Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Brunching with E.B. White's "Sad Disaster"

This is the first time I've blogged in two weeks. Sorry for the absence. As many of you know, I am writing a book for Candlewick Press with Elizabeth Bird of the Fuse #8 blog and Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast . Two weeks ago we finally finished our latest draft and the days since then have been spent reading, editing, cutting, rewriting, restruturing, and sending thousands of e-mails back-and-forth saying, "Do you think...?" and "What about...?" and "Hmmpf! If you insist!"

It's a daunting task, because the manuscript is currently 562 pages, stands three times taller than my laptop, and weighs more than my brother's dog.

It's due at Candlewick by Labor Day so no wonder I haven't been blogging.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Betsy and Julie haven't stopped blogging over the last two weeks. But in my own defense, I should say:

* Those two have more pep than a pair of Energizer Bunnies. On my best days, I couldn't keep up with them on their worst days. While they're editing, blogging, and keeping up with a hundred activities like those plate-spinners on the Ed Sullivan Show, I'm slumped over my laptop, drooling on my computer....

* They are a lot younger than me. I think if you added their ages together, they'd still be younger than I am. How am I supposed to keep up with that? Come to think of it, I doubt they even know what the Ed Sullivan Show was!

* They both get paid for blogging. I write this blog for free. If someone wants to pay me for writing Collecting Children's Books, I'll wake up, wipe the drool from my computer, and get blogging as well.

Anyway, two weeks is a long time to go without writing a blog, so I'm going to take a break from manuscript editing to write a brief blog today. If you're reading this from the east coast, I hope you've emerged from Hurricane Irene safe and dry!


I'm so old that not only do I remember the Ed Sullivan Show, but I also remember a time when E.B. White had only written two children's books, STUART LITTLE (1945) and CHARLOTTE'S WEB (1952.)

I was just a kid going to grade school in the midwest when TRUMPET OF THE SWAN was published in 1970...but even to me, the publication of E.B. White's third children's book was a Big Deal. It seemed like everyone was talking about it. I'm sure there were articles in the newspapers and in magazines. After all, a new book after eighteen years deserves attention...especially when the novel that preceded it was already acknowledged as a modern classic.

When THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN was published, it appeared in all kinds of stores that didn't usually sell children's books: airport gift shops, and stationery stores, and department stores. We couldn't wait till it turned up at our school and public library and I think both those places ordered two or three copies at a time when that was almost never done.

Then the book arrived...and I was disappointed.

First I was disappointed by the cover illustration. To me E.B. White = Garth Williams, whose distinctive artwork (whether in White's books or the "Little House" series, or anywhere else) automatically elevated any book it accompanied. The cover and illustrations of THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN just looked ordinary to the illustrations you'd find in any book of that era.

I always wondered why Garth Williams didn't illustrate this book as well. I learned recently, in Leonard Marcus's DEAR GENIUS : THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDSTROM, that Mr. Williams was approached, but was just too busy to take on the project at that time. And editor Nordstrom didn't feel she could wait till he was available since E.B. White was in frail health and might not be around much longer. Garth Williams would later express regret that he didn't illustrate the book.

I wonder if the publisher, Harper, ultimately agreed with me about the quality of Edward Frascino's illustrations -- because when they issued a thirtieth anniversary edition in 2000, it was elegantly reillustrated by Fred Marcellino.

But of course you can't judge a book by its cover. It's the inside that counts. And when I read THE TRUMKPET OF THE SWAN, I was disappointed as well. Looking back from a distance of forty years, I can't really remember my specific objections to the novel. I guess it just seemed ordinary didn't have the same kind of resonance that attaches itself to your bones and makes you carry the book inside you for the rest of your life, the way STUART and CHARLOTTE did. Now if I were any type of dedicated blogger, I'd go back and re-read the book today and share my opinions as an adult, but I don't have the time (remember that 562 page manuscript tugging on my sleeve) or the energy (remember, I'm old) but I'll try to put it on my to-do list and report back here eventually.

Although I wasn't crazy about THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN, it appears that everyone else pretty much loves it. White is usually said to have written "three chldren's classics" and the dustjacket for the anniversary edition claims this novel "along with E.B. White's other masterpieces...has been a favorite of generations of young readers."

Back in 1971, THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN was nominated for a National Book Award and went on to win a William Allen White Award. Its editor, Ursula Nordstrom expressed shock when it did not receive the Newbery Medal, writing to White's wife: "Well, I just heard that Andy did NOT win the Newbery. It is utterly incredible. What won was a Viking book entitled THE SUMMER OF THE SWAN [sic]. Did you ever hear of anything so odd?...I am simply DISGUSTED."

Despite this talk of awards, I wondered how critics at the time of publication felt about TRUMPET. Did they also consider it award-worthy or were they, like me, somewhat lukewarm about the book?

John Updike reviewed it for the New York Times Book Review (you can always tell how important a book is considered by the pedigree of the critic; Updike wrote this one and, I believe, Eudora Welty did the Times review for Charlotte's Web.) Updike said that TRUMPET was not as "sprightly" as STUART and was "less rich in personalities and incident" than CHARLOTTE, but went on to rave that TRUMPET "is the most spacious and serene of the three, the one most imbued with the author's sense of the precious instinctual heritage represented by wild nature."

Writing for the Saturday Review, Zena Sutherland called the book "a masterpiece."

Other reviewers were more measured, but still quite positive, as when Kirkus Reviews points out some reservations but admits that, during certain powerful moments, "reservations have a way of evaporating."

Junior Bookshelf notes the novel's "disconcerting mix of fact and fantasy," but also mentions the novel's "compassion and wisdom and real feeling for the joy of the free life of the wild."

So in general, it seems that everyone liked the book and found it successful.

Or did they?

I recently came across some fascinating inside info in a personal letter. Written in June 1970 by Lavinia Russ, the children's book editor of the Publishers Weekly, and sent to a very well-known children's book editor, the letter accompanied a small present -- a book of E.B. White's essays for adults. And Ms. Russ signs off with a bit of gossip about White's latest book, THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN.

In case you can't read her handwriting, she says: "Trade secret: his newest one is a sad disaster."

I'd sure like to see the Publishers Weekly review of TRUMPET OF THE SWAN. Did it reflect Ms. Russ's opinion that the book was a "sad disaster" or was it generally positive, like most reviews of the era? If it was positive, what does it say about the book review world if everyone was praising this book publicly but (trade secret!) offering different opinions behind closed doors?

And now I'm curious about how others feel about this book. Were you underwhelmed by it like I was as a kid, or do you think it takes its rightful place among E.B. White's "trio of classics"?


And who is this Lavinia Russ who dared to diss E.B. White's work?

For many years in the 1950s and 1960s she worked at Scribner's Bookstore in New York, buying and selling children's books. She was so esteemed in the children's book industry that she was ultimately asked to serve as children's books editor at Publishers , working there from 1965 to 1973.

If you'd like to know a little more about her, you might want to track down her 1969 memoir, THE GIRL ON THE FLOOR WILL HELP YOU, which is composed of brief, mildly-humorous essays about working in a bookstore with, of course, an emphasis on children's books. Some of Russ's comments about her favorite types of books ("written with a joyful wonder and read with wonderful joy") are spot-on; others are equally powerful, but a bit diminished by old-school sexism ("The man who first defined a children's book as a meaningful book -- that's the villain I'm after. I shall find him some day, but I have a hunch he will turn out to be a woman and that I shall find her at a wedding reception, a Barbie Doll passing as the mother of the bride.")

I was particularly struck by Russ's list of books "about people, ideas, and things that I couldn't bear to have anybody grow up without knowing." She says the list is for readers up to ten and "If they don't choose their own books after that, they're in trouble -- and so are you." I would have reprinted the list here, but it's over seven pages long. But I'm impressed by the fact that, although over forty years old, the list holds up very nicely today, filled with titles such as THE ANIMAL FAMILY, FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, HARRIET THE SPY, THE GHOST IN THE NOONDAY SUN and many others.

n fact there are only twelves titles on the list that I have never heard of before. Since they appear to be picture books (never my strong suit), I'll have to ask you if these unknown-to-me titles are still read and enjoyed by kids today:

ELIA / Bill Peet
THE LEGEND OF THE WILLOW PLATE / Alvin Tresselt and Nancy Cleaver; illustrated by Joseph Low
MR. BROWN AND MR. GRAY / William Wondriska (I've never heard of this author, have you?)
NUBBER / William Lipkind ; illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
ONE SMALL BLUE BEAD / B.B. Schweitzer ; illustrated by Symeon Shimon
ONE SNAIL AND ME / Emilie McLeod ; illustrated by Walter Lorraine
THE TOMTEN / Astrid Lindgren

Incidentally, this card was laid in my copy of THE GIRL ON THE FLOOR WILL HELP YOU:

No, I did not know the author; whoever owned the book before me must have.

I wonder who that was!


We've discussed in previous blogs that the current use of stock photos has occasionally caused two books to unknowingly have the same cover. It recently happened again with the paperback reprints of last year's winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine and Will Allison's adult novel LONG DRIVE HOME. People Magazine even included a piece about the duplication:

Personally, I was thrilled to see this mention. Anytime a children's book gets even a glancing bit of publicity in magazine like People, it increases the book's visibility and increases sales.


Earlier I wrote about what a big deal it was when E.B. White "returned" to children's books in 1970 after an eighteen year absence.

It appears we are about to experience a similarly momentous occasion, with Nancy Ekholm Burkert releasing her first picture book in over twenty years.

I'm not a picture book expert, so if I have any facts wrong here, I hope someone will write in to correct me. But I will go out on a limb and state that Nancy Ekholm Burkert may be the most honored and admired children's book artist with the smallest body of work.

In fifty years, she appears to have illustrated a scant dozen or so volumes, beginning with JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH in 1961, and including John Updike's A CHILD'S CALENDAR in 1965, SNOW-WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS in 1972, and VALENTINE AND ORSON in 1989. This is a far cry from many children's books artists who, particularly early in their careers, illustrate as many titles as they possibly can. Yet despite, her small output, Ms. Burkert is one of our most honored creators. SNOW WHITE was a Caldecott Honor Book. VALENTINE AND ORSON won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. She has been honored with a monograph about her work (1977's THE ART OF NANCY EKHOLM BURKERT, edited by David Larkin) and in 2003 she was the second artist (only after Maurice Sendak) to exhibit her work at the Eric Carle Museum.

So you can see why it is indeed a Big Deal that she's publishing a new picture book this fall, at the age of 78. The book is MOUSE & LION, an adaptation of the Aesop fable by her son Rand Burkert.

It's already getting raves and I imagine it will turn up on many Mock Caldecott lists this fall.

Of course you may now be thinking, like I am: what rotten timing!

After all, Jerry Pinkney just won last year's Caldecott for THE LION AND THE MOUSE, an adaptation of this same fable.

Will this coincidence hurt Ms. Burkert's chances of winning the Caldecott?

Technically, it should not. The award committe is supposed to judge only the book in hand and not take into account any outside considerations, such as the same plot being used in a recent Caldecott winner. Having said that, the committees have historically done a fairly good job of changing things up, with different types of books with different artistic styles winning from year to year -- though of course there have been exceptions (Leo and Dianne Dillon winning two years in a row; two books about snow winning consecutive awards in 1948 and 1949.) Personally, I think it would be a kick to have THE MOUSE AND THE LION and LION & MOUSE show up on a Caldecott list with only one year separating them. Rather than making it look as though the Caldecott committees tend to pick the same types of books over and over, it would instead demonstrate a certain bravery in not caring "how it looks" to reward the same, similarly-titled story twice in three years, but instead honoring the artwork that is deemed best.


A blog reader and Facebook friend just sent me this request:

"Does anyone remember a children's book about a giant with a drawing of the giant looking in the window of the house? What was the name of that book? Anyone, anyone...? It is not BFG, not JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and not THE SELFISH GIANT."

This one doesn't ring any bells for me. I do seem to recall stories featuring shrunken people or dolls in doll houses in which a human character (looking like a giant) peers into a tiny house.

Does anyone have any guesses?

(And if you'd like to join me on Facebook, don't hesitate to send me a "friend" request.)


This morning I went grocery shopping and passed two people standing beside the road, holding up six foot tall signs advertising Borders' Going Out of Business Sale. As each car passed, they'd shake their signs saying "50-70% OFF! Everything Goes! Including Fixtures!" at the vehicles.

So it's come to this -- begging for bookstore customers...hustling for hardcovers... panhandling for paperbacks.

Remember when going to a bookstore was a destination...something you looked forward to doing...a treat?

I don't think I've seen anything so sad and deperate as those two people shaking their bookstore signs at strangers on a busy street.

I've heard that Borders is selling anything and everything at this point. If it somehow found its way into the warehouse, it's sellable -- and that includes food and clothing. Someone on a blog mentioned buying something at Borders' sale and finding a Target sticker on the bottom of it.

After grocery shopping, another errand took me right past the Borders in question, in Novi, Michigan. I remembered when it first opened up at a different location in the same mall. I particularly liked the dark and cozy young adult section at the back of the store. Then they moved to a much bigger space at the far end of the mall. It seemed more industrial, but it was still a fun place to visit. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot this morning -- bargain hunters picking through the remains.

If they'd all shopped there regularly, maybe Borders would never have closed.


Earlier in the week I received this postcard from a book buddy:

It's a picture of The Strand in New York City -- one of the world's great bookstores. It seems like I'd heard about it all my life, so I couldn't wait to go there in person the first time I visited New York in 1979. Since then, I've been back too many times to count. Every time I've visited New York, I've carved out time to stop at the Strand nearly every day of my trip. I'd squeeze down the narrow aisles of fiction (and often come across things that were valuable...or at least valuable to me); roam through the big wire shelving units full of brand new "review copies" in the basement, all fifty percent off the original price; I'd sit on the floor in the children's section, looking at galleys shoved willy-nilly on the bottom shelf; I'd buy hardcovers at $2.00 a piece and have them shipped home -- one time so many that a neighbor saw me opening the boxes on my front porch and asked if I was opening a bookstore; I'd also take the private elevator upstairs, clinging to the wall while it shook from side to side, to visit there rare book collection. I used to have a second job and set aside the paychecks just to finance twice-a-year trips to New York to see plays and visit the Strand and Books of Wonder. Since losing that job (Sieruta job firing #319) I haven't been back to New York even once...and I've heard the Strand has gone through some renovations. Maybe someday I'll be back. Unlike Borders, I hope the Strand remains open and waiting for me.

Anyway, the front of the Strand postcard clearly sent me down memory lane...but the back of the card intrigued me too. My friend had written:

Hmm, what if? What if?

Usually when I hear about contests where you can win a new car or a vacation or new kitchen furniture, I say, "I'd sell the prize and put the money on my mortgage."

But what if you received $1000 and it could only be spent at this kind of wide-ranging bookstore?

Would I spend it on one or two very expensive books that I could never otherwise afford?

Or would I buy lots of lots of low priced books so I'd never have to worry about running out again?

Would I buy books in a subject area that I've always wanted to explore (such as astronomy) but never had the money?

Would I buy gifts...maybe buy a couple hundred dollars' worth of books for a stuggling school or public library.

I don't know...but it's sure fun to think about!

What would YOU do?


Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. I hope to be a little more diligent with blog writing in the coming days. Hey, maybe I'l even write a midweek blog this week. There's just this little matter of a 562 page manuscript I must attend to first!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

August 7 Brunch Featuring Lucy, Zuccchini, and Birth Day Gifts

Yesterday was Lucille Ball's one hundredth birthday.

Tomorrow is "National Sneak Zucchini on Someone's Porch Night."

We're celebrating both events here at Collecting Children's Books, as well as providing some additional facts and opinions on kids' books old and new.


Yesterday was the one hundredth anniversary of Lucille Ball's birth.

When I was a kid, watching reruns of I LOVE LUCY on the local UHF station (does anyone under forty remember UHF?), it seemed like everybody loved Lucy. It wasn't until I grew up that I met a lot of people who said they didn't like the show. But even those who confess they never cared for Lucy's noisy slapstick humor, should be able to admit her importance as a cultural icon. Even Google featured an I LOVE LUCY logo on their homepage yesterday.

Though Lucy had a place in most of our childhoods, she didn't have any connection to children's books.

Or did she?

Did you know she "starred" in her own 1963 children's book, LUCY AND THE MADCAP MYSTERY?

The book was issued by Albert Whitman of Racine, Wisconsin, a company known for publishing cheap, formulaic books featuring TV stars. I always think of them as "dime store novels," as that was about the only place you ever saw them. Most libraries did not own them, nor were they stocked by most regular bookstores. You normally found them at Woolworth's or K-Mart, on display near the toy section. Released without dustjackets, the books had glossy illustrated covers, pages that were already turning yellow before you bought them, and they sold for a dollar or less. If a TV show was popular with kids, its characters often ended up in Whitman novels. Thus Whitman issued volumes about the Lennon sisters, placing these real-life girls in fictionalized mysteries:

And placed the fictional Walton kids in historical novels:

I'd like to learn more about the history of Whitman books. Though chiefly known for cheap commercial books, there apparently was a time when Whitman was a more serious publisher. In fact, one Whitman publication, PECOS BILL by James Cloyd Bowman, was even named a 1938 Newbery Honor Book.

Though they've continue to publish lots of gimmicky commercial volumes, in recent years Whitman has also begun releasing some original, high-quality fiction and nonfiction. David Patneaude started his career with Whitman, publishing such books as SOMEONE WAS WATCHING and FRAMED BY FIRE. Peg Kehret wrote a couple autobiographical works for Whitman as well; I've always thought that SMALL STEPS, Kehret's memoir of surviving childhood polio, might have been considered for the Newbery Medal if the bookmaking (cheap cardboard cover, no dustjacket) hadn't been so substandard compared to most trade books published at that time.

A couple days ago I was at the bookstore and noticed these two new young adult novels:

Originally published in Great Britain, GUANTANAMO BOY by Anna Perera and THE POISONED HOUSE by David Ford, are both making their U.S. debuts this season -- and both have received some good reviews. Looking at the books, I was surprise to discover they were published by Albert Whitman. Unlike most of the books they've published over the decades, these novels have nice cloth binding and dustjackets. They are "bookstore books" rather than "dimestore novels." It appears that, after all these years, Whitman is again joining the world of quality trade books for young readers.


Tomorrow is "National Sneak Zucchini on Someone's Porch Night."

This vegetable holiday was inspired by the fact that so many gardens are overrun by zucchini that, not only can't you use them all, you can't even give them away!

So the idea is that you sneak out at night and leave gifts of zucchini on other people's porches.

I wish I had that problem!

When I planted my container garden this spring, more than one person advised me to plant zucchini since "ANYone can grow zucchini...even you."

Well, I proved them wrong.

My zucchini plants have grown large and leafy and almost every day I'm greeted by two or more neon yellow blossoms on the plants.

But no zucchini.

Let me correct that: I did harvest a single zucchini.

One morning I went out to check my plants and saw something dark green among the leaves and blossoms. I reached down and discovered -- oh my gosh! -- a full grown zucchini laying in the pot. It had literally appeared overnight. (No, I'm serious. I'd looked in that pot the day before and there was nothing...yet the next morning there was a squash as big as my size ten-and-a-half shoe!) I was thrilled. I immediately picked it and ran around telling everyone about my great success growing zucchini.

That was three weeks ago.

The plant is still thriving and the blossoms are still blooming, yet I haven't another zucchini for myself...much less dozens of extras to sneak onto people's porches.

I looked online for help and learned that my blossoms are apparently not being properly pollinated by bees and insects. The article suggested self-pollinating by picking the male blossoms and, er, inserting them into the female blossoms. But how can you tell a boy flower from a girl flower? Besides, just the idea of performing such a procedure felt a little dirty to me.

Since I can't sneak a zucchini onto your porch tomorrow, I thought I'd instead suggest a bunch of children's books about zucchini and squash instead. I started compiling a list (ZUCCHINI and ZUCCHINI GOES WEST by Barbara Dana; SQUASHED by Joan Bauer.) But then I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this title:

Suddenly I was back in first grade, where I first encountered this story in our reading primer. I was actually off sick the day our class read the story, because I remember coming back to class the next day, reading it, and being overwhelmed by the phase "squash-you-all-flat" which was so long I couldn't even try to pronounce it. I remember asking the teacher "what this word means" and she told another student to provide the answer. I was delighted by the phrase and remember repeating "Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat" over and over.

Some days later, we put on a theatrical production of this story in the back of the classroom. I'd like to think the teacher chose me for the part of Mr. Bear because of my great dramatic talent and not simply because I looked like I could do a lot of damage if I squashed someone. I remember we used a broken bulletin board leaned against the wall to represent the animals' houses and my fellow actors, playing those animals, hid underneath it. The teacher reminded me repeatedly that I was only supposed to pretend to sit on top of the bulletin board, not actually squash any of my classmates to death.

It wasn't until today that I discovered MR. BEAR SQUASH-YOU-ALL-FLAT wasn't just a textbook story, but a picture book, written by Morrell Gipson, illustrated by "Angela," and published by Wonder Books in 1950. From the research I've done today, it appears that I'm not the only one who remembers this story from their childhood; a reviewer on Amazon even mentions performing it as a play in Cub Scouts. Today's research revealed that demand for this book during the eighties and nineties was so high that copies were selling for $600-$1000 each! In 2000, Purple House Press published a special 50th Anniversary Edition with an afterward by cartoonist Gary Larson, who loved the book as a child. Purple House even issued 250 signed and numbered copies. (Author Morrell Gibson was still around to sign them in 2000 and she's still around today -- living in New York at age 92!) When these new editions hit the market, prices for the original volume went way down in price. Now you can purchase a re-issue for under $15, an original edition for $40 or so, or even a signed limited edition for under $100.

If you don't have any squash to hide on people's porches tomorrow night, consider reading this "squash story" instead.


Over at the Horn Book blog this week Roger Sutton asked, "have you ever noticed how much the menfolk of the children's book biz love to count things? Ask Peter Sieruta or Jonathan Hunt or Ray Barber about what-won-what-when-and-how-many-times and prepare to be amazed. Maybe Travis Jonker should design some Newbery-Caldecott trading cards, complete with stats on the backs."

Although I like the idea of Newbery-Caldecott trading cards, I must object to Mr. Sutton's characterization. What poppycock! I've got better things to do than sit around "counting things." And I'd like to think I have a greater interest in the overall "big picture" of children's literature than just trivia and trivialities!

On a completely unrelated topic, I was just wondering this week where all of our Newbery and Caldecott winners were I compiled the following lists:

Newbery Winners' Birthplaces

California / Laura Adams Armer, Scott O’Dell, Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, Russell Freedman, Paul Fleischman, Susan Patron

Connecticut / Armstrong Sperry, Eleanor Estes, Emily Cheney Neville

Hawaii / Lois Lowry

Idaho / Carol Ryrie Brink

Illinois / Cornelia Meigs, Elizabeth Enright, Irene Hunt, Karen Cushman, Richard Peck, Linda Sue Park, Cynthia Kadohata

Indiana / Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Kansas / Clare Vanderpool

Maryland / Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, Karen Hesse, Laura Amy Schlitz

Massachusetts / Eric P. Kelly, Rachel Field, Esther Forbes, Elizabeth George Speare, Cynthia Voigt

Michigan / Marguerite de Angeli, Nancy Willard, Christopher Paul Curtis

Mississippi / Mildred D. Taylor

New Jersey / William Pene DuBois, Joseph Krumgold

New Mexico / Ann Nolan Clark

New York / Elizabeth Coatsworth, Ruth Sawyer, Walter D. Edmonds, Robert Lawson, Carolyn Sherwyn Bailey, Elizabeth Yates, Madeleine L’Engle, E.L. Konigsburg, Robert C. O’Brien, Paula Fox, Joan Blos, Sid Fleischman, Louis Sachar, Avi, Rebecca Stead

North Carolina / James Daugherty, Betsy Byars

Ohio / Lois Lenski, Virginia Hamilton, Robin McKinley, Sharon Creech

Oklahoma / Harold Keith

Oregon / Beverly Cleary

Pennsylvania / Elizabeth Janet Gray, Lloyd Alexander, Jerry Spinelli, Kate DiCamillo, Lynne Rae Perkins

Utah / Virginia Sorensen

Virginia / Arthur Bowie Chrisman, William H. Armstrong, Cynthia Rylant

Washington, D.C. / Jean Craighead George

West Virginia / Jean Lee Latham

Wisconsin / Marguerite Henry, Ellen Raskin

Wyoming / Patricia MacLachlan

Canada / Will James, Monica Shannon

China / Katherine Paterson

England / Hugh Lofting, Charles Finger, Susan Cooper, Neal Gaiman

Hungary / Kate Seredy

India / Dhan Gopal Mukerji

Netherlands / Hendrik Willem Van Loon, Meindert DeJong

Poland / Maia Wojciechowska

Caldecott Winners' Birthplaces

California / Berta Hader, Leo Politi, Margot Zemach, Diane Dillon, Arnold Lobel, Mordicai Gerstein

Connecticut / Leonard Weisgard

Florida / David Diaz

Illinois / Elizabeth Orton Jones, Lynd Ward, Alice Provensen, Martin Provensen, Paul O. Zelinsky, Emily Arnold McCully, Eric Rohmann

Iowa / Stephen Gammell

Massachusetts / Virginia Lee Burton, Ed Emberley, Blair Lent

Michigan / Gerald McDermott, Chris Van Allsburg, David Small,Erin E. Stead

Minnesota / Peggy Rathmann

New Jersey / Robert Lawson, David Wiesner, Brian Selznick

New York / Dorothy Lathrop, Louis Slododkin, Maud Petersham, Marcia Brown, Barbara Cooney, Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, Nonny Hogrogian, William Steig, Leo Dillon, Richard Egielski, John Schoenherr, Simms Taback

North Carolina / Gail E. Hailey

Ohio / Robert McCloskey, Evaline Ness

Pennsylvania / Katherine Milhous, Trina Schart Hyman, Chris Raschka, Beth Krommes Jerry Pinkney

Washington / Thomas Handforth

Washington, D.C. / Mary Azarian

Wisconsin / Marie Hall Ets, Kevin Henkes

Austria / Ludwig Bemelmans

China / Ed Young

England / Paul Goble, David Macaulay, David Wisniewski

France / Marc Simont

Germany / Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

Italy / Beni Montresor

Japan / Allen Say

Latvia / Nicholas Sidjakov

Mexico / Berta Hader

Netherlands / Peter Spier

Hungary / Miska Petersham

Norway / Ingri d’Aulaire

Poland / Uri Shulevitz

Russia / Nicholas Mordvinoff, Feodor Rojankovsky

Switzerland / Roger Duvoisin

I'm fascinated by the fact that the top state on both lists is New York. Sure, many writers and illustrators end up living in the Big Apple during their lives...but this is a list of where they were born -- before they ever picked up a pen or paintbrush. Yet fifteen Newbery winners and thirteen Caldecott winners hail from there.

I also found it interesting that Illinois was the birthplace of seven Newbery winners AND seven Caldecott winners...and the coincidences continue when you note that California was home to six Newbery recipients AND six Caldecott winners. And to make things even more spooky-coincidental, Pennsylvania had five winners of each award.

It's also intriguing to note which states aren't represented. In all the years of the Caldecott, the winners have come from just fifteen states, the District of Columbia, and a smattering of foreign countries. I'm not surprised that more Caldecott winners than Newbery winners were born overseas; after all, art is visual and doesn't necessarily depend on language. Less than half the U.S. states have provided us with Newbery winners. We haven't even had a Texas storyteller among the recipients of the Big N.

Of course, this list only refers to birthplaces. Many of these creators actually grew up in other states and those places may have informed their work much more than a state where they born and then moved from as an infant. And we should take into account the place where they chose to settle as an adult. For example, we usually associate Robert McCloskey with Maine, even though he was born in Massachusetts.

But those are lists for another time, another blog...if I were a person who sat around making lists of facts and figures of this sort!


It's always nice to get an unexpected package in the mail.

This week I received an envelope from Grand Marais, Minnesota. Since I don't know anyone who lives there and had not ordered anything from there, I was very curious to see what was inside! I opened it up and discovered a hardcover copy of one of this year's most talked-about novels for young readers, THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK by Kelly Barnhill.

Things got even more exciting when I opened the book and discovered it was inscribed to me:

It turned out that a good friend had arranged for me to get a signed (signed pre-publication, no less!) copy of the book from a small store in Minnesota. I was very excited and grateful...and now can't wait to read this book! Thank you!


Incidentally, the book came from an author signing at Drury Lane Books, a small independent bookstore owned by writer Joan Drury. One visit to the store's website made me feel like packing my bags and taking a field trip.

Here's a picture of the store from their website:

And here is a picture of Grand Marais, Minnesota:

According to their site, "Once a month, on the evening of the full moon, Drury Lane Books sponsors a reading around the fire. By the lakeshore, people gather to listen to someone read from their own or others' work."

When's the next full moon? How many miles to Grand Marais? Wouldn't it be fun to visit?

SPEAKING OF FIELD TRIPS... anyone up for a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia? The same friend who sent THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK just sent me this fascinating article about MacLeod's, Canada's "last great bookshop," from Maclean's Magazine.

This photo from the article alone should attract any book lover:


The package from Grand Marais was not my only surprise this week.

On Friday I stopped at my bookstore and the owner gave me this:

I peeled off the Post-it and nearly crowed with joy.

A MONSTER CALLS is one of this fall's most-anticipated books and I've been anxious to read it for months. My bookstore friend had requested an ARC, but her sales rep instead gave her a copy of the hardcover edition published earlier this year in Great Britain by Walker Books. It's a bit battle-scarred, but that just proves how many other people have read and enjoyed it.

A MONSTER CALLS has quite a backstory. In an Author's Note, Patrick Ness explains that the original story was conceived by writer Siobhan Dowd who "had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have was time." Ms. Dowd was just establishing herself as a brilliant new voice with books such as A SWIFT PURE CRY and BOG CHILD when she died of cancer at age 47 in 2009.

Patrick Ness has taken Siobhan Dowd's original idea -- which concerns, not surprisingly, cancer and death -- and created a powerful and elemental tale that has the feeling of a modern classic.

As his mother suffers from cancer and muses over the yew tree in the backyard, Conor begins suffering from nightmares, as well as visits from a monster which assumes the shape of the yew tree. In a series of grim meetings, the monster tells Colin three enigmatic tales that the young boy only partially understands, although each reflects in some way Colin's current experiences at home and school. Jim Kay's illustrations perfectly match the dark, grotesque tone of the story -- a story which ultimately transcends the horror genre and, despite its profound sadness, delivers the protagonist into the light of understanding and acceptance.


What do you give a newborn baby as a "welcome to the world" gift?

I always try to give a book.

A couple of my favorites for newborns are THE REAL MOTHER GOOSE and Iona and Peter Opie's I SAW ESAU.

Those who follow this blog know that I am writing a book for Candlewick Press with Elizabeth Bird of the Fuse #8 blog and Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast .

You probably also know that Betsy and her husband just had a baby. Julie and I wanted to give a gift to baby Lily but this time a book didn't seem like the best idea; Betsy had already received dozens of signed books from friends at a baby shower.

So instead we settled on having a quilt made -- with a children's book theme of course!

Jules knew a woman in the children's book world who makes quilts and commissioned one with an ALICE IN WONDERLAND theme.

It wasn't until the quilt was almost finished that it suddenly hit us: what if the fabric utilized the Disney version of ALICE? Oh no! Heresy for children's book people! As it turns out, our fears were unnecessary, as the fabric was just right and the quilt turned out better than we ever expected:

The person who made the quilt even sewed a beautiful label/gift tag on it. (I'm so glad she did that, because if it were up to me I would have probably attached it with staples or duct tape. I just don't have a knack for that kind of thing.)

Last week Jules traveled to New York on business and presented the quilt to Betsy:

And now baby Lily has her very own children's book quilt, to crawl on, spit up on, sleep on, and dream on...for years to come!

Well, hopefully she won't be spitting up on it for years to come.

But we hope she keeps dreaming.

And maybe someday she'll pass the quilt on to her own children.


I already mentioned a couple of the books I like to give newborn babies.

When kids get a little older, I still prefer to give them books more than any other present. Sometimes I give them old favorites of mine (Beverly Cleary is always a good choice) or I'll get them a brand new book that's receiving a lot of acclaim. And of course I usually try to find a book that matches that particular child's particular interests.

I recently joined Facebook (feel free to "friend" me at "Peter D. Sieruta") and reconnected with an old friend who moved to Chicago many years ago. Last week he posted a picture on Facebook of a Christmas gift I gave his oldest son in 1991:

Twenty years ago this fall I spent every night after work writing a "bedtime book" for then-five-year-old Austin. There was a page for every single day of the year, each containing an original story or poem or nonfiction piece, illustrated with my own horrible artwork. When I got it all done, the 365 pages (plus title page, etc.) were too much to fit into one binding, so I had it bound in two separate books, Volume I -- January through June and Volume II -- July through December. Over the course of the next year, Austin's parents read him each day's entry before bedtime. And I got to read him my own stories whenever I babysat, which was very fun.

I worked so hard on that book -- writing 365 stories in less than three months -- that I actually got carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist and could barely open a doorknob for the next year. But the satisfaction I got from writing it -- and, now, from learning the family still owns and remembers the books in 2011 -- makes it worth it!


Just six weeks ago I used this blog to write an appreciation of William Sleator's 1974 novel HOUSE OF STAIRS. Now comes word that Mr. Sleator, whose other mostly science fiction and suspense novels include INTERSTELLAR PIG and the autobiographical story collection ODDBALLS, has died at age 66.

Though gone too soon, his books will continue to be read and enjoyed.


Over three years ago I wrote a heartfelt tribute to author Mary Anderson, whose books are among the most-remembered and requested books by kids who grew up in the seventies.

If you are among them, you will be pleased to hear that Ms. Anderson's books are returning in audiobook format.

STEP ON A CRACK was released first, and YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE followed last week.

Now is your chance to rediscover Mary Anderson -- or discover her books for the first time!

Thanks for reading Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll be back soon!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fallen Comrades

This past Sunday I blogged about a wave of layoffs occurring at the library where I work -- and the very real possibility that I might lose my job.

Thank you to the many people who wrote expressing their sympathy and support.

Yesterday we learned that all the layoffs have now been announced. Those of us who did not receive pink slips are "safe" least for now.

Upon learning this news, I wanted to jump high in the air, punch my fist toward the sky, and shout "YES!"

But before my toes could leave the ground, my arm was already falling to my side, fingers slowing uncurling from a fist....

What about all the people who did lose their jobs?

In the weeks leading up to these layoffs, most of my co-workers were offered a "buyout" opportunity. Concerned about losing their positions, fifteen library employees decided they'd retire early with a small package of benefits. Then came last week's layoffs and seven additional employees were let go, including both my bosses.

I imagine there is not much jumping and fist-pumping going on at their homes right now.

Add them to the thousands who have recently lost jobs in other libraries -- with school libraries particulary hard hit. Then there are the eleven thousand Borders employees soon out of work. Last month the Los Angeles Times let go of their freelance book reviewers and columnists. Has the children's book world ever fully-recovered from that day a couple years back when so many editors were fired and so many imprints were shut down? And what about all the writers who are having an increasingly hard time getting published today, unless they're writing about dystopian futures or blood-sucking vampires? (These days you may actually get rejected because your book doesn't suck.)

I'm tempted to call all these people casualties of war -- a war against literacy, information, education, knowledge, storytelling, and the word.

But then I think: c'mon, Sieruta, you are being way overdramatic. I need to remind myself that people in nearly every occupation have been losing jobs in massive numbers. The whole country seems to be hurting these days. It's only because my own field is being affected that this feels so personal, so pivotal.

We can argue about what caused this crisis. Was it the bad economy? Cuts in government funding? The rise of the e-book? New business models? Whatever the case, the end result is the same: thousands of unemployed book lovers..."book people."

Where will they go now?

Sure, some will find work in other libraries and bookstores but, obviously, most will not; there will simply not be enough jobs for them. These folks, who seldom made big bucks -- finding greater satisfaction in placing the right book into the right person's hand -- will now be forced to move into other fields.

Even though they may be working in different jobs, I think we'll still be able to recognize them.

Look out for the security guard with a paperback in his pocket.

The bank teller who sets up an after-hours reading group.

The friend who helps you research your gardening questions or income tax problems.

The old lady down the street who tells stories to children on her front porch.

The mailman who starts a conversation about that package from Amazon he just delivered.

The chef who keeps his spice rack in Dewey Decimal order.

Okay I'm joking about that last one.

But I am serious about this: even though these fallen comrades may no longer be employed in libraries and bookstores, they will always remain "book people" and I doubt they'll be able to stop themselves from doing what they do best: answering questions, supplying information, sharing stories.

Some may see them as security guards, bank tellers and mail carriers, but on the inside they'll always have a different identity.

Casualties of war?

Or maybe now just warriors of another type.

Call them the Reading Regiment.

The Information Infantry.

The Literary Legion.

The Book Brigade.

Still fighting the good fight.