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!


ChrisinNY said...

Extraordinary just made it to the top of my ARC pile. Hmm- maybe too YA for me but I think I will give it a try. Will be interested to see what you think.

Wendy said...

I adore Career-Romances for Young Moderns and read several of them when I was a kid and teenager in the 1990s (and, of course, still read every one I find now). Finding out details about the (sometimes ordinary, sometimes obscure) careers was fascinating. My first one was Aerospace Nurse, and although I'd already decided to become a nurse after reading Sue Barton, Student Nurse, it totally solidified my interest. On the other hand, I was not inspired to a career selling crafts by mail order after reading House of Holly. I feel sure that a similar imprint written today wouldn't be successful, but I can't put my finger on why.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

I adore figs. Never tried them on water crackers with whipped cream cheese, though. Sounds interesting.

And I've never heard of JOAN, FREELANCE WRITER. What a hoot. They sure don't write like that anymore.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, my favorite books were JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, THE RESCUERS and MISS BIANCA. I'm happy to report I still own all of them.

When I got old enough for books like JOAN, my favorite was THE YEAR OF THE DREAM. Ever heard of it?

Thanks for an interesting post.

Hope Vestergaard said...

My great grandma had a fig tree in her backyard when I was too young to appreciate it. :^(

You can add Laurie Keller to the list of greeting card illustrators!

Buy Online Books said...

this is a great collection! thanks for posting this info. I am working on a project right now about books read by children and this is really a great help for my project. I was wondering if you have books that touches on the emotional aspect? thanks.