Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Sunday Brunch with Maalox Moments

Today’s Sunday Brunch reveals a little-known historical fact about the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, talks about stories we remember from schoolbooks, and serves up an order of toast with, well, let’s just say it’s a “protein” they haven’t yet featured on TOP CHEF. Dig in!


Robert McCloskey’s BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL did not win the Caldecott Medal in 1949...but should it have?

And what about Kate Seredy’s THE SINGING TREE? It was a 1940 Newbery Honor Book (then called “runner-up”)...but might it actually have won the award under a different set of rules?

I was thinking about this after discovering that School Library Journal's Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Blog is up and running for the 2010 season.

My old friend Jonathan Hunt is now contributing to the Heavy Medal blog and recently wrote a post called The Ghosts of Newberys Past, which includes a list of 2009 titles by previous Newbery- and Newbery Honor-winning authors and asks who “has the best chance of repeating and why?”

Recent years have given us a number of repeat winners, but did you know that, for the first few decades of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, it was virtually impossible for an author or illustrator to win these prizes twice?

In 1930, Rachel Field won the Newbery for HITTY : HER FIRST HUNDRED YEARS. Two years later, her novel CALICO BUSH was considered a strong contender for the award, but the committee questioned whether the same author should be honored twice. At that time the ALA Executive Board made this resolution:

Since the Newbery Medal is intended to encourage an increasing number of authors to devote their best efforts to creating children’s literature, the book of a previous recipient of the Newbery Medal shall receive the award only upon unanimous vote of the Newbery Committee.

Unanimous? That almost never happens!

This same "unanimous only" policy was later applied to the Caldecott Medal. It wasn’t until 1958 that this rule was changed -- in a fairly dramatic fashion.

That was the year of Robert McCloskey’s TIME OF WONDER. Having previously won in 1942 for MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, the only way McCloskey could ever win again would be with one of those near-impossible-to-get unanimous votes. During their deliberations at the conference that year, the Caldecott committee actually adjourned in order to ask the American Library Association if the “unanimous” requirement could be repealed. The board held a special executive session, approved the request, and the committee went back to deliberations...and declared TIME OF WONDER that year’s Caldecott winner.

Since this rule was changed there have been a fair number of artists who have also won the Caldecott twice: Nonny Hogrogian, Leo and Diane Dillon, Barbara Cooney, and Chris Van Allsburg. And Marcia Brown and David Wiesner have each won the award three times!

Newbery double-dippers include Joseph Krumgold, Elizabeth George Speare, Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, and E.L. Konigsburg.

One has to wonder about the years prior to 1958. How many previous winners MIGHT have won a second award but for the “unanimous vote” rule? Obviously there is no way of knowing for sure, but we do know that, up until 1964, Honor Books (then runners-up) were listed in order of their ranking. (Since ‘64, they have been listed alphabetically in order to give them equal prestige.) If we go back and look at “first runners-up” by previous winners, we see that BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL placed second to 1949’s Caldecott winner, THE BIG SNOW and THE SINGING TREE was second to DANIEL BOONE for 1940’s Newbery. Can we assume these books could have/might have won the awards those years if they had received unanimous votes? There’s no way of knowing, but it’s fun to speculate!


Some of the stories that stick with us the longest are those we first encounter in schoolbooks. Blog readers frequently write and ask if I can help identify stories they remember from their school days. I love getting such requests, but rarely have good luck tracking down the answers. I haven’t even had much luck tracking down some of textbook stories from my own past. Here’s one I remember from about sixth grade that I has continued to haunt me for nearly forty years.

The story concerns a popular boy who is running for class president. When he marks his ballot, he votes for himself -- though it feels a little egotistical to do so. The teacher tallies the votes and announces that he has won the election with 29 votes; his opponent just received one vote. To assuage his own guilt over voting for himself, the protagonist shouts out, “That was my vote! I voted for Billy!” He later feels guilty about lying (this kid sure has a guilt complex) and goes to his teacher, confessing that he lied about voting for the other boy. The teacher understands and tells him that it’s natural that he’d want to vote for himself. Then, as he's leaving the room, the teacher adds something like, “Can’t you guess who actually did vote for Billy?”

I don’t know the title or the author. Does anyone have any ideas?


The results of the Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards will be revealed this week. Collecting Children’s Books was shortlisted in the category of “Best Writing” and if this blog just gets one vote, well ...“can’t you guess who actually did vote for it?”


As I said, I rarely have good luck tracking down stories from old schoolbooks. Some were originally written for the textbook market by unknown/uncredited authors, some were first published in long-forgotten children’s magazines, others were excerpted from novels. Not too long ago I discovered that one school story I remembered from my youth had actually been published as a picture book -- and the author was MacKinlay Kantor, best known for his Pulitzer-winning masterpiece ANDERSONVILLE. Mr. Kantor wasn’t known for children’s books. In fact, besides writing a couple history books for kids, he appears to have written only this one picture book.

It’s called...well, I’ll give you a moment to grab the Maalox bottle’s called ANGLEWORMS ON TOAST.

Yeah, thirty years before Thomas Rockwell gave us HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS, MacKinlay Kantor served up this story about young Tommy who, whenever he’s asked what he wants to eat, replies, “Angleworms on toast. Angleworms, creamed on toast.”

Published in 1942 and illustrated by the great Kurt Wiese, this funny tale of attention-seeking Tommy comes to a satisfyingly gross conclusion when the protagonist -- staying home from school because he's "sick" -- is asked what he’d like for dinner and gives his standard reply. Eager to please the poor little “sick” boy, Tommy’s family goes out to the garden to dig...and then Mother and the “Colored Cook” whip up a nice gooey plate of angleworms on toast, angleworms creamed on toast.

The meal makes Tommy so sick (for real this time!) that he never asks for angleworms again.

The irresistible title would seem to make ANGLEWORMS ON TOAST a classic, but the book is marred for today’s readers by its racial insensitivity. In addition to references to the “Colored Cook,” there is an offensive illustration of a cannibal. And check out this spread:

Hard to believe that as late as 1942, this type of thing was considered acceptable for a children’s book. For that page alone, I think I’ll need another slug of Maalox.


MacKinlay Kantor unknowingly made another contribution to children’s books when he happened to steer a young author onto the right path.

Back in the 1940s, a young girl returned home from school and discovered a new neighbor visiting her parents. It was MacKinlay Kantor.

This girl was an aspiring writer who was already flooding adult magazines such as the SATURDAY EVENING POST with her childish short stories. When her father suggested that she show Mr. Kantor one of her manuscripts, the girl thought “What an opportunity! A living, breathing, published author was right there waiting to appreciate me!” She later recalled the experience:

I rushed to get the story and stood expectantly at his elbow as Mr. Kantor scanned the pages.

The praise I anticipated did not come.

“My dear,” Mr. Kantor exploded, “this is pure s**t!”

It was the first time the word had ever been used in my hearing. My mother was as shocked as I was.

“Mack,” she said reprovingly, “Lois is only thirteen!”

“I don’t care how old she is,” roared my idol. “If she is putting her stories into the market and expects someone to buy them, she is old enough to take criticism. What kind of subject matter is this for a kid? She has never had a love affair or seen a man get murdered. Good writing comes from the heart, not off the top of the head.”

He turned to me and added more gently, “Throw this stuff in the trash, child, and go write about something you know about. Write something that rings true.”

I was crushed. I was also challenged. Later that week, I did write a story about a fat, shy little girl with braces and glasses who covered her insecurity by writing stories about imaginary adventures. I submitted it to a teen publication called CALLING ALL GIRLS, and by return mail I received a check for $25.

It was the most incredible moment of my life.

The young girl who took Mack’s advice was Lois Duncan. She grew up to write such novels as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, STRANGER WITH MY FACE, KILLING MR. GRIFFIN, and many more.

As a fan of her work, I can only say, “Thanks, Mack!”


Many years ago, AOL sponsored a number of message boards devoted to special subjects. I used to spend a lot of time visiting the “Writing for Children” and “Writing for Young Adults” boards. One of the people posting there was named Mary E. Pearson. At that time she had just published her first novel, the unique and thought-provoking DAVID V. GOD, and SCRIBBLER OF DREAMS was about to be released. We exchanged a few notes in passing before AOL shut the message boards down. In the years since, she wrote fan-favorite A ROOM ON LORELEI STREET and the critically-esteemed THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX. The latter, science fiction set in the everyday world (one of my favorite genres) was one of 2008’s best. Last year a friend arranged to get a signed copy of that book for me. I was so surprised and gratified when it arrived with a note from Mary Pearson, saying that she remembered me from our AOL encounters:

Needless to say, I treasure my copy of THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX!

And now the author has a new book out that is worth knowing about.


“I pay attention to dates, numbers, and circumstance. Obsessively, some say. I prefer to think of it as careful observation, finding the pattern to coincidence.” For Destiny Faraday, October 19 is a day fraught with coincidence -- and meaning. When she tears that page from her calendar pad before the day has barely begun, she sets in motion a series of events that reveal her past, unsettle her present, and determine her future. She is currently a student at Hedgebrook, the latest in a series of private schools she's attended because, she maintains, her uncaring parents will not allow her to live at home. Wishing for “one day when the good guys win. One day where the world makes sense. Just one day where the world is fair,” Destiny discovers an unoccupied running car and suddenly finds herself riding away from Hedgebrook with three classmates. THE MILES BETWEEN recounts the adventures of these four teenagers on an all-day road trip in which each of their fondest wishes are granted in some unexpected ways. The characters are well-defined, the dialogue is smart, and the plot takes some neat twists and turns. Most fictional road trips are metaphors for journeys of self-discovery and the same holds true for this novel’s often prickly, coincidence-obsessed, unreliable narrator who, during the course of “just one day,” confronts some truths about her past and learns to reach out to others. Some readers may guess Destiny’s secrets before they are revealed within the story, but that will not diminish interest in the novel. One of the most fascinating aspects of THE MILES BETWEEN is seeing how Mary Pearson tackles some pretty heavy subjects with a fairly light, almost magical, touch. It’s a sad story that ultimately leaves you smiling.

THE MILES BETWEEN by Mary E. Pearson. Published by Henry Holt, 2009.

Reasons the book may become collectable: The author’s reputation is growing with each new novel.

How to identify a first edition: Copyright page states “First Edition -- 2009” and must contain the full line of numbers: 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2. The price on the dustjacket is $16.99.

Difficulty in finding first editions: Just published, first editions are very easy to find at present.


THE MILES BETWEEN is another example of inventive book design. An image of the dustjacket is printed above, but take off the jacket and you get this unusual upside-down photographic illustration on the glossy covers of the book itself:


Tuesday marks the publication of THE LOST SYMBOL, the long-awaited new novel by Dan Brown, whose mega-millions bestseller THE DA VINCI CODE took the world by storm.

I know it’s fashionable to put down THE DA VINCI CODE for shoddy scholarship and weak writing but, in my opinion, any book that has you turning the pages so fast you get paper cuts definitely has something going for it.

Many teenage readers have embraced Dan Brown’s novels and I suspect younger kids have tried to tackle them as well, though I think the subject matter of THE DA VINCI CODE, in particular, would require a lot of “parental guidance.”

To celebrate the publication of THE LOST SYMBOL, I tried to come up with a list of puzzle mysteries and conspiracy tales that might appeal more directly to young readers. Here’s my list:

CHASING VERMEER by Blue Balliett
THE WRIGHT 3 by Blue Balliett
THE CALDER GAME by Blue Balliett
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach


Thanks for dropping by for brunch.

Next time I’ll tell MacKinlay Kantor he doesn’t have to bring a dish.

(No really, Mack, it’s not necessary!)

...Well, if he does bring it, I guess I should invite a girl I used to know. She was actually the older sister of one of my childhood friends and she was famous in the neighborhood because she once ate a worm.

I have no idea what precipitated the event.

I don’t know if she ate it creamed on toast or just...tartare.

All I know is that she once ate a worm.

Over the years, generations of younger kids would hear the story and go up to Janet, asking if it was really true: “Did you really eat a worm when you were a kid?”

“Yep,” she’d reply, and her eyes would get misty with the memory. “And it tasted just like bacon.”



Jennifer said...

That voting for yourself story strikes a chord...there's a slightly similar story in an old Grace Noll Crowell book, The Shining Hour. Although it's girls, not boys.

I remember Angleworms on Toast...but not the racist bits. Which, checking back, is no surprise because I know the story from Treat Shop, an old reading textbook edited by Eleanor Johnson. And in this anthology, there's a different illustrator, Sandra James, and the offensive parts have been cut out - it just says "the cook turned green" and she's later shown as white with red hair. Wonder what else was cut out?

Bybee said...

I never would have linked MacKinlay Kantor with children's books at all. Too bad the racist stuff has spoiled a cute story.

Anonymous said...

I thought that page with the colored cook was hilarious, so I'm not going to leave my name on this one.
By the way, Loganberry Books has a book sleuth feature that people use to find those titles they remember from long ago. You can peruse the request list and help identify them, or pay $2 to post your own request. It's a great resource.

CLM said...

First Editions: many bookstores, not unreasonably, insist that you purchase the book there in order for the author to sign it. I noticed today that an author who has a new book coming out in a week or so that I really want is doing a signing in late November. I could get the book from the library now and buy it in November so she can sign it, but would run the risk of it not being a first edition. However, if I buy it from the store now (not one of my favorite stores) and the signing gets canceled or one in a more convenient location occurs first, then I would have a different dilemma! It's a puzzlement.

Puzzle Mysteries
Spiderweb for Two by Enright is my favorite in the whole Melendy series.

My mother is half Hungarian so brought us up on Kate Seredy. The Singing Tree is very sad but so beautifully written. I hope it is still read today although it is not as upbeat as The Good Master.

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.

Anonymous said...

BTW, The Adoration of Jenna Fox reminded me of Eva by Peter Dickinson, which presumably the author has read.

LaurieA-B said...

Another recent puzzle mystery: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin, and sequel The Potato Chip Puzzles.

I was so thrilled, in my middle school library this week, to have a kid tell me he liked books with puzzles to solve and no, he hadn't read The Westing Game!

(Great story about Lois Duncan.)