all the books.

“I’ll put them into storage and sell them online,” she said. “Most people want to shop that way now, anyway.”

Christina made a face. “They do? You can’t make a surprise discovery online! You can’t see if someone has written notes on the pages! You can’t find the book you wanted fallen on the floor between the bookcases! Where’s the joy?”

The cashier smiled at Christina. “That’s true, but most people don’t want to spend time on the possibility of finding joy. They’re too busy for joy.”

Incidentally, it’s amazing how much the world has changed just since HARD LOVE was published in 1999. That book concerned teens expressing themselves in “zines.” I imagine that blogs have now taken that role instead. HARD LOVE was only 224 pages and LOVE & LIES is 245. As much as I rail against the increasing size of today’s young adult books (many of which are 400 or more pages these days), I do think that LOVE & LIES feels a bit skimpy. There are so many characters and so many plot twists, that it actually needs about a hundred more pages to fill out the story. But Marisol remains a fascinating and complex character, just as she was in HARD LOVE. Perhaps we’ll read more about her in a third volume...?


To celebrate Labor Day, I’m going to read SISTERS IN SANITY by Gayle Forman, which starts with a girl and her father taking a Labor Day weekend trip to the Grand Canyon (or so she thinks!) that ends with her being dropped off at a “residental treatment center for unstable teenagers.”

I hope it has the same appeal (and momentum) as one of last year’s hard-to-put-down books, BOOT CAMP by Todd Strasser, which concerns a teenage boy sent to an abusive reform center


Earlier I spoke of the year beginning in September, but here’s a book to remind us that things end in September as well. According to the dustjacket flap: “September is a time for changes. The green leaves on the trees and bushes turn yellow, red, and gold. The chipmunks, squirrels, and snakes are changing -- toads and caterpillars too. But -- have you ever wondered what happens to plants and animals when winter comes?”

You don’t hear much about these old science books by written by Glenn O. Bough and illustrated by Jeanne Bendick nowadays, but I like the look of them and think the information they contain about nature still remains timely from year to year, from September to September.


Finally, in case you were wondering what phonograph record my brother insisted on carrying to kindergarten, I wish I could tell you it was something either super cool (like an early rock group) or super sophisticated (like Bach.) But it was just a children’s song...back from the days when such tunes were recorded by anonymous singers and sold in the grocery store for thirty-nine cents. The name of the record was “Happy Glow” and though I can’t remember all the words, here are a few of the lyrics I remember. Does it ring a bell for ANYONE else or we were the only people in the world who owned this forty-five?

There’s a scarecrow that I know
Who always has a happy glow
He’s happier far than either you or me.
He has the sun, he has the trees,
He has his friends the birds.
With all of these he has such fun,
He has no need for any words.

So you and I should (something something)
And we would have that happy glow
If we would take it easy just like him!

Have a happy glow!
Life will be much easier if you will!
Have a happy glow!
(Something something something.)

Obviously, I don’t remember it all. Can anyone fill in the “something somethings”? And tell me which other words I have wrong?

It was a silly song but, the older I get, the more it sounds like good advice!

So...have a Happy Labor Day! A Happy Last-Day-of-August! A Happy First-Day-of-September! A Happy Start to the School Year.

And, most of all, Have a Happy Glow!


Jennifer said...

For back to school picture books I usually recommend Rosemary Wells. She has a range, from children's finding new friends their first day, conquering first day jitters, etc. to my personal favorite, Edward Unready for School, which actually admits that not all children will settle down their first day - some need more time and are just not ready. The Miss Bindergarten stories by Joseph Slate and Marc Brown's Arthur books are popular too.

I don't actually recommend them, but parents usually want the really sappy stuff like Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. Personally, I don't think these make kids feel any better, they just soothe parents' guilty feelings.

And for teachers I recommend the Miss Malarkey series by Judy Finchler.

Anonymous said...

All these are nice books. I have some of them!!

Dave Park said...

The lyrics are from a musical version of The Wizard of Oz about the scarecrow. I performed this with my 4th grade class some 30 years ago! Been looking for a recording since, but no luck so far. Thanks for posting the lyrics. They're all correct, but I can't recall the last line either.

christian said...

"Happy Glow" is available on the 1969 Wizard Of Oz record put out by Disney. It's around on ebay and other places -- but no cd release!