Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Brunch for Mothers and Maurice

Welcome to Sunday Brunch where, among other topics, we're celebrating Mother's Day and the legacy of Maurice Sendak.


The children's book world is still reeling from the death of Maurice Sendak earlier this week. There have been some wonderful tributes online, such as these illustrations from noted artists in today's New York Times. Author Amy Goldman Koss shares her thoughts in an LA Times opinion piece. And my co-authors Julie Walker Danielson and Elizabeth Bird offered typically thoughtful remarks.

Since the focus of this blog is book collecting, I guess I should add some remarks about the availability and cost of books written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

The "bible" for Sendak collectors is known in the book trade as "Hanrahan." The actual title is WORKS OF MAURICE SENDAK, 1947-1994 : A COLLECTION WITH COMMENTS by Jean Y. Hanrahan. This bibliography gives very specific information on how to identify first editions of each Sendak book, along with price ranges. Needless to say, most of the prices mentioned in the book are now extremely dated. That most sought-after Sendak picture book, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, is listed at $350-$500. Today the price has skyrocketed to as much as $10,000 to $20,000!

Much of Sendak's work was issued by Harper, a publisher notorious for making their edition statements very unclear. The only way to identify copies of his second most-requested work, IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN, is check prices, numbers, and blurbs on the dustjacket; the edition of the BOOK ITSELF cannot be identified. Hanrahan lists this one from $100-$225, but today it's worth well over $1000.

Because Maurice Sendak's picure books are so expensive, I would advise beginning collectors to seek out books by other authors that Sendak illustrated early in his career.

The first children's novel he illustrated was THE WONDERFUL FARM by Marcel Ayme. Because it's Sendak's first children's book of any type, it too can ber fairly expensive, $500-$1000.

However, it's probably also easier to find a cheap copy of this book at your local used bookstore or charity sale. If a Sendak picture book arrives at one of these venues, someone is going to stop, look at it, and investigate its value. If a book by Marcel Ayme (WHO?) arrives, no one may notice Sendak's involvement and the book may end up on the shelf for a couple bucks. So keep your eyes open!

Although some of the novels Sendak illustrated are still very collectable, such as MRS. PIGGLE'S FARM by Betty MacDonald:

or much beloved, like the many works he illustrated for Meindert DeJong, such as SHADRACH and THE WHEEL ON THE SCHOOL:

there are also a number of titles that few people remember these days. For example, have you ever heard of this 1955 book that features Sendak illustrations?

I don't know it at all!


When Joyce Hanrahan was researching her bibliography, she checked some of the Sendak books that were held by the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress copy of WHERE THE WILD THING ARE was cataloged and stamped November 22, 1963....


Happy Mother's Day to everyone, whether you are a mother or have one!

Last year I wrote a blog entry on the large number of Newbery winning books in which moms (and dads) are almost completely absent. And it does seem that mothers don't play roles in most of our classic children's books. The Darling Children and Alice go off on adventures without their parents. As do Claudia and Jamie Kincaid. Fern's mother is around, but what function does she serve after her daughter asks her, "Where's Papa going with that ax?"

This got me wondering about the memorable mothers in children's books. Who are the best? Who are the worst?

My candidates for the best would include "Marmee" from LITTLE WOMEN; I'm not sure I ever finished this book, but I know enough to think of Marmee as the quintessential children's book mother.

Who else?

Well, the Runaway Bunny's mother must be one of the best, considering the lengths she promises to go in order to be near her child:

Bessie Setzer from E.L. Konigsburg's ABOUT THE B'NAI BAGELS also seems to qualify. Yes, she's something of a stereotype, but she was one of the first comic Jewish mothers to appear in children's fiction -- both an expert cook ("Raisins are raisins and cabbage is cabbage, and in my pot they won't meet") and a baseball coach! PLUS she wields a mean slotted spoon.

In the category of bad mothers, we have to start with Mayzie from Dr. Seuss's HORTON HATCHES THE EGG. When Mayzie takes a break from nesting, she toddles of to Palm Beach!

Liza Tillerman from Cynthia Voigt's HOMECOMING and DICEY'S SONG doesn't get any medals for good parenting. Granted, she's got mental problems, but abandoning four kids in a parking lot doesn't make her a good maternal figure.

Who are your most memorable mothers in children's books?

Which belong in the Motherhood Hall of Fame and which ones belong in the Motherhood Hall of Shame?


It's always interesting to see the dustjackets that publishers choose for their books.

Does the cover illustration reflect the content of the story inside?

Does it follow a contemporary trend in cover art (headless kids; legless feet; the use of stock photographs rather than original art)?

I just recently came across a new "drug" novel for teens called LUCY IN THE SKY, written by (who else?) "Anonymous."

Do the cover (and the author's name) remind you of anything?

It reminded me of the paperback cover of that perennnial teenage read, GO ASK ALICE

In the book we just wrote, Betsy Bird, Jules Danielson, and I discuss the murky origins of this dopey (pun intended) YA favorite, but praise the publisher for choosing a cover image that has literally lasted for generations. It's almost impossible to think of any other YA novel that has used the same cover photograph for nearly four decades. We can only assume that LUCY IN THE SKY (which references the title GO ASK ALICE on its cover) is paying an homage with its similar design.

Incidentally, few people know that, before it was a paperback, GO ASK ALICE was a hardcover book. And even fewer have seen the original dustjacket, so we present it here for your edification:

I may be one of the few people who remember this original dj illustration. Months before the paperback appeared, I happened to run across the hardcover in the adult section of my public library. I checked it out and brought it to junior high with me. Soon everyone in my class wanted to borrow it from me -- especially the "cool" kids who had never acknowledged me before. I lent it to several of them (I was a book "pusher" -- a book "dealer"!) but my popularity was shortlived. As soon as the book had to be returned to the library, those kids forgot I existed.

I am also intrigued by a new young adult novel by Nina LaCour. The story is narrated by a BOY named COLBY, who plans to spend the year after high school traveling through Europe with HIS best friend Bev. But first they take a road trip with Bev's rock band, during which Bev informs COLBY that she no longer intends to go to Europe. HE is devastated. The book has received several starred reviews and, although I've only read half the novel so far, I think I can say with assurance that this is a strong book and that young MALE readers will relate to COLBY's issues and would enjoy picking up this book.

If it weren't for the chicklit cover.

What were the publishers thinking?


Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature is an important blog that "provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society." Do I always agree with Debbie? No, but I definitely respect her thought-provoking opinions. I've learned a lot from her blog and am pleased we are friends on Facebook. (And if anyone reading this wants to keep in touch with me on Facebook, feel free to "friend" me.)

This week Debbie posted the following paper doll figures on Facebook, with the message: "These two paper dolls are excellent! Please SHARE with students in Education or Library School."

I love them too and want to share them here:

They are the work of Steven Paul Judd, who says he was inspired by paper dolls of the fifties and sixties. Steven says, "I'm not a psychologist so I can't tell you the effects of seeing your people only portrayed in a certain way. I can only speak on my own experience of being a little kid and looking for others on t.v. that I could identify with. Only person I could find was Erik "Ponch" Estrada from "CHiPs". So as a youn'un I pretended to be a motorcycle cop. So my thought is, what if our youth could see there selves not in just a historical context, but as doctors, lawyers, astronauts. So that's when I decided to make these drawings."

Pretty neat, huh?

Although, as Wikipedia says, "Paper dolls have been around as long as there has been paper," in the twentieth century they were manufacured by both game/toy companies and book publishers, such as Whitman and Saalfield.

This got me wondering how many children's books characters have been made into paper dolls.

A quick trip around the internet turned up Curious George:


The Little House girls:

Ramona, Beezus, and Henry:

Ivy and Bean:

and Fancy Nancy:

However, all of these paper dolls -- even those based on classic works -- were produced in recent years.

Although vintage peper dolls were created in the likeness of every movie star you can imagine, including some that rather arcane (Barbara Brittain?) and/or unlikely (Anthony Perkins?) names, I can't find any vintage dolls representing older children's books. No Moffats, no Melendys, no Harriet the Spy with removable hoodie. No Margaret from ARE YOU THERE GOD..? (Can you imagine that doll's accessories?)

Have you seen any vintage paper dollars based on children's books?

Also, this thread makes me wonder if any well-known children's book illustrators from the forties, fifties, or sixties, got their start designing or drawing paper dolls?

That alone might make certain dolls collectable.


Fans of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's 1966 novel, BLACK AND BLUE MAGIC, will be glad to hear that it's being made into a movie for the Hallmark Network.

Watch your TV listings later this year or early next year.

I'm always glad when a favorite from my own childhood becomes rediscovered by a new generation due to a movie or TV adadptation.


I was happy to see this poster, designed by Mike Anderick and distributed by the nonprofit group, Burning Through Books, go viral last week.

I think it speaks to (and for) any kids who has ever lost himself or herself in a book.


Okay, it doesn't have the same prestige of a Newbery or National Book Award sticker, but I can't imagine anyone not smiling at this new sticker that mocks the design of the Caldecott Award and announces that the book it's attached to is "Caldecott Eligible."

Well, of course it is. Nearly every book is Caldecott ELIGIBLE...but many are called...and few are chosen.

That sticker can be found on the cover of Stephen Colbert's new children's book I AM A POLE (AND SO CAN YOU.)

This is the book that Colbert pitched to Maurice Sendak during his recent televised interview.

And Maurice Sendak even includes a smiling, shrugging cover blurb: "The sad thing is, I like it!"

And with that, today's Sunday Brunch both begins and ends with Maurice Sendak.

Thanks for visiting. Please come back soon!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

Sailing home.

His supper will still be waiting for him.

And it will still be hot.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak : How It All Began

In honor of Maurice Sendak, here is a repost of a blog from three years ago, telling about the first book he ever illustrated:

Most old science textbooks are virtually worthless, yet 1947's ATOMICS FOR THE MILLIONS is highly valued by children's book collectors. A true first edition (identified by its herringbone-patterned endpapers, price of $3.50 on both front and back flaps of the dustjacket, and notice on the copyright page stating “The quality of the materials used in the manufacture of this book is governed by continued postwar shortages") of ATOMICS FOR THE MILLIONS can be sold FOR THE THOUSANDS. I've seen copies priced as high as $1500.

What makes this book so valuable? Is it because the lead author, Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidenoff, was part of the Atomic Bomb Project at Columbia University and the University of Chicago?

No, it has more to do with the fact that its co-author, Hyman Ruchlis, was a science teacher at Brooklyn’s Lafayette High School.

While working on the book, Mr. Ruchlis asked one of his students at Lafayette High, a gifted young artist, if he would provide the illustrations for the volume. The student agreed to do the artwork in exchange for $100 and -- now here’s a kid after my own heart -- a passing grade in class.

This kid also got his name on the title page:

ATOMICS FOR THE MILLIONS was the first-ever book illustrated by Maurice Sendak. He was only nineteen when it was published and it would be another four years before he illustrated his first children's book, THE WONDERFUL FARM by Marcel Aymé. Since that time, of course, Maurice Sendak (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE; IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN) has become one of the premiere children's book creators of our time.

Is it any wonder that so many book collectors want a copy of Mr. Sendak's very first published work...even though it is a science textbook? Here is his debut illustration from Chapter One of ATOMICS -- and chapter one of his career:

Reportedly, Mr. Sendak wasn't happy with his illustrations for this volume (he later inscribed one copy of the book with the phrase, "My first + worst") and it clearly is the work of a young artist -- a little primitive, a little messy and unpolished, but also bursting with enthusiasm, talent, and unfettered creativity.

It's fascinating to look at the wide array of illustration styles Maurice Sendak employed in these pages. In fact, it's easy to imagine the young artist going off in any number of career directions after finishing this book.

He could have specialized in portraiture or caricature:

He could have illustrated nonfiction and historical novels:

(Incidentally, you can click on any of these pictures to supersize them.)

He could have gotten into advertising illustration:

(And what a far cry those bunnies are from the rabbit he later drew for Meindert DeJong's SHADRACH!)

He could have illustrated funny middle-grade fiction:

Or worked in comic books:

This one looks like a panel from a newspaper comic strip:

And of course he could have continued illustrating science and technical books:

Or branched out into animation:

...But do you think that anyone looking at this illustration:

would have predicted a career as a picture book illustrator? I'm not sure I would have.

You'll recall that ATOMICS FOR THE MILLIONS started with a picture of a road. It ends with one as well. And, of the dozens and dozens of varied illustrations Sendak contributed to the book, I think that last picture is my favorite:

Reminiscent of an editorial cartoon, the illustration depicts mankind at the crossroads after dropping the atomic bomb. But I read other significance into this picture as well. To me it symbolizes the young Maurice Sendak who has just spent the past two hundred and fify pages showing us the breadth and depth of his talent. Now he's at the crossroads, ready to start his career. Which direction will he go?

Science books? Advertising? Comic strips? Editorial cartoons?

He had a world of possibilities to choose from.

How lucky we were that he ended up following the road that led to children's books.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 29 Sunday Brunch

Information and opinions on children's books old and new, delivered Sunday Brunch style.


A few years ago, soon after the publication of Gary Schmidt's THE WEDNESDAY WARS (his second Newbery Honor, after LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY) the Michigan-based author had a speaking engagement/booksigning at a local library. As I've frequently mentioned on this blog, I am in awe of all my favorite writers -- and very much starstruck. Couple this with my natural shyness and you are not going to see me asking questions from the audience or making smalltalk with an author while my books are being signed. I can't do those things! However, when I attended that event (which was wonderful) I had a question I was just dying to ask Gary Schmidt. So I did what any other shy person would do in that situation: I begged my friend to ask the question for me!

Here was the question my friend asked: "Mickey Mantle appears in your novel but comes across as an awful person. Was the scene based on something that happened in real life? If not, weren't you concerned about depicting a real person so negatively in your novel?"

Gary Schmidt said that the scene in the book was completely fictional, but since stories of Mantle's cruel streak were legendary, he had no qualms about depicting the famous Yankee player in such a bad light. Later, someone who worked on the book sent Mr. Schmidt a note saying that scene rang true because they had once witnessed Mickey Mantle's bad behavior in person.

In the years since THE WEDNESDAY WARS, Gary D. Schmidt has continued publishing outstanding novels such as TROUBLE and last year's OKAY FOR NOW, which was nominated for the National Book Award and recently won School Library Journal's Battle of the Books.

This past week, Gary Schmidt was in town again for a presentation/signing. Because this event was sponsored by a school system and a big turnout was expected, I did not attend. (Plus, if I had gone, I would have had to leave work early. Besides, I was even more in awe of his talent since reading OKAY FOR NOW and probably would have made a fool of myself if I were there.) Fortunately, my bookseller buddy was providing books for the event and kindly offered to get my copies of OKAY FOR NOW signed for me.

This past Friday I picked up the books and was thrilled to see the inscriptions.

My first copy is very rare -- a large bound manuscript that was released even before the ARC (advance reading copy):

Here is how he signed it:

You are probably wondering how I've cost Mr. Schmidt a "boatload" of money. Apparently he sometimes reads my blog (pausing here to do a little happy dance) and has gotten tips on older books he wants to add to his collection. The interesting thing is that Mr. Schmidt has cost me some money too. If you look in the upper right hand corner, you will see that that bound manuscript cost me $12. ...But as he said, "It's all worth it." I treasure this unusual copy of his book.

Next is the ARC of OKAY FOR NOW:

and this great inscription:

Again, who knew he read this blog? I was both thrilled and nervous. Thrilled because I'm one of HIS faithful readers. And nervous because, well, he's a college professor who probably cringes at all my grammatical and punctuation errors.

Finally, he signed my hardcover copy of OKAY FOR NOW:

with this nice inscription:

Just when you thought I was about to add these volumes to the shelf with my other Gary Schmidt books and move on to the next blog entry....

...I'll adopt the voice of a TV infomerical pitch man and say, "But wait! There's more!"

A day or two before the signing, my bookstore buddy received this ARC in the mail:

She said that even Mr. Schmidt was surprised to see she had it, since the book won't be published till September. My friend had just started reading it that day, but asked him if he'd sign it to me. Here's the one-in-a-million inscription he wrote inside:

How cool is that? Even if this book goes on to sell a million copies, I've got the very first copy the author ever signed!

I am not, however, the first person to ever read this copy.

My bookstore friend spent the last couple days reading the novel before telling me to drop by the bookstore this morning and pick it up. I asked what she thought of the book, but she did not want to influence my opinion. So she simply said, "You'll have to read it yourself."

And now I can!


Just bought a copy of Walter Dean Myers' latest novel, ALL THE RIGHT STUFF, and noticed a silver sticker on the cover:

Here's a closer look:

This is the first time I've seen this sticker on a book. Was the same seal used on books by former Ambassadors Jon Scieszka and Katherine Paterson?

Is the sticker used only on books published during the author's tenure as Ambassador, or does it go on all of his previous books? It's great to see this honored acknowledged, but do you think this sticker will draw readers to the book? Or, more specifically, draw young readers?


In the history of young adult fiction, can you remember a narrator ever complaining about his prostate problems? I can't. But then most YA protagonists are somewhere between the ages of thirteen and eighteen...not sixtysomething widowers like the unnamed narrator of Aidan Chambers' new novel, DYING TO KNOW YOU.
Chambers is known for writing lengthy, complex books about big themes: identity, sexuality, death, religion. Though his latest has a less intricate plot than the Printz-winning POSTCARDS FROM NO MAN'S LAND and tighter prose than the doorstop-sized THIS IS ALL, the novel still touches on many of Chambers' familiar themes and offers thought-provoking insights into human behavior, communication, and the artistic impulse. Eighteen-year-old Karl Williamson first approaches the narrator, an elderly author, for help in writing a letter to his literary-minded girlfriend. As usual with Aidan Chambers, style is important as content, with the author employing pages of ping-pong-like dialogue, letters, instant messages, a random footnote, and traditional narrative techniques to show the slowly developing relationship between the younger and older man -- in many ways, two versions of the same self, and both carrying secrets. Smart, mature, and sometimes funny, DYING TO KNOW YOU presents a fascinating portrait of a teenage romance observed through the eyes of an old man while simultaneously exporing a uniquely-memorable intergenerational friendship.


Aidan Chambers is known for breaking with convention in his books for young people. His use of an adult narrator in DYING TO KNOW YOU got me wondering if there are many other books for children and teenagers that employ older narrators. Of course there are many cases where the protagonist is a grown-up looking back on experiences from his or her youth. But I'm thinking of something a little different here. I'm thinking of books FOR and ABOUT young people that are related by an adult who also appears in the story. The only ones that come to mind for me at the moment are two novels by Scott O'Dell. In KATHLEEN, PLEASE COME HOME, at least part of the book is narrated by the mother of a teenage runaway, while CHILD OF FIRE is told by the parole officer working with the book's teenage protagonist. Perhaps FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER would also qualify as a book with an adult narrator, although she only speaks in the first person during the framing device at the beginning and end of the novel. Can you think of any other books for kids with adult narrators?


Many years ago I happened upon this paperback copy of Helene Hanff's 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD at a local bookstore:

Late that night I picked up the book, planning to read a few pages before bed. Instead I read the entire (short) volume in one fell swoop. The next morning, before even getting out of bed to brush my teeth, I read the entire book again!

THAT's how crazy I am about this epistolary "love story" between a New York writer and a London bookseller. Since then I've read the book dozens of times, won a first edition for $25 at a library auction, went to see the stage production during a blizzard, and have seen the Anne Bancroft/Anthony Hopkins movie both in an empty theatre and at home on video. Throughout those years I have shared the book with many special friends.

I think anybody who loves books would love 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD.

Author Helene Hanff wrote several other books including UNDERFOOT IN SHOW BUSINESS, THE DUCHESS OF BLOOMSBURY STREET, and -- a real favorite -- LETTERS FROM NEW YORK.

In all these books, Helene herself pops off the page: larger-than-life, warm-hearted, gregarious -- the kind of person you would want as a friend. (Indeed, many readers felt so attached to her that they'd visit her in New York and even call her up on the phone.) Despite having such a "presence" on the page, Ms. Hanff was rather mysterious and private and no one seems to know much about her personal life. That's why I was thrilled when I recently came across this "biography" of the author:

I just finished reading it and almost speechless.

HELENE HANFF : A LIFE could well be one of the worst books I've ever read!

I'm assuming this book was self-published -- and points out the importance of those often unsung heroes and heroines of publishing: editors. You don't realize how important they are until you read an unedited book like this one, filled with typographical errors and copy-editing mistakes. On one page Helene is described as attractive, on another she's homely. One minute she hates fiction, the next minute she loves novels. We're told that Helene doesn't drive and then, a little later, she hops into "her small red sedan" to visit someone. An relative listed as MIA in World War II is referred to as both her second cousin and her brother.

But beyond that, the book is poorly-written on every level. The chronology is off. Huge events, such as Helene's romance and engagement are described and then dropped (we see her trying on her wedding gown and packing her bags, then her fiance leaves town on a short trip and -- this romance -- is -- never -- mentioned -- again!) Other scenes -- complete with much dialogue, inner thoughts, and plodding descriptions ("Once in her apartment Helene took a long shower and feeling hungry decided to eat a big piece of pumpkin pie and to drink a glass of milk. She started reading some notes on education while she ate but was soon very sleepy so she went to bed for a short nap") -- are so odd that they feel completely fabricated. For example, I have always understood that, as depicted in 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD, Helene Hanff moved to a new apartment on E. 72nd Street in 1956 and remained there the rest of her life. What to make of this biography's description of a homeless Helene living pretty much as a bag lady until a connected friend gets her a job outside New York City as a postmistress and librarian? I didn't believe much of this book. However, if you are a fan of the author -- hungry for more info on her life -- you'll still be interested in this awful volume for the little glints and glimmers of the author's life that might be true.

And I do admit I liked the appended bibliography that lists all the books in Hanff's famous home library. She even owned a few children's books -- classics by Carroll and Milne, as well as, most intriguingly, a copy of THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. That last one really surprised me, as Hanff was known for her strong dislike of Tolkien.

In 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD, Ms. Hanff makes reference to writing several children's history books during the 1960s. I've seen a few of them and they are typical of the dreary informational "book report" volumes you frequently saw in libraries back in that era.

This new biography also tells about a young-adult book she was commissioned to write in the 1960s, about the political radicals of the time:

I knew about that one, but must admit I did not know that she also wrote two picture books in the 1960s.

Published by Harper in 1964, TERRIBLE THOMAS is the story of a kid running rampant in a NYC apartment. Shades of Eloise. Kirus Reviews described it as a "tedious tomfoolery."

Then in 1969, Parents Magazine Press released BUTCH ELECTS A MAYOR, which Kirkus called "pretty feeble."

Anyone know it? Many Parents Magazine Books were released through their book club and are remembered very fondly today. Is this book remembered as fondly as other book club titles such as MISS SUZY, JELLYBEANS FOR BREAKFAST, and OLD BLACK WITCH?


While Helene Hanff's children's books may be long-forgotten, her best-known work, 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD is so beloved that a commemorative plaque has been placed at the former location of Marks & Co., the bookshop that inspired her memoir.

Perhaps even more unusually, Ms. Hanff's former NYC apartment has been renamed "Charing Cross House," with a plaque outside containing a quote from the book.

This got me wondering if there are any building plaques that honor children's books and authors.

I did a quick internet search and found several in Europe. Here's one honoring Erich Kastner, author of EMIL AND THE DETECTIVES, in Germany:

The location of the sweetshop recalled in Roald Dahl's BOY also merited a plaque:

as did a former home of Kate Greenaway:

and this one marks where J.K. Rowling wrote the early part of Harry Potter:

Can you think of any comparable sites here in the United States? Leonard Marcus wrote a book called STORIED CITY, which contains working tours of famous children's book sites in the Big Apple:

Maybe someday we should all take this tour and stop to put up plaques (or at least post-it notes!) at each location.


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