Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Brunch

Happy Easter!

Pesach Same'ach! (Yes, I looked that up.)

Happy Spring!

I'm starting to write this blog on Saturday morning, just after decorating my Easter eggs.

This year I used "egg wraps," plastic sleeves that you slip around your eggs:

Then you dip them in boiling water for 3-5 seconds until the wrap adheres to the egg shell:

Place eggs in basket:

Put basket on table:

...and you're all set for Easter -- the most neglected holiday in children's and young adult books.

Think about it.

While it's true that there are many picture books that celebrate Easter and, to a lesser extent, Passover, these springtime holidays are nearly forgotten in novels for older readers.

Christmas, Halloween, birthdays, Valentine's Day...we can all name dozens of children's titles that feature scenes set around these holidays. But when was the last time you saw a scene which occurs, even incidentally, on Easter? Passover fares somewhat better because it turns up in many memoirs...but how many contemporary novels contain Passover scenes?

And I can only think of one novel that refers to both Easter and Passover -- Jane Yolen's THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC, which begins with references to the protagonist eating Easter candy before going to a family seder.

Can you think of any contemporary novels in which Easter and/or Passover play a role?


My bookstore buddy just gave me a very cool promotional item that was distributed by the publisher Penguin.

It's a very well-made cardboard box labeled "THE FALL 2011 PENGUIN PORTFOLIO : A SPOTLIGHT ON PICTURE BOOKS":

Inside are six glossy prints, each containing an illustration from one of Penguin's fall picture books, including BLUE CHICKEN by Deborah Freedman; KING JACK AND THE DRAGON, written by Peter Bentley and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury; LOVE, MOUSERELLA by David Ezra Stein; OTIS AND THE TORNADO by Loren Long, STUCK by Oliver Jeffers, and THE BOY WHO PAINTED A BLUE HORSE by Eric Carle:


Every book gets written in the same way: word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page.

But have you ever wondered how many pages an author produces in a single day?

I did a little research and came up with the following facts and figures.

Linda Sue Park states, "I have finished every single one of my novels by writing two pages per day." She developed this schedule after reading that Katherine Paterson, who got stuck writing one of her own books, had once forced herself to complete two pages a day.

Kate DiCamillo wrote, "Five days a week, I get up, drink a cup of coffee, and then go to the computer and write. Two pages a day are what I ask of myself." (Works well for her. Ms. DiCamillo has won a Newbery (THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX), a Newbery Honor (BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE), and been finalist for the National Book Award (TIGER RISING.)

S.E. Hinton suffered a bad case of writer's block after publishing THE OUTSIDERS as a teenager. The only way she was able to write her second novel, THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW, was in two-page increments. Her boyfriend (later husband) would drop by each evening and wouldn't take her out unless she'd produced the two promised pages.

As an aspiring writer with a full-time job, National Book Award winner Judy Blundell (WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED) "set out to write two pages a day, five days a week. Just two pages. Sometimes I did more, but always two pages. Two pages a day doesn’t seem much, but some days it was!

Rising star Dana Reinhardt (THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS) says, "My goal for each day can change but in general, my rule is that my workday's not done until I have three pages, which is roughly 1,000 words, maybe a little less. So it's somewhere in there. I generally don't let myself off the hook until I've done that. And sometimes I can do that in 40 minutes, and sometimes it takes me ten hours. But I try to have that done every single day."

Philip Pullman also insists on three pages a day. Imagine: just three pages each day can eventually lead to something as magnificent as the "Northern Lights" trilogy!

Gary Soto (BASEBALL IN APRIL) describes his schedule: "I usually write about three pages a day, or four, or five. But not much more."

The late Isabelle Holland (THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE) said, "I try to write four pages a day. Sometimes I can do this in an hour and a half and then I can write more; sometimes I write myself out after four pages and have to stop; sometimes it takes four hours to write four pages."

Noted for her mystery and suspense novels for kids, Peg Kehret writes five pages a day. In fact, that's what she named her autobiographical work: FIVE PAGES A DAY : A WRITER'S JOURNEY.

Sandra Scoppettone (TRYING HARD TO HEAR YOU; THE LATE GREAT ME) writes five pages a day, but must do it in the morning.

Walter Dean Myers (first Printz winner for MONSTER) writes five pages a day, five days a week.

My favorite writer, M.E. Kerr (GENTLEHANDS; DELIVER US FROM EVIE) gave this report on her writing habits: "I write about 7 pages a day, double-spaced, 12 font."

Norma Klein wrote her first children's novel, MOM, THE WOLF MAN, AND ME, in less than two weeks by producing ten pages a day.

And R.L. Stine wrote all those "Fear Street" and "Goosebumps" books by writing ten pages a day; he finished each book in twelve days.

Obviously there are many ways to write a book, but every book begins by writing one word on the very first page....


For readers raised on the novels of Marguerite Henry, illustrator Wesley Dennis sets the standard for twentieth-century horse artists.

Born in 1903, he first became interested in horses after watching a film about polo. He went on to play polo himself, then served time in the military -- joining the cavalry, of course. After beginning his career as a commerical newspaper artist, he took time off to visit racetracks and draw horses, then began writing and illustrating equine-themed picture books (FLIP, 1941; FLIP AND THE COWS, 1942.) He was so enchanted by the manuscript of Marguerite Henry's JUSTIN MORGAN HAD A HORSE (1945) that he volunteered to illustrate it for free. He did illustrate the book (but not for free) and thus began a partnership with the author that lasted through many books, including the Newbery Honor MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE and Newbery winner KING OF THE WIND.

Browsing through the stacks this week, I came across an edition of Anna Sewell's BLACK BEAUTY, illustrated by Wesley Dennis.

A classic horse story illustrated by one of our greatest equine artists sounds like a match made in heaven, but even the cover of the book looked cheesy and artificial -- more like a volume you'd find in a dime-store book section than on a library shelf:

The illustrations inside were equally disappointing. You may have to click on the images to enlarge them to see how bereft of detail they are. Where are the riders' faces here?

The drawing style is sketchy and rough:

And many of the pictures are too dark. In this picture, the horse could well be an ox or an elephant:

I'm not exactly sure what to make of this edition of BLACK BEAUTY. Published in 1946, it was done around the same time Mr. Dennis was doing beautiful, smooth, clean-lined work for Marguerite Henry's books, as pictured here:

I don't know whether the publishers of BLACK BEAUTY specifically requested sketchy illustrations, or if Wesley Dennis was experimenting with a less "finished" look here, or if his heart just wasn't in this book. Whatever the case, it's clearly not his best work, which is a shame since BLACK BEAUTY seems, in theory, as if it would have been the perfect book for this artist to illustrate.


Another oddity I found in the library stacks was THE NEW HEALTHYLAND : A BOOK OF HEALTH STORIES, PICTURES, PLAYS, VERSES AND LETTERS FOR CHILDREN. Published in 1930, most of the material in this book originally appeared on a children's page in HYGEIA, THE HEALTH MAGAZINE OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION.

This oversized volume is jam-packed with stories such as "The Long Road to Polly's Hanky," "Peter Rabbit Builds a Fire," and "Junior and Mr. Germ."

There are poems such as "Weighing in School," which starts with the lines "We have nutrition class in school / The fat ones don't belong." There are also equally insulting stereotypes in a series of letters, ostensibly written by kids from various countries.

My favorite part of the book is lengthy play in which several of the characters are -- literally -- headaches. Some of the dialogue:

"I am the first little Headache. I accompany a little boy who needs glasses but will not wear them. I dance in front of his eyes every time he looks at the blackboard. I laugh at him every time he opens a book. He cannot do his arithmetic because the numbers play tricks on him. The only way he can get rid of me is to wear glasses."

"I am the second little Headache. I lie in the bedroom of a little schoolgirl. She shares the room with her sister. Both of them refuse to open the windows, especially at night when they go to bed. They are taught at school to sleep with plenty of fresh air in the room, but they do not pay attention to what the teacher tells them. Every morning they wake up with headaches, because of the bad air they have been breathing during their sleep."

"I am the third little Headache. I make my home in a very pleasant place, right in the center of a pie or a box of candy. Here I wait until some foolish child, just home from school, finds the pie and eats it. Headache included. I really do not feel sorry for him as he has no business ransacking the pantry for sweets, which should be eaten only after meals. He should be content with the buttered bread and the milk that his mother sets out for him."

The fourth Little Headache comes from stale air at the movies, the fifth from not eating enough, and the sixth from drinking tea or coffee.

Actually, reading this long-winded and boring play gave me a headache!


The final curiosity I uncovered in the stacks this week was JUDY'S SUMMER ADVENTURE, written by Sally Scott and illustrated by Beth Krush, the artist who frequently collaborated with her husband Joe Krush.

In this story, Judy, her little brother, and their mother begin their vacation in the woods a few days before their father joins them. What struck me most about this slim book was that Judy's little brother constantly carries around a toy gun "that was just the size of a real grown-up one."

I'm not arguing whether kids should or shouldn't play with guns, or whether weapons -- even toy weapons -- should or shouldn't be portrayed in books for children.

But what struck me was the constant presence of the gun in the story, as well as the reckless way this tiny tot lugs it around. Sure, it's a toy gun, but still...shouldn't a gun (even a toy gun) be treated with a little more caution and respect?

JUDY'S SUMMER ADVENTURE was published in 1960.

Do you think we'd ever see these kinds of pictures in a book published in 2011?


Do you know this book, which was originally published for adults?

Issued in 1958 when the author was only twenty-five years old, THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT became something of a cult classic. This novel was made into a 1964 movie, written by the author's father, Nunnally Johnson, and was later the basis for the short-lived Broadway musical HENRY, SWEET HENRY. First editions of THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT are hard to find and can range in price from $100 to $500.

It seems as if I've heard about this title all my life, though I never saw a copy of the book, never saw the movie, and never (darn it!) saw the play. But I recently discovered that THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT is still available as hardcover reprint from Green Mansions Press for $12.95. And I was especially surprised to learn this edition has been marketed as a young adult book; it says so right on the back cover. It's true that the novel concerns a pair of thirteen-year-old girls, narrator Marian and her new friend Val, students at an exclusive New York girls school. A gifted pianist, Val is a larger than life character who "lived in a sort of wheel-like society with herself at the hub. <...> "All of us theoretically rotated around Val, giving our opinions of her, which were always good. If anyone missed a cue, and seemed to be more interested in his own life than Val's she would be deeply hurt." Although that sounds far from likable, Val is also somewhat pathetic, living with guardians while her parents are abroad and leaving school early each day to meet with a psychiatrist. Marian, something of a misfit herself, makes a good foil for Val, often living vicariously through her friend's adventures -- especially when Val becomes obsessed with the concert pianist Henry Orient.

Nora Johnson does a superb job portraying Val's romantic fixation. Henry Orient barely appears in the novel, and what we know about him isn't exactly enchanting (he's unattractive, a cad, and not particularly talented as a musician) yet Val mysteriously builds up this stick-figure in her mind as only a teenage girl with a crush can. She fills notebooks and scrapbooks with clippings, and creates a coded language to talk about him. When the girls plan to meet Henry Orient, their entire world comes crashing down, and we realize that Val has crossed from childhood to adolescence while Marian is only able to observe her friend's experience from a distance, as she is not yet ready to join the teenage world of boyfriends and "necking parties." Yet we do see Marian mature over the course of the novel, as she stumbles into the secret world of adult affairs, attempts to protect Val from some hard truths, and begins to function more autonomously -- including making a solo visit to Val's shrink.

I really enjoyed reading THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT this Easter weekend, admiring the layered characterizations of the two girls, and particularly liking the novel's wonderful New York setting. But I continued to wonder if this an adult book or a YA novel? In 1958 it was published and marketed for adults, but by 2002 (when the Green Mansions edition was released) the book was designated for teenage readers. Part of the new designation may be simply because the lead characters are only thirteen years old. As I read the novel, I couldn't help but think that its overall sophistication still marks it as a book for older readers. Then there's the matter of how directly the characters' pysches are analyzed. What to do with a line like, "She smiled, her face full of wistfullness -- longing for more childhood, which she had been so abruptly denied." I can imagine such a situation occurring in a YA novel, but I can't imagine it being stated so blatantly. Of course kids grow up in young adult novels, but we are usually SHOWN the experience, rather than TOLD about it.

I also wondered if only adult readers have the wisdom and experience to understand, in retrospect, Val's crazy, unsensible, unexplainable and potentially dangerous teenage obsession.

...Then I thought that maybe teenage readers may be the only ones who can truly understand this kind of breathlessly all-encompassing crush.

Or perhaps both groups can enjoy the book equally...but in different ways.


If so, what do you think? Adult book? YA book? Or a book for everyone?


Children's book fans may be interested in two adult books that were just published within the past couple weeks.

NEWS FROM THE WORLD is a collection of stories and nonfiction pieces by Paula Fox, whose important work for children includes THE SLAVE DANCER and BLOWFISH LIVE IN THE SEA.

And a 1989 adult book by the late Moomins creator Tove Jansson, FAIR PLAY, may also be of interest:

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

Have a happy holiday!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Brunch -- Now without Spam!

It's a spam-free Sunday at Collecting Children's Books!

Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed the ridiculous amount of spam that appears in the comments section from Hong Kong Florists, Indian Gift Shops, and several other companies that I would never advertise nor buy from. Trying to delete these ads was almost a full-time job, especially when they went back and added comments to blog entries from two or three years ago.

From time to time, people have suggested that I "moderate" blog comments -- something I was hesitant to do. But last week, after a particularly overwhelming onslaught of spam, a couple friends Strongly Suggested I Do Something About It.

So I've had to begin moderating comments, which means that you must copy a random series of letters before you can post anything here, and then I will have to "approve" it before it appears on this blog. I hate doing this, especially as it may mean a lag time of several minutes to several hours from the time you post a comment and it appears online, but it will be nice to not have to wade through all that annoying spam in every comments section.

I love receiving comments, by the way, and thank you for your understanding in this matter.


Being a children's book afficionado, I thought I knew all about Mother Goose.

But I never thought I'd meet her.

One morning last fall I woke up to discover that the muskrats in the pond out back had built a winter house literally overnight. All winter they stayed comfortably indoors while the pond froze-over and snow battered their home:

The part of me that reads picture books imagined the muskrats snuggled cozily inside, sipping cocoa and stringing popcorn and cranberries for their tiny Christmas tree. The part of me that reads nature books pictured the inside of their house as being pitch-dark, crowded, and stinkin' to high heaven.

Now that spring has arrived, the snow and ice are gone -- and a pair of geese have arrived. For the first few days, they mostly splashed around in the pond and padded around the banks. Then I noticed something strange: one of the geese seemed to have taken over the muskrat house. Every time I looked out the window, she was strutting around on top, spreading her wings. After a couple days of that, she settled down. Literally. For the past two weeks the goose has been roosting on the muskrat house twenty-four/seven. That's when I realized she had turned the muskrat's home into her springtime nest. She never leaves.

Meanwhile, her husband floats in slow circles around the nest, occasionally climbing onto the grass to pace back and forth like any nervous father-to-be.

I did a little research this week and learned that the incubation period for goose eggs is anywhere from 25 to 35 days.

Maybe we'll have some baby geese out there by Easter.

Make way for goslings!

Or Gooskrats.


As I always say, you never know where a children's book or author will pop up.

A couple nights ago I sat down to watch THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, a 1944 film noir starring Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett. The story concerns a psychology professor who -- while his wife is out of town -- gets involved with a shady lady and a murder. It's very entertaining. Early in the film, the professor has a lengthy discussion about women and romance with a couple friends. After they depart, he takes a book from the shelf and sits down to read. Without giving too much away, you might say that his book selection ignites and inspires the rest of the movie. When he opens the volume to the title page, we see that it's the Heritage Press edition of THE SONG OF SONGS WHICH IS SOLOMON'S, illustrated by Valenti Angelo.

Of course, my first thought (and maybe yours as well) upon seeing this scene was, "Hey, Valenti Angelo! He illustrated ROLLER SKATES!"

Of course I've always hated the illustrations for ROLLER SKATES, which seem too stark, and cold, and old-fashioned...

...but still, it was nice to see the name of a famous children's book author/illustrator in an unexpected place.

Although Valenti Angelo (who was born in Tuscany in 1897 and immigrated to the United States at age eight) had illustrated dozens of books by the 1930s, ROLLER SKATES by Ruth Sawyer was the first children's book he illustrated. One day, while delivering some of the ROLLER SKATES illustrations to Viking, editor May Massee suggested he write his own novel. Mr. Angelo later recalled his reaction:

"With my schooling!" I exclaimed. "A story about what?"

"Your childhood memories of Italy," she answered. "I know you can do it!"

So I went home and began to write the story NINO. I shall never forget the encouragement and understanding my first editor gave me. Not only did writing open up new vistas to me, but it brought back to life old and precious memories that had been dormant in me for many years. It brought back to me things which are the beauty, the dreams, and the happiness of all childhood. NINO tells of my own life in a Tuscan village before I came to America. It was followed by a sequel, GOLDEN GATE, a story of an Italian family making a new home in a new land, really an account of Nino's early days in America. The horse and buggy days, and those of barefoot boys and dusty roads, peaceful rivers, and graceful mountains, and rich fields of golden grain and vineyards, and the invasion of the four-wheeled carriages.

Valenti Angelo received a Newbery Honor for NINO, coming in just behind the winning book, THIMBLE SUMMER by Elizabeth Enright, and scoring even higher than the now-classic MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS.

People often ask me if I've read all the Newbery Honor Books.

No, there are still a few I haven't read, and NINO is one.

I think I was put off by the illustration, but now that I know a little more about the book, I plan to read it soon.

Incidentally, this is one of the very few older Newbery Honor Books that is still easy to find for a relatively low price. Even today there are several first edition copies available online for less than ten dollars.

My copy wasn't quite that low in price, but it is signed:

Incidentally, Mr. Valenti's daughter, Valdine Plasmati, was also a writer-illustrator of children's books, including THE MAGNIFICENT PUMPKIN (1959) and ALGERNON AND THE PIGEONS (1963.) His son, Peter Angelo, was a musician who played the oboe and English horn. There's a "Peter Angelo" who played those instruments for two Broadway plays, GYPSY (the 1989 revival with Tyne Daly) and LEGS DIAMOND. Same guy?


A friend sent me an interesting article from this past week's New York Times.

Titled "Would You Sign My Kindle?" the piece describes how the continuing trend towarde e-books has affected author signings. Some fans have authors "sign the backs of their iPads and the cases of their Kindles."

Then there is "Autography," which will debut at BookExpo America in May. In the words of the article:

Here’s how an Autography eBook “signing” will work: a reader poses with the author for a photograph, which can be taken with an iPad camera or an external camera. The image immediately appears on the author’s iPad (if it’s shot with an external camera, it’s sent to the iPad via Bluetooth). Then the author uses a stylus to scrawl a digital message below the photo. When finished, the author taps a button on the iPad that sends the fan an e-mail with a link to the image, which can then be downloaded into the eBook.

Oh for the days of paper and pen! Knowing what a mess I make of anything computer-related, I doubt I'd be able to attend an "Autography" signing without a Geek Squad member in tow!


The summer before the United States enters World War II, a young British girl comes to stay with her father’s family in Maine. Eleven-year-old Felicity has never before met her eccentric American relatives, and while she slowly adjusts to the grandmother known as “the Gram,” schoolteacher Uncle Gideon, dreamy Aunt Miami, and the young orphan Derek, she continues to miss her glamorous parents, who have returned to Europe without her.

When a series of letters written in numeric code arrive at the house, the plucky and likable protagonist attempts to crack the code, and solves a few family mysteries at the same time. Astute readers will enjoy staying one-step-ahead of Felicity as they follow the busy plot, and probably won’t mind a few minor flaws along the way. The British qualities of Felicity’s first-person voice often seem heavy-handed and studied. And what are we to make of thirty-something Aunt Miami who moons around the house reciting Shakespeare all day like the heroine of a Victorian novel; didn’t single women work in the 1940s…especially during wartime? But these are small hitches in an otherwise readable historical novel given immediacy by its mystery plot and given charm by its likable young heroine.


I’m not the first person to point this out…but I might as well add my voice to the chorus here: the cover illustration of THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE may be one of the worst dustjackets of the year.

What the heck does this jumble of sneakers have to do with the story at hand?

It has nothing to do with the 1940s setting. (Did girls wear jeans and pink sneakers back in ’41?) The cover pretty much gives the illusion that this is a contemporary story. (Maybe that’s the point -- the old “bait and switch” -- drawing kids to the book before they realize it’s set seventy years in the past.)

It also has nothing to do with the content of the novel. Though Felicity has a crush on Derek, they never get this close in the book.

For years I have heard that elements such as book design and illustrations are not considered by the Newbery committee unless these things detract from the text.

Does this distracting dustjacket sufficiently detract from the text to hurt THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE’s chances with an award committee?


Wes is regular guy from an average Minnesota family. June has spent her life moving from town to town as her father constantly changes job. They meet on the first day of junior year and their relationship -- which begins cautiously and develops into a romance of great intensity -- is the subject of Pete Hautman’s best book yet. The style is unconventional. A series of brief, often understated vignettes, alternate between the perspectives of each teen, highlighting their sometimes shared, sometimes differing, perspectives on teenage love: the physicality, the confusion, the euphoria, and even the moments of boredom (“You’re playing a computer game while I’m talking to you?”)

Wes and June’s relationship weathers a mid-book move to another town three hundred and fifty miles away, but even while the teens dream about running away to Paris, they are refreshingly honest in their acceptance that life will continue to change and that their romance may not last forever. It’s rare to discover a love story for teens this elemental in its telling, this balanced in its characterizations of both the boy and the girl, and this honest its emotion. THE BIG CRUNCH has the feel of a classic.


I love the cover of THE BIG CRUNCH, which traces the evolution of Wes and June’s romance through four seasonal panels (art by Frank Stockton.)

The same can’t be said for the flap copy, which introduces us to Wes and Jen.

Yeah, you read that right. The character in the book is named June, but the dustjacket refers to her as JEN – not once, not twice, but THREE times.

Here, read for yourself. If the text is too small, you can click on the image to blow it up:

I wish someone HAD blown up (boom!) the flap copy before sending it out with the wrong info. It makes it feel like the publisher wasn't paying enough attention to what should have been one of the top books in their spring catalog.

Can you imagine what a publisher would say if someone gave a negative critique to one of their books and referred to the protagonist by the wrong name three times in the review? I imagine their response would be along the lines of, "How can anyone take that review seriously when the critic couldn't even get the name of the lead character right?"

...Well, how are readers supposed to take a book seriously when no one at the publishing house got the name of the character right?

On the other hand, maybe having the name wrong on the flap will cause this first edition to become a collector's item!

Even if the mistake doesn't add to the book's value, it's still worth getting a copy. It's a great book!


Here we go again.

I'm always interested in reading edgy young adult fiction that pushes the boundaries within the field. That's why I was intrigued by the new novel, I AM J by Cris Beam, the story of a transgendered teenager.

Unfortunately, the novel arrived in bookstores already in its second printing.

This has been happening more and more lately, and though no one has ever explained it to me, I'm guessing that in this economic era publishers are hedging their bets on smaller print runs, possibly waiting to see how many copies ends up ordering before going back to press. The problem is that all those first printings must end up in Amazon's warehouses...with second printings shipped to the regular brick-and-mortar bookstores.

It happened last year with EXTRAORDINARY by Nancy Werlin.

Year before last year with ANGRY MANAGEMENT by Chris Crutcher.

And now it's happening with I AM J.

I know that publishers need to cut corners these days, but I also know that a lot of book collectors, including me, seek out only first editions -- and if they aren't available, then we just don't buy the book.


The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced on Tuesday afternoon. Though they're not as fun as the Newbery and Caldecott, it's still interesting to see what books are honored. I'm a fan of the online Pulitzer Prize First Edition Guide and particulary enjoy their annual prediction list which uses a special "regression analysis" to figure out the winning title. Sometimes they're wrong (last year's winner, TINKERS by Paul Harding came way out of left field) but they often get at least one or two of the three finalists correct. Their #1 choice for 2011? A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan, with Jonathan Franzen's FREEDOM coming in second.

This list is prepared by a research scientist "based upon analysis that ultimately incorporates over 30 independent or predictor variables such as newspaper notable and best book lists; other awards and award nominations; and authors previously nominated for the Pulitzer and other awards."

I wonder how this research scienctist would fare trying to predict next year's Newbery winner...?

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll be back. And please feel free to "friend" me on Facebook too!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 10 Sunday Brunch

Among other topics, today’s Sunday Brunch notes some expensive forthcoming books, looks back at childhood games, ponders some uncomfortable questions about Library of Congress subject headings, and -- to top it all off -- corrects your pronunciation.

We also ask, “What’s all this fuss about page 16 in a new novel by one of this year’s Printz honorees?”


Spring has barely sprung, but we’re already hearing about books on the horizon for fall. At first I couldn’t understand it. Why are we talking about fall books when I’ve only read a handful of spring titles so far? Then I noticed the prices. INHERITANCE, the last volume in Christopher Paolini’s dragon series, is listed at $27.95.

And WONDERSTRUCK, the new book by Caldecott winner Brian Selznick is lasted at $29.95!

I’m sure there have been children’s books that cost more -- limited editions, oversized volumes, certain textbooks -- but it strikes me that $27.95 and $29.95 may be among the highest recorded prices for popular trade books for kids.

No wonder we’re hearing about these books months before they hit the shelves. We’ve got to start saving up for them six months in advance!


I’m still learning my way around Facebook (feel free to “friend” me at “Peter D. Sieruta”!) and enjoying keeping in touch with friends old and new.

My friend Julie Danielson (who, along with Betsy Bird, is my co-author of a forthcoming book from Candlewick Press) recently posted on Facebook that she’d invented a game with her kids. She was trying to think of a cool name for it because "Run and Tag With the Little Yellow Ball and the Swing Set is Safe isn't quite cuttin' it."

This caused me to remember some of my old childhood games and solicit memories from others about the games they played when growing up. Of course we all share, to a greater or lesser extent, a common pool of traditional sports, board games, card games, etc. Whether you grew up on the east coast and your friend grew up on the west coast, you probably both know Monopoly -- although you may argue about whether you should collect money if you land on the “Free Parking” space.

But the games that intrigue me most are those that are either completely made up by kids in a neighborhood, or those that have been adapted to the point that they are almost unrecognizable to kids from other areas. In that later category, I’m recalling a game we used to play that involved tossing a ball at the garage and catching it while performing various tasks (clapping hands, spinning around, etc.) and which we called “French.”


The name doesn’t really make sense.

I suspect that other kids from other areas played this exact same game -- though probably under a different, catchier name.

Then there were those totally original games that kids in the neighborhood created. One of ours, circa 1966, was called “Stinker.”

Here’s how to play…in case you want something to do this afternoon:

1. Girl stands at top of slide and boy runs UP the slide and pretends to knock at her front door. Girl calls out, “Who is it?” Boy: “Paul McCartney. Want to go on a date?” Girl: “I’ll be RIGHT down!”

2. Boy slides down slide, while girl pretends to put on make-up, then slides down slide herself.

3. Boy and girl walk across the yard to the “big tree,” at which point the girl asks, “What did you say your name was again?” Boy: “STINKER!”

4. Girl screams as boy chases her back to the slide. If she touches the ladder before the boy tags her, she wins. If he tags her first, she wins.

(Sometimes, for variety, a girl “stinker” ran up the slide asking a boy for a date. She claimed to be Elizabeth Montgomery.)

Since posting about this childhood game, a couple of my friends have shared their own original neighborhood games.

One played “Kick the Stick,” which was described as “similar to baseball, except we played it in the street using the intersection's 4 corners as the bases. We would set the stick on one curb and kick it with our foot, and try to make it to first base. The stick was our ball, and we didn't have to worry about hitting it through someone's window.” Another wrote about "Mud Gutter,” saying “the object was to get across the street without being tagged. We used a stick to mark how many steps we had taken and the one who was ‘it’ could call us on it to see if we had cheated. If we were short we were then chased. If we made it to the other side without being tagged, we were safe!”

Actually, all these games sound like a lot of fun and I think we should get together this afternoon for a few rounds of Stinker, Mud Gutter, and Kick the Stick!

This got me wondering if anyone has compiled a collection of “original neighborhood games” in a book for kids lately.

It also got me wondering if some of the games depicted in children’s books, got their start as original games from real life.

What about Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Newbery Honor novel called THE EGYPT GAME? According to the author, she was fascinated by Ancient Egypt as a child…but it was her daughter who “many years later…actually played a game very like the one in the story, after I had turned her on to the fascinating game possibilities of a culture that includes pyramids, mummies, hieroglyphic writing and an intriguing array of gods and goddesses.”

Marijane Meaker, who grew up to become author M.E. Kerr, had her own spy route as a kid and was known around the neighborhood as “Marijane the Spy.” Years later, Louise Fitzhugh would borrow Ms. Meaker’s childhood game and use it to great acclaim in her novel HARRIET THE SPY.

How many other original games ended up being featured in children’s books?

And, conversely, how many games in children’s book were later adapted and played by readers? I’ve heard that many kids start “spy routes” after reading about Harriet. How many kids create their own “Terabithia” after reading Katherine Paterson’s novel? Did you play “Brick Factory” after Ramona and Howie played it in Beverly Cleary’s book?

Which games did you play that were inspired by your favorite children’s books?


Everyone knows that Erin Stead won the 2011 Caldecott Medal for A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE, which was written by her husband Philip Christian Stead.

I don’t know about you, but for months now I’ve been pronouncing last name so that it rhymes with need, heed, and deed.

But my bookstore friend, who has met the couple, recently told me that they pronounce their last name so that it rhymes with head, bed, and said.

I hope I remember that.

Now I’m wondering how last year’s Newbery winner for WHEN YOU REACH ME pronounces her last name!


A couple weeks ago I blogged about the 1932 Newbery winner WATERLESS MOUNTAIN and wondered what Dr. Debbie Reese, who writes the American Indians in Children's Literature blog thought of the book.

Debbie borrowed the book from the library, began reading, and was not pleased, finding many inaccuracies in the text. The protagonist is supposed to be a Navajo boy, but many of the details in the book are not specific to the Navajo culture, but are borrowed from other Native societies.

So then we come to the big question. When a book wins the Newbery, it becomes a part of the history of children’s books. However, when later generations find the book flawed by inaccuracies and inauthentic content, what do we do? We can’t take a Newbery away retroactively…can we? Should a book be revised? Should a new foreword be added to explain the book’s problems? Debbie Reese said:

I don't think revisions in that book made it any better. I don't think the revisions should be made. The books ought to be read as originally written because they carry "ideas of the time."

They should be studied for those "ideas" --- wrong as they were --- so that we (society/publishing industry) don't repeat those mistakes.

The thing is, how to let people know the book is a mistake? I think there's a betrayal at work... People think they're learning something about (in this case) Navajos, but they aren't. Is it ok for them to go on believing that?

She then raised a very good question I had never before considered: “LAUGHING BOY and WATERLESS MOUNTAIN should not have [Library of Congress] subjects of Indian, Navajo, etc., because they aren't that... They're "white man's Indians" -- so...what to do with them? What do you think?”

This concept really intrigued me because, by day, I catalog books for a library. In most cases we automatically accept the subject headings that have been assigned to each book by the Library of Congress. And of course the LC uses the terms found within the content of each book. Because the protagonist of WATERLESS MOUNTAIN is described as a Navajo, one subject heading for that book is “Navajo Indians – Fiction.”

Anyone looking for novels with Navajo characters -- either as a school assignment or for their own purposes –- in a library catalog may end up being led to books with inaccurate portrayals. Is there any way around this? My only idea is to petition the Library of Congress to add a subject heading such as “Mythical American Indians” or “Native peoples -- Generic representations” to show that a particular novel is less than accurate in it presentation of a specific culture.

What do you think should be done?


THE 2011 BATTLE OF THE KIDS’ BOOKS ended this week, with judge Richard Peck choosing THE RING OF SOLOMON by Jonathan Stroud over the other remaining contenders, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner and KEEPER by Kathi Appelt.

Australian author/illustrator Shaun Tan, who won an Oscar for an animated film some weeks ago, has now won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. This is surely the highest paying award in the field of children’s books. The prize is five million krona, which is comparable to just under $800,000 in American dollars!
The Christopher Awards, which “affirm the highest values of the human spirit” in film, television, and literature, were recently announced. There were four winners in the category of Books for Young People.

The winning book for preschoolers was KNUFFLE BUNNY FREE : AN UNEXPECTED DIVERSION by Mo Willems.

The award for readers six to eight went to WOULD YOU STILL LOVE ME IF… by Wendy LaGuardia.

BROTHER JEROME AND THE ANGELS IN THE BAKERY by Dominic Garramone won in the category of readers eight through ten.

The nonfiction book LAFAYETTE AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Russell Freedman was the selection for readers ten to twelve.

I wanted to include a list of all the previous Christopher winners in today’s blog, but cannot find such a list on the internet. Even the Christopher Award website only goes back a dozen years.

Guess I’ll have to do some more research!


Just the other day I looked at list of all the children’s books that were published in 2010.

I was shocked by how many of those books came and went without making any sort of ripple on my consciousness. I didn’t see them in bookstores, haven’t seen them in libraries, and didn’t notice the reviews. And now most of our attention is focused on the new and forthcoming books of 2011.
These days, it seems that if a book doesn’t get attention right out of the box, it’s pretty much destined to be forgotten…and go out of print…within a very short time.

It’s always interesting to see how publishers try to attract early attention to the Advance Reading Copies which are sent out some months before a book is published.

The cover of MATCHED by Ally Condie did not feature the usual cover illustration; instead it was filled with blurbs (“we have a winner,” etc.) from various employees of the publisher, Dutton:

It must have worked. MATCHED was a monster success.

The forthcoming novel ANGEL BURN by L.A. Weatherly has a paper label on it, advising pre-pub readers to send in their opinions on the book (“Think it’s superb? Send us your blurb!”)

The ARC of Franny Billingsley’s CHIME also employs a paper label, telling readers “Spectacular!! Drop everything and read me!!”

But my very favorite idea may be found on FLYAWAY, the latest book by Lucy Christopher, who just won a Printz Honor for her novel STOLEN.

Positioned on the back cover is a circle that suggests:

That’s a pretty irresistible idea. Don’t you think most readers will take the challenge and turn to page 16 immediately? I know I did!

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

Friday, April 1, 2011

Charlie Sheen Lands Children's Book Deal

HarperCollins Children's Books announced Friday that troubled TV star Charlie Sheen has received a seven-figure advance to publish two books with the company. The first, LISTEN UP, KIDS! : ADVICE, GUIDANCE, AND LIFE LESSONS shares Sheen's philosophies with youngsters from ages five to ten. The second volume will be a picture book called CHARLIE AND THE GODDESS, a fantasy about a little boy who meets a woman who can make all his wishes come true. Kevin Henkes has been signed to illustrate.

Acquiring editor Kurt Emhardt, who announced the deal at a morning press conference, fervently denied that Sheen’s recent tabloid troubles played any role in the $2.6 million deal. “HarperCollins has a great track record of publishing celebrity authors, including Gloria Estefan, Queen Latifah, Yeardley "Lisa Simpson" Smith, and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Charlie Sheen has always been on my shortlist of celebrities I wanted to work with. As it turns out, Charlie has been studying the children’s book field for some time and came to the same conclusion that so many other celebrities do: ‘There are no good books out there for kids.’ He hopes to correct that situation by writing his own.”

Emhardt calls Sheen “an iconoclast, very wise…really, he’s a great thinker and a great man” and reveals that Sheen phones him nearly every night at two or three a.m., bursting with ideas for the books. “It’s a rapid-fire marathon monologue,” says the editor, “and I basically take dictation till the sun comes up. But you know what? By the time Charlie nods off, we’ve got fifteen or twenty more strong pages for the book.”

The editor shared some excerpts from LISTEN UP, KIDS!:

• TATTOOS : “Don’t be lame and get inked with your grade school motto or the name of some hot chick in your fourth-grade class. Tats are permanent and in five years you won’t remember any of that crap. Instead, get a tattoo of a skull-and-crossbones…or a barbed-wire armband…or a Tasmanian Devil. Those are classics."

• DRESSING FOR SUCCESS : A bowling shirt and board shorts are appropriate for every situation -- from job interviews to dining with the Queen of England. And if old queen Liz doesn’t like it, tell her to kiss your American ass.”

• RANTS WILL GET YOU RAVES : “It’s important to always speak up. Say what is on your mind -- and say it LOUD! You’ll be surprised what this will do for your popularity.”

• ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES : “Booze and drugs are serious business. Don’t let them interfere with school! Remember, there is a time and place for everything. My own favorite times are morning, afternoon, and night. My favorite places are inside and outside.”

• SCHOOL : “Don’t drop out before age sixteen."

• DOING IT ON YOUR OWN : “Avoid nepotism at all costs. You’ll notice I only allowed my dad Martin Sheen to guest star on my sitcom one time. After that -- no more! He needed to make it on his own, not coast to stardom on my famous last name.”

• MAKING BABIES : “Don’t have a baby with anyone unless you can afford to support it…or unless the chick is willing to support it herself and not bug you ever again.”

• CHICKS : “Always get the best that money can buy.”

Harpercollins editor Kurt Emhardt says that LISTEN UP, KIDS!, slated for publication this June, is “edgy and controversial, but also cautionary and quite thought-provoking.” He reminds readers that, in a career that includes roles as a soldier (PLATOON, 1986), a banker (WALL STREET, 1987), and a zany sitcom uncle (TWO AND A HALF MEN, 2003 to 2011 or maybe 2012 or maybe 2013, depending on lawsuits), Sheen’s favorite role has always been his real-life role at home, as the father of several children.

The second book in Sheen’s contract, CHARLIE AND THE GODDESS, was sold to HarperCollins with a single-sentence outline (“Every young boy needs a goddess”) -- a phrase which will also be used as a tagline in the book’s promotional materials. It will be the first children’s book to include a centerfold, though Emhardt insists, “The foldout will reflect Charlie’s innate good taste.”

The lay-down date for the second book is April 1, 2012.