Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Brunch : Looking Back at Library Cards, Looking Ahead to Newbery 2012

Sunday Brunch. Books old and new. Random facts and opinions. You know the drill.

Today's Brunch shows the "library book" given to those who attended this year's Newbery-Caldecott banquet, solicits memories of your first library card, notes a senior citizen making his debut as a YA author, and predicts the next Newbery winner...before quickly changing my mind about it!


All year 'round we obsess about it.

We read as many books as we can, looking for it.

By this point in the summer, certain titles have started to emerge, rising to the top like cream.

Will one of them be the next Newbery winner?

Or will it be a book from the fall season that most people haven't read yet?

Some years certain titles have received so much critical acclaim and popular buzz that people are not surprised when the Newbery winner is announced. That was how it was in 2010: WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead was declared the winner and everyone said, "Of course."

Then there are other years, when the "expected" titles are ignored or turn up as Honor Books and the Newbery goes to an out-of-left-field volume that was barely mentioned by pundits or in Mock Newbery polls. That was how it was in 2011: MOON OVER MANIFEST by Claire Vanderpool won and everyone said, "Huh?"

What kind of year will 2012 be? Hard to tell. At this point, a number of excellent books have been gathering support for the past several months: OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt, THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE by Jeanne Birdsall, AMELIA LOST by Candace Fleming, BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu.

However, this past week I read a new book that immediately had me thinking "Newbery 2012!" The book is SPARROW ROAD by Sheila O'Connor. Have you read it? What did you think? Newbery-ific or no?

Raine is nearly thirteen when her single mother takes a summer job as a cook at a rural artists colony. Raine misses her grandfather and the life she left behind in Milwaukee, and resents the rules of Sparrow Road, which include no television, no radio, and no talking all day until suppertime. But she soon finds herself forming friendships with many of the residents, including an extroverted fabric artist and an elderly poet who shares confused memories of Sparrow Road's mysterious past as an orphanage. Raine also has a few mysteries of her own to solve, such as why her mother took this unusual job. Could it have something to do with Raine's long-absent father?

An evocative setting, a strong cast of eccentric characters, and an emerging sense of community inform this middle-grade novel as Raine uncovers secrets, struggles with family loyalties, and discovers her own artistic sensibility as a writer -- her desire to uncover "what was or what could be" -- over the course of one growing-up summer.

The novel is not without flaws. It's a bit quiet, perhaps a little sweet. Like too many recent books, events are not always adequately foreshadowed (when Raine wants to go to the town's "Rhubarb Social" and insists, "We've been planning it all week," readers will wonder why they haven't heard of it before now and why they couldn't have been part of the fun as Raine and a friend planned their rhubarb taffy recipe.) The novel also suffers from a unclear historical milieu. It could be set in the present day, but the absence of computers and cellphones, plus Mama's past as a former "hippie," suggests a 1980s setting, with Sparrow Road's own past as an orphanage occuring around World War I.

But these are small quibbles, in an otherwise, strong and emotionally-rewarding novel that is one of 2011's best.


As soon as I finished reading SPARROW ROAD, it moved to the top of my Newbery list.

But over the last couple days, I've come to the conclusion that -- as good as the book is, and as deserving of the award it seems to be, it might actually be a longshot for the Newbery.


You could say that the book already HAS won the award a few times. Stories of parentless girls uncovering mysteries from the past are already a big part of the Newbery canon. Think WALK TWO MOONS. Think THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY.


That may be the book that hurts SPARROW ROAD's chances most of all.

Though committee members are not supposed to consider previous winners when choosing the year's most distinguished book for children, I can't imagine them not (secretly, privately) comparing MOON OVER MANIFEST to SPARROW ROAD, wondering if these two novels are too similar and not wanting to make the 2012 winner a "rerun" of the 2011 award.

As good as it is, I have a feeling that SPARROW ROAD might fall victim to timing.


People who collect children's books are often interested in related ephemera such as posters, bookmarks, and promotional pieces.

I am always on the look-out for programs from the annual Newbery/Caldecott Banquet. Sometimes I find old programs offered for sale by used bookdealers. They can run $50-$100 a piece. Some years I get lucky and a friend who attends the banquet snags an extra program and gives it to me. Other years I have no luck at all. (There is still an empty place on my shelf for the 2010 program. Anyone have a copy to sell?)

2011 was one of the lucky years. This week a very kind book buddy who attended ALA in New Orleans sent me a copy of the latest program. I haven't even thanked him yet -- but maybe this blog will serve as a preliminary thank you until I send a personal note expressing my great gratitude.

It's always fun to see the format of the N/C program, which can range from a tiny hardcover souvenier book to a fold-out pamphlet. This year's is especially clever. It takes the form of a library book, right down to the (correct) Dewey Decimal call number sticker on the spine:

The cover is folded to create endpapers at the front and back of the book. The front endpaper describes the book:

Inside are photographs of Newbery winner Clare Vanderpool, Caldecott winner Erin Stead, and Wilder winner Tomie dePaola. There is an excerpt from MOON OVER MANIFEST, illustrations from A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE, lists of this year's Honor Books, committee members, and Honored Guests. The back of the program also mimics an endpaper with (what else?) "author biographies" of John Newbery, Randolph Caldecott, and Laura Ingalls Wilder:

But as they say in the world of late-night commercials -- "but wait, there's more!" Did you notice what's underneath that back flap? It's the coolest thing ever -- a mock-up of the pocket in a library book:

And inside are three "date due" slips, one for the Newbery, one for the Caldecott, and one for the Wilder. The people who "checked out" the book are all the winners of these awards! Here's the front of each card:

And here is the back of each card, with lots of empty space for all the upcoming winners' name. So much promise for the future here:

You know what I think would be hilarious? If the American Library Association got a mailing list of everyone who attended the banquet and sent out "overdue notices" for the 2011 AWARDS BANQUET book which they borrowed on June 26 in New Orleans and never returned.


I treasure the N/C banquet program my friend sent me. It's also sent me on a nostalgia trip, thinking about my own childhood days checking out books from the Edison Branch Library in Detroit.

Not to sound like one of those old men who rants about walking four miles to school in waist-high snowdrifts, but I really must say: there actually was a time when libraries checked out books without the aid of computers! In the middle of every table in our library was a black wooden box filled with borrowing slips and small pencils. At the top of each slip were lines for checking out three books. You had to copy all the info off the book's back pocket:

J Cleary, Beverly. Henry and the Paper Route. c. 14
J Hayes, William. Project Genius. c. 1
J Konigsburg, E.L. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. c. 2

Now you have to picture those titles copied onto the forms in sloppy and smeary grade school writing with the Konigsburg title so long that it had to be written in tiny print and looped upwards and almost off the side of the slip.

Beneath that you had to fill in your personal information:

Name: Peter D. (yes, I even used the initial then; I wanted to be a famous writer) Sieruta
Address: 9982 Minock
City: Detroit, Michigan 48228
Telephone: 273-4396

There was no limit to the number of books you could borrow as long as you filled out slips (with three books per slip) for each of them. Then you took your books to the circulation desk with your library card. You were not allowed to borrow books without the card, even if you were a regular customer and the staff knew you personally.

Back then the library cards were about the size of a credit card, printed on stiff paper. Cards for kids had red lines across the top. I can't say for sure, but I think the adult cards were green or blue. I do remember that, if you used your card as much as I did, the cardboard would eventually wear down to a soft, almost cloth-like texture and your ink signature would become so pale and dim that it might have been written in invisible ink. When we got a little older, we'd go to Woolworth's and buy two square pieces of laminating plastic out of a machine for a quarter (which felt like $5 back then) and carefully seal our cards to preserve them. Those laminated cards stood up to anything from sweat to bike accidents. Once in a while a circulation clerk would disapprovingly tell us, "You're not supposed to laminate your library card." Instead of asking why, we'd worry they were going to revoke our borrowing privileges for breaking a library rule. Incidentally, this last step of the circulation process (after filling out the slips for our books, taking them to the circ desk, handing over our library card, and getting yelled at for illegal lamination) was the only one that involved automation. As early as the mid-sixties the date due slip placed in each book pocket was a punch card with the due date printed in a "computerized" font. Originally, these cards were about 3x5 inches, but later became much smaller -- about half their original size.

As I said, this topic makes me nostalgic for my old library cards. I wish I still had them -- the older cards worn to a cottony softness or the ones I laminated and had such sharp corners that they'd draw blood if you pulled it out of your pocket too quickly.

I still remember the summer day I got my first library card and wonder why this "rite of passage" isn't depicted in more children's books.

Of course it is described in some.

Who can forget Rufus M. trying to get a card in the eponymous volume by Eleanor Estes:

Ramona Quimby also struggled with getting her own library card.

And Jerry Spinelli wrote an entire volume on the topic called -- what else? -- THE LIBRARY CARD.

Can you think of any others?

And what are your memories of your first library card?

Do you remember the circulation process at your first library?

Did you create pockets and date due slips for the books you owned at home?

What are your favorite childhood library memories?


As one of the judges for this year's Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the category of young adult literature, I have been reading as many YA books as I can get my hands on. I think I've read close to sixty so far this year.

Yesterday I picked up a new novel, ON THE VOLCANO by James Nelson.

I can't comment on the quality of the book yet, as I never made it much past the copyright page. The author is identified as having written four nonfiction books (apparently for adults), but this is his first novel. Then I noticed his age in the cataloging-in-publication data:

According to the CIP, James Nelson was born in 1921, meaning he already is or is about to turn ninety this year.

Is that a new record for a first-time young adult novelist?

Can anyone think of another YA author whose published their very first novel in their nineties?

Let me know if you can think of any other names. I have a feeling that James Nelson may be the first!


A couple weeks ago I blogged about an upcoming book called ROBERT MCCLOSKEY : A PRIVATE LIFE IN WORDS AND PICTURES. It was released this week and I picked up a copy on Friday. I haven't yet had time to read it, but I'm already intrigued by the fact that the originally-announced dustjacket:

has now been changed to this one:

I've only skimmed through the book so far, but have already learned a lot about this important children's book figure and what made him tick. I was particularly intrigued by a chapter on "The Paranormal and the Weird" which discusses one of McCloskey's unpublished manuscripts and its parallels with Crocket Johnson's HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON.

The only thing in the book that made me wince was a reference to Robert McCloskey's mother-in-law, Ruth Sawyer, winning the "Newbury" Award.

But this is definitely a book you'll want to read if you have any interest in Mr. McCloskey, twentieth-century book illustration, or the general topic of children's books.


I put this last because it really doesn't have anything to do with children's books.

But regular readers of this blog have heard me complain about the chipmunks bent on destroying my container garden.

I may have finally found an answer to the problem: a garden owl!

I purchased this plastic owl from a catalog. You simply insert two AA batteries at the base, place it in your garden, and every time a critter creeps by, a motion detector goes off causing the owl to hoot and twist his head like Linda Blair. His eyes also light up. The chipmunks run away and your veggies are safe!

Want to see the owl in action?

I couldn't kneel outside in the hot sun all day waiting for a chipmunk to appear and hoping that I'd get it all on camera, so I brought the owl into my library, made a chipmunk-paperdoll-glued-to-a-Popsicle-stick, then filmed this video. I like to tell myself that highly-creative types like Robert McCloskey and Erin Stead probably started off by making whimsical paper chipmunks on sticks. Otherwise, it just looks like I'm a bit nutty....

Incidentally, if you think my video is silly, I'll tell you something even more ridiculous. The garden owl was sold by the Walter Drake company. The catalog photograph clearly shows the owl sitting outside on a fence post surrounded by vegetable plants. The text says to use this garden owl to scare off plant-eating critters and other outdoor pests.

However, it arrived with an instruction sheet showing how to insert the batteries. At the very bottom of that page, in all caps and a large font, the instructions say:



Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll return often.


Anonymous said...

When I got my first library card, you had to be able to write your name. Even then (1965) that was archaic, as we did not literally "sign out" our books but had library card numbers. Mine was 136, as in 135 people had gotten library cards before me. (Granted, they WERE re-registering everyone.) The check out clerk would write your library card number on the book card and stamp the pocket with a little do-hickey that attached to the eraser end of the pencil. Nifty, and something I never saw in another library.

The next couple library systems I frequented had Gaylord systems with the metal tagged borrower's card and the noched date due cards. This would be probably the late 1960s all the way through the early 90s. I worked at one such library and managed to rescind the "you have to write your name to get a library card" rule, as it was irrelevant, and had been for many, many years. ("It's always been this way....")

And then we got barcodes. And were set FREEEEEEE from the drudgery of alphabetizing every day's circulation cards, not to mention the brain-deadening chore of filing into, and pulling out, card sets from the card catalog.

Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

I got my first library card when I was in elementary school, in the mid-80s. I think we also had to be able to write our names. My library had the metal-tagged cards, too, which I thought (and still think) was so nifty! Kids' cards were pink, and adults' cards were yellow. It was a little disappointing when we switched over to barcodes.

C. Cackley said...

I have a vague memory of my first library card and my mother assuring the librarian that I could, in fact, write my own name on it. I guess they didn't believe her. I read Sparrow Road, and thought it was good, but as you point out, a little too sweet. And it did seem very similar to a number of other books with the whole 'weird artist characters/missing parent' theme.

Anonymous said...

Another nifty book about getting a library card (the FIRST EVER library card) is Rosa-Too-Little by Sue Felt. It was also the FIRST EVER book by Sue Felt, who was a young NY librarian at the time.

Laura Canon said...

When the chipmunks take over our civilization (as opposed to just stealing our veggies), you'll be ready.

Linda said...

I've always loved the library passages in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn myself.

I believe my first library card was beige, and I vaguely remember having to be able to sign it. I did not go to the library much as the nearest one was over a mile away and I would have had had to walk as we only had one car, so I mostly partook of the school libraries. Luckily the elementary and junior high libraries were fairly good.

When I did start going intermittently to the closest library I was always disappointed. Today I would love to go down in the children's section of the old Arlington Library and read what they had, but back then I wanted to read the latest book. I recall complaining bitterly to my mother that the NEWEST book Arlington had in its children's section had a girl driving a car with a running board! The library did not get much funding and the books were pretty much vintage 1900-1940s, even into the 1960s. Also, back then I loved books about animals and all they had in that subject range were the Thornton W. Burgess books. I did have one favorite, a book translated from the German, Flax, about a police dog.

Finally they tore down the old library, built a modern new one, and, of course, just as I got interested in "those old books," got rid of every single one of them except for the classics. After that their children's section was very small, and their adult reading room tended to stock the popular fiction of the day, stuff like Harold Robbins and Judith Krantz.

The Auburn Library, which a mile and a half walk, had newer books, but almost never what I wanted to read. I finally started taking the bus down to the Providence Public Library, which had a better selection.

lin said...

Anonymous 2 beat me to "Rosa Too-Little." I second that as lovely story.
I had 4 or 5 books to a checkout slip, and you had to press hard, since there was a duplicate (I think you got the duplicate, or maybe it went into mysterious files in the back room) I don't remember my card at all, but it must have been some kind of paper. When I went to the Amherst Library in MA during the early 80s, I was impressed by getting a card that had a metal tag. It seemed so high tech.

Heather said...

OMG... I loved the Owl!!! My dad used to put plastic Owls on our roof to scare off the other birds. He also bought plastic snakes and put them up to scare off woodpeckers. I guess you do nutty things like that when you have wooden siding on your house...

hschinske said...

It's possible the Library of Congress made a mistake -- James Nelson is of course a common name, and they may accidentally have used an old authority record. I think that's a lot more likely than an 89-year-old getting a book deal without it being big news.

Helen Schinske