Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Light Brunch before the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet

Those who remember my vow of being completely unpacked and "moved in" by Independence Day will understand if today's blog is shorter than usual. How can I serve Sunday Brunch when a chorus of books in the basement is shouting upstairs, "Shelf me!" "No, shelf me!" "I was here first!" "Shelf me next!"

Meanwhile, a pair of pants and two shirts, which have made it into the house but haven't quite made it into the closet, are warbling "Hang me!" to the tune of that old Roger Miller song.

Then there are jugs of windshield wiper fluid, cans of Turtle Wax, and containers of Tide detergent and Clorox on the garage floor, demanding to be put in their proper places. The bottle of kerosene threatens, "Get me in the cupboard by July fourth, buster, or I'll really show you some fireworks!"

So I've got exactly one week to get organized here.

It wouldn't be so bad if every item was large, had a designated purpose, and had a place waiting for it in the house -- like a lamp.

Lamps are nice.

You just pick one up from the floor of the garage -- and look what a fine empty space it leaves behind! -- bring it into the house, set it on the table, and -- voila! -- you feel like you've really accomplished something.

But what bugs me are the boxes filled to the brim with a lot of miscellanous stuff which will take forever to sort and put away:

And who's bright idea was it to "kill two birds with one stone" by hauling over loose items in a cooking pot?

Oh yeah, it was my idea.

But not a very good one.


Meanwhile, I went down to get the mail yesterday and discovered a dead rabbit in the driveway. It's a wide driveway, shared by four homeowners, and the inanimate animal certainly wasn't in my portion of the drive (I Brake for Bunnies!) Two of my new neighbors were standing outside chatting and since I am very shy and can never think of what to say to people until hours and hours after-the-fact, I just blurted out the first thing that came into my head: "Hey, there's a dead rabbit in the driveway!" (Hours and hours after-the-fact, it dawned on me that, "Hello, how are you?" might have been a good alternative.)

Neighbor #1 said, "Someone needs to get a shovel and remove it."

She gave me a look and I knew exactly which "someone" she meant. So I went into the garage, got a snow shovel and a Hefty bag, and returned to the scene of the crime. That's when Neighbor #2 spoke up: "Oh, don't just throw him away! Take him around back to the pond."

"You want me to throw him in the water?"

"No, just lay his little body down in the tall grass under the he can rest in peace." (Clearly, Neighbor #2 is the sentimental sort.)

As I made my way around the back of the condos -- a one-man funeral procession solemnly carrying a loaded neon-orange snow shovel straight out in front of me -- I thought, "There are probably other people in the world who, at this very moment, are disposing of dead rabbits. ...But I'm probably the only one doing so while thinking of Br'er Rabbit, Little Georgie, Uncle Wiggily, Hazel, Bunnicula, the March Hare, and Flopsy, Mopsy, and Peter Cottontail."

TONIGHT, TONIGHT, WON'T BE JUST ANY NIGHT least not for Rebecca Stead and Jerry Pinkney. Tonight's the night they receive their Newbery and Caldecott awards for, respectively, WHEN YOU REACH ME and THE LION AND THE MOUSE at the American Library Association convention in Washington, D.C.

Susan Cooper, who won the Newbery for THE GREY KING, once described these annual award winners as "Midsummer Monarchs" and I, for one, will be anxious to hear all the reports about our newly-minted King and Queen of Children's Books and their royal banquet this evening. What will be served for dinner? What kind of program, novelties, and gifts will given as party favors to the guests? Will anyone be kind enough to send me one for my collection? (Notice how I just slipped that one in there?) What will the speeches by like? Will Mr. Pinkney get a standing O for finally receiving the Caldecott after five Honors? Will Ms. Stead thank Madeleine L'Engle in her speech?

In order to get this info, I guess we'll have to rely on reports from the bloggers who were lucky enough to attend this year's festivities. I know that Betsy from Fuse #8 is there, as is Travis from 100 Scope Notes, Liz from A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy, Tom from Berger & Burger -- plus many more.

As for me, I'll be home, probably watching something dumb on TV like the "edible cities cake competion" on FOOD NETWORK CHALLENGE, while dreaming I am attending the Newbery ceremony (or better yet, attending the Newbery ceremony to receive the award myself. If I'm going to dream, why not dream big?)

But this does bring me to a question.

The technology now exists to broadcast the N/C ceremony live over the internet. If you could watch it on your computer, would you do so?

What if they charged a fee for viewing it?

Tickets to the event cost $94. Would you be willing to pay a fee to view the N/C ceremony live, if the money went to the ALA or, better yet, to a children's literacy program or, best of all, was used to purchase children's books for a public library?

If so, what do you think a fair price would be? The $94 includes a meal, dinner service, banquet favors, plus the opportunity to rub shoulders with Rodman Philbrick and Marla Frazee (or at least view them across a crowded room.) Staying home and watching the event on the web while eating a Big Mac isn't quite the same, but I'd still pay maybe $20 or $25 for the privilege.

What do ya say, ALA?

Want to offer the N/C ceremony to the children's book fans over the net next year AND make some money for the nation's libraries?

Think about it.


Remember bratty Nellie Oleson from TV's LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE? Played by actress Alison Arngrim, Nellie was such a venomous villian that many people are unaware that she was not just the flashy creation of television writers, but -- unlike a lot of denizens of TV's "Walnut Grove" (we're looking at you, Hester Sue!) -- she originally appeared in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books.

Now Alison Arngrim is spilling the beans on her LHOP years in a funny and surprisingly well-written memoir called CONFESSIONS OF A PRAIRIE BITCH : HOW I SURVIVED NELLIE OLESON AND LEARNED TO LOVE BEING HATED. I was especially interested to learn that Alison Arngrim had never read the Wilder books before trying out for the show...first for the role or Laura, then Mary, and then some months later, Nellie Oleson. After killing them at the audition, she is offered the role almost immediately. She writes:

We had to start shooting so quickly after my audition that I had no time to cram, no time to read the LITTLE HOUSE books for more perspective on what I was doing. It was actually weeks before I went out and bought a copy of ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK. When I read it, I was shocked; it was pretty slow and boring.

[How dare she diss our beloved Little House books? I'm beginning to think she titled her memoir quite accurately.]

But the Garth Williams illustrations were dead on. When I saw the picture of Nellie clutching her doll away from Laura, it looked exactly like me. She had my nose. It's just spooky.

[Not really spooky when you consider the producers probably cast her in the role because she favored the illustrations of Nellie. Still, to be fair, they didn't cast the other roles to resemble the characters in the books, starting with clean-shaven Michael Landon, who looked nothing like the bearded Pa in the novels.]

Ms. Arngrim's book contains other information about adapting the books for the TV screen and even reveals the real-life girls who inspired Laura Ingalls Wilder in her creation of Nellie. For example, there's one Genevieve Masters who, although "much of Nellie's nastiest deeds in the book were based on her" went unnamed in the books because "rumor has it that Genevieve's family was in publishing, and since Laura wanted her books published, she decided to cover up Miss Masters's misdeeds and blame them all on Nellie Oleson."


As one of Hollywood's most famous up-and-comers, James Franco shocked everyone when he announced he was abandoning his film career for a couple months to appear on the
TV soap opera GENERAL HOSPITAL. Some thought he was doing it as a prank, or to fulfill requirements for his master's degree at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, but reportedly he is just joining the show "for the experience."

What does this have to do with children's books?

Well, I didn't know until recently that James Franco's mother is Betsy Franco, author and editor of a wide variety of children's books, including POND CIRCLE, SUMMER BEAT, MATHEMATICKLES, and METAMORPHOSES : JUNIOR YEAR.

Now comes word that the acting bug has bitten Betsy and, starting later this week, she will be appearing on GENERAL HOSPITAL with her son:


One more children's book related item. Last night I watched an episode of TV's ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. Filmed last summer in Providence, Rhode Island, one of the items brought in for appraisal was an old copy of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery. The appraiser identified the book as a first edition because the date 1908 appeared on the title page (in Roman numerals) and the verso stated, "First impression, April 1908."

The woman who brought the book in had picked it up at a flea market for less than five dollars. The antiques expert advised her that it was worth between $12,000 and $18,000! He added that a copy had recently sold for $20,000.

Some months later, in December of 2009, a first edition of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES was auctioned at Christies in New York -- and sold for $37,000.

I suspect that the ANTIQUES ROADSHOW woman decided to sell her copy...


Well, I'm going back to unpacking. But I'll probably be taking a few breaks to check on tweets and blogs from ALA. Maybe next year we can all be there together...either in person, or gathered around our computer screens watching the festivities on the web. Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll be back!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Long Time Passing

I was a teenager myself when I came across this volume at a used bookstore:

I wasn't sure what the title meant. Being a high school student -- and not the sharpest knife in the drawer, to boot -- I mainly equated "passing" with the idea of passing or failing a geometry quiz or some subject in school. I guess I assumed that the author, Lyn Tornabene, was writing about how she successfully negotiated her way through her teen years: she wasn't a failure as a teenager...she passed with flying colors! That kind of thing. The 1960s and 1970s were big on self-help books aimed at teenagers and I figured this was one of them.

As it turns out, I had it all wrong.

Instead, it turned out to be the author's autobiographical account of infiltrating a large metropolitan high school in the guise of a teenage student. Lyn Tornabene was a married thirty-three year old journalist when she was asked to contribute an article on teenage life to a major magazine. After doing some preliminary research, she dropped the idea -- only to awaken one morning

...mouthing cartoon phrases like Eureka! and Holy Cow! and [...] That's It! and Why Didn't I Think of It Before? Suppose I could be a teenager. Suppose I put on some teenage clothes and wore a wig and mixed in without their knowing I was an adult? [...} 'Passing' was a time-honored way to get a story. A man had passed for a Negro and written an important book about his experience. A girl had passed for a Playboy Bunny for a now defunct magazine and set the world on fire. Newspaper reporters had passed for inmates of jails and sanatoriums, hospital patients and unwed mothers. [...] Had anyone ever tired to pass for a child?

As soon as I learned the fascinating premise of this book, I knew I had to read it. So I bought the volume for seventy-cents (the price is still written inside the front cover) and read it that afternoon. Over the next few years, I read it many more times.

What motivated this particular reading obsession? On the one hand, the book works as a good spy story. Ms. Tornabene went to great lengths to hide her identity, moving to a distant city and living with a family friend while attending "Urban High." She wore a disguise of "typical" sixties teenage clothing, dying her graying hair and wearing glasses to hide her crows' feet. (At the time I didn't question these particulars -- after all, she was AN OLD LADY. Now, of course, thirty-three sounds pretty darn young to me.) Yet, despite her elaborte disguise, this high school spy is frequently questioned by peers. On her very first day of school, one student mistakes Lyn for a teacher and another says, "Your clothes are like a teenager, but your face is old." One reads the book continually wondering when her ruse will be discovered. And if it is, will she be sent to the principal's office -- or the police station?

The other thing I loved about I PASSED AS A TEENAGER is that it was written by someone who WANTED to observe and know young people. Any teenage reader would find that an appealing element. (As Ms. Tornabene notes in her book, "I know that when you're a teenager, nobody looks at your face. I registered in a high school and attended classes disguised as an adolescent, and not one adult -- from Dean of Girls to school doctor -- noticed. I got away with it. And I came home knowing that though teenagers may be running the economy, controlling the airwaves, taking over the highways, and turning 25,000,000 households inside out, nobody is looking them in the eye.") Although the things Ms. Tornabene observed at Urban High may not have exactly matched by own school experiences, there was enough similarity -- particularly in her portraits of the teachers (by turns mean, difficult, uncommitted, and inspiring) to keep me nodding my head in agreement as I turned the pages. Finally, as a teenaged reader, I enjoyed the this-too-shall-pass portrait of adolescence presented by the author. At the end of the volume, Ms. Tornabene asks herself, "Be young again? Not me." and lists some of the advantages of adult life:

I am potent. I can make myself felt. I can hold up my hand and say, "Wait a minute!" I can say No, I won't and Yes, I can. I can say This is me. I am this woman in this house with this man in this small sphere of this large world. This is mine. This small thing. And this. Not much, but mine. See me. I am a person. These are my limitations. These are my potentialities. You may not like me, but that doesn't mean I have to change. I don't have to submit. I don't have to repress. I can pack and go. Or, better yet, I can suggest that you can pack and go.

I found the promise inherent in those words very empowering as a kid.

Published in 1967, I PASSED AS A TEENAGER depicts the Beatles era, a time just before the counter-culture movement of the late sixties. Since then, other writers have followed in Ms. Tornabene's footsteps, "going back to school" as adults disguised as kids. David Owen did it with HIGH SCHOOL : UNDERCOVER WITH THE CLASS OF 1980. Cameron Crowe's experiences are recorded in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. And there's even been a movie, NEVER BEEN KISSED starring Drew Barrymore, that plays off this premise.

It wasn't until today, though, that it struck me how many of us have tried "passing as teenagers."

True, most of us have never donned contemporary styles and run down to register at the local high school. But every time one of us writes a short story or novel from the perspective of a young person, we're clearly trying to "pass as a teenager." We're trying to get the words, thoughts, and feelings so true to the real experiences of a young person that we can "pass" without detection.

And even if we don't write for young people, aren't we spying in a foreign land every time we pick up a YA novel and experience the world from a teenage pespective? While the age range on the dustjacket may say 12+ or 14+, I know there are plenty of adults reading and enjoying these books as well. Maybe we read them to appreciate the universal, unchanging aspects of adolescence. Or maybe it's to observe a brave new world, totally unlike the one we experienced as kids. I'm sure I felt just as disoriented trying to read Lauren Myracle's "instant message novels" TTFN and TTYL as a modern kid would feel reading the scene in I PASSED FOR A TEENAGER where teenage partygoers strum guitars and sing "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

At heart, every reader is something of spy -- covertly observing the experiences of others -- not by going "undercover," but by going "between the covers" of a book.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Brunch for June 20

New house, month two.

Still living out of Hefty bags and paper boxes.

The garage is still half full of unpacked belongings.

And this week someone told me that the inside of my garage “looks like the town dump."

I said, "But you have to admit it looks SOOOO much better than it did last week, when the boxes reached halfway to the ceiling. Besides, don't you think our old family butter churn gives the garage an old-fashioned charm?"

"No, it makes it look like the town dump, circa 1851. That churn is as old and dilapidated as everything else out there. You should get rid of it.”

Get rid of it? I was thinking of having it repaired and making my own butter.

It may come to that.

Who knew that home ownership was so expensive?

First there was the broken toilet ($707 to replace), then the new couch ($500) and patio furniture ($358) which cost an arm and a leg to have delivered ($116.) Then there’s the new washer and dryer (which equaled one paycheck) and the new shelves for the library (nearly two months’ salary…and I still can’t show them to you yet, as they aren’t quite finished), the new mantelpiece (maybe not a necessity but where else will I hang my Christmas stocking?) and assorted small repair jobs (for assorted small fees. When you add all that up, I forsee a future of nothing but tomato sandwiches (grown from the containers on the back porch) spread with butter paddled from that “broken and dilapidated” churn in the garage.

And that's especially true after this week, when I had to spend an unexpected couple hundred dollars for new tires on my car.

On Wednesday, I was driving to work on the expressway when I saw a woman pulled over to the side with a flat. A tow truck was there, changing her tire.

I thought, “Poor lady. I HATE flat tires! …I'm so lucky I haven’t had one in ages.” I thought back to the time I had SIX flat tires in one calendar year. I thought back to the time one of my tires exploded as I was crossing a bridge. I thought back to the time I had a flat tire on the expressway on Thanksgiving. ...Just then I heard thump-thump-thump-thump! and realized that I now had ANOTHER flat tire!

What are the chances of THAT?

There I am, thinking about flat tires and within a minute my back tire blows.

Coincidence? Or did I make it happen by thinking about it? Or am I psychic?


…to make predictions. Head on over to Fuse #8’s recent blog containing her midyear picks for the Newbery and Caldecott Awards. After reading Betsy’s comments, as well as the nearly four dozen predictions from her blog-readers, I ran out and bought a copy of BONESHAKER, a debut novel by Kate Milford that a lot of folks seem to think has a shot at the Big N.

Remember, it was Fuse #8 who pegged Rodman Philbrick’s THE MOSTLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF HOMER P. FIGG as a Newbery possibility a year ago at this time. On the basis of her recommendation, I purchased a copy way back then…and thus wasn’t caught with my britches down (and a fourth printing of HOMER P in my hands) on Newbery Day.

In other words, Newbery and Caldecott collectors: Ignore Fuse #8 at your own risk!


I just had an odd experience while reading a recent YA problem novel. DAVID INSIDE OUT by Lee Bantle is a first-person story about a teenage boy who, despite having a girlfriend, finds himself attracted to one of the guys on his school track team. About halfway through the book (pages 113-115 to be exact), David calls a gay and lesbian hotline for some advice. A phone counselor named Jim recommends a book title to David. We are then told: "David wrote it down. Then the switchboard flooded with calls, and Jim had to go."

Wait a second.

If this blog featured a reading comprehension test, now would be the time to say, "What is wrong with the above quote?"

Well, remember me saying that DAVID INSIDE OUT was a first-person story? David relates the entire novel in his own voice. In fact, a couple lines after ending his conversation on the hotline, David says, "After I got off the phone, I told Mom I was going for a drive."

So I was shocked that -- right in the middle of a novel written in the first-person -- the narrative suddenly switched to an omniscient voice.

How did THAT happen?

And how did it slip past the author, the editor, the copyeditors, and the many people at Henry Holt Books that must have read this manuscript before it was bound between hardcovers?

And beyond that, now I'm curious if this error gives any clues to the manuscript's original format. Was the novel perhaps conceived -- and possibly written -- in the omniscient voice and later switched to first-person? I know that Katherine Paterson began writing JACOB HAVE I LOVED in the first person, despite some trepidation. She revealed, "I have always sworn that I would never write a book in the first person. It is too limiting, too egotistical. And yet, the book refused any voice but Louise's.” Ms. Paterson decided to “write it down in any way I can in the first draft” and then go back and change it later. Of course, she later discovered that her novel – a triumph of the first-person voice – did not need to be changed. I wonder if Lee Bantle wrote various drafts of DAVID INSIDE OUT in different voices before deciding to go with the first person. It seems as though I've heard of at least one major book -- I'm blocking on the title -- that was submitted and accepted by the publisher and then, during editing, was switched from omniscient to first-person prose.

Can anyone recall any famous of any examples of this?


What are the chances that two of the most notable children’s/young adult authors to debut in 1972 would have the same last name?

It happened to Richard Peck and Robert Newton Peck.

They’re not related as far as I know, but during the seventies a lot of people seemed to get them confused with each other.

In 1972, Richard Peck published his first YA novel, DON’T LOOK AND IT WON’T HURT.

Though critically-acclaimed, it did not get the kind of rapturous reviews that Robert Newton Peck’s A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE – also published in 1972 – received. Many considered PIGS an instant classic.

Over the next decades, each author continued writing for young audiences. Robert Newton Peck specialized in historical and rural tales and became best known for his many humorous books about a prankish Depression-era boy (SOUP, 1974; SOUP FOR PRESIDENT, 1978, etc.) Richard Peck demonstrated a broader focus, writing modern realistic fiction (CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH, 1981), fantasy (THE GHOST BELONGED TO ME, 1976), science fiction (LOST IN CYBERSPACE!, 1995) as well as many works of historical fiction, including Newbery winner A YEAR DOWN YONDER.

But a funny thing happened in the intervening years.

While Richard Peck’s career has continued to thrive, with many of his backlist books still in print and popular with young readers, only a sparse handful of Robert Newton Peck’s books remain in print today. A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE – still revered by critics and still taught in schools – is one, as is the first of the “Soup” stories. There are a couple others but, in general, his work no longer seems to be read these days. I find this odd since he mostly wrote historical fiction – a genre which doesn’t quickly become “dated.” I wonder why the “Soup” books, so popular with young boys in the seventies and eighties, are no longer read by kids in this new century. Any theories?

Meanwhile, in researching Robert Newton Peck this week I discovered three intriguing bits of trivia:

1. The best man at his first wedding was Fred Rogers. Yep, the same “Mr. Rogers” from children’s television. The two met while attending Rollins College.

2. While A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE was widely-described as RNP’s first novel, he had actually published a novel for adults back in 1962 called, of all things, THE HAPPY SADIST!

3. I was equally surprised to learn that many facts regarding Peck’s life are in dispute. According to the Wikipedia – which, I know, can’t always be trusted – “He claims his birth date as February 17, 1928, but refused to specify where. Similarly, he states he graduated from a high school in Texas, yet again refuses to identify the specific location. Various sources indicate his birth place as Nashville, Tennessee. Though stated as his mother's birth place, other sources indicate the actual location as Ticonderoga, New York, and Peck, himself, may have been born there as well. The only verified Vermont connection, which Peck hints as his real birth place, comes from his father who was born in Cornwall, Vermont.”

Oh, and here’s a bit of trivia about the OTHER Mr. Peck…Richard. Did you know that his first book was made into a movie? It was called GAS, FOOD, LODGING.

Its tagline was “When Shade’s good, she’s very good. When Trudi’s bad, she’s better,” which is enough to tell me that this movie is probably a far cry from Richard Peck’s original novel! I don't think those character names are even IN the novel DON'T LOOK AND IT WON'T HURT.


Back in the seventies, a couple publishers -- Pantheon comes to mind -- used to reprint their dustjacket flap copy on the first blank page of text of every hardcover book. At the time, I thought this was a rather cheap touch; it reminded me of how the opening pages of paperback books are often filled with plot summaries, book reviews, and author bios.

But I think my feeling is changing on this issue (after thirty years!) At least it does every time I pick up an old book without a dustjacket and long for the kind of background info that might have been provided on the volume's original cover.

Just this week I happened upon a book at the library called JANE, JOSEPH, AND JOHN : THEIR BOOK OF VERSES by Ralph Bergengren. Originally published in 1918, and revised and enlarged in 1921, this volume of poems was checked out of our library as recently as 2005. It contains over four dozen verses about nature, friendship, and other observations of life and childhood. Each is attributed to one of three kids: Jane, Joseph, or John. Jane and John are siblings, but I can't figure out if Joseph if also a brother or a friend. I'm assuming that the original dustjacket might provide a little background on their connections, explaining if these were fictional children or perhaps based on the author's friends or family members.

Not having that knowledge made me feel like I was reading the book out of context.

I tried to do a little background check on the author, Ralph Bergergren, but he didn't turn up in Contemporary Authors or any of my other handy reference sources. Even the internet didn't provide much info, though I learned he must have been a fairly popular author of his era, since JJ AND J is still in print today, as are a couple of the author's other books -- including one available on Kindle! One of the JJ AND J poems, "The Worm" (attributed to "Joseph") seems to remain pretty popular even today, as I found several references to it on the internet. Here's the text:


When the earth is turned in spring
The worms are fat as anything.

And birds come flying all around
To eat the worms right off the ground.

They like worms just as much as I
Like milk and bread and apple pie.

And once, when I was very young,
I put a worm right on my tongue.

I didn't like the taste a bit,
And so I didn't swallow it.

But, oh, it makes my Mother squirm
Because she
thinks I ate that worm!

And here's a poem that caught my eye, given the focus on this blog:


My Pop is
always buying books:
So that Mom says his study looks
Just like bookstore.
The bookshelves are so full and tall
They hide the paper on the wall,
And there are books just everywhere,
On table, window seat, and chair,
And books right on the floor.

And every little while he buys
More books, and brings them home and tries
To find a place where they will fit,
And has an awful time of it.

Once when I asked him
why he got
So many books, he said, "Why not?"
I've puzzled over that a lot.

As I said, I'm puzzling over who Jane, Joseph, and John are.

Heck, considering the dearth of information available on the author, I'm also puzzling over who Ralph Bergregren is!


Jane, Joseph, and John weren't the only folks I found in the stacks this week. I also happened upon MY SISTER EILEEN.

Published in 1938, the book is a series of comic pieces that Ruth McKenney originally wrote for the NEW YORKER about the experiences she and her sister shared as young Midwestern girls trying to make it big in New York.

I've seen the 1942 black-and-white film adaptation of MY SISTER EILEEN, as well as the movie musical from 1955. I never saw the stage musical version, WONDERFUL TOWN, but I've read the script and own a copy of the Rosalind Russell recording.

One thing I've never done, though, is read the book.

I was surprised to find it in the children's section of the library. After all, the characters in the film and play are in their twenties and spend a lot of time being chased by guys. Imagine my surprise when I began reading the book this week and discovered only the last couple chapters are set in New York City. Most of the vignettes concern Ruth and Eileen’s uproarious childhood experiences: going to the movies, taking elocution lessons, attending summer camp, having a penpal. Though clearly written for adults (the tone is nostalgic rather than immediate) I can see why some young readers would get a kick out of these funny tales.

It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I tracked down some biographical info on Ms. McKenney. It came as quite a shock to discover that the author of this humorous volume lived a life that was downright tragic.

To start with, Ruth tried to commit suicide as a teenager, but Eileen prevented her from hanging herself.

Eileen would later marry Nathanaiel West, author of MISS LONELYHEARTS and THE DAY OF THE LOCUST. In 1940, the couple cut a vacation short in order to attend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s funeral. Driving through El Centro, California, Mr. West ran a stop sign and both he and his wife were killed in the accident. Eileen was only twenty-six years old and the play with her name in the title was due to open on Broadway four days later. In fact, after attending the Fitzgerald funeral, she had planned to fly to New York for opening night. We can only imagine how Ruth felt when the play opened to rave reviews just days after her sister’s death.

Ruth also married a writer, Richard Bransten. He would commit suicide on Ruth’s forty-fourth birthday. Though she lived another sixteen years, she never wrote another word.

Somehow I’m glad I read the book, laughing all the way, before I learned the sad truth of Ruth and Eileen’s lives.


To those of us who love books and reading, anything with a name like “Summer of a Million Books” sounds like fun. However, this new initiative will likely turn out to be both fun and important. According to a press release I received:

Reach Out and Read, the nationwide school readiness program, today launched a bold new campaign to give a brand-new, age-appropriate book to one million children in need before Labor Day. The Summer of a Million Books campaign unites Reach Out and Read pediatricians and family physicians at 4,500 hospitals and clinics across the country in their mission to prepare America’s youngest children to succeed in school.

To find out more about this project, click here.

As for me, I’m going to spend the first days of summer (which starts tomorrow) cleaning out that garage! I have set a deadline of July 4 – Independence Day – to declare my independence from clutter, unpacked boxes, and living out of Hefty Bags! By July 4, I intend to have all my clothes hung in closets, all my books placed neatly on shelves, the garage cleared, the carpets cleaned…and then I’ll finally be all set to start churning butter to save on the grocery bill.

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

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Blog Paved with Good Intentions

Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my last blog. I really appreciated hearing from you!

When I wrote that blog, I fully intended to be "back in business" very soon -- perhaps posting one or two more entries later that week. And I intended to have photos of my "library" to include in today's blog.

Well, as Charles Wallace says in A WRINKLE IN TIME, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I always loved that line. First, as a kid, for the thrill of seeing a "bad word" in a Newbery-winning novel. But even more than that, because the saying is so true. I'm always planning to get things done in time, but there always seems to be a slip between intention and execution.

In other words: I'm still living out of bags and boxes, some of my books remain unshelved, and I'm still behind, behind on everything.

It doesn't help that the washer and dryer are broken. Maybe I'm not having as much trouble with them as Ramona did:

but it's still a pain dragging bags of dirty clothes to the laundromat every couple days. Now you're probably wondering why I'm going to the laundromat instead of just buying new appliances. Well, I did go to the store and order a new washer and dryer but was told they wouldn't arrive for a month! "A month?" I gasped -- and the saleswoman said one sometimes has to wait one to four months for a dryer these days. So I ended up ordering them from a different department store, where the wait is "only" ten days. They'll be arriving this Wednesday, which means I have to hit the laundromat again this afternoon -- or go out and pound the clothes against rocks in the duck pond!


Everyone likes an O. Henry story -- a fast-paced tale with a neat ironic twist at the end.

Well, here is my O. Henry story:

For decades I have not had enough space for my book collection. All my volumes were stacked sideways, with two rows of books per shelf as if they double-parked cars. I had boxes of books in the basement, and eventually rented a storage locker to accommodate the overflow.

I can't tell you how many books I gave away to the library because I just didn't have enough space for them.

If you have been reading this blog, you know that I just moved and had shelves built all around my basement. At last I have space for my book collection! As I've been filling the shelves, I'm amazed to see how my books have been "swallowed up" by the room. My book collection looks positively PUNY now, with yards and yards of empty shelve space everywhere.

On the one hand, that's good news. There is plenty of space for my collection to grow in the coming years.

On the other hand, with a mortgage to pay every month, a monthly home owner's association" bill to pay, a new washer, a new dryer, last week's new toilet...and all the other costs with associated with home owning...I'm dead broke.

So now I have all the space in the world for new books...

...and no money to buy any!

Oh Henry!!!


The oil leak in the Gulf continues -- and who knows how it will end. No doubt this tragic event will be chronicled in many future children's books. For now, though, young readers who want to learn more about the effects of oil spills on our environment may want to track down the following titles at the library:

Beech, Linda. THE EXXON VALDEZ’S DEADLY OIL SPILL. Bearport, 2007.

Berger, Melvin. OIL SPILL! Harper, 1994.


Greeley, August. SLUDGE AND SLIME : OIL SPILLS IN OUR WORLD. PowerKids Press, 2003

Leacock, Elspeth. THE EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL. Facts on File, 2005.



Parks, Peggy J. OIL SPILLS. KidHaven, 2006.

Powell, Jillian. OIL SPILLS. Watts, 2002.

Pringle, Laurence P. OIL SPILLS : DAMAGE, RECOVERY, AND PREVENTION. Morrow, 1993.

Rand, Gloria. PRINCE WILLIAM. Holt, 1994.

Sepulveda, Luis. STORY OF A SEAGULL AND THE CAT WHO TAUGHT HER TO FLY. Scholastic, 2003.

Sherrow, Victoria. THE EXXON-VALDEX : TRAGIC OIL SPILL. Enslow, 1998.

Streissguth, Thomas. THE EXON VALDEZ : THE OIL SPILL OFF THE ALASKAN COAST. Capstone, 2000.


I was sorry to learn that Ruth Chew died reeently at age 90.

Trained as a fashion artist, she eventually turned the stories she told her own kids into children's books. Her first novel, THE WEDNESDAY WITCH, was reportedly rejected by ten publishers before being issued in paperback by Scholastic in 1968:

Despite all those rejections, it became an instant reader favorite (editors, take heed! writers, take heart!) and was eventually published in a hardcover edition by Holiday House.

Does anyone know of any others children's and young adult titles that transitioned from paperback to hardcover? I imagine it happens a lot with self-published books that are eventually picked-up by major publishing houses, but it's pretty rare otherwise.

I think that Julian Thompson's GROUNDING OF GROUP SIX was first published in paperback, but became so well-known that a hardcover edition later followed.

Any others?


The winners of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were announced this week. The winning titles were:

Fiction: WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
Honors: THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan
A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner

Nonfiction: MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge
Honors: ANNE FRANK : HER LIFE IN WORDS AND PICTURES by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol
SMILE by Telgemeier

Picture Books: I KNOW HERE by Laurel Croza; illustrated by Matt James
Honors: THE LION AND THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney
IT'S A SECRET! by John Burningham

The BG-HB Awards are interesting in that they honor English-language books not just from the U.S. but from countries such as England and Canada as well. Plus, since the award's time frame does not cover a calendar year, but goes from summer to summer, the winning books sometimes echo previous awards (as they did this year when the Newbery winning title, WHEN YOU REACH ME) or give early recognition to a book (such as MANIAC MAGEE) which will go on to win the Newbery later.

I believe only two children's books have ever won all three of the major books awards -- the Newbery, the National Book Award, and the BG-HB. They are M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT by Virginia Hamilton and HOLES by Louis Sachar.

Over the years, there have been a few odd winners -- books that were not recognized by other committees and, in fact, are now long forgotten.

One of my favorites from that category is THE LEAVING by Lynn Hall, a quietly-powerful book that hardly anyone remembers these days:

I'm glad that author Lynn Hall, who never got the kind of praise she deserved, won a major prize like this once in her career.

Several years ago the Horn Book sold their collection of books to a dealer, and I scurried to "rescue" as many of them as I could.

I ended up with the Horn Book's original review copies of many of the winning titles -- many of them signed by the honored authors at the BG-HB ceremony.

For example, I have the very first winner, THE LITTLE FISHES by Erik Haugaard:

as well as RABBLE STARKEY, signed by Lois Lowry:

Also have a copy of A LITTLE FEAR, signed by author Patricia Wrightson, who came all the way from Australia to accept her award.


I've never had much of a green thumb but, since moving, I thought that one way to stretch my budget would be to grow some vegetables, rather than buy them at the store.

Unfortunately, we're not allowed to dig up a garden here, so I have to work from containers. I'm growing leaf lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, and beets.

I'm also growing four (well, one of them died, so I guess I'm down to three) tomato plants:

Every time I go out to water them, I think of Ramona Quimby who, when she wasn't busy breaking washing machines, once tried to cheer her father up by joking about eating "tommytoes."

As she belabored the joke, repeating the phrase "tommytoes" a couple more times, Mr. Quimby said, " grandmother used to have a saying. First time is funny, second time is silly, third time is a spanking."

So as I'm watering my tommytoe plants and whispering encouragement to them ("Come on, little tommytoe plants...grow strong!") I always make a point of only using that phrase twice. Otherwise...smack!

I understand that Mrs. Quimby packs quite a wallop with that pancake turner!

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

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Return of Sunday Brunch


When I finished my blog on Sunday, May 14, I figured it would probably be the last one I'd write at my old residence...but I assumed I'd be back online the following Sunday to write a new blog from my new house.

Well, you know what they say about ASSuming!

How naive was I to think I'd have everything unpacked, put away, and be organized enough to write a blog just a couple days after moving in?

Heck, it's now nearly two-and-a-half weeks later and I'm STILL living out of boxes and bags, still pounding nails into the wall with the back of an ice cream scoop (the hammer isn't unpacked yet), writing letters on the back of paper plates (neither is the typing paper), and getting lost walking to the bathroom at night.

Not that this new house is huge. It's just a small condo. But the layout is a bit confusing. I even have a hard time describing it to people.

This condo is on the side of a hill.

You enter from the street level (and let me admit right off that this place has no "curb appeal" -- the front door is actually hidden behind the garage!) but by the time you walk from the front to the back of the unit, you have gone -- without climbing any stairs -- from ground level to the second floor. A balcony looks down on this pond, which is full of ducks, geese, and the occasional wild animal. I don't know what kind of animal because I still haven't unpacked my "mammals of North America" book, but it's brown, furry, and has a long thin tail. And a bullfrog in the pond clears his throat all night long.

This is all very new to me, since I grew up in the city where the only animals I saw were squirrels and rats.

The very first day we moved in one of the toilets died and had to be replaced.

Now the washer and dryer are terminally ill and I just ordered new ones.

The joys of homeownership.


A few weeks back I wrote about the grandfather clock and calico cat doorstop that came along with the condo. At the time I did not have photos, but they recently agreed to pose for pictures.

Here's the grandfather clock, being guarded by the cat. (Actually the cat is probably looking around for any hickory, dickory, dock mice who might be planning to run up the clock.)

You probably think I took this photo at 10:00 o'clock. Actually, I haven't figured out to start the clock, can't afford any expert to come look at it (that new toilet cost $707!) so the clock is permanently set at 10:00 clock. It's one of those "right twice a day" time pieces.

As for the calico cat, I guess he got a bit kicked around during all those years he served as a doorstep. One ear is hanging and he's split on the side with stuffing coming out, but I think that's befitting for the fightin' feline from Eugene Field's poem.


This house also has a basement but, because it's on a hill, the basement is at ground level with a walk-out entrance/exit. The basement came with a set of built-in shelves and I hired someone to install shelving on all the other walls as well.

I was really hoping to feature photographs of "my library" in this blog (though I rarely say the words "my library" out loud because the phrase sounds kind of it should only be spoken by someone with an English accent...who smokes a pipe...and has patches on the elbows of his tweed jacket...and since I don't qualify there, I feel kind of uppity when I utter the phrase. Maybe I'll get used to it over time.

Whatever the case, the shelves have been installed and (mostly) painted, but there is still some work to be done on them. And even though I've spent the past two weeks shelving my volumes, I'm still not quite finished, so I'll have to save pictures of the room for another blog.

I do have to say that it's great fun to open my boxes of books and place them on roomy, freshly-painted shelves. All along I planned to just place everything in alphabetical order by author, but immediately ran into the problem of oversized books. (Should have thought of that earlier; it's an issue in every library.) Then there are other problems. For example, take a look at this shelf of titles by Gary Schmidt:

The books are arranged alphabetically, but I hate how his "four seasons" titles are separated using that format. So I had to change them to keep the series together. And you'll notice that even there I couldn't alphabetize them. Fall, Spring, Summer, Winter may be alphabetical, buy that's not how the seasons run. So I made another change:

And you see that kind of thing throughout the collection. Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books are interrupted by his other titles that begin with intervening letters. Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart edges her way between the volumes in the author's "His Dark Materials" series. And Susan Beth Pfeffer's end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it series is broken apart by her other novels:

Guess I need to move those around too. They'll no longer be alphabetical, but her apocalyptic tales will be together, this time in publication order.

I guess this is the kind of thing you can do when your library only has one patron!


My bookstore friend just showed me the coolest thing: a boxed set of YA ARCS (advance reading copies) which will be published by divisions of Penguin this fall.

The titles are:

THE REPLACEMENT by Brenda Yovanoff
SAPPHIQUE by Catherine Fisher
THE ETERNAL ONES by Kirsten Miller
NIGHTSHADE by Andrea Kremer
MATCHED by Ally Condie

I'm always astounded by how much money and effort goes into book promotion long before a title is published and the general reader sees it on the shelf at the library or bookstore.


I never got into LOST, that mysterious TV show which just ended its run a couple weeks ago. However, I was intrigued to learn that one of its stars, Evangeline Lilly, now wants to write children's books.

Boy, another celebrity children's book author!

Just what the world needs!

Recently, Ms. Lilly appeared on Craig Ferguson's talk show and shared a portion of her rhyming (of course) children's story called (of course) THE SQUICKERWONKERS.

Here is what she read (warning: the section below has proven to have an emetic effect on readers with good taste.)

The name is Squickerwonker, perhaps unknown to you.
But that's it, Squickerwonker, and this is what Squickerwonkers do.
Squickerwonkers like to rule, be chief and head of things,
And have the name and number that everybody rings.
Squickerwonkers like the wealth and inheritance of old folks,
And Squickerwonkers are quick to think and have the answers to all jokes.
But there's a secret that lies behind the Squickerwonkers name,
It's a horrible secret that gives Squickerwonkers shame....

She left off reading at that point (thank heaven!) so I have no idea what the "secret" may be. But I can guess the "shame." It's a shame to think that some agents and publishers undoubtedly called the actress the next day offering her a book contract!


Packing boxes, I came across this long-lost item from my childhood:

Okay, it kind of looks like a body recovered on a TV show called CSI : CHILDREN'S LIT DIVISION, but I immediately recognized this toy from my childhood.

It's a wooden figure of Pinocchio, based on the children's book character created by Carlo Collodi. I couldn't wait to put it together again, but was dismayed to discover that all the cords that held the pieces together had...disintegrated!

Okay, if things are handled and played with, they sometimes break. That I understand. But to have one of your toys actually rot with age is something else altogether!

I've never felt so old in my life!

Still, I laid it out on my bed so you can see how it used to look:

Back in the day, he could sit up and his jointed knees could hang over the edge of a bookshelf. No more. The poor guy really has "got no strings" these days. The only part that still works is his nose, and that's because it wasn't attached by cord, but screwed in.

The figure came with two noses. One for when he told the truth:

And another for when he told a lie:

How ironic that, even though Old Pinoke is now a broken boy, his most distinguishing feature still functions.


You may be wondering why I didn't tell Pinocchio "rest in pieces" and just give him away, rather than carting him to a new location in his shoebox casket.

I'm wondering myself.

Moving has made me think about the things we hold onto and the things we let go of.

Why are there certain things we can easily gave away and others that we carry around with us all our lives?

I can't remember if I mentioned in previous blogs that my parents were moving into this new house with me. They are now my tenants while I'm the equivalent of Fred Mertz, their cranky but lovable landlord. My folks really needed a new place to live at this point in their lives as well. No longer able to negotiate stairs, they needed a one-floor space with a walk-in shower and other amenities for the elderly. Helping them pack their belongings, I was surprised to see my mother wrapping her childhood doll and tiny teddy bear. She also brought a children's tea set that someone once gave her and which she still dreams about setting up on a little side table. Then there's my father. One of the items we argued over were a set of sawhorses. Years ago, when relatives came to visit in the summertime, we'd set boards across these sawhorses in the backyard and serve outdoor meals and picnics. I'll never forget the exciting feeling of "company's coming!" as we set up the boards as long tables and waited for our relatives to arrive. However, my father seemed to think these sawhorses would still come in handy today, ignoring the fact that most of the people who came to our summer picnics are now, well...dead. He also brought along a big fancy kite that someone gave him about twenty years ago. He never took it out of the box, never flew it. But he brought it with him to this new house. I am wondering how someone who would have a hard time navigating the steeply-inclined driveway down to the mailbox would ever be able to run across a field with a kite in hand.

But who am I to say he's wrong?

I'm the guy who brought along his Pinocchio doll and his old scrapbooks...and a couple thousand children's books.

I guess we hang onto such things because they're meaningful to us...and keep us attached to our pasts...who we were...who we are....

Right now my father is sleeping in his chair in the living room. Maybe he's dreaming about the past -- those exciting summer Sundays with "company coming, company coming," when we'd set up sawhorses and boards in the yard and serve hamburgers and corn-on-the-cob and macaroni salad. Or maybe he's dreaming about the future -- the possibility that, no matter how old he gets, someday he'll break open that box, take out the kite, and run across the lawn behind the condo with his kite soaring high behind him.

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