Neato 1953 “Jack-in-the-Book” (and other pictorial news from my vacation)

Who knew that being in love with a Minnesotan would bring such children’s literature bounty!?

I spent last week in Minneapolis with Dan’s (or, in internet speak, @danhooker’s) family.  We spent most of the time in the house thanks to a horrifying case of food poisoning.  While couple’s food poisoning led to many prostrate hours watching Deadliest Catch on TiVo, it also allowed for much unexpected fun that is actually relevant to this blog.

First things first.  Dan’s ma and pa were kind enough to let me ship my eBay win to them to save on shipping.  Behold, my much-anticipated Sweet Valley High board game (from a pet-free, smoke-free home, natch):

The best $17.99 USD I've ever spent!

We put it into action the first night (pre-food poisoning).

Dan (as Jessica) won. Hussy.

I was over the moon when I realized that Dan looks exactly like Winston Egbert!

Dan’s dad always finds me awesome stuff at Half Price Books when we visit and this trip was no exception.  Look – a first edition Hoot!

Even cooler, check out this self-proclaimed “Jack-in-the-Book,” Betty Plays Lady (Samuel Lowe Company, 1953):

I love pop-up/pop-out/toy books though I don’t know much about them.  Betty is especially cool because it is a kind of paper doll, pop-out hybrid that allows you to change Betty’s outfit each time you turn the page.  As you see, Betty starts off kind of smushed:

But once you unfold her legs and head, she’s ready to play some serious lady:

This outfit is one that I would actually wear:

A nod to the Dutch:

Betty finds some kinda trampy clothes in Grandma’s attic:

The fashion fun continues on the back cover:

I just love this book and anticipate the day when I will have to keep it on a high shelf to keep my own little ones from dismembering Betty.

While waiting for the food bacteria to leave my body, I also stumbled across a German version of Winnie-the-Pooh on one of the family’s many bookshelves.  Dan’s family is not German, making this find all the more delightful and random. Note: if you are lucky enough to find someone in this life who has parents that own a German version of Pooh, don’t let him/her out of your sight.  Whatta find.

This may be the most violent novel to ever have a baby blue cover. Love it!

Oh yes, I also read Mockingjay. I don’t have anything particularly enlightening to say and I’m not going to be a spoilin’ Susie  (if you’re looking for some stimulating yet spoiler-y discussion, you’ll find it here).  I have to say that I was kind of bored for the first 250 pages, but the last 130 pages were freakin’ awesome.  I was also happy with the ending.  But, as with the other books, I wanted more kissin’ (although I know Collins isn’t really the kissin’ type and that there is not much time for kissin’ whilst fighting for one’s life).  Bottom line: I’m glad I hung on to my Chapters gift certificate for months and spent it on Katniss and the gang.

And, finally, although this is not related to children’s literature, I am happy to report that I got to meet one of my childhood idols, Smokey the Bear.  We dragged our sick selves to the Minnesota State Fair (and lasted about an hour) but it was worth it to see/meet Smokey.  He is a bear of few words (and no shirt).

Childhood dreams do come true.

The Unfinishables (or, book trauma)

“If I open you, I will finish you.”

This is the creed I stick to whilst reading.  I am incapable of not finishing a book.  I can take a book out of the library, mind you, and not read it, but once I start it, it’s on.

Holy Toledo – there were four commas in that 22 word sentence.  That’s way too many.  I’m just going to leave them there as a kind of cautionary comma tale.

I believe the worst experience was in Grade 11 when we were all forced to read Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O Mitchell.  The classroom jokes included calling the book Who Has Seen the Plot and “Woooaaaahhh, Mitchell – your book is bad.”  I think I was the only one who finished the cursed thing.  I realize that hating this books makes me a bad Canadian, and an even worse Saskatchewanian, but I FINISHED IT.

Thinking back, there are only four books I haven’t been able to finish.  I’ll start with the least traumatizing and work my way up.  Give the pictures a clickaroo for more info on the books (especially Abadzis’ awesome Laika “micro-site”).

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick.  Avon: 2009.

This books is full of plucky, spunky, funny, articulate essays on everything from Harriet the Spy to Forever (yes, Skurnick’s definition of teen is kinda liberal).  My plan was to read one of the essays each night before bed.  That meant I would take at least a couple of months to finish the book, but it would be a fun lil’ pre-sleep routine.  Well, not so much.  Why?  The dang thing was chalk-full of spoilers!  While I had read a good chunk of the titles featured in the book, there were many still in my “To Read” shelf on goodreads.  So, I had no choice.  I had to put it down a mere twenty-some pages in.  I know I just could have plowed through, as no plot synopsis or analysis is a substitute for the real thing, but I just couldn’t do it.  This is not to say that Shelf Discovery is a bad book.  Quite the opposite.  But I just couldn’t live with the spoilers.


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  HarperCollins: 2009.

There are two things in life that scare me: spiders and home invasion.  I have had an irrational fear of both since childhood.  This  means that I can’t handle Coraline or The Graveyard Book. I’ve never even attempted Coraline because so many people have warned me against it (my spider fear is intense, folks).  But I was determined to read The Graveyard Book because what kind of self-respecting youth librarian isn’t all over Gaiman?  Besides, everyone told me the scene at the beginning is quick, non-explicit, and that it can be easily digested by nine-year-olds.  I gave up by the second page, scared out of my bloomers.  I’ve tried several times, even skipping over the first few pages, but I just can’t hack it.  (Note: I also tried The Graveyard Book audiobook.  That didn’t work either.  Gaiman’s voice box clearly comes from the same factory as Boris Karloff’s.  Spooksville).

Before I Die by Jenny Downham.  David Fickling: 2007.

Man, I love well-written, angsty YA.  Gayle Forman, Jandy Nelson, Sara Zarr – I love it. I like some grit, some real trauma, some good ol’ fashioned naughty bits.  When I read the (mostly starred) reviews of Before I Die, I knew it was for me.

The premise is simple (teen girl has just months to live and wants to go off her chain before the end) but all the reviewers said the execution was brilliant, raw, and beyond expectation.  Since it’s in this blog post, you know I couldn’t get through it.  I gave up around page 30.  Maybe things turned around in the end (I don’t think they do), but I couldn’t get over the “die” part.  This was three years ago and lately I’ve been thinking of trying this one again.  But for the time being, it remains an Unfinishable.

Laika by Nick Abadzis.  First Second: 2007.

I tried to read this at the lake this summer.  ‘Tis not beach reading, y’all.  Laika was the first animal sent into space.  It didn’t go so well.

I was about 2/3 into this book before my other half had to come outside, extract my bawling self from a lawn chair, and say firmly “I don’t think you should read this anymore.”   He then had to hide it at the bottom of his suitcase and return it to the library for me because I couldn’t even look at it.  The only thing more upsetting for me than this book was when I thought the baby alien was going to die in District 9. Seriously.

Laika is terrifically well done, but I think that was the problem for me.  I still can’t shake it.  It’s like Old Yeller but in Russia/space.  That makes it about 40 million times more intense.

In my experience, I find that recommending an Unfinishable to a child or teen is more effective than anything else.  If I can honestly say “I was too traumatized to even finish this book,” it will fly off the shelf.  Of course, I’m not going around trying to traumatize chidlers.  But Unfinishables make great sells.  They issue a challenge:

I couldn’t get through this book.  Can you?

The 1920s: (Will Be) So Hot Right Now

Most of the time, I write a post because I would like to think I have something kinda, sorta interesting to say or share.

However, I am writing this post because I want to be able to say I told you so.

For the most hardcore of the hardcore young people’s book/culture peeps, this probably won’t be breaking news. But I want to officially throw my hat into the “The 1920s are going to be the next big thang with young people” ring.

The Evidence

I’ll preface this by saying that I’m probably missing a lot of stuff here – if you know of something else, throw your hat in the ring too!  That’s what the Comments Section is for!  You’ll be happy you did it when this trend really takes hold. Embrace smugness with me.

Lauren Conrad has a thing for the 1920s

In an interview with Seventeen earlier this summer, Lauren included The Great Gatsby on the list of her favourite books (in addition to her own books, of course – super classy) and said she dresses up like a flapper almost every Halloween.  While Lauren isn’t the peon of fashion or culture for anyone over 17, she’s a mover and shaker with lil’ pups born after 1994.

Anna Godbersen’s Bright Young Things

Surprisingly, I read The Luxe (and the plot summaries of the next three books in the series on Wikipedia) and I didn’t consider it a total waste of my life.

Godbersen’s next foray into bubblegum YA lit will be Bright Young Things, to be released in October 2010.

The book’s set in…you guessed it…1929.  The synopsis includes a whole lotta exciting nouns like “flappers” and “showgirls” and “socialites.”  I guess there isn’t much sexy about “The Great Crash,” but, y’know, that wasn’t too big of a deal.

Libba Bray’s The Diviners

This promises to be the thinking person’s Bright Young Things. As Publishers Weekly reported, Bray got a seriously ballin’ advance for a four-book “supernatural fantasy series set in Manhattan during the 1920s.”  Bray is universally regarded as awesome by both teens and librarians, so this is going to be a big deal come 2012.

The Great Gatsby Video Game

Most people heard of this and thought, “What a cute lil’ thing to tweet and put on my Facebook.”  Meanwhile, I let out a  maniacal laugh as I added it to my mounting list of evidence.

Teen Vogue and the Twenties

Teen Vogue has been all over the twenties lately.  Most recently, their “best dressed reader of the day” (caps are so outta style) proclaimed that she loves the twenties because “It was such a classy era, but at the same time, the clothing choices always hinted toward mischief and revolution.”  “Hinted toward mischief and revolution?!?”  I wish I had been that articulate at sixteen.

And, finally…

Even Snooki gave the twenties a (historically inaccurate) shout-out!

Yes, I watch The Jersey Shore. On the first episode of Season Two (i.e. – two Thursdays ago) Snooki was washing clothes in the sink (after an accident involving white booty shorts and a red alcoholic beverage) and lamented, “I feel like a pilgrim from the friggin’ 20s washing s—.”  Lovely.

I received a Bumpit for Christmas and couldn't resist a splitscreen poof comparison.

So, there you have it.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that the 1920s really is the next big thang, and not just kind-sorta-the-next-big-thang like fallen angels proved to be.

A Category of Books I Like to Call “The Brad Pitts”

You know how Oprah always asks people, “What do you know for sure?” and they always answer with syrupy stuff like “My mom was always right,” and “There is nothing better in this world than a child’s laugh,” and nonsense crap like “I am finally myself.”  Well, this is what I know for sure:

Brad Pitt is an attractive man.

Even when he’s all bearded and dirty, you can still tell there is a really good-looking man under all that mange.

Wouldn’t you, too, acknowledge that Brad Pitt is a very attractive man, even if you are not attracted to him yourself?  If not, please pretend you do, because the entire conceit of this post depends on you agreeing that Brad Pitt is an attractive man.

I am one of those people who can see, objectively, that Brad Pitt is a stunner.  But the thing is, I’m not personally attracted to him.  It can be the same with books; I can objectively tell that a book is really great, has a definite audience, and meets a real need without truly loving the book myself.  Thus, I give you the definition of a Brad Pitt book:

brad pitt book n. a book that one can, no matter his/her personal preferences, recognize as possessing high merit.

When learning any new concept, examples are helpful.  Here are some of my personal Brad Pitts.  Before you go off your chain in the comments section, remember the definition of a BP.  I’m not saying that any of these are bad books or even mediocre books.  Far from it.  These are books that I know are great, and that I enjoyed reading, but just didn’t reach out and grab me by the throat.  If I had reviewed these books I would have given them a great review (just like I gave two thumbs up to seeing Brad Pitt’s tush in Troy).

Perhaps one of the greatest BPs of all time for me has been Harry Potter. I understood why others would eat their own foot to read the books, but I couldn’t get beyond a little nibble of my baby toe.  Again, like any BP, I enjoyed it, but didn’t fall in love.  Same with the Westing Game; got the decades of hype, but didn’t feel it myself.

A more recent example is Smile by Raina Telgemeier.  Fabulous book. I even had similar orthodontic drama involving pulled teeth and braces.  But, for whatever reason, my heart wasn’t in it.

I should also make it clear what a Brad Pitt book is not:

A book that everyone else likes but I really didn’t like

Comparable celebrities here are the likes of Josh Duhamel, Bradley Cooper, and Robert Pattinson.  These are all dudes that many people find scrumptious but I, well, don’t.

Savvy was a big one for me.  Also, Incarceron. Unlike the BPs, I didn’t enjoy these books at all and had trouble seeing what others saw in them.  To each their own kinda thing.

A book that looks pretty on the outside but (I think) is a stinker inside

Don’t forget that Brad Pitt is not only good-looking, but also a stand-up fella (wife swapping aside, he’s charitable).  Therefore, a true BP book has to be good on the inside and outside.

The Carrie Diaries is one hot little number.  The jacket feels kind of leathery and soft and I can’t resist that pink, spray-painty font.  But unlike two of my favourite, very insightful YA reviewers (Tea Cozy and Reading Rants), I dang well hated it.

I’m always interested to hear what other people consider BPs.  It’s also interesting to consider which books are true BPs (i.e. – have merit but didn’t grab you) and which have just been over-hyped (i.e. – BPs in Robert Pattinson’s clothing).

Picture Book Creators Dear and Dead – Readers Theatre Style

I haven’t yet done a post about how much James Marshall meant to me as a kid (and how much he still means to me as an old, festering adult) but the short version is that I was (and am) obsessed with his books.  It was just me and my mams growing up so I spent all of my time either reading or engaging in high-concept, multi-part dramas with my Maple Town figurines.  I found Marshall uproariously funny and would spend hours trying to draw Fox and Eugene and Emily (note: I am not artistically inclined).  This obsession bled into my adult life in the form of my easy reader thesis and hyperventilating in the Kerlan Collection.  Oh, and my general, all-encompassing personal and professional interest in young people’s literature.

I get giddy anytime I see anything about James Marshall; a new tidbit of information, a mention, anything.  So, when I stumbled across Multi-Grade Readers Theatre: Picture Book Authors and Illustrators by Suzanne I. Barchers and Charla R. Pfeffinger, I was so excited to see James Marshall’s name in the Table of Contents.  I scrambled to the page and found the header “The Trouble with a Pen Name: James Edward Marshall 1942-1992.”  Then there was “Summary and Background Information,” “Presentation Suggestions,” and some “Introductory and Follow-Up Suggestions”  followed by a three and a half page interview script with “James Marshall.”  I was so excited to see Marshall’s name that I didn’t really even bother to understand the premise of the book.

The premise of the book is this:

The scripts in Multi-Grade Readers Theatre: Picture Book Authors and Illustrators provides students with a snapshot of the lives of thirty-six well-known authors, illustrators, and poets.  Drawn from biographies, autobiographies, interviews, news articles, obituaries, and Internet sources, the essential facts of each person’s story have been carefully researched.  The conversations, however, are largely fictional.

Each picture book creator essentially has one “theme” that sums up the trajectory of their readers theatre script; Hans Christian Andersen’s dad was a shoemaker, Kate Greenaway liked dolls, and James Marshall sometimes used a pen name.

Oh yes, and every single person featured in the book is dead.

My initial reactions went something like this:

“Aaahhhh!  This book is chalk-full of  made-up words of dead people!  Children’s book zombies!”

“What the $*%*)@*!?  Marshall used a pen name, like, a handful of times!  Why the *#)($** would they have a **%(*#! pen name define the career of a #@)@## genius like Marshall!?  This is so reductive, I could spit.”

“HUH!?  Marshall would have never said that.”

“Oh, that’s convenient.  Leave out the part where he was tipsy when he made up Edward Marshall’s back story!  Looks like someone didn’t read page 98 of Leonard Marcus’ Ways of Telling!” [This is, of course, a ridiculous response, as primary grade children probably don’t need to know what is imbibed at lengthy publishing lunches.]

After having a good steam, and hunting for omissions and inaccuracies, I realized that my evaluation was, perhaps, coming from the wrong place – the place in me that thinks of James Marshall (and many of the other authors in this book) as someone I love and know, and therefore feel I must protect. Because the truth is, I would have loved to play James Marshall in my Grade 2 class (God help the teacher if she had selected someone else) and I think educators could really find this book useful.

But no matter how hard I try, I can’t shake my protective feelings.  Why invent words when, more often than not, these authors and illustrators left behind brilliant words on their own work and craft?  Aren’t there so many other, more authentic ways to get children excited about picture books?

Perhaps these feelings would be less acute if James Marshall (and all the other geniuses in the book like Lobel and Steig, etc.) were still alive and were still able to speak for themselves.  Or if my love and respect for Marshall’s work wasn’t cranked up so high.

My mom made me get super embarrassing "casual" photos when I got the mandatory picture for the graduation composite. I'm holding a Marshall book in every one (note that I stole the crappy, low-res version of the photo from the company website via the power of the screenshot! Stickin' it to tha man...)

Jon Hamm for Mr. Popper

Dr. Dre once said that he is “still not loving police.” Well, I’m still not loving the idea of a Mr. Popper’s Penguins movie.  On a seemingly unrelated note, the fourth season of Mad Men starts this weekend.  I think there’s something here…

Let me begin by admitting that my attitude towards children’s books being turned into movies is best described as “hypocritical curmudgeon.”  I’m one of those people who usually thinks kids books are best left as kids books: The live action How The Grinch Stole Christmas movie left me teary-eyed in anger and I can’t even talk about the Where The Wild Things Are movie without going on an extended enraged tirade.  Yet, I think Hawley Pratt’s 1971 animated The Cat in the Hat is brilliant while most find it creepy and weird (Daws Butler as Mr. Krinklebein is spot on and Geisel and Chuck Jones produced it!  How can you not be into that!?).  But, as usual, I digress.

Not surprisingly, I am wholeheartedly against the Mr. Popper’s Penguins movie.  Or, to be more precise, the 2012 Mr. Popper’s Penguins movie (who knew there was one in 1987?) While I realize that much cinematic hi-jinx can ensue when you put penguins in a basement, I just can’t stand to see one of my all-time favourite books follow in the footsteps of the likes of Mike Myers and The Cat in the Hat.  Plus, The Horn Book said that the book “is more fun than twenty-five movies.”  How can you beat that?

But I’m a realist.  I know that Hollywood will not heed my plaintive whimpers.  I realize that I need to change my approach.  Instead of whining about it, I need to take action.  This movie is going to get made, and if it’s going to get made, there is only one man I trust with the sacred role:

Yes, I think Hammy would make the perfect Pops.  And like any good English 100 student, I have already anticipated your objections and am ready to convince you.

He’s too put together.  Mr. Popper is sort of delightfully rumpled and painterly in the book.

But Hammy can look delightfully rumpled/scruffy too!  Look!

Okay, so he looks a BIT like a guy who would ask you for money outside a liquor store here, but you have to admit there's potential...

Jon Hamm isn’t kid friendly.  Mom friendly, yes.  But not kid friendly.

Oh, really?  Just look at this face!

Doesn’t that just scream kid-friendly? What’s that?  You think he looks a bit creepy here?  Well, that’s perfect!  Mr. Popper has just a touch of creepy/zany about him (he does have an obsession with reading about cold climates and keeps penguins in his basement).

Aren’t you biased?  Isn’t Jon Hamm second on the list of famous people you want to marry (after JFK Jr. and before Paul Newman in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof)?

You got me there.

Jon Hamm isn’t funny.

But he is funny!  He really is!  Just listen to him tell the story of how Regis Philbin stalks him! (at the 1:00 mark)

There are currently three other actors in serious consideration for the role: Jim Carrey, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson (Ben Stiller used to be, but now he’s apparently out).  Boo-urns to all these guys.

The Press Association made a very astute comment, saying that, depending on the actor/director combo, the movie could either be ” a soul-searching metaphor movie or a kid-friendly comedy packed with animal jokes.”  If Carrey or Black do the role, it will turn into one of those overly-raucous, way-too-loud blockbusters where humour is achieved via penguins peeing on the carpet.  If Owen Wilson does it, things could get a bit too introspective and weird.  And if Ben Stiller does it, it will just be Night at the Museum with some penguin trainers tacked onto the credits. Hamm could bring something inbetween, methinks, with a health dose of old-fashioned kitsch and plenty of pomade.

In my final plea, I have created this highly-detailed, realistic simulation for your consideration:

So, I hope you will consider supporting me in the cause: Jon Hamm for Mr. Popper – 2012.

Frog and Toad: The Fan Debate Book (all rights reserved)

I Heart Daily recently interviewed Michelle Pan, a 20 year old Twi-hard who oversees BellaAndEdward.com and wrote the “fan debate book,” Bella Should Have Dumped Edward.

According to Pan, this is what a fan debate book looks like:

I asked many questions relating to the controversial topics in the Twilight saga and fans submitted their responses. I then compiled them into a book and wrote my own opinions on the topics.

A fan debate book!?  I want to write a fan debate book!

And you know who are just begging for a fan debate book?  THESE GUYS:

That’s right.  Frog and Toad need a fan debate book.

I spent a truly mind-boggling amount of time with Frog and Toad whilst writing my thesis on easy readers and came up with a lot of questions in the process – questions that would set the stage for one heckuva fan debate book.

Does Frog serve as a gentle motivator or is he just a big jerk sometimes?

Frog does lots of nice things.  He fulfills Toad’s lifelong dream of receiving mail by sending him a letter, he coaxes him out of hibernation, and he buys him a hat that fits.   But when Toad clearly wants to have a cookie binge, Frog throws all the cookies out to the birds.  In “Shivers,” Frog won’t even tell Toad if a ghost story is true.  And, in the jerkiest move of all, Frog breaks their routine in “Alone” leaving Toad to worry that he has been abandoned by the only other talking amphibian in the forest (more on that later).

Does Toad suffer from a mental illness?

The signs are all there.  In  “Spring,” he doesn’t want to get out of bed (same with in “Tomorrow”). In “The Dream,” he has a seriously messed up dream with some pretty intense imagery involving theatrics and a shrinking Frog.  In “The List,” he is rendered useless when he loses the missive he wrote to himself.  Depression?  Delusions?  OCD?  This is the stuff fan debate books are made of.

Where are their shirts?

Frog and Toad where pants, belts and blazers, but no shirts.  WHY?

How can they participate in winter activities?

Just like Edward and his vampire pals, Frog and Toad are cold-blooded.  Or is it that Edward doesn’t have any blood?  I don’t know.  The point is that both Edward and Frog/Toad require special living conditions due to biology.  But, if Frog and Toad are cold-blooded, and hibernate in the winter, what the dang are they doing up and about in “Christmas Eve” and “Down the Hill?”

Do Frog and Toad drift apart by Book Four (Days With Frog and Toad)?

This is a real tough one – it would warrant a whole chapter, for sure.  In “Alone,” the final chapter in Frog and Toad’s saga, Frog drops a bombshell, leaving this note on his door for Toad:

Dear Toad,

I am not at home.

I went out.

I want to be alone.

Frog

HARSH.

Toad freaks out, finds Frog, and they mend fences when Frog says that he just wanted a bit of alone time – nothing permanent.  The story then ends with the most brilliant line of all time: “They were two close friends sitting alone together.”

But are fences really mended?  Has there been irreparable damage to their friendship?  Did this incident prove that Frog is really the one calling the shots in the friendship?  I’m telling you – the only way we’re ever going to get to the bottom of this is with a fan debate book.

So, I just thought I’d put it out there.  I don’t want a nasty Harry Potter-esque lawsuit on my hands when someone inevitably tries to make it big on the Frog and Toad enigma.

Forget Team Edward and Team Jacob.  It’s all about Team “I don’t think they wear shirts because it interferes with their natural cooling systems” and Team “I don’t think the store that they buy their little amphibian clothes at even sells shirts.”

What do the Newbery and Stephenie Meyer Have In Common?

The Children’s Bookshelf peeps at Publishers Weekly recently tweeted this Huffington post article on Grammar Pet Peeves.  The list contains the fairly standard horrors of affect/effect, its/it’s, etc. and it got me thinking about the two children’s lit misspellings that keep me awake at night.

The first, and most bone-chillingly infuriating, is the misspelling of Newbery.  If I had a dime for everytime I saw Mr. N spelt wrong, I’d likely have enough money to hire Neil Gaiman to come speak at a private event.

John most often has his surname butchered in two ways.

1.  “Newbury”

Even Neil Gaiman is not immune to the power of the Newbery typo!!!

"Hey kids, let's go to the libury for a Newbury award winning book!"

2.  “Newberry”

"Hey kids, let's go to the liberry for a Newberry award winning book!" My horror at the Mr. Popper's Penguin movie will be saved for a future post.
Caldecott is spared the terror.

“Stephanie Meyer”

Stephenie Meyer is what I call a “tooth brushing author,” meaning I harbor neither overwhelmingly strong hatred nor overwhelmingly strong love for her or her work.  Reading Twilight was like brushing my teeth – it was a necessity that left me feeling rather neutral and blaze.  M’eh.

But what does leave me in a cold sweat of rage is the misspelling of her name.  I don’t know why, but it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.  And it’s one thing if you’re a teenager on a Twlight message board, fervently arguing the merits of Team Jacob, but it is quite another if you are one of Canada’s most popular and respected newspapers:

COME ON! The giant picture of the book cover is right there, exposing your nasty typo ways, National Post!

And People magazine did it too!

There are many more examples but my blood pressure can’t take it.  I know that we are all human and that this blog is probably riddled with typos, but I thought it was my duty to show you this horrifying underbelly of the children’s/YA literature world.  This will also be the only time Stephenie Meyer and Newbery are ever mentioned in the same sentence.

I would also like to point out that there are some instances where children’s literature-related typos are positively inevitable.  For instance, when you are spelling John Scieszka.  Even if I am copying his name directly from a book cover, I will always spell it wrong.  The same goes for Canadian YA author Shelley Hrdlitschka.  It is common knowledge that the most fertile typo breeding ground is created when an s is paired side-by-side with a c.  Throw a z or a k/h in there and you’re up the creek.

British slang + great fashion + librarians + 1970 = Dorothy Clewes’ Library Lady

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.

Library Lady by Dorothy Clewes. Illustrations by Robert Hales. Chatto, Boyd & Oliver, 1970.

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.

FIERCE.

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.’

Brilliant.

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.

Oh, and PS: this is a bream.

Kids and Adult Book Covers (or, how the late Timothy Findley gave me a complex)

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:

I had to wait until the very last second to insert this image because it makes me want to put a blanket over my head and weep with fear. But at least Findley's Canadian. Sheila Egoff would be proud.

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.