Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Brunch for September 27

Among other topics, today’s Sunday Brunch lists the most-sought children’s books on the internet, discovers a shout-out to a children’s book editor in a Pulitzer Prize novel, and describes a bookish job I always wanted.


Someday when I win the Megamillions lottery, I’m going to buy myself the entire set of SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR books. I can’t imagine anything more glorious than having all those volumes of author info right at one’s fingertips. Seems like I spend half my time running down to the basement of the library where I work to consult those books and find a title, a date, or some arcane bit of background about an author’s life and work. And I never feel so old as when I’m standing next to that series of books, which stretches across shelf-after-shelf in well over two hundred volumes. See, I can remember when the first two volumes were published. They showed up at my local library when I was a kid, hidden away on the “reference and professional publications” shelves which no one ever used. I’d sit for hours staring at these books, memorizing every detail they provided about the lives of my favorite children’s authors -- up to and including religion and political affiliation! You have to remember that this was an era long before author’s websites and blogs. Back then, authors were mysterious entities. You only knew them from the stories they wrote...and perhaps the little bit of information gleaned from the backflap of a dustjacket. Unless that flap included a photograph, you didn’t know what they looked like. You never knew how old they were. You seldom knew about their personal backgrounds or what inspired them to write. SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR changed all that for me. Those books, which expanded on my local library’s shelves from two volumes to three to six to ten, helped make the authors I idolized more “real” and “relatable.” I always dreamed that someday I’d be profiled in one of these volumes. Later, when I learned that SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR was published right here in my hometown, I dreamed of someday working there. Decades have passed and SATA keeps publishing. I think our library’s most recent volume is #216. In recent years, I’ve actually come across my name in an occasional volume, quoting a book review or article I’ve written. That’s pretty neat, but I still dream about working for that publication as a contributor or editor. In my wildest dreams, I even imagine seeing my own profile in one of the volumes. Lily Tomlin once said, “Wouldn't it be great if we all grew up to be what we wanted to be? The world would be full of nurses, firemen, and ballerinas.” Wouldn’t it have been great if I’d grown up to be what I wanted to be? I’d be part of SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR. The sad irony is that I still haven’t given up that dream.


Anyone interested in children’s books of the past will be fascinated by Bookfinder’s Annual Report which identifies this past year’s trends and news stories involving out-of-print books and, best of all, provides lists of the ten most-sought-after titles in a number of categories, from science fiction to biography.

Are you curious about the ten most sought-after kids’ books? I sure was. Here is the somewhat surprising list, in reverse order from number ten to number one:

10 Nan Gilbert / 365 BEDTIME STORIES
I am actually not surprised to see this book is among the most sought-after. Many of us remember 365 BEDTIME STORIES very fondly from our own childhoods. I once wrote a blog entry about it and still get visitors nearly every day looking for information on this book. [Thanks to an anonymous poster for pointing out that the link is actually for the OTHER 365 BEDTIME STORIES book, a Golden Book publication written by Kathryn Jackson and illustrated by Richard Scarry. Both books continue to be sought after , but it appears the Nan Gilbert title is the most popular with readers.]

9 Madeleine L'Engle / ILSA
The author’s long-forgotten second novel is widely-sought by L’Engle collectors, yet I’m surprised to find it on this list because it’s actually an adult novel.

8 Eloise Jarvis McGraw / SAWDUST IN HIS SHOES
Ms. McGraw never wrote a bad book and this circus story is one of her best-known. I had no idea, however, that it was so sought after until I saw this list.

7 Anna Elizabeth Bennett / LITTLE WITCH
A copy of the 1953 first edition might cost a little money, but otherwise you can get a paperback or old library copy for under $20. I believe this is the only book on the list which was widely printed in paperback...thus making it more available than something like ILSA, which only had a single hardcover printing.

6 Holling Clancy Holling / THE BOOK OF COWBOYS
A perennial favorite, from the time it was first published in 1936, this title is not hard to find in inexpensive editions. And here’s a bit of trivia: the protagonist of Gary D. Schmidt’s recent Newbery Honor Book THE WEDNESDAY WARS was named after Holling Clancy Holling.

I’m not familiar with this volume by the author of THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD, but it would obviously behoove me to learn more about it soon!

The name sounds familiar, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen this book or know anything about it. Checking on the internet today, I learned this 1953 title is VERY hard to find, with copies going for nearly $500.

3 Holling Clancy Holling / THE BOOK OF INDIANS
The author’s Native Americans are obviously more popular than his Cowboys. Copies of this title are available at a wide range of prices, most very affordable.

2 Christine Noble Govan / THE PINK MAPLE HOUSE
Around the time I started this blog, a friend asked me to help identify a favorite book from her childhood. She remembered that it was about two girls who are afraid their friendship might end when one of them moves from the neighborhood. The father of the moving girl suggests that the other girl come visit their new house. My friend was most impressed by the fact that the father (rather than the mother) came up with this idea; it’s always interesting to see what makes a book particularly memorable for a reader. I imagine some fans of this book remember it for the house itself, or the friendship between the girls...but my friend was most struck by the father’s role in the story. Anyway, after hearing a few more details about the book, I was able to identify it as 1950’s THE PINK MAPLE HOUSE. It turned out to be a particularly hard-to-find and expensive book.

1 Anne Alexander / THE PINK DRESS
The number one most-sought-after title for 2008 stunned me, as I am completely unfamiliar with it. I may have heard the (fairly generic) title over the years, may even have seen it at the library, but I know nothing about this 1959 book or what makes it so popular with readers today. I was equally shocked when I checked around the internet this morning and learned that first editions are selling for nearly $1500 each. ...I wonder how many times I’ve walked by this book in a used bookstore never paying the slightest attention -- not realizing I could resell it to a collector and make enough money to pay off my car!


Naturally, I am now interested in learning more about this Anne Alexander, who wrote last year’s most searched children’s book at Bookfinder.

(See, if I had my own set of SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR, I might be able to look her up and get some more info. I was able to look her up online in CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS (the Big Brother of SATA) and she was not listed.)

I do remember reading a few titles Anne Alexander wrote for Atheneum in the early 1970s, including TO LIVE A LIE and THE TROUBLE ON TREAT STREET, but I was unaware that the seventies were a kind of “comeback” for this author, who had published almost nothing since the fifties, when she wrote ABC OF CARS AND TRUCKS and novels such as LINDA, CONNIE, and, of course, THE PINK DRESS.

I’ve learned we have a copy of THE PINK DRESS in my library. I now plan to read it and try to figure out what causes it to have such enduring power for today’s collectors.


Information on Anne Alexander may be sketchy, but I was able to learn a bit about the author of the #2 book, Christine Noble Govan. In addition to THE PINK MAPLE HOUSE, she wrote over three dozen books published between 1934 and 1972, including titles such as SWEET ‘POSSUM VALLEY (1940), THE SUPER-DUPER CAR (1952) and THE TRASH-PILE TREASURE (1970.) She considered herself a proponent of “cozy books.”

Mrs. Govan was the matriarch of a literary family that included a historian/journalist husband, Gilbert Govan, and a librarian son, James F. Govan.

Her daughter Emmy Govan West wrote KATY NO-POCKET -- still memorable for its H.A. Rey illustrations -- which was published in 1944 when she was just twenty-five. She’d later co-write a series of juvenile mysteries with her mother that included MYSTERY AT THE SNOWED-IN CABIN (1961) and MYSTERY OF THE DANCING SKELETON (1962.)

A younger Govan daughter wrote under the names Mary Q. Steele and Wilson Gage. Christine’s love of “cozy” stories was not apparently inherited by Mary Q., who wrote a number of decidedly dark and disturbing novels including the 1970 Newbery Honor Book JOURNEY OUTSIDE.


Incidentally, the site I linked earlier also includes annual reports and “top ten” lists for several previous years. I was surprised to discover that the #1 children’s book for most of those years was THE LION’S PAW by Robb White. This is another title I’ve heard of but have never read. I am much more familiar with the author’s later novels, such as DEATHWATCH (1972.)

Robb White was primarily an author of adventure novels who also wrote for movies (13 GHOSTS) and television (PERRY MASON.) And speaking of famous relations, his daughter June is better known today as Bailey White, the southern schoolteacher whose appearances on NPR led to books such as MAMA MAKES UP HER MIND.

I found it odd that Mr. White’s LION’S PAW could top the Bookfinder list for so many years, but suddenly disappear in 2008. I now think I’ve discovered the reason for that. 2008 was the year that one of White’s later wives (he appears to have been married at least four times) republished THE LION’S PAW in facsimile edition. Ordering information can be found here.


My quest for self-improvement via “The Classics” seems to have stalled. I hit page 650 of MIDDLEMARCH several weeks ago and still haven’t returned to read the last two hundred pages of the novel.

On the other hand, I am doing quite well with my Pulitzer reading project. I finished two Pulitzer Prize novels this past week and ended up liking the emotional historical-novel winner from 1923, THE ABLE MACLAUGHLINS by Margaret Wilson, much better than the rather sterile “modern” novel from 1984, FOREIGN AFFAIRS by Alison Lurie.

The latter novel may have some interest to readers of this blog because the protagonist is a college professor “in the expanding field of children’s literature.”

Alison Lurie herself taught children’s literature at Cornell and authored several books on the topic as well. In 1980 she published a children’s book called CLEVER GRETCHEN AND OTHER TALES with the now-defunct publisher Crowell.

In FOREIGN AFFAIRS, there is a scene in which the protagonist, Vinny sits outside a school copying down playground rhymes. A bold girl approaches Vinny and volunteers to share some (ribald) rhymes in exchange for some money. Vinny claims, “I don’t sell these rhymes,” but afterwards admits to herself that she will be paid when her eventual study of street rhymes is published “and more still if, as she hopes, Janet Elliot in London and Marilyn Krinney in New York agree to print a selection of her rhymes as a children’s book; negotiations for this project are already underway.”

When reading this passage, the name “Marilyn Krinney” popped out at me, as the editor “Marilyn Kriney” (one N) worked at Crowell in 1980 when Lurie’s children’s book was published. I can only assume that Ms. Lurie was giving her a shout-out in FOREIGN AFFAIRS -- though I don’t know whether the name was misspelled by mistake or intention.


Well, I had a couple more items to add, but the afternoon is almost over and I have some errands to run. I’ll save my other children’s book info for a later blog entry. But before I go, I’d better finish my unfinished story about wanting to write for SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR. For many years, I thought it would be the perfect job -- me + kids’ books. What could be better? Plus the publishing company, Gale, was located in my hometown of Detroit.

Over the years I’ve met a few people employed by Gale and was downright AWED whenever I met anyone who’d worked on SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Strangely, none of them ever seemed particularly impressed to have worked there themselves, merely seeing it as a low-paying first-job stepping stone to other kinds of civil service!

A few years ago Gale moved their headquarters from downtown to the suburbs -- so close I could probably see it with binoculars if I stood on the roof. I took this as a sign: Oh good, now I’m going to get a job there and I’ll be able to walk to work!

Around that time, I found a few freelance writing jobs through the internet...writing about children’s books for a couple of the Gale publications. Talk about stepping stones! I wrote my pieces and was able to hand-deliver them to the front desk of that magnificent Gale complex just down the street.

When the editors wrote back praising my submissions, I always followed-up with letters telling them about my background in children’s books and included samples of published articles and reviews. I asked if they’d keep me in mind for any freelance writing/editing jobs that might come up.

Their typical response: “We currently have no openings for freelance writers or editors.”

So there went my dream of ever making a living from children’s books.

Now I blog for free instead.

And yes, I know what they say: no one is going to buy the cow if they can get the milk for free.

I can only sadly shrug my shoulders and respond with a single word:


Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll return.


Jennifer said...

I'd agree that Mary Q. Steele's books are...frightening. But, oddly enough, her mysteries written as Gage are quite cozy - very similar to the Govan's cozy mysteries. Gage's Miss-Osborne-the-mop stories, while definitely peculiar, are also light-hearted.

It takes a true Robb White fan to buy the Lion's Paw. I wanted to add it to the library where I work, but couldn't convince myself that $20 was worth the number of kids likely to read it, no matter how much I loved it personally...

LaurieA-B said...

I'm so pleased to see two authors I admire, Madeleine L'Engle and Eloise Jarvis McGraw, on the list. (I haven't read the eight other books, nor heard of most of them.)

On my very first visit to New York City, in 1997 (I grew up in Portland, Oregon and then moved to Seattle), one of the places I especially wanted to visit was Books of Wonder. I was thrilled to hold a copy of Ilsa in my hand for the first time. It was priced around $120. I discussed with my husband whether to spend that enormous amount, and regretfully put it back. Several years later I was able to purchase a lovely copy through ABE, for about $25.

My favorite book by Eloise Jarvis McGraw is her young adult novel Greensleeves, especially for its portrayal of my hometown. (I love Beverly Cleary's teen novels and wish that she had written one set in Portland. Perhaps she did not want to get that close to her own high school years in her fiction.)

MaureenHume said...

I'm a lot fascinated and a bit worried after reading the ten most sought after children's books, because apart from author Madeleine L'Engle I haven't heard of any of them. I'm not quite sure what that says about me.
Although, having now read the list I'd love to have a copy of each book to pore over and compare.
Maureen Hume.

Anonymous said...

Jeepers, the minute the economy recovers I'm selling my copy of Ilsa.

I read it once when I first got it, and once recently to confirm that, as you say, it's not particularly good.

Mine is marked in pencil $1. I wonder where I got it?

While I was at it I checked my copy of Young Fu to see if it really is a 1st. Uh....yup. Too bad it has a little water staining.

Daughter Number Three said...

I'm pretty sure I never heard of Something About the Author until I was in graduate school. I envy you getting to read them as they were published! You've inspired me to make a list of all my favorite young adult authors, then take a vacation day at the library to read about all of them in SATA. Can't wait!

Anonymous said...

The Nan Gilbert version of 365 Bedtime stories is actually different than the one you lovingly remember. It follows the adventures of a group of kids from different families who live on "What-a-Jolly-Street". There is a story for each day of the year about these kids and their adventures. I loved reading this as a kid- I remember that the children had many pets including a pony, a parrot, and a monkey named Beppo- what kid wouldn't want their own monkey?

Anonymous said...

Oh, you're right. I even mentioned in my original entry about 365 Bedtime Stories that it was written by Kathryn Jackson. I should have gone back to check that before writing this blog entry. Thanks for the correction.

Peter D. Sieruta

JS Huntlands said...

Set in today’s day and time, Me and My Best Friend is about a young boy, his faithful companion and their exciting adventures.

Henry and Liam are the best of friends and they do everything together. They can run and play all day long. But when Henry the puppy gets tired and tries to take a nap, three-year-old Liam keeps waking him, wanting him to play some more. Will Henry get any rest?

Get your children involved with this beautifully illustrated book. Your child will love to match up words and pictures, and find Liam, who keeps hiding in his bedroom. Perfect for the young reader!

About the Author

J.S. Huntlands is the author of Nick Twisted Minds and is currently working on more books in this series, as well as 23 more books in the Me and My Best Friend series. Huntlands is a full-time writer, as well as a mom to a wonderful four-year-old boy. This book is dedicated to her son in hopes that he never forgets his best friend.

lin said...

Keep checking your used book sources and your libraries. A lot of children's depts. are weeding their SATA. We let ours go about three years ago because they did take up a tremendous amount of shelf space, and we weren't getting the author assignments we were used to getting.

Chandigarh said...

It takes a true Robb White fan to buy the Lion's Paw. I wanted to add it to the library where I work, but couldn't convince myself that $20 was worth the number of kids likely to read it
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Father David said...

Thank you for this fine post. I am currently writing an article about five women authors of children's books in the 1950s and 1960s era, including Elizabeth Noble Govan and Emmy West. I knew they were mother and daughter, but I had no idea that Mary Q. Steele and Wilson Gage (some of whose writings I know) were pseudonyms of another Govan daughter. Biographical information on these women is hard to find online. I have only found a little about Elizabeth and nothing about Emmy. Where, may I ask, did you find your information? Something About the Author? Thank you.

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