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!


Unknown said...

I made an Olympics book display at my bookstore, and not a single one of those books has been bought yet. It kind of makes me sad. Good thing about working at a bookstore was that I snagged our last copies of When You Reach Me and The Lion and the Mouse, pre-medal-stickers. Did you know they are making a movie of Wimpy Kid? Not sure how I feel about it, but I do love the information/tribute to Sallinger

LaurieA-B said...

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. Her family is charming.

Caroline said...

In the 90s there was a figure skating series called Silver Blades that featured a number of mostly female skaters in their early-to-mid teens who wanted to compete at the Olympic games. At the beginning of the series they competed in mostly regional competitions, but I believe some of the later books do actually feature an Olympic competition. I also have a fondness for the book Ice Dancing by Nicholas Walker, a British book about the pairing of a ballet dancer and a hockey player.

James Preller said...

Peter, love your blog, that great conversational tone you strike, your alert mind, such good writing. I can't help but want to respond at different times, interject a comment, but usually just sit back and scroll.

I'm with you on the Salinger influence. It's pretty pervasive, and yet at the same time seems authentic. The voice is so powerful, as a writer it's hard not to feel it's sway, the way the moon effects the tides below. Personally, I don't see the same mutinous spirit in kids these days as I did back in the day (I'm 49), or felt myself. Where's the rebellion? My hope (and sense) is that it's just under the surface, a fuse unlit. I mean: how can you be a kid and not carry the Holden gene?

I don't know if you've written about it, but I'd pair "Catcher" with "Ramona" as the other most-copied title. Boy, am I ever sick of yet another series of books based around a spunky 2nd-3rd grade girl character who says the most darling things. There's just so much preciousness in these knock-offs, don't you think? I realize that publishers drive this, send the message out to agents and writers that they are focused on the Junie B. Jones market, actively seeking manuscripts that take aim at that target. So writers will fall in line, since that's where the dam is weakest. How to break into publishing? Ripping off the bestseller list might be the surest path of all. At the same time, it doesn't make any of these new series inauthentic, maybe just too familiar.

I remember talking to Johanna Cole about children's books, and why she preferred them over the adult variety. In a word, hope. She felt there was always hopefulness in children's books, and I think distinction is largely correct, despite the dystopian trends. (Or is that part of it?)

On a similar note, I loved every second of Patti Smith's new memoir, "Just Kids," in part because she captures that budding, unfolding, opening moment of self-realization when the world offered a sea of possibilities. A book for dreamers.

BTW, I LOVE the Rabbit books -- consider it one of the great achievements in American literature, spanning four decades, etc.

Sorry for rambling.


CLM said...

You might consider Scrubs on Skates, first in a four book series by hockey writer Scott Young (father of Neil), which was a favorite of mine growing up. It is about a brother and sister who are redistricted from the renowned, upscale public high school their father had attended to a new school with more of an immigrant student body. Pete isn't sure at first whether it's worth his time to play on the new school's hockey team with the "scrubs" and has to change his attitude and learn to appreciate those from different ethnic backgrounds. The hockey scenes are great! I loved reading this book to my siblings and recommending it to reluctant readers.

Bybee said...

I remember one of those dime-store girls' books (published by Whitman?) called The Silver Seven. The protaganist (Sandra?) wants to skate competitively, but just as she's about to go for her seventh level, her family moves to a place with no indoor skating rink and she's got to skate out on a pond with hockey players and casual skaters crashing into her.

chris in ny said...

"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."
Yes- with very few exceptions. I don't read children's books exclusively, but it has to be an exceptional adult book to hold my interest.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Round-up of responses:

Hi Venus:

What a bummer about the Olympics books. I was hoping the Games would spark some interest in kids.

Thanks for your note,


Hi Laura,

I just wrote a blog based on your "sick girl" comments. Thanks for giving me the inspiration. ...Now I need to read SKATING SHOES!


Hi Caroline,

I vaguely remember the Silver Blades series. The hockey player/skater book reminds me of the old movie CUTTING EDGE.

Thanks for commenting!


Hi JP,

Thanks for your kind comments; I'm honored you read this blog. I've been mulling over a story idea lately...but it has a spunky 2nd/3rd grade girl in it and now I'm thinking, "Hmmm...was I channeling Ramona here? I hope not!" I wasn't interested in the Patti Smith memoir before, but your comments have got me intrigued, so I will try to track it down She spent the last couple decades living here in the Detroit area, but I never saw her around....

Thanks again,



I never heard of SCRUBS ON SKATES, but will track it down, having heard your enthusiastic reaction to it!



Hi Bybee,

I don't know SILVER SEVEN, but I just looked it up and you're right: Whitman. The author is Rita Ritchie. I'll have to track it down. Funny how even the dimestore books stick with us after all these years!

Thanks again,


Hi Chris,

Thanks for your comments. You've given me a blog idea -- adult novel that children's book fans would enjoy. Look for it in the future.

Thansk so much,