Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Brunch with Sticker Shock

Today’s children’s book brunch asks “What about BOB stickers?” plus wonders whatever happened to horse stories, and reawakens a Sleeping Giant....


Is everyone following School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books?

It’s a contest in which fifteen of 2008’s best books for kids, plus THE PORCUPINE YEAR, are duking it out in a series of head-to-head matches, with each winning title moving ahead to the next round.

Here’s a list of the first week’s matches:

Match 1: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves vs. Ways to Live Forever

Match 2: The Graveyard Book vs. The Trouble Begins at 8

Match 3: Chains vs. Washington at Valley Forge

Match 4: Here Lies Arthur vs. Tender Morsels

Match 5: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks vs. We Are the Ship

Match 6: The Hunger Games vs. The Porcupine Year

Match 7: Graceling vs. The Underneath

Match 8: The Lincolns vs. Nation

In the second week, the winners of Match 1 and Match 2 got into the ring and faced off, as did the winners of Match 3 and Match 4, the winners of Match 5 and Match 6, and the winners Match 7 and Match 8.

You know what? Rather than having to keep typing Match This and Match That and confusing the issue even further, why don’t I just send you directly to the Battle of the Books blog here and you can learn about it firsthand.

Reading that blog, I think you’ll immediately see some of the problems with the contest -- starting with the fact that each round has different judges. The BOB is now down to the final two titles -- THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins and OCTAVIAN NOTHING, VOLUME II by M.T. Anderson -- and “Final Judge” Lois Lowry will be selecting the winner. But remember, she can only choose between those two books. For all we know, she might actually have preferred one of the fourteen other books that have already been knocked out of contention by other judges!

Still, all book contests are irresistible and anything that gets people talking about, thinking about, and arguing about books is ultimately a good thing.

And I love the “transparency” of this event. Unlike the Newbery and Caldecott races, there’s no smug “what’s discussed by the committee behind closed doors stays behind closed doors.” Instead, we get to hear the BOB judges -- many of them famous authors -- explain their decisions. (The phrase “apples and oranges” is used a lot.)

To add to the fun, some authors with books in contention are using their own blogs or Twitter to record their reactions to winning a match-up or suffering a TKO. So far there have been no Melissa Rivers-sized temper tantrums, but the BOB isn’t over yet....

I don’t know if the BOB is a one-time thing or whether School Library Journal plans to make this an annual event. I do think that if they want to continue this contest they are going to need some kind of spiffy award seal to draw attention to the winning books. So I’d like to offer some suggestions.

I thought this one was good, until someone said, “The message on the seal shouldn’t take longer to read than OCTAVIAN NOTHING”:

So I tried to go for something a little tighter and punchier. Alas, someone (a grown-up version of one of those know-it-all brats from THE SOUND OF MUSIC) looked at it and said, “But it doesn’t meeeeean anything!”

Okay, fine. If you need a picture to figure it out, I’ll include a picture. Unfortunately, when I tried to find an appropriate BOB graphic, this is all I came up with:

I finally found one image that seemed appropriate. At least the judges loved it:

Next I tried a take-off on those souvenir T-shirts so beloved by tacky tourists. You know the type: “My Brother Went to the Grand Canyon and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.” Here’s the BOB version:

Finally, this may be my favorite BOB seal of all:


Speaking of competitions, are you following the “Top 100 Picture Books” poll on Fuse #8’s blog? After several weeks of counting down the top ninety, the Big Ten are about to be revealed! What makes this exercise particularly rewarding is that Fuse #8 isn’t just compiling a list of titles, but is actually providing lots of important background about each book -- including pictures, quotes from reviews, historical anecdotes, etc. Well, once again, why am I telling you about it when you can just go here and see for yourself. I’ll be very intrigued to learn what makes the top ten. (Is it a foregone conclusion that a book with the initials WTWTA will take the first slot?) I’m sure there will be lots to agree about and lots to disagree about...but that‘s what makes horse races.


Actually, compared to book contests, horse races are easy. I thought of that yesterday as I watched Mine That Bird win the Kentucky Derby. No one can dispute that he crossed the finish line first, no one can complain about unfair judging, or say that this horse “will only appeal to special gamblers.”

But the Derby also got me thinking about horse books for kids.

Specifically: whatever happened to them?

In the old days they were practically a genre of their own -- and they seemed to appeal to both boys and girls equally. There were classics such as BLACK BEAUTY by Anna Sewell...MY FRIEND FLICKA by Mary O’Hara...SMOKY by Will James...NATIONAL VELVET by Enid Bagnold. Throughout the forties, fifties, and sixties there were Walter Farley’s “Black Stallion” books and Marguerite Henry’s award-winning novels about Misty and King of the Wind. Later Lynn Hall wrote a number of fine equine books.

But I can’t remember many great horse books in recent years.

Am I just forgetting titles...or are horse stories an, er, dying breed?


Come to think of it, maybe Bruce Brooks helped kill the genre. The opening chapter of his brilliant YA novel, MIDNIGHT HOUR ENCORES, skewers fourth grade girls who sit in school “with their hands curved over the tops of their desks so the teacher couldn’t see they were drawing deformed stallions on the backs of their spelling tests and lettering names such as STORMY and FLICKER on their notebooks. It would have been bad enough if they were writing boys’ names; boys I could have understood. I knew that someday we were all supposed to get into boys. But horses? Nobody I knew had grown up to marry a horse.”

MIDNIGHT HOUR ENCORES was published in 1986. I don’t think there’s been a great horse book for kids published since then.


THE SLEEPING GIANT, written and illustrated by Eleanor Estes. Published by Harcourt in 1948.

Last Sunday I discussed a long-forgotten volume by Eleanor Estes called THE SUN AND THE WIND AND MR. TODD. Here’s another Estes book from the same time frame that, like MR. TODD, never achieved the popularity of her classic “Moffats” series, GINGER PYE, or THE HUNDRED DRESSES. Still, it’s an intriguing volume that shows a different side to the author’s talent and will be of interest to any fan of her work. THE SLEEPING GIANT is actually a collection of three short stories (or “tall tales” as the dustjacket phrases it) in which everyday kids matter-of-factly deal with whimsical fantasy situations. The title story concerns a small mountain range whose three summits resemble a giant’s head, stomach, and hunched-up legs. (Thank goodness Ms. Estes chose to write about this Connecticut landmark instead of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons.) When the Sleeping Giant begins to be drilled for granite, the mountain mysteriously disappears and turns up much later as an island situated in the Pacific Ocean directly on the International Dateline. Young Jimmy and the members of a ladies’ club charter a boat named the Richard Peck (obviously docked “a long way from Chicago”) and sail off to visit the Sleeping Giant. Much of the story’s humor details the inhabitants of this new island hopping back and forth across the dateline to avoid housework and celebrate two Christmases. However, a little of that goes a long away. In fact, all three stories (the others concern a girl who has lost her shadow and an escaped zoo giraffe hiding in a family’s living room) are overlong. Yet even when the plots become attenuated, the writing style is engaging -- and Ms. Estes’ primitive illustrations add to the charm of these silly stories. She’s no Slobodkin, but the occasional color pictures, in particular, are bright and energetic.

Fans of the author’s work will also get a kick out of recognizing motifs from her earlier novels (such as Rufus M's coal bin and burning firework “snakes”) and those she had yet to write (one character has a dog named “Ginger Pup.”)

Why the book is collectable: Fans of the author will be particularly interested, especially since this volume is unlike anything else she’s written.

First edition points: Green cloth binding with black a line drawing matching the dustjacket illustration. Roman number “I” on copyright page. Price of $3.00 on front dustjacket panel.

Difficulty in finding first editions: Fairly hard to find. Expect to pay $50 to $75 for a nice copy with a dustjacket.


The television series CUPID originally debuted in 1998, ran fifteen episodes, and then disappeared. In a rare move, the show has recently been revived for another try at prime-time success. This program may be of special interest to fans of young adult books because its creator is Rob Thomas who, during the nineties, wrote several hot YA novels, beginning with RATS SAW GOD. That book and others (SLAVE DAY; DOING TIME) showcased Mr. Thomas’ gift for creating three-dimensional teenage characters and writing quirky dialogue, so it’s probably not surprising Hollywood came calling, asking him to write for such teen-centric shows as DAWSON’S CREEK. Mr. Thomas went on to create and write for the series VERONICA MARS and develop the most recent incarnation of 90210. Though he hasn’t written a YA novel in this millennium, fans of his novels can now view a different aspect of his talent by watching CUPID.


Okay, I’m not usually a big fan of pears, but I couldn’t resist this piece of produce from China when I saw it was called a “YA Pear.”

Enjoy one while reading RATS SAW GOD.


Today’s blog began with a discussion of award stickers. Here are some other, more legitimate, seals that you can use to identify award books in your collection. Available from Highsmith, they can be placed on the spine of a book (on the outside of the mylar jacket, not directly on the volume!!!), on a catalog card, in a file, or on an order form. As you can you can see, they have Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz seals...but none for the Battle of the Books yet.

Hmm...I wonder if I should get my BOB stickers copyrighted....

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Please come back again. On Tuesday a brand new book will be stopping by here as it makes a “blog tour” through cyberspace.


Monica Edinger said...

W've got some stickers in the works, but yours trump them all, especially that last one. Half of the BoB Battle Commander. (Oh, we will be back next year, definitely!)

Wendy said...

Wow, did you really dislike The Porcupine Year that much, and why? I thought it was one of the best books of the year (in both writing and enjoyability), and it won the Mock Newbery I participated in handily.

Sam said...

We get BOB stickers at Kroger all the time on milk jugs and such. They say "Have you seen B.O.B.?"
Apparently its a reminder for the employees to make sure I'm not smuggling a case of Diet Big K soda in the "Bottom Of the Basket."

When I saw "sleeping giant" I thought maybe you were going to write about "The Giant Under the Snow" by John Gordon. Is that on your shelf?

My book can't wait to meet your blog!

Sandy D. said...

Oh, the horse books. They're still here. I have a horse-obsessed 7 y.o. (daughter, of course), whom has just become confident reading chapter books. So far I've purchased and/or checked out of the library: a series of books called "Saddlemates" by Breyer (yes, of course there are figurine tie-ins), Wind Dancer books (fantasy horses, also by Breyer, I think), Bella Sara books (spin off cards & computer game, like Pokemon for horsey girls), the Red Apple Barn series, and many, many books by Jessie Haas. Many of these are featured prominently at the Scholastic Book fairs at her grade school, so they are somewhat popular.

Next up: Misty of Chincoteague. :-)

Sandy D. said...

You may be right about the lack of "great" horse stories, though.

I forgot to add that these recent horse books do seem to be aimed more at girls than boys. Kids books (in series, particularly) seem a lot more gender specific than in the past - have you written about this already? Someone link me if so!

Hannah said...

On the subject of horse books, Lee & Low published "The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby," last fall, which is a great picture book about legendary jockey Jimmy Winkfield. "Twoey and the Goat," also came out this year- I haven't read that one, but both were semi-finalists in the Tony Ryan Book Award from the Thoroughbred Times.

Brooke said...

Pam Munoz Ryan has published a few "horse" books in the last few years, such as Riding Freedom (love that Selznick cover!) and the more recent Paint the Wind. But there certainly don't seem to be as many horse books as there used to be, which is a shame since I'm always meeting young readers who want to read them.

Melissa said...

Loved the "Lois Liked Me Best" sticker; it totally cracked me up. And as for horse books, I liked Chancey of the Maury River, and I don't even particularly like horse books.