Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Memorial Brunch for the Late Miss Grundy

Today's blog explains why I've become a pie-makin' fool, points out some recent dustjacket changes, pushes my Mock Printz blog at an unsuspecting public, and mourns the recently-deceased Miss Grundy of Riverdale High.


One of my biggest personal flaws is that I'm far too cautious.

I've stuck with dead-end jobs because I was afraid of trying something different.

I've let people take advantage of me because I was afraid to fight back.

I've sacrificed creativity for complacency.

That's the big picture.

But when it comes to little things, I am wildly impulsive.

I think it's a family trait.

Not long ago, a friend asked one of my older cousins if she'd take care of her farm while she was on vacation for a week. My cousin, city born and bred, didn't even have to think twice: "Oh sure, I'd be glad to!"

She drove out to the farm on the appointed morning, daydreaming about such farm delights as gathering up chicken eggs in the hollow of her gingham apron. Instead she found a four page list of instructions that included mucking out the animal stalls, dragging 100 lb. bags of feed to the livestock, milking a pair of cows ("Do not get behind Bessie. She has quite a kick.") and, most shockingly, "Keep an eye out for the two pregnant sheep. If either one of them seems to be having a breech birth, just reach in and turn the lamb around."

Just reach in and turn the lamb around? Can you imagine someone leaving you that kind of advice as they drove off on vacation?

Thankfully, the sheep did not give birth during my cousin's week at the farm. But they could have! And if she did have to "assist" it would have been her own fault for impulsively agreeing to help out when she didn't know what she was doing.

I've been thinking about this story for the past month, ever since I impulsively agreed to bake a pie for a bookseller.

My bookstore buddy is hosting an author event to celebrate the publication of PIE, a fun new middle-grade novel by Sarah Weeks, and came up with the idea of everyone bringing a homemade pie to the booksigning. When she mentioned this idea to me, did I say, "I've never milked a cow...I've never helped a sheep give birth...and I've sure never baked a pie!" Nope. Instead I impulsively said, "Sure thing. I'll bring two!"

So the past few weeks have seen a flurry of "test pies" coming out of my oven. First I made a blackberry pie. The filling was good, but why didn't someone tell me how hard it is to make a crust? I ended up patching that crust together like a jigsaw puzzle and it still only covered half the pie. Next I made a grape pie. I know, that's not a traditional pie. But I always have to be "different." That's my third-biggest flaw in life. (#1 Overcautious in making big decisions. #2 Impulsive in making small decision. #3 Always has to be "different" from everyone else.) Again, the grape filling was quite good, but the crust was a mess. In fact, I never could scrape up enough dough to cover the top of pie. Instead, it had a little circle of crust centered on top; it looked like my pie was wearing a yarmulke. Test pie #3 was an oatmeal pie (different, as always.) Tasted okay, looked awful. Still, I noticed some improvement with each pie, probably due to my "If at first you don't succeed, try try try again" mentality, plus some helpful tips from Facebook friends. (If you'd like to be Facebook friends too, feel free to "friend" me!) Finally, this past week I made Test Pie #4, a traditional American apple pie. It was the first time I ever got the crust to cover the whole pie. It tasted and looked pretty good too. It's the first one I took a picture of:

I've got eleven days before the the author event, so I'll probably be making at least one more test pie before then. Who knows how this will turn out.... Will the Big Day find me showing up with two home-baked pies or will I be stopping at Kroger's and scraping off price tags in the car?


No, I am not starting a mail-order baking company, but I wanted to add that if you'd like to get a signed copy of Sarah Weeks' PIE, you can order it from Bookbeat at this link. It's a funny, sweet tale of a young pie expert and the book includes pie recipes and a hilarious send-up of the Blueberry (read "Newbery") Award. Bookbeat is also having author events for Lisa McMann's THE UNWANTED (one contributor on the "Heavy Medal" website called it the best book of the year) and Moira Young's BLOOD RED ROAD, one of the season's hottest young adult novels. Signed copies of these books can also be ordered in advance at the above link.


Of course if my bookstore friend wanted to be really on point, she could insist that her customers bring pies based on recipes found in children's books.

The Sarah Weeks book contains recipes for apple, key lime, sour cherry, and Peanut Butter Raspberry Cream Pie, among others.

Marjorie Priceman's HOW TO MAKE AN APPLE PIE AND SEE THE WORLD is said to contain a great apple pie recipe.


PIE IN THE SKY by Lois Ehlert offers up a cherry pie recipe while HALLOWEEN PIE by Michael O. Tunnell serves a pumpkin pie.

Fellow Michigander Lisa Wheeler includes a recipe for "ugly pie" in her book of the same name. The included recipe sounds an awful lot like apple pie with raisins and nuts.

Given my penchant for always being "different," I'd probably find myself making a "Moves Make the Man Pie."

Does anyone remember the scene in Bruce Brooks' extraordinary novel THE MOVES MAKE THE MAN, in which narrator Jerome and his new frien Bix are assigned to make a Mock-Apple Pie for school, using Ritz Crackers instead of apples? Remember Jerome's hilarious riff to the teacher? ("Is it tastier, more delicious, more scrumptious than genuine apple pie, old Non-Mock-Apple-Pie? ...Are rich crackers more nourishing than apples? ...Are they less expensive? Do they save money on the family grocery bill in these difficult times?")

Yep, that's what I want to make: a Mock Apple Pie.

Then I'd serve it to one of the many Mock Award committees proliferating on the web right now.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, we are now in mock award season with the Heavy Medal blog up an rolling at School Library Journal and Calling Caldecott operating at the Horn Book.

In that same entry I mentioned a new blog called Printz Picks which focuses on possible Printz contenders.

What I did not mention was that I am moderating that blog.

I was intentionally holding that info back for a couple reasons. First, I had just started the blog and wasn't completely organized yet. Plus I was hoping to find a co-moderator to help me run it. And I was hoping it might develop into a money-making gig (I don't just "knead dough" when making test pies...I need it in real life too) and was afraid that no one would take Printz Picks seriously if they knew I was moderating it. I'm already "giving my milk away for free" at this blog and we all know the kind of respect that gets ya: zilch. Or, as I like to say, "MOOOOOO!!!"

You might wonder how my "Printz Picks" blog is doing. Oh swell...five postings and so far no reader comments and no submitted book reviews or opinion pieces, no matter how much I've solicited them. So I'm not just eating grape and oatmeal pie over here...I've been havin' a hearty heapin' helpin' of humble pie as well!

Especially since a somewhat more official Printz blog opened up this week at School Library Journal. Moderated by former Printz committee members Karyn Silverman and Sarah Couri, "Someday My Printz Will Come" can be found right here. I definitely plan to follow this one!

I hope you'll follow it.

And I hope you'll follow Printz Picks as well.

Not that I'm competitive or anything (stats so far -- "Someday My Printz Will Come": two blog entries and sixteen reader comments vs. "Printz Picks": five blog entries and zero reader comments) but here's a challenge for the "Someday My Printz Will Come" bloggers: Let's see which of our blogs gets more Printz guesses right on January 23, 2012 when the winner and Honor Books are announced.

Since I'm usually completely and totally wrong in these kind of predictions, I expect that January 23 will find my eating more Humble Pie...a la mode!


Speaking of Heavy Medal, one of their recent blog entries focused on whether Patrick Ness's A MONSTER CALLS is actually eligible for the Newbery. You can read the discussion here.

The eligibility issue is intersting, though I find myself agreeing with co-moderator Nina Lindsay when she says, "Folks–it’s not our game," meaning that it's ultimately up the Newbery committee to sort those issues out.

But I must admit that I'm endlessly fascinated in the cosmetic differences in the two editions of this book -- the British version from Walker and the American version from Candlewick.

The British dustjacket is on top and the American is below:

Same illustration, different font and position of text. I wonder why the British edition used the words "From an original idea by Siobhan Dowd" while the American book instead states, "Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd." You'll also notice that the UK version features a blurb from Phillip Pullman, while the American version has none.

However, on the back cover of the dustjacket, the British book offers only one quote, from Meg Rosoff, while the American volume includes Pullman, Rosoff, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Libba Bray:

Even the spines of the book differ, with the Walker version giving us the author's full name and the title in a smaller size, where the Candlewick edition gives us just the author's last name, along with a larger, more noticable title:

Also, I'm not sure how they did it, but the American edition, at 204 pages, is ten pages less than the 214 page British edition.

I admit this is all minutiae, but I offer it here as an example of how -- even when publishers work together as closely as Walker and Candlewick reportedly did in preparing this book -- every hand that touches it (publisher? editor? designer?) may also leave it slightly changed. I think about beginning writers who are rightfuly happy to place their manuscripts with any publisher. But do they ever wonder how different their book would be if published elsewhere? The jacket illustration would certainly be different, as would the font, perhaps the trimsize -- and those are just external differences. What about changes in the text? A different title? Everyone who works on a book brings their own vision to it and, in the end, the finished product is always a collaboration of sorts. This is not a criticism, by the way, as most authors will tell you that the input of the editor, illustrator, designer, etc., improves their work in unimaginable ways.


It's also interesting to note the changes in dustjacket illustrations that occur, sometimes right up until the last minute before publication. Laini Taylor's new novel, DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND MIRRORS, has been getting some great buzz over the summer. Now that it's been published, the cover illustration of the hardcover (on the right) is very different from the illustration used on the advance reading copy on the left:

Which do you prefer?

Another book that's getting a lot of critical attention, LIFE : AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM by Mal Peet, is using this cover in the US:

but used this one in Great Britain:

The latter cover reminds me very much of MY NAME IS MINA, the prequel to SKELLIG, just out from David Almond -- an also getting raves from reviewers.

I wonder if we're looking at a new trend in dustjackets.


Several years ago I had a freelance job writing a few entries on children's book authors and illustrators for THE OXFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHILDREN'S LITERATURE, edited by Jack Zipes. I was surprised to be assigned several pieces on comic creators such as Walt Kelly and probably sniffed in judgement at having to write about "comic books." But the more I thought about it, I had to grudgingly admit that comic books are part of the larger, overall canon of "children's literature." For some kids, they may be the only books they ever read. And even I, a lifelong book-reader have to admit a certain fondness for Archie Comics. (Hey, I'm in good company, as my pal Fuse #8 has also written about growing up with Archie.)

However, I was a bit taken aback to read a recent CNN article by Erika D. Peterman about the evolution of Archie Comics. I was particularly struck by this passage:

Archie has always traded in lighthearted laughs and hijinks, which is why the heavily dramatic “Life with Archie” made such a splash when it launched in 2010.

The comic chronicles two alternate realities in which Archie is married to either Betty or Veronica, and the storylines have been surprisingly serious. Shady business dealings, failed dreams, troubled marriages and even death — beloved teacher Miss Grundy died of cancer — are all part of the mix. Even if you have just basic knowledge of the characters, it’s fascinating stuff.

They killed off Miss Grundy?

I can't believe it!

In case you're not familiar with the character, Miss Grundy taught Archie and his pals at Riverdale High. She seemed to teach almost any subject. She was stern, cranky, yelled a lot, and, on occasion, her white wig would fly off her bald head when she was shocked. Of course there were also times when Miss Grundy was funny, sardonic, compassionate, and sometimes even likable.

She'd been teaching at Riverdale for decades, always looking the same (white bun, red polka-dot dress), never changing, never aging, and the whole idea of this fictional character dying ticks me off!

And don't even get me started on "alternate realities" where Archie is married to either Betty or Veronica!

To quote my Archie-obsessed brother upon learning of Miss Grundy's death: "I will NEVER read 'Life with Archie.'"

Amen, brother!

And rest in peace, Miss Grundy.


Though I also plan to boycott any Archie book that includes subjects such as "failed dreams and troubled marriages," not to mention death, I am tempted to add the new, ongoing hardcover Archie Archives volumes to my own library reference section for the nostalgic purposes.


Reading the new issue of Booklist magazine and noticed a starred review for THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT : VOICES FROM THE TITANIC by Allan Wolf, a verse novel about the Titanic. Reviewer Daniel Kraus says, "Wolf leaves no emotion unplumbed, no area of research uninvestigated, and his voices are so authentic they hurt. Nothing recommends this to a YA audience in particular, but who cares? Everyone should read it. Outstanding, insightful backmatter completes this landmark work."

As a long-time Titanic fanatic, I can't wait to read this book!

Also noted a starred review for THE MAGIC MAKER : A PORTRAIT OF JOHN LANGSTAFF AND HIS REVELS by none other than Newbery winner Susan Cooper. I have to admit that I'm completely unfamiliar with Langstaff's "Christmas Revels," which were apparently huge in England. But I do know Langstaff from his children's books -- especially the Caldecott winning FROG WENT A COURTIN', so I can't wait to read this book too.

I'm up for any book-length bio of a chilren's book creator. In fact, I can't believe we don't have more of them.

Which authors or illustrators of children's books would you like to read an in-depth biography about?

My first choice is Louise Fitzhugh.

What's yours?


Thank you, as always, to those who write in and/or leave comments on this blog. I learn so much from you. Last week I learned that Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series will not end at volume three, as recently reported. A write-in campaign by fans has convinced the publisher to issue a fourth book! Mr. Yancey himself wrote in to answer my questions as to whether a Printz Honor helps book sales. He said, " As to the larger issue of the Printz Awards, I can only speak for myself. The selection of THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST as an honor book raised it out of obscurity and undoubtedly increased its modest sales. It is my personal opinion that had it not been recognized a fan write-in campaign for more books would have been unsuccessful." Fascinating to hear that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. After loving CURSE OF THE WENDIGO, I can't wait to read the newly-published THE ISLE OF BLOOD and the forthcoming fourth volume.

Thanks to everyone who read this blog. Hope you'll be back. And don't forget Printz Picks!


carterbham said...

Hi Peter,

Just a small bit of clarification about LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM--the US edition is the one w/ the missile, whereas the UK edition is the one featuring the heavily-designed type treatment.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Mal Peet's LIFE: I believe the second cover you show is the British one. The US hardcover looks like the ARC.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Thanks, you guys, for the info. I've corrected it. The reason I got it wrong is because the starred review in Booklist (September 15, p. 62) used the UK "type" cover to illustrate their review instead of the American "missile" cover. So they got it wrong too...but of course I should have double-checked it myself to be sure.

Thanks again for the clarification...and your thoughtful comments about today's blog.


Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

I confess one of the biggest reasons I tend to make fruit cobblers instead of pies is that I can avoid making crust! I'm not above using ready-made crusts (though it's surprisingly difficult to find lard-free ones). I've heard using vodka instead of water is a good solution for gummy crust.

The Peet and Almond text-y cover designs also remind me of Riding the Black Cockatoo, by John Danalis, and the latest paperback reissues of Lois Duncan's thrillers. They seem very "retro" to me, and I'm not convinced that they're terribly appealing to teens -- at least young teens. My library's older Lois Duncans continue to go out frequently while a new copy of Stranger with My Face sits on the rack.

Linda said...

Some bakers take years to learn how to make the perfect crust. :-)

John Langstaff's Christmas Revels still perform each year in Boston (and there are also spring and summer Revels, and Revels groups in other cities). I buy all their new Christmas CDs--they are such a tonic from the usual reiterations of popular Christmas songs sung by popular singers!

Linda said...

> Which authors or illustrators of
> children's books would you like to
> read an in-depth biography about?

Just ONE? That's cruel. Kate Seredy. (Or Ruth Sawyer.)

Bybee said...

A full-length bio about Louise Fitzhugh? Absolutely! I'd be the first one in line at the bookstore, I'd be knocking customers out of my way.

Poor Miss Grundy.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I am now going to divulge a deeply-held secret. It has to do with making a truly great piecrust. Instead of sprinkling cold water into the flour/shortening (ideally, a combination of butter and Crisco)mixture...make it an ice cold mix of half water/half vodka. Yes, that's what I said.

Brooke said...

You're the one behind Printz Picks? I've looked at that blog before, but I couldn't figure out who the author was, so I kind of backed away. But I love your analyses of YA books, so I'll definitely be dropping in more often!

Deb said...

Peter, The Christmas Revels are American, not British, and take place in Cambridge, MA. They have spread to other cities, too: see

Laura Canon said...

I generally avoid the issue of top crusts by making pie shells or one crust pies. One solution for not enough dough for the top is to make a lattice crust, i.e. cut the dough into strips and weave it, leaving spaces between.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Lisa Jenn,

I had not seen those Lois Duncan covers before; maybe I'll feature them in next Sunday's blog, along with your comments that teens don't seem to find them appealing.



Peter D. Sieruta said...

Linda and Deb,

I had no idea that the Christmas Revels are American. I guess that's why I need to read the book.

Thanks so much for the info!


Peter D. Sieruta said...

Linda and Bybee,

You'd have to push me out of the way for the Louise Fitzhugh bio too, Bybee! Actually, I have heard rumors that MANY people are writing bios of Louise Fitzhugh at present; let's hope that at least one or two get published.

I'm intrigued by your suggestions of Seredy and Sawyer, Linda. I wonder what we'd find out about those two if we started researching them -- especially Seredy. I can envision a Seredy volume using a similar format to that somewhat oversized picture-filled book that was pubilshed a few years back about Virginia Lee Burton.

Thanks for your input,


Peter D. Sieruta said...

Anonymous and Lisa Jenn,

I'm assuming the alcohol cooks out of the vodka in baking...? Generally I don't allow alcohol in the house at all. Could I use soda pop instead???


Peter D. Sieruta said...


Two words:




Peter D. Sieruta said...


Considering I can barely scrape the dough off the rolling pin and usually end up patching the crusts together from thirty or forty scraps of dough, I can't even IMAGINE creating something as artistic as a lattice-covered pie! But I guess I should aspire to it someday!



Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

Right, the vodka cooks out of the crust. (I should say I've never tried this myself but have friends who swear by it. And it was featured on NPR. :-) )

Re: top crust, my favorite/lazy method is a "patchwork" crust which means that you rip the dough into pieces of a few square inches (they need not be uniform) and lay them over the top of the filling in sort of a crazy quilt formation. It bakes up artfully lumpy and delicious-looking.

Nancy Werlin said...

What you need for the Printz Pick blog is a BUTTON that lets people subscribe via RSS feed to both the blog and its comment threads.

grrlpup said...

Virginia L. Wolf wrote a biography, titled simply Louise Fitzhugh, which came out in 1991. I'm not much of a biography reader; that said, I found it had interesting stuff in it but was never really pulled into the book. It read like a mix of biography and literary criticism.

I'd love to see a picture-book biography, maybe illustrated by Maira Kalman!

Sean said...

Which authors or illustrators of children's books would you like to read an in-depth biography about?

Edith Nesbit

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