Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Singalong for Sleepy Readers

Are you feeling a little groggy today?

Have you found yourself dozing off in front of the computer?

Did a co-worker have to poke you in the stomach with a ruler because you were snoring in the office, library, or classroom?

If so, you're probably one of the thousands who has been up late reading A Certain Book that was released at midnight on August 24.

To perk yourself up, why not join today's MOCKINGJAY singalong?

Just click on this Youtube video for musical accompaniment and sing the lyrics below.

(If your computer is too slow to play videos, just sing along to the tune of "Listen to the Mockingbird." It was Abraham Lincoln's favorite song. On a less lofty note, it was also the theme music for Three Stooges movies.)

Singalong lyrics:

You know that I overslept on Tuesday.
And also Wednesday, and probably Thursday.
You know that I’ve overslept almost every day this week
‘Cause I have been up reading all night long.

And so I was late to work on Tuesday
And also Wednesday, and probably Thursday.
You know that I have been late almost every day this week
‘Cause I have been up reading all night long.

Blame it on the Mockingjay,
Blame it on the Mockingjay.
That’s the book that I’ve been reading through the night (yes, every night)
Blame it on the Mockingjay,
Blame it on the Mockingjay--aay.
Oh, I cannot sleep till Katniss is all right!

Okay, while he continues to fiddle in the background, let's get down to brass tacks.

How collectable are the books in the "Hunger Games" trilogy?

Written by Suzanne Collins and published by Scholastic, THE HUNGER GAMES was a hit right out of the box. A large first printing of 50,000 copies was planned, but demand was so great that the print run was reportedly bumped up to 200,000. Even so, first editions of this book are surprisingly rare and currently sell for $300 to $750. The first edition is bound in brown with an embossed gold mockingjay on the front panel. The dustjacket (pictured at left) has a price of $17.99. The copyright page should state "First edition, October 2008" and contain the following complete print key: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1.

The second book in the series, CATCHING FIRE had a first printing of 350,000 and copies can still be found of $30 or less. The first edition is bound in red with an embossed black mockingjay on the front panel. The dustjacket (right) has a price of $17.99 The copyright page states "First edition, September 2009" and contains the complete print key: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1.

The final volume in the trilogy, MOCKINGJAY, was published August 24 with a staggering first printing of 1.2 million copies. Bound in blue, the first edition features an embossed silver mockingjay on the front panel. The dustjacket has a price of $17.99 and, at this point, you may even be able to find the book discounted below that price point. The copyright page states "First edition, September 2010" and contains the print key: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1.

Because the first printing of MOCKINGJAY is so huge, I can't imagine it ever become a rare book to find in first edition -- at least not for the forseeable future. And I wouldn't be surprised to see the high prices for the first volume come down eventually as well. Although THE HUNGER GAMES did go into many later printings, the first printing was still 200,000 copies, and it's likely that -- after the Hunger Games Fever subsides (which may take a while, especially with a movie version in the works) -- many of these copies will turn up in used bookstores for a fraction of their current $300-$750 price tag.

So if you want to buy a first edition, just be patient.

However, if you want to sell a copy, now is the time!

And speaking of time, how long will I be able to stay awake reading MOCKINGJAY tonight before I doze off with the bedside light still on and the edge of the book digging into my cheek -- leaving a book-shaped imprint on the side of my face by morning?

How long will I oversleep tomorrow?

How about you?

If you find yourself rushing to school or work in themorning, keep the following song in mind. I'll no doubt be singing it too:

Blame it on the Mockingjay,
Blame it on the Mockingjay.
That’s the book that I’ve been reading through the night (yes, every night)
Blame it on the Mockingjay,
Blame it on the Mockingjay-aay.
Oh, I cannot sleep till Katniss is all right!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Brunch with Birds, Bees, Blyton, and Beatrix

Ever wondered what it would be like to attend the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference and hear the Newbery and Caldecott Award announcements live-and-in-person? Today’s blog will take you there. Plus, we wonder about the wisdom of Nanny McPhee taking on Beatrix Potter, ask if Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would try to cure those who read novels “the wrong way,” and start compiling a list of “Honorary Children’s Books.”


If you’ve read my blog over the last few weeks, you’ve watched me go from great excitement over having hummingbirds appear on my balcony to horror at realizing these seemingly benign birdies, like miniature fighter pilots, habitually attack, dive-bomb and drive each other away from the feeder. Yesterday I heard a woman phone a computer expert on the radio asking what type of digital camera she should buy to capture the “hummingbird battles” in her backyard. Maybe this lady considers herself the Margaret Bourke-White of avian warfare, but she sounded a bit sadistic to me. I wish these birds would just get along. The funny thing is that they’ve been so busy fighting each other that they ignored another army that’s been grouping for combat all week: the bees.

It started with just one or two bees lazily circling the birdfeeder, but the number has been growing by the day. Now they climb around the glass feeder in endless circles, descend into the nectar tray, and scare off the hummingbirds. Sometimes two or three will join together to chase a hummingbird away. At other times a brave hummingbird will chase a bee away. Meanwhile, nobody’s getting much to eat. And from what I’ve been reading, this is the time of year when the hummers really need to stock up on nectar in anticipation of their long migration, which begins in less than a month.

If these bees don’t buzz off, I may end up joining the battle -- lying in wait with a water pistol to chase off the bees and let the hummingbirds dine in peace.


Actually, I probably need a lesson in bee appreciation before I fill up my Super Soaker. And fortunately, there are two new informational books about bees that look fascinating.

I just picked up a copy of THE HIVE DETECTIVES : CHRONICLE OF
A HONEY BEE CATASTROPHE by Loree Griffin Burns, which concerns the recent, startling wide-spread disappearance of millions of honeybees.

I’m also intrigued by HONEY BEES : LETTERS FROM THE HIVE by Steven L. Buchmann, a young adult volume which is based on the author’s 2005 adult book on the subject.

Who knows? After reading these books I may become the world’s biggest champion of honey bees and start aiming my water pistol at the hummingbirds.


I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be at the annual announcements of the Newbery and Caldecott awards. Now I don’t have to imagine. Someone posted videos of these live announcement on Youtube! It’s fun to see the cover of each book projected on a large screen as the title is announced, and to hear the excited reaction of the audience to each book. Here is the video of the Newbery Medal and here is the Caldecott Medal.


So by now you’ve probably heard that publisher Frederick Warne has asked actress Emma Thompson to write a new book about the protagonist of Beatrix Potter’s THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT. Peter will be turning 110 in a couple years and what better way to mark the occasion than to…uh…uh…hire an Academy Award-winning actress to whip up a new book about him and muck up our memories of the beloved original?

(Couldn’t they have just given Peter a nice plaque and 110 carrots instead?)

Which isn’t to say that Emma Thompson will do a lousy job. She’s proven her mettle as a writer, adapting Jane Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY into a wonderful screenplay and now writing the Nanny McPhee scripts.

But it strikes that any writer who attempts to write a sequel to a classic book by another author is never going to win.

I can’t help but think that Warne should have given Thompson the opportunity to create her own characters and write a brand new book from scratch. She might have proven herself an important new writer of children’s book -- even if the critics billed her book as “reminiscent of Beatrix Potter.” Now she will just be a famous name attached to a famous franchise and my head is going to explode if the cover of the book says “Written by Oscar winner Emma Thompson” or if the audio version is “Read by Nanny McPhee.”

Oh well, at least they didn’t hire filmdom’s “Miss Potter,” Renee Zelweger, to write the book.


While looking for info on Emma “Beatrix” Thompson, I came across an interesting article from a British newspaper.

A 2008 poll commissioned by the Costa Award asked 2000 British adults to name their “most cherished and best-loved” authors. The top three authors (and a total of four in the top ten) are best known for writing children’s books:

1. Enid Blyton
2. Roald Dahl
3. J.K. Rowling
4. Jane Austen
5. William Shakespeare
6. Charles Dickens
7. J.R.R. Tolkien
8. Agatha Christie
9. Stephen King
10. Beatrix Potter

I guess this news won’t surprise anyone reading a children’s book blog; our childhood favorites often remain our “most cherished and beloved books” well into adulthood.

What did surprise me was seeing Enid Blyton in that top spot.

My first thought was, “Ah..NATIONAL VELVET,” but then I suddenly realized that was the other Enid B. -- Enid Bagnold.

Enid Blyton wrote an unbelievable 800 books during her literary career and is perhaps most famous for her twenty-one volume “Famous Five” series, which concerns the adventures of three British siblings, their cousin, and a dog. Published between 1942 and 1962, the titles are:

1. Five on a Treasure Island (1942)
2. Five Go Adventuring Again (1943)
3. Five Run Away Together (1944)
4. Five Go to Smuggler's Top (1945)
5. Five Go Off in a Caravan (1946)
6. Five on Kirrin Island Again (1947)
7. Five Go Off to Camp (1948)
8. Five Get Into Trouble (1949)
9. Five Fall Into Adventure (1950)
10. Five on a Hike Together (1951)
11. Five Have a Wonderful Time (1952)
12. Five Go Down To The Sea (1953)
13. Five Go To Mystery Moor (1954)
14. Five Have Plenty Of Fun (1955)
15. Five on a Secret Trail (1956)
16. Five Go to Billycock Hill (1957)
17. Five Get Into a Fix (1958)
18. Five on Finniston Farm (1959)
19. Five Go to Demon's Rocks (1960)
20. Five Have a Mystery To Solve (1961)
21. Five Are Together Again (1962)

I got this shocking stat from the Wikipedia:

“Today, more than two million copies of the books are sold each year, making them one of the biggest-selling series for children ever written.”

My only response is: Where are these two million copies being sold each year?

Surely not in the United States.

The only editions I can currently find for sale online are from the British publisher Hodder.

I do remember that back in the early 1970s, when Atheneum launched their Aladdin paperback line, they published a number of the Famous Five books, but they never seemed to take off with the American public. Have there been other American editions published over the years?

Are these books “too British” for American kids?

If they’re so popular in England, why not here?

Any theories?

Or, better yet, any fans of the Famous Five who can give us some insight?


My recent blog entry on “spoilers” -- in front flap copy, in author blurbs, in CIP data, in reviews -- brought some surprising reader mail. Lin said, If I get too caught up in a plot, I'll skip to the end to see what happens. Although probably the cardinal sin of booklovers everywhere, this has allowed me to get a proper night's sleep time and time again.”

“Anonymous” added, “I’m with Lin. I almost always read the end so I can relax and really enjoy the story and the writing.”

Oh no. You guys remind me of a woman I used to know who’d get about fifty pages into a mystery novel and then read the last chapter “because I couldn’t stand it anymore.” She’d then go back and read everything between page 50 and the last chapter.

What should be done with such people?

Seeking an answer, I consulted Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who always has a cure for everything. She said she’d dealt with several “problem readers” in the past. She has cured “The Reader Who Skips Big Hard Words in Novels” and “The Reader Who Folds Down Page Corners Instead of Using a Cheerfully-Illustrated Bookmark” as well as “The Reader Who Consults Cliff Notes Rather Than Read Tolstoy.”

When I requested a cure for “The Reader Who Skips Ahead to the End of a Book,” Mrs. P-W handed me a copy of Daniel Pennac’s “Reader’s Bill of Rights”:

1. The right to not read.
2. The right to skip pages.
3. The right to not finish.
4. The right to reread.
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to escapism.
7. The right to read anywhere.
8. The right to browse.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right not to defend your tastes.

“Hmm,” I said to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. “I like the way this Pennac guy thinks."

“I hope you paid special attention to Rule Number Two,” said the ever-wise Mrs. P-W. “Every reader has the right to skip pages…and if they want to skip right to the very end of the book, who are you to say that’s wrong? Lin says that skipping to the end has allowed her to ‘get a proper’s night sleep.’ What’s more healthy and beneficial than a good night's sleep? And Anonymous said that reading the last chapter allows him or her ‘to really enjoy the story and the writing.’ What could be better than that? Every reader has their own way of reading and every one of those ways is the right way for that particular reader.

“You’re right, as always,” I told the old lady.

“Of course I am. AND I’ve just cured you of 'The Reader Who Think There Is Only One Way to Read a Book' Syndrome,” said Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, handing me a chocolate chip cookie.


Speaking of reader comments, I received quite a few suggestions when I recently asked for the names of cranky neighbors in children’s books. All were excellent. They included:

Hannah Tupper from THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare.
Gertrustein from the “Anastasia Krupnik” books by Lois Lowry.
The Grumbies, next-door-neighbors from the “Henry Huggins” books by Beverly Cleary.
Mr. Spivey from CRUNCH by Leslie Connor
Boo Radley from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee


At first I thought that Boo Radley didn’t belong on that list. After all, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is not a children’s book. It was published for adults and went on to win the Pulitzer prize.

But then I changed my mind.

It seems to me that Harper Lee’s novel is a perfect example of an “honorary children’s book” -- a title originally published for adults that has been embraced by young readers, assigned for school, and is pretty much considered a book for all ages these days.

What other adult novels could be considered Honorary Children’s or Young Adult Books? My qualifications for this designation would probably include that the novel must feature a young person (or animal of any age) in the lead. (This could include a character who begins the book young but eventually grows up.) I would probably not list books such as 1984 or BRAVE NEW WORLD -- as much as they’re read in school -- as Honorary Children’s Books because the characters in those novels are mostly adult and their themes have little to do with growing up.

My preliminary list of Honorary Children’s Books would include:

THE YEARLING by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (another Pulitzer winner)
WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger (the quintessential YA novel?)
SHANE by Jack Schaefer

Which other titles would you add to this list?


A friend just told me that she doesn't like the cover of Ingrid Law’s new novel SCUMBLE.

I said, “I think the cover is going for the same bright, explosive look that they used on the cover of SAVVY.”

My friend said, “I know. But to me, it just looks like a box of Brillo."

I guess I can kind of see what she means if I blur my eyes a lot…but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to read this new follow-up to the author’s Newbery Honor SAVVY.


Before signing off, I should a thank you to ChrisinNY and Joanne F. for recommending Leslie Connor's new novel CRUNCH. I got a copy on Friday and have been enjoying it. I wanted to include a review in today's blog, but I still have about 100 pages to read and just couldn't finish in time to blog about it. But maybe soon. In the meantime, I think I can safely say that the book is a fast-paced, undemanding, and timely story that a lot of kids would enjoy reading.

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

Thursday, August 19, 2010


SPOILER ALERT: The following blog entry may reveal details you'd prefer not to read about MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie; THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF WHY I HATE HER by Jennifer Richard Jacobson; BOY TOY by Barry Lyga; last night's episode of TOP CHEF; and movies such as THE GLADIATOR, ALL ABOUT EVE...and about a zillion Lifetime network flicks.

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, a group of us went to see the movie version of Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

An older girl in the neighborhood said, "Oh I just saw it. It's really good!"

Someone said, "Just don't tell us whodunnit."

She blurted out, "**** *** did it!"

We figured she was joking. But a couple hours later we were sitting in the theatre watching Hercule Poirot figure out that **** *** did it!

I hate when that happens.

I've been thinking about these types of "spoilers" because of two incidents that happened yesterday.

First, a friend sent me an e-mail in which the conversation segued unexpectedly to the Russell Crowe film THE GLADIATOR. My friend wrote:

I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s about a man who offends the new Roman emperor, and therefore is targeted for assassination. The problem is, he escapes his attackers and returns home where he finds that his wife and child have been murdered by agents of the new emperor. He survives and ultimately gets his revenge, but **** in the process.

Russell Crowe **** in THE GLADIATOR? I didn't know that. Granted, the movie is about ten years old. I'd had the opportunity to see it at the theatre back then. Or rent it from Blockbuster. Heck, by now it's even been on TV a few times. Yet somehow I'd never gotten around to watching it. But I always figured that I'd see it someday. Except now the ending has been spoiled.

I hate when that happens.

Later that day I picked up a new book by Jennifer Richard Jacobson called THE COMPLETE STORY OF WHY I HATE HER. I didn't know much about the novel but, based on the cover illustration, figured it was about conjoined twins:

Kidding. I knew it wasn't about twins. But having enjoyed the author's first novel, STAINED, I was anxious to read this one. Plus it had that wonderfully intriguing title. (WHO does the narrator hate? And why?) The description on the front flap of the dustjacket was deliberately vague. It begins by describing a scene from the novel, set on a ledge over the Atlantic Ocean, then asks "How did any of them get here, to this place of beautiful danger?" The flap goes on to tell us more about the protagonist, ending with, "Nola's story of her expectations, of losing and finding her true self, is as unpredictable as ocean weather. Like being seventeen."

Hmm, very intriguing. I began reading the novel last evening, following Nola from the bus depot where she leaves her cancer-stricken younger sister, to the resort in Maine, where she will work as a waitress for the summer. Along the way she meets an extroverted new friend named Carly. At page 61, I set the book down, eager to return to the story later that night. Unfortunately, I set the volume frontside-down and found myself looking at something I hadn't noticed before -- a blurb from author Nancy Werlin on the back cover:

An elegantly written and brutally realistic horror novel about a teenage girl's worst nightmare. Jacobson is spot-on with *****'s insidious terror campaign against ****.

Oh. As of page 61, I hadn't known that the tone of the novel was going to shift to "horror" or that ***** was going to mount a terror campaign against ****. Now I could see exactly where this novel was going.

I hate when that happens.

And I wish I hadn't noticed that blurb until after I'd finished the book.

Whenever I'm discussing a book or movie, I consciously try to avoid spoilers if possible. Heck, in this age of VCRs and DVRs, I'm even careful to provide spoiler alerts when discussing last night's TV shows with friends via e-mail. (Our notes are filled with statements like "In case you still haven't watched the conclusion of THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR, I'll just say that I was satisfied with how it ended" or I'll write the words "SPOILER ALERT!" in a large font before continuing, "Did you watch TOP CHEF last night? At last Alex finally paid for the pea puree incident!")

But sometimes I wonder if I'm too sensitive about spoilers.

Let's face it: don't the majority of movie trailers show us all the best scenes before the film is even released?

Don't a lot of book reviews reveal way too much?

And don't the front flaps or back covers of most novels give away much of their plots?

Sometimes the publisher tries to be a little enigmatic, as in this front flap copy from Barry Lyga's BOY TOY:

Josh Mendel has a secret. Unfortunately, everyone knows what it is.

Five years ago Josh’s life changed. Drastically. And everyone in his school, his town -- seems like the world -- thinks they understand. But they don’t – they

And now, about to graduate from high school, Josh is still trying to sort through pieces. First there’s Rachel, the girl he thought he’d lost years ago. She’s back, and she’s determined to be part of his life, whether he wants her there or not.

Then there are college decisions to make, and the toughest baseball game of his life coming up, and a coach who won’t stop pushing Josh all the way to the brink.

And then there’s Eve. Her return brings with it all the memories of Josh’s past. It’s time for Josh to face the truth about what happened.

If only he knew what the truth

Great. That's cryptic enough to keep readers interested, yet not give away the plot.

But then you turn a couple pages into the book and there's the CIP (Cataloging in Publication) info right there on the copyright page, not only providing plot details:

After five years of fighting his way past flickers of memory about the teacher who molested him and the incident that brought the crime to light, eighteen-year-old Josh gets help in coping with his molestor's release from prison when he finally tells his best friends the whole truth.

but the Library of Congress' subject heading for the book ("Sexual abuse victim -- Fiction") as well.

Maybe in the long run it doesn't matter. Though I prefer to read my novels "spoiler free," in truth I still went ahead and read BOY TOY after learning what the mystery was. I'm going to go ahead and finish THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF WHY I HATE HER, of course -- and I would have even if the plot device was emblazoned on the front flap, back flap, and front cover. I've always like the kinds of books where a "friend" steals into someone else's life -- from Charles P. Crawford's BAD FALL to Adele Griffin's AMANDINE to movies like ALL ABOUT EVE and all those zillions of Lifetime flicks with the same plot device.

Because as much fun as it is to be surprised by WHAT happens in a book, the real pleasure is often in learning the WHO and WHY and HOW that makes each story unique.

Having said that, I think I'm going to keep off the internet next week till I finish reading MOCKINGJAY. I sure don't want some blogger or listserve reviewer telling how this trilogy ends before I read it myself.

I just hate when that happens!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Brunching with a Cranky Blogger

Today’s Sunday Brunch looks at cranky neighbors in literature (and real life!), shows off a Mockingjay tattoo, tells how publishing’s “Black Wednesday” inspired a new book,and ponders the Delacorte First Young Adult Novel Contest.


One of the most common characters in children’s books is the cranky neighbor. He or she lives in a dark house hidden behind low-hanging trees and an overgrown lawn. All the children in the neighborhood cross the street to avoid passing this house. Their parents warn them to stay away from “that crazy man” or “that nutty old woman.” On Halloween the kids dare each other to race up to the porch, ring the doorbell, and run away. Then one day the young, misunderstood protagonist meets this “old crank,” realizes they are merely “eccentric” and slowly forms a friendship. The old person imparts valuable lessons about “being different” or “being an individual” then, unfortunately, usually kicks the bucket.

I love books like that.

Of course I always identified with the young misunderstood protagonist. But it dawned on me today that I’m well on my way to becoming the cranky old neighbor.

I guess it all started with the hummingbirds.

Was it only last Sunday that I was writing about all the lovely little hummingbirds coming to feast at my feeder? They seemed so fragile…so ethereal…so doggone nice.

Well, I have now come to realize those birds have a mean streak!

Despite all the pictures I’ve seen of dozens of l’il hummers flitting around a feeder, companionably sharing the nectar inside, I’ve since learned that these birds are very territorial. It started on Monday, when I watched a hummingbird fly up to the feeder for a sip of nectar. He had barely settled before another hummingbird shot through the air like a missile and startled him off his perch. Since then I have observed this happening every day -- almost as soon as one hummer arrives for a drink, another one dives through the sky and chases him off! There are four separate feeding stations on the feeder and, in the words of Robert Lawon’s Newbery-winning RABBIT HILL, “There is enough for all,” but you’d never know that based on the antics of these little birds.

So that was my first disappointment this week.

Monday was also the day they began repaving our driveway. The Home Owners’ Association said to park our cars anywhere on the (narrow) street until the asphalt dried and the barricades came down in front of the driveways. So I parked one car around the corner and the other on my own street, but up a rather steep incline. Every morning as I strode up that hill to retrieve my car, I was reminded of how Shirley Jackson came to write her classic short story “The Lottery.” In an article published some years later, Ms. Jackson recalled:

The idea had come to me while I was pushing my daughter up the hill in her stroller -- it was, as I say, a warm morning, and the hill was steep, and beside my daughter the stroller held the day's groceries -- and perhaps the effort of that last fifty yards up the hill put an edge to the story.

Perhaps it was the extra effort of my own hillside-climb each morning that put an edge to the rest of the week.

On Tuesday I phoned to ask a co-worker something and when I questioned her response, she gasped, “Do you think you know more than I do?” and hung up on me.

Wednesday there was a traffic jam on the expressway and I was late for a meeting at work.

Thursday there was another traffic jam.

Friday I got a nasty letter from a blog reader.

Saturday a friend of many years proved to be a major disappointment.

And the doggone driveway was still gummy and tarry and barricaded!

So when one of my new neighbors came ringing the doorbell around noontime, I probably wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with. Especially when he starts by saying he’d called the police on me for leaving a car in front of his house all week. He reminded me that the streets here are very narrow, making it difficult for cars to get by when vehicles sit on the shoulder. He said that some of his neighbors were “a little upset” because the car was blocking their mailboxes. And I needed to move the car this weekend because they were having their driveways repaved next week and my car would be in the way of “all them big CE-ment trucks.”

Okay, the thing you need to know about me here is that I’m basically a painfully shy, socially awkward person. Or at least I am until I get to know you. I never look anyone in the eye. Seldom speak to someone unless they speak to me first. Am unfailingly polite and ridiculously deferential to strangers. But somehow…well…this man really got to me. I mean, he had just walked past my tarry, barricaded driveway to get to the it should have been VERY obvious why I had to park on the street. He’d gotten the same letter from the HOA that I had. And I knew full well that the car was not blocking ANY mailboxes, as I had parked AT LEAST SIX FEET AWAY from the closest mailbox. Plus, I’d have moved the car back to my own garage days ago if only my own driveway had been finished.

So…after a week of dive-bombing hummingbirds and traffic jams and hang-up calls and disappointing friends, I became uncharacteristically vocal and extremely sarcastic. I asked the man if he’d noticed my driveway had just been tarred. Told him I was only following instructions by parking on the streets. Warned him (over and over and over) that if parking on these narrow streets was such a huge problem, then he shouldn’t do it himself when his driveway was being paved and -- for Heaven’s sake -- don’t park within twenty feet of anyone’s mailbox or people might get a “little upset.” AND he’d better make darn sure he parked where none of them big CE-ment trucks could back into his car. Honestly, I almost turned the hose on him. Yeah, he was annoying and, yeah, he was out of line, but he also didn’t deserve the sarcastic response he got from me. I was awful. Hummingbirds, I discovered, aren’t the only ones with mean streaks.

As he walked away, I had two thoughts:

1) All my life people have yelled at me or given me a hard time and I’ve almost never responded in kind. Then I’ve felt bad for not standing up for myself or answering back. Today I answered back and actually felt worse because I did.

2) I was certain he was now going to go back to his house and tell all his neighbors that the new guy on the block was T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

And it crossed my mind that this is how one starts to get a reputation as “the neighborhood crank.”

Within ten years my house will probably be covered with vines, my windows will be shuttered, and I’ll be shouting, “You kids get off my lawn!” and “No, you can’t have your ball back!”


Ah well, if I do become the neighborhood crank at least I’ll be in good company. As I said, some of my favorite fictional characters are cranks.

Here are a few:

Grandma Dowdel from A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO and A YEAR DOWN UNDER by Richard Peck

Orpha Woodfin in Barbara Wersba’s THE DREAM WATCHER

Captain Hiram Wallace in JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson

Grandma Tillerman in Cynthia Voigt’s series about the Tillerman family. (This is an especially good example, as one of the best books in the series, THE RUNNER, takes us back to Grandma’s younger years and we see “how she got that way.” Hint: it didn’t involve a freshly-tarred driveway. It did involve the phone company.)

Mr. Pignati in Paul Zindel’s THE PIGMAN. (Actually, he’s never cranky to the kids. But he sure is eccentric.)

Onion John in the novel of the same name by Joseph Krumgold.

Kate in Emily Cheney Neville’s Newbery winner IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT.

Grandpa Blessing in THE SON OF SOMEONE FAMOUS by M.E. Kerr.

Mrs. Zender in THE MYSTERIOUS EDGE OF THE HEROIC WORLD by E. L. Konigsburg. Maybe we can add Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to this list as well -- she’s not a crank, per se, but she’s certainly formidable.

Maxine in CRAZY LADY by Jane Leslie Conly.

Great Uncle Lester in Louis Sachar’s THE CARDTURNER.

What other memorable fictional eccentrics should be added to this list?


Despite my cranky complaints about events of this week, I should add that I had a good time Thursday night, attending an author event at my favorite bookstore. The store is The Bookbeat in Oak Park, Michigan; the author was Amy Goldman Koss, a native of the Detroit area who now lives in Los Angeles. My two favorite books by Ms. Koss are the unforgettable ASHWATER EXPERIMENT and her stunning look at the vagaries of middle school friendship, THE GIRLS.

The author’s newest book is called THE NOT-SO-GREAT DEPRESSION : IN WHICH THE ECONOMY CRASHES, MY MOM GOES BROKE, MY SISTER’S PLANS ARE RUINED, MY DAD GROWS VEGETABLES AND I DO NOT GET A HAMSTER. I bought the book several weeks ago, but still have not read it. But people tell me it’s very good – and very timely. On Thursday I was fascinated to learn of the book’s inception.

It was inspired by December 6, 2008 -- a day known as “Black Wednesday” in the publishing industry. That was the date when the lagging economy caused many publishers and editors to unexpectedly lose their jobs. In the aftermath of that day, which the industry still hasn’t recovered from, Amy made a sympathy call to one of her editors. The editor (once an editor, always an editor) said, “Isn’t there a book somewhere in this?”

Ms. Koss responded, “I don’t think so.”

After getting off the phone, the author’s husband urged her to reconsider. She did, and THE NOT-SO-GREAT DEPRESSION -- the story of a middle-school girl and her family dealing with the current bad economy -- was the result.

Talk about making lemonade from lemons. On a budget too!

On a less heartening note, Ms. Koss said the children’s book world is becoming more and more like the movie industry. In the past, newly-published books were given time to slowly acquire an audience. Now -- similar to how first-weekend ticket sales so important to a film's success -- publishers are concerned about early sales and, if a book doesn’t do well right away, it’s quickly remaindered…sometimes before it has time to grow an audience. When asked if she had a personal favorite among her own books, the author said that whenever she learns that one of her books is going out of print, she becomes deeply attached to it, remembering the characters and storyline, and all the effort that went into creating that book…a book which will soon no longer be widely-available to readers.


One of the interesting things about Ms. Koss’s book is that it was published as a paperback original. At $9.95, it’s about two-thirds the price of a hardcover novel. Pretty good for a book that concerns our current money problems. There are some positive points to a book being originally published in paperback. It’s certainly more economical, plus readers who would like to own the book do not have to wait a year for the hardcover to be released in paperback. On the other hand, some libraries don’t like to carry paperbacks because they wear out too quickly. I’m probably not the most subjective person on this matter. I’ve always preferred the heft and feel of a good hardcover novel in my hands -- though I’ve heard repeatedly that young people wildly prefer paperback books. My bookseller friend thinks that the future may hold simultaneous releases of both hardcover and paperback editions of new books -- with the paperbacks selling to the bookstore audience and a smaller, hardcover edition mostly for the library market.

What do you think of this idea?


A friend just sent me this transferrable tattoo celebrating the upcoming release of MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins:

Will I wear it to work on publication day, August 24? Or just tuck the unused sticker inside my copy of the book for later reference as an example of promotional material that accompanied this trilogy?

Think I’ll go with the latter option.


He’s now one of the most highly-esteemed authors in the field of children’s books, but for many years Christopher Paul Curtis was a line worker at the Fisher Body Plant in Flint, Michigan. Many readers know the story of how Mr. Curtis’s wife agreed to support the family for one year while he spent those twelve months working on his first book, THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963. But how did Mr. Curtis make the jump from aspiring author to published novelist? According to A READING GUIDE TO THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963 by Amy Griffin:

Curtis didn’t have a literary agent, so he wasn’t sure how to
go about getting the book published. He knew that he would have
to find some way for someone at a publishing house to read his
story. To accomplish that, Curtis submitted the book to Delacorte
Press’s Contest for a First Young Adult Novel. His editor, Wendy
Lamb, recalls opening piles of submissions to the contest and
seeing the title The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, “words
that filled [her] with curiosity and dread; words that instantly
evoked the church bombing where young girls died in Sunday
school. Well, [she thought] this person was ambitious, trying to
write about something terrible, something important.” She
decided to take a second look later, and while the characters in
the book made it too young to qualify for the contest, she loved it
so much that Delacorte decided to publish it anyway.

The rest is history. THE WATSONS went on to be named a Newbery Honor Book and become a perennial bestseller. His next book, BUD, NOT BUDDY, won the Newbery and continues to be hugely popular with young readers.

So, even though he lost the Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel, Christopher Paul Curtis established himself as an important voice in children’s books and ended up winning even bigger and better prizes.


Oh, it’s still around.

I remember when this award began back in the early eighties. What an opportunity it seemed for young-adult authors! One expected great things from the writers whose first books were introduced by this prize; they were going to be the next generation of YA authors…the ones we’d be reading into the twenty-first century and beyond.

Did it work that way? Not really.

Here is a list of all the winning books:

1983 / CENTER LINE by Joyce Sweeney
1984 / WALK THROUGH COLD FIRE by Cin Forshay-Lunsford
1985 / THE IMPACT ZONE by Ray Maloney
1986 / No winner
1987 / CAL CAMERON BY DAY, SPIDERMAN BY NIGHT by A.E. Cannon / consistent career
1988 / OZZY ON THE OUTSIDE by R. E. Allen
1989 / HANK by James Sauer
1990 / LIZARD by Dennis Covington
1991 / SQUASHED by Joan Bauer
1992 / LIFE BELTS by Jane Hosie-Bounar
1993 / No winner
1994 / THE MERMAID ANGEL by Martha A. Moore
1995 / No winner
1996 / BREAKING BOXES by A.M. Jenkins
1997 / A DOOR NEAR HERE by Heather G. Quarles
1998 / No winner
1999 / NIGHT FLYING by Rita Murphy
2000 / No winner
2001 / CUBA 15 by Nancy Osa
2002 / OSTRICH EYE by Beth Cooley
2003 / WINGS by Julie Gonzalez
2004 / No winner
2005 / NOTES ON A NEAR-LIFE EXPERIMENT by Olivia Birdsall
2006 / SKIN DEEP by E.M. Crane
2007 / No winner
2008 / No winner
2009 / SOMETHING LIKE HOPE by Shawn Goodman (not slated for publication until next year)

As you can see, many of these books remain pretty much unknown and their authors haven’t gone on to great heights in the field of YA fiction.

Inaugural winner Joyce Sweeney received a lot of acclaim for CENTER LINE, which many critics compared to the works of S.E. Hinton. She has gone on to consistently publish YA novels, which range in quality from serviceable to excellent.

The second winner, Cin Forshay-Lunsford, was only nineteen when she won the prize for WALK THROUGH COLD FIRE, a novel that received mixed reaction from the critics -- though I recall that young adult experts Patty Campbell and Don Gallo were extremely impressed by her work. She has not published a novel since. Nor has the following year’s winner, Ray Maloney, who wrote an edgy surfing novel that showed great promise.

1987’s winner, A.E. Cannon has carved out an impressive career with titles ranging from historical novels (CHARLOTTE’S ROSE) to contemporary fiction (THE LOSER’S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE), but the 1988 and 1989 winners have never been heard from again.

Dennis Covington’s 1990 prize-winner, LIZARD, received much acclaim and he followed it up with another strong effort, LASSO THE MOON…but this author seems to have focused on writing for adults in the years since.

Joan Bauer won the 1991 Delacorte Prize for SQUASHED, the first of many excellent YA novels she’s published including THE RULES OF THE ROAD, Newbery Honor HOPE WAS HERE, and the recent PEELED.

Among the remaining winners, Jane Hosie-Bounar, Heather Quarles, Nancy Osa, Olivia Birdsall, and E.M. Crane have yet to publish follow-up novels. Martha A. Moore and Beth Cooley have each pubished one. However, A.M. Jenkins, Rita Murphy, and Julie Gonzalez seem to be doing well, each writing a number of well-received novels since their breakthrough with the Delacorte Prize.

Out of all the winners thus far, Joan Bauer undoubtedly remains the all-star, consistently publishing strong works for the young adult audience. A.M Jenkins is right up there too, with her Printz Honor for REPOSSESSED and several hard-hitting problem novels. A handful of the other authors have also made a dent in the field. But most have never been heard from again; one wonders if they just “got lucky” with their winning manuscripts or whether they never received the kind of all-out support from the publishers implicit in a prize for a “First Young Adult Novel.” Instead of being touted as important new names in YA fiction (and certainly some of them were strong writers…Heather Quarles being a good example) and getting lots of publicity, one seldom hears much about this prize. In fact, usually the only time I know that a novel has won the Delacorte Prize is when I see that designation on the endpaper or back panel of a winning book. Otherwise, they are not sufficiently promoted. And they should be. We need aspiring YA authors to be encouraged by awards like this. We need more truly impressive young adult novels.

Right now it’s kind of depressing to think that the most famous book and author affiliated with this contest -- THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis -- didn’t actually win the prize!


The other day I was delighted to read about a forthcoming young adult novel featuring a character “who's into literature and collecting first edition books.”

How cool is that? I’ll definitely be picking up a copy!

However, I had to wonder why a novel by a first-time author…a novel which won’t even be published till November…would already be receiving such advance publicity -- including a nice interview with the author in, SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL.

Let’s go back and read the first line of that featured article:

“Talk show host Regis Philbin's daughter Joanna talks about her YA debut novel, The Daughters (Little, Brown, 2010), about three BFFs in trendy New York City.”

Do you think the book would have received this kind of publicity if Joanna wasn’t Regis Philbin’s daughter?

...And how telling is it that the famous father’s name even appears before his daughter’s name in the article?

I would expect this kind of piece in PEOPLE magazine but…SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL???

Thiink about all the authors who have written young adult novels over the years. Some may have won that Delacorte Prize. All face the tough industry standards that Amy Goldman Koss discussed: if their books don’t get a lot of acclaim and sales from the beginning, they don’t stay in print for very long these days. Nearly every author -- especially a first-timer -- could really use a featured article and interview in SLJ. But how many of them got this kind of publicity, including an interview and author photograph, on SLJ’s website?

Don’t get me wrong. Philbin’s book, THE DAUGHTERS could become a huge hit. Maybe it will win the Printz Award.

If so, hurray for this new voice in YA fiction!

But at this time THE DAUGHTERS is an unknown quantity. Yet its author is already getting a lot of attention from a LIBRARY MAGAZINE where she’s asked such probing literary questions as “What was it like growing up as the daughter of Regis and Joy Philbin?”

Doesn’t seem quite right.


…Here I am complaining about Joanna Philbin getting unearned attention and I’ve just contributed to the problem by giving her several more paragraphs of publicity on my site.

Next thing you know I’ll see my words quoted in an ad: “THE DAUGHERS could become a huge hit. ..It will win the Printz Award. Hurray for this new voice in YA fiction!” – Peter D. Sieruta of the Collecting Children’s Books Blog.

No wonder I'm on my way to being a crank.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll be back. In the meantime, get off my lawn! And no, you can’t have your ball back. It landed on my lawn and it’s now my property!

Now, git! Git! Before I turn my garden hose on you!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen...and Seventeen Again

Nearly everyone has written a short story for a school assignment.

But how many of those short stories go on to win a prestigious O. Henry Award and help the author invent a new genre of fiction?

It happened to a young girl named Maureen Daly, who was born in Ireland, grew up in Wisconsin, and was later hailed by no less than Richard Peck as "the spiritual grandmother of the young adult novel.”

Maureen Daly was only fifteen when she wrote her first story. It was titled "Fifteen." It went on to win third place in Scholastic Magazine's short story contest. Years later, Ms. Daly could barely recall the plot, saying it concerned a girl "who sees a boy ride by on a bicycle...and thinks of him. That is all I remember of the story and I do not have a copy."

When she was sixteen, the author wrote another short story. This one was called -- what else? -- "Sixteen." Written in less than ninety minutes, "Sixteen" is a monologue in which the narrator spends an evening ice-skating with an intriguing stranger and then futilely waits for his phone call. This time Maureen Daly won first-place in the Scholastic contest. Due to responsibilities at school (including a role in the class play), Maureen did not go to New York to receive her $50 prize or read her story on the radio. She described what happened next as "tense and awkward, something never forgotten":

When the fifty-dollar prize money arrived from Scholastic magazine, my mother signed my name on the check, cashed it, and bought herself a dress costing exactly fifty dollars, a high price at that time, at an exclusive women's shop called Minnie Messing's. I remember clearly the dress was a soft silk in a color known as "powder pink," with a matching jacket in heavy lace.

But Maureen Daly had the last laugh. "Sixteen" went on to win an O. Henry short story award and, since its original publication in 1938, has appeared in well over 300 anthologies.

The following year Maureen went off to college and, upon returning home for the summer, announced to her family that she was going to write a book. Working in a basement coalhouse, she spent that summer writing the first four chapters of her novel, and continued working on it during school breaks -- finally completing the manuscript during her senior-year Christmas break. She then submitted SEVENTEENTH SUMMER to a Dodd Mead contest whose prize was publication plus $1000.

Not only did SEVENTEENTH SUMMER win the contest -- it became a big bestseller.

Published in 1942, the book has never been out of print. I wish I had pictures of all its cover images over the years; they'd certainly represent the cultural zeitgeist of every era. For now, let's just compare the original demure dustjacket illustration from 1942, shown above, with the current paperback featuring those up-to-the-minute (albeit overused) motifs of headless teens and barefeet! How many kids picking up the book today will realize it was originally published nearly seventy years ago?

Though published as an adult novel, many credit SEVENTEENTH SUMMER with being one of the first modern "young adult" books. Daly said her book "proved to the publishing world and writing world that a lot of money could be made in the YA market. Many talented writers turned to writing for adolescents, and they have had distinguished careers. It opened up the minds of librarians and teachers even further to the fact that young adult literature could be true literature."

At heart, Daly's story is a protypical YA novel -- girl meets boy, they share a season together, then part at the end of summer -- written in the breathless voice of a girl experiencing romance for the first time:

And it wasn't puppy love or infatuation or love at first sight or anything that people always talk about and laugh. Maybe you don't know just what I mean. I can't really explain it -- it's so hard to put in words but -- well, it was just something I've never felt before. Something I'd never known. People can't tell you about things like that, you have to find them out for yourself. That's why it's so important. It was something I'll always remember because I just couldn't forget -- it's a thing like that. It happened this way....

The fact that Daly based the protagonist and her sisters on herself and her own family may account for the book's feeling of authenticity, as does the very real first-person voice of the seventeen-year-old narrator.

One of the ironies of this "first modern young adult novel" is that is breaks many of the "rules" later imposed on the category of young adult fiction. Though Angie's and Jack's romance is chaste, Daly readily admitted that "there is a strong sexual beat all throughout the book." Many readers misinterpreted a scene in which the couple leave a barbecue cookout and wander off into the woods; some librarians even reported that those pages were torn from the book by thrilled teens who read more into the story than Daly intended. When young adult fiction became a separate genre, it was generally not that sexually-charged. Nor would the characters in romances by early YA writers such as Betty Cavanna and Rosamond Du Jarden smoke and drink the way Daly's characters do. There's even a brief reference to homosexuality in SEVENTEENTH SUMMER, and YA literature didn't broach that topic again for thirty more years.

Due to the huge successs of her book, one might have expected Maureen Daly to keep writing in this genre, moving from "Fifteen" and "Sixteen" and SEVENTEENTH SUMMER to young adult books about eighteen and nineteen year olds. But after the publication of her groundbreaking book, Ms. Daly focused on writing for newspapers and magazines. With her husband (whom she met when he bought a copy of SEVENTEENTH SUMMER at a Marshall Fields book signing, then returned to the store after losing the first copy in a cab), Daly roamed the world writing travel pieces, doing celebrity interviews, and even writing episodes of KOJACK and other TV series. Along the way she also wrote a few forgettable children's books, published a volume of teenage short stories (SIXTEEN AND OTHER STORIES which contains her Scholastic winner and is padded by an excerpt from SEVENTEENTH SUMMER) but steered clear of the now-burgeoning field of young adult novels.

Then, in 1983, Ms. Daly's husband died of cancer. A few months later, her daughter Megan -- married with two young sons -- learned she also had cancer. She died just a few months later and Maureen Daly was "back where I was when I was seventeen, alone with a typewriter, but more alone."

Too depressed to work on any of her planned writing projects, Ms. Daly experienced a "mystical" moment when some friends took her on whale-watching trip. Viewing the interactions between a mother whale and her baby inspired and revitalized the author and when she returned home she began writing the story of another seventeenth summer: her daughter Megan's seventeenth summer. Back when Megan was seventeen, Daly and her family were living on a forty-acre farm in Pennsylvania and the government wanted to run a six-lane highway right through the middle of their land. Using this as one of the novel's main conflicts, Daly brought Megan back to life in the character of Retta, experiencing her own first summer romance. Writing the book ACTS OF LOVE was, in itself, an act of love for the grieving mother.

Daly's second novel about teens was well-received, but didn't have the lasting impact of her first. It is now long out of print. But it remains a noteworthy achievement that, forty-four years after SEVENTEENTH SUMMER, Daly finally, officially, entered the field of young adult novels that she had helped create.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Today's Brunch is for the Birds

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


I'm sorry I haven't posted in several days. I was very busy working on a chapter of the book I'm writing with Elizabeth Bird, aka Fuse #8, and Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast..

Now you are probably wondering why, when I'm hard at work writing a chapter, my blog practically shuts down while Betsy and Jules are able to work equally hard at their chapters yet never miss a day on their blogs.

The answer is simple.

They're a lot younger than I am.


I grew up in Detroit, where "wildlife" was pretty much confined to squirrels, sparrows, mice...and rats.

But I still remember the day we saw a hummingbird.

I was probably in my mid-teens at that time. It was a still, hot summer morning and we had the windows cranked open all the way. Suddenly my mother whispered, "Look!" and we all turned our heads in unison to see a hummingbird -- its wings a blur -- hovering in midair beside the flowering bush just beyond the window screen. We watched in total silence as he dipped his long thin beak into a flower again and again. I'd never seen a living creature that small. Never saw anything move that quickly either. His wings were beating so fast that they made a buzzing sound. And then he was gone.

I'd never seen a hummingbird before and I always hoped I'd see another...but decades passed and I never saw one again. Then this spring I read Laura Amy Schlitz's latest book, the instant-classic THE NIGHT FAIRY, which features a memorable hummingbird character, and that got me wondering if I might have a better chance of seeing a hummer once I moved to my new house, which is in a somewhat more "rural" setting than anyplace I'd lived before One day, shopping at K-Mart for moving supplies, I came across some hummingbird feeders. So I bought one and -- as a measure of how excited I was about possibly attracting a hummingbird -- I hung the feeder off the balcony a good month before actually moving in!

It hung there forlornly for well over two months, the untouched nectar evaporating down to a puddle of thick syrup. I finally took it down, cleaned it out, and added fresh nectar to the tube. And then, amazingly, a hummingbird began stopping by for an occasional sip. It never stayed very long -- probably because every time it touched down on the feeder I'd shout, "HEY LOOK! IT'S A HUMMINGBIRD!" and scare the tiny thing off!

Last week I was talking to a friend about the hummingbird that had begun making infrequent visits to my feeder. When she heard that I'd only changed the nectar once in several months, she was aghast. She told me that the feeder has to be cleaned every week and new nectar must be added; otherwise mold can develop in the feeder and kill the hummingbirds. (I'd wondered about that pile of dead birds on the floor of the balcony.) She also told me it wasn't necessary to buy bottled nectar and, like a modern-day Baldwin Sister, shared her "recipe" with me. All you do is boil four cups of water, then stir in a cup of sugar until it dissolves. Refrigerate until it cools, then pour it into your hummingbird feeder. (My friend said it's not necessary to add any coloring, but since I still had a half-full jug of storebought nectar, I poured in an ounce or two to turn the liquid pink.)

Within five minutes of hanging the feeder, a little hummingbird dropped by for a drink. In fact, he or his companions (they are hard to tell apart) came back TWELVE TIMES in the next couple hours. Now they visit all day long. Yesterday morning I went outside at eight a.m. and saw two hummers fly to the feeder at one time. I didn't catch that on camera, but I did get this solo visit on film a few minutes later:

I find these creatures endlessly fascinating to watch. I can't believe that after decades of never seeing a hummingbird, I can now go outside, sit on the balcony, and watch one hover just a few feet away -- thanks to the Laura Amy Schlitz book that reawakened my interest in these birds and to my friend's special recipe for sugar water.


The bird that everyone seems to be anticipating most these days is the Mockingjay. If you would like to attract a Mockingjay to your birdfeeder, I would suggest making the following concotion:

Grind up a batch of impatiens (sounds like IMPATIENCE)
Add a lot of thyme (sounds like TIME)

...then wait until midnight on August 24th, when Mockingjays are due to land in your city.

Incidentally, how many people are rushing out to midnight release parties for this book?

How many will pick it up at a bookstore, but wait till daylight hours to go buy a copy?

And how many are waiting for a copy at the library?

...If you chose the latter, you may have a LOOOONG wait. Last week there was a survey about Suzanne Collins' MOCKINGJAY on the childlit group. A library in Utah reported 30 copies on order and 461 requests on hold. Another in Minnesota has 100 copies on order and 900 on hold!

This Mockingjay is going to be hard to catch!


Earlier I spoke of the chapter I wrote for our forthcoming book.

One bit of information I'm still trying to track down is a list of books that won the Billy Budd Button and Huck Finn Pin back in the seventies.

Does anyone have a list of winners handy?

Now before you ask, "Have you checked any of the library annuals that list all the children's book awards each year," the answer is "yes, I have." But they'd be unlikely to list the Budd and Finn prizes anyway...because rather than reward the year's best, these awards acknowledged the year's worst written book (the Huck Finn Pin) and the year's worst illustrated (the Billy Budd Button.)

Think of them as the "Golden Raspberry Awards" for children's books.

They were begun by School Library Journal in the 1970s and ran for a good ten years or more. As a kid, I always looked forward to seeing what would "win" these prizes. The accompanying article was always written in a very snarky tone. The only two winners I can remember are BONNIE JO, GO HOME! by Jeannette Eyerly, a young adult novel about a teenage girl who travels to New York to have an abortion, and MY DADDY IS A POLICEMAN by Elizabeth Ann Doll, a black-and-white photoessay. I can still remember SLJ's snide description of the latter book, which concludes with the father/policeman confronting some dangerous hoods. The article said something along the lines of, "The final page shows the narrator staring out a window with a plasticine tear perfectly posed on her face and the words, 'My daddy WAS a policeman.'"

Although these are the only two winners I recall, one of my co-authors says that BABY, COME OUT, written by Fran Manushkin and illustraed by Ronald Himler, was another.

Right now I'm having a hard time finding the older issues of SLJ that contain the annual list of winners.

Does anyone have a list handy?


Does anyone think that the Billy Budd and Huck Finn prizes should be resurrected for the new century?

When it comes to new books, we sure do a lot of praising and petting and prizing, but seldom call out the truly wretched books for a good spanking.

Do you agree with Helene Hanff of 81, CHARING CROSS ROAD fame, who said, "I personally can't think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book."

Would you like to see authors and publishers punished for producing bad books?

Or are you of the "Wait a minute, wait a minute! Every book is some author's love child...and publicly humiliating them is hurtful and mean!" school of thought?


Every year the Allen County Public Library of Indiana runs Mock Newbery and Caldecott discussions. I always look forward to seeing what books appear on their lists -- especially since they often point me toward books I hadn't considered for the prizes. I've had the Allen County Mock Newbery page bookmarked on my computer all year and have been checking it with increasing frequency to see when their first (of four) Newbery shortlists would appear. Well, they must have changed their web address, because my computer is still directing me to an incomplete page. I never would have known that the first 2011 lists had been posted if I hadn't found the link on 100 Scope Notes last week!

Here are the books the ACPL has listed on their first Caldecott shortlist .

And here's the first Newbery shortlist

The only surprise for me on the Newbery list was BEST FRIENDS FOREVER by Beverly Patt -- a book I'd never even heard about till now.

And it brings up one of the most interesting things about these early lists. BEST FRIENDS FOREVER was published by the smallish company Marshall Cavendish. They've never won any major book prizes before to my knowledge. So we can probably assume that BFF doesn't have much of a Newbery chance....

However...since the company is indeed "smallish," a win by Marshall Cavendish would really be a shocker. And by the time the Newbery is announced, it's likely that almost all the copies of BFF will be sold to the library market.

So there's the question for book collectors: is it smarter to buy a copy now even though it's unlikely to win later...or buy it now because if it should win in January, first editions are going to be worth a mint!


Publishers Weekly just ran a poignant piece on the late author Siobhan Dowd, who began writing novels in her forties and finished four acclaimed works -- A SWIFT PURE CRY, THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY, BOG CHILD, and SOLACE OF THE ROAD -- before her untimely death at forty-seven.

The author of THE KNIFE OF LETTING GO and the forthcoming MONSTERS OF MEN, Patrick Ness began publishing at the same time as Ms. Dowd and they competed against each other for two major awards (she won the Carnegie and he won the Guardian's Children's Fiction Prize.)

According to PW, the two authors -- who never met in life -- will now be joined by a novel entitled A MONSTER CALLS.

Ms. Dowd began that book, about "a boy whose mother is ill" when she herself was dying of breast cancer. Unfortunately, she was unable to write more than a portion of it.

Now Patrick Ness has now finished the book for Siobhan Dowd and A MONSTER CALLS will be published in 2011.


In an age when any topic -- no matter how disturbing -- can be covered in young adult fiction, YA nonfiction seems almost genteel in comparison.

I was thinking about this last week when, after coincidentally reading a couple intriguing articles about Charles Manson and the Tate/LaBianca murders, I decided to read Vincent Bugliosi's famous crime volume HELTER SKELTER. I borrowed it from the university library where I work and it was clear from the due-date slip that it had been checked out many times in the last few years. Clearly young -- or least college-age -- people are still interested in this horrible historic crime. This got me wondering if there has ever been a young adult book about the Manson murders. I checked online and could only find two -- both by-the-numbers volumes in uninspired crime series. Actually there are very few "true crime" books written specifically for teenage readers.

Is this because we assume teens will simply read adult books from this genre, or is it a subject area we believe is "beyond the pale" for young readers, even though almost nothing now remains off-limits in fiction for young adults?


On Friday my bookstore friend called me at work and said she was pulling a book she wanted me to look at the next time I dropped by. That afternoon I stopped off and looked at the volume, IT'S A BOOK by Lane Smith. I can see why a bookseller would be excited about this picture book. As a book lover, I'm excited about it too. And apparently a lot of other people are as well. Although it's not going to be published until August 31, there are already two dozen customer reviews for this title on Plus a lot of people have already blogged about it. Rather than rehash everything everyone else is saying, let me just offer the following brief thoughts on the content:

It’s a book.

It’s a dialogue between a monkey and a mule.

It’s about the role of books in our lap-topped, blogged-down, twittery, rekindled society.

It has a one-joke premise and it’s message-y.

It doesn’t matter if it’s got a one-joke premise and it’s message-y.

It’s funny.

It’s important.

Oh yeah, in this day and age, this book is important.


I mentioned in a previous blog that I am going to be one of judges for the 2011 and 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the category of Young Adult Literature.

Well, the books under consideration have begun arriving by USPS, UPS, and FEDEX.

They are coming in boxes and bags and envelopes.

It may look like a mess to you:

But to me it means I have a lot of good reading ahead of me in the coming months!

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