Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Brunch with Annoying Authors

Today’s Sunday Brunch celebrates Snow Days and Oscar night, describes what an “extra-illustrated book” is, and asks which children’s authors are the most annoying.


Back when I was a kid, I loved the Academy Awards.

It meant staying up late…on a school night!

It meant snacking on chips…and dip!

It meant the betting pennies with my brother on which movies, actors, and actresses would win the awards.

Never mind the fact that we’d never seen any of the nominated movies (MIDNIGHT COWBOY? CARNAL KNOWLEDGE? Yeah, right.) or that the ceremony would drag on so long that we were nearly nodding off before they reached the main categories…I still loved the Academy Awards.

And I think I enjoyed the awards even more when I got into my late teens and twenties and started seeing most of the nominated films and performances; then I could make more informed choices about who I wanted to win. On the other hand, staying up late “on a school night” had lost its illicit thrill by then. And what can you buy for a penny as an adult? …So some of the excitement had died by that point.

Still, the Oscars are always fun -- even these days. One of the interesting things about the movies today is that so many are based on children’s books. In honor of tonight’s awards, here’s a list of all the 2010 movies that had their origins in children’s books:

ALICE IN WONDERLAND / based on the classic novel by Lewis Carroll
CHRONICLES OF NARNIA : THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN / based on the classic series by C.S.Lewis
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID / based on the novel by Jeff Kinney
ECLIPSE / based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer
FLIPPED / based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen
GULLIVER'S TRAVELS / based on the “honorary children’s book” by Jonathan Swift
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS : PART 1 / based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON / based on the series by Cressida Cowell
IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY / based on the novel by Ned Vizzini
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS : THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE / ased on the series by Kathryn Lasky
PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS : THE LIGHTNING THEIF / based on the seriesw by Rick Riordan
RAMONA AND BEEZUS / based on the book BEEZUS AND RAMONA by Beverly Cleary
SHREK FOREVER AFTER / based on the original movie which was based on the original book by William Steig
TRUE GRIT / based on the “honorary children’s book” by Charles Portis

A couple of the above movies are even up for Oscars tonight!

So this evening, I’ll be where I've always been for the past forty-plus Oscar nights: smack in front of the TV watching the awards. With a bowl of chips…and dip. Betting (long distance, over the internet) with my brother on which movies and performers will win. But here's the irony. This year I’ve been so busy that I haven’t seen a single nominated film. And now I’m so old that I’ll probably nod off before the ceremony is over!

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Many years ago, Joni Mitchell wrote a song with the refrain, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

I hear ya, Joni.

Last spring when I bought this house, it didn’t really bother me that my bedroom window looked out at a bare wall, or that the only other room at the front of the house faced another bare wall. After all, the fantastic view off the deck in back more than made up for it. But it’s been too cold and snowy to use the deck for several months now…and lately I’ve begun to feel somewhat claustrophobic with no window views to bring in light or provide a connection to the outside world.

This situation has made me start craving the world of Julia Redfern, the protagonist of Eleanor Cameron’s A ROOM MADE OF WINDOWS. In that 1971 novel, Julia lives and works in a small room surrounded by windows. It even has a skylight. I’m starting to covet that room!

When I first read the book as a kid, I didn't think much about Julia's room -- or the metaphorical importance of its windows. Back then, as an aspiring author myself, I was wrapped up in Julia's experiences as a young writer. I loved the scenes in which Julia, her older brother, and the elderly lodger, Daddy Chandler, all sat in their separate rooms writing and typing their own manuscripts. I loved puzzling over the dream that Julia recorded and tried to turn into a short story. I loved the novel's family dynamics and Julia's quest for identity as a person and as a writer.

Eleanor Cameron delved deep into her own past to write this book, which was based on her childhood in Berkeley, California, and her desire to become a writer. Even the dream that serves as a motif in the novel was based on a dream that Ms. Cameron had as a child and never forgot.

A ROOM MADE OF WINDOWS won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and was named an Honor Book in the New York Herald Tribune Children's Spring Book Festival. It also marked a major turning point in the author's career. Before this book, she was best known for writing genre novels (THE MYSTERIOUS CHRISTMAS SHELL; the much-loved "Mushroom Planet" science fiction series) but after WINDOWS, her work took a more "literary" turn. She went on to win the National Book Award for THE COURT OF THE STONE CHILDREN and be nominated again for TO THE GREEN MOUNTAINS.

I find her continuation of the "Julia Redfern" books particularly interesting.

A ROOM MADE OF WINDOWS was originally conceived as a single, stand-alone novel. It wasn’t until later, when Ms. Cameron read Jane Gardam’s collection of interconnected short stories, A FEW FAIR DAYS, that she decided to revisit Julia Redfern.

Of course, many many authors write sequels or even series books. Sometimes the characters essentially stay the same age throughout the series (Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys come to mind) and, in other cases (as with Harry Potter and Laura Ingalls) they progress in age over the course of the books. But has anyone ever done what Eleanor Cameron did with Julia Redfern, going back in time with each book, so that the main character grows younger in each volume?

Published in 1977, JULIA AND THE HAND OF GOD features the character at age eleven and the book ends just where A ROOM MADE OF WINDOWS begins.

THAT JULIA REDFERN (1982) goes back even earlier in time, and JULIA’S MAGIC (1984) takes the character back to age six. Still drawing from her own childhood (Ms. Cameron would sign the books “From Eleanor Cameron, who was once Julia”), the author once remarked how mysterious it was that moments and incidents mentioned in the earlier books often opened up into full-fledged scenes in the later books, as if she’d planned it that way all along.

After three volumes in which, Benjamin-Button-like, Julia Redfern grew younger with each book, Eleanor Cameron capped off the series with THE PRIVATE WORLDS OF JULIA REDFERN (1988), which depicts the character at age fifteen. Although it was great to meet the teenage Julia, I still find myself wishing the author had continued the backward journey of Julia. After introducing us to the character at six in JULIA’S MAGIC, would the next volume have been an “I Can Read”-like story of Julia at five? Followed by a picture book? Then maybe an alphabet book (J is for Julia, W is for Windows) and perhaps ending with a volume for infants, such as PAT THE JULIA?


Although the author’s greatest works are her literary novels, she probably remains best known for her middle-grade science fiction series that began with THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET in 1954 and continued with STOWAWAY TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET (1956), MR. BASS’S PLANETOID (1958), A MYSTERY FOR MR. BASS (1960), and TIME AND MR. BASS (1967.) In honor of these books, the Golden Duck Awards, “which are designed to encourage science fiction literature for children” have established the Eleanor Cameron Award, which is given to science fiction books written for grades two through six.

Here is a list of all the previous winners:

2010 / Z. REX / Steve Cole
2009 / LIGHTER THAN AIR / Henry Melon
2007 / APERS / Mark Jansen and Barbara Day Zinicola
2006 / WHALES ON STILTS / M.T. Anderson, tied with THE FRAN THAT TIME FORGOT / Jim Benson
2005 / SUPERNATURALIST / Eoin Colfer
2004 / ESCAPE FROM MEMORY / Margaret Peterson
2003 / ON THE DOG, IN THE BATHROOM, IN THE KITCHEN (three volumes in the “Andrew Lost” series / J.C. Greenburg
2001 / THE POWER OF UN / Nancy Etchemendy
2000 / I WAS A SIXTH GRADE ALIEN / Bruce Coville
1999 / YOUNG JEDI KNIGHTS / Kevin Anderson and Rebecca Moesta
1998 / ANDALITE CHRONICLES / Katherine Applegate
1997 / KIPTON AND THE TOWER OF TIME / Charles Fortenay
1996 / STAR HATCHLING / Margaret Bechard
1995 / SHAPE CHANGER/ Bill Brittain
1994 / WORF’S FIRST ADVENTURE / Peter David
1993 / WEIRDOS OF THE UNIVERSE UNITE! / Pamela Service
1992 / MY TEACHER GLOWS IN THE DARK / Bruce Coville


The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has just announced the nominees for the 2010 Nebula Awards.

The following titles have been nominated for the “Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy”:

SHIP BREAKER / Paolo Bacigalupi
WHITE CAT / Holly Black
MOCKINGJAY / Suzanne Collins
A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS / Megan Whalen Turner
BEHEMOTH / Scott Westerfeld

The winner will be announced in Washington, D.C. on May 21.


Do you know what an “extra illustrated book” is?

To be honest, I’d never heard the term until last night when I was watching ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.

This morning I did some searching around the internet and came across this article by Ellen Gruber Garvey, which describes the process, which was very popular in the eighteenth century:

Extra-illustrators took apart existing books, inserting pictures, autographs, and other material with some relationship to the original, often having them expensively rebound. In an extra-illustrated theater history, for example, a reference to the actor "Garrick's drama of 'Gulliver in Lilliput'" is followed by three small pictures of Jonathan Swift (each mounted on a full page), playbills, a two-page print depicting Gulliver at Brobdingnag and a series of other tangentially related illustrations. When an extra-illustrator was done with it, a 250-page book might have been enlarged to ten volumes. Extra-illustration transformed ordinary books into a frame or armature for the compiler's collection of visual images; sometimes the leaves of the original text are hard to find between the pages of prints.

Sounds a little like old-school scrapbooking!

I wonder if there are any “extra-illustrated” children’s books out there.

Have you ever seen an example?

Have you ever created one yourself?


Okay, maybe Oscars Night isn’t quite as much fun as it used to be.

Perhaps birthdays and Halloween and maybe even Christmas aren’t as much fun as they used to be when we were kids.

But there is one day that I loved as a kid and love equally as an adult: a snow day!

Yeah, it’s nice to get an unexpected day off school when you’re in grade school, but it’s even better to get a day off work when you’re adult -- and get paid for it!

I can’t tell you how I thrilled I was this past week when a sudden storm hit and we got a Snow Day!

Of course maybe I wouldn’t have been quite as excited if I’d known about the book TRAPPED back then. As it turns out, it wasn’t till yesterday that I picked up Michael Northrop’s latest novel, which concerns the ultimate “Snow Day.” In fact, TRAPPED is about an entire Snow Week, in which fifteen-year-old Scotty and six classmates are left behind in their high school when a major blizzard shuts down their rural town. I started this suspenseful survival story just before bed last night was still reading at 5:30 this morning. I haven’t finished it yet, so can’t offer a definitive critique beyond “so far so good” but I do want to note the volume’s excellent design. The cover of the book is snow white (get it?) and the beautiful dustjacket illustration (by Phil Falco) wraps around the entire book and even extends onto the inside flaps:

The snow from the dustjacket continues falling across the title page and even onto the copyright and dedication pages:

And veils of snow appear at the heading of every chapter, in varying amounts that mirror the snowfall in the novel.

We don’t usually see this kind of care and craftsmanship in a young adult novel, and Scholastic should be commended for doing such a first-class job with TRAPPED.


I especially appreciate the design of TRAPPED when I compare it to something like THE RIVER by Mary Jane Beaufrand. The front of the dustjacket features the title in a blurry font (why?), an unfocused landscape in the background, and what appears to be long, curly hair next to the spine. I guess we’re supposed to assume that’s the side of the narrator’s head as she stands staring into the water. Okay, I thought, it’s not the greatest dustjacket image in the world, but it’s not the worst either…

…until I spread the book open and looked at it again:

Unlike the TRAPPED illustration, which extends across both panels in an exquisite tableau, THE RIVER just presents the same photograph in mirror image. And it looks bizarre. No one’s head is that narrow! To me it looks like a humongous magnified insect superimposed on a blurry waterscape.

I probably wouldn’t even mention the cover of the book if I hadn’t found the writing so nasty. I don’t consider myself particularly persnickety. I’ve read a million books filled with gross scenes and grotesque imagery -- including Rick Yancey’s THE CURSE OF THE WENDIGO, which was so superb that we just shortlisted it for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. But in most books, images of questionable taste are usually germane to the plot. What I object to are scenes and images that trigger my gag reflex for no good reason. I gave up reading Sharon G. Flake’s books years ago because I couldn’t stand her constant cataloging of smells, sweat, pimples, and other stuff that made me say yuck. But Sharon Flake is a downright amateur compared to Mary Jane Beaufrand, who fills THE RIVER with images of “nostril hairs,” wiping one’s nose on one’s sleeve and leaving a “snail trail,” and -- where’s the barf bucket? –- a disgusting bit where the narrator’s father is shown “stroking his beard, extracting little flakes of dead skin, which he rolled into little pill shapes and flicked onto the carpet.” And did I mention that this family runs an inn and he’s flicking the dead skin onto the floor where all their guests walk? I think I’d check out of that inn right away! Then report them to the Board of Health. As I said, if this scene had something to do with the story, it might not be bother me…but it’s not only gross, it’s gratuitous. And downright nasty.


After that last section, I guess you can say that Sharon G. Flake and Mary Jane Beaufrand are two children’s book authors who annoy me. Are there any authors who annoy you?

If so, check out to see if anyone shares your angst. I was surprised to discover what a large selection of children’s authors are included on this site.

Each entry gives a list of reasons why an author may or may not be annoying, then invites you to cast your own vote. For example, the entry for BABE author Dick King-Smith includes the following:

Why he might be annoying:

He ran two farms that went under due to his lack of business sense. ('I had animals that I liked. Now I see that it was rather a stupid way to run a farm, but at the time I felt I didn't have to conform.')
He became a teacher, but was moved from teaching juniors to pre-school because he could not handle long division.
He did not become a published writer until he was in his 50s.
He said, 'As much as I love The Wind in the Willows and the works of Beatrix Potter, I never dress my animals in clothes... They behave as animals should behave, with the exception that they open their mouths and speak the Queen's English.' (That's a pretty big exception there.)

Why he might not be annoying:

He served with the Grenadier Guards in World War II and was wounded by a grenade in Italy.
He was married to his first wife Myrtle for 57 years until her death.
He was described by the Guardian as 'delightfully old-fashioned without being in the least an old fogey.'
He sold over 15 million books.
He said, 'A real adult, someone who is really grown up and adult, someone like Mrs Thatcher, couldn't possibly write a book for children. Somebody like me, even when I'm 85, is pretty damned childish. I laugh at things that young children laugh at.'

He’s currently rated as 57.84% annoying.

And here’s the entry for 33.33% annoying Madeleine L’Engle:

Why she might be annoying:

Her parents disagreed about how to educate her, with the result that she attended numerous boarding schools and had several governesses.
'A Wrinkle in Time' received 26 rejections from publishers who felt it did not quite qualify as either a children's or adults' novel.
She incorporated traumatic events from her children's lives into her books, while editing out her own troubles.
She has suggested that 'we're all a little psychic.'
She said, 'I sometimes think God is a sh** -- and he wouldn't be worth it otherwise. He's much more interesting when he's a sh**.'

Why she might not be annoying:

She and her husband adopted the seven-year-old daughter of family friends who had died.
'A Wrinkle in Time' won the Newberry Award for outstanding book for children.
She was seriously injured in an automobile accident (1991), but recovered to visit Antarctica the next year.
She said the TV movie adaptation of 'A Wrinkle in Time' lived up to her expectations: 'I expected it to be bad, and it is.'
She said that Christian fundamentalists who object to her books 'want a closed system and I want an open system.'

Yeah, it’s kind of mean.

But I think it’s all meant in fun.

I think.

And, personally, I’m annoyed with for misspelling the word “Newbery.”


I wanted to add a special thanks to everyone who “friended” me on Facebook this week. If anyone else wants to be friends, just send a Facebook friend request to Peter D. Sieruta.

Thanks, too, for visiting my blog. Hope you’ll be back!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Cindy Dobrez and I were the judges for the Los Angeles Book Prize in the category of Young Adult Literature. Our much-deliberated list of five finalists was announced this morning:



THE RING OF SOLOMON by Jonathan Stroud

A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner


The winning title will be named at the Festival of Books, held in Los Angeles on April 30 and May 1, 2011.

Incidentally, the Robert Kirsch Award, "for significant contribution to American letters," will be presented at this same event. The winner is Beverly Cleary. This is the first time that a children's book author has received that honor.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Sunday Brunch with Urban Legends

Today’s Sunday brunch blog discusses my adventures as a newbie on Facebook, pays tribute to Margaret K. McElderry, presents some urban legends concerning children’s books, and identifies “three little words” I hate to hear.


After much foot dragging, I’ve finally opened up a Facebook account.

I’m still not exactly sure how it all works.

I guess I should have gone to see that SOCIAL NETWORK movie.

But you’re welcome to join me as I wander Facebook land in a daze; just send a friend request to Peter D. Sieruta.


I spent all last evening staring at the “favorite books” section on Facebook, frozen with uncertainty. How can I POSSIBLY choose a handful of titles? There are far too many to choose from. And what if I leave something out?

I’m curious about how other fellow-readers feel.

Do you have one all-time favorite book? (If so, what is it???)

If you can’t narrow it down to one, do you have a list of five…ten…twenty favorites?

Does the list pretty much stay the same or does it change and evolve over time…maybe depending on your life circumstances…or your mood?

Or do you simply find it impossible to limit a booklist at all?

I’d be curious to hear your responses!


On this same topic: How many times have you come across an interview or biographical profile or online survey in which the respondent is asked for a list of favorite books…or books that have been important to his or her life…and the response is:


I hate seeing those three little words.

They seem so sad. So empty. So lonely.

I feel like I can’t – or shouldn’t be able to -- relate to anyone who would say those words.

But of course I do. I personally know a ton of people to whom those words apply. Some are family members. Some are friends. I’ve worked in libraries all my life and have even known librarians who don’t read books, or who claim that they don’t really enjoy reading.

But still, what a depressing one to describe oneself: “Not a reader.”


Speaking of depressing, how many Borders bookstores are closing in your area? We had one close just after Christmas and now four more Detroit-area locations are set to shutter.

But, to use a cliché, it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good.

And I’m hoping that these closings bring a few more customers into their local independent bookstores. Today on Facebook, I saw this excellent list of “Independent Alternatives to Closed Borders Bookstores. Check it out!

And with all the talk of government budget cuts, I found this great story on Facebook as well:

When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favor of the war effort, he simply replied “ Then what are we fighting for?”
Unfortunately, when I tried to track down the exact source of this quote, I came up empty-handed. It appears to be apocryphal. But doesn’t it sound like something he would have said? Or might have said? Or should have said?

Oh well, sometimes fiction is better than fact!


Learning that the Churchill quote was an urban legend, I paid a visit to everyone’s favorite myth-busting website,, to see if there were any urban legends out there specific to children’s books.

And several good tales turned up!

Ever heard this one:

One interesting story about Baum is that he used to hold "story hour" for all the neighborhood children; they would come to his home and gather in his study, where Baum would make up fantastic stories off the top of his head. One day he began a story about some characters who travel to an imaginary world to meet a great wizard; a little voice piped up wanting to know the name of the land. Baum looked around his study and his eyes rested on a file cabinet with two labels: A-N and O-Z; thus he created the land of "OZ.”

True or not?

In 1903, L. Frank Baum seemed to confirm part this story (leaving out the stuff about neighborhood story hours) in a press release marking a new edition of the book:

I have a little cabinet letter file on my desk that is just in front of me. I was thinking and wondering about a title for the story, and had settled on the "Wizard" as part of it. My gaze was caught by the gilt letters on the three drawers of the cabinet. The first was A-G; the next drawer was labeled H-N; and on the last were the letters O-Z. And "Oz" it at once became.

However, forty year later his wife would deny this story, saying:

The word Oz came out of Mr. Baum's mind, just as did his queer characters. No one or anything suggested the word — or any person. This is a fact.

She even italicized the last four words in order to prove her point.

Scopes lists this legend as “undetermined.”

And did you hear the one about the Dr. Seuss book banned due to graphic violence and references to suicide?

Not true, as it turns out.

The volume in question, DO YOU KNOW WHAT I’M GOING TO DO NEXT SATURDAY? was not even written by Dr. Seuss, but by his first wife, Helen Palmer. It was, however, published as part of the “I Can Read It All By Myself” Beginner Books series, which is represented by the Cat in the Hat logo, so perhaps the confusion was understandable.

This urban legend got its start as a joke, when a man printed the text of Palmer’s book online without the accompanying illustrations.

Lines such as:

Did you ever beat
more than one kid at a time?
Well, I'm going to beat
five kids at a time.

And then I'm going to beat
their fathers, too.

sound a little violent, until you realize the accompanying photographic illustrations depict the narrator beating five kids and their fathers at table tennis and volleyball.

And this bit sounds pretty serious:

Next Saturday I'll blow my head off.
No one is going to stop me next Saturday.

Unless you can see that it’s accompanied by this picture:

Finally, there’s the oft-repeated story about how television’s Fonzie caused a 500% increase in the number of kids applying for library cards.

When the sitcom HAPPY DAYS began in the 1970s, Fonzie was just a supporting character who appeared for a few minutes in each episode. But he soon became a pop culture phenomenon and basically took over the show. In one 1977, Fonzie was shown receiving his first library card. The Los Angeles Times would later state: “After the show — where Fonzie told how important it was to read — the American Library Assn. (ALA) reported that the number of library cards among kids 9 to 14 increased 500%"

Not true.

Years later, the American Library Association responded to this urban legend:

The American Library Association has been unable to document an increase in signups of the magnitude suggested by Winkler [referring to Henry Winkler, who played the role of Fonzie.] Only a few states track the number of library cards held with any reliability, and there is no report in ALA's American Libraries or in any other library press periodical telling of a surge in signups in the months following the episode.

Check out for more of these stories -- including one that explains “how a short-term holiday promotion [for POLAR EXPRESS] turned into a cybernightmare” for Houghton Mifflin and another about a penguin abduction.

…Did the latter urban legend inspire the picture book TINA AND THE PENGUIN by Heather Dyer?


Editor extraordinaire Margarert K. McElderry died this week just a few months before her 99th birthday.

I first encountered the name “Margaret K. McElderry” in the early seventies when she began publishing books under her own imprint at Atheneum. The books quickly won me over (I still love two of her earliest books from Atheneum -- A PIECE OF THE WORLD by Mildred Walker and NO WAY OF TELLING by Emma Smith.) Within a year or so she had published Susan Cooper’s THE DARK IS RISING, which likely cemented her imprint’s importance from that point on.

Little did I know, as a young teenager, that she had the first named imprint in American children’s books as a reward for an already long and storied career -- first working with the famous Anne Carroll Moore at the New York Public Library and later as editor of Harcourt Brace, where she was known for publishing international books and, in 1952, became the first person to edit both the Newbery winner (GINGER PYE by Eleanor Estes) and Caldecott winner (FINDERS KEEPERS, illustrated by Nicholas Mordvinoff and written by William Lipkind) for the same year.

This week I came across an article about Ms. McElderry, written by Betsy Hearne and published in Library Trends magazine in 1996. I enjoyed this peek into the relationship between the young Margaret McElderry and her formidable boss at the New York library:

As you will have guessed, the situation was extremely formal, and Miss Moore expected perfect discipline. . . . Marjorie Burbank [Anne Carroll Moore’s senior assistant] always brought jelly beans to the office around Eatertime, and it turned out she could perform a remarkable feat. She could balance ajelly bean on the tips of her fingers, palm upward, then hit the heel of the palm with her other hand. This made the bean jump up into the air. Marjorie would then skillfully catch it in her mouth. Well, could I do that? No! The bean would always shoot off in the wrong direction and I’d have to scramble after it. Naturally, I was deter-mined to master this trick which, incidentally, we never did if Miss Moore or Miss Davis, or anyone else, were around.

One morning, with great concentration, I placed the jelly bean just so, hit the heel of my hand smartly, and opened my mouth wide. Miraculously, the bean fell right into my mouth, but also right down my windpipe-and there it stuck. For a few seconds, my breath was cut off, and I knew I might die if I couldn’t dislodge the jelly bean, but even greater than that fear was the fear that Miss Moore might suddenly arrive and find me gagging to death in the corner.

Incidentally, Ms. McElderry was the first NYPL children’s room employee allowed to wear short sleeves in the summer – though “the sleeves came right down to the elbows.” Her New York Times obituary this week noted that she was “known for her elegant personal style, although she deigned to wear jeans for casual Fridays.” The newspaper did not mention that she was well in her eighties at the time. Similarly, the Times reported that Ms. McElderry married Storer D. Lunt, president of W.W. Norton publishers, when she was in her sixties, but did not add that she was married in Green Knowe, the famous British home featured in Lucy M. Boston’s classic children’s novels . Ms. Boston was one of “her” authors. In a Horn Book profile, Ms. McElderry told interviewer Leonard Marcus, “We became very dear friends. I was married from her house, and she gave me away, which I didn't know a woman could do. But apparently it could be done — though she claimed that my husband and I were never legally married!”

The news of Ms. McElderry’s death was sad, but she lived a long life and continued working until just a few years ago. And as long as her name continues to appear on the spine and title pages of each new “Margaret K. McElderry Book,” her legacy will continue. Incidentally, do you know how to pronounce her name? For years and years, I pronounced it “Mick-Elderry,” sort of rhyming the last section with the word “elderly.” It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I learned it was pronounced “Mackel-dairy.”

I still don’t know what the K stands for.


About a dozen year ago, my bookstore friend told me that Ms. McElderry and author X.J. Kennedy had come in her store to browse. I was shocked. Things like that don’t happen here in the Midwest! It turns out that the author and editor were visiting metro Detroit for a conference. I asked my friend if she’d talked to Ms. McElderry and she said she didn’t want to bother her. I can relate. I’d be probably too shy to approach her as well. What do you say to someone that famous and important? It might not even be good form to ask her to sign a “Margaret K. McElderry Book” since I wasn’t sure if editors ever sign the books they publish.

It turns out they do -- at least sometimes.

A couple years later I came across a copy of Elizabeth Enright’s TATSINDA, which Ms. McElderry had published at Harcourt Brace:

Not only was it signed by Elizabeth Enright and illustrator Irene Haas, but Ms. McElderry had signed it as well!

What a trio!


Last month I mentioned that the new novel ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis utilized the usually-blank space on the inside of its dustjacket to include a blueprint illustration. I wondered why more publishers didn’t use this “empty space” and blog reader Jen responded, “The back of the dust jacket is usually blank (or white) because it costs money--generally LOTS of money--to print on the reverse side (also known as 4 over 4--4 color over 4 color). It's not really wasted space so much as extremely pricey.”

But now I’m wondering if we aren’t seeing a new trend.

The just-out novel YOU KILLED WESLEY PAYNE by Sean Beaudoin features this dustjacket:

But beneath has a completely different cover illustration:

And it too contains an image on the inside of the dj:

Incidentally, the title page of the book contains a note that says, “Remove jacket cover to reveal free clique poster! Don’t go clueless!” An asterisk points to this note at the bottom of the page:

Has some knob already stolen the dust jacket? Just turn the page, friend. You can also go to to download the ultra-free clique poster and index. Or, hey, you could lift mom’s gold card and just buy another copy of this book. Totally up to you.

By the way, the front flap of the dustjacket contains this promise: “It’ll tease you, please you, and never ever leave you. Actually that’s not true. It’s only a book.”

Hard to resist a YA novel with this kind of ‘tude.


I hope that Michelle Koh, webmaster of the outstanding M.E. Kerr website won’t mind me stealing one of her stories to share with you here. But it’s got all the components of a typical Collecting Children’s Books post, since it concerns two children’s book creators, a rare long-forgotten volume, and my perpetual theme of how poorly writers are often treated.

The creators are writer Marijane Meaker -- ten years before she became YA legend M.E. Kerr -- and illustrator Polly Cameron, known for children’s books such as “I CAN’T,” SAID THE ANT. In the early sixties, the two friends collaborated on a novelty book for adults, A GUIDE TO THE HANGOVER, a cautionary comic volume on the dangers of over-imbibing. It was published in an oversized format by Dell and the creators hoped to appear on the TODAY show on New Year’s morning to promote their book. That didn’t came to pass and the book never became a big bestseller. When I checked online a few years ago, it appeared that only one library in the country even owned a copy.

Needless to say, neither Marijane Meaker nor Polly Cameron became a millionaire from this book. This is a royalty statement Ms. Meaker received from her literary agent:

In case you can’t read that, it says:

Dear Miss Meaker: For your convenience, we are enclosing stamps for 43 cents representing your 50% share of Kanrom Inc. royalty payment for A GUIDE TO THE HANGOVER per enclosed statement for the six months ending December 31, 1965. Sincerely, Marian Irving, Treasurer

Today, A GUIDE TO THE HANGOVER is quite a rare find for book collectors. Prices start at $40 for copy of this unusual book -- if you can find one.

And Ms. Meaker never bothered to use the stamps she received as a royalty payment -- she framed them with the letter and now displays them on her wall!

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll return for more. Don't forget to "friend" me on Facebook!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 13 Sunday Brunch

Today’s Sunday Brunch contains a random sampling of facts and opinions on children’s books old and new.


I’m sorry I wasn’t able to blog last Sunday.

That afternoon was spent in deliberations for the LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Award. I was one of the judges in the Young Adult category, along with Cindy Dobrez. The third member of our panel quit just hours before deliberations began.

I have never been on an award jury before and did not know what to expect. Cindy, however, was an old-hand at such things, having served on the Printz committee that selected AMERICA BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang. At this point, our shortlist of five titles remains a secret and will not be revealed until February 22, with the winning title announced on April 29. I will have to consult the rule book, plus ask around, to find out how much I can ever specifically reveal about the selection process, but what I can say is that the entire experience was pain-free. It was a lot of fun to talk about our favorite young adult books from 2010 -- and why we thought they were especially notable. Of course there is going to be some compromise from every judge in these deliberations, but it’s a testament to the general strength of the YA genre that there was such a large selection of great books to choose from this year. It was really, really hard to whittle our list down to just five titles. It took two hours and twenty minutes. And since it was all handled by phone, I remained in my pajamas the entire time!

Stay tuned for the list of finalists on February 22.


Helen Schinske and PJ Grath both brought up some good points regarding my recent blog entry on Joan Bauer’s novel CLOSE TO FAMOUS. Ms. Schinske said, “Okay, it's got a headless girl and cupcakes. Could there BE a more dated cover? (I mean, of course, dated to current fashions -- in twenty years it's going to scream its approximate decade, if not its approximate year.)” Very true. Headless kids and cupcakes are two of the most popular cover-motifs going right now. But the cover should get credit in one regard. Last year there were many complaints that protagonists of children’s and young adult books who were identified as people of color within the text were not depicted as such on dustjackets. Foster, the narrator of CLOSE TO FAMOUS, is subtly described as multiracial in the book and her portrait on the cover, while it may be missing its head, does at least reflect her ethnicity. Still, I must agree with Helen Schinske in general. If there is ever a cataclysmic event that destroys our civilization and some future archaeologist digs out a copy of CLOSE TO FAMOUS from some rubble-filled library, they won’t have to resort to carbon dating…or even checking the copyright page. All they’ll have to do is look at the cover and say. “Headless kid. Cupcakes. Looks like an example of ‘Liberi Librus’ – a children’s book, circa 2010, 2011 AD.”

Meanwhile, PJ Grath wrote about taking her then-twelve-year-old son to see “a real, live adult play. There was no curtain, so while other people were finding their seats and chatting before the performance, my 12-year-old was able to take in every detail of the set and watch the props being placed. There was not a peep out of him during the first act. I don’t think he moved a muscle. When the curtain went up, he turned to me and said in a hoarse, charged whisper, “I love it!” Magic, indeed.” From personal experience, it does seem to me that most people who love children’s books also love the theatre. I wonder why that is.

And many, many children’s writers started off writing plays. A few names that spring to mind: Frances Hodgson Burnett, J.M. Barrie, Rachel Field, Philip Pullman, Edward Eager, Alice Childress, Eve Merriam, Avi, Barbara Corcoran, Cherie Bennett, and Sandra Scoppettone. Perhaps this is not surprising, considering that many components of playwriting – such as visible action, strong dialogue, and highly-individualized characters -- are especially valued in children’s books.


I mentioned Sandra Scoppettone as a writer who once wrote for the theatre. I wish I’d seen one of her plays back in the day, because I certainly love her novels. My Candlewick co-author, Betsy Bird, wrote a recent appreciation of Ms. Scoppettone’s first book, SUZUKI BEANE. The author moved on to writing novels for young adults, including TRYING HARD TO HEAR YOU, THE LATE GREAT ME, HAPPY ENDINGS ARE ALL ALIKE, LONG TIME BETWEEN KISSES, and PLAYING MURDER. I’m the biggest fan in the world of those books and if anyone wants to take that title away from me, I’ll challenge them to an arm wrestling match. (I’d probably lose, but at least it would show how much I love those novels.) Sandra Scoppettone later wrote crime fiction for adults under both her own name and the pseudonym “Jack Early.” These books were superb as well.

A few months back, Ms. Scoppettone announced her plans to retire. This is the kind of news that makes me want to stick my fingers in my ears and shout, “I can’t HEAR you!” as I don’t like to imagine a world in which there is no possibility of a new Scoppettone book somewhere down the line….

Anyway, despite the fact that this blog doesn’t usually focus on adult books, and definitely doesn’t truck with e-readers, Sanda Scoppettone has contributed so much to young readers over the years that I want to publicize her latest venture here: she is beginning to publish some of her older novels on as e-books.


Published in 1984, this was she wrote under the name “Jack Early.” It won the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and was nominated for an Edgar Award.

There has only been one customer review of the e-book posted and, while the reviewer acknowledges it’s “a good murder mystery,” they also include this odd comment: “…why a female author would try to hide behind a male name as an author in this day and age is very curious.”

Let’s let Sandra Scoppettone answer that question herself:

The voice in the book came to me as a man. And in first person. I thought it might be distracting to have a woman’s name on it. And although I’d published quite a number of novels by then…let’s just say it was time for me to reinvent myself.

The Early books got great reviews and I was compared to some of the best male crime writers. That hadn't happened to Scoppettone before and it hasn’t since. In 1984 there weren’t a lot of women being nominated for crime awards. Can’t prove a thing, but I’ll never be dissuaded that using a man’s name on the book at that time accounted for its reception.

Pretty interesting, huh?

If you’re a fan of SUZUKI BEANE or the author’s YA novels, you might want to give this one a shot. And it’s only $1.99!


You’ve just read about how Sandra Scoppettone got more respect in the crime fiction field when she used a man’s name as a pseudonym.

I wonder if a male would have more success in the YA field if he used a woman’s name as a pseudonym?

A few months ago I got into all kinds of trouble when I pointed out that, since the inception of the Morris Award for a Debut Young Adult Author, fourteen of the fifteen nominees have been women.

Here I go again…

I just noticed something similiarly troubling with the 2011 “Best Fiction for Young Adults” list issued by the American Library Association.

There are 99 titles on the list but, due to books written jointly by two authors, there are 102 authors represented on the list.

Out of those 102 authors, only 32 are male.

Prejudice? Coincidence? Simply reflective of the larger pool of YA books eligible for the list?

I don’t know.

But I do find it odd that a book such as YOU by Charles Benoit -- a well-written, boy-pleasing book if there ever was one -- somehow didn’t make the cut.

What was that all about?


I’m always fascinated when a children’s book gets mentioned in the popular media. Not only does it say a lot about the zeitgeist, but it also brings titles to the attention of the public -- either triggering a childhood memory or introducing an adult to a notable children’s book for the first time.

This past week I came across two such mentions -- one nice, one nasty.

Let’s get the nasty one out of the way first.

If you’re a reader of People Magazine or the tabloids, you’ve probably been following the divorce of Sandra Bullock and biker-husband Jesse James. One of the more disgusting aspects of this case was the revelation that Jesse James has an obsession with Nazis and Hitler. About a week ago, US Magazine published a photo of him holding up a figure made to look like Hitler:

Now they could have called it a “cut out” or a “paper doll,” but they did not.

Every media report I read referred to the figure as a “Flat Stanley.”

Flat Stanley is the protagonist of the eponymous 1964 picture book, written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer.

On a more lighthearted note, designer Isaac Mizrahi visited TOP CHEF and challenged the chefs to create a dish with aesthetic appeal.

Antonia did an homage to Shel Silverstein’s THE GIVING TREE:

When she presented it to Mizrahi -- who is known as a reader of big hard classics like ANNA KARENINA and MEMOIRS OF HADRIAN -- the designer gasped and said, “THE GIVING TREE! My favorite book!”

Antonia didn’t win the challenge, but it was nice to hear a children’s book mentioned!


A blog reader wrote and asked if I could identify two books, based on her descriptions.

Can you?

1. The first had a main character who was a late 19th century girl (I think she was American) whose mother is pregnant, but they have to hide it in order to be socially correct. I can't remember a thing about the plot. This bit of info about the pregnancy may have only been an incidental point in the book, but it's the thing that has stuck with me.

2. A story set in (I believe) the 1950s. The main character was a very poor white teen girl, possibly the child of immigrants. I can't remember the plot (she may have had a younger brother who was heading into trouble?). The story ends with the family being given a spot in brand new public housing and she thinks this will solve all their problems (and this wasn't meant in an ironic way.)

Do either of these descriptions sound familiar? Let me know if you have any ideas!


I’m intrigued by a series that will be published this summer.

Hot on the heels of Catherine Fisher’s success with INCARCERON and SAPPHIQUE, Dial is issuing a new series from the author called “Relic Master.”

Actually, the series isn’t really new. The four volumes (THE RELIC MASTER; THE INTERREX; FLAIN’S CORONET, and THE MARGRAVE) were originally published in Great Britain between 1998 and 2001 under the series title “The Book of the Crow.”

Now these novels are coming to our shores with the titles THE DARK CITY, THE LOST HEIRESS, THE HIDDEN CORONET, and THE MARGRAVE.

Of course many fantasy series are imported from Great Britain, but generally the volumes are published anywhere from a few months to a year apart.

What makes “Relic Master” so unusual is that all of the volumes will be published this summer -- a book a month from May through August. This is good news for all of us instant gratification types (Robin McKinley offers this blurb for the first volume: “I want the sequel, and I want it now.”) and I love the idea of a kid reading all four books over the course of one summer. But I’ll also be curious to see how the books sell. I’ve always heard that libraries don’t want to put all their limited funds in one basket -- which is why some prolific authors write under pen names. (When Barbara Corcoran released more than one book per season, she’d publish the second title as “Paige Dixon” – the idea being that a library wouldn’t buy two Corcorans at one time, but they might buy one Corcoran and one Dixon.) So I wonder if any library will buy all four books during one year -- especially since the books are being issued as $16.99 hardcovers.

I wonder if publishing in paperback would have been a better option. Kids might then afford to buy the books on their own, and libraries wouldn’t be forced to spend a big part of their hardcover budget on one author….


Maybe I’m wrong when I say that kids would prefer to buy paperbacks of Catherine Fisher’s series.

The fact that Jay Asher’s young adult novel THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is available only in hardcover has not hurt the success of that smash hit. The copies on my bookstore shelf state the book is in its 32nd printing, which is pretty mind-boggling considering it’s only been around since October 2007! There are a reported 750,000 hardcover copies now in print.
Obviously, this shows that kids can and will purchase hardcover books on their own, if motivated.

And the book will -- if anything -- even more popular this June when it is finally released in paperback. A first printing of 500,000 copies is planned.

I am among those who are pleased to see kids so excited about a novel…yet I’m somewhat perplexed that it’s this particular novel. I read THIRTEEN REASONS WHY when it was published and thought the premise strained credibility and the “message” was worrisome. (I understand the “they’ll be sorry” kid appeal of blaming others for one’s suicide, but it also made me very uncomfortable as an adult.)

However, the fact that so many young readers continue to be devoted to this book makes me think that I need to re-read it and re-evaluate it….


If you’re at a bookstore or library this week, pick up a copy of Tammar Stein’s new novel KINDRED and read the first fifteen pages.

Then see if you can leave the bookstore or library without buying or checking out the book!


BIG RED LOLLIPOP by Rukhsana Khan has won the 2011 Charlotte Zolotow Award.

Named in honor of the Harper editor and picture book writer Charlotte Zolotow, this award is unique among children’s book prizes in that it’s given to the author of a picture book text. Most other picture book awards, such as the Caldecott, honor the illustrator rather than the writer. And while picture book texts are eligible for the Newbery, only a handful have been rewarded over the years:

MILLIONS OF CATS by Wanda Gag (1929 Honor Book)
ABC BUNNY by Wanda Gag (1934 Honor Book)
DR. DESOTO by William Steig (1983 Honor Book)
LIKE JAKE AND ME by Mavis Jukes (1985 Honor Book)
SHOW WAY by Jacqueline Woodson (2006 Honor Book)

Did I miss any?

The previous winners of the Charlotte Zolotow Award are:

2010 / WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A PALETA? / Carmen Tafolla
2009 / HOW TO HEAL A BROKEN WING / Bob Graham
2008 / THANK YOU BEAR / Greg Foley
2007 / MOON PLANE / Peter McCarty
2006 / MY BEST FRIEND / Mary Ann Rodman
2005 / KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON / Kevin Henkes
2004 / WHAT JAMES LIKES BEST / Amy Schwartz
2003 / FARFALLINA & MARCEL / Holly Keller
2001 / THE NIGHT WORKER / Kate Banks
1999 / SNOW / Uri Shulevitz
1998 / DON’T LAUGH, JOE! / Keiko Kaska


I love reading SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL’s website, but it sometimes makes me want to projectile vomit.

Case in point: a recent interview with that wonderful young adult author Hilary Duff. In this piece, the “actress, songwriter, singer, and philanthropist” talks about what led her to write a novel, identifies her literary influences, and uses that most actressy of all actressy terms: “me time.”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: why am I lambasting SLJ for getting all fan-girly and giggly about a celebrity author? After all, I write about celebrities all the time in this blog including -- earlier today – Jesse James.

Maybe I’m just trying to justify my own actions, but I see a big difference. When I write about Top Chef or Jesse James, I’m talking about the influences of children’s book on popular media. I am not getting an interview from James about his favorite Hitler bio for kids.

But SLJ IS going to Hilary Duff to ask her all about books and writing…just like they interviewed Regis Philbin’s daughter on the same topic some time back.

Don’t these show-biz people get enough press from PEOPLE and US and the NATIONAL ENQUIRER? Wouldn’t SLJ -- a literary magazine of serious intent -- be better off interviewing maybe...I don't know...a talented author who worked hard to get published…has never been in a movie...or made a recording...and doesn’t have any other famous relatives…and who could really, really use some good publicity? And who didn't write her book with the assistance of "an amazing co-writer"? And who never once talks about needing "me time"?


I was sorry to learn about the recent death of author Brian Jacques, author of the epic “Redwall” fantasy series.

What a wonderful legacy to leave behind…..

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

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Joan Bauer and My Warped Summer

I just read a fun new book -- CLOSE TO FAMOUS by Joan Bauer.

I've been a big fan of the author since her 1992 debut novel, SQUASHED -- the story of a teenage girl desperate to win a pumpkin-growing contest. Most of the author's subsequent stories concern determined protagonists pursuing a variety of surprising talents -- which include photography, pool-playing, journalism, even shoe-selling -- while simultaneously dealing with family and romantic issues. Joan Bauer is especially good at creating a sense of community; her books contain large casts of supportive friends and neighbors, as well as the occasional nemesis standing in the way of the protagonists' success.

Though written for a somewhat younger audience than usual, Ms. Bauer's latest novel features another narrator with an unusual talent: twelve-year-old Foster McFee is a baker and food philosopher ("Sometimes just sitting with someone you love and having a warm muffin can help make things right") whose tasty cupcakes have the ability to win friends and influence people. And right now she needs all the friends she can get. She and her mother have randomly landed in Culpepper, West Virginia after fleeing Memphis -- and Mama's abusive boyfriend, an Elvis impersonator. In Culpepper, Foster hawks her cupcakes and meets a variety of colorful characters, including a young documentary moviemaker and Miss Charleena, a retired Oscar-nominated actress who ends up tutoring the reading-challenged narrator. Loaded with incident, the book reads like a breeze and, while the final chapters may strain a bit to make most of the dreams of most of the characters come true, CLOSE TO FAMOUS is a fun, likable book as inviting as one of Foster's chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter icing.

On a purely personal level, the book held a nice surprise for me.

The dedication page (poignantly dedicated to the author's recently-deceased mother) also includes a "WITH SPECIAL THANKS TO" list. Ms. Bauer thanks a woman "who walked me through the world of challenged readers" as well as another whose understanding "of a singer's mind, heart, and soul" helped Bauer with the characterization of Foster's singer mother.

Then I came to this thank you:

...and suddenly I was flipped back in time, watching the fate of the world be determined on a twenty foot stage.

I hadn't seen the name "Catrina Ganey" in years, but there it was -- on the first page of CLOSE TO FAMOUS. And it immediately took me back to 1983 when an epic science fiction drama called WARP played at the Attic Theatre, a small professional playhouse in downtown Detroit. Bursting with superheroes, monsters, acrobatic stage battles, fireworks, a million special effects, and the skimpiest costumes this side of a peep show, WARP was a Marvel Comic come to life. Think of it as everything Julie Taymor's current Broadway bomb SPIDERMAN could have and should have been. Presented as three separate shows which opened weeks apart but later played in repertory, WARP remains one of the best plays I've ever seen.

Though already an inveterate theatre-goer at the time, WARP made me realize that a tiny, in-the-round stage didn't have to be confined to intimate human dramas...but could instead create worlds upon worlds upon (alien) worlds in a space smaller than the size of an average bedroom. I went to see each play in the WARP saga twice -- first with my parents and later with my friend -- and wished I could have seen the season-ending "WARP-a-thon," which featured all three episodes presented over the course of a single day, but it cost something like $100, which seemed as elusive as a million bucks to me back then.

I've never forgotten the summer of 1983: those orange summer twilights driving downtown, then coming out of the theatre into the thick night air, talking nonstop:

"Wasn't it great?"

"What was your favorite part?"

"Wasn't it cool when--?"

"And what about when--?"

If I close my eyes I can almost hear the live synthesizer music that accompanied the play.

You're probably wondering what all this has to do with Joan Bauer's book.

Nothing, except that Catrina Ganey, who helped inspire the character of Miss Charleena in CLOSE TO FAMOUS, was once a local actress here in Detroit. She played a leading role in WARP -- Sargon, Mistress of War -- with a blend of power, danger, and tongue-in-cheek sass.

The nature of theatre is ephemeral. Shows open, shows close. Unlike a book, which one can revisit again and again, theatre exists only in the moment. But it can also live on in one's memory, as WARP has done for me. Over the last three decades, I've found myself thinking of this play a lot, not just for its exhilirating stagecraft, but also for its storyline, which I found sort of profound (hey, I was in my early twenties when I saw it.) And I've continued to think about the performers who brought it all to life. That's another rule of theatre: actors come together to create magic moments and then drift apart to regroup in different combinations. Sometimes they disappear, never to be seen again. I've often wondered what happened to the hugely-talented WARP cast when the summer of '83 ended and they were un-Warped....

Who knew I'd discover one of them within the pages of a book by a favorite author?

It's like I always say: you never know what -- or who -- you may find in a children's book.