Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An After-Christmas Blog

Christmas is past.

The new year is four days away.

And the Newbery and Caldecott Awards will be announced in thirteen days!

Time really flies at this time of year. I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last blog. I got caught up in Christmas preparations and suddenly it was December 25 and I hadn’t posted anything in nearly two weeks. Today’s entry is a random round-up of facts and opinions on children’s books old and new. But first, I have to say a word or two about Christmas in my new house….


Everyone loves a fireplace at this time of year and I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have two fireplaces in my new house.

There’s a gas fireplace in the living room. I turned it on Halloween night, then on Thanksgiving, and have been running it every night since the first snow of the season. When my brother came for Christmas, I was anxious to see how his dog Elgin would react to the fire. I’ve observed that most dogs are instinctively afraid of flames and figured that Elgin would stay far, far away from the hearth. I hadn’t considered the fact that his dog is always cold and loves to curl up in blankets and small pools of sunlight coming through the window. After feeling the warmth of the fire, Elgin camped out in front of the fireplace for the entire Christmas weekend!

Meanwhile, I had my own plans for the basement library. It also has a fireplace – though this one burns wood. About a week ago, I finally put the finishing touches on the library, adding a big recliner and a reading lamp. With my brother using my bedroom during his visit, I decided to sleep in my new chair. What better place to spend Christmas Eve, kicked back in a recliner, reading before an open fire? I didn’t make it downstairs until after 1:00 AM, then started my first natural fire. Okay, I cheated. I used a Duraflame log. Within seconds the fire was roaring. I picked up a book, sat in my recliner to enjoy the ambience. Here is a fifteen-second video of that peaceful Christmas Eve tableau:

The video is only fifteen seconds because that's about as long as the moment lasted. Within seconds, my Silent Night was jarred by an ear-splitting sound coming from the ceiling:


One of the smoke detectors was going off loud enough to wake the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future!

I jumped up and began jabbing at the button on the smoke detector, but couldn’t turn it off. Next I tried to pry the plastic lid off the detector in order to remove the battery. As it turns out, this smoke detector is all wired together and, further, wired into the ceiling, so it does not utilize a battery. Ultimately, my brother and I had to muffle the stupid thing by wrapping a bath towel around it.

My brother noted that the basement did look a little smoky and asked me twenty-five times if I’d opened the damper before starting the fire. I assured him that I had and then, after he went back upstairs, I double-checked the damper. (Whew, I hadopened it!) So I sat back down in the recliner, picked up my book, and then heard someone yelp upstairs. No, it wasn’t Elgin-the-dog. It was my brother, yelping in shock because he saw an older man staring into his bedroom window.

No, it wasn’t Santa Claus.

Santa may also arrive at 2:30 in the morning on Christmas, but he doesn’t peer through your windows and then knock on your front door. And he definitely doesn’t wear a red bathrobe as he goes from house to house.

No, the man on the porch was my next-door neighbor, woken from his “long winter’s nap” to let us know that he smelled smoke coming into his condo. He thought our house was on fire! I explained that I had just started my first log-burning fire and he said, “We don’t have those kind of fireplaces here! They use gas!”

I told him that our basement fireplace did indeed burn logs, and he didn’t have to worry because the fire was contained. Contained? I always say the wrong thing. Always. What I meant was, “The house is not on fire. The fire is secure inside the fireplace,” but I think my words made it sound like, “The entire basement was on fire, but I’ve now beaten it back with wet towels and it’s contained in one small corner.”

The good news is that I’ve had several more fires since that night and have never again experienced excessive smoke, beeping smoke detectors, or worried neighbors. I think the problem occurred because it was the first time that fireplace had been used since I moved in – maybe the first time it was used in several years. But everything is okay now. I’m just sorry that I disrupted my neighbor’s sleep – especially on Christmas Eve. I guess I’ll have to make it up to him by re-gifting him and his wife a fruitcake or something. I’m just grateful he didn’t call the fire department. Can you imagine what a fine “welcome to the neighborhood” moment that would have been, with sirens blaring up to my front door at 2:00 AM on Christmas Eve?


The next morning my brother gave me this book as a Christmas present:

He found it at a thrift shop for a dollar and, although he doesn’t know a lot about antiquarian books, he does know a lot about art – and he liked the illustrations. MASHA’S STUFFED MOTHER GOOSE was published by Garden City Publishing in 1946 and this copy was a stated first edition. It’s a collection of about 150 nursery rhymes – some familiar, some not. What makes the book unique is that the illustrations (in both color and black-and-white) depict the figures (Little Bo-Peep, Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, etc.) as stuffed toys and dolls. I imagine that if this book were published today, it would automatically come with a “Stuffed Mother Goose plushie” as part of the deal. Does anyone know of another nursery rhyme book in which the characters are all depicted as stuffed dolls and toys? And does anyone know anything about “Masha.” At first I thought she must have been as famous as Cher, since she only went by one name too. But doing a bit of internet research today, I’ve discovered there isn’t a lot of info about her. But I did learn that her real name was Maria Simchow Stern and she holds a noteworthy place in the field of children’s books, as she illustrated the very first Little Golden Book, THREE LITTLE KITTENS, in 1942.


Ironically, when I first opened MASHA’S STUFFED MOTHER GOOSE on Christmas morning, the book fell open to this verse:

I’ve heard this verse my entire life – but in a completely different context. I know it as this Christmas carol:

I saw three ships go sailing by,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
I saw three ships go sailing by,
On Christmas day in the morning.
And what was in those ships all three?
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And what was in those ships all three?
On Christmas day in the morning.
Our Saviour Christ and his lady
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Our Saviour Christ and his lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day in the morning.

I’ve also heard a version of the song that goes like this:

As I sat on a sunny bank, a sunny bank, a sunny bank,
As I sat on a sunny bank
On Christmas day in the morning,
I spied three ships come sailing by
On Christmas day in the morning.

And who should be upon those ships
But Joseph and his fair lady.
And who should be upon those ships
On Christmas day in the morning.

Oh he did whistle and she did sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

This is the first time I came across the “New Year’s” version, which is secular in tone and talks about the speaker’s wedding…and to think I read it the first time on Christmas Day in the morning.


Friends and relatives often ask me about the value of their old childhood books. I always feel bad having to tell them that, while the books they owned may have been meant a lot to them personally, they are not really worth a lot of money now. But the other day an older cousin (older in that she was already grown up and married when I was born) mentioned one of her childhood books to me and I was able to give her some good news.

I had never heard of PARASOLS IS FOR LADIES before. Written by Elizabeth Ritter and illustrated by Ninon MacKnight and first published in 1941, the story concerns three African American sisters who want to own parasols and describes how they go about earning the money to buy them. My cousin, who taught grade school in the late fifties and early sixties, told me she used to take her copy of this book to school and read it to her classes. When she told me that the three sisters live with their “mammy” and the book is written in dialect, I knew this was a book a teacher would no longer share with her students today!

Doing a little research, I discovered that this title is notable as one of the few children’s books from the forties to feature African American characters – but of course controversial due to the dialect and stereotyped illustrations. And it’s now worth a surprisingly amount of money. One site lists eight copies for sale, ranging in price from $300 to $725. (For once I could tell a relative that one of her childhood books is worth a lot of money!)

Is anyone else familiar with this book?


I haven’t read it yet, but there’s a new adult book that might be of interest to fans of children’s book. It’s called MR. TOPPIT and the author is Charles Elton.

According to the author:

Fifteen years ago I began writing Mr. Toppit when I was a literary agent representing the estate of A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh. I learned the story of Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, who grew to hate the fame his father's books brought him. To reshape that idea in a modern context was the single idea that was the genesis of my novel.

During the years I spent writing, another phenomenon occurred in the world of children's book publishing that made Winnie-the-Pooh's fame seem parochial: Harry Potter. Suddenly, my idea of a modern series of children's stories that take over the world did not seem so far-fetched. What had originally been conceived as a small story about my boy hero, Luke Hayman, suddenly made famous by his dead father's books widened into both an examination of the mechanics of fame and a strange journey towards a literary tipping point that has devastating consequences for the characters in my book.

Hmm…sounds intriguing.

Think I’ll track down a copy!


And speaking of books worth seeking out, next week brings the re-publication of THE SECRET RIVER by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Though the author’s THE YEARLING was published as an adult novel (and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), it has been embraced by generations of young readers. THE SECRET RIVER was discovered among the author’s papers after her death and was published specifically for children. Praised for its haunting, surreal narrative and accompany Leonard Weisgard artwork, the title was named a 1955 Newbery Honor Book.

Now the book is being reissued with new illustrations by double Caldecott winners Leo and Diane Dillon:

Should be worth a look!


Are you as sick of the “headless cover illustration” trend as I am?

I have discovered that, with some imagination and a little Scotch Tape, we can alleviate the situation by taping two dustjackets together to create one complete picture.

This week’s example involves two recent middle grade novels: JAKE by Audrey Couloumbis and BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT by Rob Buyea.

Individually, these cover illustrations seem incomplete. But tape them together and...well, now we’re getting somewhere!


The very first Borders is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When I was growing up, I loved visiting Ann Arbor, which was about an hour from where I lived in Detroit, and spending time in that one-of-a-kind store. As time went on, Borders expanded all across the country and was no longer a one-of-a-kind store. In fact, there are now FOUR different Borders stores within ten miles of my house. Although I usually spent my money at the local independent bookstore, there was definitely something to be said for Borders long hours and big selection and I have definitely bought quite a few books there over the years. In recent months, I’ve been reading a lot about Borders experiencing financial problems, but I was shocked when they decided to shut down the closest store to my house. Driving by yesterday, I saw the sign that said “STORE CLOSING. ONLY NINE DAYS LEFT. 40% OFF EVERTHING!” so decided to stop in.

I kind of wish I hadn’t.

Is there anything more miserable than a bookstore going out of business?

First off the entire huge children’s section was CLOSED – with a barrier of empty shelves and furniture blocking access to that section of the store.

All of the fiction shelves were stripped bare.

Scattered here and there throughout the store were a handful of free-standing shelving units containing a variety of leftover, marked-down books that nobody wanted.

It was a sad sight – and I hope not a trend for the future of books and bookstores.


Since we’re on the subject of trends, I was intrigued by a discussion of trends and “marketability” in children’s books that recently turned up on the Horn Book’s “Read Roger” blog.

Michael Grant, who co-wrote the Animorphs series and recently wrote the YA “Gone” series, contributed the following remarks:

Since you asked, here's what I know about the market. It's like duck hunting. (No, I don't shoot ducks.) You don't aim at the duck as it's flying, you aim just in front of the duck. You lead the target. Don't shoot at the vampire, do what my friend Michael Stearns (with Lauren Kate) did, guess what might be next and shoot an angel.

Another example: just before we sold Animorphs everyone was telling us to go after RL Stine's Goosebumps because MG horror was the big thing. We said, no way. First, it would be derivative. Second he owned an existing market and we doubted we could take him. Third, trends have a life span. 5 years give or take and the 5 years was about up. So we led the target, guessed sci fi and shot a duck.

Mr. Grant’s remarks have sure gotten me thinking.

Yeah, right now it’s all about vampires and the undead and dystopias, but where are children’s and young adult books headed in the next couple years?

What trends can we expect?

If you were going to aim “just in front of the duck,” what would you shoot at?

I’m thinking the dystopia thing has just about worn out its welcome. But what comes after controlled, doomed societies? Maybe stories of rebirth? I’m not sure exactly what that means or how it would play out literarily…. Hopefully not in a spate of novels on teenage mothers. (Though with the recent TV interest in “teen mom” TV shows – not to mention the popularity of Bristol P – I would not be surprised.)

I also wouldn’t be surprised if our current economic woes found their way into children’s books. I guess it could happen in one of two ways – we could either see a trend toward historical fiction in which long-ago characters face impoverishment (i.e. the Great Depression, the first settlers, etc.) or we could go in exactly the opposite direction. During the Depression of the 1930s, many movies featured wealthy society types…so maybe children’s books will also focus on the rich and privileged as a form of wish fulfillment.

It seems like many trends just take current literary themes and view them from a different angle. One classic theme in children’s books is MICE. There’s Stuart Little and Lily and Poppy. There’s a mouse on a motorcycle and another one eating a cookie. Redwall is infested with them. And now I see Lois Lowry’s got a new mouse story coming out. It's a standing rule of children's literature: If you’re despereaux to write a hit book, write about mice! But the thought occurs to me that no one has ever written a YA problem novel about mice. Could that be a future trend? Teenage mice misunderstood by their parents. Delinquent mice. Mice on drugs. Adolescent mice concerned with body image issues (“Is my tail long enough? Why won’t my whiskers grow?”) Clique-ish mean-girl mice attending Rodent High. Pregnant teenage mice (“One moment of passion and now she has a litter of fifteen mouths to feed.”)

It’s an idea.

Okay, I didn’t say it was a good idea, but it’s an idea.

What trends in children’s books do YOU see coming in 2011 and beyond?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Brunch for a Snowy Sunday

Today's brief Sunday Brunch identifies three valuable books for collectors, uses reverse psychology on a popular Mock Newbery contest, and includes a list of all the celebrities who have promoted children's books on the American Library Association's READ posters.


The roof of the Metrodome has collapsed in Minnesota.

Parts of Illinois and Indiana are under a winter storm warning.

Where I live, just north of Detroit, they are predicting four to eight inches of snow later this afternoon.

Here's what it looked like out my back door this morning:

I just hope the muskrats are warm in their house out on the pond:


Incidentally, are you familiar with the 1957 Edith and Thacher Hurd book pictured above? Do you by chance have an old copy of the book at your house?

If so, you could be sitting on a gold mine.

Nice first editions of IT'S SNOWING sell for $250-$400!

And if you think that's a lot, how about this book by the Hurds:

Published in 1956, first editions of MARY'S SCARY HOUSE are usually priced between $450 and $600.

While tracking down images for the two Hurd books, I came across this totally unrelated dustjacket for a 1967 book called THE GHOST OF OPALINA, OR NINE LIVES by Peggy Bacon:

If you ever find a copy of this book, snatch it right up. First editions sell for $450 to $1000!

All three of these titles are good examples of books that never won any awards or prizes, aren't popular enough to remain in print today, yet are still so well-loved by readers that collectors are willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for them.


Today's the day that the Heavy Medal folks convene at the Oakland Public Library to choose their Mock Newbery winner.

Their shortlist includes:

KEEPER by Kathi Appelt
THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
SIR CHARLIE by Sid Fleischman
THE KNEEBONE BOY by Ellen Potter
THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan
DARK EMPEROR by Joyce Sidman
A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams Garcia


But the more I thought about it, the more I began hoping that KNEEBONE BOY does win the prize.


Because the winners of the Oakland Mock Newbery never seem to actually win the real Newbery Award .

2010's prizes are a perfect example. WHEN YOU REACH ME was as close to a sure-winner as possible. But it was only named a Mock Honor by Oakland, joining other Mock Honors CLAUDETTE COLVIN and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM, as the top prize went to WHEN THE MOUNTAIN MET THE MOON by Grace Lin.

2009 was an oddball year as well. Oakland's Mock Newbery went to THE PORCUPINE YEAR, with Mock Honors going to AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER and ALVIN HO : ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL AND OTHER SCARY THINGS.

2008's mock winner was ELIJAH OF BUXTON by Christopher Paul Curtis, with honors going to THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN; GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES!, and THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt.

2007's top title was A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR by Laura Amy Schlitz, with Mock Honors going to ALABAMA MOON, THE KING OF ATTOLIA, and A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE.

One has to go all way back to 2006 to find a year when Oakland's Mock Newbery pick, CRISS CROSS by Lynne Rae Perkins, went on to actually win the Newbery. (The Mock Honors that year were HITLER YOUTH, A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, JOHN LENNON, and SHOW WAY.)

Of course noting the fact that the Mock awards almost never match the real prize in no way disparages Oakland's selections. It just proves that, when you have two groups of people discussing a similar slate of books, they may well choose different winners due to any number of variables. Personally, I think Oakland's 2007 winner, A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR, was a brilliant selection which actually should have won the official Newbery that year. On the other hand, Oakland's 2009 winner, THE PORCUPINE YEAR, pretty much stinks.

Stay tuned for the Mock winners at Heavy Medal tonight or tomorrow. And the real winners will be announced on January 10.


Yesterday I recorded a movie off TV called THEN SHE FOUND ME. It starred one of my least favorite actresses, Helen Hunt, as a 39 year old woman who had been adopted as a child and was now desperate to have a baby of her own.

Early in the movie, Helen is surprised when her birth mother turns up and wants to have a relationship with her. The birth mother is played by Bette Midler. During their first meeting, Bette recites a Dr. Seuss verse to Helen. She is surprised to learn that Helen's adoptive mother never read Helen that book.

On the one hand, it's always nice to see a reference -- any reference -- to a children's book in a big screen movie.

But, as usually happens, the movie got it wrong.

The book Bette quotes from is OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO -- the last book Dr. Seuss published in his lifetime.

THEN SHE FOUND ME was filmed in 2007.

Helen Hunt played a 39-year-old...meaning she was born in 1968.

OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO wasn't published until 1990.

So Bette shouldn't have been surprised that Helen's mother had never read her this book.

It wasn't published until Helen's character was 22 years old!


Did you know that Bette Midler was one of the earliest stars to jump on the "celebrity books for children" trend? In 1983 she published THE SAGA OF BABY DIVINE, a picture book about a baby who looks a lot like Bette Midler in diapers. She also wears a boa and high heels and her first word is "More." Unlike most of the pedantic celebrity books published in the years since, this is not a flat-footed and patronizing story directed at teaching kids a lesson, but more a faux children's book that uses colorful illustrations and rhyming text to speak to Midler's adult fans. One of those adult fans would post the following blurb on Amazon.com many years later: "A pentameter that rivals Seuss in creativity, timing, and rhyming," but the Boston Globe was a little less starstruck in this contemperaneous review: "Dr. Seuss doesn't have to stay awake nights worrying about being tumbled from the throne as the dean of children's books."


Bette Midler was shown cradling a copy of THE SAGA OF BABY DIVINE in one of the American Library Association's READ posters.

Bette was one of the first four celebrities (the others were Bill Cosby, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Sting) photographed for the inaugural READ posters in 1985. Since then, nearly 200 actors, musicians, athletes, and other famous names have been featured in the long-running series.

Some are photographed alone, some are holding adult books.

Which ones were shown holding specific children's titles?

Here's a list:

Bill Cosby / TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson / 1985
Goldie Hawn / GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS by Lorinda Bryan Cauley / 1986
William Hurt / DID I TELL YOU HOW LUCKY YOU ARE? by Dr. Seuss / 1988
Kirk Cameron / THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis /1990
Denzel Washington / GREEN EGGS AND HAM by Dr. Seuss / 1991
Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky / HOW THINGS WORK by David Macaulay / 1991
Michael Chang / CURIOUS GEORGE TAKES A JOB by H.A. Rey / 1992
Michael Keaton / THE YEARLING by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings / 1992
Whoopi Goldberg / NICHOLAS CRICKET by Joyce Maxner / 1992
Marlee Matlin / ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume / 1994
The movie cast of LITTLE WOMEN / LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott / 1995
Barbara Walters / THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine De Saint Exupery / 1996
Courney Cox / Heidi by Johanna Spyri / 1996
The movie cast of MATILDA / MATILDA by Roald Dahl / 1996
Brandy / THE CAT IN THE HAT by Dr. Seuss / 1997
Cindy Crawford / THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien / 1997
Rosie O'Donnell / BEEZUS AND RAMONA by Beverly Cleary / 1997
Muhammad Ali / GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS by Jan Brett / 1998
Rebecca Lobo / THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein / 1999
Regis Philbin / TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson / 2000
Tara Dakides / WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein / 2000
Mike Mussina / CASEY AT THE BAT / Ernest L. Thayer / 2001
Yo Yo Ma / GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown / 2001
Missy Elliot / A CHAIR FOR MY MOTHER by Vera Williams / 2003
Jeff Corwin / MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN by Jean Craighead George / 2004
Renee Fleming / ANTHOLOGY OF FAIRY TALES by Hans Christian Andersen / 2004
George Lopez / OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO by Dr. Seuss / 2005
Ice Cube / THE GREATEST by Walter Dean Myers / 2005
Jamie Kennedy / WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak / 2005
Mat Hoffman / DUCK ON A BIKE by David Shannon / 2005
Ben Roethlisberger / THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein / 2006
Dakota Fanning / CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White / 2006
Ewan MacGregor / THE COMPLETE TALES by Beatrix Potter / 2007
Sendhil Ramamurthy / THE TOWER TREASURE by Franklin W. Dixon / 2007
William H. Macy / CURIOUS GEORGE by H.A. Rey / 2007
Abigal Breslin / MEET KIT by Valerie Tripp / 2008
Eva Mendes / A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC by Shel Silverstein / 2008
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar / THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain / 1008
Rachael Ray / THE STINKY CHEESE MAN by Jon Scieszka / 2008
Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart / TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer / 2008
Hugh Laurie / TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson / 2009
America Ferrera / A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles / 2009
Cole Hamels / ERAGON by Christopher Paolini / 2009
Ne-Yo / THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaimon / 2009
Brenda Song / CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Road Dahl / 2009
Taylor Lautner / NEW MOON by Stephenie Meyer / 2009


Does anyone remember this suspense novel for teens from the seventies?

Everyone wanted to read it when I was a kid.

It was the combination of the alluring title and creepy cover illustration...the promise of crank calls...accidental death...teenage guilt...suspense...and the guy in the middle looked like Elvis....

It was wildly popular in paperback, but I don't think I ever saw the hardcover edition until a few years ago. I wonder how popular the book was in hardcover, considering what a mess the cover illustration is:

I actually think this scan improves upon the original illustration. It smooths out the fuzzy borders, tones down the blotchiness of the colors, covers up the places where the color goes outside the lines, and in general gives the image a more polished appearance. If you could see the actual hardcover book I'm holding in my hands right now, you'd notice all these irregularities -- and more. The book was published in 1971 by Dodd, Mead -- not exactly a fly-by-night publisher with no budget for art and design. So why did this title end up with a cover that looks like an untalented nine-year-old drew it with a handful of magic markers?

I guess it really does prove that "you can't judge a book by its cover," as Edith Maxwell's novel is actually quite entertaining and would be enjoyed by readers of Lois Duncan's books such as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

Every time I think about one of the books I enjoyed as a young reader, I wonder if it could be re-published for today's kids.

Right off the bat, I'd have to say this one would never get an audience.

Today's kids couldn't get past the title.


What does "dial" mean???

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Morris Morass

Yesterday ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association announced the finalists for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award for Women Writers.

The five female authors nominated for this prestigious honor are:

Eishes Chayil for HUSH



Barbara Stuber for CROSSING THE TRACKS

Blythe Woolston for THE FREAK OBSERVER

Congratulations, ladies!

...Okay, I'm being facetious.

The prize isn't really called the "William C. Morris YA Debut Award for Women Writers."

It just feels that way.

Now in its third year, the Morris Award always publishes a list of five finalists.

Of the fifteen books thus far honored, FOURTEEN have been by female writers.

The only exception has been James Lecesne, nominated the first year for ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS -- and even that novel featured a female first-person narrator.

(But to be fair, several of the shortlisted books over the years, including last year's winner, FLASH BURNOUT by L.K. Madigan, have been stories with male protagonists, despite being written by female authors.)

Noting how "female-centric" the Morris shortlists have been has gotten me wondering whether it's because most of today's top YA writers really are women...or is it simply because more women are published in the field of young-adult fiction, which of course gives award committes a much wider "talent pool" from which to make their choices?

Has anyone ever kept statistics on the numbes of male vs. female authors in the YA field?

And has the field been trending toward women writers in recent years?

Since the Morris award honors first-time YA writers, I tracked down a list of 2010 Debut Writers in Young Adult and Middle-Grade Fiction on the Goodreads site. Although I'm sure this list is far from definitive, I found it troubling that out of 310 titles listed, only 28 appeared to be written or co-written by male authors.

That's less than ten per cent!

It should be noted that my observation about the Morris shortlists have nothing to do with the quality of 2011's nominated books. To be honest (taking a humbling deep breath here) I haven't yet read any of this year's finalists. Most of these books seem to have come out of left field, with neither the "buzz" nor the string of starred reviews that usually lead up to such awards. Maybe after reading all five books, I'll agree that every one of them is superb -- each a true hidden gem discovered by the committee. But till then I'm going to wonder why fourteen out of fifteen Morris finalists have been women...and wonder if it's really true that less than 10% of debuting YA authors these days are men....

If that actually is the trend, then I think that we need -- for the sake of diversity -- to ask Jon Scieszka to start a companion to his GUYS READ literacy program.

The new one should be called GUYS WRITE.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Brunch for December 5

Among other topics, today’s Sunday Brunch anticipates this week’s Morris Award finalists, revisits adult mystery authors who also write for kids, and asks if you finish every book you begin.


I’m a big fan of Christmas movies. The holiday season wouldn’t be the same without old standards such as WHITE CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY INN, and A CHRISTMAS STORY. And I’m usually glued to Lifetime TV for the entire month of December, watching their large assortment of Christmas flicks. Last night I watched a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that I recorded earlier in the week -- NOVEMBER CHRISTMAS. It’s the story of a town that bands together to bring an early Christmas to a sick little girl. Yes, it was sentimental. But what made it especially interesting to me was that one of the characters worked in the children’s department of a library and another character, a troubled teenage girl, hoped to write and illustrate children’s books when she grew up. One scene even referenced two famous volumes, THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS and HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON.

It’s not often that children’s books get that much attention on TV. Thanks Hallmark!


There are often visual differences between the cover of an ARC (advance reading copy) and the final hardcover book. Sometimes the original illustration has been replaced; other times there are only minor changes in the artwork. Occasionally a title will even change. But this is one or the rare times I’ve noticed an author’s name changing between ARC and hardcover:

I have no idea why the ARC’s Margaret Peterson later became Margaret Stohl.

Change in marital status?

Did she decide to adopt or discard a pseudonym with this book?

All I know is that BEAUTIFUL CREATURES was one of 2009’s most popular YA titles -– and the series is still going strong with the recent publication of second volume BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS.

Though I don’t know the reason for the name change on the books, I suspect that the ARC is now worth a bit more money to collectors due to this variation in names.


Incidentally, it was just about this time last year that BEAUTIFUL CREATURES was shortlisted for the William C. Morris award.

Just three years old, the Morris award “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens.”

Within the next couple days, the five finalists for the 2011 Morris Award will be announced. I love award shortlists. They allow us prize fans to “play along at home” by reading all the nominated books and evaluating them for ourselves, rather than waking up to out-of-left-field surprises on awards day.

Which titles will be on the Morris list this week? SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi? SPLIT by Swati Avasthi? BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver? THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson? MATCHED by Allie Condie? THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Gonzalez? THE MOCKINGBIRDS by Daisy Whitney?

Those are some of the titles that spring to my mind, but the Morris Award has proven to be hard to predict. I would not be surprised to see a list of nominees that I’ve never heard of before.

Guess we’ll find out in a day or two!


If you also love award shortlists, here’s another one for you.

This past week brought the announcement of the five finalists for the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

The titles are:






The winner will be announced January 10 -- the same day we learn the winners of the Morris Award…and Newbery…and Printz…and Sibert….

I’m taking that day off work!


Nearly two years ago I wrote a blog about scary dolls from children’s books.

This week I encountered another one.

Someone at work brought me a slim black picture book that needed its call number changed. I opened the book to see this strange tableau:

The book was called GHOST DOLL, a 1983 volume written and illustrated by Bruce McMillan.

The story concerns a young girl named Chrissy who is beckoned inside an old house by a faint voice calling, "Come in. Come in. Come in and play with me."

Chrissy breaks into the house (okay, the book just says "She opened the front door and peered inside" but the next thing you know she's all over the place -- peeking under the sofa, climbing the stairs. Hasn't she, technically, committed a B&E?) while the voice taunts her: "I'm in here. I'm in here. Please come in here."

An abandoned doll, photographed to look hazy, is shown floating through the mansion. Chrissy pursues her and when the doll realizes that "You didn't run away. You wouldn't leave me. Now I'm sure! I want to be your doll" the ghost floats into a box, the box floats out the door, and Chrissy presumably keeps her. (Until, at least, Chrissy discovers boys, tosses the doll under her bed, and the ghost doll must scare up some other companion.)

I’m not sure what’s scary about the book -- the story or the stark black-and-white photographs of Chrissy and the doll. If the doll had been the least bit beguiling, I could understand Chrissy’s quest, but there’s something malevolent about this doll…especially the way she fades in and out of the pictures.

Also, there were a couple near-vulgar pictures of the doll swirling above a staircase that reminded me of a baby making its way down the birth canal. If babies were born already diapers that is.

I found GHOST DOLL so creepy that I couldn’t wait to check Amazon.com to see how many readers had submitted customer comments saying this book had traumatized them as children.

Strangely, there is not one single comment -- either pro or con -- for GHOST DOLL.
Does anyone remember this oddity?

Did it freak you out as a child?


Last Sunday I blogged about adult mystery authors who have also written for young readers.

First, I wanted to clear up the misconception that all of the books M.E. Kerr wrote under the pseudonym “Vin Packer” are out of print. Six of these super suspense novels have been brought back into print by Stark House Press , a company known for reprinting some of the best mystery novels from the past.

Also, three of the Vin Packer novels are now available on Kindle. You can read SPRING FIRE, the very first novel by the author of DINKY HOCKER SHOOTS SMACK! and GENTLEHANDS for only one dollar. And the Packer novels LOOK BACK TO LOVE and THE YOUNG AND THE VIOLENT are available on Kindle for less than $5 each.

Several people wrote in to mention other authors who have written both adult mysteries and kids’ books.

How could I have skipped over Sandra Scoppettone! She’s one of my all-time favorite young adult authors (TRYING HARD TO HEAR YOU; LONG TIME BETWEEN KISSES) and her adult mysteries (which include the Lauren Laurano series, the Faye Quick series, and three books written under the pseudonym Jack Early) contain the same type of colorful, likable characters and amazing dialogue that make her books for young readers so good.

Sam wrote to say, “I've always been amazed that the two most famous talking bear authors also wrote adult mysteries. I've never read A.A. Milne's mystery, but I've read some of Michael Bond's. I eventually had to stop because I was blushing too hard to continue!”

Milne’s “murder-in-a-locked-room” novel, THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY, was published in 1922 and still remains in print. Michael Bond’s adult books (or what Sam might call THE RED FACE MYSTERY) feature a culinary critic named Monsieur Pamplemousse.

Reka wrote to say: “Jane Langton! One of my favorite children's writers became one of my favorite authors of adult mysteries when she wrote the wonderful Homer Kelly series, set near the author's beloved Walden Pond.

Then there's Joan Aiken ("Beware of the Bouquet," anyone?) who wrote mysteries and thrillers and Jane Austen sequels as well as her incomparable Wolves chronicles.

And Nina Bawden and Penelope Lively have written a few adult mysteries, it seems.”

Ankita wrote to say, “Make an unforgettable event with our gorgeous flowers, designer flower bouquets, awesome flower arrangements, holiday gifts, birthday gifts, startling gift baskets, imported chocolate gifts and other thrilling gifts for delivery in Hong Kong.”

Thanks for your comments, Sam and Reka!

Go away, Ankita.


Blog reader CLM mentioned an intriguing tie-in between an adult mystery and a children’s novel.

In 1979, Dorothy Gilman (perhaps best-known for her “Mrs. Polifax” mysteries) wrote a stand-alone suspense novel called THE TIGHTROPE WALKER.

Throughout that book, the narrator frequently mentions her favorite childhood novel, THE MAZE AT THE HEART OF THE CASTLE. Many readers were so intrigued that they tried to track down that novel for themselves. Unfortunately, it was a fictitious title; no such book had ever existed.

However, in 1983, Dorothy Gilman actually published a children’s novel called THE MAZE AT THE HEART OF THE CASTLE, which was inspired by the fictional book she created for THE TIGHTROPE WALKERS.

This is very similar to what happened with Dean Koontz’s 1993 suspense novel MR. MURDER. That mystery for adults includes several scenes in which a father creates a rhymed bedtime story for his daughters called “Santa’s Twin.”

The tale of Santa’s Twin is truncated in MR. MYSTERY, but after publication Mr. Koontz received over 4000 letters from fans, demanding to hear the entire story. Three years later he published SANTA’S TWIN as a lavishly-illustrated book for children:

Can you think of any other titles that were conceived within the pages of an adult book and later published as children’s books?


Helen Schinske wrote to say, “I think I remember THE TIGHTROPE WALKER -- if it's the one I'm thinking of, there was some gossip a few years ago about a modern children's book possibly having been plagiarized from it.”

Yep, I remember that fuss as well.

Several readers thought there were some pretty strong similarities between THE TIGHTROPE WALKER and one of Betsy Byars’ “Herculeah Jones” mysteries, DEAD LETTER.

I read both books and did find the premise to be similar in both books, but the characters and general narrative styles were so different that I couldn’t get too incensed about it.

I do remember that at least one published review did note the similarities between the two books though.


As the year draws to a close, many people begin making predictions about what will happen in the coming year. Here’s one of my predictions buried within some thoughts about a forthcoming book.

I recently received an ARC of a new novel called NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT by Gennifer Choldenko. Having enjoyed the author’s Newbery Honor AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS and, being the obedient type, I followed the directive on the cover: “Spectacular!! Drop everything and read me!!”

So I did.

In this timely story, a widowed mother loses her home to foreclosure and must send her three children -- earnest Finn, his typically teenage sister India, and their eccentric little sister Mouse -- to live with their uncle in Colorado. Instead, they land in an odd fantasy land where nothing makes sense. The ARC I read apparently had several pages missing. Strangely, this did not seem to impact the overall quality of this novel, which read like an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fever dream, crammed with random details that neither advanced nor enhanced the plot. I was hoping the conclusion would tie everything together in one of those slap-yourself-on-the-side-of-the-head moments when one says, “Oh, NOW I get it!” But that was not the case for me. When the hardcover comes out, I think I’ll give this one another shot (hoping the chapter “India’s Cat,” which ran only two pages in the ARC, will be complete) to see if I can make heads or tails of it, but I suspect this is one of those hallucinogenic works that everyone seems to love but me. In fact, I’ll go further: I predict this is going to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it novels, and that next year at this time we will see its ardent fans (those who liked Horvath's EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE, Potter's THE KNEEBONE BOY, or Grey's FALCON'S EGG…to name three other books whose meanings totally eluded me) pushing for this to win the Newbery, while a few detractors (those of us who never understood the charms of WAFFLES, KNEEBONES, or FALCON’S EGGS) will be standing on the sidelines sputtering, "But...but...but...."


CLM, who told me about the connection between TIGHTROPE WALKER and THE MAZE AT THE HEART OF THE CASTLE, recently mentioned a thought from Natalie Savage Carlson’s book LUVVY AND THE GIRLS: that it is a sign of weak character not to finish a book.



If it’s a sign of weak character not to finish a book, I’m sure my bookstore friends think I’m the weakest character of all! Seems like every time they ask me about a recently-purchased book, I respond, “Oh, I haven’t finished it yet.”

But I have to say that I seldom set a book aside with the intention of never returning to it. I almost always doget back to it, whether it takes days, weeks, months, or (gulp) years.

Today I did some hunting around the internet to see what some famous authors had to say on the subject of “finishing every book you start.”

My favorite author, M.E. Kerr, said: “I read an awful lot. I read too much because I can't really get everything out of it that I want to when I read that fast. And now I've learned that I don't have to finish a book and it's taken me a lifetime to learn that. I always felt that if I bought it or if someone gave it to me or I took it from the library, I would have to read it all but I don't do that anymore.”

Barbara Park write: “I used to have a policy that, no matter what, I would finish reading every book I started. Recently, I have readjusted my position on this issue. These days, I give a book about 100 pages to catch my interest. Then -- if I'm still not liking it -- I drop it like a hot potato! (Word of warning: DO NOT DO THIS WITH SCHOOL READING PROJECTS…and I MEAN it!)”

Gail Gauthier says, “Like many serious readers, I've always had a need to finish reading every book I start. Over the last few years, I've been able to begin to get over that compulsion by skimming books I'm not enjoying. I've only recently started giving up altogether. Giving up on 3 books in 24 hours as I did this weekend was a liberating experience. The number of books published goes up and up and up, but for some reason or another the number of hours in the day remains constant. How much of my life do I want to sacrifice reading stuff I don't like? Not much, it seems.”

So, what about you?

Do you finish every book you start?

If you don’t, how long do you give a book before giving up? 100 pages? One chapter? A few paragraphs…?


I often enjoy Adele Griffin’s books and I look forward to reading her latest, THE JULIAN GAME.

But does the dustjacket illustration give anyone else the willies?


Hope they come up with something a little more engaging for any future paperback editions and leave the current photo for the cover of a magazine like HIP PROCTOLOGISTS MONTHLY or maybe use it for some futuristic TSA poster.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. I hope to be back with at least one or two weekday reviews this week Hope you’ll join me!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Sunday Brunch Full of Mysteries

Welcome to Sunday Brunch at Collecting Children’s Books. Most of today’s entries concern mysteries….


The year was 1955 and the place was the "juvenile department of a highly respectable New York publishing house."

The problems started slowly but, according to this published report, they progressed with malicious abandon: “Ink was spilled on art work, manuscripts were stolen, files were jumbled, the punch at a company cocktail party was spiked, and a letter opener was misplaced -- but found soon enough, protruding from the throat of brilliant but odious young illustrator.”

A true crime story from Court TV?

It was actually the plot of an old mystery novel, DEAD INDEED by M.R. Hodgkin.

I recentlyy learned about this book in FROM CHILDHOOD TO CHILDHOOD, which was written by the late great Atheneum editor Jean Karl. Ms. Karl said that DEAD INDEED was read most avidly by those in the children’s book industry.

I tracked down a copy this week:

I was so intrigued by the Ursula-like editor in the bottom right-hand corner, as well as the girl standing on the stool leaning into her co-worker’s cubicle (how come I never work in this kind of fun office?) that I almost missed the dead illustrator with the letter opener in his neck slumped over the pool of blood (I repeat: how come I never work in this kind of fun office?) in the upper left-hand corner.

I thought DEAD INDEED would make great Thanksgiving-weekend reading, but I’ve been so busy eating leftovers and napping and putting in the storm doors and napping and working of our Candlewick book and napping that I haven’t gotten to all the reading that I planned for this weekend.

But I like what I’ve read so far. According to the jacket flap, the author “served in various capacities at the firms of Holiday House, William R. Scott, Inc., and principally the Junior Books Department of the Viking Press, Inc.” The publishing house depicted in the novel is called Brewin Books and a note informs us that “The premises of Brewin Books, Inc., have been freely, not to say impertinently, adapted from those of an existing firm of the utmost respectability.” So reading this book is a lot of fun if you’re trying to figure out Brewin’s real-life counterpart, as well as guess who’s who among the characters. The first scene takes place at the Christmas Book Festival in the Children’s Room of the New York Public Library. The event ends with famous authors standing up to take a bow as the head librarian (ACM?) reels off their names:

“Salute to Rachel Mullins!”

“Salute to Julia Pindar for giving us the incomparable horse, Trottie!”

“A salute, a Christmas salute, to Terence Oldfather!”

One wonders if this event bears any resemblance to Anne Carroll Moore’s annual Christmas events at the NYPL? And if there is a real-life counterpart for “Mrs. Drummond,” an author/storyteller who presents a “spirited story” and “always sang at some point in every story she told.” (Did Ruth Sawyer sing?) And who could resist dialogue that includes this line from an editor: “Really I think we stand a good chance for the Caldecott Medal with Fly with Me.

Reading DEAD INDEED, I wondered why no one in the five decades since it was published has ever placed a mystery novel in the colorful world of children’s books -- especially in recent years when the field has achieved some public renown? Isn’t it about time for a kids’ book roman a clef?

I think it would be a lot of fun to read a book like this.

Heck, I think it would be even more fun to write one!

Imagine creating a world of quirky editors and even quirkier authors. Writers “accidentally” electrocuted by their word processors and copyeditors felled by heavy paperweights. Dialogue such as, “This book is sure to be the next Harry Potter!” or “She would KILL -- and I do mean KILL -- to win the Newbery!” or “He was blackmailing a critic for starred reviews!”

And even someone like me, who operates on the very outside periphery of the children’s book world, knows a few editors who I’d like to bump off (figuratively) in the pages of a crime novel.

And if today’s world of children’s publishing is too cold and corporate to capture anyone's imagination, a mystery writer could find a goldmine of material writing about yesteryear. We’ve already got mystery novels featuring Jane Austen as a detective. How about a 1940/1950s “children’s book noir” that teams up Ursula Nordstrom and Anne Carroll Moore (with doll Nicholas in tow) to solve THE CASE OF THE CALDECOTT KILLER or LITTLE HOUSE OF ILL REPUTE (in which Laura Ingalls Wilder is kidnapped by a rival publisher and hidden in a brothel.)


You may be wondering about the author of DEAD INDEED, M.R. Hodgkin. Her real name was Marion Rous and, in addition to the publishing companies mentioned earlier, she was later an editor at Macmillan in Great Britain. She moved to Great Britain after marrying British physiologist Alan Lloyd Hodgkin. In 1963, Dr. Hodgkin won the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine. As if that weren’t enough, three years later, Marion Rous Hodgkin’s own father won the Nobel in the same category. Overachievers. In 1972, Alan Hodgin was knighted by the Queen of England, making “Editor Marion Rous” into “Lady Hodgkin.” Talk about a “storybook ending.”


Speaking of mysteries, are murder mysteries and detective stories starting to make a comeback in young adult fiction? For the past few years, paranormal themes have dominated YA books, but over the past few months I’ve noted more traditional mysteries being published. There’s LOSING FAITH by Denise Jaden, ALL UNQUIET THINGS by Anna Jarzab, THE RIVER by Mary Jane Beaufrand, THE SPACE BETWEEN TREES by Katie Williams, LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS by Francisco X. Stork, and several more. And true crime has hit YA nonfiction with AN UNSPEAKABLE CRIME : THE PROSECUTION AND PERSECUTION OF LEO FRANK by Elaine Marie Alphin. …A trend for the future?


Another recent trend involves writers of mystery and suspense authors for adults joining the field of children’s and young adult books. James Patterson has made his presence known with the “Maximum Ride” books. Peter Abraham has written several recent books for young readers. John Grisham has published THEODORE BOONE : KID LAWYER. By writing for kids, all these authors have broadened their fan bases and expanded their “franchises.” But as far as I’m concerned, they’re all still a bunch of pikers.

My favorite adult mystery and suspense author turned YA writer is, was, and always will be M.E. Kerr.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the author published twenty suspense novels under the pseudonym “Vin Packer”:

Spring Fire, 1952
Dark Intruder, 1952
Look Back to Love, 1953
Come Destroy Me, 1954
Whisper His Sin, 1954
The Thrill Kids, 1955
The Young and Violent, 1956
Dark Don't Catch Me, 1956
3 Day Terror, 1957
The Evil Friendship, 1958
5:45 to Surburbia, 1958
The Twisted Ones, 1959
The Girl on the Best Seller List, 1960
The Damnation of Adam Blessing, 1961
Something in the Shadows, 1961
Intimate Victims, 1962
Alone at Night, 1963
Sudden Endings, 1964
The Hare in March, 1967
Don't Rely on Gemini, 1969

Originally published in paperback and acclaimed by critics, who described her work as reminiscent of John O’Hara, these books are now considered collectors’ items and deserve to be brought back into print for twenty-first century audiences. After leaving "Vin Packer" behinad and writing a handful of novels under her own name -- Marijane Meaker -- the author entered the field of young adult literature in 1972 with DINKY HOCKER SHOOTS SMACK! As M.E. Kerr, she has continued to publish some of the best YA fiction of the last forty years. I don’t even want to list individual titles for fear of leaving off another favorite. Suffice to say, nearly every M.E. Kerr book is wonderful.

What I admire about Marijane Meaker is that, unlike the authors mentioned above -- such as Patterson and Grisham -- she didn’t just move into YA books to expand her core mystery and suspense audience. She reinvented herself and began writing a completely different type of book in a brand new genre. And succeeded brilliantly. The only “Kerr” books in which the author re-visited her “mystery book” past were FELL, and its sequels FELL BACK and FELL DOWN.

They are also among her few young adult books that went out of print.

Go figure!

Marijane Meaker would later explain in an interview:

I hadn't planned well, nor had I planted enough fascinating recurring characters. My editor said "FELL is not exactly falling off the shelves." I replied, "He's not on the shelves to fall off," taking a slap at the distributors, but despite good reviews and an Edgar nomination, sales perhaps reflected my lack of foresight. I always felt Fell should have had a brother instead of a baby sister, so he could have interaction with a close contemporary. Dib, his dull roommate, who could have been developed were he not so dull, I had to murder in the second book he was so boring to write.


As mentioned above, there are quite a few writers of adult mysteries who have later written for kids. Can you think of any writers for young people who have later attempted adult mystery and suspense novels?

I can think of a couple.

After a long line of hilarious teenage fiction, Paul Zindel published an adult suspense novel called WHEN A DARKNESS FALLS.

Chris Crutcher of STOTAN! and STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES fame published the adult mystery THE DEEP END.

Can you think of any others?


Sometimes it takes modern science to solve an historical mystery.

Louisa May Alcott died in 1888 of a stroke. She was only fifty-five, but had been complaining of ill health in her journal for many years. Even before LITTLE WOMAN was published, Louisa May had suffered from headaches, digestive issues, and fatigue, usually blaming these problems on overwork.

However, in 2007, Drs. Ian Greaves and Norbert Hirschhorn wrote a paper suggesting that the author had died from lupus. They based their “diagnosis” on a portrait of LMA that hangs at “Orchard House,” the Louisa May Alcott Museum in Concord, Massachusetts. The portrait reveals a rash that appears in a “butterfly” formation across the author’s nose and cheeks. This is usually considered a primary sign of lupus.

The doctors’ comments are considered speculation and probably wouldn’t hold up in court, but it’s intriguing to see a mystery from the past tackled one hundred years after the death of this classic children’s book author.


Nearly every children’s mystery series -- from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators -- features a story involving invisible ink.

In the past this meant mysterious notes written with lemon juice held up to a candle. Today it may refer to the rapidly changing pixels of Wikipedia.

Although I love using the Wikipedia for quick reference, I just had another lesson in why an encyclopedia that “anyone can edit” is not necessarily trustworthy.

Writing about LMA made me wonder what the character Beth March died from in LITTLE WOMEN. I believed it was the after-effects of Scarlet Fever, but wanted to check and make sure. Imagine my surprise when I checked the Wiki and read:

When Beth's health eventually begins a rapid decline, the entire family nurses her -- especially Jo, who rarely leaves her side. [...] In her last year, Beth is still trying to make it better for those who will be left behind. She is never idle, except in sleep. But soon, Beth puts down her sewing needle, saying that it is "too heavy", never to pick it up again. In her final illness, she overcomes her quietness when she discusses the spiritual significance of her death to Jo. She becomes more and more ill, until she can not talk. But Beth gradually gets better and does NOT die.

What the ???

Obviously some joker went online and inserted that last incorrect line to be funny. I’m sure that someone will remove it soon. In fact, it may be gone by the now. But the point is, it was there this afternoon and some kid who didn’t read the book and relied on the Wiki in doing their homework assignment may soon learn that “anyone can edit” does not necessarily mean “anyone can edit” correctly!


Fifteen-year-old Ames Ford leads a charmed life: a mansion, an exclusive private school, and vacations to Alaska to soak in hot springs and view the aurora borealis. But her family’s lifestyle proves to be as ephemeral as those northern lights when Dad is caught mishandling money at work and loses his job. In this timely narrative, Ames watches in stunned disbelief as her family loses everything, Dad begins drinking, and Mom becomes cold and short-tempered. The family is forced to move from Boulder to rural Texas, renting a filthy tract house from Dad’s parents, whom Ames never even knew existed. Enter Marc -- a neighbor who agrees to help the family clean and restore their home. To Mom and Dad, he’s a religious, homeschooled teenage boy. But Ames soon learns he’s much older, and very different, than he seems. In fact, he embodies the anger that Ames feels toward her parents and their sudden change of circumstances, quickly becoming a controlling and dangerous partner to the confused fifteen-year-old caught between her own need for love and a desire for revenge. There is nothing subtle about either the plot or the characters here. Many elements of the narrative seem rushed while others -- such as the introduction of Ames’ heretofore unknown grandparents (who ask her to call them Mr. and Mrs. Ames) – seem underdeveloped within the larger confines of the story. Despite these flaws, this teen-pleasing story moves quickly, and with mounting suspense, toward a pulse-pounding conclusion.


By the way, did you recognize the title DEAD INDEED from a nursery rhyme?

I did not.

The rhyme, printed at the front of the novel, goes like this:

A man of words and not of deeds
Is like a garden full of weeds;

And when the weeds begin to grow,
It's like a garden full of snow;

And when the snow begins to fall,
It is like a bird upon a wall;

And when the birds begin to fly,
It's like a shipwreck in the sky;

And when the sky begins to roar,
It's like a lion at the door;

And when the door begins to crack,
It's like a stick across your back;

And when your back begins to smart,
It's like a penknife in your heart;

And when your heart begins to bleed,
Oh, then you're dead, and dead indeed!

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Brunch : Kimba Commits Hari-Kari, but Barbie Lives On

Every Sunday morning, as I sit in front of this computer pulling out my hair as I attempt to pull together a blog, my mind wanders back to my childhood when neither blogs nor computers existed. It was a simpler time. Back then Sunday mornings usually meant watching Detroit's main UHF station (does anyone remember UHF these days?) Channel 50. The animated series KIMBA THE WHITE LION aired every week at 11:00 AM, followed at 11:30 AM by SHIRLEY TEMPLE THEATRE, which ran -- week after week -- the same handful of Shirley Temple movies in rotation. We couldn't get enough of Shirley. I probably saw CURLY TOP and BRIGHT EYES a hundred times each...and probably still know 'em by heart. KIMBA is a different story. I very clearly remember the big "build up" to the series -- with Channel 50 running many commercials for the show in the weeks leading up to its premiere. I also remember watching that first episode, which supplied the backstory of how Kimba lost his parents. I want to say it was in the spring of 1966; I know it was a beautiful sunny day because I remember running outside that afternoon with my friends, romping around and pretending we were Kimba. I continued to watch the show for the next four or five years, at least till I got out of grade school and decided "cartoons are for babies" but I can't actually remember any of the storylines other than the one from that intial episode in 1966.

Yet the show must have a strong visceral pull on me, because when I came across this clip of the opening theme on Youtube the other day, I almost hugged my computer monitor:

There's a word I rarely, if ever, use on this blog.

A word which I hate to apply to children's books.

But maybe it's okay to use the word when talking about this cartoon series:


Okay, maybe I'm looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but is there anything, well, cuter than little Kimba bounding through the savanna and then making that flying leap as the perky theme song chants, "Kimba. Kimba! Kimba. Kimba!" And I love the simple innocence of the lyrics as well: "Who believes in doing good and doing right? Kimba the White Lion is the one!"

Before you think I'm old-fashioned and square, let me add that KIMBA was actually very modern for its time. "Cartoons are for babies" indeed! Produced in Japan, this series introduced anime to the United States long before it became hip. It was even based on a manga!

KIMBA was created by Osamu Tezuka who was known as the "godfather of anime." In Japan, Kimba was called "Leo" and his story, JUNGLE TAITEI, originally appeared in Manga Sh┼Źnen magazine between 1950 and 1954. The first KIMBA TV series had only 52 episodes and ran for years on American television. There have also been a couple television and film adaptations since then, including 1997's JUNGLE EMPEROR LEO, which is based on the latter chapters of Osamu Tezuka's manga. I don't think I ever want to see this movie. According to the Wikipedia, the downbeat story concerns an older Leo (Kimba) with a family of his own. After his mate dies and he's separated from his cubs, Leo (Kimba!) assists in an effort to save the world from evil, with the white lion ultimately committing suicide -- throwing himself on a dagger so a human companion can eat his flesh and wear his pelt as he makes a dangerous escape from the bad guys.

Over the years, there have been accusations that THE LION KING "borrowed" some elements from KIMBA. Now that I read about Kimba's sacrifical death, I wonder if Osama Tezuka didn't borrow some elements from C.S. Lewis's CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and its lion character, Aslan, as well.


Suppose someone gave you an advance reading copy (ARC) to read, but neither the title nor the author's name were on the book?

That's what happened to over 3000 bookstore owners and librarians recently, when they received this unusual volume in the mail:

It turns out that the book is called MIDDLE SCHOOL : THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE, and the author is James Patterson, along with Chris Tebbetts.

The book's editor, Megan Tingley, revealed the theory behind the blind mailing to Publishers Weekly: “We wanted to recreate the feeling that many of us had when we first read it. If Jim’s name hadn’t been on the manuscript, we would never have guessed he wrote it. It almost feels like the debut of a whole new author, and that’s how we wanted to treat it. We wanted people to have that same ‘wow!’ moment of surprise.”

Mr. Patterson is known for his bestselling suspense novels for adults, though he has also moved into the YA field in recent years with titles such as MAXIMUM RIDE and DANIEL X. It seems as if every time I walk through a bookstore there's a new Patterson novel on the shelves. I guess that has something to do with all those co-writers lending a hand....

In this book, he's assisted by Chris Tebbetts, probably best known for M OR F?, a YA novel he cowrite with Lisa Papademetriou. (Doesn't anyone write by themselves anymore?)

From a collecting perspective, I think one of those untitled, unattributed ARCs would be a nice "find" for anyone who collects odd or unusual children's book ephemera. I'm also intrigued by the whole concept of reading and responding to a book when one has no idea who the author is. I know that many orchestras have "blind auditions" in which musicians try out behind a curtain, so they are being judged by their WORK and not their NAME. Wouldn't it be something if every manuscript was also submitted blindly to every publisher? I wonder what changes that would lead to in the field of children's books. Last week I talked about editor Jean Karl. When she decided to try her hand at fiction writing, she submitted her first book with a pseudonym on it to make sure that it was accepted on its own merit. And when Katherine Paterson was writing BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, she was so concerned about its quality that she considered submitting it to her regular editor under a pseudonym. In the end she submitted the book under her own name...and it won the Newbery Medal.

But it makes one wonder: have their been any other cases where famous authors have submitted manuscripts under false names, had them rejected, and never told anyone...?


The American Library Association book awards -- the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and all the rest -- are going to be announced extra early in 2011. January 10 is the big day. I'm trying to prepare by catching up on 2010 books, as well as constantly checking for updates on the Heavy Medal blog in which Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt discuss all things Newbery.

However, this week I had some problems with the blog. Nina wrote a spirited piece supporting the novel ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Garcia-Williams. In the blog she proactively addressed a couple questionable elements in the book:

Some have raised the question of the likelihood of a Japanese-American kid being named “Hirohito.” A teacher who had read the book and had Williams-Garcia visit his school emailed me directly with her response to his posing that question:

“The point that she wanted to make with Hirohito was that identity is trickier if one is “two things”, like Japanese and black. She also said that when she was growing up in northern California she went to school with one boy named Hirohito, another named Hiroshima and another named Yamashita!”

I’m good with that. It might have been interesting to have that context fleshed out a little for readers, but I’m not sure it makes the book weaker without it.

Nina also talked about some of geography in the novel and said:

In an exchange with Garcia-William’s editor, I’ve learned that they plan to change the references from “Orchard” street to “Adeline” street in the next printing, which does resolve the street layout issue.

Regarding the hill (there is one in the story, but not in actuality)…Williams-Garcia and her editor considered it, having learned of the “mistake”. But it plays such an important part in Delphine’s character development, about “how big the world looks through a child’s eyes, and how things come more into focus as they mature” that it was impossible to remove, and I recognize and support that. “We’d gain fact accuracy, but would lose a good deal of what the character and reader ultimately gain.” These quotes are from Williams-Garcia, with thanks to her and her editor Rosemary Brosnan for sharing.

Reading these remarks, I thought, "Whoa, doggie! I thought each Newbery candidate had to be evaluated from the text alone. Since when is it okay to get after-the-fact clarification from the author or exchange words with the book's editor?" Granted, Nina is not on the Newbery committee this year, but she is using the author's and editor's comments to justify her recommendation of this book. (And, let's face it, she's publishing it in a blog that this year's committee members are quite likely reading.) So I wrote a note asking if this kind of discussion would be allowed in the actual Newbery panel discussion. Nina responded:

Peter, if I were on the committee this year, I’d first of all beat the bushes to get some outside “expert” opinions on the Hirohito thing, in order to help form my own opinion. (For instance, Japanese-Americans who were the same age at that time. They don’t have to know anything about children’s lit or the award. They’d just have to be willing to read the book and let me know their reaction to it).

I wouldn’t take an author or editor’s words to the table as evidence, but I might use them to inform my own opinion. Extremely circumspectly. The book is what it is, published, and it’s the readers reaction that matters at this point. But I personally found comment from Williams-Garcia to be helpful in thinking about these issues in different ways.

In general, a chair of a Newbery committee will instruct members that all opinions at the table need to be their own. They can use reviews, expert content reviews, and child reader comments to inform themselves…and they *should* do this, in order to remove as much personal bias from the process as necessary [...] but you can’t just quote from them as evidence to justify a book. You could say, “after reading so and so’s comments, I’m convinced that X because of Y….”

This clears it up somewhat (thanks, Nina!) but I'm still slightly confused by the last statement. Does the Heavy Medal blog about ONE CRAZY SUMMER count as an "expert content review" since it does quote directly from the book's creator? If so, COULD a committee member now say, "After reading Rita Garcia-Williams' comments about geography, which appeared on the Heavy Medal blog, I'm convinced that..."?

I hope not.

Though if it's true, I would (and I'm only half-joking here) suggest that any author or illustrator whose work is likely being considered for one of this year's awards get out there and proactively address any questions the committee may raise before it's too late:

Illustrator A: Some readers have questioned the color of the horses in my new book. Horses of this color actually do exist and I'm posting a photo of my equine "models" on my blog so you can see how accurate I was.

Writer B: I understand some readers are questioning my characterization of an elderly grandmother with Alzheimer's in my novel. Just so you know, this character was based directly on my own mother's struggles with Alzheimer's disease. (Not only does this quote clear up any questions of accuracy, it gets the writer some sympathy votes.)

Illustrator C: I have heard some complaints about the last spread in my picture book not being up to the same quality as the previous illustrations. Please know that this picture was painted when I had a broken arm.

Writer D: Some people are speculating on why my nonfiction book does not contain sufficient documentation. The initial plan was to release my book along with a website that contained bibliographical references and supporting documentation. At the last moment, my publisher did not provide funding for the website, but I hope this will not reflect badly on my book and prevent it from winning any awards....


The Tea Party won 28 seats in the House of Representatives.

Gretchen won PROJECT RUNWAY on TV.

MOCKINGBIRD just won the National Book Award.

Bristol Palin is poised to win DANCING WITH THE STARS this week.

No wonder I'm worried about what's going to win the Newbery this year!


Subtitled "A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us," Tanya Lee Stone's latest nonfiction book (after last year's Sibert winner, ALMOST ASTRONAUTS : 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM) takes a compelling look at the teenage doll that has become a cultural icon. The book traces Barbie's creation by Ruth Handler who, with her husband and another partner, founded the Mattel company, as well as the doll's evolution over the next fifty years. Beginning as an impossibly shapely figure who wore high fashion and dabbled in traditional careers such as stewardess and nurse, Barbie would later become an achiever and role-model, outfitted as an astronaut, race car driver, and a myriad of other modern choices. Barbie also broke down racial barriers. After Mattel offered up a young black cousin for Barbie named Colored Francie (a shockingly dated name even for 1967) that flopped with consumers, there were soon African American, Puerto Rican, and Asian Barbies. In a copiously-illustrated volume, which includes an insert of glossy color plates, Stone explains through both sociological research and personal anecdotes why Barbie is loved by some, hated by others, and why nearly every kid undresses the doll within seconds of receiving it. Strangely, there are actually more tales about kids who twist off Barbie's head and subject her to bizarre sexual poses than there are stories about what the average girl imagined and dreamed about as she played with Barbie for hours on end. Source notes and bibliography included.


As mentioned above, one thing I found missing from Tanya Lee Stone's book was information about how individual girls played with Barbie. Did they create elaborate stories about her life and adventures? Did they view Barbie as a friend, or did they see her as their own alter-ego? I imagine that Barbie is a kind of Rorschach test on which each human playmate foists her own needs and interests.
The doll itself is pretty much a blank slate otherwise. But I was surprised to learn that much of the Barbie mythology actually came from children's books. Over the years there have been hundreds of books about Barbie, ranging from Golden Books to sticker books to coloring books, but Ms. Stone credits the following novel-length books, published by Random House in the early 1960s, with establishing "who she was, complete with a birth date, parents, and a significant other, Ken":

If it wasn't for these Barbie novels, we'd never know Barbie's full name (Barbara Millicent Roberts), who her parents are (George and Margaret Roberts), where she lives (Willows, Wisconsin), where she attends school (Willows High) and where she hangs out afterward (the Pop Shoppe.)

According to Tanya Lee Stone, "The novels establish Barbie as a modern, independent kind of girl who was not going to be bound by the 1950s sterotypes she felt kept her mother tied to the house."

Because these books are so instrumental in creating the Barbie we know today, I assumed they'd be rare collectors' items. But many can be found for less than $10 today.


I started writing this blog early today at the time when KIMBA used to be on TV. Now, after many interruptions and computer problems, I'm finally finishing it by moonlight.

And it's a blue moon.

I always heard that a "blue moon" was the second full moon in a month. Kathi Appelt must have thought the same thing, as she talks about it right there on page two of her highly-regarded new novel KEEPER ("So much had depended on tonight's moon, a blue moon, second full moon of the month.")

But this morning my cousin sent me this link which states that everything I thought about the blue moon is wrong!

It may be called a Blue Moon...

...But it's the first and only full moon in November.

Go figure.

Oh well, I still have a feeling that, somewhere out there tonight, Keeper's guardian Signe is stirring up "onions, garlic bacon...with a mysterious spice called 'file'" as she cooks up her once-in-a-you-know-what Blue Moon Gumbo.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll come back more than a once in a blue moon!