Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Brunch with Book Reviews and Peaceful Thoughts

Today’s Sunday brunch contains a list of novels that had to wait twenty years to win an award, remembers the era of self-help books for teens, and features book reviews of three of this fall’s hot new titles.


Claire Huchet Bishop’s TWENTY AND TEN has been a perennial favorite since it was first published in 1952. This exciting yet gentle story about twenty Catholic school children who help to hide ten Jewish students has served as an introduction to the Holocaust for many young readers.

Although I read the book several times as a child, it wasn’t until this past week that I picked it up and noticed the unusual note under the author’s name:

“As told by Janet Joly.” What in the world does that mean? The author reportedly based this novel on a real incident that occurred in France during World War II, but I have found no evidence that Janet Joly was actually a real person -- she was merely the fictional character Ms. Bishop used to narrate her story.

Have you ever seen this device used before? The only comparable example I can think of is the novel THERE’S A PIZZA BACK IN CLEVELAND by Hope Campbell and Mary Anderson, which traces the summertime adventures of teenagers Dodie and Pam through a series of letters. Since each author assumed the identity of a different letter-writer, the title page tells us that Hope Campbell is “Dodie” and Mary Anderson is “Pam.” Otherwise, I can’t think of any novels in which an author’s name is directly linked with the narrator. For example, the title page of HITTY : HER FIRST HUNDRED YEARS does not say “by Rachel Field (as told by Hitty.”) Nor does JACOB HAVE I LOVED say “by Katherine Paterson (assuming the voice of Sara Louise ‘Wheeze’ Bradshaw.”)

I guess it’s a harmless-enough gambit, though it should be pointed out that it can lead to later confusion. list “Claire Huchet Bishop” and “Julie Joly” as two separate authors. Other online sources have changed “as told by” to “as told to” which makes it seem that Claire Huchet Bishop told the story to Janet Joly, who then wrote the book.


The Claire Huchet Bishop/Julie Joly situation got me thinking about the opposite situation: first-person novels in which the narrator’s name is never spoken. Of course the definitive example of this is probably REBECCA by Daphne DuMaurier. By never allowing the narrator’s name to be uttered, the author added literary cachet to her novel, making the imposing spirit of first wife Rebecca seem stronger than the mousy nameless narrator. Here are a few novels for young people in which the narrators remain unnamed. In some cases, such as THE ALMOST YEAR, the lack of a name seems an important element to the novel. In other cases (such as THE MAGIC FINGER) I’m not so sure.

WHAT HAPPENED by Peter Johnson
GOSSIP TIMES THREE by Amy Goldman Koss
CHECKERS by John Marsden
I KNOW YOU, AL by Constance C. Greene
THE ALMOST YEAR by Florence Engel Randall
HARRIS AND ME by Gary Paulsen
AFTER TUPAC & D. FOSTER by Jacqueline Woodsen

Any other titles that should go on this list?


Two rural families live on either side of Crapapple Creek and cross the stones that rise above the water to visit each other’s farms. It’s 1917 and Muriel Jorgensen does not fit the traditional female role of the era. A pacifist during a time of war, Muriel is also unsure that she wants to marry -- despite the attentions of Frank Norman across the creek. There are also romantic sparks between Muriel’s younger brother Ollie and Frank’s sister Emma. Helen Frost utilizes the voices of three of these characters to paint a portrait of a world at war and a nation in change. “Shaped” poems -- resembling both the creek and the stones in the water -- utilize complex rhyme schemes to relate Frank and Ollie’s war experiences, Muriel’s eye-opening trip to Washington, D.C. to assist a suffragette aunt, and the arrival of the flu pandemic to their small Michigan town. Although the verses must conform to a demanding and unforgiving structure, they never seem forced or opaque; instead, they remain true to each character’s voice and vision and are heart-rending in their emotional eloquence. The unusual poetic forms employed by the author, the advanced age of the protagonist (Muriel is eighteen and a high school graduate), and the World War I setting may limit the readership of this novel-in-verse, marking it for that slightly-damning category usually called “for special readers.” Yet special readers deserve special books -- and this is surely one.

Published by Francis Foster Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

How to identify a first edition : Copyright page must state “First edition, 2009” and contain the line of numbers 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2. Price on dustjacket $16.99.

Why it may be collectable: Helen Frost’s reputation continues to grow and this may be her best book yet; may be a contender for awards.

Difficulty in finding first editions: Should be easy to find at this point.


So you’ve just published a book. It’s gotten rave reviews. People are even talking “Newbery.” Then award season arrives and your book is shut out.

Don’t despair!

You may still win an award for that great novel.

But it won’t happen until 2029.

That’s the premise of the Phoenix Award, presented each year by the Children’s Literature Association, to “the most outstanding book for children published twenty years earlier which did not receive a major award at the time of publication.”
It’s a fascinating premise for a book award. It allows a committee to fix past slights, identify titles that have fallen into neglect and are now ripe for revival, or perhaps use twenty/twenty hindsight to select winners that have grown in stature in the years since publication. The award is international in scope, with several winners hailing from Great Britain and Australia. Personally, I think the guideline regarding a book not having received “a major award” is interpreted a bit liberally since Newbery Honor Books -- not winners, but still...they're pretty major -- are eligible. I'd prefer to see Newbery Honors uneligible as well.

Here is the list of previous winners:

2010 /. THE SHINING COMPANY / Rosemary Sutcliff
2009 / WEETZIE BAT / Francesca Lia Block
Honor Book: LUCIE BABBIDGE’S HOUSE / Sylvia Cassidy
2008 / EVA / Peter Dickinson
Honor Book: THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC / Jane Yolen
2007 / MEMORY / Margaret Mahy
Honor Book: WAITING FOR THE RAIN / Sheila Gordon
2006 / HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE / Diana Wynne Jones
Honor Book : THE TRICKSTER / Margaret Mahy
Honor Book : THE SHADOW IN THE NORTH / Philip Pullman
Honor Book : FIRE AND HEMLOCK / Diana Wynne Jones
2004 / WHITE PEAK FARM / Berlie Doherty
Honor Book : ANGEL SQUARE / Brian Doyle
2003 / THE LONG NIGHT WATCH / Ivan Southall
Honor Book : A SOLITARY BLUE / Cynthia Voigt
2002 / A FORMAL FEELING / Zibby Oneal
Honor Book : STORY FOR A BLACK NIGHT / Clayton Bess
2001 / THE SEVENTH RAVEN / Peter Dickinson
Honor Book : THE NIGHT JOURNEY / Kathryn Laskey
2000 / KEEPER OF THE ISIS LIGHT / Monica Hughes
Honor Book : THE FLEDGLING / Jane Langton
1999 / THROWING SHADOWS / E.L. Konigsburg
Honor Book : THE DISAPPEARANCE / Rosa Guy
Honor Book : WORDS BY HEART /. Ouida Sebestyen
1998 / A CHANCE CHILD / Jill Paton Walsh
Honor Book : BEAUTY / Robin McKinley
Honor Book : THE DEVIL IN VIENNA / Doris Orgel
1997 / I AM THE CHEESE / Robert Cormier
1996 / THE STONE BOOK / Alan Garner
Honor Book : ABEL’S ISLAND / William Steig
1995 / DRAGONWINGS / Laurence Yep
Honor Book : TUCK EVERLASTING / Natalie Babbitt
1994 / OF NIGHTINGALES THAT WEEP / Katherine Paterson
Honor Book : MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD / James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Honor Book : LISTEN FOR THE FIG TREE / Sharon Bell Mathis
1993 / CARRIE’S WAR / Nina Bawden
1992 / A SOUND OF CHARIOTS / Mollie Hunter
1991 / A LONG WAY FROM VERONA / Jane Gardam
Honor Book : A GAME OF DARK / William Mayne
Honor Book : THE TOMBS OF ATUAN / Ursula LeGuin
1990 / ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS / Sylvia Louise Engdahl
Honor Book : RAVENSGILL / William Mayne
Honor Book : SING DOWN THE MOON / Scott O’Dell
1989 / THE NIGHT-WATCHMEN / Helen Cressell
Honor Book : BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? / Milton Meltzer
1988 / THE RIDER AND THE HORSE / Erik Christian Haugaard
1987 / SMITH / Leon Garfield
1986 / QUEENIE PEAVY / Robert Burch
1985 / THE MARK OF THE HORSE LORD / Rosemary Sutcliff


There is no title on the front cover, yet that illustration alone -- a large, expressively-featured lion -- is worthy of an award. Flip it over to see the oversized portrait of a mouse on the back panel and you may think the book deserves two awards. Open to the double-page spread of a vast African plain which features over forty animals -- elephants, zebras, giraffes! -- yet somehow never feels crowded, and you may want to give Jerry Pinkney a prize for every single one of those nearly four dozen creatures.

In an oversized volume, illustrated with his superb signature artwork, Jerry Pinkney retells the familiar Aesop fable about a lion who saves the life of a mouse and later finds his kindness repaid by that tiny creature. Both the lion and the mouse are well-rendered, highly-individual characters in the dappled watercolor and color pencil illustrations that show an artist working at the peak of his powers. Though billed as a “wordless” book, animal sounds (“Screeeech,” “Grrr”) are sometimes overlaid across the illustrations. I’m not sure they add to the visual appeal of the book for the individual silent reader...and for those who might enjoy the book in a group storyteller setting, the assorted roars and squeaks hardly seem necessary; kids will supply those without any prompting. Nevertheless, THE LION & THE MOUSE remains one of the season’s top picture books.

THE LION & THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney.
Published by Little, Brown, 2009.

How to identify a first edition : The copyright page is located at the end of the volume and must contain the words “First Edition: September 2009” and the number line 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. Price on dustjacket flap is $16.99.

Why it may be collectable: Has the feel of an instant classic. A likely award winner.

Difficulty in finding first editions: Should be easy to find at this point, but I imagine it will move into later printings fairly quickly.


Last week I wrote about wishing I had a set of SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR books for my home library. They’d make research much easier.

Blog-reader Lin wrote in with this suggestion:

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.

Interesting! It never crossed my mind that such reference works would turn up in used bookstores, but it does make sense. Thanks for the tip, Lin. I’ll keep an eye out.

And now I’m curious to learn that library assignments about authors aren’t as popular as they used to be. My guess is that “author assignments” are still given, but students are just finding the info they need on the web these days, rather than using library sources.


In 2007, THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick broke new ground in children’s books. It was the first graphic novel to win the Caldecott Medal. It was also startlingly long, at over 500 pages. Some felt the length excessive, with every moment, every expression, captured on the page. But since one of the book’s themes was film-making, the moment-by-moment cinematic style seemed quite fitting. Matt Phelan's THE STORM IN THE BARN is presented in a similarly-detailed fashion to lesser effect. This graphic novel concerns Jack, a boy growing up in Kansas during the Dust Bowl era. Bullied by his peers and a disappointment to his father, the lonely boy discovers a sinister figure in a barn that seems to be playing a supernatural role in the farmland’s lack of rain. The full-color illustrations (review copy was black-and-white only) are equally strong at portraying both immense landscapes roiling with dust and minute human expressions reflecting Jack’s father’s depression and his mother’s weariness. But at times the story suffers from graphic overload: an entire page shows Jack getting out of bed in five separate panels. He pulls on a barn door handle for seven panels. Pages pass with little or no dialogue. The lack of visual "shortcuts" often feels self-indulgent and slows the pace of the story. That’s unfortunate, because THE STORM IN THE BARN proves Phelan a good storyteller both in the overall arc of the tale, which marries history and folklore, and in small set-pieces, such as an emotionally-overwhelming scene in which rabbits are rounded up and killed by the locals; now there is a sequence that benefits from its slowly-paced, wordless reveal, as the farmers walk away from the slaughter and poignantly reflect on their actions. Though overlong, Phelan’s debut graphic novel reveals he’s an artist and storyteller to watch.

Published by Candlewick Press, 2009.

How to identify a first edition : Copyright page must state “First edition 2009” and contain the line of numbers 2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1. Price is $24.95.

Why it may be collectable: Will be of interest to those who collect books about the Dust Bowl era and fans of American folklore.

Difficulty in finding first editions: Should be easy to find at this point.


Though I’ve occasionally described myself as a “book snob” on these pages, I mainly use that expression to describe the types of volumes I like to add to my book collection: first editions, signed copies, titles that have some special connection to the world of children’s books or my own life.

When it comes to what I read...well, that’s a different story.

Then I’m not a snob at all.

I like to read everything from the most notable books of the year to the junkiest.

For the past couple weeks I’ve even been indulging in some “TV tie-ins” -- novelizations based on an old television show.

Of course I had my reasons. With the start of school in September, I began thinking about the good old days of high school: kids ambling across a sunny campus in letter sweaters, exciting teachers leading class discussions about fascinating topics, concerned counselors patting your arm, daffy student teachers spilling their textbooks as they got off the bus in the morning. Oh wait, that wasn’t my high school -- that was Walt Whitman High School, as depicted on TV’s ROOM 222.

ROOM 222 aired on TV when I was in grade school and junior high, setting me up for some false expectations of high school life! My own high school experiences would later contradict everything I learned from Walt Whitman High. Since then, I’ve “attended” thousands of high schools via thousands of young adult novels. They too refute what I saw on TV. ...Still, there remains a special place in my heart for ROOM 222. I know it’s a fantasy, but sometimes you just need to escape to one of those fantasy destinations. So when fall rolled around this year, I suddenly wanted to “revisit” the halls of Walt Whitman High. Unfortunately, ROOM 222 is no longer on TV. Instead I tracked down a handful of ROOM 222 novelizations, published during the show’s heyday. Written by William Johnston, the volumes deal with trendy seventies topics such as teenage pregnancy (HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT KELLY?), drugs (A LITTLE GRASS ON THE SIDE) and protesting against authority (WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO MAVIS ROOSTER?) Available at many used bookstore for just a dollar or two each, these innocuous stories lack any literary pretenses, but they did take me back to a place and time that no longer exists. And let’s face it: it never existed! When it comes to schools, Walt Whitman High is about as realistic as Hogwarts Academy.

Still, I’m glad I read these books just now (who doesn’t like a good fantasy?) for no other reason than the advertisements on the back pages. Does anyone remember when cheap paperback books had pages and pages of advertising in the back? Some of the ROOM 222 novelizations trumpet the “rich variety of exciting and enjoyable reading in Tempo Books” and then list many titles offered in categories such as Sports, Adventure, Practical, and Classics. I remember poring over such lists as a kid, daydreaming about which books I’d buy if I had the money. Sometimes I’d make note of a title and see if they had it at the library instead.

Looking at these ads today, I have to admit that some of the titles still hold appeal...and I may even end up tracking them down. For example, there’s ATTACK FROM ATLANTIS by Lester Del Ray and DADDY LONG-LEGS and DEAR ENEMY by Jean Webster (always meant to read those.)

But the ones that make me smile are the “self-help”-type volumes such as TEEN LOVE, TEEN MARRIAGE and THE BOOK OF DATING (“surprising insights about both sexes and how each thinks, plans and reacts.”)

Who could resist trying to track down copies of HELEN HELP US (“dealing with the mating game problems of young has Helen’s sound ‘with-it’ advice”) and TAFFY’S TIPS FOR TEENS (just the title cracks me up) which comes with a self-improvement chart!

Such self-help/self-improvement books were ubiquitous in the sixties and seventies. Now I’m wondering if there are any twenty-first century examples. Or aren't today's kids "with-it" enough to appreciate people like Helen and Taffy?


The author of over one hundred books for young readers -- mostly in the areas of history and biography -- Milton Meltzer died on September 19 at the age of 94. His honors include five National Book Award nominations and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his complete body of work. Books such as THE JEWISH AMERICANS : A HISTORY IN THEIR OWN WORDS; BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME, and NEVER TO FORGET : THE JEWS OF THE HOLOCAUST set a high standard for juvenile nonfiction and Milton Meltzer’s influence on the field will be felt for years to come.


This week also brought the sad news that Norma Fox Mazer is suffering from a brain tumor and has been admitted to a hospice. Her family, which includes her husband, writer Harry Mazer, and daughter, writer Anne Mazer, has set up a Carepage site issuing updates on her condition; the site also allows friends and fans to leave messages for the family.

I first discovered the Mazers when their first novels (Norma’s I, TRISSY and Harry’s GUY LENNY) simultaneously turned up in paperback editions at the bookstore. They had each worked many years before achieving book publication, and both went on to publish many outstanding titles for children and young adults.

It’s impossible to name a single “best book” from Norma Fox’s work. There’s too many to pick from, including her Newbery Honor Book AFTER THE RAIN...her National Book Award nominee A FIGURE OF SPEECH...groundbreaking young adult novels such UP IN SETH’S ROOM...her stunning historical fantasy SATURDAY, THE TWELFTH OF OCTOBER (the author even ate live insects while researching that one)...her recent THE MISSING GIRL...and so many more.

From a personal perspective, I’m very grateful for her two books of short stories DEAR BILL, REMEMBER ME? and SUMMER GIRLS, LOVE BOYS, which paved the way for other writers of short fiction for young adults.

In a career of nearly four decades, the author never stopped trying new literary forms (mystery, a story-in-verse, an historical novel) and never stopped growing. Her protagonists were often brave and strong-willed. And no popular YA novelist wrote about the working class as much or as well as Norma Fox Mazer.

The title story of her collection DEAR BILL, REMEMBER ME? concerns a young girl writing a series of letters to a former crush, grappling over and over with what to say and how to say it. She finally completes a letter and signs off with one word: Peace.

A story later in that volume, “Guess Whose Friendly Hands,” is about a young woman who, although dying far too young of cancer, achieves a perfect moment of...peace.

Wishing peace to Norma Fox Mazer.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books.


Sam said...

Another highly interesting brunch!

I was particularly pleased to see the Phoenix list. I've never seen it before!

I was glad that Helen Cresswell won for The Night-Watchmen.(plural)

It doesn't seem like she racked up a lot of awards. (Or at least not that I know of.) But this mut have been a very nice award to receive!

Daughter Number Three said...

I also put off readingDaddy Long-Legs and Dear Enemy until well into adulthood, and am happy to report that I enjoyed them very much.

So sad to hear about Norma Fox Mazer. Your eloquent words about her work will inspire many others to read her. Thanks.

Ashley said...

Some interesting stories, I like the use of an anonymous narrator, that why you get the whole creative gambit about who was actually telling hte story. It can really make simple stories seem more complex.

Emily B said...

Regular reader "delurking" to say that Jean Webster's Daddy Long-Legs is one of my favorites! You would probably enjoy it, since the main character spends a lot of time reading and talking about books (including children's literature).

As usual, a wonderful blog entry! Thank you.

Jill O. Miles said...

Wow, what a heaping helping of information. Thanks for the great post. I'm especially grateful that you clued me into the Phoenix Awards.

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