Sunday, February 8, 2009

It's Sunday Brunch Time Again

Welcome to another Sunday brunch featuring odds-and-ends about children’s books old and new. Today’s blog also discusses what it felt like to see an old friend on TV and what I discovered when I heard mysterious voices in the hallway outside my office....


Last night I made a special point of watching the movie GIFTED HANDS : THE BEN CARSON STORY on TV. Starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., this inspiring film traced the childhood and medical career of the famous neurosurgeon who was raised here in my hometown. Quite a few local actors had small roles in the show and I was looking forward to trying to pick them out in their don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-’em performances. But as I watched the movie, what really gave me a jolt was the unexpected appearance of someone else that I’ve known nearly all my life. I'm talking about this guy:

The scene involved young Ben (the future Dr. Carson) visiting the main Detroit Public Library, walking up the marble (I think they’re marble) stairs and entering the large exhibition hall on the third floor which features this large triptych mural, “Man’s Mobility 1905-1965-1855” by John Stephens Coppin:

Seeing it pop up on TV last night was like unexpectedly running into an old friend. It brought back so many memories of trudging up those same stairs and encountering that mural in my younger days. I wonder how many other people watching that movie last night felt the same shock of recognition that I did. It’s not just books that connect us to the past and our younger selves. Libraries do too.

This got me thinking about my local Detroit library, the Edison Branch, where I spent a very large part of my youth. I can still remember everything about the children’s room, right down to the exact location of specific books on the shelf. Once in a while I even dream about that place.

It’s still open -- and occasionally I think about going back for a visit, though it’s been close to three decades since I’ve been there. I’m sure some things remain the same, like the big sunken square in the children’s room. Very cutting edge for its time, this pit was undoubtedly intended as a gathering place for story hours, though kids mostly played there -- rolling down its two steps or doing somersaults across the length of the pit -- till they got so noisy they were yelled at by the librarians. And I bet kids are still rolling and somersaulting; some things never change. But I'm sure the card catalog is gone. And most of the books I used to read as well. ...I guess a few may be left, but certainly not in the exact location where they once were. And I doubt the very-seventies poster of a cat hanging from a bar (with the caption “Hang in There!”) is still taped behind the circulation desk.

Intellectually, I know all those things would be gone, yet if I went back for a visit, I’d still want to pull out one of those wooden card catalog drawers and look through the well-thumbed cards, I’d want to see the cat poster, and I’d want all the books to be exactly where I left them. (Who moved my books?) And I’d expect to see the nice children’s librarian sitting behind the desk in one of her sweaters (even in the summer), and the cranky circulation clerk slipping date-due cards into books as she checked them out, and Bob, the library page whose job I coveted, pushing a creaky book cart around the room and placing volumes on shelves.

But let’s see...the children’s librarian was about 55 back then. 55 + 30 = she’s not working there these days. The cranky clerk was about 40 then. She won’t be there either. And even though Bob would only be about 50 now, I sure hope he’s not still pushing that cart around.

But in my mind they all remain there. With the same books and the card catalog and that cat poster -- and I don’t think I can bring myself to go back and discover they are gone.


My room is right outside the children’s book collection of our library. The other day I heard voices in the hallway outside my office. Peeking around the door, I saw a group of three students gathered around Margaret Wise Brown’s BIG RED BARN. A girl was reading the text out loud, another girl was turning the pages for her, and a guy was videotaping it. Later, when I left for the day, I passed another trio making a videotape of LITTLE BEAR by Else Holmelund Minarik. Obviously this was a class assignment, either for education or library science majors.

Our copies of BIG RED BARN and LITTLE BEAR were published decades before those videotaping students were born. (Heck, they were even published before I was born.) So I found it fascinating to think that, out of the thousands of recent books they could have chosen for their project, the students selected these time-tested stories to videotape. Who would have thought these books would fit so well into today’s new modern technology. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. In fact, it now crosses my mind that, whatever forms of technology evolve in the future (hopefully not LITTLE-BEAR-on-an-implanted-brain-chip) these books will continue to endure. Because good books always do.


As a follow-up to last week’s list comparing the ages of all the the Newbery-winning authors, I thought I’d provide a similar list noting the ages of Caldecott-winning artists. This time we have one creator in his twenties, but none over seventy.

I again offer this proviso: I have made no attempt to check the exact age of an author on the exact day they won the Caldecott. I am listing their ages for the years in which they won. Since the award is announced very early in the year, we can probably assume that most of the winners may be just shy of their listed age in the chart below.

The Young One

Robert McCloskey / Make Way for Ducklings / 28


Leonard Weisgard / The Little Island / 31
Virginia Lee Burton / The Little House / 32
Gail E. Haley / A Story a Story / 32
Chris Van Allsburg / Jumanji / 33
Nonny Hogrogian / Always Room for One More / 34
Uri Shulevitz / The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship / 34
Gerald McDermott / Arrow to the Sun / 34
Elizabeth Orton Jones / Prayer for a Child / 35
Richard Egielski / Hey, Al / 35
David Diaz / Smoky Night / 35
Ingri d’Aulaire / Abraham Lincoln / 36
Maurice Sendak / Where the Wild Things Are / 36
David Wiesner / Tuesday / 36
Marcia Brown / Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper / 37
Nicolas Sidjakov / Baboushka and the Three Kings / 37
Ed Emberley / Drummer Hoff / 37
Chris Van Allsburg / The Polar Express / 37
Beni Montresor / May I Bring a Friend? / 39

Life Begins at Forty

Nonny Hogrogian / One Fine Day / 40
Louis Slobodkin / Many Moons / 41
Nicholas Mordvinoff / Finders Keepers / 41
Thomas Handforth / Mei Li / 42
Edgar Parin d'Aulaire / Abraham Lincoln / 42
Leo Politi / Song of the Swallows / 42
Barbara Cooney / Chanticleer and the Fox / 42
Brian Selznick / The Invention of Hugo Cabret / 42
Marc Simont / A Tree is Nice / 43
Blair Lent / The Funny Little Woman / 43
Margot Zemach / Duffy and the Devil / 43
Leo and Diane Dillon / Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears / 43 (this husband-wife duo were born five days apart)
Peggy Rathmann / Officer Buckle and Gloria / 43
Roger Duvoisin / White Snow, Bright Snow / 44
Robert McCloskey / Time of Wonder / 44
Marcia Brown / Once a Mouse / 44
Leo and Diane Dillon / Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions / 44
David Wisniewski / Golem / 44
David Macaulay / Black and White / 45
Kevin Henkes / Kitten's First Full Moon / 45
Paul O. Zelinsky / Rapunzel / 45
Paul Goble / The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses / 46
David Wiesner / The Three Pigs / 46
Stephen Gammell / Song and Dance Man / 46
Eric Rohmann / My Friend Rabbit / 46
Dorothy P. Lathrop / Animals of the Bible / 47
Ezra Jack Keats / The Snowy Day / 47
Chris Raschka / The Hello, Goodbye Window / 47
Lynd Ward / The Biggest Bear / 48
Arnold Lobel / Fables / 48
Robert Lawson / They Were Strong and Good / 49


Peter Spier / Noah's Ark / 51
David Wiesner / Flotsam / 51
John Schoenherr / Owl Moon / 53
Beth Krommes / The House in the Night / 53
Emily Arnold McCully / Mirette on the High Wire / 54
Maud Petersham / The RoosterCrows / 56
Ludwig Bemelmans / Madeline's Rescue / 56
Evaline Ness / Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine / 56
Trina Schart Hyman / Saint George and the Dragon / 56
David Small / So You Want to Be President? / 56
Berta Hader / The Big Snow / 57
Katherine Milhous / The Egg Tree / 57
Allen Say / Grandfather's Journey / 57
Miska Petersham / The Rooster Crows / 58
Ed Young / Lon Po Po/ 59
Mary Azarian / Snowflake Bentley / 59

Senior Division

Elmer Hader / The Big Snow / 60
Barbara Cooney / Ox-Cart Man / 63
William Steig / Sylvester and the Magic Pebble / 63
Feodor Rojankovsky / Frog Went A-Courtin' / 65
Marie Hall Ets / Nine Days to Christmas / 65
Marcia Brown / Shadow / 65
Alice Provensen / The Glorious Flight / 66
Martin Provensen / The Glorious Flight / 68
Simms Taback / Joseph Had a Little Overcoat / 68
Mordicai Gerstein / The Man Who Walked Between the Towers / 69


Before I provide the following stats, I should confess that I’m numerically-challenged. Remember earlier in this blog when I had to add 55 and 30 in order to figure out the librarian’s age? I used a calculator. And the only reason I ended up saying “55 + 30 = she’s not working there these days” was because I didn’t really trust the answer the calculator provided. I wasn’t sure if 55 + 30 really did equal 85. Somehow that number seemed wrong. I go through life with an unbalanced checkbook. I break into hives if I have to give someone change for a dollar. I count on my fingers most of the time.

I totally blame my teachers. My grade school math teacher had a couple missing fingers and I spent the most of the class period staring at her hands (how did she hold that chalk?) instead of watching what she wrote on the blackboard. (I’m not surprised she became a math teacher, though; counting on her fingers wasn’t an option for her.) Then she retired and we got a new teacher who had all her digits, but spent most of her time screaming and screeching at the class. Her favorite threat, shrieked in a voice quaking with anger was, “If you don’t quiet down, I’m going to give you an assignment that will ROCK YOUR SOCKS!” On the one hand, the phrase was so funny that we kind of wanted to laugh, but on the other (fully-equipped) hand, her bug-eyed rage was so palpable that she terrified us. She made me too nervous to learn math. (And, okay, it probably didn’t help that I spent most of the class period reading THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS under the desk instead of studying fractions.)

Anyway, with that background in mind, I punched a lot of numbers into the calculator, added and divided, and I think I’ve figured out that the average age for a Caldecott winner is 47.5 years.

The average age for a Newbery winner is 52.1 years.

The earliest Caldecott-winning book whose illustrator is still alive is the 1955 awardee CINDERELLA by Marcia Brown. Incidentally, Ms. Brown is now 90 years.

But the very oldest still-living Caldecott artist is Marc Simont, who won in 1957 for A TREE IS NICE, and is now 93.

The earliest Newbery-winning book whose author is still alive is 1968’s FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konigsburg.

The oldest living Newbery-winner is 92-year-old Beverly Cleary. Jean Craighead George is 89 and Sid Fleischman will turn 89 soon.


When the Newbery announcement was made a couple weeks ago many of us were surprised by the Honor Book THE SURRENDER TREE : POEMS OF CUBA’S STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM by Margarita Engle. I will admit that I’d never heard of it before then. A couple other people have told me the same thing. Having now read this novel-in-verse, I think it’s a pretty good choice. THE SURRENDER TREE covers fifty years -- and numerous wars -- in Cuban history as Rosa (based on a real person, Rosario Castellanos Castellanos), her husband Jose, and later a young girl named Silvia, run hospitals and nurse the country’s freedom fighters. Although I felt the storyline was sometimes constrained by its historical underpinnings (the expected confrontation between Rosa and her nemesis, “Lieutenant Death” never happens, perhaps because it never occurred in real life), the book does provide a strong sense of place and time. The free-verse is generally smooth and absorbing, only occasionally hitting a discordant note when it relates prosaic information at the expense of its poetic form. Though perhaps not on anyone’s radar for Newbery recognition, THE SURRENDER TREE’s status as an Honor Book will now draw young readers to what might have been a hardsell title; they will be rewarded with an inspiring story, well-told.

Through the intervention of a kind friend, I now have an ARC (advance reading copy) of THE SURRENDER TREE for my Newbery collection. It was pointed out to me that a printing error in the ARC caused Jose’s name to be printed as “Jos” throughout the pre-publication copy. Finished book on the left, ARC on the right:

I always find these little mistakes fascinating -- and a good example of why most ARCs request that reviewers check any quotations from the ARC against the final published copy.


Yesterday’s mail brought a special gift from another kind friend -- a signed copy of CHANGE HAS COME : AN ARTIST CELEBRATES OUR AMERICAN SPIRIT, which highlights the words of Barack Obama with illustrations by Kadir Nelson. The artist, who just won the Sibert and Coretta Scott King Awards for his Negro Baseball League history, WE ARE THE SHIP, pairs quotes from our 44th president with “very spontaneous drawings” documenting the excitement of election day and our unfolding new chapter in American history. This small book makes a great historical keepsake -- and a great gift. Best of all, (gosh, this is beginning to sound like a commercial) you can purchase signed copies of CHANGE HAS COME directly off the illustrator's website:


I’m equally enthusiastic about the new Marshall Cavendish Classics series which, beginning this spring, is reissuing out-of-print titles that deserve rediscovery and recognition. Their first list includes GENGHIS KHAN by Demi and LITTLE SISTER AND THE MONTH BROTHERS by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Margot Tomes, as well as one of my all-time favorites, IF I LOVE YOU, AM I TRAPPED FOREVER? by M.E. Kerr. Ms. Kerr’s second young-adult novel concerns a high school senior who learns some powerful lessons of the heart during a life-changing year in which he loses his girlfriend, falls in love with an older woman, and reunites with his long-absent father. Both hilarious and sharp-edged, this sophisticated novel remains as fresh and powerful today as it was the day it was published in 1973 -- and the last line is a real killer. Unfortunately, I fear that the dustjacket illustration may prevent many young male readers from picking up this book, and that’s a real shame because this is a rare look at love and romance from a male perspective -- and I think a lot of teenage boys would be fascinated by IF I LOVE YOU’s cocky narrator and his narrow view of life’s “winners” and “losers.”

Guys: wrap the book in newspaper, or slap the dustjacket from THE GRAVEYARD BOOK over this one, or just read it under your desk (only not during math class or you’ll be counting on your fingers the rest of your life), but make sure to READ THIS BOOK!

There’s a reason they’re calling it a “classic.”


Finally, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has recently left comments for me on this blog or sent notes to my mailbox ( I really appreciate it. And thanks to those who sent over new readers by linking my recent Aretha’s Hat entry to their blogs. After I finished writing that piece, I realized that the official mascot of Collecting Children’s Books, needs a hat too.

I'm already working on a couple blog topics for this coming week -- one seasonal and one a strange story that I just learned about a famous illustrator. I'll hope you'll be back to read them.

Thanks for dropping by.


Charlotte said...

I am still a little bitter every time I revisit the branch library of my own youth, which got completely maybe you shouldn't go back. What if the pit has been filled in with computers?

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of my childhood library (Reading, PA) and have not visited it since graduating high school. I'm pretty sure they have changed the whole thing. My favorite thing was the key for the bathroom attached to an enormous piece of wood. You had to go ask the librarian for the key and then walk down this long, dark hallway lined with old books and newspapers to the bathroom. Today, it would be considered unsafe my 95% of parents. To me, it was an adventure. Ah, fond memories! :)