Sunday, September 6, 2009

First Brunch of Fall

Welcome to the first Sunday Brunch of the fall. Well, okay, fall doesn’t officially arrive until September 22, but to me autumn begins with the start of school. And school has started in these parts. Today’s blog contains the usual random facts and opinions on children’s books, including a list of schools you don’t want to attend, a rundown of William Allen White Award winners, and a look at some things I found inside a book and under a dustjacket.


I’ve had some odd coincidences concerning books this week.

First I was reading a novel and encountered the phrase “porte cochere” and had to look it up in the dictionary (“a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those getting in and out of vehicles.”) The odd thing is that as soon as I finished the book, I picked up another novel I’d been reading and immediately came across the words “porte cochere” in that book as well!

Then yesterday I had lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant and when I went to pay my bill the teenage server was sitting at the cash register reading a paperback copy of FEED by M.T. Anderson. I’m always excited when I see a kid reading a book and almost quoted the novel’s opening line to him (“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”) but figured he’d think I was nuts, so I just quietly paid my bill and left. But I did go back to my table on the way out and add an extra dollar to the tip. I like to encourage teenage literacy. As I drove off, still thinking about the boy reading FEED, I passed another teenage boy walking on the street with no shirt. Across his shoulders were tattooed the words “FEED ME.” Of the two kids, which do you think did better on his SATs?

Finally, last week I spoke of reading a library book that had the pleasant scent of the furniture polish my family used when I was growing up (“Guardsman Polish,” according to my mother, who later read the blog.) This week I borrowed another library book (ESCAPE by Ethel Vance, a 1939 suspense novel nominated for a Pulitzer) and, unbelievably, it too had that same scent! On the front endpaper was a bookplate saying it was donated by a couple named Laurie and Larry Davidow -- the same folks who had donated the book I was raving about last week. I have no idea who Laurie and Larry were, but I like their taste in books...and furniture polish!


Another sign that autumn has arrived is our annual state fair, which opens at the end of August and closes on Labor Day. I haven’t been in several years, but still have strong memories of going every year as a kid. Our family usually attended on Labor Day when the animal stalls were at their absolute hold-your-nose worst and the prize-winning cakes were covered with fly specks. But we always had a great time.

Here in Michigan we claim the nation’s oldest state fair (first held in 1849) but we are being told that, due to the economy, 2009 may be its last year -- forever! I can’t even wrap my mind around that idea. If it does close, I guess the only place I’ll be able to visit a state or county fair will be within the pages of a book. Here are few of them:

A spun-candy machine malfunctions in this picture book romp.

NIGHT AT THE FAIR by Donald Crews
A busy, colorful look at a fair after sundown.

A brother and sister encounter thieves in this fun and suspenseful tale.

FAIR WEATHER by Richard Peck
The backdrop of this book isn’t just a state fair, but the 1893 World’s Fair, an event that reveals a changing future to a rural family. I love this book, but have always found the content just a bit skimpy, wishing that maybe another two or three episodes had been added to the novel to make it feel complete.

SO LONG AT THE FAIR by Hadley Irwin
A teenage boy spends a week working at the state fair and reflecting over the recent suicide of a friend.

Who can forget the momentous appearance of Wilbur, Charlotte and the gang at the County Fair?

THIMBLE SUMMER by Elizabeth Enright
The events of Garnet’s special summer culminate at September’s County Fair in this Newbery winner. Doesn’t the following passage take you there?

It was a whirling, jingling, bewildering collection of noise and color and smell. Everything seemed to be spinning and turning; merry-go-rounds, the Ferris wheel, the whip cars. There were dozens of tents with peaked tops and scalloped edges, and little colored flags flying from them. Citronella grabbed Garnet and Garnet grabbed Citronella, and they bounced up and down shrieking with excitement. Mr. Freebody was calmer. “I always like a fair,” he said.


As stated earlier, the start of the school year always signifies a change in seasons for me. Many, if not most, children’s books utilize school settings. My favorite “school story” wasn’t published for young readers at all, though I actually feel this “adult” book makes great teenage reading and should be in every YA library. I’m talking about UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE by Bel Kaufman. Originally published in 1965, this pastiche of memos, letters, class assignments, and other school ephemera presents a variegated portrait of New York’s (fictional) Calvin Coolidge High School, its student body, staff, and, in particular, one idealistic young teacher just beginning her career.

Though it’s hard to imagine now, back in 1970 it was possible to take a five dollar bill to the bookstore and buy five or six paperbacks. I know, because every February I used to take five dollars of my paper route earnings to the store and get my father five or six books for his birthday. Usually I stuck to mysteries, suspense, and any book that said “bestseller” on the cover. For that reason (“the most wonderful bestseller of our time...over 3,500,000 copies sold in paperback!) I got him this copy of UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE:

Unfortunately, this was one book that didn’t interest him. He never did read it and, after seeing it sitting on his bookshelves for several months, I grabbed it and started reading it myself. I loved the nontraditional narrative style (and continue to enjoy books comprised of letters and notes today) and, even though I was still several years away from high school myself, found I could really relate to the setting, the situations, and the characters. Plus it made me laugh -- a lot.

I re-read UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE every year or so and I still relate to the setting, situations, and characters. And it still makes me laugh. But I've also found a great poignancy in the novel that I didn’t see in the past. When I first read the book, I found the periodic long letters from protagonist Sylvia Barrett to be rather boring; today I think they are the best parts of the book. The relationship between Sylvia and her troubled student Joe Ferone now seems emotionally overwhelming. And I find a late chapter, in which we discover the identities of some of Miss Barrett’s formerly anonymous students, to be very moving.

A few years ago, my much-read paperback copy of this novel was threatening to fall apart. (Okay, it wasn’t my copy originally, it was my father’s. But he never read it. So I stole it.) Around that time my brother asked if there was anything I’d particularly like for Christmas and I told him I’d love to have a first edition of UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE.

And -- Merry Christmas! -- that’s what I received:

It was even signed by Bel Kaufman who, incidentally, is still alive at age 98:

Now, when it’s time for my annual re-reading of the book, I grab the hardcover copy, but I still keep the paperback on my shelf. I love the picture on the cover. And I love all the creases and chips that remind me of the many times I’ve read this book over the years. Just looking at the paperback brings back memories. It’s my comfort copy of the book.


Speaking of fictional schools, there are some educational institutions you only want to visit within the pages of a book. If you ever found yourself actually attending one of the following, I’d advise you to transfer or drop out:

Louis Sachar’s “Wayside School” (it’s falling down!)

Robert Cormier’s “Trinity High School” (they make you sell...chocolate)

Dav Pilkey’s “Jerome Horwitz Elementary” (this place is rife with hygiene issues)

J.K. Rowling’s “Hogwarts School” (yeah, quidditch sounds fun until you have a particularly gruesome broomstick accident)

J.D. Salinger’s “Pencey Preparatory School” (filled with phonies)

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies” (unless you enjoy hauling coal and scrubbing toilets. I mean loos.)

Meg Cabot’s “Princess Academy” (there is more to life than wearing a tiara and the sooner one learns that, the happier one will be!)


Last week I wrote about Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, which is said to be the second-oldest “children’s choice” award in the country. Someone wrote in, asking if the William Allen White Award was the first.

Yes, it was.

According to the award’s website, “The program was founded in 1952 by Ruth Garver Gagliardo, a children's literature specialist, to honor the memory of one of the state's most distinguished citizens by encouraging Kansas schoolchildren to read and enjoy good books.”

Here is a list of the winning titles. There was apparently a tie in 1974 and, ever since 2001, there have been two winning titles each year -- one for grades three to five and the other for grades six through eight:

2009 / Clementine by Sara Pennypacker and Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy
2008 / A Dog's Life : The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann M Martin and Airball: My Life in Briefs by L.D. Harkrader
2007 / The Report Card by Andrew Clements and So B. It by Sarah Weeks
2006 / Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher and THE CITY OF EMBER by Jeanne Duprau
2005 / LOSER by Jerry Spinelli and SURVIVING THE APPLEWHITES by Stephanie S. Tolan
2003 / BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo and DOVEY COE by Frances O’Roark Dowell
2002 / THE LANDRY NEWS by Andrew Clements and BUD, NOT BUDDY by Christopher Paul Curtis
2001 / THE GHOST OF FOSSIL GLEN by Cynthia C. DeFelice and HOLES by Louis Sachar
2000 / WHITE WATER by P. J. Petersen
1999 / FRINDLE by Andrew Clements
1998 / MICK HARTE WAS HERE by Barbara Park
1997 / TIME FOR ANDREW, A GHOST STORY by Mary Downing Hahn
1996 / THE GIVER by Lois Lowry
1995 / THE MAN WHO LOVED CLOWNS by June Rae Wood
1994 / SHILOH by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1993 / MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli
1992 / THE DOLL IN THE GARDEN: A GHOST STORY by Mary Downing Hahn

1991 / BEAUTY by Bill Wallace
1990 / HATCHET by Gary Paulsen
1989 / ON MY HONOR by Marion Dane Bauer
1988 / CRACKER JACKSON by Betsy Byars
1987 / THE WAR WITH GRANDPA by Robert Kimmel Smith
1986 / DAPHNE'S BOOK by Mary Downing Hahn
1984 / A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC by Shel Silverstein
1983 / PEPPERMINTS IN THE PARLOR by Barbara Brooks Wallace
1982 / THE MAGIC OF THE GLITS by Carole S. Adler
1981 / THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS by Katherine Paterson
1980 / THE PINBALLS by Betsy Byars
1979 / SUMMER OF THE MONKEYS by Wilson Rawls
1977 / HARRY CAT'S PET PUPPY by George Selden Thompson
1976 / SOCKS by Beverly Cleary
1975 / DOMINIC by William Steig
1974 / MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert O'Brien
and THE HEADLESS CUPID by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
1973 / THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN bv Elwyn Brooks White
1972 / SASHA: MY FRIEND by Barbara Corcoran
1971 / KAVIK: THE WOLF DOG by Walter Morey
1968 / THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE by Beverly Cleary
1967 / THE GRIZZLY by Annabel and Edgar Johnson
1966 / RASCAL by Sterling North
1965 / BRISTLE FACE by Zachary Ball
1964 / THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY by Sheila Burnford

1962 / THE HELEN KELLER STORY by Catherine Owens Peare
1961 / HENRY REED, INC. by Keith Robertson
1960 / FLAMING ARROWS by William O. Steele
1959 / OLD YELLER by Fred Gipson
1958 / WHITE FALCON by Elliott Arnold
1957 / DANIEL 'COON by Phoebe Erickson
1956 / BRIGHTY OF THE GRAND CANYON by Marguerite Henry
1954 / LITTLE VIC by Doris Gates
1953 / AMOS FORTUNE, FREE MAN by Elizabeth Yates


As with the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Awards, the list contains quite a few Newbery winners, a handful of oddball titles (I’ve never even heard of 1982’s THE MAGIC OF THE GLITS by Carole S. Adler) and some that will send me to the library shelves. For example, Walt Morey’s KAVIK, THE WOLF DOG won both the White and the Fisher Award. Obviously this is a book kids I’d better read it and find out why. Last week I was surprised to see that Mary Downing Hahn had won three DCF Awards; I’m equally shocked to find she’s won three WAW Awards as well. And that’s six awards for five individual titles (only TIME FOR ANDREW won both.) Obviously I need to go back and re-read Mary Downing Hahn’s novels as well, because it’s clear they speak directly to children in a big way!


I just learned that my favorite author, M.E. Kerr, has a short story in the new anthology HALF-MINUTE HORRORS. Neil Gaiman, R.L. Stein, Holly Black, Lemony Snicket, and Lane Smith are among the volume’s all-star contributors.

My bookstore doesn’t have the book yet, but they are hoping to have a copy for me by next Friday. Meanwhile, I looked up HALF-MINUTE HORRORS on and was quite impressed by the sample pages. I laughed and shivered at Margaret Atwood “flash fiction” piece, and Jon Klassen’s graphic tells an entire horror story in a single panel.


This week I ordered a fairly cheap used book off the internet. When it arrived, the book didn’t quite match the seller’s original description, but I wasn’t upset after I opened the volume and found two old bookmarks laid inside:

These are the exact same bookmarks that used to be given out at my own public library when I was a kid. It’s hard to imagine a time when there were so few past Newberys and Caldecotts that they all could fit on one side of a bookmark:


It’s always fun to see the inventive things that book designers are doing. A few months ago I read SKIM, a quirky Canadian graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. I’m not sure this book spoke directly to me, but I can imagine that a lot of disaffected teenagers will love it. I donated my copy to the library in hopes that those readers will find it there. Our library removes dustjackets before placing books on the shelf and I was surprised to see how the dustjacket of SKIM differed from the actual spine of the book.

As you can see, the pale blue dustjacket looks fairly traditional, but when you remove the dj the spine is a mock-up of Skim’s personal journal:

Definitely a nice touch for an offbeat book.


The book world has been buzzing about some recent articles concerning libraries without...books. Can you imagine? One private prep school going the bookless route has discarded their 20,000 volume collection in favor of electronic reading devices and computers. The headmaster said, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”

I repeat: CAN YOU IMAGINE???

Whenever I ask people if they think books -- old-fashioned bound books made of paper and ink and glue -- could disappear in our lifetimes, they laugh and say that people will always want, always need, those kinds of books.

But I’m not so sure.

Look at the fate of records. Ten years ago every mall had a music store. Now there are only a handful left in my area.

Or look at newspapers and magazines. They’re either going online or just going out of business.

From what I hear, book sales have taken a big hit in recent times. More and more bookstores are closing.

Will libraries be next?

Or maybe libraries will remain a different guise.

All they’d have to do is change-out the sign from “LIBRARY” to “MUSEUM.” Then they could put a velvet rope in front of the bookshelves, so visitors can stand at a respectful distance and gawk at those quaint, old-fashioned items that used to be called books.

I guess they’ll eventually be known as “priceless artifacts.”

Of course some of us knew they were priceless all along.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope everyone has a Happy Labor Day. Please come back again.


Becky said...

Cute books especially want to check out "Half-Time Horrors." When it comes to kids books I think that the illustrations catch my eye the most. Which is probably why I purchased a beautiful book for the younger crowd ( babies) The book is titled, "Dear Baby, What I love about you!" by Carol Casey. I can't get over how beautiful and colorful the illustrations are, and the cute little message... to teach baby how much they are loved! Since you seem to love books so much, I thought you would appreciate learning more about this book.

Anonymous said...

from Betsy in Spite of Herself

The hack drove up to the porte-cochere. It was the first time Betsy had ever alighted at a porte-cochere.

. . . .

The Brandish mansion had a porte-cochere at the side like Grosspapa Muller's house in Milwaukee. Betsy was pleased to be grandly familiar with porte-cocheres.

Bybee said...

In the first chapter of Honestly, Katie John! by Mary Calhoun, Katie and her friends attend a county fair -- right before the opening of the school year -- which is described in wonderful sensory detail. Katie goes on a ride that gets stuck, which is typical of the scrapes she gets into.

Anonymous said...

I'm catching up to your always fascinating posts. Love the "schools you don't want to attend" list, but I think you might mean Shannon Hale's "Princess Academy," not Meg Cabot's (unless Cabot used the same phrase...she has too many books to check). Also in the "oldest children's choice" discussion, what about the Young Reader's Choice Award from the Pacific Northwest Library Association? It's more than one state (in fact it includes Canadian provinces too, so it's international) but it did start in 1940.