Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sunday Brunch with Two Helpings of Lois Lowry

Today's Sunday Brunch suggests some good informational books about the Newbery and Caldecott Awards, looks at two new books by Lois Lowry, and explains why you may want to watch (or skip) tonight's CELEBRITY APPRENTICE.


Julie Danielson, of the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog and (along with Elizabeth Bird) one of my co-writers for the forthcoming Candewick book, is now blogging for Kirkus Reviews. Check out her first Kirkus column.


If you're one of my Facebook friends (and if you aren't, feel free to "friend" me), you'll notice that all the TV series I've "favorited" on my FB page are reality shows.

Yeah, I'm a reality show addict.

One friend calls them "staged." Another calls these shows "trainwreck TV." They're both right to an extent, but I still can't stop watching. Personally, I think reality TV provides a lot of insight into human behavior, which is shown at its best, worst, and (especially) most contradictory, on these shows.

Last Sunday Donald Trump returned with a new season of CELEBRITY APPRENTICE.

According to SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL's website, tonight's episode of CELEB APPRENTICE will either be a "don't miss" or "don't watch" episode for children's book fans:

Margery Cuyler, the publisher of Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, will appear in the episode alongside a star-studded cast that includes Gary Busey, La Toya Jackson, David Cassidy, and Dionne Warwick -- all of whom battle it out for their favorite charities.

The episode will focus on what most of us would consider a dream assignment --children's literature -- as Cuyler, an author and publisher of the Marshall Cavendish imprint, along with actress Robin Holly, judge two teams of celebrities as they author an original picture book.

Okay, first of all, since I seem to be the only blogger in the world not making an income from my blog and I'm poor as a church mouse (see Lois Lowry entry below), would SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL like to hire me as a copy editor for their website? Margery Cuyler is not going to appear alongside David Cassidy, as he got the heave-ho last week. And who the heck is "Robin Holly"? I think they meant "Holly Robinson." Call me, SLJ, I work cheap.

But I digress....

As mentioned earlier, the children's book competition on tonight's Trump show has both positive and negative ramifications.

On the plus side, it's great to see children's books discussed on any prime-time TV show. And it will be nice to see a noted publisher such as Margery Cuyler get some attention.

On the minus side, I hate to see any program promote the idea that anyone (even Gary Busey!) can write a children's book, or that such an endeavor can be completed in a number of hours, as opposed to the weeks, months, and sometimes years required to create a "real" children's book.

Remember, this is not the first time the APPRENTICE has dabbled in children's books. A few years ago, when Martha Stewart hosted her own version of this show, the contestants also competed in a challenge to write a children's book for Random House. The resulting book was even published:

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY called it "a true insult to children's book authors, illustrators and booksellers."


Okay, THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE is not the best place to find emerging literary talent...but could television be used to discover the next Katherine Paterson or Maurice Sendak?

A couple years ago I wrote a blog containing my idea for a children's book reality show. Since it fits in with the current discussion, I'm, in today's column:

I once had a discussion about reality TV with a former friend who had worked in the field of children’s books for many years. She wistfully said, “I just wish we could find some way to use such reality shows to launch new children's book creators!”

Why not?

Wouldn't that be a great concept for a reality series? Doesn’t everyone want to a write a children’s book these days? Every time I mention my work, people either tell me, “Oh, I love children’s books!” or “I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book!”

Okay, let’s give them a chance. They can try out for...well, let’s call it PROJECT NEWBERY or FINDING THE NEW SEUSS or WRITE ON! or ROWLING FOR DOLLARS.

Obviously it wouldn’t be a major network "American Idol" type of show, but more of a niche series on a network farther up the cable dial, like A&E or Bravo. You get ten or twelve aspiring children's writers and find some cool, funny, quick-witted children’s book person to host the show (paging Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith) and a panel of judges. Maybe one judge is a supportive fellow children’s author. Another is a ruthless agent. The third is a nasty editor (I can offer a list. A long list.)

And of course the weekly writing assignments would have to be humorous and entertaining:

Week 1) Each contestant is given a dog to take care of for a day. Hilarity ensues. Then they have to write a story about the dog.

Week 2) Each contestant has to attend a modern high school for a day. Hilarity ensues. Then they have to write a fictional story using what they learned about high school life.

Week 3) A 24-hour write-off in which each contestant has to write a 100 page children's book in one day. Hilarity ensues as contestants yawn and fall out of their chairs while writing.

The viewers see each contestant reading parts of their stories out loud to the judges (of course the film editors would include REALLY bad sections so they can show the judges wincing, as well as really good sections which make the judges nod and smile.) All the complete stories would be included on the show's website so viewers at home could read the entire texts.

At the end of each show the judges praise the best stories, criticize the worst and someone is handed a "rejection slip" and, in a nod to children’s book character Philip Hall, told to “Get on out of here.”

The last contestant standing gets a publishing contract and the series is timed so the winning book is available the week after the show ends. Because of the TV exposure, the book becomes a bestseller.

Hey, I'd watch it.



I guess that should really read "The Trouble with Stock Photographs."

In recent years, publishers have turned away from original cover artwork on dustjackets, relying more and more on stock photographs. This has resulted in a lot of nearly indistinguishable dustjackets featuring close-up shots of feet (sometimes bare, sometimes clad in tennis shoes or funny socks), an infinity of chopped-off heads, and occasionally a single flower or random tchotchke.) It can also cause unwitting publishers to select the exact same image for two completely different books.

Case in point:

Have you seen any other examples of the same photo being used on two children's or young adult books? If so, let me know and I'll post them here.


Children's book fans frequently ask me if I can recommend a book about the Newbery and Caldecott Awards.

Looking through my own collection, here are my four favorites:

NEWBERY MEDAL BOOKS: 1922-1955, WITH THEIR AUTHORS' ACCEPTANCE PAPERS & RELATED MATERIAL CHIEFLY FROM THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE. Edited by Bertha Mahoney Miller and Elinor Whitney Field, the volume was published in Boston by the Horn Book in 1955.

There is also a Horn Book Caldecott volume that covers the years from 1938 to 1957, as well as supplemental Newbery-Caldecott volumes issued about every ten years since then. Though seeking the texts of the winners' speeches, as well as biographical sketches of these creators will find them here. Not every volume in this series is the same, but some contain critical discussions of the winners, recaps in which the winners reflect on life since the award, and other intriguing additions and articles.

A HISTORY OF THE NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT MEDALS by Irene Smith. New York : Viking, 1957. Another edition was published in 1962.

This volume provides an historical summary of children's books before the advent of the awards, as well as details on how the prizes came to be. My favorite section compares the relative popularity of the winning titles circa the late 1950s.

NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT AWARDS : A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF FIRST EDITIONS. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1949.

If you're a true bibliophile, this is the book for you. An entry for each award winner gives specific, detailed info on how to identify a first edition of that title. Each book's original publication date and award date are provided. (For example, JOHNNY TREMAIN was published November 15, 1943 and received the Newbery on May 11, 1944.) The only problem with this book is that it only covers the winners through 1948. Man, do we need a new edition that takes us into the twenty-first century!

NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT MEDAL AND HONOR BOOKS : AN ANNOTATED BIOGRAPHY by Linda Kauffman Peterson and Marilyn Leathers Solt. Boston : G.K. Hall, 1982.

After chapers describing general "characteristics and trends" of the Newbery and Caldecott winners, the book provides a detailed description of every award winner and Honor Book. Often running a full-page in length, each entry includes a plot summary and critical appraisal which is usually positive in tone, though not always. The information on Honor Books is especially valuable, as most award volumes don't usually recognize the Honors this thoroughly. The book is also notable for its comprehensive listing of the illustration style, page size, and media utilized in each Caldecott winner and Honor Book. Published by an academic press, this book -- with its bland cover and "typeface" font -- isn't much to look at it, but belongs in every award fan's personal library. Again, though, we really need an update edition to cover the winners since 1982!

Do you have any favorite informational books about the Newbery and Caldecott to add to this list?


While wandering the library stacks this week, I came across a series of children's art books by Ernest Raboff. Each thin volume was devoted to an individual artist, including, among others, Paul Klee, Frederic Remington, Marc Chagall, and Pablo Picasso.

Essentially, the books were just compilations of the artist's work, with a single page of simple analysis for each painting. For example, here is Picasso's 1901 painting "The Gourmet":

On the opposite page, we learn these simple facts:

* Picasso was only twenty when he painted this picture.

* It was created during his “blue period,” three years in which “a warm blue light is seen in all his paintings.”

* “The lines of her hair, the folds of napkin around her throat, across her shoulder and down her back, keep oureyes moving.”

* “The circle formed by the head is repeated by the position of her arms, the bowl, the top and bottom of the tablecloth, and the hem of her dress.”


* “Even the lines of the floor and curtains give life and moment to the painting.”

I was amazed that just a few lines of text (printed in a visually arresting way) could provide so much information -- not just basic facts about the painting, but also explaining the techniques Picasso used in line and form to achieve his desired effect. As old as I am, it certainly made me view the painting more closely. So I can only imagine the effect this type of analysis could have on a young reader -- perhaps turning him into an art afficionado at an early age.

Looking at these Ernest Raboff volumes today, I thought, "Why didn't they have books like this when I was a kid?" Then I looked at the copyright pages and, noting they were all pages in the late sixties and early seventies, I realized they DID have these books when I was a kid...but I never came across them in the library stacks, nor did anyone introduce me to them.

But the books are still out there. I hope today's kids stumble across them at the library. It would great if they learned a bit about art and increase their "cultural intelligence" while young instead of waiting till age 52 like me!


One of our most-acclaimed children's writers, two-time Newbery winner Lois Lowry, seems to have entered a new phase of her career in recent years. After a succession of ambitious novels such as the "Giver Trilogy" and THE SILENT BOY, a book which never got as much attention as it deserved, she has spent recent years experimenting with a variety of styles and formats, including a series for early readers (the "Gooney Bird" series), a picture book, and satires of Victorian novels and fairy tales. This spring brings us two more unexpected works, an animal fantasy and a volume in the popular "Dear America" historical series.

The latter book, LIKE THE WILLOW TREE : THE DIARY OF LYDIA AMELIA PIERCE, concerns an eleven-year-old girl who, along with her older brother, is orphaned by the influenza epidemic of 1918. Lydia and Daniel are eventually taken to the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake. Lydia's diary describes the simple customs of her new life, as well as her fear when Daniel runs away from the religious community. Real figures in Shaker history appear throughout this quiet story of growth and acceptance. The book only covers a few months in the lives of the siblings and some readers may wish for a longer story that could have explored the dramatic events of Lydia and Daniel's later lives which are summarized rather quickly in the epilogue. As in all the "Dear America" books, back matter includes background information and black-and-white photographs that place the fictional work in historical context.

BLESS THIS MOUSE also has a religious component, as the story is populated by 220 ice, led by Mistress Mouse Hildegarde, who live hidden inside an (apparently Episcopalian) church. When a few of the mice are spotted by parishoners ("Eek!") the church calls in an exterminator and the rodents make an "exodus" to live outdoors. Profusely illustrated by Eric Rohmann, this is one of those animals fantasies where the mice where shirts, hats, and glasses but no pants. (Why do so many animals in kids' books dress up and then go without pants? It's so pervy.) And the gently humorous story comes to a strong conclusion as the community of church mice figures out how to foil the exterminator's glue traps and Hildegarde eventually participates in the church's annual "Blessing of the Animals."

Though not major Lowry works, both novels are written with the author's assured, professional prose and will please many young readers.


About three years ago I wrote a blog about THE GOLDEN BOOK OF 365 STORIES, which contained a story or poem for every day of the year. It turned out to be one of the most popular blog entries I ever wrote -- not, I should quickly add, due to my cogent literary analysis or scintillating prose, but simply because so many people remember this book so fondly from their childhoods.

In the original blog, I bemoaned the fact that the GOLDLEN BOOK entry for my birthday was a blandly sweet poem about being twins. Yesterday I received an e-mail from a reader asking, "Can you please post a copy of the 'Two of us' poem? I have been searching for it for years as a teacher gave it to my sister (my twin) as a child. I know it's sickly sweet...but it's a twin thing! Thanks!"

Sure, I'm glad to help. Here's the poem:

If it's difficult to read the text, click on the image to make it bigger.

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


Unknown said...

Regarding the question about books that use the same photo, I found a couple: 'Reluctantly Alice' by Naylor (paperback), and 'Is it still cheating if I don't get caught?' by Weinstein.

Rebecca Moore, The Overlake School

Bridget Heos said...

I love your idea of a reality show to find the next great picture book writer/illustrator...BUT I think the contestants should already be working children's book writers and illustrators (maybe some published and some unpublished but working hard at it.) They could be competing for a big contract. For me, that's what makes shows like Project Runway and Top Chef work. The contestants are talented and experienced, and it's fun to watch them work. With this all being theoretical, I don't know why I feel the need to request specific details. But you never know. Maybe someday you will make this show!

Anonymous said...

Tonight on Jeopardy! one of the clues was about a vehicle pulled by 3 horses. Thanks to children's books, I immediately knew the answer (er, question): Troika!

None of the contestants knew it. If only they had spent more time reading children's books . . .

(post that references the troika)

Debbie Reese said...


It is on my list of books to read. What I'll say right away, however, is that it is about a Navajo, but the illustrations aren't of Navajo homes. Those illustrations suggest Mesa Verde, Bandelier... places built by our (Pueblo Indian) ancestors.

Those national parks were known as "Anasazi" until recently, when the National Park System abandoned that word and began using "Ancestral Pueblo" instead. Here's the link to the Bandelier page.

See the photo, and compare it to the illustrations from WATERLESS MOUNTAIN that you uploaded.