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.


grrlpup said...

My class read A Day No Pigs Would Die in sixth grade, and I loved it. I remember my teacher pointing out how the main character was different at the end of the book than he had been at the beginning-- it was like a light bulb going on in my brain.

That said, I have a habit of going to read kids' one-star Amazon reviews for books they read for school. With Pigs, they were mostly upset by the graphic violence in the animals' lives and deaths. I kind of think this kid had a point:

"On the back of the book it says- 'Reading this book is like sipping hot cider in front of a crackling potbellied stove. Every page is suffused with wit and charm and glowing with warmth.' Whoever wrote this must hate sitting in front of a crackling fire sipping hot cider because this was the WORST BOOK EXPERIENCE I'VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE!!"

Not a cozy book, true!

Jenny Schwartzberg said...

Hmm. Robert Newton Peck is listed as Robert N. Peck in the 1930 US census with his mother, Lucille D[ornburgh] Peck in Ticonderoga, NY, living with her sister Caroline Dornburgh. I don't know where his father Frank Haven Peck was, but he may have been looking for work due to the Depression. At the website is his parents' wedding announcement in 1923 and the statement that they would reside in Glens Falls NY. That or Ticonderoga may be RN Peck's birthplace. According to the 1910 census, Frank H. Peck had been married before, with 3 children, and his own father's name was Newton D. Peck. More than that, I'm too tired to dig up right now.

Bybee said...

I always mix up the 2 Pecks as well. Thanks for the clarification. I'd reread A Day No Pigs Would Die in a heartbeat.

Gas, Food, Lodging changed the names of the characters, but the movie is so close to Don't Look And It Won't Hurt that I recognized the story. The movie has a nice gritty feel to it like the novel. Ignore the movie poster.

Re: Ruth and Eileen: If memory serves, I think Australian author Christina Stead became friends with Ruth late in their lives and Ruth's story was the inspiration for Stead's little-known novel, I'm Dying Laughing. I'm hoping to stumble onto a copy.

Linda said...

I hope you enjoy THE BONESHAKER. I got it as part of Amazon Vine and loved it.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog looking for information on am English children's book of stories that had a short story about a grandfather doll with a china cat, and a clock- among a multitude of others. While I still haven't found my book, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog instead.

I've moved quite often myself, and will be doing so again in the very near future- so you have my utmost sympathy and understanding with both the new home-ownership, and the unpacking. It always seems to be never-ending!

Thanks for such a great blog!