Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Traveling Brunch

More randomness about children’s books old and new, this time featuring a road trip that begins at the Ann Arbor Public Library, makes a virtual visit to the Newport Public Library, and ends in the great green room. Get in the car and fasten your seat belts.


Although it’s true that I have tennis shoes older than he is (click on image for graphic proof. Then be grateful this isn’t a scratch-and-sniff blog), I am mightily impressed by that very young, very talented young adult author John Green. His first novel, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, won the Printz Award. His second (and, I think, even better) book AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES was named a Printz Honor. His new novel, the smart and funny PAPER TOWNS, hasn’t won a thing...but then it’s only been out for thirty days. Give it time. When I heard that Green was going to be appearing at the Ann Arbor Public Library this past Friday evening, I took an hour of vacation time so I could leave work early, and get there in plenty of time to hear his presentation and get my books signed. Unfortunately, I did not consider that I’d be driving in rush hour. Or that it would be raining. Or that the streets of Ann Arbor would be so crowded. Or that I’d drive past the library twice without noticing it because I am a nitwit. All told, it took me nearly two-and-a-half hours to get there...and I arrived about thirty minutes late. Nonetheless, I figured I’d still be able to sneak into some back row seat, catch the last part of Green’s presentation, and probably get my books signed. Instead, I was shocked to encounter a sign saying the basement where the event was being held was “FILLED TO CAPACITY.” However, we were told the presentation was being simulcast on a TV upstairs on the fourth floor. Well, if I wanted to see John Green on a screen, I could have just stayed home and looked at his vlog (video blog) on the internet or watched him on Youtube. Plus, I figured that us leftover people upstairs either wouldn’t get the opportunity to attend the signing...or would have to wait hours and hours until all the basement attendees got their books signed. So I ended up going home without getting my books inscribed. But that’s okay. I’m sure he’ll be back on tour again. But next time I’ll take off two, maybe three, vacation hours, so I can get there EARLY.


Incidentally, PAPER TOWNS has been issued with two different dustjackets:

The bookstore I go to only had the yellow/happy jacket, so I tried another store and they too only had yellow. I wonder if certain parts of the country only got the green jackets. I’ll be curious to know which version sells better. Completist collectors like me will probably end up getting both.


Ever since writing my previous blog entry on Natalie Savage Carlson, I can’t get this underrated author out of my head. Here are six fun facts you may or may not know about her:

-- ALPHONSE, THAT BEARDED ONE was not the only book Ms. Carlson published with Harcourt during her long career with Harper. She also had three other Harcourt books (did Ursula reject these as well?) One of them, HORTENSE : THE COW FOR A QUEEN was even an Honor Book in 1957’s New York Herald Tribune Children’s Spring Festival Awards. During her career, she won this award twice and had two Honor Books!

-- Natalie was married to Rear Admiral Daniel Carlson of the U.S. Navy and traveled around the world with him, often using the unusual locales they visited for her stories. While they were stationed in Hawaii, Natalie Carlson was an eyewitness to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

-- The above portraits of Rear Admiral Daniel Carlson and Natalie Savage Carlson are on display in the lobby of the Newport Public Library in Newport, Rhode Island. Anyone up for a field trip?

-- Natalie Carlson was the 1966 American nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

-- Carlson’s 1958 classic, THE FAMILY UNDER THE BRIDGE, was recently presented as an off-Broadway musical -- written by Kathy Lee Gifford.

-- Want to know about her early life? Natalie Carlson wrote two autobiographical novels about her childhood: THE HALF-SISTERS (1970) and LUVVY AND THE GIRLS (1971.)


Because it’s an international award that honors a creator’s complete body of work, the Andersen is sometimes called the “Nobel Prize for Children’s Literature.” Every other year since 1956 (the prize is given in even-numbered years) the U.S. submits one nominee for this prize, which is sponsored by the International Board of Books for Young People. There is no record of which American author was nominated in 1956 and 1958, but the 1960 nominee was Jean Craighead George, which strikes me as odd, since her best work was still to come. The other nominees have been:

1962 / Meindert DeJong
1964 / Madeleine L’Engle
1966 / Natalie Savage Carlson
1968 / Elizabeth Coatsworth
1970 / E. B. White
1972 / Scott O'Dell
1974 / Irene Hunt
1976 / E. B. White (yeah, again)
1978 / Paula Fox
1980 / Katherine Paterson
1982 / Natalie Babbitt
1984 / Beverly Cleary
1986 / Jean Fritz
1988 / William Steig
1990 / Katherine Paterson (if at first you don't succeed...)
1992 / Virginia Hamilton
1994 / Sid Fleischman
1996 / Lloyd Alexander
1998 / Katherine Paterson (try, try and WIN)
2000 / Lois Lowry
2002 / Susan Cooper
2004 / Lois Lowry (there may still be other chances to come)
2006 / E. L. Konigsburg
2008 / Lloyd Alexander (it would have been posthumous)

Of these, the only American winners have been Meindert DeJong, Scott O’Dell, Paula Fox, Virginia Hamilton, and Katherine Paterson (in 1998).

Since 1966 there has also been a Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustrators. Can you guess the lone American winner? I’ll put the entire list in next Sunday’s brunch.


One of the best parts about writing a blog is seeing who drops in to visit. My previous blog entry received a comment from someone named “Rathacat,” who I realized was Clare Bell, author of the “Ratha” series and many other memorable books including TOMORROW’S SPHINX and THE JAGUAR PRINCESS! How cool is that? In her note, Ms. Bell wondered if anyone had written a biography of her former editor, Margaret K. McElderry.

To my knowledge, there is no such book. Or rather: It’s a book waiting to be written.

Certainly Ms. McElderry deserves a biography. She’s one of the all-time greats. Working at Harcourt for nearly three decades, she published authors such as Eleanor Estes, was known for introducing many European and translated books to American children, and was the first editor whose books claimed the Newbery and Caldecott in the same year -- 1952, when GINGER PYE by Eleanor Estes won the Big N and FINDERS KEEPERS by “Will” and “Nicolas” (as they billed themselves -- actually writer William Lipkind and illustrator Nicolas Mordvinoff) won the Caldecott. In the 1970s she got her own imprint at Atheneum and published some of that decade’s best (including Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” series), then continued publishing “Margaret K. McElderry Books” through Simon and Schuster.

Now nearing one hundred years old, Margaret McElderry definitely deserves a biography!


Incidentally, I always thought the editor’s last name was pronounced Mick-ELDER-ee. Not too long ago I learned it’s Mackle-dairy.


Here’s an old/new trend: adult books being “adapted” for young audiences. In a way it’s an old trend, because throughout the years many classics (ROBINSON CRUSOE, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, etc.) have been adapted for children. However, in recent years I’ve been noticing that, increasingly, many contemporary books are published for adults and then, a year or two, later, rewritten, repackaged, and retitled for kids. Here are just three recent examples:

I wonder about the necessity of this. Surely any kid old enough to have an interest in Marley the dog can read and comprehend the original MARLEY AND ME (not exactly GRAVITY’S RAINBOW in terms of reading level, depth, or content) without needing an adaptation. If there are words they don’t understand, there’s always the dictionary. If they encounter difficult syntax or sophisticated situations, they’ll muddle through them -- that’s what stretching and growing is all about. Obviously everyone does not agree with me on this, or we wouldn’t be seeing a proliferation of titles “adapted for young people.”

Another recent, questionable trend is acknowledgment pages in novels that have the self-serving purpose and length of a really bad Oscar acceptance speech. Think back at the history of children’s books -- and you don’t even have to think back that far, maybe just ten years. Back then it was common to see “Acknowledgments” in a nonfiction title, where it was necessary to mention certain reference books that an author used for research and thank helpful experts who gave advice or read the manuscript for errors. That makes sense. You might also find acknowledgment pages in historical fiction, where the author needed to mention factual books and experts consulted.

But today you find acknowledgment pages (and pages and pages) in every kind of novel -- and even picture books. I generally don’t mind them -- even the ones resembling Oscar speeches -- unless they turn into something like Greer Garson’s infamous acceptance and the author rambles on like a latter-day Mrs. Miniver, thanking not just their spouse and kids, but the guy who served them an especially inspiring latte at Starbucks and the assistant to the assistant at the computer store who talked them through that ugly paper jam in their printer. And I get irritated by Acknowledgments that are littered with in-jokes (“And to Rob: you will always be my go-get-’em-Tigerboy...RRRRR!” or “Amy, Louise, Katydid, Jillian, and Marta -- BUT NOT Penelope -- you are all pizza-heads and pepperoni-plotters! Save me the mushrooms!”) which make me feel left out, and like I’m eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation -- which, in a way, I am -- but it’s also a conversation, lest we forget, that I paid $16.95 to read. What I DO like about acknowledgment pages are the occasional insights into how a book came to be -- the author’s motivation for creating this story and the circumstances under which it was written.

But I have friends who HATE any type of acknowledgment page in a book.

What do you think -- is it a good trend or a bad one?


Opus, the cartoon penguin who first turned up in Berkeley Breathed’s “Bloom County” and later starred in his often eponymous comic strip, has now reached the end of his run.

Mr. Breathed held a contest for readers to guess where Opus’s journey would end. Out of six thousand entries, fifty-five people guessed correctly -- and a random drawing chose one of those entrants to win a $10,000 grant to their local humane society to help “dogs and cats find the loving home -- their paradise -- that otherwise might have been lost to them.”

So where did Opus conclude his nearly thirty-year journey? In the pages of a children’s book:

According to his creator, “Opus is napping. He sleeps in peace, dreaming of a world just ahead brimming with kindness and grace and ubiquitous bow ties.”

That sound like a wonderful world. Except for the bowties.

But it’s a nice place for Opus to end, and good place for me to end today’s blog as well. I must get back to my reading. I’m currently trying to finish all five of the National Book Award nominees for young people’s literature:

so I can post a review of them here on Wednesday, as the winner will be announced that evening.

Hope to see you back here then.


P. J. Grath said...

The placement of Acknowledgements following rather than preceding text minimizes intrusiveness. And it IS nice to thank people, after all. Thank you for your regular, long, information-rich and very personal postings.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading Acknowledgments, but as P.J. said, placement is everything. I prefer it to appear either on the title page verso or following the text. If it appears on its own page preceding the text, I usually end up reading it when I'm expecting an epigraph or prologue. It disrupts my flow, and sometimes the Acknowledgments give away parts of the book! That's no fun at all.

Children's books fan said...

Thanx for the informative blog - I enjoyed your humorous musing abut the trip to Ann Arbor and also the new adaptations of classic reads...

Something I feel you may find of interest is a new children's book called Danny the Dragon Meets Jimmy - heavier on the illustrations, it's very cute for kiddos - read it to my kids a few times already and they love it.