Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Blog with Lots of Questions

Do seasonal books sell and circulate all year round? Which Caldecott title contains the fewest illustrations? Which "Little House" artist is your favorite? Does a female powerlifting champion with a crew cut know she's being used to sell a new YA novel? These are some of the questions we ask in today's Sunday Brunch blog.


Everyone has already heard this news, but I might as well include it here for the sake of future internet researchers: this past week Thannha Lai won the National Book Award in the category of Young People's Literature. The author's first book, INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN, is a verse-novel about a young Vietnamese girl whose family immigrates to the United States. .One of the charges commonly leveled against verse-novels is that they are less "poetry" than broken lines of text arranged artfully across a page. Although INSIDE OUT has been well-received by most critics, I must admit that I'm in the "broken lines of text arranged artfully" school with this particular book. The story itself is interesting, but I simply wasn't too impressed with the writing style. Every year, when the NBA nominees are announced, people assume these titles could go on to be recognized by the Newbery committee. However, only two books have won both the Newbery and the National Book Award: M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT by Virginia Hamilton and HOLES by Louis Sachar. So it now seems unlikely that INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN will win the 2012 Newbery. (Whew!)


I didn't get a chance to see the animated feature film UP when it was released in 2009, so I made a point of recording it off TV last night. I really enjoyed it -- especially the moving first half hour. I wasn't as fond of the talking dogs but, hey, what's a kids' movie without animals that talk?

Every time a movie gets made from a children's book -- or any book, really -- the usual response is, "The movie wasn't as good as the book."

The same rule of thumb applies to original movies that get adapted into children's books. They're never, ever as good as the movie. And there are so many of them! I counted at least ten children's books based on UP -- and that's not including coloring books, sticker books, and activity books:

Can you imagine one nice, short, entertaining movie spawning this many books? I can imagine many contemporary kids growing up and remembering UP as one of their favorite childhood movies. I can't imagine ANY kids growing up and remembering any of these books as childhood favorites. Decades from now, people may still be enjoying the movie, but the only place you'll be able to find most of these movies is in landfills everywhere.


With Thanksgiving just three days away, I recently took a look at the only Thanksgiving book ever recognized by the Caldecott committee. It's the 1955 Honor Book, THE THANKSGIVING STORY, written by Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Helen Sewell.

This got me thinking about the various holiday books that have been recognized by the Caldecott committee over the years.

The Dalgliesh is the only Thanksgiving book, isn't it?

There's one Hanukkah book -- the 1990 Honor HERSHEL AND THE HANUKKAH GOBLINS, written by Eric Kimmel an illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.

There's one Easter book -- the 1950 winner THE EGG TREE by Katherine Milhous.

Christmas fares much better, with three winning titles (Marie Hall Ets' NINE DAYS TO CHRISTMAS, 1960, Nicolas Sidjakov's BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS, 1961, and Chris Van Allsburg's THE POLAR EXPRESS, 1986) as well as at least one Honor (THE CHRISTMAS ANNA ANGEL, 1945.)

This led me to wonder about the readership of seasonal books during the course of the year. I've been in many children's libraries in my lifetime and have noticed the varied way they handle seasonal and holiday books. Some leave all holiday books on the shelves all year round. Others keep them in a special section, but only emphasize the current holiday. Still others store them "behind the scenes," only bringing out the Christmas books, for instance, after Thanksgiving.

My question to you is this: If you work in a library or bookstore, do you notice that holiday books only circulate/sell during a very small window of time surrounding that particular day? If you publish holiday-themed books, do these titles generally earn less money than generic books not associated with holidays...or do Christmas books sell so well during the holiday season that they essentially make as much money in six weeks as other books make in fifty-two weeks?

I also wonder if "seasonal" books are somewhat limited in sales and circulation. For example, there are three Caldecott winners about snow (WHITE SNOW, BRIGHT SNOW, 1948; THE BIG SNOW, 1949; THE SNOWY DAY, 1963.) Are these books bought or borrowed as much in July and August as they are in December and January? Granted, one of the joys of reading is being transported to another place and time...yet I can't imagine myself picking out a "snow" book in summer. On the other hand, spring and summer seem to be the "default" setting for most picture books so somehow it wouldn't seem strange to read such a book in the dead of winter.

So what do you think? Are such books limited to their season or not?


One of the things that most surprised me about this book was how few illustrations it includes. There is the cover illustration, as well as a double title-page tableau. Beyond that, there five single-page illustrations, two half-page illustrations, and a final double-page spread featuring Thanksgiving dinner. A few pages have brown silhouettes around the edge of the page (birds, animals, grapes) and there are two additional illustrations -- one showing the interior of the Mayflower and map -- done by a completely different artist, Rafael Palacios.

So here is my question for Caldecott trivia masters. Seeing how few illustrations there are in this book has made me curious: what Caldecott winner or Honor Book has the fewest number of illustrations of all?

I have no idea what the answer is, but I'm curious if anyone else knows.

Are there are Caldecott books with fewer illustrations than THE THANKSGIVING STORY?


Although THE THANKSGIVING STORY was the only time Helen Sewell was honored by the Caldecott committee, she had a long and distinguished career in book illustration. She entered the field in 1928 with MENAGERIE : POEMS FOR CHILDREN by May Britton Miller, but also provided illustrations for new editions of classic works (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; Emily Dickinson's POEMS) and wrote a few children's books of her own, most notably BLUE BARNS.

And in honor of the Thanksgiving season, here's a picture of a turkey from BLUE BARNS:

But to many readers, Ms. Sewell is best-known for providing the illustrations to Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series. After illustrating LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, FARMER BOY, and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRE on her own, she collaborated with Mildred Boyle for the remaining books in the series.

The reasons for this remain a bit murky. According to a letter from Laura Ingalls Wilder's publisher, Ms. Sewell was in a bad car acccient and required help with her work. She would continue doing the jackets and frontispieces,but suggested that Mildred Boyle collaborate on the rest of the illustrations. Some question the car accident story and just think that Sewell was overworked, with contracts to illustrate a number of books. Whatever the case, Mildred Boyle, whose only previous children's book was NANCY ALDEN by Eliza Orne White (1936), joined Sewell in illustrating the remaining five volumes in the series.

Though she illustrated three or four other children's books in the forties and fifties, there is not much information out there regarding Mildred Boyle. But for a couple generations, readers of the "Little House" books knew only the work of Sewell and Boyle. This all changed in 1953 when Harper editor Ursula Nordstrom decided to reissue the series in a new uniform edition. Before then, the books were published in different sizes and with different fonts (the original LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS was square and blocky with large print, while the last volume, THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS resembled a young adult book in size and typeface.) Nordstorm commissioned Garth Williams to illustrate the entire eight-volume series and, to readers from the second half of the twentieth century on, it's hard to imagine the books ever looking any different.


Although the dustjackets of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books are available for viewing all over the internet (not to mention in every library and bookstore!) I don't think I've ever seen the Sewell and Williams covers displayed together, volume by volume. To remedy that situation, I'm sharing them here -- together for the first (?) time:



FARMER BOY / Sewell, 1933

FARMER BOY / Williams, 1953







THE LONG WINTER / Sewell, 1940

THE LONG WINTER / Williams, 1940





THE FIRST FOUR YEARS / Williams, 1971

This was the only "Little House" book that Sewell did not illustrate, as it was not published till 1971.


As mentioned, THE THANKSGIVING STORY was the only time the Caldecott committee called on Helen Sewell. It was also the only time one of Alice Dalgliesh's books wore a Caldecott seal. She was much more used to being a Newbery Honor author.

Children's book editor at Scribner's from 1934 to 1960, Alice Dalgliesh was also a prolific writer. Three of her titles -- THE SILVER PENCIL, THE BEARS ON HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN and THE COURAGE OF SARAH NOBLE - were named Newbery Honors. The latter two remain in print in both hardcover and paperback today -- a rather extraordinary feat considering they were first published in 1952 an 1954 respectively.

Published in 1944, THE SILVER PENCIL is much lesser known, but should be of interest to anyone interested in children's books and writers. It's a highly autobiographical novel in which aspiring writer Janet Laidlaw (read "Alice Dalgliesh") moves from her birthplace in Trinidad to her family's home country of England, and finally settles in the United States, where she teaches kindergarten and achieves her dream of publishing a book. It's a fascinating glimpse into Dalgliesh's own life and career.

A few years later, Ms. Dalgliesh published a sequel, BEYOND JANET'S ROAD, which traces the protagonist's later career as a children's book editor.

This book never caught on with young readers for several reasons. For one thing, it didn't have the globe-trotting locations of the original novel, plus Janet is already well in her twenties when this book begins. And while many aspiring young writers might be drawn to THE SILVER PENCIL to see Janet struggle with becoming a writer, how many kids dream about becoming children's book editors? Darn few, I imagine. Still, those of us with an interest in the history of children's books often love this novel for its insights into the publishing world. Plus it's fun to speculate on who the characters represent "in real life." I'm pretty sure that one is Rachel Field, while another is likely Ernest Heminigway.

Incidentally, my copy of THE SILVER PENCIL is inscribed by Alice Dalgliesh to the book's editor, Virginia Fowler:

At the time I bought this, there was also a copy of ALONG JANET'S ROAD available, inscribed by both Dalgliesh and the book's illustrator, Katherine Milhous, to the same editor. I could not afford both books. So somewhere out there there's another reader/collector/fan who has a copy of ALONG JANET'S ROAD inscribed to the editor and wishes they also owned THE SILVER PENCIL. Meanwhile, I have a copy of THE SILVER PENCIL inscribed to the editor and wish I also owned ALONG JANET'S ROAD. We have a lot in common. I think we'd be friends.


When I was looking at Dalgliesh's THANKSGIVING STORY it dawned on me that that book received its Caldecott Honor the same year that THE COURAGE OF SARAH NOBLE got the Newbery Honor.

Has any other author ever published a Newbery and Caldecott Honor in the same year?

As I pondered that subject, I thought, "It must have been a real red letter day for Dalgliesh, having two of her books cited on the same day."

No more than an hour later, this book happened across my desk:

Does anyone else remember Elizabeth Hough Sechrist's POEMS FOR RED LETTER DAYS, the go-to anthology for holiday poems in the 1950s and 1960s?

Originally published in 1951, the book went through many printings and was found in nearly every library collection back in the day. Arranged in chronological order, the volume takes us through one calendar year, with a poem for each new month followed by verses for all of the special occasions within that month, from the biggies (New Year's, Valentine's, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas) to some that are far more obscure (Robert E. Lee's Birthday, I Am An American Day, Forefather's Day.) The last section of the book covers some floating holidays (states' days, with a poem for each of them; Boy Scout Week; birthdays, Fire Prevention Week.)

From what I understand, the term "red letter day" originated with old church calendars, so it's perhaps not surprising that this volume celebrates mostly Christian holidays (Epiphany, Saint's Stephen's Day) while ignoring all other cultures. Granted, multiculturalism wasn't a big deal in fifties America, but even then, most children's holiday books would at least toss in a few reference to Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah or Passover...but none are represented here.

I was intrigued to discover that POEMS FOR RED LETTERS is once again available to modern readers, as a $32.75 print-on-demand volume. It would be interesting to know how many libraries will purchase it as an example of a children's classic, or whether they'll decide to spend their money on modern books which has a more mutlicultural focus.


A blog reader recently asked me to recognize the Child Study Association Award. In recent years the name has been changed to the "Josette Frank Award" to honor the Association's former executive director. Given since 1943, "this award for fiction honors a book or books of outstanding literary merit in which children or young people deal in a positive and realistic way with difficulties in their world and grow emotionally and morally."

I'm a bit confused by that description, since at least one book on the list is clearly nonfiction (1950's PARTNERS : THE UNITED NATIONS AND YOUTH.) Looking at the list of winners is fascinating, though, since the authors range from extraordinarily popular (Betsy Byars, Paula Fox, Lois Lowry) to some I don't know at all. (Am I showing my ignorance when I say I've never even heard of Maria Gleit, Vadim Frolov, and a couple others?)

1943 / KEYSTONE KIDS / John R. Tunis
1944 / THE HOUSE / Margerie Hill Allee
1945 / THE MOVED-OUTERS / Florence Cranell Means
1946 / HEART OF DANGER / Howard Pease
1947 / JUDY'S JOURNEY / Lois Lenski
1948 / THE BIG WAVE / Pearl Buck
1949 / PAUL TIBER : FORESTER / Maria Gleit
1950 / PARTNERS : THE UNITED NATIONS AND YOUTH / Eleanor Roosevelt & Helen Ferris
1951 / No Award
1952 / JAREB / Miriam Powell
TWENTY AND TEN / Claire Huchet Bishop
1953 / IN A MIRROR / Mary Stolz
1954 / THE ORDEAL OF THE YOUNG HUNTER / Jonreed Lauritzen
HIGH ROAD HOME / William Corbin
1955 / PLAIN GIRL / Virginia Sorenson
CROW BOY / Taro Yasima
1956 / THE HOUSE OF SIXTY FATHERS / Meindert DeJong
1957 / SHADOW ACROSS THE CAMPUS / Helen R. Sattler
1958 / SOUTH TOWN / Lorenz Graham
1959 / JENNIER / Zoa Sherbourne
1960 / JANINE / Robin McKown
1961 / THE ROAD TO AGRA / Aimee Sommerfelt
1962 / THE TROUBLE WITH TERRY / Joan Lexau
1963 / THE PEACEABLE REVOLUTION / Betty Schecter
1964 / THE HIGH PASTURE / Ruth Harnden
1965 / THE EMPTY SCHOOLHOUSE / Natalie Savage Carlson
1966 / QUEENIE PEAVY / Robert Burch
1967 / THE CONTENDER / Robert Lipsyte
1968 / WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT / Vadim Frolov
1969 / THE EMPTY MOAT / Margaretha Shemin
1970 / ROCK STAR / James Lincoln Collier
MIGRANT GIRL / Carli Laklin
1971 / JOHN HENRY MCCOY / Lillie D. Chafin
1972 / THE SOUND OF CHARIOTS / Mollie Hunter
1973 / A TASTE OF BLACKBERRIES / Doris Buchanan Smith
1974 / LUKE WAS THERE / Eleanor Clymer
1975 / THE GARDEN IS DOING FINE / Carol Farley
1976 / SOMEBODY ELSE'S CHILD / Roberta Silman
1977 / THE PINBALLS / Betsy Byars
1978 / THE DEVIL IN VIENNA / Doris Orgel
1980 / A BOAT TO NOWHERE / Maureen Wartski
1982 / HOMESICK : MY OWN STORY / Jean Fritz
1983 / THE SIGN OF THE BEAVER / Elizabeth George Speare
THE SOLOMON SYSTEM / Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1984 / ONE-EYED CAT / Paula Fox
1986 / JOURNEY TO JO'BURG / Beverley Naidoo
1987 / RABBLE STARKEY / Lois Lowry
1989 / SHADES OF GRAY / Carolyn Reeder
1990 / SECRET CITY, USA / Felice Holman
1991 / SHADOW BOY / Susan E. Kirby
1992 / BLUE SKIN OF THE SEA / Graham Salisbury
1993 / MAKE LEMONADE / Virginia Euwer Wolff
1994 / EARTHSHINE / Theresa Nelson
1996 / THE CUCKOO'S CHILD / Suzanne Freeman
1998 / MY LOUSIANA SKY / Kimberly Willis Holt
1999 / No Award?
2000 / FIGURING OUT FRANCES / Gina Willner-Pardo
2001 / BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE / Kate DiCamillo
2002 / AMBER WAS BRAVE, ESSIE WAS SMART / Vera B. Williams
2003 / GODDESS OF YESTERDAY / Caroline B. Cooney
JERICHO WALLS / Kristi Collier
2004 / THE GOOSE GIRL / Shannon Hale
2006 / EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS / Deborah Wiles
2007 / CLEMENTINE / Sara Pennypacker
THE MANNY FILES / Christian Burch
2008 / HOME OF THE BRAVE / Katherine Applegate
2009 / AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER / Jacqueline Woodson
2011 / OUT OF MY MIND / Sharon Draper

Did you notice something else about this list, guys?

And I'm not using "guys" in the vernacular, but actually addressing the gentlemen, dudes, and misters in this audience.

There sure doesn't seem to be a place for us on this list, does there?

Okay, there was a male winner in 2007...but you have to go all the way back to 1992 to see another man's name. Then you have to go back to 1979 before that....

It's a solid list of some very good books...but it clearly seemed slanted for female writers.


Last weekend I discussed the reissue of Palmer Brown's novel BEYOND THE PAW PAW TREES.

Helen Schinske wrote in with a link to this entry from a children's book listserve in 2001:

I corresponded with Palmer Brown a few months ago, I **really** wanted to
reprint Beyond the Paw Paw Trees.

He very nicely responded that he had talked it over with Anna Lavinia and
they decided that she belongs to another time and does not want to be

I love the story and felt like there was a death in the family when I got
his response, I wanted to revive her so badly.

Jill Morgan
Purple House Press

So it sounds like there has long been interest in reviving Mr. Brown's work. Obviously it sounds as though Anna Lavinia changed her mind about being resurrected because a few months ago, ten years after turning down Purple House Press, the author allowed his book to be reissued by the New York Review of Books.


I often wish I had my own review journal. Or maybe my own bookstore.

If so, I'd get my hands on advance reading copies of books, all kinds of promotional materials, publicity packets, and other related ephemera.

As it is, I have a regular daily job, blog on the side, and only get a freebie ARC or publicity packet about once a month.

Of course I'm grateful for everything I get (I do a happy beagle dance every time a box or large envelope arrives) but just wish such things arrived on a daily basis. Especially when I receive something as fascinating as I did this past week.

It was an ARC of a forthcoming book called RUSH by Jeremy Iversen.

The name rang a bell and I remembered that I had read his nonfiction book HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL a few years back.

I also remembered that he had written a novel called 21, which I had not read:

It turns out that 21 was the "preliminary edition" of this forthcoming novel RUSH.

Have you ever heard of a book's first edition being called its "preliminary" edition? Or having a newly-revised edition of the same novel released less than six years after its original publication?

Obviously I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy of 21 and compare the two books side-by-side. Sounds like my kind of assignment!

This new edition is being released with quite a bit of fanfare.

Accompanying the ARC was a twelve page packet of info about how the book came to be written and how it was received by critics. There's a lengthy summary of the novel and a big write up on each character. I was surprised they didn't include the author's phone number.

Oh, they did!


But the most irresistable part of the packet was the description of the book's origins:

Eighteen-year-old Jeremy Iversen had just gotten an assignment in his required freshman writing class at Stanford University. The teaching assistant, a very large woman with a crew cut and a chain wallet, had recently emerged victorious in a world powerlifting competition, and now ordered her charges to keep a detailed journal of their daily lives.

Jeremey raised a hand and asked if perhaps he might instead pen a short story. "No," she snorted. Eventually this hulking bearer of the academic flame confessed, "Oh, do whatever you like. I'm not going to read it anyway."

The packet goes on to describe the story he wrote and how, when "he mentioned the concept in class...the T.A. laughed at him."

We then learn that when the "preliminary edition" of the book was published, the author went on a nationwide promotional tour by bus and "true to her word, the T.A. still never read it."

I must admit I'm fascinated by all this. The promotional packet even includes a color photo of the "Giver of the Assignment," obviously taken at a sporting event. She's not identified by name.

I'm just dying to know if she's playing along with all this or whether the writer is using this opportunity to get even with her for laughing at him and still not reading his book.

If she's playing along with it: well, good for her, laughing along with the whole thing...even being called "hulking."

If he's getting even with her: well, good for him, laughing back at a teacher who never took his work seriously and still refuses to read it.

Either way, I'm fascinated by the book's backstory and now can't wait to read it.


With Thanksgiving on the horizon, let me say again how thankful I am to everyone who stops by this blog. Maybe there will be time for another blog entry this week. If not and this is the last time we meet this week, I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November 13 Sunday Brunch

This morning is gray and cold. The wind is whistling down the chimney. I just went out on the deck and watched four honking geese come in for a splash-landing in the pond. Meanwhile, a squirrel was chasing up and down the limbs of a bare tree, as if trying to find his way out of a maze. It's a "coming of winter" morning, as Truman Capote would say -- which is the reason I'm starting off today's blog with Capote's "A Christmas Story." I know, it's a little early in the season, but I didn't want to start with my Joe Paterno entry. That comes later -- along with other random stuff about children's books old and new.


Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”

Yeah, I know Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" isn't technically a work for children. In fact, its mix of nostalgia and poignancy is probably best appreciated by adults. But it does feature a child protagonist, and every kid in the United States probably reads it in a school textbook before they're twelve-years-old. And, in 2006, fifty years after its original publication in an adult magazine, the story made its debut as a children's book:

It's one of my all-time favorites and if the above passage made you want to read it again or (where have you been?) read it for the first time, you can even read it on the internet, here or here. I'm not sure who posted the story and I'm sure it's all kinds of illegal, but it's out there so you might as well read.

If you're around my age, you may remember the wonderful (and wonderfully faithful) 1960s TV special made from this story. Geraldine Page won an Emmy for her performance. If you want to revisit the movie, or see it for the first time, it's available in six parts on Youtube:

I must admit I was a bit put off by one of the first viewer comments is from a kid who says, "im watching this cause my homework nd i dont like 2 read."

If you think it's still too early for Christmas memories, you might prefer Capote's other holiday classic, "A Thanksgiving Visitor." This story was also originally published for adults, but was co-opted for kids with this 1996 illustrated edition:

It was also made into a TV movie, for which Geraldine Page won her second Emmy. And it's also available on Youtube in five parts, starting here:


If you've been following the shocking and shameful events at Penn State this past week, you may have had an experience similar to mine.

Reading Joe Paterno's biography on the Wikipedia, I noticed the different "categories" were Paterno's name is included:

Penn State Nittany Lions football coaches
1926 births
people of Italian descent
American children's book writers

Children's book writers?

Though it's undoubtedly strange to see him listed there between Dillwyn Parrish and Katherine Paterson, he made the list by virtue of this 2007 children's book he wrote with his wife Sue:

He was also the subject of a 1974 children's book SIX DAYS TO SATURDAY by Jack Newcombe:

Jerry Sandusky, the criminal at the center of this case (oh, I shouldn't say that because he's "innocent until found guilty"? Sue me for slander) also wrote a book, although thankfully it's not a children's book.

The title?


Talk about flaunting it.

Talk about hiding in plain sight.

When I first looked this book up on last weekend there were only a couple customer reviews.

Now there are over one hundred.

Few, if any, of those reviews are from people who have actually read the book. Most are just using the space to comment on the Penn State case. I find this fascinating. I've bemoaned the fact that when bookstores close, folks can't find a place to share their thoughts and opinions with like-minded people -- "book people." It looks like they have found a way visiting online bookstores.


I was sorry to hear about the death of Family Circus creator earlier this week. Although he never illustrated a children's book, his newspaper comic usually provided either laughs or smiles of recognition in its depictions of how kids think and feel. (Though he did run to those "Ida Know" and "Not Me" into the ground, didn't he?)

He also produced some cartoons that advocated literacy. My co-writer Julie Walker Danielson shared this one with me:

and now here is one I'm sharing with Julie -- and you:

R.I.P., Mr. Keane.


Over at the Heavy Medal blog , Jonathan Hunt and Nina Lindsay have announced their Newbery shortlist. The titles are:


AMELIA LOST by Candice Fleming

HEART & SOUL by Kadir Nelson

I BROKE MY TRUNK by Mo Willems


A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness

OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt



WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick

I'm 7/10.

How'd you do?

I was tickled to read Jonathan's later comments about three titles that almost made the cut:

PIE by Sarah Weeks

MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND by Tricia Springstubb

NEVER FORGOTTEN by Patricia McKissack

It was like hearing rumors about which titles almost, but not quite, become Honor Books for the Newbery.


Last night on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW an original drawing by Dr. Seuess was valued at $6000. The appraiser went on to mention that there are a number of fakes on the market. Checking the ROADSHOW's website, I found this article which states that as many as 80% of the "Seuss" drawings in circulation are fakes. The article gives some tips on separating the real stuff from the phony.


Blog reader and bookseller Pamela Grath from Dog Ear Books in Northport, Michigan recently wrote a blog entry about two of her favorite childhood books, BEYOND THE PAWPAW TREES and its sequel, THE SILVER NUTMEG, both written and illustrated by Palmer Brown.

After reading her enthusiastic comments, I wanted to get my hands on these books myself. Fortunately, my library had both titles in stock.

Published in 1954, BEYOND THE PAWPAW TREES is the story of Anna Lavinia, a young girl with a wandering father and a mother who stays home all cooking pawpaws. Torn between her mother's motto, "Never believe what you see," and her father's rule, "Only believe what you see," Anna Lavinia lives a strange claustrophic life, never attending school, never even leaving her family's property. Then comes the strange "lavender blue" day when Anna's mother sends her daughter off to visit an aunt in a remote location. The girl's adventures traveling on a train and through a desert by camel are nonsense of the first order. I must admit that I am not a fan of nonsense fiction at all. I'm far too literal minded. In fact, reading the book, I wondered if a brief reference to Anna Lavinia being locked in a broom closet by her mother as a punishment was the key to the story; could her fanciful adventures be nothing but the dreams of a captive child? Whatever the case, BEYOND THE PAW PAW
TREES is nonetheless distingusihed by its lyrical language, songs and poems (the book is full of them) and precise line drawings. If you do a search around the internet, you will see that many, many people love this book. First editions cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Its 1956 sequel, THE SILVER NUTMEG, also has a cult following. This one is more a fantasy than a nonsense story, as Anna Lavinia discovers another world on the other side of the Dew Pond, where she makes a new friend and solves a romantic mystery. Once again, the language shines, as in this passage describing the tingling feeling of life on the other side of the water:

It was something like the touch of clean cool sheets after a bath on a hot susmmer night, or the smell of the first burning leaves in atuumn. It was like the taste of the first wild strawberry in springtime, or the sound of a train's whistle far off at midnight in winter. It was a little, too, like the tickle before a sneeze, or the thrill that comes when the knot in the ribbon of a gift just begins to loosen. It was like all these things rolled together, ony it was even better.

If you have a taste for whimsical stories, filled with beautiful imagery (a hedgehog floating into a yard on a windy day) and precise, exquisite drawings, these books are for you. The good news is that you don't even need to track them down in unweeded library collections or spend hundreds for a used copy. The New York Review of Books recently reissued PAWPAWS and NUTMEG will be re-released next spring.


Since reading the two Anna Lavinia books, I have been trying to track down information about author-illustrator Palmer Brown.

Strangely, there is almost nothing out there.

So far I've learned that he was born in 1919, educated at Swarthmore College and got a Master's from the University of Pennsylvania, and served four years in the military during WWII. No word about a family, hobbies, avocations.

One source said that he didn't begin drawing until he wrote PAWPAWS and decided to illustrate the book. Another source included this quote about his first book, "“If it has any moral at all, it is hoped that it will always be a deep secret between the author and those of his readers who still know that believing is seeing.”

Although his Contemporary Authors bio lists his career as "Illustrator and author of children's books," and adds that he contributed to WOMAN'S DAY and GOURMET magazines, is it really possible to make a lifetime living from just five middle-selling books (in addition to the two above, he also wrote three stories about mice: CHEERFUL (1957), SOMETHING FOR CHRISTMAS (1958) and HICKORY (1978.) What to make of the twenty year gap between the last two books? Why didn't he ever illustrate books for other authors? How come he never published a collection of poetry and verse since his novels contain so much of it?

These are some of the questions I'd love to ask this now-92 year-old author.


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

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Sunday Brunch with Geese and Goops

Among other topics, today's Sunday Brunch introduces Mother Goose's family, reveals the sad fate of a famous book dedicatee, and asks if anyone has ever called you a "goop." (They have???)


Working with children's books, I probably cross paths with Mother Goose several times a week. This past Monday I was moving some volumes around at work and came across this one:

If it hadn't been Halloween that day, I probably wouldn't have thought a thing about it...but it WAS Halloween. And my immediate thought was: "You know, Mother Goose sure looks like a witch!"

I then pulled a few more Ma Goose books from the shelf and they also supported my theory. Hey, substitute a broomstick for that goose she's flying and you could be looking at a Halloween decoration:

This got me wondering about the real identity of Ms. Goose -- and why she's often pictured as an old crone with black peaked hat and billowing shawl. From a little bit of internet research, it appears that the origins of this character are shrouded in mystery. Some trace her back to the first millennium as "Bertha the goose-footed," the wife of King Robert II of France, who was said to enthrall children with her stories. Others say she was a seventeenth-century Bostonian, though that legend has been dismissed by most experts. We probably never will know the truth.

But back to her appearance.

Can anyone explain why this character, meant to represent a kindly children's storyteller, looks like a witch?

I'm assuming that her image was developed over the years by a number of different illustrators until it finally settled into the general "look" it has today. But was the intent to make her look like a witch (right down to those striped "Wicked Witch of the East Socks" in the last picture?) or were the illustrators merely utilizing the then-current "little old lady" fashions of their own historical era?

Anyone know?


We call her "Mother" Goose, but what ever happened to her kids? And where was her husband?

Actually, some of those answers can be found in children's books.

Though I doubt it was the first-ever reference to "Father Goose" in the panetheon of literature, the best-known character by this name was created by L. Frank Baum, who also originated the Wizard of Oz.

Baum was forty-one years old when he published his first book. MOTHER GOOSE IN PROSE (1897) contained short stories based on a number of familiar nursery rhymes, including "Old King Cole," "Humpty Dumpty" and "Little Miss Muffett." It was also the first book illustrated by Maxfield Parrish.

The following year, Mr. Baum published BY THE CANDELABRA'S GLARE, a biography of Liberace. Just kidding. BY THE CANDELABRA'S GLARE was actually a collection of poetry, with the last section of the book devoted to children's verse.

A year later, Baum released FATHER GOOSE : HIS BOOK, a volume containing nothing but nonsense verse for kids. The introduction states:

There is a fascination in the combination of jingling verse and bright pictures that always appeals strongly to children. The ancient “Mother Goose Book” had these qualities, and for nearly two centuries the cadences of its rhymes have lingered in the memories of men and women who learned them in childhood. The author and illustrator of “Father Goose” have had no intent to imitate or parody the famous verse and pictures of “Mother Goose.” They own to having followed, in modern fashion, the plan of the book that pleased children ages ago—and still pleases them. These are newer jingles and pictures for children of to-day, and intended solely to supplement the nursery rhymes of our ancestors.

and is followed by this explanatory poem:

Old Mother Goose became quite new,
And joined a Women's Club,
She left poor Father Goose at home
To care for Sis and Bub.
They called for stories by the score,
And laughed and cried to hear
All of the queer and merry songs
That in this book appear.
When Mother Goose at last returned
For her there was no use;
The goslings much preferred to hear
The tales of FATHER GOOSE.

FATHER GOOSE : HIS BOOK became the top-selling children's book of 1899, selling over 75,000 copies. Some credit much of this success to the illustrations of W.W. Denslow.

In 1900, Baum and Denslow published THE SONGS OF FATHER GOOSE, which set some of the previous volume's verses to music.

1900 was also the year that THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ was published. Baum and Denslow spent many more years writing the "Oz" series, only revisiting Father Goose once -- with a book of nonsense poetry for adults (FATHER GOOSE'S YEAR BOOK : QUAINT QUACKS AND FEATHERED SHAFTS FOR MATURE CHILDREN) in 1907.


According to Leonard Weisgard they did.

Three years after winning the 1948 Caldecott Medal for illustrating Margaret Wise Brown's THE LITTLE ISLAND, Harper published THE FAMILY MOTHER GOOSE, a collection of three small volumes (MOTHER GOOSE, FATHER GOOSE, and LITTLE GOOSE) that presents Mother Goose in her second most-famous visual incarnation. Instead of being being shown as an old woman; she's depicted as an actual goose in a dustcap.

Weisgard's three volumes were presented in a boxed set. A die-cut hole allowed one of the family members (here "Little Goose") to be seen, based on which book was first in the box.

The FATHER GOOSE volume (notice the fifties' style dad-hat on Father G) contains rhymes mostly featuring males, such as "Jack Sprat," "Three Men in a Tub,", "Old King Cole," and "Solomon Grundy."

LITTLE GOOSE features "Little Tommy Tucker," "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Jack and Jill" and other kid-centric rhymes, while MOTHER GOOSE offers "Old Mother Hubbard," "Ladybug, Ladybug," and others.

Although the three volumes of THE FAMILY MOTHER GOOSE are easy enough to find individually in used bookstores, it's near impossible to find them together in their original fragile cardboard box.

...And so, like so many modern real-life families, the members of this book "family" have become separated over the years and are rarely seen together.


So you want to find information on Mother Goose in the online catalog, make a little typo, and what do you end up with?


I have to admit I was unfamiliar with the books GOOPS AND HOW TO BE THEM and MORE GOOPS AND HOW NOT TO BE THEM until I stumbled across them in our catalog.

Goops, whose heads can be drawn by anyone with a compass and protractor, were the creation of Gelett Burgess. The introduction to the first book, explains what they are:

Let me introduce a Race
Void of Beauty and of Grace,
Extraordinary Creatures
With a Pauciety of Features.
Though their Forms are fashioned ill,
They have Manners stranger still,
For in Rudeness, they're Precocious,
They're Atrocious, they're Ferocious!
Yet you'll learn, if you are Bright,
Politeness from the Impolite.
When you've finished with the Book,
At your Conduct take a Look;
Ask yourself, upon the Spot,
Are you Goop, or are you Not?
For, although it's Fun to See them
It is TERRIBLE to be them!

Subtitled "A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants Inculcating many Juvenile Virtues Both by Precept and Example with Ninety Drawings," GOOPS AND HOW TO BE THEM is filled with rhymes (some of which appeared in St. Nicholas Magazine) about misbehaving kids.

Here's one about table manners:

The Goops they lick their fingers,
And the Goops they like their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth--
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating.
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I'm glad that I
Am not a Goop -- are you?

and another titled "Picking and Stealing":

When you are fetching bread, I trust
You never nibble at the crust.

When in the kitchen, do you linger
And pinch with your finger?

Or do you peck the frosted cake?
Don't do it, please, for Mother's sake!

Originally published in 1900 and 1903, these volumes taught etiquette by letting kids laugh at (and probably recognize in themselves) exaggerated bad behavior.

So popular were THE GOOPS that by the time the first volume was republished in 1928, the dustjacket informed us:

"Don't be a goop," children still cry to one another, though the book first came out so long ago its first readers are long since grown up.

So that's where that word came from.

I was also surprised to learn that the original Goops books are still in print today.

There is also a small company called Goops Unlimited which sells modern Goops books and merchandise. It was created by a seventy-year-old grandmother and atwenty-year-old young man and has been in business for a decade.


Last Sunday I wrote a blog entry about Rachel Field, best known in children's book circles for writing HITTY : HER FIRST HUNDRED YEARS. I ended my piece with this:

And I am still left wondering if we've ever had another creator with such wide-ranging talent: plays, poetry, children's fiction, adult novels, a Newbery, a Newbery Honor, a Caldecott text, two Pulitzer contenders -- plus she illustrated many of her own books!

I'm also wondering if anyone can answer three questions I have about this author:

Does anyone know where the original Hitty doll is? Is she owned by a library or museum?

Does anyone know what happened to her daughter Hannah?

Finally, I've read that Ms. Field was well-loved by her friends for designing personalized Christmas cards, and for giving them copies of her own books which, originally printed in black-and-white, she had hand illustrated with oolor paints. Has any collector ever come across any of these cards or books? Wouldn't it be a coup to find one?

I'm happy to say that I now have answers to these questions.

Blog reader Wendy informed me that Hitty now resides in the Stockbridge Library in Massachusetts. This sent me to the internet to find a picture of the real doll. If you Google "Hitty" with "Stockbridge," you will find quite a few...but they are all protected by so many copyright notices and warnings not to reproduce, that I dared not poach one for my blog today. However, I can provide links for you to see the original Hitty doll here and here.

I also did a little internet research and came across a wonderful article that Robin Clifford Wood wrote for the Bangor Daily News.

Get this: Robin Woods lives in Rachel Field's old house on Maine's Sutton Island.

Even better than that, Ms. Wood says in her article, "Relics and papers from her time in the house remained on shelves, in drawers and stored away in the attic."

Can you think of anything better than moving into a home once owned by a favorite writer -- and finding bits of their work still in residence?

Although usually too shy to contact writers, I sent Ms. Wood an e-mail. It turns out she is the midst of writing a book about Rachel Field, and has done a lot of research on the author's life.

I'll be first in line to buy that book!

Meanwhile, Robin was able to answer some of the questions I had.

I was very curious to learn how Rachel Field's relics and writings could be left in her Maine home for so many decades.

Robin explained, "The reason why Rachel's island house was so unchanged is twofold: First, there are no roads, and the house is a mile walk from the town pier, so when people move out they tend to leave things behind - especially furnishings, kitchenware, etc. Many of the contents actually pre-date Rachel. The second reason is that people generally go for only a few weeks a year, and the last decade or so before we bought it, it was virtually unused. No one was ever there long enough to care about cleaning out the attic!"

She also discussed the greeting cards and hand-illustrated books I asked about: "There are still in existence many original hand-painted cards, notes, and books made by Rachel for friends. Most of them, at this point, are no longer in private collections. Several college and university collections have Rachel Field stuff, plus many smaller institutions and libraries. I've been to archives all over the country - including in Hollywood. It's amazing what you find once you begin to dig, and I've been working on this for several years. She was a wonderfully talented woman, with an amazing spirit."

During my research this week, I had come across an obituary for Hannah Pederson, the adopted daughter of Rachel Field and her husband Arthur Pederson. According to, "Hannah married Gerald L. Tildsely on 30 January 1960" when she was barely twenty. They were divorced long before she died on the Fourth of July 1965. She was only twenty-five at the time.

I asked Robin Wood what happened.

It's a sad story.


It's one of the more indelible images in picture books.

The dedication page from PRAYER FOR A CHILD, written by Rachel Field and illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones, reprints the book's cover illustration of a little blonde girl kneeling in prayer and simply says, "For Hannah."

Rachel Field wrote the poem "Prayer for a Child" for Hannah in 1941, just a year before her own death from cancer surgery complications.

At the time, Hannah was only two years old.

The poem, which begins,

Bless this milk and bless this bread.
Bless this soft and waiting bed
Where I presently shall be
Wrapped in sweet security....

is a comforting list of items for which a young child would be grateful: her toys, her shoes, her "little painted chair."

The poem was published as a picture book in 1944, beautifully illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones. It would go on to win the Caldecott Award and remains in print nearly seventy years later.

One wonders if young Hannah read this book as she was growing up. Did it bring back happy memories for her

or did some rhymes -- such "Bless my Father and my Mother / And keep us close to one another" -- seem cruel in light of her mother's early death?

In answer to my question about Hannah's own early death, Robin Wood replied, "Although Rachel's husband, Arthur, tried to do his best for their daughter, he struggled with some depression himself. Hannah was cared for, but not tended to with any kind of rigorous direction. She married young, received an enormous inheritance, and went a bit wild. Her marriage ended after a year and she died of alcohol poisoning. Very sad."

Very sad indeed.

Rightly or wrongly, now whenever I look at the dedication page of PRAYER FOR A CHILD, I won't see the back of a girl snug in her pajamas and kneeling in gratitude but, instead, a sad young girl already turning away, turning away from life....


If you are a picture book or Caldecott collector, you may be curious about how to identify a first edition of PRAYER FOR A CHILD.

Here is the front of the dustjacket. It may or may not have a Caldecott seal on the front. The presence of this sticker does not necessarily mean your copy is not a first edition; it may be a first edition that was still in the warehouse at the time the award was received and the sticker was added before shipping to stores. However, the price on the front flap of the dustjacket must be $1.50, as that was the original price of the book.

Removing the jacket, the binding must be beige with blue-inked illustrations that look exactly like this:

The front and back endpapers must also be blue.

The title page must look exactly like this, with "1944" in the lower right-hand corner. If the date is missing or changed, it is not a first edition.

Finally, the copyright page must match this image. Do not worry about the "1941" copyright date; that refers to the date the poem itself was written and copyrighted. The top date of "1944" is the important one here And there must be no other dates (months or years) or printings listed on this page. If there are, this is not a first edition.

If your book matches all the above qualifications it may be worth $250-$300. If the dustjacket is missing, yet the book itself remains in very good condition, it should be somewhere between $50-$100. Add on $50-$100 if it's signed by illustrator Elizabeth Orton Jones. Walk away if it's signed by Rachel Field, as that would mean the book is a phony. Remember, she died in 1942, over two years before this book was published.

I wonder if there are any copies out there signed by Hannah Pederson herself....


Speaking of book collecting, if there's one thing we book collectors like it's ARCs!

ARCs are paperbound "advance reading copies" (AKA uncorrected proofs, galleys, pre-pubs) of books sent out to reviewers, bookstore owners, and others in the months before the actual book is published.

Sometimes these volumes are identical to the eventual published books.

Other times they are fairly different, and may include typos, printing errors, and even changes in the text.

Sometimes they are incomplete.

Often the dedication is not filled in yet:

Sometimes not all of the art is finished:

Someone recently asked me why the initials "TK" are used on these occasions. It seems fairly obvious that "TK" means "to come," yet we never see "TC" in such situations.

I did a little searching on the subject this week and learned the following from Wikipedia:

To Come is a printing and journalism reference abbreviated "TK." It is used to signify that additional material will be added at a later date.

TK is a combination of letters designed to catch the eye (it is also likely to be caught by computer spell-check programs, though the use of TK long predates the use of computers.) It may originally have come into use because very few words feature the letter combination of "t" followed by "k". The phrase "to come," by contrast, could very easily be mistaken as a deliberate part of the text, especially if read by an overworked editor late at night while on deadline.

So now we know the answer to TK, OK?


Earlier this week the New York Times released its list of the "Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2011."

The honored titles:

A BALL FOR DAISY / Chris Raschka
BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON : SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI'S CANTICLE OF THE CREATURES / illustrated by Pamela Dalton ; text by Katherine Paterson
ICE / Arthur Geisert
I WANT MY HAT BACK / Jon Klassen
ME...JANE / Patrick McDonnell
MIGRANT / illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault ; text by Maxine Trottier
A NATION'S HOPE : THE STORY OF BOXING LEGEND JOE LOUIS / illustrated by Kadir Nelson ; text by Matt de le Pena
A NEW YEAR'S REUNION / illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang ; text by Yu Li-Qiong.

What do you think? Any major books missing (the new Sendak? Kadir Nelson's other book, HEART AND SOUL)? Any books that really shouldn't be there?


I imagine there are a few illustrators out there thinking, "My book didn't make the New York Times I guess I'm not going to win the Caldecott either!"

Fear not!

The NYT has been publishing their list for fifty-nine years now...yet only TWENTY of the titles on their lists have gone on to win the Caldecott Award.

That's pretty amazing when you consider that the TIMES usually honors ten illustrated books per year (some of the early years listed fewer than ten.)

Yet TWO THIRDS of the time, the Caldecott winner did not even find a place on the NYT's list of TEN BOOKS.

This either says a lot about the differences in criticism and evaluation between separate award committees or proves what a bounty of wonderful picture books are released each year.

In case you are wondering, these are the twenty Caldecott winners cited as NYT Best Illustrated Children's Books:

1954 / MADELINE’S RESCUSE / Ludwig Bemelmans
1961 / BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS / illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov; text by Ruth Robbins
1962 / ONCE A MOUSE... / Marcia Brown
1964 / WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE / Maurice Sendak
1977 ASHANTI TO ZULU: AFRICAN TRADITIONS / illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon ; text by Margaret Musgrove
1978 / NOAH'S ARK / Peter Spier
1980 / OX-CART MAN illustrated by Barbara Cooney ; text by Donald Hall
1982 / JUMANJI by Chris Van Allsburg
1985 / SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON / illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman; text by Margaret Hodges
1986 / THE POLAR EXPRESS / Chris Van Allsburg
1993 / MIRETTE ON THE HIGH WIRE / Emily Arnold McCully
1997 / GOLEM / David Wisniewski
2005 / KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON / Kevin Henkes
2006 / THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW / illustrated by Chris Raschka; text by Norton Juster
2007 / FLOTSAM / David Wiesner
2008 / THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET / Brian Selznick
2010 / THE LION & THE MOUSE / Jerry Pinkney
2011 A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE / illustrated by Erin E. Stead; text by Philip C. Stead

Just a few of the titles that the NYT didn't cite:

TIME OF WONDER by Robert McCloskey
THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats
...and David Wiesner's first two Caldecott winners

It's interesting to note, however, that in recent years they seem to have included the future Caldecott winner every year except for THE HOUSE IN THE NIGHT by Beth Krommes, the 2009 awardee.


They've been weeding children's books again at work and one of my jobs involves withdrawing the records from our online catalog.

One book that crossed my desk was an early Andre Norton title, SWORDS ARE DRAWN. Published in 1944, it's a World War II action story that pre-dates Norton's reign as Queen of Science Fiction.

Opening up the book, I discovered that it was a first edition. It was also our only copy of this title. So I snagged it for our library's collection of rare and notable children's titles.

SWORDS ARE DRAWN was the first of three books Ms. Norton wrote about Lorens Van Norreys. It was followed by SWORD IN SHEATH (1949) and AT SWORDS' POINTS (1954.) I know these books are highly-valued by collectors, and fairly hard to find. And expensive.

But looking at this first book, I was struck by two things.

The introduction talks about the Cleveland Press World Friends Club, a penpal organization sponsored by that newspaper which was, during the time SWORDS ARE DRAWN was published, on hiatus because of World War II. The introduction states that Andre Norton first came to know the novel's Dutch protagonist, Lorens Van Norreys, because he was a member of the Cleveland Press World Friends Club.

I find this odd. The book does not state that "she based her fictional character Lorens on a real boy" but specifically seems to say that the protagonist of her book, Lorens Van Norreys, is a real person. Yet I've seen no other documentation that supports this.

Does anyone know?

Secondly, I was somewhat surprised by the book's adult, rather risque illustrations by an artist named Duncan Coburn. This one seemed like something you'd see in a "physique magazine" they might sell "under the counter" back in the forties:

Does anyone know anything about this artist? The only thing I could find was that he illustrated one other children's book -- COME, JACK : THE STORY OF A DOG by Robert W. McCulloch -- around the same time. After that, I see no references to him. Was he a casualty of the war? Did he move into another career? Did he start anonymously illustrating 1950s porn?

It's amazing what you find in books almost lost in weeding projects.

Like I always say, "It's better to read 'em than weed 'em."


Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. More TK so I hope you'll be back -- even if you are a Goop!

I know I am!