Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday Brunch for June 5, 2011

Among other topics, today's blog talks about what's hot in new children's books and recalls a time when some books were "smoking" hot.


Have you used Google today? If so, you've noticed that the iconic Google logo has been tricked-up to celebrate the 92nd birthday of author-illustrator Richard Scarry:

Or maybe we should say it celebrates the 92nd anniversary of Mr. Scarry's birth, since he actually died a good seventeen years ago.

Either way, it's always nice to see children's books noted in pop culture.


That gentle new lullaby book by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cort├ęs, GO THE F**K TO SLEEP, is turning into something of a phenomenon.

Although not officially released until June 21, Publishers Weekly is reporting sales of over 275,000 -- and the publisher hasn't even tapped the foreign market yet.

This makes me think about all the children's book writers who labor away as teachers, office workers, librarians, and even janitors (a category that once included Meindert DeJong and Richard Kennedy) while writing at night...all the while dreaming of publishing that bestseller that would allow them to quit their day job and pursue their craft full-time.

Now they're probably wondering why the, er, heck, they didn't get the silly, one-note idea for this book first.


Speaking of hit books, Kevin Henkes' latest novel, JUNONIA, seems to be selling rather well. I ordered a copy from my local bookstore but it arrived as a second printing. The bookstore had to go to three different distributors before they could track down a first printing. With its squarish trim size, illustrated endpapers, and vignettes in blue ink at the start of each chapter, this is an exceptionally well-made book. I've always preferred Kevin Henkes' picture books to his novels, usually finding the latter well-written and sharply-observed, yet too self-conscious, too introspective, too quiet, and laden with metaphor -- the type of books that many adults love, but only "special" child readers will really appreciate. JUNONIA is true to that form. The story of Alice, celebrating her tenth birthday and learning to accept change while vacationing on Florida's Sanibel Island, is the type of book that will likely be praised by critics and appear on many Mock Newbery lists, despite its somewhat limited child appeal. Though it's not a beach book in the traditional sense (that is, a lightweight page turner to be read while marinating in suntan lotion and listening to a beach volleyball game), it is a volume one might take to a sandy cove on a peaceful sunny afternoon to read, to reflect, and to quietly appreciate as waves gently lap accept the shore.


I'm also hearing a lot of buzz about two other books -- one just out, the other not arriving till the end of summer.

DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth is the first book in a trilogy that has echoes of THE HUNGER GAMES. Though just published May 3, it already has over 150 customer reviews on -- a sure sign of popularity. The book is still available in first edition, but probably not for long!

I'm also intrigued by WILDWOOD, a forthcoming novel written by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Ellis Carson. I'm told that Colin Meloy is part of the rock band The Decemberists and Ellis Carson, his wife, has illustrated covers their albums, as well as children's books such as THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY.

The reason I'm so curious about this book is because my friend recently told me that ARCs (advance reading copies) of WILDWOOD have become highly sought after by collectors.

We'll have to wait till WILDWOOD'S publication on August 31 to see if the book lives up to the buzz.


I've been awash in nostalgia the last few days, reading THE VIRTUE OF SUSPENSE : THE LIFE AND WORKS OF CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG by Rick Cypert.

Although the book is more of an academic study than personal biography, I'm enjoying reading about how suspense author Charlotte Armstrong created her many wonderful books. And the reason I'm feeling nostalgic is because I originally read all those books in high school. Every Saturday morning, after finishing my paper route, I would head down to my favorite local bookstore. It was located in a very sketchy neighborhood, directly across from a public housing project and, indeed, the bookstore owner would eventually be shot and killed during a robbery on the one Saturday I didn't visit the store because I was out of town. I was fourteen when I first encountered a Charlotte Armstrong book on the new paperback shelf at the front of the store. It was THE ALBATROSS, a novella which had originally been published as part of a hardcover short story collection. It was the mid-seventies, the heyday of "gothic mysteries" -- a time when entire walls of bookstores were filled with paperbacks featuring women in nightgowns and long dresses fleeing from moonlit mansions, and all of Charlotte Armstrong's books were being reissued in this gothic format. This was misleading since her novels were actually standard detective tales or domestic suspense stories that didn't follow the gothic formula. Besides, it was embarrassing for a fourteen-year-old guy to carry around those moonlight-and-nightgown books. But Ms. Armstrong's stories were so gripping, so well-characterized, and so suspenseful that I couldn't stop reading.

I still remember bringing THE ALBATROSS home from the bookstore on a June afternoon and reading it in my bedroom during a thunderstorm. Then the rain stopped, the sun came out and -- no air conditioning! -- I went outside and leaned against the gritty wall of the house, walked up and down the driveway, and bent over the back of the family car as I kept turning the pages to the satisfying conclusion. After that I was hooked. Every Saturday I'd go back to the bookstore and stand in front of the paperback racks, debating and debating which Armstrong book to read next -- an activity that kept me busy all that summer and fall. I still have all those books on my shelves, and still love them.

But you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with kids' books.

One of the things I learned from the Cypert biography was what a tough go Charotte Armstrong seemed to have with publishers. Even at the height of her fame, she was constantly having short stories rejected by magazines, or accepted with the provision she do substantial rewrites. And, from the biography, I get the feeling that her book publisher, Coward-McCann, wasn't particularly encouraging either. It sounds as if, despite her success, the author was constantly having to approach them, or make overtures toward them, with each new manuscript.

One of the manuscripts that didn't get published was a children's book called CLANCY, about the relationship between two dogs. The author's agent

reported to Charlotte that Miss Alice Torrey from Coward-McCann's juvenile section had noted that "the story is obviously the work of an experienced writer; but inexperienced, naturally, since this is a first effort, in the children's field. Young Clancy and old Bruce make a nice contrast in dog character and there's a certain amount of amusement in the author's idea of seeing human eccentricities through a dog's eyes. But this idea is developed through much talk and almost no action. The story is really a series of conversations. It's hard to see how pictures could provide the action the text lacks. Also the story runs definitely long for the age who would be interested in a picture-story book."

I had to laugh at Charlotte Armstrong's response to her agent because she uses the same "my kids loved it!" defense that so many aspiring and inexperienced authors use when trying to sell a manuscript to a children's book editor:

Of course I think this dame is dead wrong. I may not have experience as a writer of children's books but I have had one hell of a lot of experience with the ultimate consumer.... Naturally it is in dialogue. You might as well view with alarm the fact that Hamlet has soliloquies or that The Green Mansions has an awful lot of description. The point love it. A lively reading of the dog's speeches tickles them to pieces.

However, none of the other editors to whom the manucript was submitted wanted it either and the book never was published.

I couldn't help but contrast this series of events with today's world of publishing. Based on the number of "adult authors" who have entered the field of children's books in recent years (as well as the huge number of celebrities who have done the same), I would guess that if a well-known author such as Charlotte Armstrong submitted CLANCY to publishers today, it would be purchased immediately, get a huge publicity budget, and sell quite well based on the author's name value...even if the story itself was not up to snuff.

Apparently publishers in the 1950s and 1960s had a bit more integrity than those who publish today....


Because I've been on the Charlotte Armstrong kick this week, I've been revisiting some of those paperback books I bought nearly forty years ago. I just re-read THE ALBATROSS and loved it just as much as I did at age fourteen.

Then I looked at her book of short stories, I SEE YOU.

See what I mean about the gothic-style covers?

But what intrigued me even more was coming across a hard cardboard centerfold in the middle of the book: an ad for cigarettes!

Does anyone remember that time in the early to mid-seventies when paperbacks regularly included advertisements midway through the book? As I recall, they were mostly for cigarettes, though I also seem to remember ads for book clubs and even home education opportunties ("Become a licensed court stenographer on your own time!") as well.

Did this trend ever extend to children's books? If so, what products were advertised?

Considering how commercials are encroaching on everything these days -- product placements in every movie and TV show; sports stadiums and Broadway theaters named after corporations -- I'm surprised that advertising inserts haven't found their way into books lately.

Actually, I see how it could easily happen in the future.

The cheapest version of Kindle includes "special offers and sponsored screensavers" as part of the display. I imagine that it won't be long before ALL e-readers feature screensavers, scrolling ads, maybe even video commercials.

Just imagine ordering some classic children's book for your Kindle.

You click on it and the title page for CHARLOTTE'S WEB appears....

But first, a word from our sponsor:

Cue the Doritos and Pepsi ads!


In my last blog post, I mentioned a spoof of the Newbery Award (called the "Blueberry Award") which appears in Sarah Weeks' new novel PIE. At the end of that post, I solicited reader opinions on which 2011 titles are likely Newbery candidates.

Mary suggested OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt.

Carter opted for BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu.

Any other titles you'd like to suggest?

And what about the Printz Award? I'm currently reading FIVE 4THS OF JULY by Pat Raccio Hughes (review to come) and am very impressed. Maybe I can get some buzz started in this blog.


I was laughing as I typed up my last blog about the Blueberry Award, never realizing there actually is a Blueberry Award for children's books! As pointed out by blog readers Gregory K. and Sandy D., the Blueberry Award seeks "to reward the best children’s book author and/or illustrator for presenting fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds in a positive light and in a way that is fun and entertaining to children."

Who knew?

Sponsored by Clementine Art (makers of natural modeling dough, paint, and markers), The Blueberry Patch ("the first place anywhere to feature reviews of children's books about fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds"), and, the first winners were given in 2010. They were:

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK, given annually to the children’s or teen’s fiction or non-fiction book that best inspires and encourages readers to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and/or seeds : TOO MANY MANGOS, written by Tammy Paikai and illustrated by Don Robinson

BEST RAW CHILDREN’S BOOK, given annually to the children’s or teen’s fiction or non-fiction book that best inspires readers to learn about fresh, raw fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds and/or to eat raw food recipes made from them, celebrating the raw vegan cuisine (which is great for health, keeps people lean, helps fight obesity and taste delicious) : FROM SEED TO APPLE TREE, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jeff Yesh.

AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE, given annually to an outstanding American who inspires children, teens and their families to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds: First Lady Michelle Obama.


ARTICHOKE BOY, written and illustrated by Scott Mickelson
COLOR & COOK HEALTHY SNACKS, written and illustrated by Monica Wellington
NIBBLES, A GREEN TALE, written and illustrated by Charlotte Middleton
STREGA NONA'S HARVEST, written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola


Over the years, many British titles have been changed when the books were published in the United States -- and vice versa.

I'm not sure if this trend is quite as common these days, possibly because the internet and modern communication gets the original titles out there -- and universally known -- long before they're exported to other countries. Even Louise Rennison's ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING wasn't changed to ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL KISSING when it crossed the pond. (Though some of her later titles did change up, as when IT'S OK, I'M WEARING REALLY BIG KNICKERS became ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, I'M NOW THE GIRLFRIEND OF A SEX GOD in the U.S.)

But today I'm not thinking so much about changed titles as children's books which, due to variations in British/American spelling, have very slightly altered titles. Here are a few I found:

American edition:

British edition:

American edition:

British edition:

British edition (it came first):

Amerian edition which followed:

Original British spelling:

American spelling:

Original edition from England:

Later imported to the US of A:

Can you think of any more?


I have tomorrow off work! I hope to run some errands, transplant my tiny tomato and pepper plants into big containers, and READ.

My very kind and generous bookstore buddy recently gave me a huge stack of ARCs. Here are just a few of them:

Yes, I am one very lucky guy.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll be back. Don't forget to send in your Newbery and Printz ideas. And feel free to "friend" me at "Peter D. Sieruta" on Facebook if you are so inclined.


Linda said...

Your pile of ARCs makes me drool!

It's not precisely a children's book, but I remember reading Laurie Lee's wonderful book Cider With Rosie in junior high school. In the US it was entitled The Edge of Day and that's the way I knew it until I found out differently.

Bybee said...

That's a really tasty stack of ARCs. Happy reading!

I must have missed out on Charlotte Armstrong altogether.

Laura Canon said...

I had (actually still have) a moonlight and nightgown edition of Wilkie Collins' THE MOONSTONE.
The Decemberists are one of my favorite current bands, mainly because of their lyrics, which are highly narrative. I'm not sure this will translate to a strong children's book, but I'll keep my eye open for it.

Anonymous said...

I got an ARC of Meloy's book, and I actually really enjoyed it. It's certainly very original, and _definitely_ reminiscent of his musical work, but still appropriate for children. I don't know that I think it's award-worthy, I just thought it was a good read.

Anonymous said...

Printz: Franny Billingsley's marvelous CHIME.