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.


Linda said...

Actually, many of what we think of as children's books are actually "honorary." BLACK BEAUTY wasn't written as a children's book; neither was CALL OF THE WILD, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, BEAUTIFUL JOE, and REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM, yet you will see them prominently in the children's (or young adult) department. SMOKY by Will James is another "honorary."

Unknown said...

I am a skipper. Not all the time mind you, but if I think I have figured out the end or I am becoming frustrated or I know I won't be able to sleep without knowing then I too skip to the end. It's the same as knowing the ending of a movie and watching anyway because you still want to see it.

I am in the middle of Scumble and I think the cover would draw in young readers. I did read and review Crunch and loved it. Great story. Can't wait to see your review of it.

Shelley said...

I'm also a skipper. Either if I'm really loving it or really not - the first, I get to slow down and enjoy it knowing what happens, and the latter I can decide if the middle is worth reading.

We have all the Famous Five books at my IL library, by patron request. But mostly, kids around here love Malory Towers (boarding school) and Noddy (especially since it's a PBS show). I think she's mainly huge in Britain/Canada/Australia, though.

Laura Canon said...

There are also honorary teen books. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (very big when I was growing up probably because of the movie). Herman Hesse's novels. I know I'll think of more after I post this.
I think crossover teen/adult books have vanished or narrowed because of the growth of YA.
The hummingbirds in my yard don't fight but I'm pretty sure they have some kind of menage-a-trois thing going on. Perhaps that's normal for hummingbirds.

Brer said...

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS immediately popped into my mind--a prime example of what Tolkien called works that have "been relegated to the 'nursery.'"

Bybee said...

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is read in English classes (Grade 11 and 12) in Canada. It wasn't a Young Adult book originally.

Anonymous said...

I was introduced to Enid Blyton when I was 8 when we visited England in 1965. I loved her books. Don't forget that she is extremely popular in Australia, Canada, and other British "territories". That probably accounts for the numbers.
I managed to collect around 20 of her books at library sales. There are other series besides the Famous Five, of course, and there are all the Noddy books for beginning readers.
One of hers, The Faraway Tree (I think) was repeatedly mentioned in the comments on the Guardian's list of favorite children's books, so I'm going to try to track that one down.
Oddly enough, they are being re-vamped to omit the dated British slang for the modern reader, which is a shame. I think it's part of their charm.
Jeanne K.

lin said...

Whew! Saved by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle from being a reading pariah.
We have some of the Famous Five books in our library, but a British mom was deeply disappointed that we didn't have any Noddy books.

CLM said...

Enid Blyton's Adventure series which begins with Mystery Island/aka The Island of Adventure was published in the US, but as you observe her other series were wildly popular primarily in British Commonwealth countries and were translated into dozens of languages. Many Americans became fans while visiting a country where her books were sold. Although I inherited a couple of the Adventure books from my mother (published by Macmillan in the 50s), it was the Malory Towers, St. Clare's, and the Naughtiest Girl in the School books I loved. Relatives going to London or Toronto were bullied into bringing them back for me. Despite snide comments about the French and Americans my sister and I loved these, and her daughters do too.

I still like the Adventure series the best of her mysteries.

ChrisinNY said...

I love Enid Blyton, but have always preferred the "Adventure" series rather than the "Five" series. I think it was a case of the perfect book at the perfect time, but "Valley of Adventure" held me in thrall for years. Still enjoy it on rereading too but can see its flaws as an adult. Actually it has the same "kids on their own coping with life" plot that "Crunch" does, and similar to another favorite, "The Boxcar Children". This was always a key theme for my favorite books and I guess I haven't changed. Glad you are enjoying "Crunch" though.

hschinske said...

"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."

Good God, I hope not. There's far too much context they won't get (in a book for adults lots of stuff didn't need to be spelled out), and most kids, especially white kids, will get entirely the wrong message. Just because it's ostensibly from a child's point of view doesn't make it children's literature, or even young adult literature. It's actually very much an adult point of view conveyed INDIRECTLY through a supposedly ignorant child narrator.

Moreover, this is a book about racism, but it's not about black people to any great extent. It's mostly about white people, and seems to expect white readers. While there are certainly some black readers who've loved the book, I get a definite impression from the discussions I've seen that most do not.

Helen Schinske

Kate Coombs said...

I loved Enid Blyton's Five books as a child growing up in Southern California many years ago, although I now realize, seeing your list, that my library only carried a handful.

I wonder if they're less available in the U.S. now because they're considered old-fashioned and (based on something else I saw on a blog mentioning them recently) not entirely PC?