Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Timeless to Me

Every now and then a well-known person “of a certain age” will experience an explosion of renewed public interest.

I bet you think I’m talking ‘bout Betty White.


I’m talking about children’s author Beverly Cleary.

With RAMONA AND BEEZUS opening at movie theatres last weekend, the name “Beverly Cleary” was on the entertainment page of nearly every newspaper from coast to coast. The 94-year-old author appeared at a premiere of the movie riding a golf cart decorated with ribbons. She was written up in “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade.” She was even interviewed by PEOPLE. According to the latter publication, Ms. Cleary had three steadfast rules for the new film:

No gadgets, no slang words, no trendy clothes. Cleary wanted to ensure that RAMONA AND BEEZUS remained timeless, so she nixed anything that might date it. "Kids today feel like the books were written currently," says [the movie’s director.] "Every generation thinks the books are theirs. It's amazing."

The author said in another interview:

I don’t really think of my stories as taking place in any particular time. However, they do take place in a real neighborhood in which I grew up and which I still visit. It’s really a remarkable neighborhood. It’s changed very little since I lived there. […]I think about this place as I write, but the children in my stories now wear pants if they want to -- that wouldn’t have been permitted in my day -- but those are minor things.

Ever since HENRY HUGGINS was published in 1950, readers have used the word “timeless” to describe Ms. Cleary’s books. I’ve used that term myself.

But then I remembered Henry Huggins’ favorite piece of “trendy” clothing from the early volumes -- a coonskin cap:

Though the Daniel Boone fad has been over since the Eisenhower era, Henry has continued wearing that coonskin cap for decades.

Oh, and speaking of “trendy clothes,” he sometimes also wears a fifties-style beanie; I think it may even have a propeller on top:

Actually, reading Cleary’s books about Henry, Beezus, and Ramona today, one discovers that they do, often subtly, chart the changing American landscape during the last half of the twentieth century.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of dated prices (10¢ for bus fare, $59.95 for a new bike) or words which have fallen out of fashion (will kids today understand the humor of Henry being called “Sir Cuspidor” by his classmates? And what are “lugs” of apricots?)

At other times the books mark changes in society. With the publication of RAMONA THE BRAVE in 1975, Mrs. Quimby becomes a working mom (“Just think! You’re going to be liberated!” Beezus enthuses.) Also, one can’t imagine the “Beezus, Jesus” incident occurring in any of the “Ramona books” prior to the 1970s.

For books that span a sixty-year period, they hold up incredibly well in terms of “political correctness.” Only one scene from an early volume may make readers cringe: Henry dressing up in blankets and warpaint for Halloween and raising his hand to utter the stereotypical Indian greeting, “How.”

Some old-fashioned slang (“Jeepers!”) creeps into the early books, but disappears in later titles.

What surprised me most were the many dated references to television commercials in Cleary's books.

Early in the series, the author seemed to have a lot of fun skewering the huckster-hosts of children’s TV shows:

“I want all you little folks out there in T.V. land to do something for old Sheriff Bud. [...] I want you to tell Mother right now, right this very minute, to put Crispy Potato Chips, the potato chips positively guaranteed never to bend, on her shopping list. Yes, sirreee,this very minute.” His smile filled the whole screen.

“Mother,” called Ramona, “Sheriff Bud says—“

“I don’t care what Sheriff Bud says,” answered Mrs. Quimby from the kitchen. She sounded very cross. “I can make out my own grocery list without that man’s help.”

Scattered throughout the early books are fun fictional commercials that Ramona parrots, such as “Nutsies give both children and adults quick energy. Avoid that mid-afternoon slump with a Nutsie, chock-full of protein-rich nuts.” Or the song:

Crispy Potato Chips are the best
North or south
East or west
Crispy chips, hooray,hooray!
Get your Crispy chips today!

Even Henry gets into the act, singing a dog food commercial at the end of HENRY AND RIBSY:

Woofie’s Dog Food is the best,
Contains more meat than all the rest.
So buy your dog a can today
And watch it chase his blues aay.
Woof, woof, woof, Woofies!

However, in the later books, the author pokes fun at real television commercials running at the time these stories were written. In 1979’s RAMONA AND HER MOTHER, Beezus relates an incident in which a classmate taking a spelling test spells the word “relief” R-O-L-A-I-D-S. (During the late seventies, a popular television commercial used that slogan.)

And 1977’s RAMONA AND HER FATHER contains a scene in which Ramona watches several then-current commercials on television:

She saw a boy eating bread and margarine when a crown suddenly on his head with a fanfare –- ta da! -- of music. She saw a girl who asked, “Mommy, wouldn’t it be nice if caramel apples grew on trees?” and another girl who took a bite of cereal said, “It’s good, hm-um” and giggled. There was a boy who asked at the end of a weiner commercial, "Dad, how do you tell a boy hot dog from a girl hot dog?” and a girl who tipped her head to one side and said, “Pop-pop-pop,” as she listened to her cereal. Children crunched potato chips, chomped on pickles, gnawed at fried chicken. Ramona grew particularly fond of the curly-haired little girl saying to her mother at the zoo, “Look, Mommy, the elephant’s legs are wrinkled just like your pantyhose.”

Later in the book Ramona makes herslf a crown out of burs, places it on her head (ta da!) and needs to have it cut from her hair. She also insults her teacher by saying, “Mrs. Rogers, your pantyhouse are wrinkled like an elephant’s legs."

But these examples pale when compared to 1981’s RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8, which contains an entire chapter, “Ramona’s Book Report” in which the protagonist delivers an oral report in the manner of a TV commercial, having classmates sing “Meow, meow, meow, meow” in the background (a jingle from an eighties TV commercial for “Meow Mix” cat food) and finishing with a take-off on that era’s Alka-Seltzer tagline: “I can’t believe I read the whole thing!”

Kids who read these books upon publication had the fun of recognizing familiar TV commercials within their pages. But do these scenes still work for young readers today? Is Ramona’s book report just as funny for a kid in 2010 who doesn’t know the tune of that “Meow, meow, meow, meow” jingle, or is the scene still humorous within its the context of the story?

I’m not sure.

My guess is that, even if these scenes don’t work as well for contemporary readers, they are minor speedbumps like Henry’s coonskin cap or Beezus’s occasional exclamation of “Jeepers!”

Because, in truth, it’s not these small details that make Beverly Cleary’s books “timeless,” but rather her enduring themes and emotionally accurate depictions of children that bring as much enjoyment to readers in 2010 as they did in 1950.

...And come to think of it, in this age of Youtube, computer-savvy kids (and aren’t ALL kids computer-savvy these days?) can always go back and watch the original commercials for Rolaids, Leggs Pantyhose, Imperial Margarine, and Meow Mix that Ms. Cleary is satirizing in her books.

She must have known these commercials would never truly go away.

Who knew she was so prescient?

I guess her books are more timeless than I ever imagined!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Brunch with Peppers

More random thoughts and facts about children's books, old and new.


Gardening is a brutal business.

I learned that lesson the hard way this week, after I proudly sent my friend a picture of my first green pepper:

I also sent her pictures of the entire green pepper plant:

As well as my pole beans:

Her response?


Okay, it's true, the packets of seeds did say something about thinning out the seedlings when they got to be a couple inches tall, but I wasn't sure exactly what that meant. Was I supposed to move all the plants into a bigger pot? (I didn't have any bigger pots.) Was I supposed to transplant them individually into several smaller pots? (I didn't have any extra pots either.)

No, accordng to my gardening-expert friend, I was supposed to get a big pair of scissors and just chop half the plants down at the dirt-line!

I have to admit I was a aghast. Isn't the whole point of gardening to, like, grow things? To watch tiny seeds unfurl from the rich black earth and turn their faces toward the sun? To bud and flower and then produce vegetables?

Apparently that is true for only some of the seedlings.

The rest are fated to be chopped off at the knees.

I asked my friend if I couldn't just gently transplant the crowded plants into new containers and she said that wouldn't work because of their delicate root systems.

Well, we'll see about that. Delicate roots or not, I went to K-Mart and bought a new pot, then took three of the pepper plants and transplanted them into that container. I may not be much of a gardener, but I know about children's books...and in the world of children's books, transplanted kids such as Anne Shirley, Mary Lennox, Maniac Magee, and Harry Potter, always take root and grow in their new surroundings.

After lovingly transplanting those peppers into this new container...

...I unmercifully chopped the remaining pepper plants down, feeling like some kind of depraved murderer.

While doing so, I thought about children's author-illustrator Tasha Tudor, known for wearing rustic bonnets, spinning her own wool, and growing magnificent gardens:

Now I've learned you can only get a garden that nice by killing half your plants. If beans and peppers could talk, they'd probably have only two words for quaint little Tasha:

Serial killer.


Maybe I wouldn't have felt so bad about mowing those plants down if they hadn't been peppers -- a word that has a lot of meaning in the children's book world. Who hasn't read -- or at least heard of -- FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW by Margaret Sidney?

The first thing to know about the author is that "Margaret Sidney" wasn't her real name. She was born Harriet Mulford Stone (1844-1924) and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, the daughter of wealthy parents. She attended a ritzy private school and was a card-carrying member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The more I research children's writers, the more I discover that the truly great books often have their roots in the author's own childhood. This was true for Harriet as well. While growing up, the Stone family frequently visited the rural countryside, and that was where the wealthy young heiress imagined a "little brown house" where she could live quietly and simply, as opposed to her fancy New Haven society life. Over time, she imagined a family that would live in the house with her: a widowed mother called Mamsie Pepper and five Pepper children: Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie -- short for Sophronia.

(Thank goodness Mamsie Pepper was never told to thin her herd. Then we'd have FOUR LITTLE PEPPERS or THREE LITTLE PEPPERS or just MAMSIE PEPPER, CHILDLESS WIDOW.)

Writing under a pseudonym, Ms. Stone introduced the Pepper Family in two short stories that appeared in the children's magazine WIDE AWAKE in 1878. The stories proved so popular that the author was contracted to write a twelve-part serial, which ran in the 1880 issues of the same magazine.

The publisher of WIDE AWAKE, David Lothrop, also owned a book publishing company, so he encouraged Ms. Stone to adapt the stories into a book, which was published in 1881...then he married her the same year.

Depicting the humble experiences of a poor, but happy, family, FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS was an immediate hit with readers. The Peppers' fortunes drastically change at the end of this novel, so the next three books in the series, FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS MIDWAY (1890), FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS GROWN UP (1892), and FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS : PHRONSIE PEPPER feature a more properous family no longer struggling to make ends meet. Some readers feel this change in economic status damaged the appeal of the series, though many others were just happy that the storie continued. Even after the author hinted the series was ending with PHRONSIE PEPPER, there was such an acclaim for more stories that eight more volumes followed...though some feel these books have a tired, repetetive quality.

According to the Wikipedia:

All of the later books take place much before the third book in the original series. To read the six key books in chronological order, rather than by publication date, they would be read approximately in this sequence:



At one point, the author and her husband moved to Concord, Massachusetts and bought "Wayside," a house in which Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott had each once lived. After becoming widowed in 1892, the author purchased "Orchard House," the home in which Louisa May Alcott wrote LITTLE WOMEN. She lived there for ten years until it was taken over by an historical organization.


Who doesn't love Beverly Cleary's 1955 book BEEZUS AND RAMONA?

It's the story of grade-schooler Beezus struggling with the fact that sometimes she just doesn't love her pesky preschool sister Ramona.

Now here comes this new movie and Beezus is...FIFTEEN?

And Ramona seems to have skipped the years from the original BEEZUS AND RAMONA (age 4), RAMONA THE PEST (age 5), RAMONA THE BRAVE (age 6), RAMONA AND HER MOTHER and RAMONA AND HER FATHER (age 7) and RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8 and RAMONA FOREVER (still age 8) and gone directly nine years old.

Does it work on the big screen?

I don't know; I'll probably wait for the DVD.

Personally, I'm still ticked they changed the title from BEEZUS AND RAMONA to RAMONA AND BEEZUS. Why change what's been a successful title for fifty-five years>? And everyone knows the oldest child should have their name first anyway. It's only right. It's only fair! (Of course the fact that I'm an oldest child has nothing to do with that opinion....)

In the grand scheme of things, my opinion doesn't matter anyway.

What I was most curious about was author Beverly Cleary's opinion.

And apparently she's very happy with the movie.

When director Elizabeth Allen took Ms. Cleary a early copy of the film -- a day Allen described as "probably the scariest day of my life -- Beverly Cleary's first response after the movie ended was "Joey King (who plays Ramona) deserves an Oscar!"

Later the 94-year-old author attended a local premiere of the BEEZUS AND RAMONA -- I mean, RAMONA AND BEEZUS! -- riding a golf cart "festooned with ribbons" and announced to the crowd, "If you like car chases, guns and fightsm then this movie is not for you."


I've been trying to collect first editions of all Beverly Cleary's books for many years now. I've been very fortunate in tracking down nearly all her books, including her elusive first book, HENRY HUGGINS (1950), but BEEZUS AND RAMONA remains, by far, the most difficult to find. I think I once saw a copy listed for something like $350 -- way beyond my budget -- but it promptly sold.

Seems like this book either had a smaller printing than some of the other Cleary titles, or many more fans eager to snap up first editions.

Now the movie will probably make it even more expensive...and even more hard to find.

But I will persevere!


Earlier in this blog I mentioned "Anne Shirley" as a famous orphan from the world of children's books. She is, of course, the protagonist of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

Several years ago I taped the 1934 film adaptation of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES off TV; it's a nice little movie. But I was surprised to see in the credits that the part of Anne Shirley was played by an actress named...Anne Shirley.

How did that happen?

Can you imagine the casting call? "Seeking young actress to play Canadian orphan. Must be sixteen or younger. No taller than five-foot-two. And must be named Anne Shirley in real life as well."

Of course the answer is much more prosaic. The lead role was played by a young actress originally named "Dawn Evelyeen Paris." Although she'd already appeared in about forty movies under her birth name, she ended up changing her name to "Anne Shirley" when she played that role on film in 1934.

(Thank goodness this did not become a trend. Can you imagine Selena Gomez changing her name to Beezus Quimby, or going to see that new movie EAT PRAY LOVE "starring Erin Brockovich and Harry Osborn"?)

Anyway, this made me wonder how often authors inadvertently give their characters names that are also shared by movie stars.

I can think of a couple examples:

The hero of ASK FOR LOVE AND THEY GIVE YOU RICE PUDDING by Barbara Corcoran and Brad Angier is named "Robby Benson."

And one of the characters in Norma Johnston's YA novel THE IMAGE GAME is named "Brock Peters."

Brenna Yovanoff's forthcoming THE REPLACEMENTS features a character named "Stephanie Beecham," only one vowel away from the actress named Stephanie Beacham:

Do you know any other examples of characters in books who accidentally have the same name as a well-known actor or actress?


My recent entry -- following Fuse #8's blog on children's books that need to be re-illustrated -- brought some intriguing mail from readers.

Nancy discussed American authors setting fantasy novels in Great Britain; Helen mentioned the bad artwork in a Zilpha Keatley Snyder book, and Sudipa reminds me -- as she and her co-horts do every week -- that they offer a wide assortments of gifts, flowers, and cakes from their shop in India.

Well, forget that last one.

Nancy does make a good point about fantasy, though. In my blog I had mentioned that Nancy Bond, William Sleator, and Patricia McKillip had, as young American authors, set their debut novels in Great Britain. Nancy responded:

...readers immersed in fantasy who first became writers in the 70s simply had few models for what an "American" or less traditional fantasy world might be like, and thus few pathways to imagine how to implant fantasy into their native American landscape.

This is an aspect of "write what you know" that is often overlooked, but is quite real. "What you know" is also about what you recognize from reading; what imaginative possibilities are open to you.

This was all to change with the development of urban fantasy shortly thereafter. Thus (for example), a Holly Black could come along and confidently set a portal to fairyland in a NYC subway, because folk like Charles DeLint and Emma Bull had opened that imaginative pathway.

Good point. It would be interesting to know if Bond, Sleator, McKillip, et al, would have set their debut fantasies in their native United States if they were writing those books today.

As for books that need to be re-illustrated, Helen Schinkse suggested:

I was going to say Zilpha Keatley Snyder's _Black and Blue Magic_, but I think that has been reprinted already. The original hardback's illustrations were terrible (this was before Snyder's publisher teamed her up with the brilliant Alton Raible), and I seem to remember reading that they hurt its sale to libraries.

A small correction: Ms. Snyder's publisher did not team her up with Alton Raible. I've always heard that publishers don't like it when authors submit illustrations with their manuscript -- unless the author is a writer-illustrator. Otherwise, publishers like to select the illustrator for each manuscript.

But Zilpha Keatley Snyder did not know this. She was teaching at California's College of Marin when her first book, SEASON OF PONIES, was accepted for publication by the first publisher who saw it. (That in itself is a feat!) Ms. Snyder then asked a fellow instructor in the art department, Alton Raible, if he'd submit some illustrations for her book. Jean Karl was impressed by Raible's artwork and offered him a contract as well. For the next fifteen years or so, Mr. Raible illustrated ALL of Zilpha Keatley's novels to great effect, including her three Newbery Honors, THE EGYPT GAME, THE HEADLESS CUPID, and THE WITCHES OF WORM.

The only Snyder title that Raible didn't collaborate on was BLACK AND BLUE MAGIC and Helen Schinske is right: the illustrations in that book -- by an artist named Gene Holtan -- were terrible.

Here is the dark and undiscernable cover:

And a murky interior illustration:

And this portrait of the protagonist looks more like something you'd find on the funny pages ("Jughead called. He wants his nose back.") than within a children's book.

The illustrations were called out in some of the reviews, and I'm not surprised to hear that the awful artwork impacted library sales. I was a huge Zilpha Snyder fan as a kid and BLACK AND BLUE MAGIC was the only Snyder book that was not carried by the Detroit Public Library at the time. I asked one of the librarians why none of the DPL branches had this book and she said the library system had decided not to purchase it because of the poor quality of the illustrations.


I had a lot more I planned to write for today's blog -- including a list of books for Lindsay Lohan to read in prison and maybe something about this weekend's Comic Con -- but the afternoon is nearly over, I'm still in my pajamas, and I need to run to the store, and then come home and chop down more plants with a big old machete and a heavy heart.

Much of this week will be spent working on a chapter of the book I'm writing with Elizabeth Bird and Julie Danielson. Maybe you can help by providing some first-hand anecdotes for that chapter. I am curious about the following:

Which children's books that the critics love do you, personally, hate?

And which children's books that the critics hate do you, personally, love?

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Night Gifts

It's Fuse #8's fault I was late for work this morning.

Yep, I'm blaming it on The Bird.

While it's true that I've always been a night owl who stays up till two or three a.m. -- reading, surfing the net, and eating figs on water crackers -- I now have a legitimate, literary, career-related excuse for being up that late every night. You see, Betsy Bird doesn't post her daily Fuse #8 blog until the wee hours, and I can't go to bed until I've read her latest.

This is especially true when she writes a bang-up entry like this one about old children's books that NEED to be brought back into print.

And then there was today's piece about "books that might be able to earn an entirely new audience and appreciation if they just acquired a new look."

One of the titles Ms. Bird cites is THE CHANGELING SEA by Patricia A. McKillip:

I can see her point about this book needing a new cover illustration. But I think I can trump CHANGELING SEA when it comes to naming The Patricia A. McKillip Book Most Needed Back in Print -- Minus the Offputting Illustrations.

I give you THE NIGHT GIFT.

Here's the front cover:

And here is the back:

Patrica A. McKillip was one of several amazing YA authors who debuted in the 1970s with a novel set in Great Britain. In addition to McKillip's THE HOUSE ON PARCHMENT STREET, there was William Sleator's BLACKBRIAR, Nancy Bond's A STRING IN THE HARP, and several others. Unsuspecting readers probably assumed these were old school British authors whose work was finally being published in the U.S. But it turns out that McKillip and the rest were all young American writers, so confident in their talent that they set their first novels in the traditional world of English and Welsh fantasy. Patricia McKillip would go on to write a number of highly-regarded fantasy and science fiction books whose titles I can't pronounce, including THE THROME OF THE ERRIL OF SHERILL, SONG FOR THE BASILISK, and THE BOOK OF ATRIX WOLFE.

But the McKillip book I like best is one of her least known -- a realistic problem novel set in California -- published early in her career (1976) and now long out-of-print.

THE NIGHT GIFT concerns a trio of high school freshman -- narrator Joslyn and her friends Barbara and Claudia -- who decide to create a unique gift for Barbara's older brother Joe.

Last fall, just after school started, [Joe] had been standing in front of a window in his room, just looking out at the rain. Mrs. Takaota had asked him if he had any dirty laundry. For a moment he hadn't said anything. Then he said, "It's so ugly," and pushed his hands through the glass. Since then he had been in a hospital, and Barbara had only seen him once.

Now, with Joe about to return home, the girls discover a local abandoned house and enlist the aid of a couple boys (which also leads to some awkward romantic situations) in turning one of the house's empty rooms into a special place for Joe -- "a place for him, just for him, where he could go when he was depressed, that was so beautiful, that just being in it would make him happy." It's an engaging premise, and one that leads to moments of growth and self-discovery for the trio of friends as they sneak out night after night to clean the dirty, abandoned house and decorate it with wind chimes, seashells, murals, plants, banners, and books. What makes the book so memorable are its well-rounded characterizations, its realistic depiction of mental illness and depression, and its uncompromising, yet still slightly hopeful, conclusion.

The only thing wrong with this novel are its primitive, almost amateurish illustrations. It should be noted that the illustrator is named Kathy McKillip -- almost surely a relative of Patricia -- and while her contributions may have had great personal meaning to the author, they ultimately drag down the overall quality of the volume.

Both the general style of the drawings, not to mention the styles depicted within the drawings (check out those bellbottoms!) are now dated.

And notice how one character is turned away? We see so many backs-of-heads in these illustrations that one wonders if the artist simply had trouble drawing faces:

Here's one with more averted/covered faces, as well as Those Jeans again:

The purpose of this blog isn't to slam the artwork. There are probably other 1970s books with illustrations of similar average quality. But times have changed and we are used to a more sophisticated style these days. In fact, it would be very rare for a contemporary book about high school freshmen to include any illustrations at all.

THE NIGHT GIFT gets my vote as a book that deserves to be back in print, either with updated artwork or no illustrations whatsoever. Like the abandoned house its characters renovate after dark...or Fuse #8's blog which appears online long past midnight...this quietly-affecting Patricia McKillip novel is a gift to readers that's worth staying up late at night to read.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Brunch with a Side Order of Figs

More random facts and opinions on children’s books, presented Sunday brunch style.


Last weekend a friend sent along a tip for a tasty seasonal snack: “Figs and whipped cream cheese on crackers of your choice. …Whole figs are now in season. They are dark purple or black and tear-drop shaped. Just slice them and place on top of the whipped cream cheese…nice midnight snack -- and nutritious. Enjoy!” She added that any kind of cracker could be used -- whole wheat, water, table -- and that brie could be substituted for the whipped cream cheese.

I was very pleased that my friend thought I was the type of person to have brie and water crackers sitting around the house.

Considering that I come from very middle-class stock (Family Motto: “Saltina Circulus & Velveetum!” Loosely translated: “Ritz Crackers and Velveeta all the way, baby!”) I think you can safely assume that neither a wedge of brie nor a crumb of water cracker has ever passed my lips.

But my friend’s recipe sounded intriguing, so the next time I went shopping I looked for fresh figs. No luck. I tried another grocery store and still couldn’t find a fig. (Not only do I come from middle-class stock, I also live in a middle-class area.) I told my friend about my fruitless search and, just yesterday, I received a package from her in the mail. It turned out to contain…figs! The accompanying note said to “share and enjoy,” so I’m sharing them here with you:

So tonight I will be indulging in a new midnight snack -- sliced figs on top of a cracker (a water cracker -- I just bought some!) and whipped cream cheese (Philadelphia brand.) Now the only question is what to read while eating. THE SWEETEST FIG by Chris Van Allsburg? FIG PUDDING by Ralph Fletcher? LISTEN FOR THE FIG TREE by Sharon Bell Mathis? They’re all good books, but I think I’ll pick FIGGS & PHANTOMS by Ellen Raskin. This 1975 Newbery Honor has been one of my all-time favorites since the very first time I read it…and I’ve read it dozens of times since.

You know how there are certain books that everyone loves?

FIGGS & PHANTOMS is not one of them.

It’s a very curious book that probably resonates with a very limited audience.

To tell the truth, I’m surprised that it resonates with me. I’ve never been big on fantasy, and usually hate surreal elements in fiction. Yet I somehow found this book at just the right time in my life and its story of life, death, family, dreams -- and even book-collecting! -- remains a personal touchstone for me.


In the box containing the figs, my friend also included a new bookmark, celebrating this year’s Printz winners.

I hadn’t seen this bookmark before and thought I’d share it with you as well.


Seeing the cover of Deborah Heiligman’s CHARLES AND EMMA on that bookmark reminds me of an incident that occurred Friday evening. Visiting my favorite bookstore, I passed the display of current adult fiction and thought I saw CHARLES AND EMMA out of the corner of my eye:

Then I did a double-take.

CHARLES AND EMMA isn’t really a current title anymore.

And it wasn’t published for adults.

Nor is it fiction.

I took a step back and realized it was a completely different book that had only reminded me of C&E because it utilized the same silhouette cover motif:

Hmm…maybe CHARLES AND EMMA might have sold even more copies if it had used this cover!


Kaitlyn of Online Universities forwarded an article called “101 Books That Hook Kids on Reading.” If you enjoy lists you’ll have fun checking out the titles on this one.


How do Newbery and Caldecott winners thank their editors for guiding them to an award?

Sometimes they give them a specially-inscribed copy of their prize-winning book.
The other day I was “window-shopping online” and came across a copy of Janice May Udry’s picture book, A TREE IS NICE, for which illustrator Marc Simont won the 1957 Caldecott Medal. This copy, while not a first edition, was very special, as it was apparently inscribed by Mr. Simont to the book’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom, right at the banquet where he received the award. No image of the inscription was included, but it’s conveyed quite well in the book’s description:

Full page inscription and illustration on front free endpaper by Marc Simont. Pictured above three clouds is Ursula holding onto a balloon, and Marc Simont holding onto a balloon. His balloon has the Caldecott Medal drawn in it. Below the clouds is, "Thank you Ursula for this lovely day - Marc."

Wouldn’t that be a cool collectable? However, at $1250, I think I will stick to cyberspace window-shopping!


It’s true that the floors of my new house are now empty of half-unpacked boxes and bags…but the same cannot be said of the cupboards and drawers, which are spilling over with stuff. The other day I began to tackle a desk drawer brimming over with old greeting cards. Well, that was an exercise in futility! How can you get rid of a card that marked an important day in your life like your high school graduation? How you can get rid of a card that was sent by a relative now deceased? How can you get rid of a card that has such an interesting note scrawled inside, or such an amazing picture on the front? I ended up shoving nearly all the cards back into the drawer. (Side question: How come when you take things out of a drawer there is never as much space for returning the exact same things into that drawer?) Whenever I look at an especially nice greeting card, I wonder who painted it. And will we one day be praising this artist for their contributions to children’s book illustration? A surprising number of well-known illustrators have anonymously designed and illustrated greeting cards over the years. They include:

Wallace Tripp
Mary Villarejo
Martha McKean Welch
Mike Gordon
Robin Michal Koontz
Frances Wosmek
Erika Weihs
Elisa Trimby
Helen Sewell
Helen Jacobson Borten
Sandra Boynton
Anthony Browne
Joan Elizabeth Goodman
Nicole Rubel
Frank Remkiewicz
Bill Peet
Thacher Hurd
Edward Frascino
Oscar de Mejo
Nancy L. Carlson
Laura Jean Allen
Adrienne Adams
Brian Biggs
Bob Staake
Mike Beck
Mick Inkpen
Joan Steiner
Max Grover

Oh, and you know those touching sayings and verse printed inside the card? They may have been written by authors such as Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, Alan Lawrence Sitomer, or Maya Angelou.

No wonder I have such a hard time getting rid of birthday and Christmas and Easter cards!


My bookstore friend has been trying to tidy up too. Going through the shelves of her store’s backroom, she pulled a number of recent and forthcoming ARCs (advance reading copies) and gave them to me this week:

She may have been the one cleaning, but I think I “cleaned up” when it comes to getting my hands on some great books. I haven’t read any of the above books yet, but they all look fascinating.

Did you notice that Andrew Clements’ signature was scrawled across the cover of WE THE CHILDREN, the first installment in a six-book series? It must have arrived at the bookstore pre-signed.

And I didn’t even know Han Nolan had a new book coming out this fall! Like everyone, I’m suitably impressed by Ms. Nolan’s back-to-back NBA nominations (and win for DANCING ON THE EDGE) but my favorite Nolan book remains the under-rated A FACE IN EVERY WINDOW. If this new novel CRAZY is half that good, I’ll be a happy camper.

I have to admit I also didn’t know Nancy Werlin had a new novel coming so quickly on the heels of IMPOSSIBLE. You never know what to expect with this author: gripping realism (ARE YOU ALONE ON PURPOSE?; THE RULES OF SURVIVAL), mystery (THE BLACK MIRROR), scientific suspense (THE DOUBLE HELIX) or -- in the case of IMPOSSIBLE and this new arc, EXTRAORDINARY -- fantasy. Not many authors can move so capably between genres. That feat alone is “extraordinary.”

Looks like I have a lot of good reading ahead.


I’m a sucker for books about aspiring writers.

That’s why I stopped in my tracks and lassoed (well, figuratively…maybe I actually just grabbed for it) this book down when I saw it on the library shelves last week
Published in 1948, as part of the career series “Romances for Young Moderns,” this novel for teens by Alice Ross Colver follows recent college graduate Joan Winter who returns to her hometown looking for a job. She majored in “comp” at school, which of course makes her qualified to work as a waitress at a local tearoom. But in her heart, Joan really wants “a chance to write.” A random meeting with a successful writer gets Joan started and she sends off her first story to THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY. It’s quickly rejected and, after being mentored by another successful author (this girl has all the luck!) Joan realizes she must set her sights on less lofty markets, such as Sunday School papers and (you already guessed it) the juvenile field. Of course Joan is definitely not interested in writing of kids until her mentor explains that “Big oaks from little acorns grow” and continues: “Perhaps you don’t realize how many writers there are who got their start in the juvenile field? …Rachel Field is one shining example. Rudyard Kipling is another. And Booth Tarkington-- My dear, I could name a dozen.” (Yeah, a dozen who left that silly juvenile stuff behind and became real writers. No mention of actually making a career out of becoming a children’s author.)

Before you can say Booth Tarkington, Joan is a successful freelancer, selling “Bright Sayings” to humor markets, “an illuminating story showing how a child could be helped to overcome fear” to PARENTS magazine, and submitting scads of children’s tales and “teen-age family stories” to a variety of publications where “some came back, but more than half of them sold.”

HALF OF THEM? Most teenage writers would be thrilled to see one story sell.

I found myself chuckling through much of the book, finding it uproariously unbelievable that an aspiring young writer could make this kind of literary progress in something like four months. And I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I considered how much the world has changed since Joan’s era. Gone are the days when hundreds of “slicks and pulps” accepted unsolicited fiction from writers. And any kid reading this book today would probably wonder what an “authoress” is, not to mention a “typewriter ribbon” and “colored” man.

Though I rolled my eyes at the ease of Joan’s journey (by the end of the novel she has -- you guessed it! -- sold her first book), I will give JOAN, FREE LANCE WRITER credit for showing girls in 1948 that they could have a career. And it’s refreshing to note that -- despite the series title -- this "young modern's" romance with a neighbor boy takes a backseat to her literary aspirations for most of the book. And, ulimately, I must ask myself how can I make fun of a book that may have actually helped someone start a literary career? True, I haven’t found any evidence for it yet, but I can't be the only aspiring writer out there who grabbed this novel off the shelf as soon I saw the title. I bet that somewhere out in the world there’s an old woman, or maybe even an old man, who read JOAN, FREE LANCE WRITER back in ’48, and was inspired to begin writing. Maybe they’ve gone on to fame, fortune, and Pulitzer prizes.

Hey, it’s possible! Never underestimate the power of a children’s book.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. I hope to be back with some mid-week postings as well. Hope you’ll be there too!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Brunch Behind the Wrong Doorknocker

Thanks for all the kind comments about my new library. It’s definitely a thrill to have a place –- after all these decades –- to store my entire collection of books in alphabetical order! Someone asked where I got the blue desk and chair. They actually belong to my father. He received the desk from his family when he was in high school and has refused to part with it ever since. Frankly, I’ve never cared for that old desk. The drawers stick, the handles rattle, and – until recently -- it was painted the ugliest shade of green you’ve ever seen in your life. Before bringing it here, I was plotting some way of accidentally “losing” it (i.e. the old “it fell off the back of the moving van” ruse) but I was reminded that my father’s family was – like so many others – horrifically poor during the Depression and it was a real sacrifice for them to save up and buy that desk for him. So I realized that there’s been a sentimental attachment making him drag the desk around from house to house for the past seventy years. Kind of like the sentimental attachment that has had me dragging all my books around….

I think I’m starting to get it.

And guess what: now that that desk is painted blue and ensconced in the corner of the library, I’m even starting to like the way it looks.


Winnie-the-Pooh lived, famously, in the Hundred Acre Wood “under the name of Sanders.”

I’ve been thinking of that a lot lately.

In fact, I think of it every time I enter my house.

Because I now live “under the name of Denyer.”

That’s the name engraved on the doorknocker on my front door.

“Denyer” was the surname of the elderly widow who last lived in this house.

Although I did not know her, it’s funny how much you can surmise about someone based on the things they leave behind. I think she liked the color blue (so do I!) based on the drapes and pillows that remained in the house. I know how she arranged her furniture because of the indentations still in the carpet. We think she must have been taller than average because of how high things were hung on the walls.

During the weeks I was carting boxes over here, passing under the Denyer doorknocker, I told myself that one of my first items of business at this new house was buying a brand new doorknocker with the name “Sieruta” on it.

Then I moved in and was confronted with having to buy some new furniture, connected to a wireless network, get a new washer and dryer…and of course replace a toilet on the very first day here!

After all that, who had money for a freshly-engraved doorknocker?

Because if it comes down to having the wrong name on your front door…or having to use an outhouse because there’s no indoor toilet…you can just call me “Mr. Denyer” every time!

So that’s why I live under the name Denyer…but why did Winnie-the-Pooh live under the name Sanders?

The book does not provide much of an explanation:

Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday, Winnie-the-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself under the name of Sanders.
("What does 'under the name' mean?" asked Christopher Robin.
"It means he had the name over the door in gold letters, and lived under it.")
"Winnie-the-Pooh wasn't quite sure," said Christopher Robin.
"Now I am," said a growly voice.
"Then I will go on," said I.)

I did a little internet detective work this weekend, but the best answer I could find to the question came from the Just Pooh website:

No one really knows who Sanders was. The best guess is that Milne used something he found in the woods near Cotchford Farm and incorporated it into the stories. In this case, a sign with the name Sanders was found on a tree, and it was decided that that was the tree in which Pooh lived.

Are there any Pooh-philes out there who have a better idea? Has anyone ever gone to Cotchford Farm with a shovel and looked beneath a tree for a half-buried sign with the name “Sanders” on it?

It would sure be a collector’s item if it turned up!


A friend sent me this Jon Muth poster and bookbag commemorating Children’s Book Week:


The same friend sent me this “preview edition” of David Wiesner’s forthcoming picture book , ART AND MAX:

The “Art” in the title has a double meaning, as the story is about a lizard named Arthur who is also a painter. And one of the things I found especially intriguing about this volume is that the two title characters, Arthur and Max, have names that are already associated with classic children’s books – Arthur from Marc Brown’s series and Max, of course, from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

But if any author/illustrator can create brand-new characters named Arthur and Max and to stand beside their famous forerunners in the children’s lit pantheon, it will be three-time Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner!


Looking at the preview edition of ART AND MAX today, I thought this picture of the paint-splattered protagonist looked vaguely familiar:

Oh yeah, I’d just seen a similar picture of two soccer fans on the CNN page this morning:

As Spain and the Netherlands battle it out for the World Cup, I thought a list of new and forthcoming soccer books might be of interest for kids who caught soccer fever over the past few weeks:

Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson, coming in October 2010
Madlenka Soccer Star by Peter Sis, coming in September 2010
Shutout by Brendan Halpin, to be released next month
GOAL: Glory Days by Robert Rigby, just published
For the Love of Soccer! by Pele, just published
Breakaway by Andrea Montalbano, just published
Shoot-out by Mike Lupica, just published

Also, don’t forget the “Kickers” series by Rich Wallace and Jimmy Holder and the “Strikers” series by David Ross and Bob Cattell.


Last week I pondered which children’s books were printed in more than one color of ink.

Anonymous said “you gotta be trolling,” and added THE NEVERENDING STORY to the list.

Sorry, Anonymous, I wasn’t trolling. I really am that dumb. I didn’t know NEVERENDING STORY was a tale told in two colors! (Liz B points out that the typeface was changed to plain and italic, rather than multicolored, in the paperback edition)

Daisy Banana asked which edition of THE PRINCESS BRIDE was printed in two colors. It was the Harcourt edition of 1973.

Sam added THE POPULARITY PAPERS by by Amy Ignatow to the list.

And anonymous said that William Faulkner had wanted to use different colors of ink to indicate the various narrators in THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Oh, if only he had! Then I might have understood the novel a little better!


This past week I read the play RABBIT HOLE, which won a Pulitzer Prize for playwright David Lindsay-Abaire in 2007. This suburban drama will soon turn up on the movie screen starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as parents mourning the accidental death of their young son. One of the things that fascinated me most about the play were its frequent references to THE RUNAWAY BUNNY by Margaret Wise Brown. This was particularly striking because 1999’s Pulitzer winner for drama – a work that also focused on death – also used THE RUNAWAY BUNNY as a motif throughout the play. In fact, I believe that most, if not all, of the picture book’s text is read aloud in that work.

It appears that Margaret Wise Brown’s text has continued to inspire and influence a later generation of writers.

Perhaps this is not surprising considering that Ms. Brown based her picture book based on an even older work of literature. According to Leonard Marcus’ biography of Margaret Wise Brown, AWAKENED BY THE MOON, the author was influenced by a medieval love ballad, whose lines include:

If you pursue me I shall become a fish in the water
And I shall escape you.
If you become a fish I shall become an eel.
If you become an eel I shall become a fox
And I shall escape you
If you become a fox I shall become a hunter
And I shall hunt you.

From a medieval ballad to amid-twentieth century picture book to contemporary Broadway plays, the message of this verse continues to inspire audiences….


A couple weeks back, I wondered if this year’s Newbery and Caldecott winners would get a standing ovation from the audience at the ALA Banquet. Roger Sutton wrote in to say, “standing ovations for the Newbery and Caldecott winners have been required elements at the banquet for several years. They used to be occasional, but I guess children's lit has suffered from the same grade inflation as everything else!”

Of course this caused me to have a panic attack because I started thinking about how I’d feel if I won the Newbery and didn’t get one of those “required elements” at my banquet? What if everyone refused to stand because they hated the book? Or what if I only got a tepid partial “sympathy standing ovation”? That would be just as painful.

I was really getting upset considering until it dawned on me…oh yeah, I haven’t won the Newbery….

Sometimes I think I daydream too much.


I had big plans for today’s Sunday Brunch. I figured that, now that I’m unpacked and my books are shelved, I’d have plenty of extra time to blog away to my heart’s content. I even planned to finish a couple of the books on my nightstand review them here.

What I wasn’t counting on was…computer troubles!

Earlier this week I spent four hours on the phone with my local wireless network, as well as with Hewlett-Packard’s Tech Support (not so local, unless you live in New Delhi.)

This morning – when I should have been blogging – I spent two more hours working through computer issues with Ms. Moumita and Mr. Parveen. They were very nice and they DID get my computer back on track…but it put me way, way behind in my blogging.

And it got me thinking about, of all things, the fantasy world Philip Pullman created in the “His Dark Materials” series. Remember how every character had his or her own daemon? Lyra’s daemon was still changing forms throughout the books, but Will’s was a cat and Mrs. Coulter’s was a golden monkey.

I’ve decided that if I’m transported to Pullman’s world in my next life, I want a daemon who wears glasses, a pocket protector, and carries a tangle of USB cables in his back pocket.

Yeah, I want my daemon to be a computer geek…so I will always have someone a few feet away to solve my constant stream of computer problems!


I shouldn’t complain too much. After a spring full of major issues and family problems and an early summer mangled by moving, things really SHOULD be settling down now. Now it’s time to return to blogging more than once a week…read books that are eligible for the LA TIMES Book Prize…work on my chapters for the book I’m writing with Betsy of Fuse #8 and Jules of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast…catch up on correspondence…and pull out my other freelance writing projects.

In the words of Harriet M. Welsch:


Real work.

I can't wait.

And I plan to stick to that goal, too...or my name's not Peter Denyer!

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

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Brunch in My Library

Happy Fourth of July!

For the past six weeks, my new home should have had one of these book promos hanging from the front door:

As readers of this blog know, I gave myself a deadline of July 4 to finish unpacking and get things in order.

Well, it took all day, but I finally got most of the boxes moved out of the garage and off the floor of my new library. Then it took me the rest of the day to make my first video ever. Here it is -- the first public viewing of my home library, along with a quick scan of all my Newbery Award and Honor Book first editions:

For those who can't view videos online (and that includes me up until a couple weeks ago), I'm including a few photographs as well. Sorry for the poor quality of some of them:

The Newbery collection:

Only one author gets an entire shelving unit to herself -- my favorite writer, M.E. Kerr!


I like reading plays and earlier this week I happened upon LADY IN THE DARK, a musical by Moss Hart. I was surprised to see that most of the text was printed in regular black ink, but certain sections -- dream sequences revealed during the heroine's psychoanalysis -- were printed in red ink.

It was an unusual choice, and something I only recall seeing in one other book, THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman.

Given the visual nature of most kids, I'm surprised that more children's books haven't tried this device.

Or have they?

Can anyone think of any children's books printed in more than one color?


One of the musical numbers in LADY IN THE DARK is called "The Tale of Jenny" and includes the lyrics "Poor Jenny, Bright as a Penny." The words sounded familiar and I recalled that there was once a YA problem novel by this title.

In fact, I own a copy:

I came upon this book in a very strange way. One day I was looking up something on eBay and noticed that several books by Shirley Rousseau Murphy were on sale -- and you could have them personally inscribed. Thinking that Ms. Murphy herself was selling the books, I ordered POOR JENNY, BRIGHT AS A PENNY as well as the intriguing TOWER OF GRASS. In my bid, I told the author how much I had enjoyed her books in the past.

As it turned out, Ms. Murphy was not selling these books herself. Instead, the sale was being negotiated by Sylvia Louise Engdahl -- another equally well-known author (and also Ms. Murphy's webmaster.) So I ordered the books from Ms. Engdahl, who sent the info on to Ms. Murphy, who signed the volumes:


There was an interesting article by playwright Theresa Rebeck in the New York Times earlier this week. In the piece she asked if a play can be "too funny."

The passage that caught my eye said: "It's a bit of a balancing act — you need to land a laugh early, then build, keeping the laughs interspersed so that the entire enterprise stays afloat. It’s like that raft that soared through the air with the 21 balloons when Krakatoa blew up. All the balloons have to be equally full of hot air, or the raft will tip, and the people will fall off. You don’t want the people falling off. You want them listening with delight, and then erupting into laughter all at the same time."

I wonder how many readers wondered about the Krakatoa reference. Did they think it was an historic fact, or did they realize she was citing the 1948 Newbery winner, THE 21 BALLOONS by William Pene Du Bois?


Since I've spent this entire day cleaning and unpacking, today's blog is shorter than average. Thanks for sharing your holiday weekend with Collecting Children's Books.

...Oh, and if you're wondering what happened to all those boxes and bags I unpacked this week?

Well, let's just say you'd be wise not to open the doors of the basement storage room, the hall closet, the laundry room, or my bedroom closet!

In fact, I think I'd better hang this book promo item on the doors of each of those places:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Twilight of Young Adult Fiction

At today’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar had the following exchange with Supreme Court candidate Elena Kagan:

THE SENATOR: Solicitor General Kagan, you had an incredibly grueling day yesterday and did incredibly well. But I guess it means you missed the midnight debut of the third TWILIGHT movie last night. We did not miss it in our household, and it culminated in three 15-year-old girls sleeping over at 3 a.m.

THE CANDIDATE (laughing): I didn't see that.

THE SENATOR: I just had a feeling. I keep wanting to ask you about the famous case of Edward vs. Jacob or the vampire vs. the werewolf.

THE CANDIDATE (smiling): I wish you wouldn’t.

TWILIGHT! It’s everywhere these days. On the cover of every magazine, on the lips of every social commentator and TV talking head. I got a drink at Burger King tonight and there were pictures from THE TWILIGHT SAGA : ECLIPSE printed on the cup.

I was just glad I’d ordered a Diet Coke and not tomato juice.

Although I’m sick of all the bloody hype, I have to admit -- as someone dedicated to books for young readers -- that I was tickled to hear TWILIGHT mentioned on the floor of the Senate. I’m almost certain that this was the first time a young-adult novel was cited, even tangentially, during any Supreme Court confirmation hearing. (I say “almost certain” because it would be just my luck to say “I am certain” and then have some smart aleck consult the historical transcripts and snottily inform me that Oliver Wendall Holmes actually expounded at length on REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM during his own confirmation hearings.)

I should admit here that I have not kept up with the Stephenie Meyer vampire series. I started to read TWILIGHT when it was first published, but my interest waned somewhere around, oh, page 1184. I did not even pick up NEW MOON or the other books that followed. I was certainly aware the books were popular with young readers, but never anticipated they’d become this huge or that all kinds of adults would jump on the bloodmobile..I mean bandwagon...making both the books and movies a true cultural phenomenon. I don’t really understand it. Frankly, I’m not even sure if minds as wise as Oliver Wendell Holmes’ and Elena Kagan’s could figure out what has made fans so insanely devoted to this series. And since I can’t ask them (Oliver’s dead and Elena’s otherwise engaged), I decided to go right to the source and ask the fans themselves. This evening I waited outside a movie theater offering a sold-out (of course) twilight (of course) showing of ECLIPSE and asked several people in line about their devotion to the books.

First I approached a teenage girl clutching a dog-eared copy of ECLIPSE in her hand.

ME: Hi, I’m Peter Sieruta of the Collecting Children’s Books Blog—

ECLIPSE FAN: Never heard of it.

ME: --and I’m curious to know your reaction to the Twilight phenomenon. What do you think of the books?

ECLIPSE FAN: I’ve read every one of them twice! They are the best books ever written.

ME: What was your favorite part of the book?

ECLIPSE FAN: I loved the part where Kristen Stewart—

ME: You mean “Bella Swan,” don’t you?

ECLIPSE FAN: Yeah, I loved the part where Kristen meets (long sigh) Robert Pattinson.

ME: No, that’s not the character’s name. It’s Edward. Edward Cullen.

ECLIPSE FAN: Whatever. My next favorite part is when Taylor Lautner—

ME: Thank you for your time.

I then moved on to a male college student holding a thick psychology texbook.

ME: Hi, I’m Peter Sieruta of the Collecting Children’s Books blog—

STUDENT: Never heard of it.

ME: And I’m wondering why you’re a fan of the Twilight Saga.

STUDENT: I’m not. My psych professor told us we should see the movie for class.

ME: What class?

STUDENT: Abnormal Psychology. He wanted us to try and figure out the mystique these books and films hold for teenage girls. Why are they so attracted to the idea of being chased and rescued, being bitten, being drained of blood, and being gender-stereotyped victims of vampires and werewolves?

ME: Have you come to any conclusions?

STUDENT: No. My prof says that whoever figures it out will probably win a Nobel Prize someday.

ME: Good luck.

Next I approached a middle-aged woman who had several young adult novels in her bookbag –- none written by Stephenie Meyer.

ME: Hi, I’m Peter Sieruta of the Collecting Children’s Book blog—

BOOKBAG WOMAN: Love that blog!

ME: Thank you! What brings you to see this movie? Are you a fan of the books?

BOOKBAG WOMAN: I can’t stand the books! I’m a writer. In fact, my books are also for young adults—

ME: Oh my gosh! You’re—

BOOKBAG WOMAN: Shh, don’t say it.

(To protect her identity, I will only refer to this prize-winning author as the “Bookbag Woman,” but trust me when I say she’s one of the big names in YA books. Think Printz.)

ME: Can I have your autograph?

BOOKBAG WOMAN: Of course. (Signs name.) That will be ten dollars.

ME: Ten—

BOOKBAG WOMAN: Sorry, a gal’s gotta make a living. Baseball players charge for their autographs. Why shouldn’t writers? Especially poor writers like me, who can’t get published anymore.... (Stifles a sob.)

ME: You can’t get published? You’re one of the most famous authors out there!

BOOKBAG WOMAN: I was. I spent years studying my craft and was so proud of every book I ever published. Then this young upstart Steffi Meyer comes along and writes this mammoth UNEDITED mess of a vampire novel, sells a billion copies, and changes all the rules for YA publishing. Have you seen a list of current young adult books? Every other title is about vampires. There’s no room for anything else. I spent the last three years writing a novel very close to my heart. It was based on my relationship with my younger brother, who died when he was nine and I was twelve. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I submitted it to my editor last week and today she called to say she didn’t think the book was “quite right for her list.”

ME: I hate that phrase.

BOOKBAG WOMAN: But get this: she said she might be willing to look at it again if the brother died halfway through the book...then came back to life as a vampire in the next chapter. She said we’d change the title from WHISPER ON THE WIND to BROTHERS CAN BE A PAIN IN THE NECK!

ME: Typical editor. ...But if you hate the vampire genre so much, can I ask why you’re here today?

BOOKBAG WOMAN: I’m a writer. I need to be published. Heaven help me, but I’m thinking of following my editor’s advice. I’m here to pick up some vampire tips from the movie. If you can't beat 'em....

Finally, I saw a middle-aged woman getting out of her car wearing a Robert Pattinson T-shirt and a Taylor Lautner baseball cap. Her personalized license plate said “TWI-MOM.”

ME: Hi, I’m Peter Sieruta of the Collecting Children’s Books blog—

TWI-MOM: Never heard of it.

ME: Well, you look like you’re a huge fan of TWILIGHT.


ME: Why are you screaming?

TWI-MOM: Because I always scream hysterically whenever I heard the word TWILIGHT. EEEEEEEEEEEEE!

ME: Why are you screaming now?

TWI-MOM: Because I just said it.

ME: Well, can you tell me what you like best about Tw— (stopping just short of saying it)

TWI-MOM: EEE— (stopping just short of screaming again.) What do I like best about it? Everything! The way Kristen Stewart understands, really understands Robert Pattinson, and the way he’s so gentlemanly but conflicted and potentially violent, yet oh-so-romantic.

ME: Actually, I’m most interested in hearing how you feel about the books.

TWI-MOM: Books? Did they make books from these movies???