Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Brunch with a Cliffhanger Ending

Today’s Sunday Brunch discusses three things I learned at a booksigning, provides the shortlists for two of this year’s book awards...and ends on a cliffhanger.


Last Sunday I finished my blog early and attended a booksigning for three new young adult novels. Although I’m usually the type of antisocial person who prefers staying home to attending literary soirees, I made myself go on the grounds that this wasn’t a real “soiree.” (According to the dictionary, a soiree can only be held in the evening and this was an afternoon event.) I was so glad I went. The speakers were fascinating and I learned something of interest from each one.

First there was Helen Frost, a true class act, whose CROSSING STONES is one of 2009’s best novels:

What I learned from Ms. Frost is that she also writes books of adult poetry. At the event, I purchased her latest, AS IF A DRY WIND:

I must admit that I’m an unsophisticated poetry reader, usually preferring poetry to have a strong narrative hook, such as we find in the story of Muriel and her friends in CROSSING STONES. Reading the individual, unconnected poems in AS IF A DRY WIND is like briefly glimpsing a scene through someone else’s window then trying to piece together the background story of what you’ve seen and wondering why it made you feel so emotional. I’m not sure I understood all the poems in this book, but I did enjoy reading them and now want to seek out Ms. Frost’s other adult work.

Pearl North has written several science fiction novels for adults, but LIBYRINTH is her first book for young readers:

I have not read this book yet, but it looks fascinating. How could it not, being set in a futuristic library “so vast people sometimes get lost in it and never come out again”?

What I learned from the pseudonymous Ms. North is that all the books referenced in the novel are on the shelves of her own home library: ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, RABBIT HILL, MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, THE CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE, on and on.

Hey, those books are also on my shelves too! It’s kind of neat to think that someone you’ve never met shares your “literary references.”

Finally, there was Amy Huntley, whose debut novel, THE EVERAFTER, concerns a dead teenager recalling her life:

This is another book that I still haven’t read, but I’ve moved it to the top of my “to be read” pile because it sounds so intriguing.

What I learned from Amy Huntley is that her book had just been named one of the five finalists for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

This information stunned me, as I had no idea that the 2009 finalists for this award (first given last year, with A CURSE DARK AS GOLD by Elizabeth C. Bunce winning) had been announced. And I’m supposed to be on top of these things!


I felt even worse when I learned that I hadn’t read ANY of the five Morris finalists. You’d better believe I’m taking steps to rectify that situation -- and fast!

The five finalists are: ASH by Malinda Lo, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, THE EVERAFTER by Amy Huntley, FLASH BURNOUT by L.K. Madigan, and HOLD STILL by Nina LaCour. The winner will be announced next month, at the same time as the Newbery, Caldecott and Printz winners.


Feeling dumb and left-out because I hadn’t known about the Morris finalists, this week I discovered yet another award shortlist had been announced without my knowledge. The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, to be given for the first time in January 2010 (same day as the Morris), has named the following five finalists: ALMOST ASTRONAUTS by Tanya Lee Stone, CHARLES AND EMMA by Deborah Heligman, CLAUDETTE COLVIN, THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM by Candace Fleming, and WRITTEN IN BONE by Sally M. Walker.

...Speaking of bones, I’ve got a bone to pick with whoever named this award.

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue does it?

Most of our children’s book awards have a proper name attached: Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert, Wilder, Bupre, Printz, Morris.

Not only do they provide a quick-and-handy way of identifying the award, but they also honor influential men and women who worked in the field of children’s books.

I’ve never met anyone named “Yalsa.”

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s short for “Young Adult Library Services Association.”

But I’d like to suggest that the American Library Association change the long, dull name of this prize to something snappier. Something that honors an important figure who labored in the field for decades. Someone who just died without ever winning a Newbery, Printz, or Sibert, despite much critical praise and many award nominations over the years.

How about the Milton Meltzer Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults?

“The Meltzer” for short.

He deserves it.


The recent book THE ROCK AND THE RIVER by Kekla Magoon is getting a lot of critical buzz. When Helen Frost spoke highly of it at the booksigning last Sunday, I immediately went out and got a copy.

However, I noticed something odd on the title page: the publisher is listed as “Aladdin.” I thought Aladdin only published paperbacks. The mystery grew when I turned to the copyright page and saw

the Aladdin “magic lamp” colophon and the phrase “Aladdin Paperbacks.”

Why is a hardcover volume being published by a paperback imprint?

Anyone have a solution to this mystery?


Browsing in the library this past week, I happened upon an oversized, photo-filled book called SONDHEIM by Martin Gottfried. This appreciation of the Broadway composer/lyricist seemed particularly apt reading with the revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Angela Lansbury currently in previews on Broadway.

Early in the volume I discovered an anecdote that even had a children’s book connection. During Sondheim’s youth, he was mentored by musical theatre great Oscar Hammerstein. At one point, Hammerstein gave Sondheim an assignment to write a musical based on a book that had never been dramatized. Sondheim chose P.L. Travers’ children’s book classic MARY POPPINS! The musical was never completed, although there is written record of at least four songs: “Ad,” “Miss Andrew,” “The Sun is Blue,” and “Tea.”

None of these songs have ever been recorded. I’m not sure they’ve ever been sung in public. It sure would be interesting to hear Sondheim’s “take” on Mary Poppins. I imagine his script and songs would be very different than those found in the 1964 Disney film.

Ironically, the Disney film has now been adapted for the stage and will be in competition with A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC on Broadway this season.


Incidentally, while reading Gottfried’s Sondheim book, I was struck by all the color photographs highlighting the scenic design of Tony winner Boris Aronson. He worked on several Sondheim musicals, including COMPANY and FOLLIES, as well many other Broadway classics, such as FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and CABARET.

What’s his children’s book connection?

Editor and author Marc Aronson (whose books include the first Sibert winner, SIR WALTER RALEGH AND THE QUEST FOR EL DORADO) is Boris Aronson’s son.


A couple months back I mentioned that the Bookfinder’s Annual Report had listed THE PINK DRESS by Anne Alexander as their most-sought after children’s book of 2008. I have to admit I was completely unfamiliar with this 1959 novel and shocked to learn that first editions were selling for about $1500. Of course this made me very curious to read the book and I checked a copy out of the library. Our library copy did not have a dustjacket, but when I saw the illustrated cover, my big question (“Why is this book selling for $1500?”) was supplanted by an even bigger question: “What the heck is that girl pointing at?”

No, really. What is she pointing at???

I finally read THE PINK DRESS this week and I must admit that I’m still puzzled on several other counts as well. When you hear that a book has a huge cult following, you can often figure out the reason for its success when you read it. Sometimes the book will have some aspect of wish fulfillment that readers yearn for; sometimes the reader will identify closely with a character (“he’s just like me!”) or admire that character’s daring or independence; sometimes they even fall in love with a character. These are just a few of the reasons I’ve seen for books becoming cult hits.

But after reading THE PINK DRESS, I can’t see what has made this novel so irresistible to so many readers.

It’s a romance, but a very frilly romance. On the first page alone, we get the following overly-italicized passage:

Peppermint Prom sounded like such a fun name for a dance. It sounded so sort of swish.

Yes, it does indeed. Sue Stevens is the girl daydreaming about the Peppermint Prom, a junior high dance to which she’ll wear a dress that’s “just the delectable shade of a pink peppermint wafer.” At the dance, Sue is approached by Dave Young, the leader of “The Crowd” who, after a couple dances is already telling Sue not to dance with a couple of other boys from her crowd (“Lay off those creeps,” he demanded.”)

Over the course of the next several weeks, Susan does abandon her group of nice, loyal friends for Dave and his snobbish, somewhat dangerous crew. It’s all standard romance stuff, though I was surprised here and there by mildly-risque moments. After a “popcorn brawl,” Dave and Sue are kicked out of movie theatre, with the manager referring to the good-girl protagonist as “Just a pick-up...trying to alibi her way out of trouble.” At another point Sue tells off her best friend, making a rude remark about her “flat, fat, shapeless chest.” And after one chaste kiss on the forehead (as she’s taken off to the hospital to have her appendix out), Sue is already concerned that she’s “cheating” on Dave when two male friends later visit at her sickbed.

The story reaches a climax when “The Crowd” vandalizes someone’s home as well as the junior high. It turns out that Dave was not involved, but that still doesn’t excuse his creepy and domineering behavior throughout most of the book. And Sue isn’t particularly likable either, tossing off her old friends as soon as romance enters the picture. And when the principal asks if she knows anything about the vandalism, she says no, adding, “And if I did, I wouldn’t tell.” Of course that doesn’t prevent her from later running to the principal when she needs help, hysterically crying and berating him for not assisting her. Snotty little brat.

It’s pretty clear that THE PINK DRESS didn’t appeal much to me, nor was was I able to recognize that mysterious quality that has made this book so memorable to many other readers.

If you’re a fan, I’d love to hear what makes this book so special to you. Maybe I missed something.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books.

I hope you’ll be back again.

In fact, I hope you’ll be back tomorrow.

Because tomorrow’s blog will contain a special announcement!


Jules at 7-Imp said...

Now I've just gotta include Peppermint Prom somewhere in tomorrow's post.

You've made my to-be-read pile significantly taller afer this post.

carterbham said...

The "Meltzer" Award-- YES!

Anonymous said...

I'm not positive, but I believe the girl on the cover is just playing with her bracelet & her hand is hanging almost limp. I've done that. I guess I'll make sure not to do again!

Pearl North said...

Great meeting you Peter. Glad you enjoyed the book signing!

Anonymous said...

I have never even heard of the Peppermint Prom, but I am guessing that it's appeal is that it was the first romance novel that the nostalgic buyers ever read. Perhaps also, a large number of people would love to have the chance to drop their lame friends and become part of the cool crowd.

I have to admit that the book as you describe it holds no appeal for me.

Hope Vestergaard said...

Catching up on my blog reading over break...I believe that Aladdin began publishing hardcover titles last year sometime. I think current agent Mark McVeigh was editing there at the time, not sure if he was behind that change or not.

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Jess Mortensen said...

I read The Pink Dress as a young girl, and I loved it. I could relate at that age. THAT is why I want to own the book today. I searched for it and found it but I cannot see paying that much, so I didn't purchase. I cannot find it in a library near me... LOVED as a girl.