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!


Daughter Number Three said...

Our neighborhood game (in the late 1960s/early 1970s) was called English and Germans, and was played over many acres of our rural upstate New York neighborhood. The English would go and hide and the Germans would look for them.

This took many hours (kind of like Slow Food Hide and Seek), and the English were usually never found. Not much of a game, but we liked it.

Charlotte said...

But did you like page 16? Don't leave us haning like that! Was it better than page 15? 17?????

DavidB said...

The problem of books inaccurately representing the cultures/people/times/places they're meant to represent isn't limited to American Indians- think of any number of bad representations of other parts of the world (China and Subsaharan Africa leap to mind). You can throw in representations of the past, too- say the way that many books mythicize and misrepresent American history, or present overromanticized versions of the Middle Ages.

But I don't think the solution to this can be setting the catalogers up as having to decide whether a book is sufficiently accurate to get a subject heading that marks it as "real" as opposed to "mythical" or "generic." What qualifies a given person to make that distinction? Do we set up review boards to determine whether a book is worthy of the label? Who sets the standards by which accuracy is judged? What happens when there is disagreement within a community as to whether a given book has accurately represented it?

Ultimately, I think it has to be up to us as readers and educators to recognize the problem of inaccurate representations and not assume that just because a book claims to depict a culture, that it does so correctly. We need to learn about and teach the tools that can help us evaluate them, or at least where to go to get the recommendations of someone with the knowledge to do so.

Anonymous said...

> 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.

never crossed my mind to pronounce it that way

maybe it was all the coverage of Homestead, FL when Hurricane Andrew hit

Bybee said...

It's not very original, but in 4-5 grade, my friends and I liked to put on our mothers' dresses and play Little House on The Prairie.

Erin Stead said...

It is Stead like red or bed or head, but we're pretty used to it being pronounced the other way. Rebecca Stead also pronounces her name like ours -

A loyal reader,

C. Cackley said...

I definitely had a Terebithia in my backyard and for several years played at being Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins. My little brother got to be Rontu, the dog.

Kate Coombs said...

Disappearing Books Syndrome probably has something to do with the vast number of children's books being published in just one year--I read that it was about 22,000 in 2009. No wonder publishers are resorting to special stickers! (Next they'll add glitter and feathers. Or blood samples for the vampire books.)

Sam said...

I had a favorite game or two in Qwikpick -- including instructions for playing penny basketball.

And if the asequel every comes out, the rhyming game stinky pinky is a big part of the plot.

In Darth Paper I am going to have instructions for playing the complex pencil flicking doodle games we used to play.

Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

I *love* the description of your game Stinker. I can't remember any elaborately ruled games like that from my childhood, but my best friends and I did a ton of imaginative play, up through middle school, by which point our favorite games were Robin Hood and King Arthur.

Brooke said...

I just wrote a great description of a variant of hopscotch that the girls in my fifth grade class used to play -- but my darn web browser managed to erase it!

Anyway, the game was called "Girls Girls In," and the only reason I remember it is because I wrote a description of it in my journal at the time.

There has been research done on children's games -- the folklorists Peter and Iona Opie have published several books on this topic. I'd recommend seeking them out, it's interesting, although dated, stuff. (I remember seeing a map of England they made showing all the variants of "tag" they found, and where they were played.)

Anonymous said...

When our teacher was reading The Little Witch to us (Elizabeth Bennett), we would go out and pretend to be the children running from Madame Snickasnee, who would chase us and turn us into flower pots! I think this stuck in my memory because both the boys and girls were playing this together.
But I don't remember neighborhood games at all, just a variety of playground games.

Cindy Dobrez said...

These probably weren't "original," but I fondly remember playing "Statue" and "Dr. Tangle." One person grabbed a kid by the hand and twirled them around and flung them and then yelled freeze and they had to hold the position while an art patron came through and critiqued what the statue was. If we had a large group of kids we held hands in a circle and then wove ourselves into a knot without breaking the loop. Then the kid who was "it" (i.e. Dr. Tangle) had to unweave the kids back into a circle by untangling them. (late 60s)

Sandy D. said...

What was that you said? Now that the snow and ice was gone in se MI? Ha.

And I always kinda liked the illustrations in "Roller Skates". They fit the book somehow, especially the cover, in a way the modern cover did not.