Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday Brunch for August 2, 2009

Today’s Sunday Brunch recalls the good old days of Yearling paperback books, shows off some treats from ALA, and ponders books about Reality TV....


The other day I wrote a blog about Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s THE VELVET ROOM and now I can’t get Snyder out of my mind. Since writing that blog entry, several people have written to tell me about their own special Snyder books, such as 1970’s THE CHANGELING -- another real favorite of mine. Ms. Snyder belongs to that very small, select group of authors whose first manuscript was accepted by the first publisher that saw it. The author once mentioned this fact to a group of fellow writers, one of whom dramatically responded, "Stand back, everyone. I'm going to shoot her!" That first book was SEASON OF PONIES (1964), a title which not only introduced an exciting new author, but also brought a fresh illustrator into the field. Although authors generally have no say in who will illustrate their books, Ms. Snyder had submitted some drawings by Alton Raible -- an art instructor at the College of Marin, where Snyder’s husband taught -- to her editor and he was eventually chosen to illustrate SEASON OF PONIES. Mr. Raible went on to illustrate all of Snyder’s early books -- a perfect match, as his atmospheric, surreal, pebbly artwork was well-suited for the mystical qualities of these stories.

SEASON OF PONIES was published the same year as Maia Wojciechowska’s SHADOW OF A BULL. Wojciechowska viewed Snyder as her biggest threat for the Newbery Medal, but Maia ended up winning the prize while Zilpha’s novel wasn’t even named an Honor Book. However, three of Snyder’s titles would be designated Newbery Honors in the following few years. It’s a shame she never actually won the Big One.


Every now and then you hear about famous authors who produced chapbooks or small self-published books when they were growing up. I believe Francesca Lia Block published one as a teenager. I know that Canadian author Jean Little released a small self-published book called IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD back in 1947, when she was just fifteen years old. Even after she became a well-known author, Ms. Little continued to privately-publish small books as Christmas presents for friends and relatives. Her holiday gift for 1976, HEY WORLD, HERE I AM! was commercially published -- over a decade later -- by HarperCollins.

HEY WORLD! is a collection of poems written in the voice of Kate Bloomfield, a character first introduced in the 1970 novel LOOK THROUGH MY WINDOW. Anyone interested in books and writing should enjoy this story about, among other things, a creative writing club formed by a group of friends. There are fun “literary” touches throughout: a cat named William Shakespeare; references to the poems “Invictus,” “If,” “The Highwayman,” and “The Lady of Shallot,” and a scene in which a character, reading aloud from a Janice May Udry book, “turned the final page of A TREE IS NICE and sighed, as her listeners did, at the rightness of it.”

And then there’s the moment when one of the characters puts together a handmade poetry book and gives it to a friend for Christmas. The title? IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD.

Joan Sandin illustrated LOOK THROUGH MY WINDOW and this is my absolute favorite illustration from the book. You may have to enlarge it (just click on the image) to see why I like it so much:

In LOOK THROUGH MY WINDOW, Kate’s parents own a bookstore and it’s clear that illustrator Joan Sandin visited an actual bookstore when she did this drawing, as so many of the details are just right. The reason I got such a kick out of this illustration when I read the book in 1970 -- and still get a nostalgic kick out of it when I read it today -- is that I recognize so many books on the shelves!

I don’t recognize the book near Mr. Bloomfield’s knee, but there’s HARRIET THE SPY sitting nearby.

One shelf up there’s STRAWBERRY GIRL and another I don’t recognize. (Any ideas?)



I always thought it was so cool that books I recognized -- that were, in fact, on my own shelves at home -- were featured in the illustrations of this novel.


Incidentally, all those covers represent Yearling Books.

I imagine that anyone who grew up reading in the late sixties/early seventies shares my fond memories of Dell Yearling Books?

At the time they were one of the few children’s paperback lines you could find in most bookstores. Distinguished by their identical trim size and logo of a fence-hopping foal, the Yearling titles were -- according to an inside note “designed especially to entertain and enlighten young people. The finest available books for children have been selected under the direction of Dr. Charles F. Reasoner, Associate Professor of Children’s Literature, New York University, and Dr. M. Jerry Weiss, Distinguished Professor of Communications, Jersey City State College.”

The variety of books offered by Yearling was pretty impressive, ranging from Newbery winners (RABBIT HILL) to translations to classics (surely the first paperback versions of CHARLOTTE’S WEB and STUART LITTLE) to modern books you’d never seen before. In fact, I will bet that most readers first encountered HARRIET THE SPY in her Yearling paperback incarnation. I say that because back then many library systems (including my own Detroit Public Library) didn’t/wouldn’t include HARRIET on their shelves back in the day. Ditto Judy Blume’s then-racy ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET. and THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON’T, which the library didn’t carry but were passed eagerly around classrooms in their Yearling editions.

As a kid I was fascinated by these books and could barely wait to see what new Yearling titles would be on the shelves each time I visited the bookstore. I spent a lot of my paper route money on them, making brand-new discoveries or welcoming books I’d never been able to afford in hardcover (such as JOHNNY TREMAIN) onto my shelves in affordable paperback editions.


Has anyone ever heard of this? I am doing research for an upcoming blog entry on Lurlene McDaniel’s “dying teen” books and keep seeing references to her novel SIX WEEKS TO LIVE being placed in a “literary time capsule” at the Library of Congress. This time capsule will not be opened until 2089.

Strangely, I can find no information of what other books were placed in this time capsule.

Does anyone know?

And though I understand the concept of time capsules in general, I’m not sure of the purpose for a literary time capsule. Isn’t a library in and of itself a kind of literary time capsule? Why bury books underground? Just keep them on the shelves till 2089!


What’s on the agenda for tonight? I hate to admit that I’ll probably be glued to the tube for an entire evening of reality television: BIG BROTHER, followed by THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR, capped off by DESIGN STAR.

Yeah, I’m addicted to reality TV.

I’ll never forget the summer night SURVIVOR premiered. In the opening sequence they introduced the contestants: a truck driver, a retired Navy SEAL, a doctor...then they showed a sweet gray-haired woman identified as a cancer survivor. Right then I decided she’d probably win the game. I could envision the “feel good” conclusion to the series, with all the contestants banding together to help this “survivor” become THE final survivor in the game.

Well the contestants DID band together in that episode. They banded together to vote the little old lady off!

I was stunned.

And even more stunned when, several months later, the most conniving, underhanded, nastiest contestant of all ended up winning the entire game.

This was definitely a new kind of television. And one that was quickly excoriated by both TV writers and social critics. I understand the criticisms. These shows encourage people to behave badly. Some say they’re scripted...or at least closely-directed from the sidelines. Most of the contestants already seem to have some kind of show-biz/modeling background. I get all that...but I’m still hooked.

I probably wouldn’t even admit my addiction if it weren’t for the fact that, in my travels around the blogosphere, I’ve discovered that many children’s and young adult authors have expressed an interest in this television genre. Maybe they are drawn to the same qualities of reality TV that I am: the diversity of human behavior and the “truth is stranger than fiction” actions of the contestants. There’s a contrariness to the people on reality TV -- just like there is in life: good guys almost always end up disappointing you at some point...and bad guys usually have a redeeming moment that makes you look at them anew.

In recent years, several books for young people have placed their characters in reality TV situations. Titles include:

THE REAL REAL by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
REALITY CHICK by Jennifer Barnholdt
LOSERVILLE by Peter Johnson

And then of course there is Suzanne Collins’ HUNGER GAMES and the forthcoming CATCHING FIRE. Not only do these novels have a reality show theme (the “Hunger Games” are played-out on televisions) but Ms. Collins herself has said that reality TV shows were one of the things that inspired this series. ...She probably didn’t mean that in a positive way, but still....

So you see: if it hadn’t been for shows such as SURVIVOR, we’d never have a great book like THE HUNGER GAMES on our shelves!

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.


A bookselling friend of mine recently attended the American Library Association conference in Chicago. A few days ago I received an envelope in the mail containing all manner of ephemera she picked up at the publishers’ tables: bookmarks, discussion guides, postcards....

It’s fascinating stuff and I was so glad to receive it. Discussion guides and reading group summaries seem to be the hot new thing. I wonder how one gets a job writing these?


Another bookselling friend (do I have nice friends or what?) just gave me the new “Fall Children’s Announcements Issue” of Publishers Weekly. Published twice a year, in February (“Spring Children’s Announcements Issue”) and July, these two PW children book specials list all the titles being published by major publishers during the first and last halves of the year.

As you can see from this photo, my copy of the February issue is already worn, stained, crumpled, and well-used.

In a couple months, the new July issue will look the same. I love to browse through the pages, learning what is currently being published, noting trends in subject matter, and highlighting titles I can’t wait to read. The quality of the PW children’s book issues has fallen off this year. They always used to contain a major interview with a children’s creator and a preview of the next publishing season as well. I don’t think those components are still included.

But the magazines still make fascinating reading. And imagine: right now, with these two issues in my hand, I’m holding the titles and summaries of every new book published in 2009. Some will be classics...some forgotten. The names of the next Newbery and Caldecott winners are in these issues...we just don’t know what they are yet. The best book I ever read may be in these pages.

In a way, these two comprehensive magazine issues really could serve as a “time capsule” of children’s and young adult books, circa 2009.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books.


CLM said...

Kate Bloomfield was my favorite Jean Little character, and I was envious that she had a bookstore in the family. As I mentioned to someone recently, Kate was one of the first Jewish characters I remember from childhood - not counting those in Holocaust books or All of a Kind Family or historical fiction by Gladys Malvern (much of what I know about Judaism came from AOKF).

Ellen Conford also wrote about ordinary Jewish teens or pre-teens in the suburbs. I loved Conford's books but as an adult once rushed to a booksigning to meet her, bearing a hardcover or two, and told her how much my sisters and I enjoyed them. "Aren't you a little old for my books?" she asked me. True, but I was surprised she wasn't more appreciative!

I am trying to remember other heroines whose families owned bookstores but right now the only one I can think of is Penny Morchard in No Boats on Bannermere (Geoffrey Trease). She is more sophisticated than her friends because of hanging out at her father's shop and because of a disability she fears may limit her acting career. His bookstore always seemed very appealing to me. Those who never read this series would enjoy it.

Jennifer said...

I love Joan Sandin's illustrations - and, as anyone who knows me and my blog can say, I am a HUGE fan of Jean Little. I've actually got an autographed copy of Hey World she sent me. It was the first time I'd ever tried writing to an author - I asked if I could name my library after her and she wrote me a letter and sent me a book! Look Through My Window was the first Jean Little book I ever read and had a huge impact on me.

Daughter Number Three said...

Thanks for more on Zilpha and also on Alton Raible. Another favorite of mine from their combined work is Eyes in the Fishbowl -- a surreal tale!

And also, thanks for sharing our fondness for Dell Yearlings. I also owned a lot of these, and often find myself replacing them these days with used hardcovers. Sometimes I keep the daylight-yellowed Dells just for old times' sake.

immsm said...

I just found your blog while searching (in vain) for references to Twinkle. I didn't remember the name but remembered the character. It popped into my mind the other day when one of my Grade 1 students drew a star with a face on it. I wish I could find more information about this old comic strip but like you I haven't been successful.