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!


grrlpup said...

The only Easter book that comes to mind is Gail Rock's A Dream for Addie, which I guess was televised as The Easter Promise after The House Without A Christmas Tree made it big. It's kind of depressing, with Addie idolizing an alcoholic actress. (Addie and her friends also make dresses for a fashion show and Addie's has rickrack all over-- there's a trim you don't see much anymore!) Publisher's Weekly said it was "one holiday too many to spend with Addie." Ouch!

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Good one! I can't believe I forgot that book -- especially since I own a copy.

Linda said...

I watched The Easter Promise this morning. It suffers a great deal from studio filming, and isn't as good as the first two stories.

The one children's book Easter segment I remember vividly is from The Good Master, where Jancsi introduces his city cousin Kate to the joys of a Hungarian Easter. The women and girls dress in all their petticoats, making them look like big flowers, and they spend time decorating eggs, and the boys splash the girls with water.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Ah, I'd forgotten about THE GOOD MASTER too.

Was THE EASTER PROMISE on TV today, or do you have your own copy? My family loved those specials when I was a kid and a few years ago I got my mother videotapes of three of them (I think the Valentine's one was never released on tape.) But after we got videotapes, everything changed over to DVD and now you can't find a VCR at the store for love or money!

Thanks for your note,


Bybee said...

Regarding horse illustrations: I was looking at copies of National Velvet online the other day and noticed that Enid Bagnold's 13-year-old daughter, Laurian Jones, did the illustrations for the 1935 novel.

Unknown said...

One of the loveliest Easter egg stories ever is in chapter 8 of Betsy-Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace. The two girls are helped by their older sisters, Julia and Katie, who "acted important but not too important", in the dyeing of the eggs.
When Tacy's baby sister, who has been ill, dies, the girls find a wonderfully creative way to use the eggs.

P. J. Grath said...

I grew up on Wesley Dennis illustrations and love them all, the sketchy as well as the more finished. He captures horses' movement in both styles.

Sandy D. said...

Oh, I had that copy of "Black Beauty". It's a rather tacky cover, but I was mesmerized by the little vignettes - especially the violent ones.

I also had "Flip" and "Flip and the Cows" and many of Marguerite Henry's books that were illustrated by Dennis. When I was reading about "King of the Wind" (for this: one article said that Dennis actually suggested that Henry write about the Godolphin Arab.

Chris in NY said...

One of my all time favorite books is "The Wicked Enchantment" which is all about the week leading up to Easter in the (German maybe?) town of Vogelsang where mysterious things sometimes happen. This is part folklore, part fantasy, part straight ahead adventure children's book with lovely illustrations by Enrico Arno (favorite one ever is the bed with the embroidered curtains). It is geared towards 9-12 years olds, with a female protagonist, Anemone, who helps thwart the evil mayor. It has some sly humor that probably goes over the head of younger readers but appeals to the adults. I reread it every year.

Chris in NY said...

To add to my previous post. For those interested, this is a good summary of the book

Unknown said...

The last Borrowers book, The Borrowers Avenged, ends on Easter Day. There is a climactic scene in the church, with all the flowers arranged for the morning service. In the final scene, Arrietty gives Peagreen an Easter egg.

Alex said...

I loved the collection of how writers get their books done, but my favorite item today is The World of Henry Orient. I loved this from the moment I discovered it years ago, as well as the movie with Peter Sellers.

Erin said...

I have found only 4 books so far for the older reader, still hoping to find more. I listed them at the bottom here
Vinegar boy,(for the 8yrs +) The Spear, The Silver Chalice and The Robe.(for teens - adult)

hschinske said...

I read _The World of Henry Orient_ when I was a teenager, or maybe slightly before. It definitely seemed like an adult book to me then, though I liked it very much.

If I ever heard of the movie, I had forgotten it completely.

Helen Schinske