Wednesday, January 19, 2011

13 Random Midweek Facts, Opinions, and Anecdotes


Sometimes authors ponder and debate and fret over character names for weeks. Other times a name will fall into their lap. That’s basically what happened to Beverly Cleary when she was writing her first book about Henry Huggins. She’d just realized that all her characters were from single-child families and decided she needed to add a little sister. Just then she heard someone yell the name “Ramona!” outside her window and gave that name to Beezus’s little sister.

However she based part of the character's personality on another little girl in the neighborhood who was always getting in trouble. For example, the girl was once sent to the store to buy a pound of butter, but by the time she got home, she had unwrapped it and begun eating it.

Ugh. The worst thing Ramona Quimby ever ate in the books was a raw head of cabbage.


Not every character name comes wafting through the window. Sometimes you have to seek them out. When writing a story about a boy’s correspondence with his favorite author, Ms. Cleary found the name in the obituary section of her local newspaper. I wonder if the family of the deceased ever knew that their own late “Mr. Henshaw” inspired the title of the Newbery-winning novel DEAR MR. HENSHAW.


The protagonist of Cin Forshay-Lunsford’s 1985 young adult novel, WALK THROUGH COLD FIRE, is named Désirée (a name so pretentious that it makes me want to throw up) but there's a striking story about why the author chose another name found in that book. One of the female villains has a very bland name. But in a long-ago article, Ms. Forshay-Lunsford admitted that if you remove a few letters from that character's name you will see the author's opinion of her. No, I cannot give a hint. The word Forshay-Lunsford was hinting at was very, very vulgar.


The winner of a Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel, WALK THROUGH COLD FIRE got a lot of attention when it was published, mainly because the author was only nineteen years old. Cin Forshay-Lunsford never published another book, but this first effort has garnered quite a few devoted fans, many of whom rhapsodize about it on They've also started a Facebook page for the book.

Me? I never could finish the novel.

Maybe it had something to do with the grandoise name of the narrator.


Too many vowels! Too many accent marks!

No sirée, not a book for me.


I’m so intrigued by the Young Adult Library Services Assocation’s new Best Fiction for Young Adults list. With ninety-nine titles (out of 191 nominations) it's pretty much an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink list…yet Morris winner THE FREAK OBSERVER by Blythe Woolston is not to be seen, nor is Morris nominee HUSH by Eishes Chayil. National Book Award nominee DARK WATER is absent, as is the highly-praised suspense novel YOU by Charles Benoit.


Did you know you can order a print or postcards featuring Amos McGee?

Unfortunately, it’s not this Amos McGee.


In Sunday's blog I mentioned that our latest Newbery winner Clare Vanderpool cited Laura Ingalls Wilder's ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK as one of her favorite books. I added that, for me, PLUM CREEK was not a stand-out title the way the first and last Wilder volumes, or the epic LONG WINTER, were.

Since then, I have received several notes from readers who disagree!

Wendy said, "I think it's the most kid-friendly (for all kids, not just bookish ones), because it shows Laura having lots of normal-kid adventures, getting in trouble, being resourceful in a fun way, and so on, plus living underground and Nellie Oleson."

Laurie A-B added, "Plum Creek is jam-packed with memorable scenes and characters: Ma's new stove, Nellie Oleson, the Olesons' store, Laura's Christmas furs, going to school, going to church, Pa giving the money for his new boots to buy the church bell, moving the woodpile inside the house, LEECHES, the dugout, Reverend Alden, GRASSHOPPERS!!!!"

Bybee noted, "Plum Creek was one of my favorites when I was younger because this is the one in which Nellie Oleson and her family are introduced."

Lisa Jenn Bigelow said, "Add me to the list of people whose favorite Little House book has always been Plum Creek! I think everyone else has probably mentioned all the reasons it stands out in my memory -- leeches, Nellie, Pa getting stuck in a blizzard and having to eat all the candy and oysters.... I think I first read it when I was just Laura's age, which made it perfect. Plus I always thought it would be immensely cool to live in a dug-out. (Actually, I still do, though I could do with indoor plumbing.)"

Laura Canon added, "I'd say the same about Plum Creek -- maybe it's a girl thing, but it's very easy to identify with Laura in that book. She's about to right age to start to interact with the outside world more,getting to know the neighbors and going to school. Also, leeches.

"And even today I cry over the scene where Ma makes her give away her only doll to the mean neighbors and later she finds it discarded and frozen in a mud puddle. And I'm not much of a doll person, or a crier."

Ali said, "I'm another Plum Creek lover. I adored the Little House books as a child. I could "see" Laura, her family, the Oleson's store and Nellie so clearly, even though I am English and grew up in the north western suburbs of London."

And Grrlpup added a succinct: "Re: the memorability of Plum Creek, I have one word: LEECHES."

Obviously I am going to have to go back and re-read ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK very soon!


Just came across some 2007 paperback editions of Wilder's "Little House" books with photographic covers. Ugh.

Bring back Garth Williams!


I know several Jehovah’s Witnesses and we get along quite well as long as I remember not to wish them "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Fourth of July."

I'm a little slow on the uptake at times.

Like yesterday when one of them was telling me about a wedding she attended at the Kingdom Hall. I said, "Is it a traditional-type wedding? Does the bride wear a wedding dress? Does she come down the aisle to the usual wedding march?"

My friend said, "Oh sure, she wears a wedding gown and comes down the aisle. But we don't use that song everyone else uses. We feel that song places too much emphasis on the bride. And even though everyone says, 'It's the bride's day, it's the bride's day,' it's really not the bride's day. It's His day."

I'm like, "Whose? The groom?"

(Told you I was slow on the uptake.)

"No," she said, looking upward, "HIS day."


Anyway, a couple Jehovah's Witnesses I know once went on a trip to Brooklyn, New York, where the Watch Tower Society is headquartered. One of the buildings the Witnesses own there is the former Hotel Bossert, a landmark once know as "the Waldorf-Astoria of Brooklyn."

You may wonder what any of this has to do with children's books.

Barbara Cooney, who won the Caldecott Medal twice (CHANTICLEER AND THE FOX, 1959; OX-CART MAN, 1980) was born in Room 1127 of the Bossert Hotel on August 6, 1917.


British author-illustrator Mini Grey was actually born in the front seat of a Mini Cooper. Her parents memorialized the event by giving her that unusual first name.

Thank goodness she wasn't born in a Lamborghini.

11. DID YOU KNOW...?

...That Katherine Paterson is related to Mark Twain?

...That the agent who sold this year's Newbery Honor Book, HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus, is the great-great-great grandson of navigator Nathaniel Bowditch, himself the subject of the 1956 Newbery winner CARRY ON, MR. BOWDITCH?

...That Newbery Honor author Polly Horvath (EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE) recently published an ABC book with a small press here in Michigan?

...That double-Newbery winner Lois Lowry has written a book in the "Dear America" series?

I've never understood why famous established writers such as Walter Dean Myers, Karen Hesse, and Kathryn Lasky would ever write for a pre-formatted series of this type, but a friend of mine who has read Ms. Lowry's entry, LIKE THE WILLOW TREE, says it's something special and you definitely feel you are "in the capable hands" of a gifted writer while reading this book.


IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE by Laura Numeroff -- brilliant!

IF YOU GIVE A MOOSE A MUFFIN by Laura Numeroff -- gilding the lily.
IF YOU GIVE A PIG A PANCAKE by Laura Numeroff -- overkill.
IF YOU GIVE A CAT A CUPCAKE by Laura Numeroff -- unnecessary.


Boy, this blog entry by author Eric A. Kimmel depressed me.

But I refuse to stay depressed. The new year has just begun and there are lots of good books on the horizon: OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt; a new Penderwicks novel by Jeanne Birdsall; a biography of Alexander Hamilton by 95-year-old Jean Fritz; books by Cynthia Voigt, Shaun Tan, Lisa Yee, Melina Marchetta, Jennifer Holm, Joan Bauer, Walter Dean Myers, Helen Frost....

As well as new books by authors we haven't ever read before.

We'll be okay.


Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

Seriously debating whether to inter-library loan Walk Through Cold Fire just to find out that character's name. You are so unfair, Peter! (Meanwhile, I'm tempted to guess, but I'm afraid of what it would say about me...)

stephanie said...

I don't comment much, but I laughed out loud at lamborghini...wanted to add my vote for On the Banks of Plum Creek"...note that I bought the Little House books a few years ago when I read that they were publishing the paperbacks with photographic covers - and abridging them (did that ever happen?) - and the numeroff bit reminded me that there is a fourth "_alicious" book coming out. silver.

Alex said...

I love your blog! It always makes me happy.
And I confess, I have never read A Little House on the Prairie book and I have absolutely no idea why other than because of the TV show -which I didn't like.

Laura Canon said...

Once I was riding in the car with my father in law as we went past that Jehovah's Witness building in Brooklyn and my father in law turned to me and said, "You know, they have the cleanest windows in the world. The cleanest windows in the world."

I'd be interested to know your opinion of the Little House sequels and prequels. My son was such a fan of the series that he wanted me to read the Rose books to him, which I did. They were written in the same spirit, but...kind of dull, somehow, without Wilder's writing.

Jennifer said...

There's another Numeroff book coming out - If you give a dog a doughnut.

No, I'm not kidding.

Yes, I will buy it for the library. I might even buy two copies since she's one of the few picture book authors who gets stolen, my own personal measur of an author's popularity.

Kate Coombs said...

I really like that Mr. Bowditch factoid, and pretty much everything else in this post. A new Cynthia Voigt book? AND one from Shaun Tan? Great news!

Anonymous said...

Will somebody please tell me that character's name?

Jonathan Auxier said...

My older sister used to hide under the kitchen table and eat sticks of butter. Glad I can tell her she was not alone in her vices...

Bybee said...

When I first saw those photo covers of the Little House books a few months ago, I recoiled and somehow managed to repress a retch. I agree, bring back Garth Williams!!!

Teri-K said...

Thanks you for number 12. I've wanted to say that for years. :)

Linda said...

There's going to be a new Penderwick book? Yes!

I have all of the Little House sequels. They do not have Wilder's touch, but I'm a sucker for historical novels. I did like the Scottish setting of the Martha stories, but the Charlotte books were a bit of a bore. Unfortunately neither of the series were ever finished because apparently Harper asked the authors to "dumb down" the text for the remainder of the series.

I can take or leave "Dear America," but I quite love Kathryn Lasky's Christmas After All. I read it each year during the holidays.

lin said...

The one thing I will say in defense of the Little House photo covers is that they got Jack's breed right. He was called a 'bull dog,' which at the time of frontier America was used to name anything from an American bulldog to a pit bull terrier (smooth-haired, block headed sturdy dogs). Garth William's Jack was a wierd furry thing (most of his dog portrayals were indeteriminate furry breeds.)

Children's books about nature said...

I would love to read the book "twilight". This is very famous around the world. There are a lot of this book, being given a real story on movies. Thanks!