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!


Anonymous said...

RE: Bad book awards.
Does your library subscribe to EBSCOhost? They have full text articles for School Library Journal going back to 1974. I found the BILLY BUDD BUTTON & HUCKLEBERRY FINN PIN AWARDS articles from 1975 - 1982.

A college library will probably have all the back issues in print -- especially one like Kent State in Ohio.

Janet S.
Mansfield, OH

Unknown said...

After listening to Ms. Bird speak/share at Hamline University about your upcoming collaboration, I am very excited and understand completely if you don't have time to blog and research and write. I know I barely have time to do that myself.

I know my bookstore will be hosting a midnight release party for Mockingjay. I don't think anyone will show though. As much as they want it to be, Harry Potter it is not.

The idea of having a Rassie award for books seems a little--sad. Besides, isn't it all subjective? I mean, I read reviews on Amazon of books I LOVED, and someone else has given it one star and vice versa. Then again, there are some that just shouldn't have been published, but what a sad day it would be for that poor author who probably thought they wrote something wonderful until that moment. That's one serious reality check.

ChrisinNY said...

" '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?"
Put me under this column. Unless of course it is not a realy author but some creation of a money grubbing publishing house- in which case have at it.

Anonymous said...

You do not have to defend yourself for trying to maintain your sanity.

A Raspberry Award is a nasty idea in my opinion. The world has enough nastiness.

I wonder what you think of the Hunger Games game? I saw it in a bookstore and was rather aghast. And depressed, to tell you the truth.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone for the comments!

Janet S--

I'd never even heard of EBSCOhost and I work in a college library! But I checked today and, sure enough, we have a subscription. We don't have instant access to the full-text articles, but I was able to order them via digital download. THANK YOU so much for telling me about EBSCOhost!

Venus and Chris--

I hear you about award for bad books. I would be crushed if I ever received one as a writer. On the other hand, I used to review hundreds of books a year and, boy, there were some real stinkers out there....


No, I've never seen the HUNGER GAMES game. I'll try to track down some info and write about in a future blog. Does it come with knives and flamethrowers?

Thanks again to everyone for your comments,