Sunday, October 12, 2008

Today's Brunch Includes Cake!

Here are more random facts and opinions on children’s books from the past and present, along with a slice of birthday cake for dessert.


Oh for the good only days.

Was it only last Sunday that I used this blog to complain I’d accidentally put my wallet through the washing machine, from pre-soak to spin cycle?

I shouldn’t have complained. I should have learned a lesson from this picture book by Margot Zemach:

Because today I realize that not only COULD things be worse, they ARE worse. Much worse.

On Friday night my not-so-ancient, yet nonetheless falling-apart car -- with its cracked windshield, busted tail light, duct-taped window, broken radio, out-of-alignment tires, terminally-ill catalytic converter, and a myriad of other, even worse, problems -- up and died in a mini-mall parking lot.

I have never, ever had good luck with cars. I have friends who hang onto their cars for ten, fifteen, even twenty years...and I often see them whiz past me on the expressway while my car is pulled over on the side of the road with the hood up, waiting for a towtruck to drag it to the dealer where the mechanic will inevitably shake his head and say, “I’ve never seen THIS problem before.”

I used to have a friend who had only good luck with cars. She once had to drive to the mechanic with her entire engine literally dragging on the ground and jetting streams of liquid fire like Mount Vesuvius ready to blow. Then she arrived at the auto shop:

Friend: My engine fell out.
Mechanic: Oh, all you need is this $1.98 pin to put it back in place.
Friend: Whew!
Mechanic: In fact, do I spy a bobby pin on your head?
Friend: Why, yes. I didn’t have time to fix my hair because my engine was about to explode.
Mechanic: Hand me that bobby pin. It’ll hold your engine in place just as well as this $1.98 gadget I was going to use. ...There you go! It’s fixed. No charge. And here’s a coupon for a free car wash on your way out.

Then there was me, taking my car to the same garage:

Peter: Hi, I’d like to get the $19.95 oil change special.
Mechanic: When you pulled up I heard a clicking sound coming from under your hood.
Peter: I’m sure it’s nothing. Now about that oil ch--
Mechanic (opening hood): Yep, just as I thought. You got a big problem here, bud.
Peter: B-b-big?
Mechanic: Well, I can probably fix it for eighteen hundred dollars--
Peter: Eighteen HUNDRED do--
Mechanic: ‘Course it’ll take three-four days...two weeks tops.
Peter: I’ve got to sit down.
Mechanic: Waiting room’s right around the corner. And remember, if you want a cup of coffee, put a buck in the jar.

Story of my life.

Anyway, tomorrow I will be shopping for a new car I can ill afford.

Oh, and did I mention that tomorrow is my birthday -- one of the Big Ones where you go from one decade to the next? I had taken Monday through Wednesday off work with plans to do nothing but catch up on my reading, relax, and slowly ease into my dotage. I was really looking forward to it (the reading and relaxing part...not the dotage part.) Now I’m going to spend the next three days at the car dealership, bank, insurance company, and Secretary of State with no time to read, much less relax.

Though I'm completely traumatized, I keep trying to remind myself that as horrible as this is, in the words of Margot Zemach:

It could always be (even) worse.


A book-selling friend from Ohio recently asked for help in identifying a first edition of Roald Dahl’s 1961 book JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert.

I checked with an expert and discovered the following first-edition points for this classic novel:

The first edition is bound in dark red cloth with an uncolored stamp that features a cameo of James; it's the same illustration that faces the title page inside.

The title is stamped in gold on the spine.

The top of the pages are tinted yellow.

Under very bright light horizontal high-end milling lines are visible on the pages.

Finally -- and this is the easiest method of identifying a first -- on the last page there is “about the author” info, followed by five lines concerning the book’s production:

TEXT SET in Walbaum. COMPOSED BY Clarke & Way, Inc., New York
PRINTED BY Reehl Litho Company, New York
BOUND BY H. Woolf, New York
PAPER SUPPLIED BY P. H. Glatfelter, Spring Grover, Pennsylvania

The fourth line indicating paper supplier was removed in subsequent editions.

...So if you’ve got a dark red book with the top edge of the pages tinted yellow, horizontal milling lines AND a reference to P.H. Glatfelter on the last page, you’ve got a first edition of JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and it’s worth between $5000 and $8000!


The Harry Potter frenzy seems to be dying down now and collecting prices have somewhat stabilized. But for a while there, first editions of the early volumes were selling for four figures on eBay. I was very excited because I had a first edition of HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS -- and planned to sell it as soon as I finished reading it. One day I brought the book to work in my briefcase (that sounds so stuffy; it’s more like a soft faux-leather, briefcase-shaped bag with lots of zippers and pockets.) As it turned out, that day I decided not to eat the peach I’d brought for lunch and stuck it in the briefcase. Then I forgot about it for a few days...a few especially hot summer days. One afternoon I was sitting at my desk and noticed swarms of fruit flies hovering like clouds over my briefcase. I opened one of the many zippers and found that the peach had somehow EXPLODED inside the bag and completely stained Harry Potter’s dustjacket:

and the top spine edge of the book. (Hey Roald Dahl, the top edge of MY book is tinted yellow too, but in this case it came from rotting peach juice:)

You’ll note that the top edge is now stamped by the library and scruffy from patron use. That’s because I ended up donating my damaged copy to the library, rather than earning four figures selling it on eBay.

If it hadn’t have been for that peach, I might have been able to afford this new car.


When I was nine or ten years old, I used to see these two versions of the paperback LAST SUMMER by Evan Hunter at every bookstore and magazine stand. The cover of this “explosive novel” had the tagline “FOUR NICE KIDS PLAYING AT SEX AND VIOLENCE.” It seemed The book was made into a movie starring Richard Thomas, Bruce Davison, and Barbara Hershey who, for a while, changed her name to Barbara Seagull after she killed a seagull during the making of this film. (I can’t explain that except to say it was the sixties.) The movie was rated R and, rumor had it, originally received an X before being re-edited. Yes, it seemed VERY adult. The other day I happened upon one of these paperback copies and actually read LAST SUMMER for the first time. I was shocked -- not by the content, but by the fact that this novel about four kids ranging in age from 15 to 17 -- is pretty much a young adult novel. What was considered graphic and X-rated in 1968 is pretty much standard YA fare in 2008. In fact, it’s almost tame compared to many teenage books today!In addition to Richard Thomas, Bruce Davison and Barbara Seagull, LAST SUMMER starred a young actress named Catherine Burns who was actually nominated for an Oscar for her performance in this film. Although I was obviously too young to see the movie, I do remember her appearing on television shows during that era. She was also considered a major young stage actress. Then she suddenly disappeared. A quick check of the internet this week showed that many people remember her fondly and wonder what happened to her. One small item mentions that she quit acting to focus on writing and has a “survival job” as a receptionist in New York city. Another item mentions that she once wrote a children’s book called THE WINTER BIRD. I looked up the title and discovered that such a book was published by Windmill in 1971, but have no idea if the author Catherine Burns is actually the same as the actress Catherine Burns. If so, she would only have been 25 when THE WINTER BIRD was published...and that was back in an era before celebrity books for kids were as prevalent. Does anyone know anything about this book and its author?


Although I’m facing a bummer of a birthday tomorrow, I am glad for the presents I’ve received.

A few weeks back, I even bought myself a birthday present -- a signed first edition of the book that won the Newbery the year I was born, RIFLES FOR WATIE by Harold Keith. It celebrates its golden anniversary this year. Just like me.

Then on Friday I received a gift from a book-collecting friend on the east coast -- a personally inscribed copy of BROOKLYN BRIDGE by Karen Hesse! I have no idea how my friend arranged to get this inscription, but I’m thrilled to add it to my shelves! Karen Hesse is one of my favorites authors and BROOKLYN BRIDGE is being talked-up for the 2009 Newbery Medal.

Also, if I swivel my chair I can see a box behind me that I received from another book-collecting buddy. I’m saving it to open tomorrow, but have been told contains many, many colored-coded birthday presents -- including a signed copy of another book being talked-up for the 2009 Newbery, MY ONE HUNDRED ADVENTURES by Polly Horvath.

I’m so grateful for these gifts.

And even more grateful to have book-collecting friends who are now simply friend-friends.


Speaking of thankfulness, did you know that tomorrow is Thanksgiving? Well, not where I Iive...but it’s Thanksgiving right across the river from where I work -- in Canada. And tomorrow is also Columbus Day here in the States. And Marie Osmond’s birthday. And my birthday. There will be no mail delivery tomorrow either, but I think that has more to do with Christopher C. than with me and Marie.

Anyway, since I was going to be celebrating a Big Birthday, I decided to splurge on a store-bought cake from a fancy bakery. I ordered it before the stock market crashed and before my car died. Oh well. Here’s what it looks like:

Thanks for dropping by my blog. Now have a slice of birthday cake.


katie_girl89 said...

Hi, I somehow came across your page and was hoping you could help me. When I was very little my mom gave me a book with a character named drummond bear or something like that. When I was about 7 my family moved and the book was lost. I have been searching online for the book for almost 2 years now and still haven't came across it. I wanted to try and get it so I can have it for my children since the book was very precious to me. If you could help me it would be very greatly appreciated. Thank you. -katie

Unknown said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ! You get to celebrate on Coney Island. Enjoy.
Eleanor & Henry

Nikki in Niagara said...

Happy Birthday! Don't know how old you are but I turned 40 this summer and I thought it was the end of the world. I survived.

I sold a first edition of James and the Giant Peach on ebay several years ago now, back when children's books were the big thing on ebay, and I only got just over $200 for the book back then. Of course, I was happy enough since it cost me .25 cents.

Charlotte said...

Happy birthday!

and sorry about the car. May you could switch to horse and buggy, like the Melendys.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday! Your car wasn't that old. Perhaps you should consider a different manufacturer for your next car? (I live in MI and know many, many people who work for that car company, so I know I should support them, but I also recognize a need to spend my money wisely...)

Donell said...

Happy belated birthday. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and your mention of Last Summer stirred a vague memory. I might check it out now, because my library system has it. Did you know that there was a sequel called Come Winter?