Today's Sunday Brunch revisits this week's National Book Award snafu, discusses some recent book-signing events I attended, and asks how you're celebrating "All Hallow's Read."
WHERE ARE THE GREAT MARTIN LUTHER KING BOOKS?
As I write today's blog, the national memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is being dedicated in Washington, DC.
This got me wondering.
There are nearly 2500 chilren's books about Martin Luther King listed on Amazon.com. The vast majority are dreary, cardboardy, standard-issue volumes in educational series, usually written with an eye toward library sales.
While there have been a couple outstanding picture-book biographies of King (Caldecott Honor MARTIN'S BIG WORDS, written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier), I'm hard-pressed to think of an equally strong biography for middle-grade or young-adult readers.
Can you think of one?
Martin Luther King is probably one of the top subjects for school reports, yet it seems that all we have to offer young readers are average-quality books with encyclopedia-quality prose.
Isn't it about time for a major biography written for kids?
I had Wednesday off work, first to meet with a handyman about home repairs, then to take my parents on some errands across town. I knew this meant missing the live announcement of the National Book Award finalists, but I figured I’d be able to get them off the internet when I returned home.
Who knew I’d end up missing all the excitement?
As most everyone knows by now, shortly before noon author Virginia Euwer Wolff announced the following five titles as the finalists in the category of Young People’s Literature:
MY NAME IS NOT EASY by Debby Dahl Edwardson
INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai
FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP : THE TRIANGLE FIRE AND ITS LEGACY by Albert Marrin
SHINE by Lauren Myracle
OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt
When I got home from my errands in the late afternoon, I immediately checked the internet and discovered there were SIX titles listed – all of the above, plus CHIME by Franny Billingsley.
Well, how did that happen? Traditionally there are only five books in each NBA category!
Doing a little searching on the internet, I learned that some time after Ms. Wolff announced the five nominees above, the National Book Award stepped forward to add CHIME to the list.
How come? Well, as School Library Journal reported, “Someone screwed up.”
Reportedly, the names of the finalists were transmitted by telephone and somebody transcribed the titles incorrectly.
Everyone immediately thought of those sound-alike titles SHINE and CHIME, but the NBA wasn’t telling. They decided to leave all six books on the list. Though the public will never know for sure which title wasn’t really supposed to be there, I imagine that some of our children’s book world’s insiders and cognoscenti know the truth. This is exactly the type of literary mystery that Elizabeth Bird and Julie Danielson and I try to crack in the book we’re writing for Candlewick Press….
Incidentally, although a draft of our book is now in the first stages of being edited, there may still be time to squeeze in a few more mysteries and true tales behind famous children’s books. So if you know of one, feel free to send it to me, Betsy, or Jules or, as Alfred Hitchcock might’ve called us, “The Three Investigators.”
BUT THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN FIVE!
One of the most interesting aspects of the National Book Award controversy is that everyone who saw six titles listed -- including me! -- immediately wondered why. After all, there have ALWAYS been five finalists in each category, right?
Back in the day (or I should say, "back in my day"), the National Book Awards had varying numbers of finalists from year to year.
An NBA category for young people's books didn't even exist until 1969. For the first three years of the award, there were indeed five finalists.
However, in 1972 the field expanded to eleven books: THE ART AND INDUSTRY OF SANDCASTLES by Jan Adkins; WILD IN THE WORLD by John Donovon; THE PLANET OF JUNIOR BROWN (Virginia Hamilton), HIS OWN WHERE (June Jordan), THE TOMBS OF ATUAN (Ursula K. LeGuin), MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH (Robert C. O'Brien), HILDIDID'S NIGHT (Cheli Duran Ryan), THE BEARS' HOUSE (Marilyn Sachs), AMOS & BORIS (William Steig), FATHER FOX'S PENNYRHYMES (Clyde and Wendy Watson) and that year's controversial winner, THE SLIGHTLY IRREGULAR FIRE ENGINE OR THE HITHERING THITHERING DJINN by Donald Barthelme.
In 1973, there were seven finalists.
There were ten finalists in 1974 and 1975, but seven in 1976 when the award went to BERT BREEN'S BARN by Walter D. Edmonds (it seemed an old-fashioned and somewhat out-of-left-field choice back then...but it's a book I've never forgotten and I suspect it holds up very well today.)
From 1977 to 1979, there were five finalists every year.
At that point the young people's category was dropped, not to be restored until 1987. Since its return, there have been five nominees each year.
So it has been a long time since we've had more than five finalists, but it did used to happen some time back.
And you know what?
I liked it.
I think some years there really could be more than five neat-and-tidy top titles. And occasionally expanding the field to seven or ten or even eleven volumes just made it more fun -- spotlighting some books that might have been otherwise neglected and adding to the discussion of what was best. I'll always be grateful that 1975's "top ten" finalists included three of my personal all-time favorites: I TELL A LIE EVERY SO OFTEN by Bruce Clements, WINGS by Adrienne Richard, and THE EDGE OF NEXT YEAR by Mary Stolz. Would they have made the list if it was shrunk to five? Maybe yes, maybe no. But they at least got recognized when the list was expanded.
My feeling about the number of National Book Award finalists is similar to my feeling on Newbery Honor Books -- the more the merrier!
UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE
I feel like a television network interrupting regular programming with this special bulletin.
Just in: Lauren Myracle has withdrawn SHINE from NBA consideration.
According to this article from the Huffington Post, she was pressured by the organization:
Lauren Myracle has pulled "Shine" from consideration in the young people's literature category. Her decision, announced Monday by Amulet Books, follows a miscommunication last week between judges and the award's sponsors. Myracle was on the original list of five nominees, but the National Book Foundation than announced that her book had been confused with Franny Billingsley's "Chime" and was not a finalist.
The foundation soon changed its mind again and decided there would be six nominees. Myracle said in a statement that she was asked by the foundation to withdraw to "preserve the integrity" of the awards process.
FUN WITH BOOKSIGNINGS!
I'm often envious of my friends who live in or near New York City; they seem to have myriad opportunties to attend booksigning events at stores and libraries and library conferences. Life is not like that here in the midwest, where author events are few and far between. However, this past week was such a whirlwind of booksignings that I almost felt I was visiting the Big Apple. This was mainly because the Great Lakes Booksellers Association conference was being held locally and a number of authors, in town for that event, agreed to visit local bookstores to meet fans.
The only drawback to these events was that they occurred during a week in which they received a lot of competition from Detroit sports events (one booksigning was interrupted by an audience member shouting "Tigers win, seven to five!" while another was held on the day of the annual Michigan/MSU football game.) but enough book fans turned out to make the literary events successful.
Wednesday night for the event for Sarah Weeks, author of the "Guy Strang" and "Oggie Cooder" books, now on the road to celebrate her latest, and perhaps best-yet, book, PIE.
Ms. Weeks spoke about her inspiration for writing this warm-hearted mystery. I was particularly struck by the fact that the author's two sons don't really enjoy reading and have never even read their mom's books. However, they did give their mother with a unique and personal insight into how boys' minds work -- and provided her with lots of material for her stories! I was also gratified to learn that Sarah Weeks reads mostly children's and YA books on her own time!
During her presentation, the author spoke about Oggie Cooder's hobby, "charving" -- which involves carving cheese with his teeth into the shapes of all fifty states. Now when Ms. Weeks visits schools, kids put their charving examples on display for her. Sometimes they use tortillas instead of cheese because it lasts longer.
Personally, I found the whole charving thing a little gross...and wondered what talent those kids will display if William Kotzwinkle ever visits their schools to promote his Walter-the-dog series.
On the other hand, writing about pie was a great idea, because now when Ms. Weeks makes author visits, she is greeted by pies.
In fact, fans brought a total of eleven pies to this event.
Two of them were mine: one sour cherry pie and one caramel apple:
I'd never made a pie in my life until earlier this summer when my bookstore buddy gave me an ARC (advance reading copy) of PIE; Sarah Weeks' novel inspired me to try my hand at making my own pies. Those of you who have followed my Facebook postings (feel free to "friend" me at "Peter Sieruta") over the past few weeks have heard me talk about the succession of "test pies" I've been making in preparation for this author event.
I'm happy to say it paid off!
During her presentation, Ms. Weeks mentioned seeing a "beautiful latticed cherry pie" on the table. Be still my pie-making heart -- she was talking about my pie! Afterwards, she even posed for pictures holding my pie. She asked me to pose with her, but I was far too shy. Heck, I was almost too shy to talk to her. The irony, of course, is that she was the nicest person in the world -- the kind of person you'd like to be friends with. (Holden Caufield wished he could be friends with Eustacia Vye; I wish I could be friends with authors.) Later, Ms. Weeks had a slice of the sour cherry pie, then came up to me and raved about the filling and crust! Several other people told me they liked it too, including one who said it reminded her of the pies her YaYa made. Turns out "YaYa" means "grandmother" in Greek. And I heard that some of the kids in attendance said their favorite item on the table was my caramel apple pie -- probably because it was oozing with warm caramel and melted Heath bars...but, hey, I'll take praise wherever it comes from.
Don't worry, I won't get a big head over it.
...Okay, maybe my hat size did increase momentarily when Sarah Weeks said she thought I could have a second career in pie making!
But my head quickly deflated when I remembered that, despite holding many different jobs over my lifetime, I've never had anything that can remotely be called a "career" of any type.
Saturday afternoon I attended an author event for Lisa McMann, a native of Holland, Michigan back in our state to promote her new novel THE UNWANTEDS.
Though I have not read this book yet (just bought it on Saturday), I've heard many good things about it and can't wait to dive in.
The book, about artistic kids being purged from a futuristic society, was inspired when the author's children brought home notes saying that arts classes were being cut at their school. Writing the book was very much a family project, with Ms. McMann's son and daughter offering suggestions for some of the magic feats performed in the novel. Her son also designed this illustrated postcard (signed and numbered by the author) which Lisa McMann handed out with the sticker below. We book collectors love this kind of ephemera:
I'd write more about this author event, but I'd rather spend the time time starting to read THE UNWANTED, the first book in a series which Lisa McMann hopes will fill seven volumes.
This afternoon I attended the last author event. Canadian-born Moira Young, who now lives in England, was here in America's heartland to discuss her first book, the smash-hit BLOOD RED ROAD.
It was particularly interesting to hear the author read from earlier versions of the novel, written in the third-person instead of the first, and featuring the protagonist at age eight, rather than the eighteen-year-old she is in the published book.
It was also fascinating to learn which literary and even film influences the author tapped into when writing this book -- everything from the writings of Joseph Campbell and the movies GONE WITH THE WIND and THE SEARCHERS. A former professional actress who once sang and tap-danced on London's West End, the author gave particularly riveting readings from her book. My bookstore buddy, who has hosted hundreds of booksignings over nearly three decades felt that Moira Young gave one of the very best author presentations she has ever witnessed.
ALL HALLOW'S READ
Halloween is two weeks away. How do you plan to celebrate it?
According to Neil Gaiman, we should observe the holiday by giving books.
I think it's a fun idea.
My only problem is that the list of book recommendations on the website comes from HarperCollins and (surprise, surprise) contains only HarperCollins books.
I think I'll make an alternate list of Halloween books not published by HarperCollins and post it in next Sunday's blog, in plenty of time for the big day.
What titles do you think I should add?
Remember, they don't necessarily have to be new books that can be purchased at bookstore. They can be older books borrowed from the library and handed to a friend.
When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, there were a handful of children's books that seemed to be ubiquitous -- turning up on everyone's bookshelves as well as in just about every used bookstore you visited. Among these titles were THE PINK MOTEL and MAGICAL MELONS by Carol Ryrie Brink, and DAVID AND THE PHOENIX by Edward Ormondroyd. I think they must have been among the earliest volumes issued by children's book clubs, as they seemed to be EVERYwhere when I was growing up. I've learned over subsquent years that DAVID AND THE PHOENIX was a personal favorite of many kids who grew up in the late fifties and early sixties.
In Anita Silvy's EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN'S BOOK, American cultural critic Gerald Early cites DAVID AND THE PHOENIX as an influential novel from his own childhood.
Writer Marc Tyler Nobleman felt the same way about the book and recently stated, "I continue to be surprised whenever I find that someone whose work I loved in a younger day has almost no or literally no online presence -- barely a photo and nary an interview. But then I get excited because it means maybe I can be the one to help change that."
Mr. Nobleman did help change that -- by tracking down now-eighty-six year old author Edward Ormondroyd, and publishing a lengthy two-part interview with him here and here . It's a fascinating look back at one author's experiences and at "long forgotten" novel that, apparently, many people have never really forgotten.
ONLY ONE CHILDREN'S BOOK POP ICON?
For the last couple years, my town's annual autumn scarecrow festival has provided me with lots of blog fodder. One year the theme was children's books. The following year it was movies...with many of those movies (WIZARD OF OZ, etc.) having a children's book source. This year the theme was "American Pop Culture Icons," so I took my camera downtown with hopes of snapping some scarecrows inspired by children's books.
Unfortunately, between scarecrows representing Michael Jackson, Austin Powers, the Oscar Weiner Mobile (very cute), Dolly Parton (you can just imagine what that scarecrow looked like!), I only saw one figure representing a children's book character, the Cat in the Hat:
I hope next year's theme brings us more children's book figures stuffed with straw. It's become an annual tradition for me and I was disappointed that this year's festival only included one.
Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. I'm hoping to return with at least one more blog entry before next weekend, so hope you'll check back this week!