Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Brunch with Razzles (whatever they are!)

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.


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


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.


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.


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?


For the past week or so I’ve been getting a few hits from a blog called “”

This confused me, as I thought “daddy types” was a dating category on Craigslist.

As it turned out, 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 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.


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...


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 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!


Penni Russon said...

Condensing Little House seems absurd. It is an excellent 'read aloud' books for 4-6 year olds as is, and older kids who can manage a first chapter book would find it satisfying and manageable, surely. I am not terribly fond of condensation, on my tent walls or in my children's books. Give them a challenge! It is more likely to instil a love of literature, yes?

Nerdiness is the new cool. Have these people not heard of John Green? (No doubt they have not). They shouldn't nick yer stuff, then name call. It's rude.

Razzles sounds like gum to me. Perhaps it's easier to see from outside the Razzle culture.

Monica Edinger said...

And is gum not a subset of candy? There, solved one unanswerable in a jiffy. (Jiffy Pop --- is it popcorn or is it family fun?)

Sam said...

Since kidlit may have spawned the word "nerd" -- (I have a post about it somewhere, but I'm sure you know what I'm talking about) -- I think we can wear the badge proudly.

Thanks for another great Sunday brunch!

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I just this week read a chapter book (fiction) that deals with the Is-Pluto-a planet? question: How Oliver Olson Changed the World by Claudia Mills (FSG, 2009). It was good! Now to track down a copy of that Cynthia Rylant book.

Anonymous said...

"If I Ran the Zoo" by Dr. Seuss, published in 1950, is the first recorded instance of the word “nerd.” This info comes from a Mental_Floss article from a while back. True or not, this post made me laugh, think, and realize that there is so much for this 27 year old school librarian to learn. Thanks again for consistently dropping knowledge.

Skip Booth said...

Christine Lavin has a wonderful song about Pluto. Here is a link to the lyrics, Sorry it is so long.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Thank you for posting my links to sites supporting Pluto's planet status. There is no one right answer; as of now it's an ongoing debate. Look for a new children's book from a pro-Pluto as a planet perspective by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, coming this fall (I'm not sure of the title as of yet). Two more good advocacy sites, by different people are and

Sherri said...

The stumper you mention might be "Gib Rides Home" by Zilpha Keatley Snyder - or possibly it's sequel "Gib and the Gray Ghost". I can't remember which plot was in which of those books but Gib is definitely an orphan who is taken in by a farm family and helps care for the horses.

Sherri said...

Oops! Should have read the description more carefully. I don't think the Snyder book is old enough to meet the criteria... This is a long shot but the last Melendy family book "And Then There Were Five" by Elizabeth Enright involves the family taking in an orphan.. I don't really think of them as a farm family but it might be a possibility.

Bybee said...

Thanks for your post about Pluto earlier this week. Thanks to you, I got a question right at Trivia Night.

In my heart, Pluto is a planet. Always.

Children's Lit afficianados are the coolest people alive, of course.'s both...undergoes an exciting metamorphosis in your mouth. Ew, that made me think of cockroaches. Sorry. Thanks for brunch.

Anonymous said...

Pluto.....ruling Planet of Scorpio!

Anonymous said...

Actually Pluto the dog is part of the controversy. Why does Goofy wear pants even though he is a dog but Pluto doesn't? Also let's not forget the other dilemma--who is stronger? Mighty Mouse or Superman?

Genevieve said...

I'm guessing your stumper is "Little Men," by Louisa May Alcott. Jo March Bhaer runs a live-in school at Plumfield (I can't see calling it a boarding school somehow), and takes in a orphan named Dan. Then when Dan breaks too many rules and nearly burns down the house, the Bhaers send him to a farmer named Page who sometimes does well with the more troublesome cases. Dan hates it there, runs away from Page, and heads back towards Plumfield. Jo finds him sleeping in a haystack outside Plumfield with a badly injured leg which he has hurt getting over a fence. She takes him back at Plumfield and he is laid up for quite some time, learns more patience and appreciation of the care they're taking of him, and eventually does quite well (um, until the next book . . . ).

Fuse #8 said...

I very much recently enjoyed "How Oliver Olson Changed the World" by Claudia Mills, which takes the whole Pluto debate and puts a nice little spin on it. The kids lobby for Pluto to be a planet then, after they've made their case, do a 180 and decide it really isn't. Not the result I was expected from a lightweight work of fiction.

FYI, I suspect that Stephen Colbert reads your blog. He mentioned Razzles recently and I, not knowing what they were, was appropriately baffled.

Sarah said...

My sister would like me to post thanking you for reminding her of Miss Hickory! Now we'll have to look for it at the library. Hee.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Claudia Mills gets credit for creativity, but Pluto still IS a planet. It would be nice to see a good representation of children's books telling both sides of this debate.

Douglas Florian said...

Pluto is still an element: PU
douglas florian