Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Sunday Brunch with Joseph Pulitzer and Tori Spelling

More random thoughts and opinions on children’s books....


The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced tomorrow afternoon. Since I’m still trying to read all the old fiction winners, I’ll be very anxious to learn what title wins the award this year.

Over at the Pulitzer Prize First Edition Collecting site, a “research scientist and Modern Firsts/Pulitzer Prize book collector” has posted a list of predictions that includes MY FATHER’S TEARS AND OTHER STORIES or THE MAPLE STORIES both by the late John Updike, LARK & TERMITE by Jayne Anne Phillips, THE LACUNA (Barbara Kingsolver) and LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN (Colum McCann.)

I was surprised that a few readers in the blogosphere have suggested ELI THE GOOD by Silas House as a possible Pulitzer contender. If it wins, it would be the first time that a book published for young adults won the award...though certain past winners, such as THE YEARLING and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD were originally published for adults and later became YA standards. Last year I had hoped that M.T. Anderson’s THE KINGDOM OF THE WAVES : THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION, VOLUME II stood a chance of winning, but it was ignored. Too bad, as I still think that in terms of story, characterization, and brilliant prose it stands head and shoulders over the actual winner, OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout.

Incidentally, here is a fun game for tomorrow. If you hear the Pulitzer news reported on the radio or TV, listen to how many ways the word is mispronounced. Some say “PEW-litzer,” others says “Pool-itzer.” From what I understand, the correct pronunciation sounds most like “Pull-itzer.” I’ve heard that every year when the press gathers at Columbia University for the Pulitzer announcement, some mischievous reporter will approach the bust of Joseph Pulitzer and grab his nose, to cries of “Pull it, sir!” from the other journalists in attendance.

Then the winners are reported on the radio and, invariably, the newscaster says, “PEW-litzer.”

Go figure.


This weekend I began wondering how many winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction have also written books for children. Here is my chronological list:

Booth Tarkington, who won Pulitzers in 1919 (MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) and 1922 (ALICE ADAMS) wrote the “Penrod” books for young readers.

Pearl Buck, who won the 1932 Pulitzer for THE GOOD EARTH, also wrote the juvenile stories THE BIG WAVE and THE WATER BUFFALO CHILDREN. Boy, these books used to be in every library when I was a kid, but I think they are no longer popular with children. (I have to admit I never cared for them myself.)

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1939 winner for THE YEARLING) received a posthumous Newbery Honor for THE SECRET RIVER in 1956.

A.B. Guthrie won the 1950 Pulitzer for THE WAY WEST. I don’t think that he ever wrote a book specifically for young readers, but at least one or two of his adult titles were re-published in edited versions for young adults.


Eudora Welty, who won THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER in 1973, wrote a children’s novel called THE SHOEBIRD. I believe she also wrote the original New York Times book review for CHARLOTTE’S WEB.

John Updike, who won a pair of Pulitzers for two of his “Rabbit” novels (RABBIT IS RICH, 1984; RABBIT AT REST, 1991) also wrote A CHILD’S CALENDAR, which has been illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkett and Trina Schart Hyman; the latter received a Caldecott Honor for her work.

Alice Walker, who won the 1983 Pulitzer for THE COLOR PURPLE, saw her first published adult short story, THE HELL WITH DYING, reprinted as a children’s book in 1988. Other Walker books for young readers include LANGSTON HUGHES : AMERICAN POET, FINDING THE GREEN STONE and WHY WAR IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA.

Alison Lurie, who won the 1985 Pulitzer for FOREIGN AFFAIRS, has taught children’s literature at the university level and published titles both about children’s books (DON’T TELL THE GROWN-UPS) and for children (CLEVER GRETCHEN AND OTHER FOLKTALES.)

Toni Morrison won the 1988 prize for BELOVED, then wrote THE BIG BOX (1999) and THE BOOK OF MEAN PEOPLE (2002) with her son Slade Morrison.

1989 winner Anne Tyler (BREATHING LESSONS) wrote a children’s book called TUMBLE TOWER, which was illustrated by her daughter Mitra Modarressi.

Oscar Hijuelos won the 1990 Pulitzer for MAMBO KINGS PLAY SONGS OF LOVE, and then entered the field of young adult fiction with DARK DUDE in 2008.

1992 winner Jane Smiley (A THOUSAND ACRES) recently published a children’s horse story titled THE GEORGES AND THE JEWELS.

Michael Chabon, who won the 2001 Pulitzer for THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY also wrote the young adult fantasy SUMMERLAND.

Can you think of any I have missed?

I can!

There are the writers who have won in other categories, such as Dave Barry, who received a Pulitzer for Commentary in 1988, and now writes children’s books with Ridley Pearson, such as PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS.

And there are several many editorial cartoonists who also illustrate children’s books. How about Jules Feiffer, who won the 1986 Pulitzer for cartooning, but is best known among children’s book fans for illustrating THE PHANTOM TOOLBOOTH by Norton Juster and writing a number of his own books for kids. His latest illustrations can be found in Lois Lowry’s new book THE BIRTHDAY BALL.

I guess I’ll save those lists of other Pulitzer winners/children’s book creators for another Sunday....


I recently came across this series of dragon books by Chris D’Lacey:

I always think it’s nice when the titles and dustjacket illustrations of a series are consistent...and I’m sure the young readers of these books can tell them apart...but I’m just glad I’m not in charge of shelving them in a library or re-ordering them in a bookstore. I’d never be able to tell them apart!

(It doesn’t help that I’m somewhat colorblind.)


I’m always entertained to see what search terms people have used to reach this blog. Yesterday someone came here seeking “Alton Raible stag joke.”

What is that all about?

Alton Raible is primarily known as the illustrator of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s middle-grade novels.

One of my favorite Snyder novels is A FABULOUS CREATURE, the story of a teenage boy’s obsession with a wild deer. My copy of this book is now packed away for moving, so I cannot check and see if Alton Raible did the dustjacket illustration; if so, did he include some kind of “inside joke” in the illustration? Does anyone know.

Or does “Alton Raible stag joke” just mean someone was searching for the text of joke Mr. Raible told at a stag party many years ago?

I guess I’ll never know until I move, unpack my books, and take a good look at the cover of A FABULOUS CREATURE to see if there is a joke hidden in the dustjacket illustration.


The other day I had a nice e-mail chat with Monica Edinger of the Educating Alice blog.

Because I know of Monica’s interest in ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, I told her my disappoint that the phrase “tea partiers” has now changed in the public consciousness from this:

to THIS:

That set me to wondering what kind of protest signs Alice and her friends might carry at their tea party.

It wasn’t until later in the week that it dawned on me that I actually had seen an Alice-related protest sign once before.

Back in 1971 Atheneum published a young adult novel about the suffrage movement called NEVER JAM TODAY by Carole Bolton. I don’t recall ever seeing the book in hardcover, but I do seem to remember an Aladdin paperback version which showed a girl on the cover holding a protest sign that read “NEVER JAM TODAY.”

Of course the title is a quote from Lewis Carroll’s White Queen, who famously said, "The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday -- but never jam today” and I believe it was used in Carole Bolton's novel to illustrate the elusive nature of women’s rights during the suffrage era. However, I'm now curious: did Ms. Bolton use this quote simply as a fictional device in her novel -- or did the real-life suffragettes actually utilize this phrase during their marches?

Does this sound familiar to anyone or did I dream it up?

If anyone remembers this book, I’d love to hear your recollections of it.

And if you have a copy of the paperback cover, I’d love to see it.


Does anyone else find it odd how few children’s and YA books focus on the suffrage movement and women’s rights?

There are literally thousands of children’s books about the quest for civil rights for African Americans, but I can think of very new novels or nonfiction books for young people that explore the issue of civil rights for women. (One notable -- and excellent -- exception is CROSSING STONES by Helen Frost.) The same is true for books about the “women’s lib” movement of the late sixties and early seventies.

I wonder why this is.

Any guesses?


I must admit that I’m a fan of the Lifetime Movie Network. True, very few of their movies are Oscar-worthy. Many are formulaic. But there is something kind of satisfying to sitting down on a Saturday night and watching a suspense-filled flick full of scares and chases and the bad guy getting hauled away in handcuffs at the end.

Last night I happened to watch a 1995 movie starring, of all people, Tori Spelling. It was called AWAKE TO DANGER and concerned a teenage girl who witnesses her mother’s murder, goes into a coma, and then awakes to discover that the killer may be after her next.

I was surprised to discover that this movie was based on Joan Lowery Nixon’s young adult novel THE OTHER SIDE OF DARK.

A lot of TV movies are based on adult suspense novels, but those books frequently run 400 or more pages and are stuffed with subplots that have to be cut. But many YA novels are lean, tight, and just the right pace for a concise 90-100 minute TV movie. I wish the networks would option more YA books for television.

Joan Lowery Nixon’s got a batch of other books that would make good TV movies.

So does Lois Duncan.

And don’t forget M.E. Kerr’s FELL.


Congrats to School Library Journal for their successful 2010 “Battle of the Kids’ Books” contest. Was everyone else as surprised by the winner as I was?

And I hope everyone has been counting down the “Top 100 Children’s Novels” on SLJ’s Fuse #8 blog. Elizabeth Bird has been doing yeo-woman’s work compiling the list and annotating the entries. The titles have been presented in reverse order and we’re now down to #2, A WRINKLE IN TIME.

Can you guess what #1 will be?

I have a feeling I know, but the answer will officially be revealed this week on Fuse #8’s site on

Was that a hint?

Hush, Hush I don’t know a thing.

I’m just making a guess.

Thanks for reading Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll return.


Eric Carpenter said...

any chance David Small's Stitches takes home the Pulitzer?

Sam said...

Having just finished Alice Adams -- and finding it to be a small masterpiece -- I've been thinking of trying Penrod, which I tried to read as a kid and failed.

Shocked to see mention of good old Elephi! I had no idea the author was a Pulitzer winner.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the Battle of the Books, and was very happily surprised by the winner. I LOVED Marching For Freedom and voted for it as my zombie book, but didn't think it had a chance of winning. I also was pretty "Meh" about Marcelo, so I enjoyed seeing Freedom beat Marcelo out in the first round. After that, I think Marching for Freedom benefited from the judges it ended up with, though I believe they were unbiased and that it had plenty of merit to win.

CLM said...

One memorable series involving suffrage is by Geraldine Symons, beginning with The Workhouse Child. Heroine Pansy is actually arrested while demonstrating in Miss Rivers and Miss Bridges. There is also a Patricia Beatty that I don't remember well called Hail Columbia. It was not until I started reading adult historical fiction (and perhaps some nonfiction) that the force feeding and abusive behavior the suffragettes received in prison made me realize it was not all Mrs. Banks parading about in Mary Poppins...

GraceAnne LadyHawk said...

Ann Bausum's With courage and cloth: winning the fight for a woman’s right to vote, National Geographic, 2004. My graduate students are always amazed at the power of this book, written about the lat 20 years of the fight for suffrage and focused on Alice Paul. Among the best of YA nonfiction, and a beautifully designed book besides.

Bybee said...

I'm the same way about the Pulitzers as you are about the Newberys.

Jean Stafford's short 2nd? book The Mountain Lion could easily be a young adult classic. There's a young protaganist and the writing is as clear and reader friendly as her first novel, Boston Adventure, wasn't.

I predicted American Rust or The Help to win this year, but I never guess right. It really sucks that there's no list of nominees.