Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Brunch Featuring Chipmunks, Mice, and Cuckoos

Today's Sunday Brunch asks if you've ever remembered pictures in books...that didn't actually exist, mentions an uninvited guest at last weekend's ALA awards, and praises a great new book that celebrates the current holiday.


Back in 1975, when children's books had painted portraits on the cover (as opposed to today's photos of kids-shown-only-from-the-nose-down) and ran about 185 pages (as opposed to today's 480-pages-and-counting), Carol Farley published a solid middle-grade novel about a girl coping with her father's death. It was called:

I think about that title every morning when I go out and water my container garden on the back patio. Here's how it looked on June 11:

And here it is this morning, July 3:

I am growing several kinds of heirloom tomatoes, green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, snap peas, and green peppers. We'll see how many end up on our plates. Last year, as a first-timer, I think I harvested a grand total of four tomatoes, twenty beans, and about a dozen green peppers. Thus the reason for this year's zucchini. Someone told me, "ANYONE can grow zucchini. Even you."

Because last year's crop was so sparse, I did cheat a little this year. I'm growing everything from seedlings, except for one plant, which already had a good dozen tomatoes already on it when I purchased it. I figured I was sure to get some nice plump fruit from this particular plant:

I figured wrong.

While all my other plants seem to be thriving, here is the sad state of that tomato plant at present:

Every morning for the past two weeks, when I've gone out to water my garden, I've found another nearly-ripened tomato pulled from the vine, partially eaten, and then left on the porch! Now there is only one small green tomato left on a few yellow, shriveled stalks.

Obviously I had a varmint!

I looked up some info on the internet and learned that cayenne pepper will often keep animals away from plants, so I went to the store and bought some, sprinkled it all over the patio and plants...and still my tomatoes were being stolen. I didn't know which particular animal was doing it until I looked out the window and saw a chipmunk dart between the ceramic pots. Then this real-life Chip or Dale leapt from the ground to the top of the pot with the acrobatic skill of a Chippendale dancer, grabbed my second-from-last tomato from the plant and started chowing down!

Now that I knew which critter I was up against, I returned to the internet. The information I found was not encouraging. Apparently it's almost impossible to prevent chipmunks from eating your vegetables. Most of the advice I found boiled down to the same two words: "SHOOT THEM!"

One person suggested a loaded, lethal rat trap, adding, "vermin are vermin .. and if they are stealing your food.. its you or them ... this aint disney ... if you just cant bring yourself to act accordingly .. then perhaps you shouldn't complain ..."

Another person said to throw handfuls of hair around your vegetables, which sounds like some kind of old wives tale. (Though I guess in some ways it makes sense if those chipmunks are anything like me. I certainly don't like it when I find a piece of hair in my food either.)

Someone else said to pour coyote or fox urine around the edges of your garden. Oh right. Where am I going to find a coyote or fox -- much less convince them to pee in a cup?

In truth, I wouldn't even mind sharing a few tomatoes with Chip or Dale...but this chipmunk has been taking everything he can get his paws on! To return this blog to its rightful subject, children's books, I wanted to end this entry recalling the final pages of Robert Lawson's RABBIT HILL, in which a statue is placed in Little Georgie's garden containing the words "There is enough for all." I had a very clear memory of how the statue looked in the book's illustrations, so I thought I'd conclude by posting that picture as a peace offering to the 'munks.

Imagine my surprise when I went to my copy of the book and the picture was not there!

But I saw it so clearly in my mind!

The only thing I can think is that Robert Lawson conjured up the image so vividly with his words that I actually saw the picture in my head.

It reminds of a well-known tale about Patricia MacLachlan's Newbery-winning story SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL. Back when the book was first published, several reviews mentioned how perfect the illustrations were.

...But there were no illustrations in the book!

Yet Ms. MacLachlan had created such perfect "word pictures" that many people would later recall illustrations in her story.

Has this ever happened to you?

Have you ever gone back to a book looking for a particular illustration, only to discover that it existed only in your mind?


Meanwhile, back inside the house, I now have a cuckoo clock hanging just outside my bedroom door.

When we were very little, my brother had a cuckoo clock in his bedroom. I loved that clock. I coveted that clock. I never forgot that clock. The other day I reminded my brother of that clock and he said, "I don't remember ever having a cuckoo clock!"

Well, I sure do! And I always wanted one of my own. So even though I had no money, I went ahead and ordered a cuckoo clock as a one-year anniversary gift to my house.

After I got it unpacked (note: never, ever open a big box full of styrofoam packing peanuts while sitting in front of a fan), I immediately broke the hour hand as I took the clock out of the packaging. Fortunately, I was able to stick it back into place, though it's still detached. Then I had problems getting the cuckoo to call out the correct number of hours. Finally got that fixed. I should add that, while I had the option of ordering an authentic cuckoo, where you set the time by pulling on the chains, I opted to get one that's battery-operated. Yeah, I'm a big cheater.

This cuckoo clock is loud.

Fortunately, it automatically shuts off at 9:00 PM.

UNfortunately, it comes back on at 6:00 AM!

Did I mention that this clock is right outside my bedroom door?

Every morning at 6:00 AM I hear: CUCKOO! CUCKOO! CUCKOO! CUCKOO! CUCKOO! CUCKOO!

Oh, and every hour -- after the cuckoo goes back behind his doors -- the clock plays a short song. I was really excited by this, as I loved most of the twelve songs listed on the clock company website: Happy Wanderer, Edelweiss, Dr. Zhivago, Swan Lake, He Was Beautiful (theme song of the movie "Deer Hunter"), Lorelei, Home Sweet Home, Sound of Silence, Clementine, The Entertainer (theme song of the movie "Sting"), Love theme of the movie "The Godfather", and Fur Elise. I didn't pay attention to the note on the website that said some clocks may play different songs than these. Unfortunately, mine is one of them. Mine does play Clementine and Happy Wanderer, but the rest are foreign to me. And I mean that literally. I believe all these tunes originally appeared on obscure European record albums with titles like LOOSEN YOUR LEIDERHOSEN : GERMAN JIGS AND POLKAS (those are the snappy unrecognizable songs) or PUT ON YOUR LONG PANTS, HANS, WE'RE GOING TO A FUNERAL : TYROLEAN DIRGES (those are the slow unrecognizable songs.)

Again, bringing this thing back around to the subject of books: one of the most popular late nineteenth-century novels for children was THE CUCKOO CLOCK by Ennis Graham. Published in 1877, the story concerns young Griselda, who is sent to live with a pair of elderly great-aunts. The cuckoo in her aunts' clock takes Griselda on a number of fantasy adventures. The book proved so popular upon publication that its pseudonymous author allowed her real name, Mary Lousia Molesworth (or "Mrs. Molesworth," as she was commonly known) to be used on all subsequent editions. In a 1898 poll, THE CUCKOO CLOCK placed as the sixth-most-popular children's book, following ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll, ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe, fairy tale collections by Andrew Lang and Hans Christian Andersen, and THE WATER BABIES by Charles Kingsley. It came in ahead of THE JUNGLE BOOK by Rudyard Kipling, GRIMMS' FAIRY TALES and Robert Louis Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND.

Though the book is not widely read today, it has many fans, ranging from Newbery winner Paula Fox and British dame -- and I mean that literally -- Jacqueline Wilson, both of whom have written essays in appreciation of THE CUCKOO CLOCK. Then there are the regular folks, who have submitted comments to such as:

Alice, Peter, Dorothy, the Wardrobe, Half-Magic...all on quests in magical places. But this one is the best and the most meaningful. Alone, Griselda is be-friended by magical creatures--not unlike imaginary friends--until she finds strength within herself and her real world. This old book never gained the notariety of others, but is far more enchanting, well-written, and touching than those that became more fashionable. It is a book that many readers claim changed their lives. It entertains and touches the hearts of young and old.

If you find all these comments intriguing, THE CUCKOO CLOCK is just a mouse-click away. Kindle editions are free...or you can just click here and read the entire book on your computer screen, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

Incidentally, Mrs. Molesworth started off as a writer for adults, and didn't begin writing for young people until she had children of her own. Anyone in publishing knows -- and cringes when they read -- this familiar comment found in most aspiring authors' cover letters: "I know my book is good because my own children love it!"

Mrs. Molesworth also tested her stories out on her own children, but used a unique method in doing so. She would hide her manuscript pages within the hardcovers of a published book before reading the stories aloud. That way she would insure that her children would provide objective feedback.

Over one hundred years after Mrs. Moleworth published THE CUCKOO CLOCK, twentieth-century author Mary Stolz also published a book by the same name. Leonard Marcus's indispensable volume, DEAR GENIUS : THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDSTROM, gives a hint about this book's long gestation. In a 1976 letter to Ms. Stolz, editor Ursula Nordstrom writes, "I know you think I am not interested in THE HAUNTED CUCKOO CLOCK, but that is not true." She goes on to tell the author that she was only concerned about Stolz writing "a very young picture book" because "you haven't been satisfied yourself with how your younger books have done" and, that with picture books now approaching costs of $6.95 each (!) "all in all I don't know how this picture book thing is going to end up."

Ultimately, Mary Stolz's THE CUCKOO CLOCK was published by David Godine in 1986...ten years after Ursula's note. Now a novel, not a picture book. With a somewhat different title. And issued by a completely different publisher.


Anyone interested in the history of children's books will be excited to learn that Jane McCloskey has written a memoir about her Caldecott-winning father, ROBERT MCCLOSKEY : A PRIVATE LIFE IN WORDS AND PICTURES.

The book will be released on July 16 by Seapoint Books, an imprint of Smith/Kerr Associates. According to a recent Publishers Weekly article, Robert McCloskey's publisher, Viking "passed on the project," which is how the book ended up being issued by a much smaller company from Maine. Granted, there may be many reasons why Viking turned down this work, ranging from cost to quality to a lack of interest on the publisher's part. I guess we'll never know...but personally I'm shocked that the publisher who supported McCloskey and his work for so many decades (and vice versa) would ever pass on this, the first-ever true biography (after Gary Schmidt's more academic, bio-critical volume) of the first-ever two-time Caldecott winner. I've often said that publishers have lost their sense of history. I wonder if that was the case here....

Oh well, Viking's loss is Seapoint's gain.

I sure plan to buy this book as soon as it's published and I hope you will too!


Last week we pretended we were at the Newbery-Caldecott banquet eating osso bucco.

Now that the event is over, what are we hearing from those who attended?

First, according to School Library Journal, Paolo Bacigalupi, author of the Printz winner, SHIPBREAKER "dropped the F-bomb during his acceptance speech."


And blog reader Madigan McGillicuddy reported that a mouse ran past her table during the Newbery-Caldecott banuqet!

From what I've been hearing, it was a very emotional evening, with both the award winners and some audience members blinking back tears during the speeches.

If you'd like to read the full speeches by Newbery winner Clare Vanderpool, Caldecott winner Erin E. Stead, Wilder winner Tomie dePaola, Coretta Scott King Author winner Rita Williams-Garcia and CSK Illustrator winner Bryan Collier, check out the July/August issue of the Horn Book. This issue also contains a fascinating article by Kathleen T. Horning called "Secrecy and the Newbery Medal." I did find what I think is one tiny error in it, though. Ms. Horning states that "until 1959, the runners-up were not listed in alphabetical order by author but in the order of the number of votes they received, so that the first runner-up always appeared at the top of the list." I could be wrong, but it appears this practice went on at least till 1962 (when FRONTIER LIVING by John Tunis appeared over THE GOLDEN GOBLET by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and BELLING THE TIGER by Mary Stolz on the runners-up list) and may even have lasted through 1964 or 1965. I know...who cares? Only us Newbery Nerds!

Also, let me delve back into my own Collecting Children's Books archives to mention another aspect of the Newbery (and Caldecott) runners-up being listed in order. Here is a piece I wrote in September 2009:

Robert McCloskey’s BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL did not win the Caldecott Medal in 1949...but should it have?

And what about Kate Seredy’s THE SINGING TREE? It was a 1940 Newbery Honor Book (then called “runner-up”)...but might it actually have won the award under a different set of rules?

Recent years have given us a number of repeat award winners, but did you know that, for the first few decades of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, it was virtually impossible for an author or illustrator to win these prizes twice?

In 1930, Rachel Field won the Newbery for HITTY : HER FIRST HUNDRED YEARS. Two years later, her novel CALICO BUSH was considered a strong contender for the award, but the committee questioned whether the same author should be honored twice. At that time the ALA Executive Board made this resolution:

"Since the Newbery Medal is intended to encourage an increasing number of authors to devote their best efforts to creating children’s literature, the book of a previous recipient of the Newbery Medal shall receive the award only upon unanimous vote of the Newbery Committee."

Unanimous? That almost never happens!

This same "unanimous only" policy was later applied to the Caldecott Medal. It wasn’t until 1958 that this rule was changed -- in a fairly dramatic fashion.

That was the year of Robert McCloskey’s TIME OF WONDER. Having previously won in 1942for MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, the only way McCloskey could ever win again would be with one of those near-impossible-to-get unanimous votes. During their deliberations at the conference that year, the Caldecott committee actually adjourned in order to ask the American Library Association if the “unanimous” requirement could be repealed. The board held a special executive session, approved the request, and the committee went back to deliberations...and declared TIME OF WONDER that year’s Caldecott winner.

Since this rule was changed there have been a fair number of artists who have also won the Caldecott twice: Nonny Hogrogian, Leo and Diane Dillon, Barbara Cooney, and Chris Van Allsburg. And Marcia Brown and David Wiesner have each won the award three times!

Newbery double-dippers include Joseph Krumgold, Elizabeth George Speare, Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, and E.L. Konigsburg.

One has to wonder about the years prior to 1958. How many previous winners MIGHT have won a second award but for the “unanimous vote” rule? Obviously there is no way of knowing for sure, but we do know that, up until 1964, Honor Books (then runners-up) were listed in order of their ranking. (Since ‘64, they have been listed alphabetically in order to give them equal prestige.) If we go back and look at “first runners-up” by previous winners, we see that BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL placed second to 1949’s Caldecott winner, THE BIG SNOW and that THE SINGING TREE was second to DANIEL BOONE for 1940’s Newbery. Can we assume these books may have outranked the winning titles and could have/might have won the awards those years if they had received unanimous votes? There’s no way of knowing, but it’s fun to speculate!


The July/August Horn Book also includes an article that runs throughout the issue in scattered squibs: "The Ones That Got Away," described as "What book do you think most deserved to win the Newbery or Caldedott and didn't even get an Honor?"

I submitted one of the items in this feature:

Elizabeth Enright’s THE SATURDAYS is a great family story, with well-drawn characters, and a uniquely-memorable plot full of empowering individual adventures. And since I’m giving Enright the award for 1942, let’s take away her THIMBLE SUMMER win (she doesn’t need two) and give her 1939 medal to MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS. (How’s that for being sneaky?)

I actually submitted two other unpublished suggestions to this article:

Louise Fitzhugh’s HARRIET THE SPY should have won the Big N. How odd that the previous year’s winner, IT’S LIKE THIS CAT, was also a contemporary New-York-City-kid-book, albeit without Harriet’s “Portrait of the Artist” intensity. It’s as if the earlier committee read the zeitgeist correctly, but couldn’t wait till 1965 to give the award to Harriet.

To quote another Newbery winner, “if only, if only” Bill and Vera Cleaver had won the Newbery for WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM. I don’t know what’s more impressive – the Appalachian setting, the pitch-perfect narrative voice, or the fully-realized characterizations. If it had won, I’d like to think the authors’ other outstanding books would still be read and loved today instead of out of print and nearly forgotten.

What would YOU suggest for "The Ones That Got Away"?


Looking for something to read this long holiday weekend? I think I've discovered the perfect Independence Day book for young readers, FIVE 4THS OF JULY by Pat Raccio Hughes. This novel follows teenage Jake "Mal" Mallery from July 4, 1777 through July 4, 1781. In 1777, he's a fourteen-year-old, mostly concerned with teasing indentured servant Hannah and trying to join a ship's crew. By 1779, he's in love with Hannah and helping to fight off the British invasion. The following July 4, he's held captive on a prison ship with his best friend. The grueling prison scenes highlight a seldom-discussed aspect of the Revolution; the author's note later informs us that about 11,500 Americans died on British prison ships, compared to only 4,500 American deaths in all the Revolutionary War battles combined. This is historical fiction in the vein of MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collins. Authoritatively-written, the novel is abundant with gritty details and doesn't place its characters on lofty pedestals, but instead features down-to-earth, full-blooded individuals who make mistakes, crack vulgar jokes, and change with the times. The format -- showing Jake's life only through the events of five successive Independence Days -- is fascinating and allows the reader to watch this character grow into maturity, just like his incipient country grows, over the course of those five years.

Hope you enjoy the Fourth of July holiday and return to visit Collecting Children's Books in the days ahead.


Bybee said...

Harriet's non-win is the one that rankles the most with me, but Bill and Vera Cleaver's being slighted is right up there.

LaurieA-B said...

Peter, when i was flipping through the Horn Book this weekend and spotted The Saturdays, I said, "I love you, Peter Sieruta." Really. Enright is one of several authors (Brink, Cleary, Enright) who did win a Newbery, but not for her best book. Well, at least not for my personal favorite of her books.

My One That Got Away: The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. A Newbery book if there ever was one, and an instant personal favorite besides.

Kaethe said...

I originally read The Shrinking of Treehorn in a magazine in the late 60s or early 70s. Years later I realized the illustrator was Edward Gorey and I managed to find a copy. My favorite illustration had been the one where Treehorn carries a parcheesi-like game piece around the board, standing up, under his bed. No one else remembers this picture though, because it didn't exist.

CLM said...

I am 1/4 Hungarian and was brought up on Kate Seredy. The Singing Tree is enormously unappreciated (it is just an amazing book) but I am worried that even The Good Master is too tame for modern children. I read it to my nephew a summer or two ago (when he was too young to object, and I think he liked it) but now at 8 1/2 he wants only to read HP and Percy Jackson repeatedly. He would never sit still to listen to Jancsi and Kate's adventures. What a beautiful cover the original had!

It kills me that Perilous Gard didn't win in 1975 but My Brother Sam is Dead is probably more Newbery-esque. Either way, I have no interest in Virgina Hamilton.

I also agree that The Saturdays should have won. And I wish Elizabeth Janet Gray had won, although I am a fan of so many of her books I would have a hard time choosing but The Fair Adventure and Jane Hope are probably my favorites, rather than Penn or Meggy Mackintosh.

And what happened in 1928? And how did Atheneum manage to pit two EL Konigsburg books against each other in 1968?

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Bybee,

I agree about HARRIET, but at least we can take comfort in the fact that it remains popular. On the other hand, the Cleavers' books are now nearly forgotten and that is truly sad. Thanks, as always, for following my blog!


Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Laurie,

Wow, thank you !

Actually, in retrospect, I may have been too harsh when I said Enright didn't need two Newberys. I would have been quite happy if she'd won for both SATURDAYS and GONE-AWAY LAKE.

And I totally agree with you on THE GREEN GLASS SEA. That was also my favorite the year it was eligible.



Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Kaethe,

Isn't it amazing how how great authors can make us visualize something so well that we would swear we actually SAW it?



Peter D. Sieruta said...


The amazing thing about GOOD MASTER (and SINGING TREE) is that Kate Seredy was an artist, not a writer, when an editor suggested she write her first book...and even though English was not her first language, she knocked out that manuscript within a couple months and it was published within a year. I love both those books and am sorry to hear that kids today are not fans. I should add that, for many years, Seredy's WHITE STAG was my LEAST favorite Newbery; read it again as an adult and came to appreciate it much more!

I too wish THE PERILOUS GARD had won!

Elizabeth Janet Gray did win the Newbery, in 1943, for ADAM OF THE ROAD. I remember liking it, but haven't read it in several years.

Atheneum published JENNIFER, HECATE in the spring and MIXED-UP FILES in the fall, so they ended up competing for the 1968 Newbery. Although MIXED-UP FILES is very much loved by kids, critic John Rowe Townsend felt JENNIFER should have won and FILES should have been the Honor book. Having read both books several times now, I think he may be right. FILES is wonderful, but JENNIFER has such a seamless plot and is, I think, more emotionally fulfilling.

Thanks for reading,