Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24 Sunday Brunch

Another helping of random info and opinions on children’s books, presented Sunday brunch style.


Yesterday I learned about a website devoted to the neighborhood in Detroit where I grew up. Then I was up half the night, reading all the discussions and staring at the pictures people had posted from the sixties and seventies. It was a nostalgia overload. In looking at the photos, every house looked strangely familiar. That’s not surprising, I guess, since most of the buildings in that neighborhood were designed in similar styles. The insides of the homes also brought back memories, because they were decorated much like everybody's house in that era. And the kids all looked familiar because we all pretty much had the same haircut and wore similar clothes during any given year. I think you could put a hundred photographs in front of me, all taken at different times and different places across the United States, and I’d be able to pick out the one from our Detroit neighborhood in 1969. Even though I didn’t know most of the individuals posting on the board -- and probably had very little in common with them when we were growing up -- I realized that we were all now bound by our shared memories of a special place and time.

I feel the same way when working on this blog. Sometimes I’ll mention a book I read in my childhood and someone will post a comment stating their own memories of that novel. Other times someone will recall a title from their youth and I’ll immediately think, “Oh yeah, I remember that one!” and a connection is made across miles and time. The books we read in childhood -- like the neighborhoods we grew up in -- unite strangers through shared memories.


Someone asked me the other day if I’d participated in the CHARLOTTE’S WEB auction. I said I hadn’t been on eBay in a while and why would I bid on that book when I already own a copy?

They explained (patiently, because I’m kind of dumb that way) that they were referring to the big auction of original artwork from CHARLOTTE’S WEB that was being offered by Heritage Auction Galleries last week. Garth Williams’ iconic illustrations for the E.B. White classics were, according to a friend, “estimated to go from $1,500-$3,000 for the lesser pieces, $8,000-$15,000 for the better pieces and $18,000-$25,000 for the cover.”

As it turned out, eighteen pieces sold for between $1000 and $10,000, nineteen pieces sold for between $10,001 and $100,000 and the original cover alone sold for a jaw-dropping, head-smacking, eye-rolling $155,000!

The winning bidder asked to remain anonymous.

Was it you?


I sure wasn't the anonymous bidder.

Heck, I was stretching my own budget just to spend $25 on this book:

I’ve been blogging a lot about the Newbery nominations from the 1970s lately, and this book from the lists stuck out for me, as it was one title I wasn’t able to track down and read back then. Thirty-plus years later, still intrigued, I decided to hunt down a copy. I found this one online and ordered it last week. It appears to be one of those rare adult books that received Newbery consideration. It’s a story of political exiles in Siberia and involves accusations of witchcraft. According to the dustjacket: “Witch hunting went on in Russia, especially Siberia, much longer than in the Western world. As late as the last quarter of the nineteenth century, there were episodes of witch burnings.” (Good thing Christine O’Donnell wasn’t around back then.)

I’m very intrigued by THE WITCHES OF BARGUZIN and think it will make good reading for the week of Halloween. Incidentally, author Kyra Petrovskaya Wayne was originally from Russia and worked in Leningrad as an actress and singer before immigrating to the U.S. in 1948.

One of the reasons I purchased this book, rather than just borrow it through library interloan, was because it seemed to be a special copy. It contained three publicity photos of the author, each signed on the back. She appears to be quite glamorous:

But this is the photo that REALLY intrigues me:

What in the world does this pose and outfit mean?

And what if she’d actually won the Newbery and appeared on stage to accept her medal in this get-up?


Last week I showed off a few of the book-related presents I received for my birthday. Here is another -- an ARC (advance reading copy) of SNOOK ALONE, written by Marilyn Nelson and and illustrated by Timothy Basing Ering:

My very kind friend had the opportunity to meet both author and illustrator, each of whom signed this copy:

SNOOK ALONE concerns a rat terrier who lives happily with his companion, a monk named Abba Jacob, “on an island in a faraway sea.” The poetic, often witty text, describes the daily routine of man and dog, which is interrupted when Abba Jacob assists with a special project on nearby Avocaire Island. When a furious gale arises, Snook does not hear Abba Jacob calling for him and is left behind when the monk is removed from Avocaire to the safety of a larger island. This begins a period of several days in which the lonely dog must fend for himself on the deserted island. And in between scary and poignant adventures with a land crab and a sea turtle,

Snook sat still enough
to find the shared silence
of Abba Jacob’s chapel
under the rhythmic surge of surf.
He could almost hear,
almost make out,
like a whisper in a cyclone,
the voice he was waiting to hear.
“Good boy, Snook. Good dog.”

Readers will be moved by the joyous reunion of man and dog. Ering’s beautiful and animated color illustrations make a good match for Nelson’s sensitive text, though Abba Jacob’s stylized appearance seems more appropriate for a comic strip than for this quietly affecting story.


I just Googled the title SNOOK ALONE.

There are 1600 references to the book on the net.

Then I Googled the name “Snooki.”

There are over 3 MILLION references to her.

Trash trumps art, yet again.

Oh, and guess what: Snooki is writing a book -- due to be published in January 2011.

Sad to say, it will no doubt receive more publicity and sell more copies than SNOOK ALONE.


When I was a teenager, I had a number of friends who went to a local Catholic high school. At the beginning of each semester they had to buy their books, and they’d frequently mark them to identify them. One of the most frequent gimmicks was to write their name across the fore edge of their books. Defacing a book? I was horrified. Besides, I went to public school. We got our books free, had to turn them back in at the end of the semester, and would have been sent to the principal’s office if we wrote anything on our textbooks.

So I was intrigued to see this writing-on-the-fore-edge technique is now being used as part of the book design for I AM THE NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore. The name of the series is printed right across the edge of the pages:

Have you ever seen this gimmick on a book before (not counting textbooks used by Catholic schoolkids?) I know that antiquarian books sometimes feature dappled designs or even illustrations on the fore edge, but no writing as far as I know. Is this a first in modern children’s/young adult publishing?

I AM NUMBER FOUR is the first volume in a six-book series about teenage aliens hiding out on Earth.

You probably know that Pittacus Lore is the pseudonym (what, it isn’t his real name?) for James Frey and a young author named Jobie Hughes.

Yeah, the same James Frey who was taken to the woodshed by Oprah Winfrey.

Now he’s back on top of the bestseller lists with this YA book – and Steven Spielberg is producing a movie version, due out next year (soon after Snooki’s book is released.)

Wonder if Oprah will have him on to promote the movie?


Last Sunday I posted the following title request from a blog reader:

I read this book in 1973. It is the story of one of Cinderella's mice that only half ways transforms back the next day, becoming a mousy little man. As I recall, most of the plot concerns the glass slipper as the McGuffin, and the intrigues of getting Cinderella to her happy ending. It is a (short) chapter book, with line illustrations. I do not know the title or author.

Someone wrote in with the correct answer to this question. The book is CINDERS, a 1939 novel by Katherine Gibson.

The person who requested the information was delighted to finally learn the title of this childhood favorite.

But to me the most exciting part of the story is that the question was answered by none other than Laura Amy Schlitz -- who not only wrote the award-winning GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES!, but also wrote another personal favorite of mine, A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR.

How cool is that?

Actually, several months ago, Ms. Schlitz sent me a very flattering e-mail. I was in the crazed midst of moving at the time, so set it aside to answer later…but I kept putting it off because I was too intimidated to write a letter to a Newbery Medalist.

I know, she wouldn’t really send my letter back with the grammar and spelling corrected…but what if she did?

And more than that: what do you say to someone whose work you admire so much?

I know plenty of people who aren’t the least bit shy or intimidated by famous writers, but I’m not one of them. I’m awestruck and starstruck and when I attend a booksigning, I generally just hand my books to the author and then mutter thanks when they're done, rather than stutter and stammer and blather and look like an idiot.

When it comes to famous authors, I tend to follow the advice of Abraham Lincoln, who said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

But, still, I think I’d better write her back and say thank you….

My keyboard is already s-s-s-tuttering and sta---amm—ering!

Does anyone have any entertaining stories about talking to or writing to authors you idolize? If so, I'd love to hear them. Please send them in!

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


Anonymous said...

Thanks to you, Peter, I knew who Snook was before I knew who Snooki was. I enjoyed your comments about your neighborhood when growing up. I've been experiencing that same nostalgia recently.

Gene in Tacoma

Tessa said...

The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd uses that same "word on the fore edge" design, and I think it was even fancier! But what else would you expect for Chip Kidd's book?

Amgela Cerrito said...

I just found your blog & I'm going to share this post with my lit-cetera group on Facebook.

Oh and it wasn't me either!

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Laura Canon said...

Maybe she fought at Stalingrad?

ankita said...

Grab the joy of all celebrations by sending gifts and flowers from

LaurieA-B said...

Peter, earlier this year Rebecca Stead spoke a local bookstore. I was very excited to see her and on the way there, considered what I could say about how much I liked When You Reach Me. I was thrilled, briefly, that I came up with the perfect comment--You are the second Newbery winner I have met; the first was Madeleine L'Engle. But then I realized that it was NOT true, and even though Stead would never know it wasn't true, of course I couldn't say it. I met Robin McKinley when she was on tour for Sunshine. To both L'Engle and McKinley I stammered, tongue-tied, that I loved their books. When I met Madeleine L'Engle I'm pretty sure I started crying (I was seventeen at the time).

As it turned out, there were so many actual child readers (!) in line to speak to Rebecca Stead that I did not stay after her delightful talk. Probably I would have just stammered, tongue-tied, that I loved her book.