Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Brunch with Multicolored Medals

What does this image have to do with children’s books?

Plenty, as I’ll explain shortly.

Today’s Sunday Brunch also:

* discusses Caldecotts of a different color

* identifies a Newbery Honor Book that only received two votes

* anticipates life in Sweet Valley for the now-grown twins Jessica and Elizabeth, and

* explains why my eighteenth birthday left me bleary-eyed, muddle-headed, reeking of smoke, and addicted!


I recently received this e-mail from blog reader Eric Carpenter:

I was in a used book store the other day and saw a copy of Robert
McCloskey's TIME OF WONDER with two stickers on the cover. One
sticker shows a figure with the words: "For the Most Distinguished
American Picture Book for Children" and the second sticker is the
familiar Caldecott Medal sticker except that the background is blue
instead of gold like the figures. I took a picture with my phone of
the medals:

Eric wondered about the double-sticker -- and why it was blue.

Nowadays, the foil stickers on every Newbery and Caldecott winner are gold, but there was a time when color occasionally appeared on these stickers. Here is the sticker that appeared on the 1943 Newbery winner, ADAM OF THE ROAD by Elizabeth Janet Gray.

Not only did they add color, but they also included the author’s name on the sticker.

In addition to the blue Caldecott seal on TIME OF WONDER, I have seen a green Caldecott on Robert McCloskey’s MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS and am fairly certain I’ve seen red stickers on one or two older Caldecotts.

As for the double, or overlapping, stickers, I have never seen such a thing on a Newbery winner, but I have seen it on a few Caldecotts, though it’s pretty rare.

What do these two stickers represent?

Both sides of the medal.


Yep, the actual bronze Caldecott Medal, which most of us never see, has engravings on both sides.

The front of the medal features a Randolph Caldecott illustration from THE DIVERTING STORY OF JOHN GILPIN which, according to the American Library Association, “is a perfect example of the humor, vitality, and sense of movement found in Caldecott's work. The illustration shows John Gilpin astride a runaway horse, accompanied by squawking geese, braying dogs, and startled onlookers.”

The back of the medal is a scene from SING A SONG OF SIXPENCE and shows a man carrying a pie from which some of the four-and-twenty blackbirds are escaping.

The name of the winning illustrator is inscribed below this illustration.

The Newbery Medal has two sides as well.

The front depicts an open book, with the phrase “For the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” emblazoned across it.

The back of the medal features a man and two children. According to Irene Smith’s A HISTORY OF THE NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT MEDALS, this illustration represents “the writer giving his imaginative talents to the children.”

For many years the “flip side” of the Newbery wasn’t widely know by readers but, beginning in 1971, that image has been used on the silver foil stickers of Newbery Honor Books:


American sculptor RenĂ© Paul Chambellan was only twenty-nine years old when he designed the Newbery Medal in 1922. Fifteen years later he was asked to create the Caldecott Medal. The founder of the awards, Frederic Melcher, described the creation of the latter award: “I gave the sculptor, Rene Chambellan, a collection of Caldecott’s books, not specifying that the Caldecott designs should be used, but wishing him to understand the spirit of Caldecott and the reasons for his continuing value. Mr. Chambellan became so delighed with Caldecott’s draftsmanship that he immediately said he could do nothing better than put a few of the typical scenes on the medal, and this he has done.”

In addition to the designing these two major book awards, Mr. Chambellan illustrious career included creating archictectural sculpture for the Russell Sage Foundation Building, the Chicago Tribune Building, Rockefeller Center, and many other landmarks.

I was shocked to discover that the designer of Newbery also did the sculpture for this mammoth tower at the Shrine of the Little Flower, which is just a few miles down the street from where I work.

Back in the thirties and forties, controversial Father Charles Coughlin used to broadcast his infamous and anti-Semitic radio program right inside this very tower.

I’ve driven past it thousands of times and never knew this tower had any connection to the world of children’s books.

Looking now at some of Mr. Chambellan’s other creations, I find myself seeing portents of future Caldecott winning books.

These ornaments from the Chicago Tribune Building (also featured at the start of this blog) put me in mind of the 1964 winner, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE:

The front entrance of the Trib Building features “Aesop’s Screen” -- a depiction of moments from the famous fables -- had me thinking these tales are so timeless that the most recent winner (Jerry Pinkney’s THE LION AND THE MOUSE) was based on one of them:

This Rockefeller Center statue of Atlas (designed by Lee Lawrie and modeled by Rene Chambellan) made me think of the 2010 Honor Book, ALL THE WORLD.

The back of the statue?

The 2005 winner: KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON.


Can a book be named a Newbery Honor if it only receives two votes?

That’s what happened when Cornelia Meigs’ WINDY HILL was named a Newbery Honor in 1922.

1922 was the first year of the award and the selection committee was comprised of four officers from the American Library Association, as well as four important librarians including (who else) Anne Carroll Moore.

In preparation for the awards, librarians across the country (not just children’s librarians) were invited to nominate titles.

Only 212 votes were received. (Can you imagine how many thousands they’d get today...especially if the award were publicized on the net?) Of those, 163 went to THE STORY OF MANKIND by Willem Hendrik Van Loon. Twenty-two went to THE GREAT QUEST by Charles Boardman Hawes. CEDRIC THE FORESTER by Bernard Marshall got seven, William Bowen’s OLD TOBACCO SHOP got four, and Padraic Colum’s THE GOLDEN FLEECE got four.

WINDY HILL got two votes, followed by nine other titles which received one vote each.

I’d sure love to see a list of those nine titles.

The members of the award committee apparently did not debate the nominated titles, but simply gave the top vote getter the award and named the remaining titles “runners-up” (now called Honor Books.)

That two-vote getter, WINDY HILL, remains one of the most elusive Newbery titles of all time. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a copy. Once in a while an ex-library copy in a later printing turns up for sale, but even those are priced at a couple hundred dollars.


One of the reasons the Newbery and Caldecott Awards were created was to bring more attention to children’s books.

They’ve succeed in that regard.

Everyone seems to know the “Newbery” and “Caldecott” today.

...They just can’t spell them!

Doing a Google search this morning, I found the following:

754 hits for Caldicott Medal
1110 Caldecot Award
4550 hits for Caldacott Award
4910 hits for Caldicott Award

189 hits for Newburry Award
20,000 hits for Newbury Award
12,200 hits for Newbury Medal
31,100 hits for Newberry Medal
148,000 hits for Newberry Award


Publishers Weekly reports that the twin protagonists of the “Sweet Valley High” series are staging a comeback.

With over 500 titles, the series was hugely popular during the eighties and nineties...before interest lagged and the series got buried down around Fear Street.

But now there’s a film in the works, to be written by Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for JUNO. And next year St. Martin’s Press will be publishing SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL, an adult novel that tells what happened to Jessica and Elizabeth when they grew up.


Back when I turned the last century...when (gulp) Gerald Ford was cousin gave me an unusual birthday present.

It marked a rite of passage...something that young people weren’t allowed to do before they turned eighteen and became, in the eyes of society and the law, brand-new adults.

My cousin picked me up early that evening and we drove to our destination.

Three hours later, I emerged -- my head swirling and my clothing reeking of cheap perfume and tobacco. I wasn’t sure what had happened...but I wanted to go back.

My cousin had taken me to the local YMCA to play bingo for the first time.

(What were you expecting -- an opium den? A house of ill-repute? This was the midwest, after all, and I was a wholesome kid...well, a wholesome newly-minted adult.)

Back then you were not allowed to enter a bingo hall until you were eighteen years old. Even if it was at the Y.

It was a whole new world for me.

Everyone there was puffing on cigarettes (except for me and my cousin) and clouds of thick gray smoke hung low over the bingo tables like polluted air over an LA freeway.

Every bingo player seemed to have good luck charms and amulets spread across the table in front of them -- and they usually performed elaborate rituals with them (tugging on the blue hair of a troll doll, kissing a school picture of one’s granddaughter) before each game.

The noise in the room was incredible and the mood was intense. All the players seemed hypnotized. And, the few times that the bingo caller stumbled over a number (“The number is B-seve...oh, I’m sorry, that was a B-NINE....”), you could feel the anger of the players and almost thought they were going to rise up as one and tear him from limb to limb. (Or least pelt him with bingo chips.)

My mind was spinning with numbers, numbers, numbers as I smacked the ink dauber aganst my cards, trying to keep up with the caller.

Meanwhile, my normally calm cousin began sobbing hysterically when she realized she needed only one more number to win the “Big X” game. When someone else yelled "Bingo!" before her number was drawn, she ran to the bathroom and threw up.

I think I won $2 that night.

...But that was all it took.

After that I was hooked and we went to play Bingo many nights after that.

That particular obsession only lasted a few months. I got tired of the second-hand smoke, the noise, and the just-below-the-surface anger of the bingo players who, I honestly believed, might kill someone who yelled "Bingo!" before they did.

Besides, I never seemed to win after that first night.

So I quit going.

But I wonder if I’d return to my gaming ways if some local Y offered children’s book bingo. I just discovered a website that allows you to make topical bingo cards on your home computer. The literature series includes bingo games based on Beatrix Potter characters, Beverly Cleary books, as well as Dr. Seuss, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Mother Goose.

I was particularly intrigued by Caldecott Bingo:

and Newbery Bingo:

I think I’ll ask the Y if they’ll quit using numbered Bingo cards and start playing these more literary games.

...But first I’d better bone up on my Newbery and Caldecott titles. Both games include a book called “Free Space” in the middle square and I’ve never even heard of that title!

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Valid Invalids

A recent discussion about winter sports books brought this comment from Laurie of the Six Boxes of Books blog :

For Olympics this week, I re-read White Boots (aka Skating Shoes) by Noel Streatfeild. Great read! A sickly girl (not a character you see much in novels these days, is it?) starts skating to exercise and regain her good health during a London winter.

I recently received a copy of SKATING SHOES, just re-issued in paperback by Yearling, but haven't yet read it. I should probably give it a go before the Olympic flame in Vancouver is doused this weekend.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about Laurie's comments on sick kids in literature.

It's true, in the old days children's books were filled with sickly kids, frail kids, kids who were homebound, or sent away to the country for rest cures.

Colin in THE SECRET GARDEN and Katy in WHAT KATY DID are bedridden.

HEIDI's Clara and the title character in POLLYANNA can't walk.

Tiny Tim: tiny crutch.

Then of course there's Beth in LITTLE WOMEN. She really went overboard with the sick-kid thing.

And it's not as if sickly children disappeared from books at the end of the Victorian era. Glancing at my shelf of Newbery winners and Honor Books, I'm reminded of Robin in Marguerite DeAngeli's THE DOOR IN THE WALL, who loses his ability to walk.

Julie in Irene Hunt's UP A ROAD SLOWLY, starts a new school "still weak from the same illness that had stricken my mother."

Cousin Kate ends up on her uncle's farm in THE GOOD MASTER because she's recently had the measles and remains "delicate."

The whole plot of MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS ON NIMH hinges on a sick kid...well, a sick mouse.

Come to think of it, Mrs. Frisby's creator, Robert C. O'Brien, was once a pretty frail kid himself.

In fact, once I began researching the topic, I discovered that quite a few children's authors grew up fainting, sniffling, sneezing, barfing, and generally staying off school for weeks or months at a time.

Robert Louis Stevenson is probably the poster child for invalid authors. He once described himself as "a mere complication of cough and bones." Between coughing and bone-rattling, though, he produced TREASURE ISLAND and A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES, so I guess we can't judge him too harshly.

Among twentieth century authors, Arnold Lobel missed a year of school due to ill health.

Ed Young started school a year late for the same reason.

Newbery Honor writer Sorche Nic Leodhas has them both beat, having spent "several years" studying at home due to childhood sickness.

As a child, CAPS FOR SALE creator Esphyr Slobodkina was "confined to bed for lengthy periods."

Meindert DeJong had pneumonia multiple times and was once so ill that his entire Dutch village prayed for his recovery.

Karen Hesse remembers her own days as a sick kid with these words: "Thin and pasty, I looked like I'd drifted in from another world and never quite belonged in this one."

Having grown up in a "You're not that sick. Get dressed for school" kind of family, I'm tempted to call the above authors and illustratos a bunch of slackers and malingerers.

...But then I ask myself if they ever would have become the creators we now admire if they hadn't had that childhood "down-time" to dream, to imagine, and to get an early start on their craft.

In Anita Silvey's CHILDREN'S BOOKS AND THEIR CREATORS, Maurice Sendak recalls, "I was a sickly child and spent a lot of time looking out the window. There was a little girl across the street named Rosie, and I must have forty sketchpads filled with Rosie pictures and Rosie stories."

Imagine. If Maurice Sendak had been a robust, healhy kid, we might not have REALLY ROSIE today.

The aforementioned Esphyr Slobodkina utilized her bedridden days cutting designs in paper.

As a young adult, Will James spent his recuperation period after an accident painting pictures of horses and selling them to magazines; Mary Stolz wrote her first young-adult novel while recovering from an illness.

Finally, Newbery winner Kate DiCamillo gives this explanation on how being a sick kid helped her become a writer:

Now, looking back, I can see all that illness for what it was: a gift that shaped me and made me what I am. I was alone a lot. I learned to rely on my imagination for entertainment. Because I was always on the lookout for the next needle, the next tongue depressor, I learned to watch and listen and gauge the behavior of those around me. I became an imaginative observer.

When I look back on childhood, I remember one moment with great clarity. I was three years old and in the hospital with pneumonia, and my father came to visit me. He arrived in a black overcoat that smelled of the cold outdoors, and he brought me a gift. It was a little, red net bag. Inside it there was a wooden village: wooden church, house, chicken, tree, farmer. It was as if he had flung the net bag out into the bright world and captured the essential elements and shrunk them down and brought them to me.

He opened the bag and said, "Hold out your hands." I held out my hands. "No," he said, "like this. Like you are going to drink from them." I did as he said, and he poured the wooden figures, piece by piece, into my waiting hands. Then he told me a story about the chicken and the farmer and the house and the church. Something opened up inside me. There was the weight of the wooden figures in my hands, the smell of my father's overcoat, the whole great world hiding, waiting in the purple dusk outside my hospital room. And there was the story--the story.

I think of that moment often. It was another gift of my illness. When I write, I sometimes stop and cup my hands, as if I am drinking water. I try, I want desperately to capture the world, to hold it for a moment in my hands.

Did being a "sick kid" make Ms. DiCamillo into a writer? Who knows? But it's probably safe to say that, if Ms. DiCamillo hadn't spent so much of her childhood exploring her imagination, she might never have written about Winn-Dixie or Edward Tulane or a mouse named Despereaux.

If she'd had my "You're-not-that-sick. Get-dressed-for-school" parents, she might still be a writer...but she'd probably be writing mostly school stories.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Brunching During the Olympics

Welcome to another Sunday Brunch at Collecting Children’s Books -- a weekly random round-up of fact and opinion on books for kids.


It’s been about a month since the announcement of the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott Medals. As always happens, the winning titles and Honor Books almost immediately disappeared from bookstore shelves. If you tried to order them from you were told they were “temporarily out of stock.” That’s because all the books were back in press, being reprinted to fill the demand.

Now that a few weeks have passed, these additional printings are finally appearing in bookstores. If you haven’t been able to get your hand on these books, they are now readily available -- decked out with their new gold and silver stickers.

In the world of fashion, the preferred styles and colors change from year to year.

But in the world of children’s books, gold and silver are always the best colors for early spring.


Avidly watching the Olympics all week, I’ve been wondering if this event had increased interest in winter sports among kids. At least one publisher, Crabtree, foresaw a need for such books and, just in time for the games, issued a series titled “Winter Olympic Sports.” Individual volumes include:

SNOWBOARD by Joseph Alan Gustaitis
SPEED SKATING by Joseph Alan Gustaitis

And here are some fictional titles -- old and new -- that revolve around sports featured in the Winter Games:


GIANTS DON’T GO SNOWBOARDING by Debbie Dadey and Marcia T. Jones (1998)
FIRST TRACKS by Johnny Boyd and Jeff Teaford (2008)
SNOWBOARD CHAMP by Matt Christopher (2004)
SNOWBOARD SHOWDOWN by Matt Christopher (1999)
SNOWBOARD MAVERICK by Matt Christopher (1997)


SKI PUP by Don Freeman (1963)
THE HAPPY SKI ABC by Lisl Weil (1964)
FLYING SKIS by Josephine Wunsch (1962)
ANGEL ON SKIS by Betty Cavanna (1957)
SNOWSHOE THOMPSON by Nancy Smiler Levinson (1992)
WHEN THE MOUNTAIN SINGS by John MacLean (1992)
CROSS-COUNTRY CAT by Mary Calhoun (1979)
NORTH OF DANGER by Dale Fife (1978)


DONUTHEART by Sue Stauffacher (2006)
FROZEN RODEO by Catherine Clark (2003)
SOPHIE SKATES by Rachel Isadora (1999)
THE SKATES OF UNCLE RICHARD by Carol Fenner (1978)
A VERY YOUNG SKATER by Jill Krementz (1979)
COLD AS ICE by Elizabeth Levy (1988)
THIN ICE by Marc Talbert (1986)
HANS BRINKER, OR, THE SILVER SKATES by Mary Mapes Dodge (1865)
A DAY ON SKATES by Hilda Van Stockum (1934)

Finally, here are some books by or about some of the current athletes competing in this year’s Games:

SASHA COHEN : FIRE ON ICE by Sasha Cohen, Amanda Maciel, and Kathy Goedeken (2005)
SHAUN WHITE by Matt Doeden (2006)
A JOURNEY : THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF APOLO ANTON OHNO by Apolo Anton Ohno with Nancy Ann Richardson (2002)

I was going to end this section with a sarcastic comment about there being no good novels about the sport of curling...but then I had this vague recollection of reading a young adult novel in which the protagonist went curling with members of his girlfriend’s family.... Was this a book by Chris Crutcher? Does anyone remember...?

R.I.P J.D.

The recent death of J.D. Salinger has gotten me thinking about his role in young adult literature.

It’s hard to believe that when THE CATCHER IN THE RYE was published it was, despite its teenaged protagonist, considered a fairly adult book and was attacked frequently by censors.

Now it’s considered a young-adult classic.

If CATCHER were written today, would it have been published as an adult book or a YA novel?

Some years back, the late British critic David Rees said of Paul Zindel: “Zindel’s writing reflect the American adult’s generalized view of the all-American teenager: edgy, fluent, certainly uninhibited, and ‘with it.’ But the voice lacks individuality. It is the same voice that occurs in many -- perhaps too many -- contemporary American authors, the voice of Holden Caufield. The influence of Salinger on the present generation of American writers for children seems profound, all-pervasive. Maybe English readers miss subtlety and nuance, just as Americans may miss the differences in style that seem obvious to the English among, say, Rosemary Sutcliff and Lucy Boston and Philippa Pearce (all very English novelists.)”


I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with Mr. Rees statement. (No wonder I’m a Libra.)

I do think echoes of Holden Caufield’s voice can be heard in many YA novels, but I’m not sure that anyone is intentionally following in Salinger’s footsteps. I’m more inclined to think that Salinger was one of the first writers to identify that edgey teenage voice in the modern American zeitgeist, and that other authors happened to find it as well.

I also suspect that Mr. Rees does miss “subtlety and nuance” in these American voices -- nuance that born-and-bred Americans definitely notice in the voice of the widely-varied first-person narrators in current fiction.


My bookstore friend just gave me a copy of the new (February 15) issue of Publishers Weekly -- the spring book issue.

In addition to the listings of all the new spring titles (so many intriguing books! When will I have time to read them?) this issue contains a piece by Charles Kochman, executive editor of Abrams ComicsArts, in which he discusses his admiration for J.D. Salinger.

When I read Frank Portman’s YA novel KING DORK a couple years back, I immediately noticed that the dustjacket design was a riff on the ubiquitous Bantam paperback cover of Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.

What I didn’t know, until I read Mr. Kochman’s article, is that the cover of DIARY OF A WIMPY KID is supposed to honor Salinger as well. The editor says: “When we designed the cover of the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book in 2007, the color was chosen to evoke the Bantam paperback edition of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. Its maroon background and yellow type was a subliminal signal that the linage of Greg Heffley could be found in Holden Caulfield: Greg doesn’t like being bullied or picked on, but he bullies and picks on his best friend Manny. He doesn’t like his brother Rodrick for being manipulative, but unlike his calculating brother, Greg manipulates without realizing he’s doing it. He’s Holden;’s blood brother in phoniness. Their stories are both told in first-person, and their voices articulate the same dissatisfaction of adolescence. <...> No eight-year-old reader was ever supposed to make the connection. I doubt Jeff was even conscious of the comparison when he wrote it. But it’s all part of the DNA of his story, a quality and a tone shared by just about everything written on the subject of adolescence published after Salinger cast his antihero out onto the cold streets of a New York winter in 1951.”

Yeah, I can guarantee that no eight-year-old made the connection.

But now I’m curious if anyone else did either. Did any reviewers or bloggers see a bit of Salinger in Wimpy Kid?

Did anyone notice the similar copies.

I must admit that I didn’t.


Some time between the National Book and Newbery Day (hey, isn’t that how we all tell time?) I tried to write a piece pointing out some of the issues I was having with the book CLAUDETTE COLVIN by Phillip Hoose. I edged around the topic and (I’ll admit it) failed pretty badly at really figuring out ALL the problems. Thankfully, Colleen Mondor of the Chasing Ray website found just the right words and has written a wonderfully insightful blog about the book. Please check it out.


I’m still working on my Pulitzer Prize project, reading all the books that have won the Pulitzer for fiction. Right now I’m enmeshed in John Updike’s “Rabbit” books (two of which won the Pulitzer) as well as the mammoth volume, THE STORIES OF JOHN CHEEVER.

Literary qualities aside, I come away from these books thinking: “Affairs, adultery, death, crumbling marriages, affairs, adultery, death....”

Is this what adult books are all about???

After having read a good number of the Pulitzer winners, it does seem that way.

One unhappy marriage after another, yet another affair, another death...they all seem the same.

To misquote David Rees, maybe I’m just missing the "subtlety and nuance" between the similar themes these novels.

But they just seem so sad. So cynical. Everyone unhappy. Everyone dying.

Whenever I think about the main quality that separates adult books from children’s books, I think about an anecdote involving one of my friends.

Many years ago, when my friend’s daughter was just three or four years old, an older friend of the family died of cancer. She had been ill for several months and eventually died quietly in her sleep. That evening, as my friend put her daughter to bed, the little girl began asking questions about death. What happens when people die? Why did Miss Lib die? My friend said, “People die when they get really, really, really old or really, really, really sick>”

Then her daughter asked the inevitable question: “Do kids ever die?”

My friend replied, “Not unless they are really, really, really, really sick.”

Her daughter persisted, "Do kids ever die in their sleep?"

"Not unless they are really, really, really, REALLY sick," said my friend.

She finally got her daughter settled in bed and went to bed herself. But she was worried that the little girl wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, or would get up scared in the middle of the night.

However, her daughter did end up sleeping all that night. The next morning my friend woke up and, as she lay in bed, she could hear her daughter rousing in the next room: a mumble, a cough, the bed springs squeaking as the little girl sat up in bed. Then all of a sudden she heard her daughter say outloud, with great wonder: “Yay! I’m alive!”

I’ve often thought of that anecdote as a good example of how children’s books differ from adult books. The latter can be so dark and cynical, with a focus on unhappiness and death. Of course children’s books can and do focus on unhappiness and even death (every book needs conflict) yet the perspective often strikes me as very different...with the characters in the adult books dying by inches -- physically and emotionally -- while the characters in children’s books have resilience and a gift for survival. No matter how bad things get in children’s books, the protagonists nearly always look at the world with a sense of wonder and, although they may not say it, we get the feeling they are always thinking: “Yay! I’m alive!”

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

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Mind-Controlled Author

She was a fascinating person.

Due to her job, she had lived all over the world. She was intellectually curious -- teaching herself to read several foreign languages and to play intricate classical pieces on the piano. All her friends and family would attest that she was generous to a fault.

Then, a few years ago, she suddenly began to hear voices.

First she claimed they were sending her messages through the television and radio, but later said "the voices" were transmitted directly into her head. They also tormented her by shooting painful "electronic rays" all over her body, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. She said she was a victim of a government "mind control" experiment.

Her behavior became increasingly aberrant. At one point she fled the country without telling anyone, in hopes that she'd leave "the voices" behind. She returned home several days later, sadly admitting that the voices had followed her. She took to visiting lawyers' offices, trying to enlist their help in fighting the government; they'd usher her out, barely suppressing their smiles. It was especially bad for those of us who knew her. She would talk for hours about her plight. She was so convincing that, after a while, you'd think, "Well...she did work for the government all her life...could it possibly be true...?" But then you'd shake your head and say, "Of course it's not true!" When she saw your disbelief, she'd say in disgust, "Someday you'll find out the truth. It may not be in my lifetime, but someday the truth will come out -- and then you'll be sorry you never believed me!"

After she died, we found hundreds of legal pads containing rough drafts of demented letters she'd written to every member of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and even the President of the United States, demanding that they look into the "mind control experiments" that had made the last two decades of her life a living nightmare.

Of course she wasn't the only one who suffered from this delusion. I've come to realize it's common. Someone once came into the library where I worked and asked for information on cathode ray tubes. As I led him to the science stacks, I stuttered-stepped as he added, "The government is using cathode rays to monitor my behavior." If you listen to late night radio, you'll often hear people phone in and say they're being persecuted by the government, or under the control of the CIA, or hearing voices in their heads. These calls are usually quickly scuttled by the host.

I've been thinking about my old acquaintance -- as well as all the other people like her -- this week, after hearing about a woman named Candy Jones.

Candy Jones (1925-1990) was a well-known model throughout the forties and fifties. In 1972, she married a New York radio host named Long John Nebel. Long John's overnight show focused on the paranormal and conspiracy theories, much like his latter-day counterparts Art Bell and George Noory do today. Upon getting married, Candy joined Long John's show as a co-host and began to enthrall his audience with her own story of being a "mind control" victim. Her tale -- patched together from both partial memories and hypnotic regressions -- is full of intrigue, torture, and mystery. Some called it a hoax, but author Donald Bain took it seriously enough to write a book about it (THE CONTROL OF CANDY JONES, 1976) and Carla Emery's 1998 volume, SECRET, DON'T TELL : THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HYPNOTISM, devotes many pages to Candy's story.

Of course when I learned about Candy Jones, I immediately thought of the Cathode Ray Guy in the Library and my tormented acquaintance who wasted her last years writing hundreds of letters to the government about "the voices."

You're probably wondering what any of this has to do with children's books.

Well, when I was researching Candy Jones this week, I discovered that during the sixties, she wrote several young adult books about modeling and fashion. Published by Harper, her YA titles included LET'S MAKE FACES, JUST FOR TEENS, and MORE THAN BEAUTY. I've never seen any of these books, but I'm especially intrigued by her 1962 volume TIME TO GROW UP : AN AFFECTIONATE GUIDE FOR YOUNG LADIES FROM TEN TO SIXTEEN, which contains advice on etiquette and comportment for girls.

I guess I'd like to read these books just to see if any of her later "strangeness" lurks subtly within the sentences or creeps around the edge of the pages.

One thing I learned from having a personal relationship with someone who had a very similar delusion is that it eventually colors all your thoughts and memories of that person. I remember the years before my acquaintance became strange and obsessed. I remember her sending letters from exotic places such as Turkey and the Philippines. I remember books that she shared with me. I remember things she'd say and do. But now when I remember those things, I am looking for signs of incipient strangeness in her words and actions. Surely it had to be there all along.

It had to be.

Because I hate to think of the alternative: that smart, kind people like my personal acquaintance or worldly authors such as Candy Jones could live productive, fulfilling lives for many years and then -- snap! -- suddenly become obsessed with a batty belief that torments them for the rest of their years.

I don't want to believe that could happen.

Because if that could happen to them, it could happen to anyone, including you and me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Valentine's Brunch

Welcome to Sunday Brunch at Collecting Children’s Books. Today’s random assortment of fact and opinion talks about books that were written as Valentine presents, reviews the new Jennifer L. Holm novel, and notes an increase in reading among young people.


Forget about hearts and flowers. The best thing about Valentine’s Day is the candy.

In honor of the day, here are some timely dustjackets from a few recent young adult novels.

Oh great, now I’m hungry.


One of the novels above, BOY MEETS BOY, began as a Valentine’s gift. Actually, several of the author’s books started off as Valentine’s presents.

Back when he was in high school, David Levithan spent a boring class period looking for a physics textbook. He gave the resulting short story, “A Romantic Inclination,” to several friends as a Valentine’s present, beginning an annual tradition that continues to this day.

BOY MEETS BOY grew out of a Valentine’s story, as did several of the tales in HOW THEY MET AND OTHER STORIES.

Coming in April is a collaboration between Mr. Levithan and John Green, author WAITING FOR ALASKA and PAPER TOWNS.

It’s called WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON and I just began reading it yesterday.

I may be the only person out there who buys advance reading copies of forthcoming books because:

a) I’m impatient and can’t wait for the hardcover
b) I want to look as though I’m up on all the latest discoveries and not a Johnny-come-lately
c) I’m not enough of an insider to get them free
d) All of the above


Actually, I did get the following book free -- and I’m so glad I did. A friend gave me an ARC a couple weeks ago and this past Wednesday, off work for a snow day, I spent the morning “in Florida” with this novel.

In TURTLE IN PARADISE, Jennifer L. Holm again creates a story based on her own family history (after OUR OWN AMELIA JANE and PENNY FROM HEAVEN), this time inspired by a great-grandmother who grew up in the Florida Keys at the end of the nineteenth century. Holm transfers her story to the Depression era, as prickly eleven-year-old Turtle is sent to live with relatives in 1935 Key West. As she adjusts to her new surroundings, Turtle hangs out with an all-boy gang of babysitters called the Diaper Gang, meets relatives she never knew existed, such as her stroke-afflicted grandmother, and searches for pirate treasure during the Keys’ perilous Labor Day Hurricane.

The treasure-hunting plot strains credibility, but Holm caps it with a realistic twist that results in a conclusion that Turtle admits “may not be a Hollywood ending,” yet still satisfies. Written in smooth, fast-paced prose, TURTLE IN PARADISE is especially strong in capturing an exotic location -- complete with sponge-fishing, conch-chowder, and “Papa” Hemingway down at the local cafe -- and a long-ago time of Terry and the Pirates in the funnies and Shirley Temple on the movie screen. An Author’s Note sets event in perspective and a bibliography and list of websites provide sources of additional information for readers captivated by this extremely likable novel.


The protagonist of TURTLE IN PARADISE got her name due to her “hard shell,” but she’s not the first girl named Turtle in fiction. There’s also the heroine of Ellen Raskin’s Newbery-winning THE WESTING GAME, as well as a character in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel THE BEAN TREES, which was published for adults, but appears frequently on high school reading lists.


In last week’s blog I mentioned that popular teen marriage book of the seventies, MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES by Ann Head, and several people wrote to comment, making me even more anxious to read this novel. Wendy calls it “a truly beautiful book.” Another correspondent told the following tale. (I’m changing the names to protect the innocent. Especially the kid with the reactionary mother.)

I haven't thought of that book in a hundred years. The copy that
circulated in my middle school was so dog-eared at the sex scene, that
the book just fell open to that spot. (And by circulated I don't mean
in the library. Judy Hendricks gave it to Anita Kurt who gave it to Rocky
Mead who gave it to Becca Mallet who gave it to Sam Johnson who gave
it to Felicia McMehan who gave it to Mary Moon who gave it to me who gave it to Clara Bigby who showed it to her mother who took it away.

I took our copy from the shelf at the library but, unfortunately, it didn’t fall open to any particular page.

Guess I’ll have to read the whole thing.


I got another fun note from a bookseller this week. She talked about attending a recent bookstore signing for Rebecca Stead and said:

She showed up at the signing to a darkened bookstore. The store had lost its electricity about 30 minutes earlier. The electricity was out for 90 minutes. A bookseller held a flashlight up while she read to the audience. The store had a few lights that worked on a generator and she could see someone when their hand went up to ask a question. The electricity came back on around the time that it was time to sign the books.

About 50-75 people showed up during a storm forecast for that night and with no electricity. Rebecca Stead said that at least it made it an interesting signing. The store and Rebecca Stead were joking that it was like a sleep over.

What was really interesting was the audience. There were many librarians which made sense but there were also quite a few mothers and daughters and it was delightful to see them enjoy a book and an author together.

Great, but where were the fathers and sons? WHEN YOU REACH ME seems to be one of those books which, despite its female narrator, appeals equally to boys.

Still, it sounds like a memorable booksigning event.

Wish I’d been there -- with candles and a flashlight!


A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that reading is on the increase among young people.

According to the report, “average daily media use” by kids between eight an eighteen was “seven hour and 38 minutes in 2009, up from six hours and 21 minutes in 2004.”

Also, “on average, 8-18 year-olds spent 25 minute per day reading books in 2009, up from 23 minutes in 2004 and 21 minutes in 1999.”

I’m glad the number of minutes is going up.

I’m glad kids are reading books at all!

....Though if the number is only increasing by two minutes a day every five years, we’ll be well into the twenty-second century before kids read books an hour a day.

Oh well, we can only dream.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll be back. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day. ...Oh, and speaking of sweet treats AND turtles, my current favorite treat is called a Turtle Sundae. It contains vanilla ice cream with both hot fudge and hot caramel drizzled on top, along with a sprinkling of pecans. They call it a Turtle Sundae because the flavor is reminiscent of the candy known as “Turtles.” I’ve noticed recently that some ice cream shops have changed the name from “Turtle Sundae” to “Pecan Cluster Sundae.” I thought maybe the Turtle candy company had complained about trademark infringement, but I asked the counter girl and she said they changed the name because it "confused people."

Oh come on, did anyone REALLY think they were ordering a sundae made from actual turtles?

Though, come to think of it, both pecans and turtles do come in shells....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Cockroach Ate My Book Report

In this past Sunday's blog I mentioned the book BRIAN PICCOLO : THE SHORT SEASON by Jeannie Morris.

I later remembered that, back when I was in school, this was the "go to" title for book report assignments.

I don't think many kids actually read Ms. Morris's book...but most of them had seen the TV movie BRIAN'S SONG and that was usually enough to cobble together an acceptable report, providing they didn't slip and say something like, "My favorite part was when Billy Dee Williams visited James Caan in the hospital."

Of course that was a back in the seventies. Jeannie Morris's book is now out of print. The movie BRIAN'S SONG (despite being remade for TV within the past few years) is no longer a cultural touchstone for kids. And "book reports," as such, seem to have gone the way of the dodo, the dinosaur, and Fear Street paperbacks.

Oh, I'm sure they're still assigned in schools here and there, but progressive educators tell me that today's students more often keep reading journals -- or create dioramas, write fake newswpaper stories, and make Youtube videos based on the books they read.

So I guess that contemporary kids will never experience the fear and dread -- not to mention the malingering, procrastination, and downright CHEATING -- associated with the old-fashioned book report.

In addition to the well-worn BRIAN'S SONG ruse, I recall many incidents in which a larger-than-average number of students were absent on the day book reports were due. I remember oddball romances between male jocks and quiet, studious girls which began the day book reports were assigned, lasted only as long as it took the girl to read THE GOOD EARTH, and ended the moment she handed her "boyfriend" a freshly-typed copy of "his" book report. As for procrastination, I must plead guilty to that one myself. I was a good, willing reader, yet even I spent an endless Sunday night -- the house dark, the entire family already in bed -- using the hunt-and-peck method to summarize and critique AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY on my father's manual typewriter. (What kind of teacher assigns Dreiser to a junior high school student?)

Here are some fictional "book report" tales:

* One of the characters in C.S. Adler’s THAT HORSE WHISKEY “based her book reports on jacket flap copy alone.”

* In THE SCHWA WAS HERE by Neal Shusterman, the unnoticed protagonist has the handy ability to "slip a kid's late book report into a teacher's briefcase, right under the teacher's nose.

* Anyone remember the old episode of TV's LEAVE IT TO BEAVER in which the Beaver is assigned to read THE THREE MUSKETEERS and instead watches a slapstick movie version of the classic and writes his report based on that? (Next time try BRIAN'S SONG, Beav!)

* In his memoir ROCK THIS!, entertainer Chris Rock recalled, "I did a book report on O.J. Simpson in the third grade and every year I’d take that same book report, rewrite it, and hand it in for class."

* Then there's Lorraine's story about John's book report in Paul Zindel's THE PIGMAN: "One time last term Miss King asked him what happened to the book report he was supposed to hand in on JOHNNY TREMAIN, and he told her that he had spilled some coffee on it the night before, and when the coffee dried, there was still sugar on the paper and so cockroaches ate the book report. You might also be interested to know that the only part of JOHNNY TREMAIN that John did end up reading was page forty-three -- where the poor guy spills the molten metal on his hand and cripples it for life. That was the part he finally did book report on -- just page forty-three -- and he got a ninety on it! I only got eighty-five, and I read the whole thing."

* In Jeff Kinney's DIARY OF A WIMPY KID : RODRICK RULES, the protagonist shares his secret formula for scholastic success: "I'm kind of an expert at writing book reports. There are about twenty short stories in SAMMY SHERLOCK DOES IT AGAIN, but I just treat each story like it’s a whole book and the teacher never notices."

* Then there's the musical number from YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, in which several characters struggle over a book report on PETER RABBIT.

Linus takes the high road:

"In examining a book such as Peter Rabbit, it is important that
the superficial characteristics of its deceptively simple plot
should not be allowed to blind the reader to the more substancial
fabric of its deeper motivations. In this report I plan to discuss the
sociological implications of family pressures so
great as to drive an otherwise moral rabbit to
perform acts of thievery which he consciously knew were
against the law."

His sister Lucy worries about reaching the assignment's 100-word minimum:

"Peter Rabbit is this stupid book
About this stupid rabbit who steals
Vegetables from other peoples' gardens
[She stops to count the words.]
Hmm. 83 to go."

Schroeder is determined to write about another book he apparently preferred:

"It reminded me of 'Robin Hood'
And the part where Little John jumped from the rock
To the Sheriff of Nottingham's back.
And then Robin and everyone swung from the trees
In a sudden surprise attack."

Meanwhile, Charlie Brown is bemoaning the unfairness of it all:

"How do they expect us to
Write a book report
Of any quality
In just two days?

How can they
Conspire to
Make life so mis'rable
And so effectively
In so many ways?"

I imagine that many former book report writers will recognize themselves in one or another of those Peanut characters.

Do you have any memories of taking a sick day when book reports were due? Counting the words in your finished assigment? Or turning in a report on an unfinished novel? Did a cockroach ever eat your homework?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Saint Iggy vs. The Blind Colt : Brunch for Superbowl Sunday

Welcome to another Sunday Brunch at Collecting Children’s Books. Thanks for dropping by.


It’s Superbowl Sunday, a day that has become almost a national holiday in the United States. I just read that it’s the second highest day for caloric consumption after Thanksgiving. And that some schools in Indiana will start a couple hours late tomorrow so that bus drivers can sleep in after the big game. Me? I think I’ll read a book. Here are a few titles to choose from:

THE WINGED COLT OF CASA MIA by Betsy Byars (1973)

THE BLIND COL by Glen Rounds (1941)


THE CROOKED COLT by C.W. Anderson (1956)

THE WINNING COLT by Louise Lee Floethe (1956)


THE COLT FROM MOON MOUNTAIN by Dorothy P. Lathrop (1941)


SAINT IGGY by K.L. Going (2006)

SAINT MAYBE by Anne Tyler (1991)

SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON by Margaret Hodges and Trina Schart Hyman (1984)

A VISIT FROM SAINT NICHOLAS by Clement Clark Moore (1822)

WHEN WE WERE SAINTS by Han Nolan (2003)



My favorite writer, M.E. Kerr, once told me that she tries to prevent her publishers from using cursive, or script, writing on the covers of her books.


Because many of her young readers have told her that they don’t know how to read handwriting.

I was shocked to hear this, but then I began asking around and learned that a lot of grade school teachers don’t have time to teach a lengthy handwriting unit to kids these days. What a far cry from the “old days” (i.e. my own youth) when we spent months learning to write in cursive. Our teacher had a multi-pronged chalk holder that allowed her to draw three straight lines across the blackboard, upon which she’d carefully write out the letters in precise script, the capital letters touching the top line and the lowercase letters grazing the middle line. I still remember how she taught us to write the lowercase M, drawing the first upward and downward motion while saying, “The bear went over the mountain....” then the second curve (“...the bear went over the mountain...”) and finally the last curve (“...the bear went over the mountain...”) and then she’d trail off the end on the bottom line saying, “To see what he could see.”)

I guess one reason handwriting gets shunted aside is because kids are too busy learning keyboarding/typing in third or fourth grade. That was the age when we used to learn handwriting...and we didn’t learn typing till junior high!

I was thinking about this the other day when I came across this recent book for young readers:

I could read the title, but was completely stumped by the author’s last name:

Bowl? Bowie? Bouie? It wasn’t until I looked inside that I discovered her name was Julie Bowe.

Guess I need a remedial class in cursive writing. The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain....


I was looking at Sarah Miller’s website this week and came across this question and answer:

Q. Do you listen to music while you work?

A. Yes. Almost always. I choose very specific music for each project, and it's always either instrumental or foreign so I can't get distracted by lyrics. MISS SPITFIRE was written exclusively to three Beethoven piano sonatas - the Moonlight Sonata, the Waldenstein Sonata, and the Pathetique. The book I'm working on now is set to Russian Divine Liturgy, with an occasional bit of Favorite Russian Songs, by the Barynya ensemble, and the soundtrack to Les Choristes. I've even got tunes selected for a book I haven't started yet: ragtime and opera.

Music does two things for me:

- Sets the mood.
- Lets me know when I've put in my writing time for the day. End of CD = quitting time!

This got me wondering what music other authors enjoyed as they worked. Hunting around the internet, I came up with these answers:

Tamora Pierce
It kind of varies for me. For a long time, I did need music, but when I'm working I can't listen to music with words in a language I understand. Since I understand words from a bunch of European languages, if I'm not listening to classical, if I'm not listening to symphonic movie soundtracks, I'd better be getting some really esoteric music. Bagpipes are a big favorite. And for the Circle of Magic books, since I was working in a universe rather like the Medieval Middle East and Central Asia, I was listening to Arabic and Hindi and Tuvan throat singing and Balinese and Gamelan and any Japanese or Chinese, you name it.

Philip Pullman
I love music, classical music in particular, but jazz and all kinds of stuff as well -- but not when I'm working. The rhythm, whatever the rhythm is, interferes with the rhythm of what I'm writing. When I'm doing prose, which is what I'm doing almost all the time -- occasionally I've been known to write verse -- I need to hear what I'm doing in my head, and I can't if there's music playing.

Patricia McCormick
I can't listen to music. It's too distracting!

Jay Asher
Sometimes I’ll listen to music before I start writing to put myself into a certain mood. ...But I’m so easily distracted that I can’t listen to music when I’m writing.

Neil Gaiman
I often write with music on. It doesn't distract me. Anything that makes me more comfortable and keeps me writing is good. And occasionally I'll reread something I've written and know what I was listening to when I wrote it.

Lemony Snicket
I listen to music constantly. When I write, I cannot listen to music with words, so the old standbys are Sun Ra and Morton Feldman.

Sarah Mlynowski
I don’t listen to music when I write-I listen to Law & Order. I play the reruns all day. Something about the Da! Da! frees up the creative side of my brain. Weird, eh?

Julie Bowl..l mean, Bowie...I mean Bouie...okay, Julie BOWE
I don’t listen to music while I’m writing because it distracts me. But, sometimes, I like to write in the food court at the mall. It’s helpful for me to have that mix of voices in the background while I’m working. Plus, they have really good coffee there.


I recently came across an article written by Patty Campbell, Pat Davis and Jerri Quinn called “We Got Here...It Was Worth the Trip : A Survey of Young Adult Reading in Los Angeles Public Library.”

In 1972, the authors attempted to find out the most popular books in the LA library by putting a questionnaire in the pocket of each YA book in the collection. This part cracked me up: “The questionnaires were designed to be visually appealing. At the top of the slip was a design of mushrooms and the sun -- two ‘in’ items in current young adult symbology.”

Over the course of six months, the survey was answered 2009 times.

The following titles were listed as the top ten favorites:

2) MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES by Ann Head
3) GO ASK ALICE by Anonymous
4) CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
6) PHOEBE by Patricia Dizenzo
9) RUN SOFTLY, GO FAST by Barbara Wersba
10) LENNON REMEMBERS by Jan Wenner

In the same survey, readers were asked “Are there any books you would highly recommend to other young people?” and the top ten responses were:

1) THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton
2) THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo
5) GO ASK ALICE by Anonymous
6) THE PIGMAN by Paul Zindel
7) THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
8) GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
9) LOVE STORY by Eric Segal
10) MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES by Ann Head

Granted, a list from 2010 would look quite different. And a few of the above titles are now out-of-print and out-of-mind. But, still, I’m surprised by how many of the above continue to be read by teenagers today. Even MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES remains in print and still appears on high school reading lists.

Here’s the cover I remember seeing on every drugstore rack in the seventies:

I have to admit I never read it back then...though I do recall seeing a TV movie-of-the-week based on the novel. But the fact that this book retains its popularity after forty years definitely makes me want to read it now.

MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES belonged to a sub-genre of YA fiction concerning married teenagers. Others included FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS by John Neufeld; MEET ME IN THE PARK, ANGIE by Phyllis Anderson Woods; THE BRIDE WORE BRAIDS by Fredrick Laing, and several more. I wonder if there have been any comparable “young married” novels in the past twenty years? Do teens still get married...or do they just move in together and then appear on Judge Judy six months later because they broke up and now owe money on their apartment lease?

Whatever the case, Bo Jo and Bride appear to still draw young readers. I’d better borrow a copy from the library so I can figure out why.

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

...Hey, would you visit more often if I decorated this blog with pictures of suns and mushrooms?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Two Reds Scare

A small paperback called RED CHANNELS was published in 1950.

Subtitled "The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television," the book fed into the era's "Red Scare" hysteria -- the belief that communist sympathizers were infiltrating American society. RED CHANNELS listed over 150 actors, directors, and writers believed to be "subversives"; many would eventually be blacklisted by the entertainment industry.

Among the writers listed in RED CHANNELS were Lillian Hellman, Irwin Shaw, and Arthur Miller. No children's authors were included, though a couple of the mentioned writers -- such as Louis Untermeyer and Langston Hughes -- had published the occasional volume for kids.

This doesn't mean, however, that children's books were immune to McCarthy era scandals.

1950 also saw the publication of the picture book THE TWO REDS by Will and Nicolas.

Will was William Lipkind, an anthropoligist, and Nicolas was Nicolas Mordvinoff, an artist who left Russia as a boy and, after stops in France and Tahiti, arrived in New York in 1946.

The two men met through Mr. Lipkind's wife, who worked for the New York Public Library. Over a drink, Will and Nicolas discussed writing a picture book together -- though they had no idea what to write about. At that point Nicolas saw a red cat on the windowsill and said, "Let's do a book about that." Will said the story needed something more. Later that night Nicolas saw a boy with red hair on the street and suggested he be added to the story as well. The result was THE TWO REDS.

This mild story of a lonely city boy and a neighborhood cat is distinguished by Nicholas's loose black-and-white illustrations, judiciously -- but vibrantly -- splashed with red and yellow.

When THE TWO REDS was published, a window dresser at New York's famed F.A.O. Schwarz, whom Will later remembered as a "nice young man," devoted the store's Fifth Avenue windows to displaying the book.

Almost immediately the president of F.A.O. Schwarz demanded that the display be taken down.

A book called THE TWO REDS?

Illustrated by an artist with a Russian name?

Nyet, nyet!!!

The window display was taken down.

But people continued to whisper that the book was subversive.

And THE TWO REDS would eventually be banned in Boston.

Fortunately, the TWO REDS controvery never exploded onto the national consciousness; Will and Nicolas were never called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. (A silly thought? Not so silly when you consider that, during the early fifties the Cincinnatti Reds even had to change their name to the "Cincinnatti Redlegs" to avoid the stain of communism.) One of the factors that may have kept the controversy from boiling over is the support this book received from the children's literary community. In MINDERS OF MAKE-BELIEVE, Leonard Marcus reports that Louise Seaman Bechtel wrote in her newspaper column, "The publication of this book restores one's faith in the experimental daring of American publishers."

And Fritz Eichenberg said, "It takes great courage, for reasons too numerous and obvious to mention, to name a children's book THE TWO REDS."

"Or to publish one," Leonard Marcus adds, in a nod to Harcourt publisher Margaret K. McElderry.

THE TWO REDS went on to be named a Caldecott Honor -- an acknowledgement that, when all was said and done, THE TWO REDS was simply a good book.

Of course it wasn't communist propaganda.

And of course the display set up by the that "nice young man" at F.A.O. Schwarz wasn't a political statement, but an acknowledgement of the book's excellence.

That window decorator clearly knew his stuff.

Of course he did.

He was twenty-two year old Maurice Sendak.