One of the best things about working at an academic research library with a children's collection is the lil' gems you find in the stacks. They can't throw anything away lest someone may write a thesis on it someday! I often go hungry during my shifts because I spend my whole break perusing the PZ 7s and PZ 4.9s. I recently stumbled upon Dorothy Clewes' Library Lady whilst I should have been eating my lunch.
First things first. How fabulous is little Virginia May's outfit? This is what I strive to look like on a daily basis, right down to the opaque tights and sideswept bangs.
This was published in 1970, but it reeks of 1951 (reeks in a good way, that is). Seven-year-old Virginia May only owns one book to her name until a library opens down the street. She is welcomed by the "library lady" (who is, hilariously, never referred to as a librarian), becomes a member of the library, and is soon on her way to borrowing the maximum two books at a time.
Ginny's parents are amped that she is using the library, especially since their two teenaged sons, Charlie and Dudley, are more concerned with loafing about with a troublesome "gang." Charlie and Dudley scoff at Ginny's desire to be "educated," until they get the chance to - get this - make some fish out of construction paper for a library exhibition! After making some very convincing bream and carp (A "bream?" What's that? Who cares! It's charming and British!), Charlie and Dudley begin to feel that they could do more in life than being a "brickie" and an "errand boy."
'What about that then?' Ma said. She wa so pleased she looked ready to burst. It was the first time in a long while that she had felt really proud of her two boys.
'For heaven's sake - it's only a bit of coloured paper hanging in a kids' library,' Charlie said, but he couldn't help feeling set up at the unexpected praise and the idea of his cut-out floating from a ceiling for all to see.
But the craft-induced euphoria doesn't last long. While drinking at the pub with the "gang," Charlie and Dudley reveal that, in addition to their carp and bream mobile, the library fish exhibition contains some valuable old fishing poles (old fishing poles are valuable?). The "gang" then steals the fishing poles and put the blame on Charlie and Dudley! Luckily, Ginny and the library lady (and the science of fingerprinting) come to the rescue in a conclusion that contains the best colloquial uses of "loaf" and "bacon" in the history of literature:
'You used your loaf, that's what,' Charlie said. 'You remembered what time it was. I never would have noticed that in a thousand years.'
'And that library lady of yours, polishing away our finger-marks from the fishing-rods because she wanted a smart turn-out. I never would have bothered to do that: but it saved our bacon.'
Dorothy Clewes was very prolific, and I think she's best known for her picturebooks with Edward Ardizzone. But I don't think it really gets any better than Library Lady. It's so charmingly vintage and English and has such a dear, schticky appeal for any librarian.
I just returned from spending seven lazy days at my family's cabin in Saskatchewan. The highlights of this trip included a whole buncha reading, eating an entire jar of Nutella, and continuously being amazed at the sheer number of gophers that inhabit my home province.
The low point of this prairie vacay entailed losing sleep over the memory a book cover I first saw 16 years ago.
As a chidler, I spent a good portion of my summers with some cousins at Loon Lake in Saskatchewan. When I was nine or ten, my Aunt was in loco parentis for a bunch of us as all the other adults were off doing who-knows-what. This Aunt was the model reader. She always had a book in hand (usually impressively thick) and I longed for the time I would be able to tackle tomes of that girth. But one day, I glanced over and saw that she was reading this:
Holy Mother of Pearl. That was one scary sack of potatoes for me circa 1993.
I saw the word "Headhunter" and it dawned on me, for the very first time in my life, that there could actually be people in the world, perhaps at our very lake, who hunted human heads. And these individuals were bald and had highly expressive eyebrows.
Us cousins often slept up in the deluxe treehouse my Uncle had built and that evening, after our nightly routine of everyone making fun of the amount of allergy and asthma medications I had to take before bed, I laid awake in terror thinking about the "Headhunter." I made up a simple yet detailed narrative about how he would break into the treehouse at night and, after much snarling, glaring, and general intimidation, rid us of our young heads.
This was my standard scared-of-the-dark scenario at the lake, but after my Uncle sold the cabin a few years later, I didn't give the Double H much thought. But last week, when a reasonably assertive Saskatchewan thunderstorm started brewing around the new cabin, something went off in my brain and I remembered that book cover. I tried to shake it off but I eventually had to jump out of bed, turn all the lights on, and pace about while the cat looked at me with a mix of empathy and disgust.
And then I got to thinking about book covers. Children's lit types (and all lit types, in fact) have been speculating about the elusive book cover since the dawn of the codex. It's fascinating stuff. What will lure kids into opening a book? What will turn kids off? Is there some kind of magic formula that will appeal to both the child reader and the librarian, educator, or parent who handles the cash? There is even talk of judging a book by its spine which is equally as fascinating.
But, has anyone ever wondered how young people judge covers of adult books? Probably not, because it doesn't really matter. After all, most children under ten don't have much money, and if they did, the last thing they would be doing is hitting up Amazon for the new Yann Martel for pops.
So, while I don't think my Findley-induced phobia suggests that adult covers should be designed with children in mind, I think it does serve as tangible evidence of the power that books, and their covers, have on young people far before they may be ready to crack the spine.
In the final term of my MLIS degree, I wrote a paper on Lauren Conrad for a New Media for Children and Young Adults course. I spent 5800 words exploring how Lauren Conrad embodies several conflicting versions of herself over various media. It almost killed me. It wasn't the actual writing or the theory - it was the hours I spent with Lauren watching and reading interviews, pausing and rewinding episodes of The Hills and, perhaps most painfully, reading both L.A. Candy and Sweet Little Lies. In the midst of my LC binge, I tweeted:
Well, people, the time has come.
Whilst promoting her books, Lauren talked about the writing process: her inspiration, balancing fiction and reality, and her passion for writing. Katherine Paterson does this too (note that I had the decency and respect not to put those two in the same sentence). The thing is, when Katherine Paterson speaks or writes about creating fiction for young people, it is like a lobster feast. When Lauren speaks about creating fiction, it is like the final bite of a filet-o-fish sandwich that has been left out in the sun too long. But I'll leave you to judge things for yourself.
Now, I know that there is nothing really fruitful that can come out of this comparison and that it is really just unfair. After all, is anyone really as articulate, eloquent and insightful as Katherine Paterson? No. Not really. She sets a bar that is higher than Mount Everest, K2, the Empire State Building, and Vancouver's new behemouth Shangri-La if they were stacked vertically on top of eachother. And Lauren Conrad certainly isn't suffering as both L.A. Candy and Sweet Little Lies were NYT best-sellers.
But dang it, it's fun to ridicule celebrities, especially when they enter the sacred world of writing for young people. So here we go. Note that I have culled the Paterson quotes from The Gates of Excellence and The Spying Heart which I'll abbreviate as GE and SH respectively. Lauren's quotes have been mostly transcribed from interviews and I've provided links.
On truth creeping into their fiction
|One of the main questions I get asked is how close these books will be to my life. Um, I think that it's best to write what you know. There's gonna be a lot of things in the books that people who, if they've at all, you know, followed our story will be like 'Oh, I know exactly what they're talking about.'||Perhaps the more orthodox among us would hesitate to say that it was the story that shaped the truth, but surely it has been the vehicle for the truth as long as the human race can remember.
GE, p. 57
On writing a character that resembles herself
|I kind of took a girl and put her in similiar situations and kind of told my side of the story, you know, from someone like me but didn't do, any of, you know, any of the same situations I had been in.||I know that the only raw material I have for the stories I tell lies deep within myself, and somehow when I go inside I find there a troubled child reaching up for comfort and understanding.
SH, p. 137
On discussing one’s own book
|I just finished writing it and it is really good. I learned so much from writing book one so I think it shows in book two.||There are real problems when a writer talks about her own books. You can't talk about them while you're writing them, at least I can't. They're too fragile and would collapse under the weight of your verbiage. Once they're safely written, but not yet published might be a good time, but you may be the only person interested in the book at that point. And even if you aren't, it would be grossly unfair, because no one else would be in a position to talk back.
GE, p. 123
On tackling tough subjects
|I tried to tone down the truth a bit because I was keeping the demographic in mind.||There are adults who would rather teenagers not come face to face with such agonizing home truths. But I have never been sorry that I met my shadow when I was sixteen.
SH, p. 111
And, finally, a quote from Lauren that is so nonsensical and enigmatic that there was no Paterson comparison:
That’s one of the great things about writing is that you get to be in someone’s head, so I think there’s a lot of situations where you know, you’re going through things and it can be, you know, a little overwhelming and it’s all very new. So I think that’s more where I drew from.
I recently undertook my very first quest to Portland's Powell's Books. As many of you probably already know, it deserves a massive Zoo-Wee Mama! for being so big and so awesome.
So, in the spirit of narcissism, capitalism, and juicystar07, I present to you my Powell's purchases.
First, for only $3.00, a pristine copy of some paper dolls donning 1950s fashions. This is still in print, thank heavens.
Next, Arnold Lobel's Martha the Movie Mouse. The fact that this is out of print proves that there is much evil in this world. For $2.95, it cost less than an Us Weekly, and there is no trace of Heidi Montag's giant melons anywhere on this baby.
I think that James Marshall's easy readers put Seuss to shame and thankfully these are still in print. But for $1.50 and $2.50, I couldn't resist! Multiple copies of the same book may constitute hoarding, but I like to think of it as adding to my Marshall collection.
Okay, so I now have multiple copies of this too, but what a spiffy hardcover version this was - and for $2.95!
I am now starting to realize I have a bit of a problem collecting different versions of my favourites, but how could one resist this itsy bitsy, hair-covered Little Fur Family!? Someone with no soul, that's who. And my soul is big, fat and fur-covered. Now I just need to get me one of the original editions made with real rabbit fur. Sorry, PETA.
And, now, the grand finale. You saw Little Bear in my first post, but you didn't see the absolutely darling Jenny's Moonlight Adventure, didja?
New York Review Books has re-printed all of Esther Averill's Jenny Linsky stories, but nothing beats the original. So, so, so beautiful. Little known fact: if I got a tattoo, it would be of Jenny Linsky. Little Bear set me back $45.00 and Jenny set me back $28.00, but I am confident that my great grand-children may make a few dollars if they choose to re-sell these books (note: must make clause in will to be buried with these to prevent such a travesty).
So, there you have it. My children's book haul.
(For those of you interested in a more traditional haul report, I also got a lovely Free People jacket for 60% off and a darling Michael Kors cardigan for 70% off at Nordstrom Rack)
Scholastic's Dear Canada books are the ultimate reference desk crossover books. I've recommended them on the job both at the public library (for chidlers wanting some good historical fiction) and the academic library (for teachers looking for books to integrate into the curriculum). They're well-written, have teacher resources, and are very, very purdy. What's more, they have often been my "I'm stressed out and need something I know will be good to read in the bathtub" book of choice. My favourite one is A Prairie as Wide as The Sea: The Immigrant Diary of Ivy Weatherall by Sarah Ellis. I was born, had my awkward years, and did my undergraduate degree in Saskatchewan and worship at the alter of Sarah Ellis, so this isn't really a surprise.
The authoresses of the Dear Canada books are the best in the country, and I remember being tickled with glee when I heard a boy was being let into the all-girls club. Perry Nodelman joined the ladies in 2007 with Not a Nickel to Spare: The Great Depression Diary of Sally Cohen and the series chugged along being dependably awesome.
However, while Dear Canada works with both reference desks, it doesn't totally work with both genders as the main characters (not to mention all the authors except Nodelman) have been chicks. But the Canadian Children's Book Centre recently announced that there would be a new series, just for dudes called...drumroll...
I AM CANADA.
Okay. Here's what I think about that...
First: It really, really, really (really) sounds like a certain beer commercial. By "a certain beer commercial" I mean this beer commercial.
Second: Won't girls have the reaction of, "Hey, I'M Canada, too!" I kinda did. And I'm a girl.
Third: Why can't the new books with a boy focus just be incorporated under the already-existing Dear Canada series? Is there an assumption that boys might not be into the Dear Canada title because of its association with writing? I'm not saying that the association with writing will or won't turn boys off, but perhaps that was a consideration in deciding the name? Perhaps it was thought that the connotation had to be something more of "I am a man who stands on a mountain and wears beaver pelts!" as opposed to "I am a thoughtful, pensive citizen who favours written communication over killing a beaver with my bare hands?"
In any event, I can't wait to read them, see what they look like, and see how much boys love them. I'm super pumped to see John Wilson on the list of authors who will kick off the series. I met him during my time as Coordinator of the Canada Book Camp and he is a stand-up guy and a huge hit with the chidlers (especially when he busts out some WWII stories).
I thought my inaugural post should be something dear to my heart, and well, easy readers basically line my aorta. I wrote a really long paper on the birth of easy readers (i.e. - my MA thesis) because I love 'em, I think they need to get more cred, and they came about in the mid-1950s. The mid-1950s was the most swingin' time in American children's book publishing with the best gossip: powerful librarians talking to dolls, editor rivalries, unknown authors and illustrators getting to just flounce up to the editor's office. Amazing.
One of the most interesting little gems I have come across is this New Hampshire Public Radio interview with Else Holmelund Minarik. And Holy Mother of Pearl, there is one heck of an interesting tidbit in there.
At the 4:00 mark, Minarik said that she, GET THIS, took the Little Bear manuscript to Random House before she ever took it to HarperCollins (then Harper and Brothers)! And Random House passed, saying "If you can write about children, we'd be interested."
Now, why is this so interesting? Just imagine if Random House had accepted the Little Bear manuscript. That would have meant no Sendak-drawn Little Bear (he was Ursula Nordstrom's property and there's no way the Random House peeps would have sought him out). Can you imagine Little Bear without Sendak? Can you imagine Sendak's career without Little Bear? (I mean, he was already rockin' it with Ruth Krauss and others, but that lil' ursine munchkin is an important part of his almighty portfolio)
I truly believe that the whole easy reader genre could have gone down an entirely different path if it weren't for the Sendak/Minarik partnership. With no word list, and that dear, quaint, comfy Victorian-inspired art, Little Bear set the bar for both I Can Read and other publishers.
Any Grade 6 researcher could find the Minarik interview as it is linked to her Wikipedia page. But I've never seen it discussed anywhere, which is surprising, considering how different things could have been if Little Bear had been a Beginner Book. I mean, really.
Ah, 1950s children's publishing gossip. Is there anything better in the world? No.