Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Brunch in March

It’s Sunday brunch time at Collecting Children’s Books and here’s a round-up of facts and opinions on children’s books old and new.


I’m going to be moving within the next few weeks. After a lifetime of storing books sideways, two and three deep on every shelf, I will finally have a room completely devoted to my book collection. I will actually have my own library! That’s the exciting part. The bad part is having to pack all these volumes away in boxes. The work is I’m concerned that I won’t be able to get all these boxes over to the new place. A fellow book-collector told me that her moving company flat-out refused to move her books saying it was “too much work.” Since I’m only moving two miles away, I am thinking of avoiding that problem by moving most of these books on my own. If I pack the car with ten boxes a night, it should only take something like...thirty days....

And maybe I’m getting punch-drunk from all this packing, but I’ve begun to notice I have a tendency to anthropomorphize my books. (I know I’m not the only one who ascribes human qualities to inanimate objects. At Thanksgiving a friend of mine was grocery shopping and stopped to move a frozen turkey from the empty end of the display case back to the pile of Butterballs on the other side because “it looked lonely being away from its friends.”) Anyway, as I pack these books into boxes and seal them shut, I’m finding myself feeling sorry for them being shut away in the dark, unread and unappreciated.

I imagine a psychologist would say that I’m really feeling sorry for myself -- not being able to have access to all my beloved books for the next several weeks.

That’s it -- I’m going through separation anxiety!

Can’t wait until I can reopen these boxes, and put these books on the shelves in their -- and my! -- new home.


One of the books I’ll be packing away today just arrived in the mail a couple days ago.

It’s a tiny volume that was distributed at the 1965 Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Dinner, which was held at Cobo Hall in my hometown of Detroit on July 6 of that year.

I love these N/C programs, not only because they commemorate an important annual event in the world of children’s books, but because they evoke a very different era. Who would think that in 1965 women were still known mainly by their husband’s names. For example, the Wilder award was given to Mrs. Albert Durand that year.

Who was she?

Ruth Sawyer.

Another highlight of these programs is that they usually contain some special material created by the year’s Newbery and Caldecott winners.

This book includes “A Greeting from Beni Montresor,” who received the Caldecott for illustrating MAY I BRING A FRIEND:

“Ciao” back atya, Beni! ...Though to my untrained eye Montresor’s art appears very much a product of its era and doesn’t seem to hold up well in the twenty-first century.

There is also “A Fable from Maia Wojciechowska,” who won the Newbery for SHADOW OF A BULL. Since the tale is short, I think I’ll include the whole thing here:

Once upon a time two friends went to Spain and together they saw a bullfight. One was a realist, the other an idealist.

“Why is it,” the realist asked the idealist, “that you did not cry or faint at the bullfight? It made
me sick to see the bull die, and you, who are made ill at the sight of a burned moth and weep for the deer in the dead of winter, why did you not cry for the bull?”

“A moth,” the idealist replied, “does not seek death but light. The deer asks not for the ground to harden nor the snow to fall. But a brave bull makes his choice, almost at birth, and lives to die with it. It need not die from the sword if it chooses a coward’s life. And that is what I did not cry.

Talk about “anthromorphosizing”!

And, Miss Wojciechowska, you have a call on line one: it’s PETA.

A blank page in the back of the program is reserved for autographs. I’d love to say that Beni and Maia and editor Jean Karl signed this book, but it appears to be autographed by lesser known lights. I don’t recognize any of the following names. Do you? Are you one of them?


Given my devotion to children’s books, it may surprise you to learn that I also enjoyed reading Archie comics as a kid.

The girl across the street got me hooked.

For weeks and weeks she promised to take me to the grocery store and show me how to buy a comic book out of a machine. I don’t know what intrigued me more -- reading my first comic or actually using a machine to acquire it.

The big day came.

I had twelve cents -- a sum that seemed like a hundred dollars at the time -- to buy my comic and my friend had $5 -- an amount that seemed like a million bucks back then -- to pick up a a few items at the grocery store for her mother.

When we arrived at the grocery, my friend discovered the five dollar bill, which she’d tucked into her mitten on the way to the store, had disappeared.

She became frantic and wanted to retrace our steps and hunt for her money.

I said, “Can’t we get my comic book first?”

“No,” she wailed, and ran home crying.

The comic book machine was about the size and shape of a Coke machine, but the front was made of clear plastic so you could see the selection of Archie comics inside. Each magazine (ARCHIE, PEP, BETTY AND VERONICA) had a handle in front of it. On one side of the handle you’d place a dime and on the other side you’d place your two pennies, then you’d push the handle in and the comic would slide down into a chute below.

At least that was the theory.

Of course being only about eight and not that bright to start with, I put the dime in the penny slot and couldn’t get it back out, then dropped my two pennies under the machine and then I also ran home crying.

Later that night my father drove me back to the grocery store and helped my get my very first comic book out of the machine. It was an issue of ARCHIE AND ME.

I brought it home and soon got my brother addicted. Before long, one of our uncles began buying Archie comic books for us and, every time we visited him, he’d hand us each a thick bag of ARCHIE’S PALS AND GALS, JUGHEAD, LAUGH, ARCHIE’S JOKE BOOK and all the rest. We had a long wooden shelf in the basement where we kept stacks of these magazines, and constantly ran downstairs to refresh and replenish the comics we had in our bedrooms. The difference between my brother and me was that, for me, the comics were just a supplement to all the regular books I was reading. In my brother’s case, they were a substitute to all the regular books he should have been reading. For years, he wrote everything in all caps and only used exclamation points for punctuation, since THAT WAS HOW ALL THE ARCHIE COMICS WERE WRITTEN!

What was it that kept me reading Archie for years and years? Part of it was simply that they were funny and fast-paced nd reader-friendly. And they gave you an advance preview of what it was like to be a teenager. (Never mind that my teenage years -- and probably everybody’s teenage years -- turned out to be a lot less fun than what was promised in Archie comics.) And there was also something very appealing and comforting about the friendship of Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and the rest. A friend of mine who also grew up reading Archie Comics, said that his favorite thing about the stories was that there was always a nearby wall or bench where the characters could always sit down and talk.

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

Nothing, except I recently read that Archie comics are going to be teaming with Random House to to “exclusively handle worldwide distribution of Archie graphic novels and trade paperbacks.”

I’m not sure if that includes novelizations, but I wish it would. I have never thought about writing fiction about already-conceived characters for an already-extant series, but feel uniquely qualified to write about Archie...and all his friends...who always have a nearby bench or wall where they can sit down and talk.

Archie, if you’re reading this: give me a call!


Any new book by Kimberly Willis Holt is an event and I’m particularly intrigued by her forthcoming novel called...well, what is it called, anyway?

The original title was apparently THE DOWSER’S SON and here is the cover of the ARC:

However, it now appears the title has been changed to THE WATER SEEKER, and it has a new cover illustration:

It’s not unusual for books to change either their titles or cover art at the last minute like this. From a collecting point of view, however, it’s always nice to have a copy of the ARC with the original title and art. And should the book go on to become famous (and remember, Ms. Holt has received both a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor and a National Book Award) the original title/cover will be even more desirable by collectors.


Yesterday I received a surprise in the mail from a friend -- a copy of VIRGINIA HAMILTON : SPEECHES, ESSAYS, CONVERSATIONS, edited by the late author’s husband, Arnold Adoff, and Kacy Cook:

As a special treat, my copy was signed by both the editors!

When I was growing up, Virginia Hamilton was considered one of the top authors of children’s books -- perhaps the top author of all. This remarkable volume collects her speeches (Newbery acceptance, Coretta Scott King Award acceptance) and lectures, and includes powerful memories from family members and colleagues.

It’s a book that every fan of children’s literature will want to own.

Just sampling this book over the weekend has made me eager to return to Ms. Hamilton’s novels such as ZEELY, M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT and my personal-favorite THE PLANET OF JUNIOR BROWN.

I wish I could figure out which box I stored them in.

After perusing VIRGINIA HAMILTON : SPEECHES, ESSAYS, AND CONVERSATIONS, I really don’t want to wait till I finish moving before I can re-read this author’s timeless treasures!

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books.

Hope you’ll return!


Stephanie said...

Just think how much fun you'll have opening those boxes once they're all moved!

Jenny said...

Tell the truth -- Are you and Betsy moving in together?

Bybee said...

I'd pay admission to see your library!

Re moving: Do any of your friends owe you favors?

Connie said...

There are nine signatures on that Newbery/Caldecott banquet program, and none of them appear to be 'famous.' Since there are usually 10 place settings at a banquet table, it's a fair guess someone had all the attendees at his/her table sign the program as a memento.

CLM said...

Sadly, it is likely that the sales reps didn't know what a dowser was and refused to understand that children enjoy new words. It used to baffle me that some of my co-workers knew so little about children's books. I remember one guy hissing to me once at Sales Conference, "What's this Rainbow Reading they keep talking about?" And he is now a VP at Harper.

Re Anthropomorphic Books
My books get very upset when separated from their siblings (whether by my error or when some are wrong size for shelf).
Speaking of size, how annoying is it when a publisher changes the trim size mid-series?! Mystery writer Julia Spencer-Fleming's
first two books are 8.5" tall and all subsequent titles are 9.5" inches tall. I realize SMP suddently figured out she needed to be distinguished from other mysteries with a bigger book look but it is still very annoying/visually unappealing.

Also book 1 is very annoyed it is not a first edition like its siblings. I guess I read that one from the library, then realized I wanted to own it.