Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Brunching with a Friend of a Friend

It’s the first Sunday of spring and today’s picture-intensive blog examines an urban legend as it relates to children’s books, provides a list of novels to get us through this depressin’ Depression, and looks at some buildings that look like books.


Someone recently told me that if you’re ever forced at gunpoint to withdraw money from an ATM, you should enter your PIN in reverse. The machine will give you the money you request, but will also secretly summon the police.

The person who related that story also warned me not to flash my lights at any car driving without its headlights -- or I’d be shot as part of a “secret gang initiation rite.” A few months earlier, that same person told me I should send a postcard to a sick kid in Scotland.

It turns out that all of these tales are untrue. They’re urban legends or “friend of a friend” stories. If anyone ever shares these kinds of questionable tales with you, the best place to check their validity is, a clearinghouse for debunking urban legends.

This past week I had the opportunity to test a story I've heard all my life. Legend has it that each year, on the day of the vernal equinox, one is able to balance eggs perfectly on end. ...So on Friday I tried it out for myself and -- pictures don’t lie! -- you can see that it really worked:

I really was able to get EGGS standing on end!

When I reported this amazing accomplishment, the very same person who told me about the reverse PIN suddenly became a skeptic -- and even printed off a page from Snopes that seemed to debunk my experiment. It read:

Every year on the vernal equinox (on or about March 21), one of the two days per year in which the length of day and night are the same, we hear about a magical property of this day that allows eggs to be balanced on end. Rarely does a year go by in which a local TV news station doesn't send a reporter out to a neighborhood park to capture images of people delightedly placing eggs on the ground and watching in amazement as the eggs stand on end. Rarely do we see any new stories reporting that this same feat can be achieved every other day of the year as well.

Yeah well, I’m not sure I buy that. The day after the vernal equinox, I tried the exact same experiment again and -- as you can plainly see! -- I was no longer able to get EGGS to stand on end!

It obviously only works on the first day of spring.

Moral of story: 1) Snopes isn’t always correct, 2) EGGS may not be Spinelli’s best book, but it does make a mean omelet.


I was trying to figure out which book from my collection best celebrates the spirit of the season and came up with FROM SPRING TO SPRING by Lois Duncan.

Ms. Duncan has had a rather unusual career. Most of her peers in the field of children’s and young adult fiction focus on writing novels alone, with perhaps an occasional article or short story on the side. While Duncan has written some well-regarded and very popular novels (including DOWN A DARK HALL, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, and KILLING MR. GRIFFIN) she has always continued to publish widely in other venues: articles in the slick women’s magazines, nonfiction in regional periodicals, stories and poems in Sunday School papers. I’m sure some of these smaller publications didn’t pay much, but the author had a lot to say and wanted to get it out there for people to read.

She eventually collected many of the family-centered poems she wrote for small magazines in FROM SPRING TO SPRING and illustrated the book with black-and-white photographs of her own family and friends. She signed my copy “Welcome to my ‘family album.’”

What a keepsake this book must be for members of the author’s family.

So many people -- not just published authors, but regular folks too -- write poetry, jot down stories and memories, and take pictures of their families. It made me realize that anyone could create a “family album” like Lois Duncan’s. Just gather up any poems you’ve already written -- or start writing. Go through old notebooks to find any family memories or stories you’ve jotted down -- or start jotting. And select some favorite photos you’ve snapped over the years -- or start snapping. Then run down to Kinko’s and have copies printed and bound. If you start it now as a springtime project, you’ll already have your holiday shopping done months ahead of time.


I just purchased the new young adult novel ROAR by Emma Clayton. This futuristic thriller about a pair of separated twins -- one living in barricaded London and the second kidnapped and reported as dead -- has been getting a lot of attention on the internet. I haven’t read it yet, so can’t comment on the quality of THE ROAR itself, but did notice two unusual things about the volume and wondered if they are unique to this book or early indications of an upcoming trend.

The first was this note on the back cover:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before. In the past we’ve had quotes from a book, as well as full pages of text, printed verbatim on the back of dustjackets as teasers, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen the reader invited to look inside at a specific page. And who wouldn’t be enticed enough to read that page -- just to see what the big deal is about page 339? Hey, it gets a prospective reader to open the book. It’s interactive. And I think it’s an intriguing gimmick that might just work.

On the other hand, I wasn’t so enthused when I opened the front cover of THE ROAR, turned the endpaper, turned the half-title page, encountered the title page, the copyright page, the book’s dedication, and then found this:

I could hardly believe that a blurb from Eoin Colfer is printed on its own page -- especially so deep within the book. I’ve never even seen a paperback novel do that -- much less a hardcover. It seems intrusive and unnecessary and, well, rather cheesy to me.

The quote on the back of the book seems to indicate that the publishers have a certain confidence in the story -- that anyone who reads page 339 will be compelled to devour the entire book. But tossing in the Eoin Colfer plug seems to betray that confidence, making it seem like the publisher, Chicken House/Scholastic, thinks that even after starting the book, readers are going to need a push from Mr. Artemis Fowl to get going.


Here’s another odd item I found at the bookstore. PAISLEY HANOVER ACTS OUT is a breezy novel by Cameron Tuttle about a high school girl who gets kicked out of her dream yearbook class (it’s overcrowded) and is forced to take drama instead. The book is packaged in a folded box (decorated in -- what else? -- chick-lit pink and orange) complete with Velcro fastener. Open it up and the paperback novel is secured in a pocket on the right side while a facsimile of Paisley’s notebook (filled with drawings, scrawled notes and observations) is in the left-hand pocket.

It’s an enjoyable, if gimmicky, idea. I’m just glad HARRIET THE SPY wasn’t issued with an accompanying notebook; it would have ruined that book’s integrity. (I’ll pause here so that whoever is currently publishing the “new” Harriet volumes can e-mail their boss to say, “I’ve got the greatest idea. We’ll republish HARRIET and include a separate notebook full of Harriet’s writings to go with it!”) Oh Paisley Hanover, what have you wrought?


Speaking of publicity gimmicks, I was intrigued by a couple ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) I recently encountered. Although I just discovered them, both are actually from 2007 (it takes a while for hot new trends to make their way to the midwest), and although one involves an adult book, which is technically outside the purview of this children’s book blog, both are so visually arresting that I wanted to share them here.

In this day and age, it’s possible for anyone of any age to find “adult oriented materials” on the internet with a single click of the mouse. In fact, you'd probably think I was spreading an urban legend if I told you there was a time when such things were strictly monitored and sold mainly by mail order with both a provision (“to be enjoyed by consenting married adults within the confines of their own home”) and a guarantee (“your order will come delivered in a plain brown paper wrapper to assure your privacy.”)

That same retro strategy was used when promoting Daria Snadowsky’s racy young adult novel ANATOMY OF A BOYFRIEND. The cover of the ARC is on the right; the brown paper wrapper that covered it is on the left.

Does a brown paper wrapper make the book more provocative or is it a new low in publicity gimmicks? I vote for the latter. It’s a disgrace. It’s shameful. It’s tacky. And I’m moving this book up to the top of my “to be read pile” right now. (Okay, maybe the brown paper wrapper gimmick does work.)

The ARC for the adult crime novel HEARTSICK by Chelsea Cain utilized a darkly humorous gimmick, as it was packaged in a plastic police evidence bag labeled with a case number, initials (ARC!), and date (9/4/07 -- the date of publication.)


The other day someone looked at me, sighed heavily, and said, “When are you going to get a haircut?” No, I’m not going to reveal who made that comment. Not even a hint. Except to say that she gave birth to me. I explained that I’d just read an article that said haircuts are less-than-essential expenditures in today’s rough economic climate. Face it, you know times are hard when even the President of the U.S. is growing a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. This reminded me of all the books I’ve read about kids getting soup-bowl haircuts and growing beans in backyard gardens during the Great Depression. Back when I first read them, these books were called "historical novels." Now they are timely “how-to manuals” about how to face the future. Here are a few good ones, both well-known and nearly-forgotten:

BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates

BUD, NOT BUDDY by Christopher Paul Curtis


DUFFY’S ROCKS by Edward Fenton


IVY LARKIN by Mary Stolz


MOONSHINE by Gary L. Blackwood


OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse


SOUP and its many sequels by Robert Newton Peck.

TRACKS by Clayton Bess


I just now finished KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park, which was published in early 2008. Better late than never. Ms. Park has written a good, old-fashioned, well-rounded story about a baseball-crazy Brooklyn girl and her friendship with a soldier who is sent to Korea. During one scene, Maggie and her mother visit the Brooklyn Central Library which “had been built to resemble a book. The entry area was the spine,and the two big wings of the building fanned out to either side, like a book that was partly open. For Maggie that was the clincher: It was surely the most wonderful building in the world.”

I had never heard of this library’s unique design, so of course I had to track down a photo on the internet:

While doing that research, I discovered that the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (well, I’d call it the “National Library of France,” which I know isn’t very sophisticated...but is still better than “That Big French Liberry.”) is designed to resemble four large, open books:

But the very best book-centric building of all has to be the Central Library of Kansas City, Missouri, which features bindings of famous volumes, including CHARLOTTE’S WEB!

Now I want to take a field trip to “check out all these books” in person.

I like the Kansas City library best because it’s the most eye-catching. If I hadn’t read about the design of the Brooklyn and French libraries, would I have noticed their resemblance to books on my own? I’d like think so, but then I’m not the most architecturally-astute person in the world. For example, I never knew that all the streets and buildings in Washington D.C. are laid out in a grid to match secret Masonic symbols. A friend of a friend told me. ...And speaking of odd stories about buildings, did you know that the top floor of the Dallas hospital where President John F. Kennedy died is supposedly empty, yet it’s maintained by a full staff of top doctors and nurses and guarded by armed Secret Service guards? And that Jackie O used to visit there every year on JFK's birthday? It’s true, it’s true...I knew somebody who knew somebody who used to work there.

What? You think I need to visit again?

Okay, I’ll check it out later today, right after I make a batch of Neiman Marcus cookies. You’ll never guess where I got the recipe!


Daughter Number Three said...

Another wonderful Depression-era novel is The Truth About Sparrows by Marian Hale (Henry Holt, 2004).

Anonymous said...

At the risk of spoiling your vision, but in the interest of (what I've heard) is true: That's actually the parking garage at the KC library.
But again, I'm just repeating a rumor...I've not verified it yet!
Jeanne K.

Anonymous said...

I think that rumor started with me, but I'll verify it anyway. The book covered parking garage is across the street from the library. Here's what they say on their website:
"The Community Bookshelf is a striking feature of Kansas City's downtown. It runs along the south wall of the Central Library's parking garage on 10th Street between Wyandotte Street and Baltimore Avenue. The book spines, which measure approximately 25 feet by 9 feet, are made of signboard mylar. The shelf showcases 22 titles reflecting a wide variety of reading interests as suggested by Kansas City readers and then selected by The Kansas City Public Library Board of Trustees."

Rosemary, daughter of Jeanne K. :)

Anonymous said...

The first time I saw a book encourage the reader to look at a specific page was on Joseph Delaney's "The Last Apprentice" books. Though in that case it warns you that the page is terribly frightening. Not particularly true, but since the books themselves are wonderful fright fests I won't complain.

And the Brooklyn Public Library really does look like a book when you get close to it. I should take pictures of it sometime. It really is a structure worth visiting.

Sam said...

Was Queenie Peavy set in the Depression years or was her family just poor? I quite like that book!

Melissa (& Billy) said...

I read "No Promises in the Wind" in my 7th grade English class, and I never forgot it. I need to collect all of the books I loved as a youngster and make a really special library for my family.

And Snopes is addicting! It's such a timesink. TVTropes is also another timesink; I frequent a message board where, if someone links to TVTropes, invariably there are moans of "Why?? I just lost an hour!" *g*