A New Wrinkle

You may have heard that next year is the 50th anniversary of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the first volume in her Time Quartet. To celebrate, there’s a whole lot of publishing going on, and the cover will get a refresh.

This makeover is, of course, an homage to the original 1962 hardcover edition:

An autographed copy of this edition is available for $14,500.

Turns out, this cover has had a lot of makeovers.


I don’t think I’ve ever seen this haunting cover by Leo and Diane Dillon. Raised on Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (which will make an appearance in this blog, as will Rap-a-Tap-Tap, their Aaron Douglas-inspired tribute to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson), I love it when the Dillons pop up in unexpected places.

Other covers, in no particular order:

1963. This edition currently sells for $4,500.




It’s interesting to look at the differences in the covers, especially the way the art goes from fairly anonymous to narrative. And while on the original cover we have no sense of the relationship between Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin, we have perhaps far too great a sense in this one:


And then there’s this, which I can only guess was meant for adults:


Covers are a book’s first and greatest marketing tool, and publishers spend a lot of time discussing them. Everything is considered, from the ethnicity of the characters, to whether to add glitter, to whether to make a book stand out from other books section or look just like them. (Remember the profusion of black, white and red covers on young adult novels after the success of Twilight?) The narrative inside is often a secondary consideration. Covers also reflect tastes and times. You can almost guess when each of these covers were published just by looking at the art.

This is my favorite Wrinkle in Time cover, because it’s the cover of the version I read as a child:


Curiously, this one doesn’t feature the kids, but it’s so creepy and dark–everything I wanted at the time.

While it looks like this tattered thing might be my childhood copy, I actually bought it earlier this year at Blue Cypress Books, one of my favorite bookstores in New Orleans. I was staying at an old bed and breakfast within walking distance of the bookstore. When I spotted A Wrinkle in Time, I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to spend that dark and stormy night.

Evening plans in hand, I went straight back to the B&B, curled up under the quilt in my room under the eaves, and finished the book as the rain came down.

A Wrinkle in Time © 1962 by Madeline L’Engle.


The Snowy Day

‘Tis the season of snow in my hometown of Chicago, and in tribute, I present one of my all-time favorite books: Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day. (Observant readers will notice that I have Peter doll–Peter is the boy in this story–on my book shelf.)

This is one of the loveliest children’s books ever–so simple and so perfect in its description of a child’s first snow. It also illustrates the magic that can happen when someone is both an artist and a writer. Keats (and his editor) knew how to leave room in his words for the pictures, and knew how to let his images carry the weight of the story. But never mind the analysis. Just enjoy the wonder:I have two versions of The Snowy Day on my shelf: an over-sized board book, and the version in Keats’ Neighborhood, a tribute book that includes 10 stories, fantastic behind the scenes information–including the photo from Life Magazine that was the inspiration for Peter–and this nugget:

“The Viking editor of The Snowy Day, Annis Duff … paid careful attention to each word chosen for the spare text. After seeing the first dummy, she encouraged Keats to create the entire book in full color–rather than color alternating with black-and-white pages, as had been the original plan. … [S]he obviously knew this decision would be very expensive.”

And this:

“Proudly, Duff presented to the world the first major full-color picture book to portray a black child–often featuring it as the first book in Viking advertisements–although neither the ad copy nor the text of the book ever mention Peter’s race.”

So much wrapped up in this one little book!

Keats’s Neighborhood also includes homages from other beloved illustrators like Jerry Pinkney, Eric Carle and Simms Taback.

For all its goodies, Keats’s Neighborhood is essential to my collection. But its treatment of the 10 Keats stories–including Goggles!, Whistle for Willie and Jennie’s Hat— leaves much to be desired. For example, in the original edition of The Snowy Day, Peter finds a stick……pokes at a tree branch……and suffers the consequences.Aside from the joy of seeing these images large and full-page, there’s so much going on here in terms of pacing, timing and consideration for page turns. The next page in this sequence is this:

But sadly, it doesn’t appear in Keats’s Neighborhood, except to punctuate the end of the introduction.

What does appear in Keats’s Neighborhood is this:Such a different experience! What would Annis Duff say?

Speaking of experiences, there is a traveling exhibit featuring Keats’s work called The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. I can hardly wait to see it.

All images from The Snowy Day written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, ©1926. Published by the Penguin Group.

Keats’s Neighborhood first published in 2002 by the Penguin Group.

The Art of the Matter

One of the things I love most about being an editor of books for children is the artwork. It’s always a good day when the art comes into the office.

I once worked on a book with a French illustrator who painted on linen. When the art came in, each piece was tightly rolled and much smaller than I was expecting. (I later learned that the artist worked smaller than actual size so that when the art was scanned and enlarged, the texture of the fabric became part of the composition. A gorgeous touch.) When we unrolled the art, the pieces practically exhaled cigarette smoke, and while I’m certainly not fond of that scent, it added another layer to an already somewhat enchanted experience.

Every now and then I work with an artist who is kind enough to give me a piece of original work. Even doodles on postcards are precious things.

Which brings me to the Children’s Book Council’s charity auction. Every year since 1919, the Council has commissioned a children’s book illustrator to create an original work of art commemorating Children’s Book Week (May 7-13 in 2012). The CBC has put five of these works up for auction to benefit their literacy foundation, Every Child a Reader.  (Here’s a write-up in Publisher’s Weekly, in case the auction site is down by the time you’re reading this.)

I’m coveting this piece by Don Freeman. Corduroy and A Rainbow of My Own are two of my childhood favorites (and they’re on my shelf, so expect to see them in this blog). Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a piece of Freeman’s art of my own?

Frog and Toad Are Friends

When I was a little girl, I spent summers at my grandparents’ home in Michigan. My memories of those summers are a little like a slideshow; I only have moments, not full narratives. I remember walking along railroad tracks and gathering coal like it was treasure. I remember impossibly tall sunflowers growing outside what we called The Gingerbread House. I remember Smoky, the stray cat who was so in love with my grandfather that she climbed the beams of our screened-in porch to be near him. The porch was a full story off the ground. Smoky would straddle the beam closest to my grandfather lengthwise, so that half her body pushed against the screen, and her other half dangled. Of course, Papa had no love for Smoky at all.

And I remember catching frogs. (A friend recently told me that I was more likely catching toads, since frogs seldom stray far from water, but these are my memories, and I say I was a frog-catcher.) I remember watching them in the grass before capturing them in the dome of my hand. I remember how their hopping felt in my cupped palms, and the mixture of revulsion and excitement I felt at having caught a living, squirming thing.

(I should note here that my bucolic reverie is being interrupted by a vague recollection of a favorite older cousin catching a really large toad and putting it on the toilet just before one of my elderly uncles went into the bathroom. But I digress…)

I can’t remember whether my love of frogs was at all connected to the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel, but I so loved those stories.

On my bookshelf I have a copy of Adventures of Frog and Toad, a compilation of three books: Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together and Days with Frog and Toad. What I didn’t realize when I bought this book is that my favorite Frog and Toad collection has been left out: Frog and Toad All Year. And the reason I love that particular book is “Ice Cream,” the story of what happens when Toad tries to bring two huge sticky, drippy ice cream cones through the wild woods. Do you remember the illustration of the frightening mess Toad became? And how all of the creatures fled?

Even without “Ice Cream” I still love the collection of stories in Adventures of Frog and Toad. I remember most of them from my childhood, and this blog gave me the happy excuse to reread them all.

This time around I noticed that the stories contain some really lovely writing. Take for example this from “The Letter”:

Toad was sitting on his front porch.

Frog came along and said,

“What is the matter, Toad? You are looking sad.”

“Yes,” said Toad.

“This is my sad time of day.”

And this from “A List”:

Toad put the list in his pocket.

He opened the door and walked out into the morning.

Writing for children in general is a real challenge; writing beautifully for the very young even more-so. These simple but elegant phrases show how well Lobel managed both.

There’s also a lot of humor in the Frog and Toad stories that I’m sure I missed when I was younger. My favorite moment comes in “Cookies,” a story about willpower, in which Toad has made cookies so delicious he and Frog can’t stop eating them. They try all sorts of things to stop themselves: putting the cookies in a box, tying the box with string, putting the box on a high shelf. But as Toad points out, there’s really nothing to stop them from retrieving the box, untying the string and eating the cookies. Finally, they leave the box out for the birds who are very happy to have the treats.

“Now we have no more cookies to eat,” Toad said sadly.

“Not even one.”

“Yes,” said Frog, “but we have lots and lots of will power.”

“You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad.

“I am going home now to bake a cake.”

Of course, the real beauty these stories is what they have to say about friendship. Here’s what I’ve learned about friendship from Frog and Toad:

  1. Sometimes it’s OK to trick your friends if it’s for their own good. And yours.
  2. When your friend wants to be alone, it’s so they can think about how great you are.
  3. True friends will love you even when you’re really, really grouchy.
  4. A letter from a friend can make all the difference.
  5. If your friend says they look funny in a bathing suit, chances are, they probably do.

Images from Adventures of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel © 2010. Published by Sandy Creek.

A Happy Discovery

I started this blog to give myself a regular writing exercise and to force myself to engage with the books on my shelves. So imagine my delight when I discovered that the first book I pulled from the pile–There Was a Wise Crow by Joseph Low–is a work by a significant figure in children’s illustration.

I bought my tattered, yellowed edition at a flea market several years ago. I’m sure I was attracted to the small trim (about 4″x6″) and charming illustrations, but the strange, cheeky rhyme is what sold me.

Cheeky! And probably something that would be passed up by editors today. Unless the creator won a Caldecott, or something. And as it happens, Joseph Low did.

Reading Low’s obituary in the New York Times, I learned about his incredibly rich creative life, his time in Chicago–where I’m from–and his studies very near where I grew up.

Who knew I had such a little treasure sitting on my shelf?



Images from There Was a Wise Crow by Joseph Low © 1969. Published by Scholastic Book Services.

An Experiment in Reading and Writing

There are many books on my shelves. Some are books I’ve written, many are books I’ve edited, and just about all of them–with the exception, perhaps, of the college texts I’ve saved because they made me feel smart then and because sometimes they’re worth revisiting now–are books that I love. Most of them are books written for children that I’ve collected over the years. One or two are books from my own childhood, complete with birthday or holiday inscriptions from my mother.

This blog is dedicated to those collected books for children. If all goes according to plan, it will be a place for me to highlight and remember those books, and share them one at a time. It will also be a place to talk about children’s publishing in general, though this is a personal blog, not one connected to my professional life as an editor. This is just a place to celebrate the books I love.

And yes, the image is of my actual bookshelf.