Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Brunch for HUNGRY Readers

Among other topics, today’s Sunday Brunch discusses the HUNGER GAMES phenomenon, lists some books about spelling bees, and explains why I now blush when I see the book PAT THE BUNNY.


Back in the late seventies, I got very interested in the field of entertainment. In that world, I obsessively read VARIETY and even subscribed to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. I knew what a Nielsen “ratings share” meant, could translate Hollywood trade headlines (“B.O. BOFFO IN BEANTOWN!”; “STIX NIX HIX PIX!”), and learned an entire new vocabulary of show-biz lingo. Back then I was the only person in my circle who knew what “sweeps month” was all about. I was the only one who knew that, in “the business,” the word “web” referred to a television network.

Well, over the past thirty years, that certainly changed. Now, thanks to TV shows such as ET and ACCESS HOLLYWOOD -- as well as increased coverage of entertainment news in the media -- everyone is glib about these matters. We follow the box office charts in the newspapers, get constant updates about Susan Boyle on, and even little kids know when sweeps month rolls around.

When I first began working in the field of children’s books, I marveled every time I saw an ARC (advance reading copy) of a forthcoming novel. How cool was it to read a new book months before it hit the bookstores? I felt like I was part of a small, select circle of “literary insiders” who had this opportunity. I felt special.

But now, once again, the world has caught up with my special interest. Thanks to the web (the internet kind, not the “television network” kind) and blogs, people are growing much more savvy about the publishing industry. Nowadays, everyone knows about ARCs -- and everyone wants them. Why sit around waiting for a book to be published months from now when you can get an ARC right now? Especially if you can get it free?

I remember the good old, six months ago...when the most frequent search bringing readers to this blog was “What’s that book about a babysitter who makes soda pop come out of faucets?” That innocent era is long gone. Today’s most frequent search request is “How do I get an ARC of CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins?” or “Where do I get a FREE ARC of CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins?”

CATCHING FIRE is the second volume in the series that began with THE HUNGER GAMES. In case you’ve been in a coma for the past year (or perhaps living in S.A. Bodeen’s compound) THE HUNGER GAMES is a futuristic novel in which twenty-four young people are chosen by lottery to participate in a fight-to-the-death competition which is broadcast on television. Nearly everyone who has read this breathlessly-exciting story of sixteen-year-old Katniss trying to survive knives, spears, and fire is desperate to read the second volume, CATCHING FIRE, which will be published on September 1, 2009.

A week or two ago, Scholastic sent ARCs of this novel to selected readers. This weekend copies were distributed at the Book Expo in New York.

Now the children’s book world is divided into two categories -- the Haves and the Have-nots.

And it raises some interesting questions.

When a Have posts a blog or listserve message about the book, are they merely being informative...or are they “lording it over” everyone else? (Tip to the Haves: avoid phrases such as “Nah-nah!” and “I’ve got what you don’t have, I’ve got what you don’t have!”)

When a Have-Not posts a covetous comment, are they being cute...or are they insanely jealous? (Tip to Have-nots: don’t try the “I’m sick...and may not make it till September” ploy. If you’re that desperate, go to eBay and fork over $100 for an ARC. Some of the Haves are already selling their copies over there.)

Anyway, if Scholastic wanted to whip readers into frenzy by issuing these ARCs early, they have succeeded.

I think there is only one way they can top this when the final volume is published next year.

I suggest that they only release one ARC.

Yeah, just a single copy.

Then readers can enter a lottery in order to win it. Twenty-four finalists will be chosen and these latter-day Indiana Joneses will compete in a televised fight-to-the-death match to win the ARC. Can you imagine a fourteen-year-old kid slugging it out with a sixty-year-old librarian? A pair of booksellers launching flame-throwers at each other? A blogger skilled in numchucks going after a book reviewer whose only talent is a catty tongue? And what about the inevitable show-mance between two young Suzanne Collins fans?

Twenty-four readers.

One ARC.

Be the first person to read it....or die trying.

How “hungry” are you?

Watch the premiere of “THE HUNGER GAMES” GAMES

On CBS, coming Fall 2010.


The other night I taped the National Spelling Bee off television and, in typical fashion, the tape cut off two minutes before the contest ended. But that’s okay -- I later learned who won in the newspaper. And I’d already seen enough to realize how dumb I am.




I have a hard enough time remembering that there are two Rs in “embarrass” or two Cs and one L in “broccoli.”

Still, it’s great to see kids getting recognition for being smart.

Unlike other endeavors, such as sports and music, that are performed by both adults and children, spelling bees seem to be geared toward young people only. That got me wondering how many books there are on this topic, so I stopped at the library to see if Debbie the Desperate Librarian had any appropriate bookmarks. She did not, though -- in honor of this week’s National Bee -- she did have a bulletin board display which included dustjackets of appropriate titles under a banner that said “READ THESE BOOKS AND YOU COULD 'BEE' THE NEXT SPELLING CHAMPEON.”

Obviously, Debbie never won a spelling bee herself. Anyway, here are a few of the dustjackets she had stapled to the bulletin board:

SPELLBOUND by Karon Luddy


PINKY AND REX AND THE SPELLING BEE by James Howe and Melissa Sweet

THE SPELLING BEE AND ME by Gail Small and Kendra Yoshinaga





Are there any others I should add to this list?


Despite my confusion over embarass and brocolli -- I mean, embarrass and broccoli -- there was once a very brief time in my life when I could spell pretty well. Back in sixth grade, after many weeks of studying, I actually won the class spelling bee and received a dictionary from our local newspaper. I still remember the day I won (it happened to be Valentine’s Day and I was wearing my lucky shirt) and the summer Saturday when a mail truck pulled up outside delivering the dictionary -- the first time I ever got a special delivery or saw my name on the cover of a book.

Now my name is almost rubbed off the front cover. The spine is unattached. The sides are frayed. The pages are bent. But I always have this book on my desk...just a foot away from me. I use it nearly every single day.

One year after winning this book, I lost the seventh-grade spelling bee on the first round. No wonder I treasure my dictionary. It reminds me of how fleeting success can be.


Last week’s Sunday Brunch asked the question “Is Razzles a gum or a candy?”

Now there’s a new book that asks the question “Is it a duck or a rabbit?”

DUCK! RABBIT! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld looks at the same optical illusion:

while two voices debate what, exactly, the figure is. This single joke is beautifully sustained for over thirty pages in a funny and thought-provoking book about perception.

I also noticed an optical illusion on the cover of Rich Wallace’s latest, PERPETUAL CHECK:

I found this story of competing chess-playing brothers a little thin in plot and character-development, but kids who enjoy the game will want to take a look at this novel.

Finally, did you notice the illusion on the cover of this year’s Newbery winner?

Being such an observant and detail-oriented book-lover, I of course noticed the optical illusion immediately!


Who am I kidding? I did not notice the optical illusion on the cover of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK immediately. Heck, I didn’t notice it the first 5000 times I handled the volume or saw the cover illustration in blogs, in magazines, or anywhere else.

Truthfully, I didn’t notice it at all until someone pointed it out to me this week.

Now I feel as dumb as I did when I lost the seventh-grade spelling bee in the first round.

No wonder I felt compelled to lie about it.

Speaking of lying, Justine Labalestier has a new novel coming out this fall called LIAR.

Earlier I spoke about ARCs being released before the publication of a book. Here is another example of pre-publication publicity -- a promotional pamphlet containing excerpts from a book.

This one, promoting LIAR, contains an intriguing letter from the editor (“Will you like this novel, knowing you’re about to be lied to? Will you like being betrayed by a character page after page?”), followed by excerpts from the text.

It’s very intriguing.

I have been thinking for a while that Justine Larbalestier is poised for bestselling success. Could this be the book that finally does it? Stay tuned.


A lot of people I know and trust thought that Jake Wizner’s 2007 debut novel SPANKING SHAKESPEARE was the best thing since Shakespeare himself. I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan, finding the protagonist unlikable and a lot of the humor (especially the scatological stuff) to be forced and a distracting disservice to the text. Now Mr. Wizner’s got a brand-new book out and if the cover illustration promises HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, the title should tell you otherwise. I mean HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL was rather tame...a nice PG film. This book is closer to one of those movies you rent from the backroom of the video store. You’ve heard of George Carlin’s “seven dirty words”? On the first page of this book, I counted THIRTEEN new words to add to Carlin's list!

Since it’s nearly impossible to review a book of this type without devolving into all kinds of NC-17 puns, I think I’ll just say for now that CASTRATION CELEBRATION did make me snicker and even laugh out loud a few times and there is no doubt that a lot of kids will like this fast-paced story of teens attending an arts camp at Yale.

For the purposes of this blog, however, I want to point out that the book contains some references to classic children’s books!

Unfortunately, once you've read the author’s riffs on PAT THE BUNNY and WINNIE-THE-POOH, you may never look at those books the same way again....

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll return.


Kristin said...

Maybe Scholastic should partner with a candy company and do a "Golden Ticket" approach to the next Collins ARC. Worked for Willy Wonka!

Sam said...

Go ahead and Origmai Yoda to your spelling bee list. Hopefully, it will be out before next years' bee!

Linda said...

Well, there's always the Spelling Bee in The Phantom Tollbooth. :-)

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Bibliopinions said...

I cannot believe I did not ever notice the optical illusion on GRAVEYARD BOOK! Thanks for pointing it out....

Brooke said...

I loved the optical illustion on The Graveyard Book, as it matches the "Fading" magic that Bod uses: unless you're looking right at the silhouette, you just don't see it at all. Clever.

Janey said...

amazing you discovered that illusion in the Graveyard Book! I feel guilty saying this, but I'm looking forward to the upcoming movie of the same title. In any case, I wanted your trusted input on the matter of book rental - wondering if you could recommend a spot? I've heard great things about, that they're like the Netflix of you know anyone who's tried?

Anonymous said...

> I wanted your trusted input on the matter of book rental

something wrong with your local library?

if they don't have what you want, see if they'll do interlibrary loan

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Apa itu SERP ? said...

Go ahead and Origmai Yoda to your spelling bee list. Hopefully, it will be out before next years' bee!

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interesting books..
but some of those are too 'gloomy' for children..IMO..
thanks for the info..

Andreas said...

nice books.. instead of books why don't you also introduce your kids with gadget and technology review, maybe they will be the children of tomorrow...

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