Monday, December 19, 2011

December 18 Sunday Brunch

Christmas shopping finished? Mostly.

Christmas tree and house decorated? Barely.

Christmas cards sent? No.

Christmas gifts wrapped? No.

In other words, with Christmas a week away, I am WAAAY behind and probably shouldn't be blogging, but I did have a few items to share today, so thought I'd write a quick blog now and wrap gifts later.


Seems like every year my bookstore buddy calls and asks what I'm reading on Christmas Eve.

Do you have any old books that you read every year on December 24? Or do you save up a special new book to read that evening? If you don't celebrate Christmas, do you read a book that is specific to your own beliefs or do you choose a secular book>? Or maybe you find yourself drawn to Christmas tales as well? I know several non-Christians who love to read Dickens' Christmas stories at this time of year.

In my case, I sometimes save up a new book to read, but often find myself drawn to specific "holiday chapters" of favorite old books -- for example, the Christmas chapters in Beverly Cleary's books about Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby. And every Christmas I have to read "Let Nothing You Dismay," a wonderful/spooky/weird holiday story from Betty McDonald's adult book, ANYBODY CAN DO ANYTHING.

I just ordered a book which, if it arrives by next weekend, might be the perfect Christmas story.

But you couldn't tell it from the illustrations:

Even the title sounds more like Halloween story than a Christmas tale:

But from what I understand, NATHANIEL'S WITCH, written by Katherine Gibson, illustrated by Vera Bock, and published in 1941, is a Christmas story set in 1700s Salem. Actualy, there does seem to be a tradition of scary ghost and witch tales associated with the holiday. Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW is set at Christmas (at least the framing device around the tale is) and perhaps the most well-known ghost story of all time is also set in this season, Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Speaking of THE TURN OF THE SCREW, has anyone read the recent YA novel TIGHTER by Adele Griffin? I've read that it's a modern-day companion to the Henry James' novella. Maybe I'll read them both this coming holiday season.


Yesterday on Facebook (and if you haven't "friended" me there, please feel free!) I was recalling an incident that happened to me as a kid:

Back when I was in first grade, I volunteered to bring cookies to the class Christmas party. My mother was happy to make them, but felt bad that we didn't have any Christmas cookie cutters. Strangely, we did have a set of Thanksgiving cookie cutters. The morning of the party, my mother handed me a box of the most beautiful Santa Claus cookies you've ever seen. How did she do it? She'd used the cornucopia cutter

and then turned the cookies at a 90 degree angle. The "horn" of the cornucopoia was now Santa's hat, frosted with red icing. The round "opening" was Santa's face, decorated with chocolate chip eyes and a white frosting beard.

Over the years some people have praised my brother and me for our "creativity, " but it's really a trait we inherited from our parents, who have been quietly creative all of their lives -- often out of necessity. Now I know why they say "Necessity is the MOTHER of Invention."

Anyway, this got me wondering about which children's books contain recipes for Christmas cookies. I found a few:

THE BAKER'S DOZEN : A SAINT NICHOLAS TALE, written by Aaron Shepard and illustrated by Wendy Edelson
CHRISTMAS COOKIES : BITE-SIZED HOLIDAY LESSONS, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and and illustrated by Jane Dyer
CHRISTMAS COOKIES! : A HOLIDAY COOKBOOK, written by Susan Devins and illustrated by Barbara Lehman
GINGERBREAD FRIENDS, written and illustrated by Jan Brett

Do you know any others?

I can't remember...does Robert Sabuda's COOKIE COUNT contain recipes...or does it just make you wish recipes were included?

Incidentally, here are my favorite cookies, which my mother has made for me every Christmas since I was very young:

Chinese Noodle Cookies

1. Melt in saucepan or double boiler over low heat one package of chocolate chips and one package of butterscotch chips.

2. Stir in one can Chinese noodles and one can of either peanuts or cashews. We prefer cashews. (Edited to add: a couple people have written in to ask me what kind of noodles we use. We use the following, available in the "ethnic foods" aisle of almost every grocery store:)

3. Mix all together well and drop by teaspoon onto cookie sheet. Cool.

I don't know why we associate these cookies with Christmas, but I do remember once going to someone's house in the summer and being very shocked when they served this cookie at lunch. Being offered a Chinese Noodle Cookie in the summer felt as strange as if they'd invited me to help decorate their Christmas tree in the middle of July!

Which Christmas cookie is your favorite?


I assume everyone here reads "A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy," Elizabeth Burns' entertaining and insightful blog about young adult literature over at School Library Journal.

Today, though, I had to give her a virtual noogie when I read this comment she posted on Facebook:

Read a few articles that said more sales of ereaders means opportunities for selfpub authors. Sorry, reading ebooks won't change what I read.

I responded:

Liz, I think you should print this off, hang it over your desk, and see if you're still as adamant on the topic a year from now....

Because even though I have completely resisted getting an e-reader thus far -- and plan to hold the Kindle at bay for as long as I can -- I assume it's probably going to be inevitable at some point and I can't help but believe that ebooks WILL change what we read.

Case in point:

I just learned that one of my favorite writers, Edward Bloor, has written MEMORY LANE, a young adult novel that's ONLY available as an e-book.

Bloor's website describes the book like this:

Memory Lane, America’s most popular new theme park, promises to provide its guests with “golden memories.” Choose any week—from 1950 to the present—and Memory Lane will recreate it for you in amazing detail: the foods, the clothes, the TV shows, even the schools. You will soon forget about the present and start living in the past.

But is that a good idea?

Alice hopes Memory Lane will provide a week of personal healing and of family bonding. Instead, Alice and her cousins Patrick and TJ find themselves struggling with a pair of psychotic bullies, and with the pain of young love, and with a shocking family secret that was, perhaps, better left buried in the past.

Smart, funny, and frightening, Memory Lane is Edward Bloor’s most powerful and insightful novel to date.

Of course I'm curious why this novel is available only as an e-book. Does it mean that his usual publishers turned it down? Or is this an experiment on the author's part. Ultimately, it may not matter -- at least for me. Edward Bloor is one of my favorites and I want to read what he writes.

And I suspect this is a sign of the future. As more and more publishers look for the "next big thing" -- the big concept three-volume vampire/zombie/dystopian novel -- I suspect more authors will resort to self-publishing "smaller" or more personal novels as e-books.

So I know that for me (and I suspect for anyone else who loves literature...maybe even Elizabeth Burns) we may eventually seek out at least some self-published books. So they will change the way we read. After all, they may be the types of books that end up winning the Newber e-award.


While it seems as though more mainstream authors may be self-publishing e-books in the future, it appears that self-published authors -- even wealthy ones -- would still prefer to be published in PAPER.

Most of us have heard the story of Amanda Hocking, the young writer who, after being rejected by all the mainstream publishers, opted to self-publish her novels as e-books. Within a year, she had reportedly earned over a million dollars for her efforts.

Of course that's when the mainstream publishers started to take an interest in her work....

Did she send them on their way?


Starting on January 24, St. Martin's Griffin will begin publishing Hocking's "Trylle Trilogy" in paperback with a 250,000 first printing for the first book, SWITCHED.

Already optioned for the movies, the book will be advertised on TV, on the internet, and in major magazines.

In the author's note, Ms. Hocking states, "People often ask me if I feel bitterness or resentment toward all the agents who passed on my work before, and to that I say a resounding no. It wasn't the right time or the right place, and I needed all those no's to get to the right agent and the right publisher."

She's a better person than I.

If that were me, I'd say (in the spirit of this holiday season): "People often ask me if I feel bitterness or resentment toward all the agents who passed on my work before, and to that I say a RESOUNDING YES. In fact, I've been making a list of their names and I'm checking it twice."

Anyway, it will be fascinating to see if the author's phenomenal e-book success can translate into hardcopy sales.


Exactly a month ago, I read Roger Sutton's blog about nondisclosure forms and embargoed books.

At the time, it never dawned on me that I might somehow lay my hands on an embargoed book.

But the very next day, one landed right in my lap.

Well, not literally, but you know what I mean....

Suddenly I was holding a tape-bound manuscript copy (unjustified right margin!) of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, the new novel by John Green.

Just under the title information, in big black letters, were the words:


Just beneath that, it said, "Thank you for submitting your signed affidvat. Any breach of this contract will result in your forfeiting delivery of this title at on-sale."

Ordinarily this book might have ended up in my "to be read" pile, but I was so tickled to read an "embargoed" book (you know what they say about forbidden fruit) that I read the whole thing the next day.

Unfortunately, I don't know what to do with this knowledge now.

I certainly didn't sign any affidavit, so I'm not legally bound by any sanctions placed on this manuscript.

On the other hand, I don't want to get the person who gave me this book in trouble.

So for now -- at least until the book is published on January 10, 2012 -- I'll only say a couple things:

For those who have complained that John Green keeps writing the same novel, this one is quite different and stretches his talent in new and unexpected ways.

For those who say there hasn't been a good dyingpeen tearjerker since the era of DEATH BE NOT PROUD, ERIC, and SUNSHINE, this one fills the bill.

Is it perfect? No.

Is it going to be a big hit? Yep.

It's probably the first "gotta read it" YA novel of 2012.

I hope the Literature Police don't come pounding on my door for revealing this much.


Okay, one more thing about THE FAULT IN OUR STARS: the narrator's name is Hazel.

Yes, the protagonist is a girl.

But what really intrigues me is that the name "Hazel," which I always associated with elderly woman (and TV maids) seems to be making a comeback in kids' books this year. I've been seeing it everywhere, not only in titles (the eponymous novel Julie Hearn) but also spotting here and there in other books. And the protagonist of another of this season's high profile titles, BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu is also named Hazel.

Must be something in the air.


The other day at work I happened to glance up at our collection of Caldecott winners, all shelved in chronological order, and something popped out at me.

They're BIG.

That is, with very few exceptions, all the winning books seem to be -- within reasonable parameters -- "standard picture book" size.

A few are even bigger.

The largest Caldecott on the shelf is 1977's winner, ASHANTI TO ZULU.

That book is 31 centimeters tall. (I'm using centimeters rather than inches because that's how we measure books in cataloging -- and it's somewhat more exact than inches.)

After that book, there are seven winners that are 29.5 cm. tall. They are MEI LI (1939), ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1940), MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS (1942), MADELINE'S RESCUE (1954), TIME OF WONDER (1958), BLACK AND WHITE (1991), and RAPUNZEL (1998.)

Though the remaining winners are smaller, they are -- as previously stated -- all within standard size for picture books.

Only two small books have ever won the Caldecott.

The 1966 winner, ALWAYS ROOM FOR ONE MORE is only 18 cm. tall and 22 cm. wide.

And the smallest of all is 1961's BABOUSKA AND THE THREE KINGS, palm sized at 18x19 cm.

This all leads me to a theory about the Caldecott: little books -- despite the fact that they may be "small gems" -- are far, far less likely to win than larger-sized volumes.

This is probably even more true today than at any other time in industry, when, it seems, fewer picture books are being published with small trim sizes.

Such books seem to be lost in the shuffle at libraries and bookstores (they always seem to slide to the back of the picture book shelves) and they seem to be forgotten when it comes to choosing Caldecott winners....


What will you be doing on April 23, 2012?

Will you be participating in World Book Night?

According to the organization's website,

World Book Night is an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books. To be held in the U.S. as well as the U.K. and Ireland on April 23, 2012. It will see tens of thousands of people go out into their communities to spread the joy and love of reading by giving out free World Book Night paperbacks.

Thirty titles have been selected for giving in the United States. They are:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Blood Work by Michael Connelly
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Stand by Stephen King
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I was excited to see that quite a few books for young readers are going to be distributed.

I must admit, my first thought was that, as good as they are, do authors such as Maya Angelou and books such as THE HUNGER GAMES, really need to be promoted this way when there are so many wonderful, lesser-known works that could also benefit from this type of publicity?

But then I read that one of the goals of this project is to give books to those who aren't frequent what better way to hook someone than with titles that have proven track records of pleasing a very broad range of readers?

It sounds like an interesting and fun night!


Blog reader Lin left an interesting comment on this blog last week:

Collectability: how much does it have to do with sentimental attachment to a title? You see the very high prices for original publications of "Snip, Snap and Snurr" or the "Betsy-Tacy" books; things that were well-regarded, but not necessarily considered 'award-worthy,' but evidently very fondly remembered. In fifty years, will a first printing of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" in excellent condition fetch big bucks?

This is question I have also pondered a lot over the years. Can we ever truly know which of today's books will become highly collectable in the years ahead?

Of course it goes without saying that award winners will always be collectable. But do books that are popular today always become collector's items tomorrow? Will, as Lin suggests, a first printing of WIMPY KID, be worth a bundle a few decades from now? I could be wrong, but my guess is "probably not." I'm basing this only on "recent popular trends" such as R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" and "Fear Street" series or Ann Martin's "Babysitters Club." Enough time has passed for the "nostalgia bug" to have bitten the former child-readers of those books...and while I imagine that many of them still remember them fondly, I am not seeing a run on these titles -- or skyrocketing prices for the original volumes. At least not yet. And I wonder if there ever can be much "collectability" associated with books that were mass-produced in such huge quantities. (I believe there are, for example, something like thirty million "Wimpy Kid" books currently in print.)

I tend to think that collectability hinges on having a strong sentimental fondness for titles with an almost "cult following" -- and which ere not published in huge quantities to begin with. Of course I mean no disrespect by the words "cult following." I guess what I really mean is that collectable books are usually those that are loved by a small, but very fervent group of fans. The kinds of books that makes their fans feel as if they are members of a special club.

As I said, it's very hard to predict what titles will achieve this status.

The answer only comes with time.

And sometimes they are among the last books you'd predict!


Thanks, Lin, for your note -- and for all those who send notes and leave comments on this blog. And thanks to everyone who reads Collecting Children's Books. Hope you stop back soon.


P. J. Grath said...

Peter, not to ignore all your book musings but--on the cookie recipe! I'm guessing the Chinese noodles must be crispy rice noodles and not ramen. Am I right? Vital information! Need it fast!

Send Birthday Flowers said...

I have never heard of noodle cookies before in my life! I MUST try some! My favourite are peanut butter cookies for the festive holidays.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Sorry, P.J., I should have been more clear. Yes, you use the crispy rice or "chow mein" noodles for the cookies -- the kind that come in a can in the "Ethnic Foods" aisle of every supermarket. Here is a picture:



Laura Canon said...

"There'll be scary ghost stories/And tales of past glories/Of Christmases long long ago"
-- "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
It's not terribly original, but I read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" every Christmas Eve to my son.

Liz B said...

For selfpubbed books, when I've read (and enjoyed) them they have been vetted/filtered/gatekeeped in a way: I read based on recommendations from people I trust and I see what the author has had to say about the editing process. If they confuse editing with proofreading, or -- my favorite comment to date -- say "I'd never make back the cost of paying an editor," nope. And I will gladly bet you $2 that I don't jump on the "the publishers and libraries keep me down despite the fact I'm an awesome writer, only call me indie not self pub, 'k?" bandwagon.

Where we can agree is that I think ebooks and ereaders is a game changer, in ways that cannot be totally predicted. The best example, perhaps, is how film changed plays to become both movies and TV, while plays themselves remained.

So, some things I think ebooks/ereaders will change: a creation of a new type of book that takes full advantage of the fact that it is electronic, not print (I'm keeping an eye on the transmedia and gaming companies, who have more experience w/ this nonlinear storytelling); as well as changes in to how books are published. Example on the second: part of what fed the Hocking millions book sold (as well as other self pub success stories) was that she pubbed mutliple books in a year, including full series. Right now, publishers do not do that; Hocking met the need of "I want the full story now, damnit, not a new book every 3 years." So, will we start seeing traditional pubs want not just the complete series, but be willing to release them in several months?

Anonymous said...

(singing) LaChoy makes Chinese food - swing American!

In one of the Betsy-Tacy books, Betsy reads an article in the Ladies' Home Journal titled "100 Christmas Cookies From One Dough" and Anna comments that they will all taste the same. And indeed, that article appeared in the real LHJ from the year Betsy/Maud attributed it to.

BTW, has anyone else noticed the Domino sugar ad in the magazines concerning the "Domino Sugar 1001 Cookie Starter?" Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!

Wendy said...

"Hazel" is just a pretty common name for little girls these days--not something particular to books. There are two Hazels in my three-year-old niece's swimming class. My niece's name is Helen. She has friends named Izzy and Merle (boys). I asked whether Hazel, Helen, Izzy and Merle have a good time playing pinochle together. (Luckily, my brother laughed.)

A couple of comments on the collectible books issue: one, Betsy-Tacy is hardly the 1940s' equivalent of Diary of a Wimpy Kid! The books survive because of good writing, not nostalgia. Two, it's funny what you say about people feeling like they're part of a special club for reading/collecting such books. Before the advent of the internet, most of us felt like we were the only people in the world who knew about Betsy-Tacy. (When I say "us", I mean "my special club", of course.)

I think I've told you before about my most treasured Christmas read: Christmas All Year 'Round (1952), edited by Marjorie Vetter, which contains 25 Christmas stories from American Girl magazine--it used to be the official magazine of the Girl Scouts, but was similar to YM or Seventeen, and published excellent fiction. Most of the authors aren't anyone people have heard of anymore unless you're me; the most famous is probably Lenora Mattingly Weber, who wrote the cult-favorite Beany Malone books.

Linda said...

I usually don't have any time on Christmas Eve to read anything, but four books I must re-read before Christmas are THE TUCKERS: THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY, Kathryn Lasky's CHRISTMAS AFTER ALL, and Frances Frost's SLEIGH BELLS FOR WINDY FOOT, as well as A CHRISTMAS CAROL. If I can, I do like to read the last FEW chapters of Kate Seredy's THE OPEN GATE (starting with the Pearl Harbor chapter).

P. J. Grath said...

I'm happily all set with reading, as a friend has sent me two children's stories she's written. She's written others but is starting me with these two. What a gift! Now I feel like a kid with a big, mysterious, exciting wrapped box under the tree!

Jil Casey said...

I agree with you about the value of a book when it's been mass produced. It's unlikely to draw large sums in the future. But that doesn't mean that people won't look for it, especially if it has a sentimental value.

But will some people be disappointed to go back and find that the book wasn't very good? I'm not commenting on any book in particular, just thinking about what happens sometimes in the quantity over quality thing.

Anonymous said...

Hey Peter, I have Cookie Count by Sabuda right here at my desk and... no recipes. But now I want a cookie! Actually, I want the gingerbread house on the last spread to be real so I can just eat the whole thing. =)
-Sam Bloom

Brer said...

Thank you for pointing out "Nathaniel's Witch;" I will have to keep my eyes open for a copy.

My reading is largely Fantasy oriented. Around Christmas, I like to read "A Christmas Carol" of course, but also "The Box of Delights" by John Masefield, "The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper, "Hogfather" by Terry Pratchett, and "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" by C. S. Lewis.

Anonymous said...

I found my all time favorite Christmas read on a sale table in the front entry way at Schulers bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan years ago. The "Four Midwestern Sisters Christmas Book" is a treat to read especially for those of us who were born in the 50's. It is a wonderful collection of recipes, holiday craft projects, stories, and traditions.

Rebecca said...

Just a thought on your comment about future collectibility of Goosebumps, Babysitter's Club, etc. I'm from the demographic that read all these series in the early nineties, and I'm also a book collector fueled by nostalgia. I've picked up copies of many books I loved from the library as a child--but none from these series, or others like Animorphs, Sweet Valley, or Saddle Club. To me the problem is not that individual books were mass-produced, but that the ghost writers were so prolific. There's a big difference between ten Betsy-Tacy books and over a hundred Babysitter's Club options, especially when individual volumes don't necessarily stand out.