Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Those Oldies But Goodies

When folks ask me what I do, I say I'm in the Hope Business.
(A Good Thing, too, since I happen to be a Cubs Fan.)
Unlike other books, for other audiences, a children's book must always offer Hope. Not a Happy Ending, mind you. Just the possibility of one.

I cut my reader's teeth on "Happily Ever Afters," on inevitable, yet surprising satisfactory resolutions. Like several of my fellow Teaching Authors, my first reading memories are of my treasured Golden Books, the books I carefully chose, then dropped into my mother's shopping cart, during our weekly visits to our local Philadelphia A & P.

I especially loved the retold fairy tales.
Hansel and Gretel.
Little Red Riding Hood.
I couldn't wait to "read" these books to my dolls and friends, once my mother read them aloud to me.
Today, Eloise Wilkin's illustrations instantly connect me to the child I once was.

An early school memory? Sitting on the Reading Rug in Miss Patton's Kindergarten room at Overbrook Elementary, listening to my beloved teacher read us Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling. All of me stilled, except my captured heart that beat-beat-beat for someone I knew well.
The story's closing words often visit me unbidden: "I never dreamt of so much happiness when I was the Ugly Duckling."

By the age of 8, I was devouring my "orange True books," which is what I called my growing collection of the Bobbs-Merrill childhood biographies ofFamous Americans.
Real-and-true people could have Happy Endings, too! Each gifted book commemorated an important life occasion - my Birthday, my Half-Birthday, Hanukkah, Valentines' Day, a successful school year marked by O's and S's.

My mother's selections, purchased in John Wanamaker's downtown Philadelphia
Book Shop, always featured accomplished women, a powerful message in the 1950's.
Betsy Ross and Julia Ward Howe.
Amelia Earhart and Clara Barton.
Juliette Lowe.
Louisa May Alcott.
The list goes on and on.

Though blue, not orange, the pages of my Betty Crocker Junior Baking Book also claimed my attention.
The book accompanied my Betty Crocker Junior Baking Kit, which included cookie cutters, a cupcake pan, 2 layer cake pans and my very own rolling pin! Sadly, not all of my baking efforts resulted in the book's promised Happy Endings. However, licking the bowl had rewards all its own.

A new suburban home in the middle of my fifth grade year meant an across-the-road-and-down-one-street library, a first-time ever library card and virgin library shelves waiting to be explored.
I spent the remainder of that year and several years after voraciously reading through the blue-spined books on the "K" shelves of the tiny library's even tinier Children's Room.
Thanks to Carolyn Keene, to whom I often wrote fan letters, I rode along with Nancy Drew and her River Heights companions, seated in the back of her spiffy blue roadster, following clues and feeling the breeze.

Of course I wound up working in the Hope Business!
How could I not?
For someone who knew long ago she wanted to write children's books, my Life Story's satisfactory ending is neither surprising nor inevitable.
Fairy tales. Biographies. Cookbooks. Mysteries.
Genre by genre, one book at a time, I was solving the mystery of how to cook up Happy Endings.

P.S.I was in my twenties when I learned why Carolyn Keene never wrote me back.
My favorite mystery writer was actually several writers employed by The Stratemeyer Syndicate to churn out, formulaicly, Nancy Drew adventures.
But, I'm forced to smile a "Well-whaddaya-know-about-that!" smile each time I see, today, one of the above books on bookstore, library, school and home shelves.
Random House publishes the Golden Books, first published by Western.
Simon & Schuster retooled Nancy, her friends and even her roadster, and publishes the mysteries, some in graphic novel format.
Simon & Schuster also publishes the updated and expanded Bobbs-Merrill Childhoods of Famous American series.

As for my Betty Crocker cookbook? That's been updated and re-issued too.
Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling continues to be illustrated and published around the world.

I never dreamt of so much happiness when I first began reading.

Writing Workout:
Keeping a Reader's Journal

Oh, had I only kept a Reader's Journal when I first fell in love with reading and books!

Today I keep two Reader's Journals: one for the children's books I read as a writer; another for the books I read as an adult reader. Commercial Reader's Journals are available in all shapes and sizes. Or, simply purchase a dime store composition book or a dollar store sectioned notebook.

For each book read:
(1) note the title, author, publisher, publishing date
(2) note the date read
(3) copy the Library of Congress summarizing statement that usually appears on the copyright page
(4) note a favorite passage, a character's name, a word you learned while reading
(5) decide if you would recommend this book or not, and share why.

Keep a section for Books You Wish to Read.
Save a section for Books You Lend, Books You Borrow

Revisiting your Reader's Journal will make for fascinating reading.


Patricia said...

Writing Friends,
I enjoyed the interview and am enjoying the blog.
I wish I had a great writing teacher like Myra Livingston Cohn, or perhaps simply, a writing teacher.
Some of my favorite picture books are:
Ginger by Charlotte Voake because it is both simple and profound, and about love.
Oink? by Margie Palatini because it's a riot.
My Cat the Silliest Cat in the World--the irony is terrific. Very funny.
Good luck with the blog.

Patricia Hruby Powell

Patricia said...

and by the way, my e-mail address is

It didn't show up on my comment above.