Back when I was a kid, they introduced a new kind of candy called Razzles. Or maybe it wasn’t a candy at all...but gum instead. See, when you popped a Razzle in your mouth it started off as a sweet, hard, candy-like disk, but soon dissolved into chewing gum. The back of the package advertised a contest for kids: submit a brief essay answering the eternal question “IS RAZZLES A GUM OR A CANDY?” and you could win a brand new Schwinn. For years I saved my empty Razzles wrappers, carefully smoothing them out and setting them aside for the day I finally figured out the answer (was it a gum? was it a candy?) and could submit my bang-up contest entry. Well, time kind of got away from me and when I finally gave serious thought to writing my prize-winning essay I realized I had unfortunately surpassed the “open to U.S. residents twelve and younger” contest rule. Guess I should have gotten around to it before I was 34 years old. Maybe it’s just as well. I probably wouldn’t have won, as I still don’t know the answer to the “IS IT A GUM OR A CANDY?” dilemma.
It’s one of life’s unanswerables.
This past week has had me pondering a few more of those eternal questions:
Is Pluto a planet or not a planet?
Is a particular Cynthia Rylant book for kids or for grown-ups?
Are children’s book fans “nerds” or the coolest people in the world?
These are some of questions discussed in today’s Sunday brunch, as well as a few other facts and opinions on children’s books old and new.
IS PLUTO A PLANET?
Earlier this week I blogged about the youngest Caldecott Honor winner of all time, thirteen-year-old Plato Chan, who was born just as the discovery of Pluto was announced, was only a vowel-movement away from being named for that planet and, in a freaky-weird Mark-Twain/Halley’s-Comet-like coincidence, died the very same year Pluto lost its status as our ninth planet.
In response to this, Laurel Kornfeld submitted some interesting links that support Pluto getting its planetary status reinstated. These include Laurel’s own Pluto blog as well as a Pluto advocacy site. whose motto is “Dwarf Planets are Planets Too!”
This got me wondering how the Pluto controversy has been covered by children’s books. First I thought I’d consult my friend Debbie (the desperate librarian) who seems to have a bookmark for every occasion. So I stopped at her library yesterday and asked if she had any that pertained to Pluto. This is what she gave me:
“Um, actually, I’m looking for books about the Pluto controversy,” I said.
“What’s controversial about Pluto?” she responded. “Now Goofy, he’s a controversial character! Is he a dog...or is he a human...or what?”
“That’s one of life’s unanswerables,” I agreed.
“Just like Razzles,” murmured Debbie. “I still don’t know whether it’s a gum or a candy.”
Well, of course I could have stood around debating that topic for hours, but instead came home and did a little research on the computer. Considering that Pluto was just demoted as a planet in 2006, there are already a fair number of children’s books published on the subject.
Here’s a reading list:
THE DWARF PLANET PLUTO by Kristi Lew / Benchmark Books, upcoming in 2009
PLUTO : A DWARF PLANET by Gregory Vogt / Lerner Books, upcoming in 2009
ICE DWARVES : PLUTO AND BEYOND by David Jefferis / Crabtree, 2008
BOY, WERE WE WRONG ABOUT OUR SOLAR SYSTEM by Kathleen V. Kudlinski / Dutton, 2008
PLUTO : DWARF PLANET by Christine Taylor-Butler / Children’s Press, 2008
PLUTO : FROM PLANET TO DWARF by Elaine Landau / Children’s Press, 2008
THE PLANET HUNTER : THE STORY BEHIND WHAT HAPPENED TO PLUTO by Elizabeth Rusch / Rising Moon, 2007
PLUTO : A DWARF PLANET by Ralph Winrich / Capstone, 2007
WHEN IS A PLANET NOT A PLANET : THE STORY OF PLUTO by Elaine Scott / Clarion, 2007
I’m also reminded of a fun verse in Douglas Florian’s recent, superb poetry collection COMETS, STAR, THE MOON, AND MARS : SPACE POEMS AND PAINTINGS:
Pluto was a planet.
But now it doesn't pass.
Pluto was a planet.
They say it's lacking mass.
Pluto was a planet.
Pluto was admired.
Pluto was a planet.
Till one day it got fired.
If Pluto ever gets its planetary status back, Mr. Florian may have to rewrite that poem.
IS IT A BOOK FOR KIDS OR ADULTS?
With Memorial Day tomorrow, I’ve been thinking about an unusually memorable novel by Cynthia Rylant, quite unlike anything else she has written.
I HAD SEEN CASTLES concerns seventeen-year-old John Dante, who leaves his Pittsburgh home for the trenches of Europe in World War Two. Spare, eloquent prose describes John’s first love, the trauma of combat, and how the war shaped the rest of his life.
Because the novel concerns an elderly man looking back at his past, I HAD SEEN CASTLES seems unlikely fare for young readers. In fact, when the book was published in 1993, Harcourt made the unusual decision of promoting it for both adult and young audiences. While it’s true that some young readers will not understand the sense of loss and regret that informs this character study, some adults may also dismiss the book -- which is less than a hundred pages -- as rather slight, more a short story than a novel.
But for “special readers” -- whatever their age -- I HAD SEEN CASTLES will be an unforgettable experience...and the labels “adult book” or “children’s book” really won’t matter at all.
DOES THIS RING ANY BELLS?
Someone recently contacted this blog with a query:
One of our staff members would like to find a book from his childhood. His teacher read it to him in the late 60s, but he thinks the book was well known by then, so its copyright was earlier. Here is what he remembers:
In the story a boy escapes from an orphanage, injures his leg while climbing over a fence. He is “laid up” for awhile as the leg heals, and eventually lives with a farm family and everything works out. The family took him in and was very supportive.
Does anyone have a clue as to what the title might be?
The plot actually does sound familiar to me, but it seems like something I read fairly recently, not an older book.
Does anyone have any ideas I can pass on to the person who asked this question?
ARE CHILDREN’S BOOK FANS NERDS?
For the past week or so I’ve been getting a few hits from a blog called “daddytypes.com.”
This confused me, as I thought “daddy types” was a dating category on Craigslist.
As it turned out, daddytypes.com is a “weblog for new dads” which recently ran a piece on Donald Barthelme’s THE SLIGHTLY IRREGULAR FIRE ENGINE. I had written about that title a few weeks earlier, expressing outrage that it won the National Book Award for Children’s Books many years ago.
Daddytypes disagreed with my premise. That’s great. I’m all for discussion and argument about children’s books and didn’t even mind that Daddy referred to me as a “traditionalist reactionary children’s book nerd,” as I’m sure I’ve also indulged in some name-calling on this blog from time to time.
However, I did find it odd that, since daddytypes holds this nerd in such contempt, he’d poach the picture of THE SLIGHTLY IRREGULAR FIRE ENGINE that I scanned for my blog in order to use it on his blog (his image matches the creases and lines on my original.) That’s a little like borrowing my car in order to run me down with it.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the “nerd” comment this week and can’t decide if I should reject it or embrace it.
To tell you the truth, I probably do resemble a nerd when I go out to lunch and sit there in a crowded restaurant reading something like...I don’t know...CADDIE WOODLAWN.
Maybe even MISS HICKORY!
But it would be very easy for me to exchange one of those books for something by, say, Chuck Palahniuk.
Exchange my glasses (yeah, I wear ‘em) for contacts.
Remove Razzle from mouth and insert chewing tobacco. Then spit.
Add a piercing and/or tattoo for decoration.
Come to think of it, why bother carrying a book at all (reading is so nerdlike!) when I could listen to an iPod instead?
I probably would fit in much better. No one would glance over and immediately think “nerd.”
But I wouldn’t be me at all.
And when you think about it, what’s so cool about being exactly like everyone else? A member of the herd?
I think there’s much more to be said for being an individual...an iconoclast...a nonconformist...a lone wolf...a rebel...a free spirit.
When you think of it like that, the adult male who dares to sit in public reading CADDIE WOODLAWN, as well as the adult female who sits there reading GREEN EGGS AND HAM -- neither caring what anyone thinks! -- may be, in their own way, the coolest people in the room.
CONFUSING TIMES FOR LIBRARIANS AND BOOKSELLERS
Much of today’s blog has been about trying to distinguish one thing from another: candy from gum, adult books from kids’ books, nerds from the herd.
Sometimes it’s a near-impossible task. I wonder how many times someone visits a library or bookstore seeking a particular book and accidentally leaves with something completely different.
Considering the following...
SO CONDENSED THEY SHOULD CALL IT “LIL’ HO”
The above image of THE LITTLE HOUSE reminds me of a recent article I read in Publishers Weekly. 2009 is the one hundredth anniversary of Virginia Lee Burton’s birth. Although she has been gone since 1968, her books continue to be read and loved today. I was excited to read that Houghton Mifflin has big plans to celebrate the author’s centenary until I read the details.
For example, they have just published a new edition of Burton’s Caldecott classic THE LITTLE HOUSE...as a condensed board book.
Unanswerable question: why tamper with perfection?
Then I read that they are planning a new edition of her 1943 book KATY AND THE BIG SNOW, complete with a glittery cover and “snow stickers.”
Unanswerable question: Is it a book or a TOY?
I’ll leave you with that question to ponder.
I’m still pondering whether Razzles are a gum or a candy.
Thanks for reading Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll be back!