Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Brunch

Today’s random discussion about kids’ books identifies Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s least-known book, provides a list of titles about the Special Olympics, and includes an incomplete mishmash of info about the Parents Magazine Book Club.


Look around you.


What are people talking about everywhere you go?

What are they arguing about in bars?

Gossiping about over the back fence?

Whispering about at lunch tables and water coolers?


I listened...and this is what I heard:

Worries about living in a shattered economy...

Mistrust of leaders...

Rumors of public unrest...

Stories about the government actually...killing...its most vulnerable citizens....

I was a little concerned until I realized -- hey, everyone's talking about the upcoming release of CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins! This sequel to THE HUNGER GAMES is due out on September 1 -- and isn’t it great when a book for young readers can cause this kind of buzz?


One of the best things about the Harry Potter phenomenon were the midnight release parties held at so many bookstores. I know a couple children’s book fans who went to these parties not because they necessarily had to start reading the latest volume at 12:01 AM, but just because they wanted the experience of seeing hundreds of kids and their families so excited about a book.

I am curious if many bookstores will do the same for CATCHING FIRE.

Life has really changed in the past couple years. Even when the final HP volume came out, you pretty much needed to hit the bookstore if you wanted a copy. Now, with the advent of Kindle and other reading devices, you won’t even have to leave the house to get your copy of CATCHING FIRE; it can be beamed to you from Amazon at the stroke of midnight on September 1.

Another difference between the Rowling and Collins books is that the publisher was very adamant about not issuing any Harry Potter ARCs (advance reading copies) before the day of publication; if you were desperate to read a copy, you had to wait for one like everybody else. On the other hand, ARCs of CATCHING FIRE have been widely distributed at library and bookseller conferences over the past few months. Many of those copies have been shared (sometimes sold) to eager readers, so that at this point many of the series’ most ardent fans have already read the book. That’s too bad, as it’s these “superfans” who would have been lining up outside the bookstores in the waning hours of August 31.

Anyway, I hope the stores still stay open late that night and that tons of kids show up. When young people get excited about a book, it’s always a time for celebration.


The founder of the Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died earlier this week. Because the Special Olympics play an important role in the lives of many kids, I figured these Games would have a strong presence in books for children as well. However, after an hour of searching the internet, I was only able to put together a meager list:

CRAZY LADY! by Jane Leslie Conly (Harper, 1993)

WAY TO GO, ALEX! by Robin Pulver (Whitman, 1999)

SPECIAL OLYMPICS by Mike Kennedy (Children’s Press, 2003)

A VERY SPECIAL ATHLETE by Dale Bachman Flynn and Emilio Soltero (Pearl Press, 2004)


SPECIAL OLYMPICS by Fern G. Brown (Watts, 1992)

MY BROTHER IS SPECIAL by Maureen Crane Wartski (Signet, 1981)

P.K. AND T.K. AND THE SPECIAL OLYMPICS by Richard Hurley (Tate Publishing, 2009)

OLYMPIC OTIS by Gibbs Davis (Yearling, 1993)

THE WINNING SPIRIT by Melissa Lowell (Bantam, 1995)

CRISTINA KEEPS A PROMISE by Virginia L. Kroll and Enrique O. Sanchez (Whitman, 2006)

With the exception of Jane Leslie Conly’s solid Newbery Honor CRAZY LADY!, most of these titles -- bibliotherapeutic fiction and pedestrian nonfiction alike -- aren’t truly distinguished books. Can anyone add more titles to my list? Are there any truly great children’s books about the Special Olympics...or are those books yet to be written?


There have been a few mentions of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s work on this blog over the past few weeks. Many of us who grew up in the late 1960s/early 1970s remember her atmospheric novels (THE EGYPT GAME; THE VELVET ROOM) which often contained an element of magic and mystery (THE CHANGELING; BLACK AND BLUE MAGIC.) However, even some of Ms. Snyder’s biggest fans are unfamiliar with this 1969 book:

TODAY IS SATURDAY is unlike anything else the author ever published -- a collection of children’s poetry, illustrated by photographer John Arms. Although the longish poems contain rhymes that are sometimes over-obvious or -- when pairing words such as “full” and “dull” -- cringe-inducing, Ms. Snyder does contribute a few atmospheric poems that evoke the same mystical chills as her novels. Others, such as the title poem, celebrate everyday joys -- such as the fun of a day free of responsibilities:

The day was like that -- and the things we did
Just happened. And, someway, that made them seem
More special than the things we mostly do,
A little bit like something from a dream,
I guess. It was an ordinary day.
Not cloudy, but the sky was kind of dusty gold,
And never very hot.

But everything we did was fun -- and no one fought
For once. We laughed a lot
At things nobody else might even see.

No one would know what it was like I guess
But guys like Doug and Ben and Mark and me.

This least-known of the author’s works reveals a different side of her talent to fans of her novels.


A couple weeks ago a friend of the blog suggested I write an entry about books published by Parents Magazine Press.

I thought this was a very good idea, as titles published by book clubs -- such as Scholastic, Weekly Reader, and Parents Magazine -- are often extremely popular with collectors, who remember those volumes fondly from childhood and often hunt them down again as adults...either for themselves or for their children.

However, my research has left me with more questions than answers. I’ll report the little bit I know here and maybe other readers can provide some supplemental info.

Traditionally, mail-order book clubs for children offer their subscribers a new volume every month. These selections, originally issued by major publishing houses such as Macmillan or Morrow, are reprinted in inferior “book club” editions -- pressed cardboard covers, no dustjackets, and the name of the book club emblazoned on the back cover or title page. In some book clubs, such as the Weekly Reader, the child was registered by age and automatically received that month’s pre-selected title for his or her age group. Other book clubs, such as the Junior Deluxe, would offer two or more selections per month and the reader could make a choice.

I’m not sure if age range was even an issue with the Parents Magazine book club; all of their titles were for preschoolers and early readers.

When the club first began in the 1950s, they too offered titles originally released by other mainstream publishers. YOUNG KANGAROO by Margaret Wise Brown (1955) was first issued by Abelard Shuman and then reprinted by Parents Magazine Press; Syd Hoff’s JULIUS (1959) had a trade edition published by a Harper, while its book club edition was printed by Parents Magazine Press.

However, this would change in the early 1960s, when Parents Magazine Press began issuing original titles of its own.

Among the earliest original titles I’ve found are THE KING’S CHOICE by K. Shivkumar, which was published in 1961, and TAG-ALONG by Bernice Frankel, published in 1962. From that point on, every Parents Magazine Press title appears to be a new book being published for the first time.

The 1960s were the glory years for this book club. Authors and artists who published with Parents Magazine Press included Marianna Mayer, Tomi Ungerer, Ellen Raskin, Alvin Tresselt, and Roger Duvoisin -- and volumes such as THE COOKIE TREE by Jay Williams (1967) and MISS SUZY by Miriam Young, with illustrations by Arnold Lobel (1964) remain well-known and well-loved.

However, Parents Magazine Press also seem to have issued their titles in more than one edition. If you were a member of the club, the book you received would have a grainy cardboard cover with an illustration printed directly on it. Yet there is evidence that Parents Press also printed some -- if not all -- of their books in classier editions with cloth covers and dustjackets. I assume these copies were for the library and bookstore market.

One Parents Magazine Press title -- THIRTEEN by Remy Charlip -- won the 1977 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award; others, such as MISS SUZY, have become modern classics and have been reprinted by other publishers for modern audiences.

Were you a member of the Parents Magazine Book Club? I'd be curious to hear what books you received. Were they original publications or repackaged editions from other publishers? Did any have dustjackets? Do you have any special memories of these books?


I’m always fascinated to see how books can change in design and title just months away from publication. Case in point: my bookstore friend recently gave me an ARC of a forthcoming book called EPISODES : MY LIFE IN SYNDICATION by Blaze Ginsberg. The author, according to the back of the volume, is a “high functioning autistic teenager” and this autobiographical book is written in the style of the famous Internet Movie Database ( with events divided into television “episodes” containing summaries, notes, trivia, soundtracks, etc.

Before I had a chance to read the book, I came across another picture of its cover -- and it's been completely changed. As you can see in this comparative photograph, the ARC features an illustration of stacked television sets, the subtitle “”My Life in Syndication,” and a blurb by Jamie Leigh Curtis; the hardover illustration features a TV remote, a new subtitle (“My Life as I See It”), and Jamie Leigh’s been replaced by Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler:

Being a big fan of novelty-narratives (I love books composed of letters, diary entries, etc.) and a constant user of the imdb, I can’t wait to read EPISODES. Will the unusual structure enhance the text or result in a choppy, hard-to-follow story?

I’ll let you know when I finish reading it. As we say in TV Land, “stay tuned.”

And I hope you’ll stay tuned to this blogspot as we continue to celebrate the old and new in children’s books. Thanks for dropping by.


Unknown said...

I'm writing my thesis on the portrayal of disabilities in children's book, and it doesn't surprise me that there aren't more books on the Special Olympics. I'm finding it a recurring theme about disabilities in general. Disturbing and yet I'm hopeful that we will begin to see more in the future.

As for Catching Fire. I work at Borders and as far as I know, there will be no midnight release party. The book itself has done well, but just doesn't have the selling presence that HP or Twilight have had. Not enough to garner such an occasion. A friend of mine did get to read a advanced readers copy and she said it was good and there are some surprising parts. I can't wait.

Lastly, my mother read all of her old books to me when I was young. Most of those were from Parents Magazine Press. Never Tease a Weasel, Attic of the Wind, Junk Day on Juniper Street, Susie Squirrel, The Grown-Up Day, How Fletcher Was Hatched, and my ultimate favorite Old Black Witch. Worth finding and owning.

Love your site!

Brooke said...

I loved the books I recieved from various book clubs as a child, especially titles by Jack Kent (The Biggest Shadow in the Zoo), the aforementioned Miss Suzy and the still-wonderful-after-all-this-time The Giant Jam Sandwich.

A funny story about Jay Williams' The Cookie Tree: my parents were both theater performance majors in college, and in one of their courses they were given copies of the text of The Cookie Tree to perform as a monologue. They never saw the illustrations, and quickly forgot who the author was, but years later when I was a little girl they found that the words to that story were readily remembered and told it to me again and again -- it was my favorite.

When I first met my husband, he told me that his favorite childhood book was a different title by Williams, Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like. It wasn't until my first library position (and subsequent exposure to WorldCat) that I discovered the true author of The Cookie Tree -- and that my husband and I shared the same favorite childhood author without even knowing it!

Since then we have collected nearly all of Williams' charming picture books, and enjoy sharing them with our own children.

Thanks for the great work on this blog!