Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Brunch with Dragons and Flying Kids

Welcome to Sunday Brunch at Collecting Children’s Books. Today’s entry looks at “placeholders” and “marriages” in book collections, provides a list of fictional kids who can fly, and discusses the dragons who celebrated my birthday.


I’ll never forget the day I discovered online bookselling. After a lifetime of scrounging around used bookstores or dealing directly with dealers, I learned there were several internet sites -- including AbeBooks, Bibliofind, and Interloc -- which allowed you to type in the titles you were seeking and see a list of the copies currently available from booksellers all around the world.

That first day I went crazy inputting all the titles I was seeking for my collection and was astounded that so many of the books were available.

So many books, yeah. But here’s the other part of that equation: I had so little money.

I definitely had to make some difficult choices.

One of the titles that turned up that day was the 1931 Newbery Honor Book DARK STAR OF ITZA by Alida Sims Malkus. I had never even seen a copy of that book before. Another title that popped up was THE MOVED-OUTERS by Florence Crannell Means, a novel I really loved and had always wanted to own.

Each book cost about $45 and I could only afford to buy one. Decisions, decisions -- should I get the book I’d never seen before or the one I already knew and loved?

I went with love.

While I’m very happy with my copy of THE MOVED-OUTERS, in retrospect it was a bad choice. Because it turns out that THE MOVED-OUTERS isn’t terribly hard to find, but DARK STAR OF ITZA is! In fact, in the fifteen-plus years since I made that decision, I have never again seen a copy of DARK STAR OF ITZA for sale.

About a week ago, a bookseller on the west coast wrote to offer me a copy of DARK STAR OF ITZA for my collection. She hastened to tell me that it was not a first edition, but a third printing without a dustjacket...but wondered if I could use it as a “placeholder” in my collection.

I definitely said yes.

As the word suggests, “placeholders” are reading copies of books that essentially hold the place for another copy you are seeking. Let’s say you collect hardcover copies of Beverly Cleary books, but can only find RAMONA THE PEST in paperback; in order to make your collection complete, you might put that paperback on the shelf with the others as a placeholder until a hardcover becomes available. In my case, I collect Newbery first editions. Since a first of DARK STAR hasn’t turned up in the past fifteen years, I will put this third printing on my shelf -- to read, to use as a reference -- until the time comes that a first edition turns up.

This third edition of DARK STAR OF ITZA arrived in the mail a couple days ago, and though I haven’t yet read it, I’m so happy to finally see what the book looks like, and hold a copy in my hands:

It seems like it will be a very intriguing novel. Unlike a lot of early books about “children from foreign lands,” THE DARK STAR OF ITZA was created by people with firsthand knowledge of the region. Alida Malkus visited the Mayan ruins while writing the book and illustrator Lowell Houser was one of the official artists for the excavations at Itza, where he copied Mayan murals and sculptures for the Carnegie Institution. Here are the stunning endpapers:

Maybe a first edition of this book will turn up some day, but in the meantime I have this “placeholder” on my shelves to consult, and read, and share here on this blog.

Incidentally, I asked the bookseller how in the world she ever came across this rare old volume and she told me she found it at sale that was “swarming with dealers.” She added, “For once age rather than agility had its reward. Nobody else recognized it.”


The controversy continues. The internet continues to buzz about David Small’s graphic memoir, STITCHES, getting a National Book Award nomination in the category of “Young People’s Literature” even though it was published as an adult book. You can read two different perspectives on this issue in the Heavy Medal and Chasing Ray blogs. Both make some compelling arguments and I still haven’t made up my mind where I stand on it yet!

Jonathan is correct in stating that a book doesn’t have to be published for kids to be eligible for the Newbery.

Did you know that the following Newbery winners and Honor Books were originally published as adult books:

1922 Newbery Medal : THE STORY OF MANKIND by Hendrik Willem van Loon

1927 Newbery Medal : SMOKY, THE COWHORSE by Will James

1964 Honor Book : RASCAL by Sterling North

1972 Honor Book : INCIDENT AT HAWK’S HILL by Allan W. Eckert

I also wonder if Constance Rourke’s 1935 and 1937 Honor Books, DAVY CROCKETT and AUDUBON, were originally published for adults. The latter title, especially, seems to be shelved in the adult section of many libraries. More research required.

Now I have a question: since adult books are eligible for the Newbery, are they also eligible for the Printz Award, which honors young adult books? It would be ironic if they weren’t.


Many years ago, I took an “Introduction to Poetry” class in a small chilly classroom in an almost-empty building. The windows at the back of the classroom looked down on about a mile of empty space -- broken only by an abandoned swingset and ending in a distant wooded area. It always seemed to be snowing. The very first poem we read was called “Out, Out--” by Robert Frost. The instructor asked us to describe the poem in ten words. I wrote down: “Boy sawing wood gets hand cut off and dies.” Darn...nine words. I changed it to “Vermont boy sawing wood gets hand cut off and dies.”

The instructor spent the next ninety minutes going over the poem line by line, identifying every metaphor, showing how each word had multiple meanings, pointing out things I’d never seen before. By the time the class was over, my head was spinning with all the things I’d never even noticed before about the poem. As I stood up to put on my coat, I looked out at the snow falling on the swingset and heard a girl in the next row whisper, “When he explained all the hidden stuff in that poem, I got, like, the chills..”

I was thinking about that incident this week while researching STITCHES. Looking around the internet, I came across an interview with David Small in which he was asked if he had any favorite images in the book. he responded, “I like the transition pages where the stitches in my neck transform into the staircase in our house.”

What? I’d read STITCHES twice and hadn’t even noticed that image myself. It made me wonder how many other images and “hidden stuff” I missed in that book...and all the other books I read. I quickly got my copy of STITCHES down from the shelf and found those pages.

Then I got, like, the chills.


On Thursday evening, I dropped by the library and discovered Debbie the Desperate Librarian in a funk. That afternoon, caught up in the media excitement over the “Balloon Boy” flying above Colorado, she’d hurriedly made a set of bookmarks featuring novels about kids who can fly. Now she was bummed, as it turned out the kid really hadn’t been trapped in his family’s homemade flying craft. In fact, it was looking more and more like (dare we say it?) a hoax.

“Now what am I going to do with two hundred and fifty Balloon Boy bookmarks?” Debbie wailed.

I said, “I’ll take one.”

“Now I only 249 more to get rid of,” she sighed.

But, really, I don’t think it’s such a big problem. So what if the Balloon Boy never actually flew? The kids in these books did:


Thanks to everyone who sent birthday wishes this past week; it was much appreciated.

I also wanted to share a couple book-related birthday gifts I received.

I have a friend who has a personal and professional relationship with Ruth Stiles Gannett, author of the classic children’s book MY FATHER’S DRAGON. That 1949 Newbery Honor Book was followed by two sequels, ELMER AND THE DRAGON and THE DRAGONS OF BLUELAND. The last book, in particular, is almost impossible to find -- but a few months ago I happened to come across a copy. Knowing my friend needed the book for a work-related project, I gave it to him. On my birthday, I received a package in the mail containing this book, which my friend no longer needed. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I opened it and discovered he’d had Ruth Gannett inscribe it to me:


My birthday present also included these...

...Dragon games!

Throughout history, a lot of American figures have been especially beloved overseas. For example, there’s the whole Jerry Lewis/France thing. And then there’s David Hasselhoff and Germany. But those are the kind of exports that make the U.S. look kind of...bad.

But I never knew until recently that MY FATHER’S DRAGON has always been big in Japan. Now HERE is an export we can be proud of -- a wonderful American children’s book shared with, and loved by, kids from Texas to Tokyo!

MY FATHER’S DRAGON has been made into a Japanese anime and, as you can see, has also inspired board games.

Now if I could only find someone to teach me Japanese so I could read the instruction booklet!


As if those other “Gannett Gifts” weren’t enough, I also received a copy of one of her lesser-known works, THE WONDERFUL HOUSE-BOAT-TRAIN:

and it too was inscribed:

My friend knew I’d be especially pleased to receive this first edition without the dustjacket because I already owned...a dustjacket without the first edition.

Adding a dustjacket to a jacketless volume is often referred to as “marrying” a book and jacket.

Like marriage itself, it’s not an act you want to enter into lightly.

Slapping a dustjacket from a later printing or a book club edition onto a first edition book is wrong. Let me rephrase that: it’s okay to do it if you acknowledge the misrepresentation, just as it’s acceptable to make facsimile (i.e. photocopied) dustjackets and use them on books. The only problem is when people try to pass off these variant djs as the originals and sell them as such. When buying a first edition book, it’s always important to check the first edition points for the book AND the dustjacket. Examples of first edition points on a dustjacket may include the price, various codes printed on the flaps, the absence of review quotations, etc.

Many people -- including me -- feel that if you are CERTAIN both the book and the dustjacket are TRUE first editions, it is okay to unite them in matrimony. I’m sure some purists and snobs would disagree with this, but my argument is that, as two separate entities, it’s pretty much impossible to EVER know if an older book is wearing the dustjacket it was born with. Unless it comes from a private collection and has had the same owner all its life, the book has probably been sold and resold over the years and the dustjackets may have been swapped-out over time -- not to trick or hoax anyone in a “my-kid-is-trapped-in-a-balloon-over-Colorado” way, but just to exchange a grubby torn dj with a more presentable cover.

But again, you must be CERTAIN that you are placing a true first edition dustjacket on a true first edition book.

In the case of the WONDERFUL HOUSE-BOAT-TRAIN, I was certain.



I took another trip through town to see the scarecrows from children’s literature and found a few more I missed the first time around.

Here’s Jack-Be-Nimble jumping over the candle stick. Sorry I couldn’t get the whole candle in the picture, but I was already backed up against the store window facing the scarecrow; the only way I could have gotten the complete picture was to have gone in the store and taken the photo from inside. Hmm...come to think of it, I guess that’s why these scarecrows are on display -- to bring people into the local businesses.

Who’s afraid of... (Hint: the answer isn’t “Virginia Woolf.” Extra hint: note the three pigs he's holding.)

Can’t catch me, I’m the...

Tinkerbell in front of a wig store:

The Cat in the Hat in the Plastic Bag:


I was thrilled to receive the following comment this week about a blog entry on Eleanor Estes’ book A LITTLE OVEN:

Hello. I am Eleanor Estes' granddaughter, Polly. I was actually looking for a copy of "A Little Oven" myself. I have a very old copy that is not in very good condition. I'm a teacher and would like to have it on hand to read to my kids. I just had to write something to you guys because it is so nice to hear these stories. My mom Helena will be so tickled to hear what you guys have written. My grandma was a wonderful woman and I'm so happy to know that she touched others’ lives the way she did mine.

Thanks, Polly, for dropping by. Eleanor Estes is one of my very favorite authors. And I’m sure A LITTLE OVEN has special meaning for your family, as an important character is named after your mother...and I believe the story was based on an incident from her life. Your students should be really excited to learn their teacher is the daughter of “Helena” from the book!


When you work in a library, you are surrounded by ghosts. Every shelf you pass contains books you recognize, books you’ve read and remember. A lot of times I’ll check out a book and see my own writing and initials inside, indicating I was the one who assigned the call number long ago.

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’ve embarked on reading all the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction. This week I checked out THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx and noticed my printing and initials on the title page verso:

We did not receive this volume until a couple months after it won the Pulitzer and I remember holding the book at my desk for a couple extra days (oh come on, all catalogers do it!) thinking I’d read the novel before sending it on to Book Prep.

Well, reading just a few pages of the clipped, terse, difficult writing made me throw up my hands -- and throw the book into the “Ship to Book Prep” bin.

I couldn’t stand the writing stye. It actually seemed to physically affect me -- clashing in my ears and making my shoulders squirm.

However, now that I’m intent on reading the Pulitzers, I checked the book out and told myself I’d plow through it no matter what.

So I started reading it again this week and at first the prose was a bit off-putting. But then I got used to it. And after a while I found myself thinking, “You know, this is pretty...brilliant.”

Now I love this book.

And that got me thinking about all the other books I’ve disliked or set aside over the years. Would I like them better if I revisited them now? People do grow and change over time. Life experiences shape us, give us different perspectives....

Of course, one could look at it from another angle and wonder if books that we loved in the past would disappoint us now...but I’m not sure that would be true for me. When I love a book, I tend to go back and re-read it every few years. And I tend to keep loving them.

But I’ve never gone back to books I’ve disliked.

Now I’m wondering if I should!

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


Sam said...

re: Flying kids...
I recently pulled Giant Under the Snow off the shelf, thinking of mentioning it around Halloween-time.

When I read it I didn't quite enjoy the flying of the kids, but it's the image that sticks in my mind.

And don't forget The Furious Flycycle, of course.

Anonymous said...

japan also had an arthur ransome society before england

Anonymous said...

Creepiest Kids' Book Author Photos

yeah, it's maxim, so maybe not work safe

Wendy said...

Seriously, what is this about The Story of Mankind being originally published for adults? The author addresses children quite clearly in his text. No matter the imprint that published it, can you convince me that it was actually considered an "adult" book at the time?

Interestingly, it's true--adult books are specifically ineligible for the Printz; the publisher has to designate the books as published for ages 12-18. I don't know whether (I'm sure this has been discussed somewhere) the publisher submitting Stitches as young adult for the NBA "counts" for the Printz criterion.

Was The Dark Frigate published for kids?

Anonymous said...

too many books, too little time. I rarely go back to revisit books that I have previously put aside. I figure that while maybe one in 10 I will now respond to, it is not an efficient use of my time because most still will not resonate with me. The exception is when someone who knows my taste in books, raves about it to me as something I will surely like. (Oh and anything Betsy Bird recommends.) That said, I have a dear, dear friend who often recommends books- that is when I know for sure I will hate it.

Chandigarh said...

where he copied Mayan murals and sculptures for the Carnegie Institution. Here are the stunning endpapers...
Send Flowers to Baroda |
Send Flowers to Bathinda |
Send Flowers to Bhopal |
Send Flowers to Chandigarh

Sarah said...

re: Dark Star of Itza

How much would a first edition of "Dark Star of Itza" be worth?