Monday, December 28, 2009

A Brief Brunch That Looks Ahead and Looks Back

Last Sunday’s Brunch was a day late.

This Sunday’s Brunch is a day late.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a habit of it. The holidays, while wonderful, have caused some disruptions in my normal routine. Things should return to normal as soon as the Christmas tree comes down.

...Unfortunately, last year I didn’t take the tree down until well after Martin Luther King Day.

But in 2010 I vow to do better. How’s that for a New Year’s Resolution?

In the spirit of the New Year, today’s brief blog looks back at the most representational children’s books of this past decade and looks ahead to a book from the next decade.


You know you patronize a cool bookstore when the owner calls you on Christmas morning to say that she just got an ARC (advance reading copy) of a new book that you’ll want to read. The ARC in question was THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN by Susan Beth Pfeffer, the third volume in the post-apocalyptic series that began with LIFE AS WE KNEW IT and continued with THE DEAD & THE GONE. Saturday afternoon I rushed over to the bookstore to pick it up and then spent Sunday reading it. Can you imagine a more cheery Christmas read than a novel of isolation, deprivation, euthanasia, and imminent death and destruction?

Susan Beth Pfeffer began her writing career just out of college with the publication of JUST MORGAN. Since then she’s written dozens of children’s and young adult novels, including such memorable titles as ABOUT DAVID and THE YEAR WITHOUT MICHAEL. In 2006 she published her best-known work, LIFE AS WE KNEW IT, which describes how a meteor strike throws the moon out of orbit, drastically affecting life on Earth. The story is related by Miranda Evans, a teenager from Pennsylvania, who records how the lunar catastrophe leads to starvation, mayhem, and the deaths of friends and neighbors. It’s a science fiction book for readers who don’t generally like science fiction -- a speculative novel that deals with the human side of a worldwide crisis. A sequel, THE DEAD & THE GONE (2008) told the story of the same event from the perspective of New York teenager Alex Morales.

THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN (to be published in April) is again told through Miranda’s diary entries. If LIFE AS WE KNEW IT was a tale of loss and letting go (not just the the loss of food, sunlight, and modern conveniences, but also friends who do not survive the crisis), THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN is a story of gaining new family members and friends, and opening oneself to experiences such as traveling (even a ninety-mile journey is an adventure) and falling in love.

It’s been nearly a year since the moon fell out of orbit and Miranda, her brothers, and their mother, are still cold and starving. Things start to look up when Miranda begins breaking into abandoned houses for food and supplies and her brothers travel to fish from the Delaware River. Soon her older brother marries a girl he barely knows and Miranda’s father, new wife, and their baby arrive with a group of travelers...including Alex Morales and his younger sister Julie. It was perhaps inevitable that Miranda and Alex would meet in Pfeffer’s series and their subsequent hasty romance at times feels more prescribed by plot than truly felt by the characters. Nevertheless the book is a page-turner, and the author does a great job showing how some aspects of daily, domestic life are retained while others are lost forever in the face of encroaching horror. In the final pages, a tornado -- almost a deus ex machina in reverse -- brings further destruction and causes Miranda to make some shattering decisions that will forever change her life. Although she ends the novel saying that she will no longer write in her diary, the story practically demands a sequel (readers will want to know more about the rumored “safe towns” located around the country...and there needs to be a follow-up to the tantalizing hints that Miranda’s new sister-in-law has given about her past.) Anyone who reads THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN will anxiously await the next installment in this fascinating series.


Seems like it was only a couple years ago that we were stockpiling water and batteries for Y2K. Now the decade is about to end. This got me wondering about titles best represent the past ten years. It’s not necessarily a list of good books -- in fact, a couple of the titles below stink to high heaven -- but just a roster representing the state of children’s publishing from 2000 to 2009.


Not the first HP book, but the first from this millennium, and it helped set the tone for the era. Suddenly children’s books were cool for adults and crowds would turn out for midnight release parties. If only more children’s books got this kind of reception!

2001 / READING MASTERY II : STORYBOOK I by Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner

Why would a book in a thirty-one volume reading text best represent 2001? Because one of the stories in this book, “The Pet Goat" was being read by the president while planes crashed into the World Trade Center. “The Pet Goat” immediately became one of the most well-known titles in children’s literature (though most people called it “My Pet Goat” for some reason) yet it remains a story that almost nobody has read.

2002 / HOOT by Carl Hiassen

After about twenty years of celebrities and “adult writers” trying to write children’s books and producing the literary equivalent of plant fertilizer, Carl Hiassen attempted a kids’ book and scored both a popular and critical (Newbery Honor) triumph. It’s probably the high-point of the “celebrity author trend.”

2003 / ERAGON by Christopher Paolini

Personally I couldn’t read it, but ERAGON deserves recognition for representing the trend of self-published books that ended up getting attention from big mainstream publishers with deep pocket$.

2004 / THE O’REILLY FACTOR FOR KIDS by Bill O’Reilly

Every day millions of children turn off their iPods, power down their computers, and put down their Playstation joysticks to gather around the TV to watch Bill O’Reilly on Fox TV. They don’t? Then how to explain the huge sales figures for this advice volume from a TV blowhard and falafel fan? Obviously it was this decade’s “Most Purchased Book by Parents and Grandparents.”

2005 / TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer

The reason why every other young adult title now must contain one of the following words: neck, blood, vamp, undead, bite, or suck.

2006 / THE END by Lemony Snicket

The end of an era. When I read THE BAD BEGINNING, the first volume in this series, I thought it was mildly-amusing, but didn’t have a lot of appeal for kids. Seven years, thirteen volumes, and fifty-five million copies later, Lemony Snicket proved me wrong.

2007 / THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick

Winning the Caldecott Medal proved that the graphic novel for children had really come of age.

2008 / THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

Similarly, many cheered when this novel won the Newbery Medal, marking one of the rare times when a book both critically acclaimed and kid-friendly had won the big N.

2009 / ???

What book do you think best represents the state of children’s publishing for 2009? Which titles above would you bump in order to include other books better representing this past decade?

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


Unknown said...

I would venture to say Hunger Games (and Catching Fire for that matter) has shown a shift in publishing from mostly Fantasy and Gothic Horror to Science Fiction. With so many dystopian future books coming out, I can't help but think that this book was at the forefront of the movement with the Westerfield series being at the beginning of that shift as well.

dot said...

Somehow, Diary of A Wimpy Kid has to show up here. I don't know if it's just to prove that the vaguely amoral protaganist holds a huge draw for the younger set, or if kids like cartoons. Either way, it's BIG.

Wendy said...

"marking one of the rare times when a book both critically acclaimed and kid-friendly had won the big N"--oh, Peter, even you? Surely you know better than this! Past Newbery titles are not as non-kid-friendly as is commonly stated, and The Graveyard Book is not as popular with kids as is generally implied. We had a few sort of esoteric books win in a row, but Bud, Not Buddy... Holes... Despereaux... going a bit earlier, The Giver... Number the Stars... Maniac Magee... these are/were at least as popular with kids as The Graveyard Book.

Wendy said...

Oh, also: I think I would bump The Graveyard Book for The Hunger Games, and for this year, perhaps Claudette Colvin. Even though I'm tired of hearing about what a great year it is for non-fiction.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Venus,

I hope you're right that publishing is shifting a bit from fantasy to science fiction; so far I'm still seeing a glut of fantasy/fairy/gothic books on the shelves at the library and bookstores. I'm hungry for a change!

Thanks for your comments,


Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Dot,

I chose HUGO to represent the trend toward graphic novels, but WIMPY could just as easily have taken its place on my list. You're right -- it's definitely BIG these days!

Thanks for commenting,


Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Wendy,

Yeah, I probably should have been more precise in my comments. What I SHOULD have said is that GRAVEYARD won the Newbery during a time when people were really debating the quality vs. popularity issue. By the time GB won the Newbery it had already accumulated a bunch of rave reviews AND was in its eighth printing, so no one could argue that it didn't have both critical and commercial appeal.

Regarding this year's choice, I'm not sure I'd chose CLAUDETTE COLVIN. Even though it's been "declared" the most distinguished contribution to children's literature by Heavy Medal and now appears to be waiting only for the official coronation ceremony, I actually have a couple issues with the book....

Thanks for your comments,


Wendy said...

Please share your issues with the Claudette Colvin book, Peter--I have yet to hear any, I think. I've been avoiding reading most of the nonfiction books because I'm a Cybils judge and want to read the finalists all at once, so I haven't read it yet. My suggestion of it for "book representing year" is because of the buzz surrounding it and because I think it represents the whole "good year for nonfiction" story that seems to be the story of the year. Perhaps you could share Claudette Colvin thoughts on Heavy Medal. (Where Jonathan may have crowned it, but I don't get the impression that Nina has.)