Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brunching Before the Big Day

Sitting here waiting to learn the results of the American Library Association’s annual awards -- which will be announced tomorrow morning in Denver -- I’m almost too nervous for brunch. Among other topics, today’s blog touches on possible Newbery winners (what else?), explains why I may never get to Mars, suggests a way for Maurice Sendak to save money, and tells what I learned from a book called ZAZOO.


As much fun as it is to try and predict the winners of the Newbery Medal, it’s nearly an impossible task. It might be easy if the same committee made the selections each year; then they’d have a track record and we could figure out what makes them tick...and what makes them pick. But the committee changes every year, bringing in a whole new crop of members with highly individual tastes and opinions.

There are many other elements that play into the selections as well. One year there could be a dozen great books vying for the top prize and something wonderful will have to be neglected; the following year may be particularly weak and the committee must choose the best of a mediocre bunch. Then there are outside factors that, of course, should not be considered -- but who knows how they subconsciously affect the psyche of the voters? I’m talking about things like current events (could this week’s inauguration -- and its theme of hope and renewal -- play a role in the selection of books?) and even the weather (has anyone checked the weather conditions for 1948 and 1949 when the Caldecott committee honored two successive titles about snow: WHITE SNOW, BRIGHT SNOW, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin and THE BIG SNOW by Berta and Elmer Hader)? Also, this past year there has been quite a controversy about the Newbery not being “kid-friendly” enough. Could that come into play at decision time?

So guessing is always a crapshoot, yet to quote the famous last lines of Colleen McCullough’s THE THORN BIRDS: “And still we do it. Still we do it.”

IF I were selecting the 2009 Newbery winner, my personal choice for this year's most distinguished contribution to children's literature would be Laurie Halse Anderson’s CHAINS.

IF many of my friends and colleagues were choosing, the winner would be THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman. (I loved about half of this book and had problems with the other half. I’d be happy to see it with an Honor though.)

IF the awards had been chosen a few months ago, the winner might have been THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. Since then it has gotten a lot of criticism for weak writing and seems to be out of the running. I’ve always felt it had a better shot at the Printz Award for young adult books. Whether it wins anything or not, with over 225,000 copies in print at present, I think Suzanne Collins can spend Newbery Day laughing all the way to the bank.

IF the Newbery committee is in a poetic mood, they may pick DIAMOND WILLOW by Helen Frost.

IF they’d like to honor a mystery (and there aren’t too many of those in the Newbery canon) CICADA SUMMER by Andrea Beaty would be a fine pick. And it’s funny too.

IF they want to pick something even funnier (and, speaking of kid-friendly, here’s one that definitely fills the bill) we may see ALVIN HO : ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS by Lenore Look on the winner’s stand. Hope Alvin’s not allergic to gold or silver.

IF the committee wants to honor nonfiction, they may elect THE LINCOLNS : A SCRAPBOOK LOOK AT ABRAHAM AND MARY by Candace Fleming. What a nice 200th birthday present for Abe...I mean Abraham (one of the many things I learned from this book is that President Lincoln “detested” the nickname “Abe.”)

IF the committee wants to honor nonfiction with attitude and an individual voice, there’s THE TROUBLE BEGINS AT 8 by Sid Fleischman.

IF the committee loves fantasy, I hope they’ll consider THE CABINET OF WONDERS by Marie Rutkowski (though learning that it’s book one of a series may hurt its chances. Yeah, I know THE BLACK CAULDRON by Lloyd Alexander and THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley were early books in series and they got honored, but they didn’t boldly proclaim “Book One” or “Book Two” on the cover like this one does. I thought it cheapened the dustjacket.)

IF the committee goes for multicultural tales (take a look at the winners and Honors from the 1920s and 1930s -- they provide a veritable National Geographic tour of the world) then perhaps we’ll be CLIMBING THE STAIRS created by Padma Venkatraman.

IF the committee likes old-fashioned, solidly-crafted stories as much as I do, perhaps THE PENDERWICKS ON GARDAM STREET by Jeanne Birdsall will be chosen.

IF they want to honor a brand new author with an interesting, if imperfect, book, we might see SAVVY by Ingrid Law on the list.

IF they like larger-than-life (translated: a little hard to believe) tales from the past, there is TENNYSON by Lesley M.M. Blume.

IF they want to surprise the public with a book that no one has considered for the award, we might find ourselves gasping at the announcement of WHEN THE SERGEANT CAME MARCHING HOME by Don Lemna.

IF they want to reward a previous Honor author with the biggie, there’s always Polly Horvath’s MY ONE HUNDRED ADVENTURES, her most accessible novel yet.

IF they want to reward a previous two-time Honor author with the Gold, it could go to ELEVEN by Patricia Reilly Giff.

IF the committee would like to see my head explode, they could pick one of these inexplicably well-reviewed books that I would hate to place on my “Newbery shelf”: the florid and repetitive UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt, the lemony and snickety WILLOUGHBYS by Lois Lowry, the yawn-inducing PORCUPINE YEAR by Louise Erdrich, or the unfocused AFTER TUPIC AND D FOSTER by Jacqueline Woodson. All of these authors are talented, but I am not a fan of these particular titles they wrote.

IF the committee does what I think it’s going to do...the winning book is going to be MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach.

Yes, that's my main guess for the title "most likely to win" Newbery 2009.

And yes, when a totally-unexpected, completely-off-the-radar title ends up winning tomorrow, you are all invited back to this blog to laugh at how wrong I was!


I have no idea.

Everyone keeps talking about Ed Young’s WABI SABI for the Caldecott.

I love the Printz Award and can’t wait to see what’s honored, but really have no idea what will be selected. I can’t WAIT to find out though.

And, yes, I do remember promising to review all five young-adult debut novels on the Morris Award shortlist, but time got away from me before I could finish reading them all. When I do finish reading them, I’ll write a blog about those books and tell you whether I think the award committee got it right with perfect twenty-twenty hindsight!


Around the time Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES was published, we were told she was working on the second volume of that series, tentatively titled THE QUARTER QUELL. Now that title’s been changed (thank goodness) to CATCHING FIRE, with a publication date of September 8, 2009.

Only 216 days to go!


A friend sent me this dustjacket illustration for the British edition of Laurie Halse Anderson’s CHAINS. I thought the dustjacket for the American edition was striking, but feel this one is evocative as well. The only other thing I’d like to see on either jacket is a gold foil Newbery seal!


Several months ago, I blogged about a woman named Anna Olswanger who read some articles I wrote for a little magazine and sent me a few books that she wrote and self-published in limited editions. The other day I received a package containing her latest matchbook-sized volume, BERL’S BLUES. Ms. Olswanger takes elements from family history -- in this case, her father’s youth in 1920s Memphis -- and incorporates them into amusing stories. It’s a nice way of honoring one’s past and I’m so pleased to add BERL’S BLUES to my library.

Anonymous left a comment on my recent blog entry about a mistake in the illustrations for Ludwig Bemelmans’ MADELINE, pointing out an error on the

cover of HENRY REED’S THINK TANK by Keith Robertson. In this Gail Owens’ illustration, a sign states “WELCOME TO GROVERS CORNERS” although the name of the town in the book -- and it’s even mentioned twice on the dustjacket flap -- is “Grover’s Corner.” I have to admit, I’ve read HENRY REED’S THINK TANK more than once and never noticed this error myself. I doubt that Robert McCloskey, who illustrated the first four volumes in this series, would have made that error. Still, I do like the dustjacket for featuring an overweight boy and a girl with glasses -- two things you don’t see very often on dustjackets. (Heck, nowadays you don’t even see HEADS on dustjackets.)

This Tuesday the third and final volume in Virginia Euwer Wolff’s “Make Lemonade” series will be released. I’m very intrigued to see where LaVaughn’s story -- written in free verse -- goes in THIS FULL HOUSE. Watching the inauguration festivities earlier this week I was surprised to find out that our new First Lady’s full name is Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama.”

Finally, I wonder if this has ever happened to you. Many years ago I became intrigued by an adult science fiction trilogy about the colonization of the red planet. The books were RED MARS, GREEN MARS, and BLUE MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson and I asked for paperback copies as a Christmas present. I started reading the first volume but found it a little slow and heavy, so set it aside for a couple days. Well, a couple days turned into a couple weeks which turned into a couple months and now those books have been sitting unread on my shelf for something like nine years! So when this new year began, I vowed I was going to FINALLY read this trilogy. I began RED MARS again, and finally got into the flow of the story. In fact, I was becoming more and more fascinated as a spaceship full of one hundred colonists began slowly breaking the rules established by their commanders on Earth...then a woman sees an unknown man in a corridor of the spaceship (a stowaway?)...and the red planet is getting larger and larger outside the windows of their vehicle as they get closer to their destination. So I got to the bottom of page 84 and when I moved to the next page, the text made no sense. I looked at the next page number and it was 117! That’s when I realized my paperback of this book had some kind of printing error which deleted over thirty pages!

I don’t think I dare try to return a book to the store that was purchased in an earlier millennium! So I guess I’m going to have to bite the bullet and buy another copy or I’ll never get to Mars! (Yes, I know I could check it out of the library, but considering my slow progress the first time I tried to read these books, I don’t want to possibly deal with nine years of overdue fines.)


Earlier this week, School Library Journal blogger Fuse #8 left this note on my blog:

One of these days you must come to New York to see our guestbooks. New York Public Library always made visiting authors and illustrators sign our guestbooks when they were here for events. The artists, however, would frequently compete to create the coolest little doodles in the margins. Imagine Sendak and Bemelmans duking it out. I should probably scan these puppies someday . . ..

Yes, Fuse #8, you should scan them for your blog -- and soon. Not only would we all love to see them, but think of all the money you’ll save us from not having to travel all the way to New York to see them in person.

...Speaking of saving money: I once read that the famously-reclusive movie star Greta Garbo almost never paid a cent for anything. How did she swing that? Well, as everyone knows, Garbo retired from the movies at a fairly young age and spent the rest of her life in New York, dodging paparazzi and refusing to sign autographs. However, she was very smart in that she paid for everything by check. And most people who were paid with checks signed by Greta Garbo refused to ever cash them -- because her signature was actually worth more than the amount written on the check!

Fuse #8’s comments about Maurice Sendak doing the “coolest little doodles” on the pages of guestbook made me think that Mr. Sendak should also take a page from Garbo’s book. Every time he pays for something, he should do one those cool little doodles on the check. Who would ever cash a check that had a Sendak original on it? I sure wouldn’t. would be a win/win situation for everyone involved: Mr. Sendak would never have to pay for anything ever again and a lot of happy merchants would now own Sendak original artworks which they could sell to collectors for even more money than they were originally owed.


Every year, on the Sunday night before the Newbery Award is announced, I sit in front of my computer trying to get advance word on what winning titles will be announced in the morning. I have a variety of time-tested tricks that I use to learn this information. It’s true, none of these tricks have ever actually worked, but I do try them again and again every single year. And sometimes you do hear rumors. I especially remember the night-before-Newbery (a holiday as exciting to me as the night-before-Christmas) in 2002. Around midnight I began to catch murmurings about a novel called ZAZOO by Richard Mosher. Apparently, everyone at the American Library Association convention was talking about this book! So I immediately went to an online bookseller and ordered a copy. At 2:00 AM, I heard that someone on the Newbery committee was seen walking down a hotel hallway HOLDING a copy of ZAZOO. So I went back online and ordered an autographed copy of the book for (gulp) $40. Two hours later (yes, I was still up monitoring the situation at 4:00 AM!) I noticed that the sales ranking for ZAZOO had shot up by hundreds of places overnight. (Checking Amazon rankings is one of my patented tricks for Newbery Eve.) Clearly there was a leak about the winner and thank goodness I was on top of it! I boldly went back online and ordered yet another copy of the book, plus a paperbound advance reading copy!

The next morning I was slumped in front of my computer feeling like I had a hangover (and I don’t even drink!), exhausted but supremely confident that I had figured out the winning title before anyone else. I was still patting myself on the back when it was announced that the winning title was...A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Park.

What the...?

What happened to ZAZOO?

Not only didn’t it win, but it wasn’t even an Honor Book!

I immediately rushed to the bookstore trying to find a copy of A SINGLE SHARD. I was EXTREMELY grateful that they did have a first edition in stock. (In fact, they had two. But when I appeared at the cash register with both copies, the bookstore owner grabbed the second copy out of my hand and calmly said, “No way.”) A SINGLE SHARD had been published very early that year and was already in later printings at that point, so I was elated to find a first edition on Newbery Morning. By the end of that day, first edition copies were selling for over $1000 and they are still priced that high all these years later. In the meantime, ZAZOO is now out of print in hardcover and you can buy nice first editions for under $10.

There are many lessons to be learned here:

Don’t try to second guess the Newbery committee.

Just because a committee member is carrying a copy of a book doesn’t mean it won anything.

Just because a book goes zooming up Amazon’s bestseller charts doesn’t mean much either.

Don’t spend $40 for a book unless you’re certain (of course by the time you’re certain, someone else trying to jump the gun will have bought it anyway.)

It’s not easy to unload six copies of book that didn’t win the Newbery Medal.

Ah well, as I’ve said all along:

It’s all just a crapshoot. I’ve known that for many years.

But still I do it.

Still I do it.


Anonymous said...

since you own red mars, it shouldn't be any problem to download an ecopy of it

fairly easy to find with google

or you can go to and search for kim robinson

Anonymous said...

I'm so looking forward to reading your comments on the winners tomorrow. I am personally cheering for The Hunger Games. I did just read it so it's fresh in my mind but I absolutely loved it! Reading all the mock awards all over the Internet has been interesting since there really seems to be no clear cut winner. Keep up the great work on this blog! I can't tell you how much I so enjoy it. I live near Detroit and have dreams of running into you in a bookstore somewhere! :)

Bibliopinions said...

Peter --

I've been very calm and matter of fact thinking about tomorrow's announcements, but your post had me shrieking with glee at many of your suggestions that I have loved over the past year.

Thanks for such an entertaining lead up to tomorrow morning....

Sam said...

You make the Newbery event seem so exciting, I almost wish I wasn't 15 years behind on reading them.

As for illustration errors, have you ever seen the Goldilocks Golden Book by Fyodor Romanowski (sp?)? It can only be described as jacked up! First Papa Bear changes his pants while waiting for the porridge to cool. Then the house gets an Extreme Makeover.

But I do LOVE his ratty looking Goldilocks! A born troublemaker.

Anonymous said...

Well, Peter, I'm hoping you at least liked Zazoo ! mk

Anonymous said...

So, did your head explode? Or are you safe since The Underneath and After Tupac and D Foster got silver instead of gold? ;-)