Tag Archives: Kiddie Lit

“Where’s Papa Going With That Ax?”

“In a poll of librarians, teachers, publishers and authors, the trade magazine Publisher’s Weekly asked for a list of the best children’s books ever published in the United States. Hands down, the No. 1 book was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.”~~From NPR’s Fresh Air and a review by Maureen Corrigan of “How E.B. White Spun ‘Charlotte’s Web‘”.

After I heard this review and read the excerpt from Michael Sims’ book, “The Story of Charlotte’s Web”, I had a better understanding of what motivated E.B. White to write this classic story. The story of Charlotte’s Web is tantamount to a handbook of sorts for children growing up in this beautiful, yet sometimes heartbreaking, world. And even though Charlotte’s Web was published in 1952, life in 2012 really isn’t that different. We don’t like to see the most vulnerable in our society hurt. We all want to be accepted for who we are. We all want loyal friends that will stick with us until the bitter end. And we all want to be remembered for doing something meaningful in our lives, no matter how seemingly insignificant, even after we’re gone. These are big, big concepts for a small child but E.B. White managed to make them all, and more, bite-sized and easily digestible for the child reader.

Here’s what we know about E.B. White: He was born in New York in 1899. He served in the army before attending university. After he graduated from Cornell University, he worked as a reporter for a while, and was a writer for The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine. His wife, Katherine White, was the fiction editor for The New Yorker and regularly reviewed children’s literature. Even though Mr. White was already quite accomplished and well known in the industry, it was at his wife’s prodding that he began to set his children’s stories to paper. And for the record, there was a barn, there was a Charlotte, there was a pig on a farm, there was a rope swing, there were hundreds of tiny spiders born of a spider’s egg sac. All of these things influenced one of the greatest stories for children of all times.

I have to thank my third grade teacher again. Miss Pruski. I mentioned her in one of my prior posts about Roald Dahl, for enticing us to read by reading a few chapters of a book out loud, then stopping and making us check the book out of the library to find out how the book ended.

Charlotte’s Web was one of those books. From the opening line of the book (probably, one of the best opening lines ever):

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

We are drawn into a story that immediately sets us on edge and makes us worry until Fern is able to stop the horrible deed from occurring. We feel her love for little Wilbur as she takes responsibility for something so vulnerable. I can still remember how the illustrations of the book made me feel. I wanted a baby pig so badly!! The pictures of Wilbur being cradled and bottle-fed by Fern and the one of Wilbur in a doll carriage almost made me want to go out and buy a baby carriage (and I wasn’t that type of kid) and later, pictures of Charlotte and her famous webs, and all the animals who inhabit the farm stay with me to this day. The illustrations were created by famous children’s book illustrator Garth Williams and set a gorgeous tone that allowed us all to actually see the farm and all of the animals that lived there. The illustrations are worth their own blog post, they are so beautiful and so telling.

I’m not going to re-tell the story of Charlotte’s Web here but I will say if you haven’t read this book, you need to read it as soon as you can make the time to do so. I don’t care how old you are, the issues in this book have relevance that will resonate in you for the rest of your life because in this book, you will find that heroes can exist in all shapes and sizes, irregardless of age or gender. You will be reminded that you can’t judge someone by the way they look. You will understand that although we can’t always help our nature, we can still do good things and be loyal to the people who love us. You will remember that everyone needs someone to think we’re “terrific”, “humble”, or just plain good.

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Charlotte’s Web isn’t E.B. White’s only children’s book. He also wrote Stuart Little, which was published in 1945, and the Trumpet of the Swan, which was published in 1970.

A  first edition copy of Charlotte’s Web in hardcover, in good or better condition without a dust jacket, can be found selling for several hundred dollars and up. A copy with a dust jacket in good or better condition, and the initials IB on the copyright page to signify a true first edition, can be found for sale for several hundred dollars all the way up to several thousand dollars. Because E.B. White did not usually sign any of his books, there are very few signed books currently on the market but the few that are signed are selling for about $4,000 and a copy inscribed from Mr. White to his daughters is currently on the market for over $20,000.00.

This was a significant book in my life. I won’t say the most significant because I was such an avid reader I had many significant reads, but I will say that Charlotte’s Web forever changed the way I looked at animals and their daily lives. It helped me define what a best friend should be and what loyalty meant. It also taught me that life moves in cycles. Most of it joyous and life affirming. I also think this was my first encounter, as a child, with the death of a prominent character and even though it made me cry, I learned that life goes on.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

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The Strange Adventure of Stuart Horten

I’ve been so busy these last couple of months, I’ve neglected my blog quite a bit and I’m sorry about that.

My intention was to do a review of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, another of my favorite childhood books, but I came across another book I enjoyed so much, I’m letting it cut in line and take over for a bit.

Originally titled, Small Change for Stuart in the 2011 U.K. publication, the U.S. version, published in 2012, kept the cover but re-titled the book, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms. The author is Lissa Evans and she has published books for adults and younger children but this is her first foray into children’s lit.

Stuart is a 10 year old boy who is, not only small for his age, but if you take his name, Stuart Horten, and use the first initial of his first name in conjunction with his last name, you get S. Horten…shorten…something Stuart is not too fond of. In addition to his short stature, his parents are tall, intelligent, and keen on moving to a small village after his mother gets a new job hundreds of miles from where Stuart and his family currently live. It just so happens that the village of Beeton, where Stuart’s mom will be working, is the village where Stuart’s dad was born.

Stuart really doesn’t want to move but he has no choice, as it so often happens to 10 year olds, so he has to make the best of it. But it’s not easy. The town of Breeton is dreary and his next door neighbors are girls and not just any girls, they’re TRIPLETS and they’re nosy to boot. Things start sliding downhill from there until Stuart learns that his great uncle Tony used to be a famous magician and that great uncle Tony left Stuart’s dad a mysterious gift and a message for Stuart’s dad:

“To my nephew,

I have to go away, and I may not be able to get back. If I don’t return, then my workshop, and all it contains, is yours if you can find it…

Affectionately,

Your Uncle Tony”

Stuart’s strange adventure is about to begin and I think your children, ages 8-11, would love to go with him. Parents might enjoy the trip too. The book is a quick read and an easy one that could be read aloud before bedtime with no fear of bad dreams.

It sort of reminded me of Encyclopedia Brown, which I loved. It’s the type of kid mystery that got my imagination revved up and determined to solve mysteries. I think everyone in your family will quickly become fans of Stuart and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book ended up on the big screen sometime in the near future.

Currently, a copy of the book on the left, Small Change for Horten, published by Doubleday in 2011, first edition, first printing, hardcover with fine dust jacket is fine condition is selling for $75.00 and up. I did see some copies up for bid on E-bay with a starting bid of about $20.00 but I think they’re going to go pretty fast due to the fact that the original U.K. publication is getting more difficult to find. The most expensive price I saw for this version was $127.00. I estimate if the movie rights are sold, this particular edition will easily go up in value.

A copy of the U.S., 2012, publication by Sterling, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanism, is selling right now for $5.00 up to about $13.00 from a variety of book stores, including my bookstore, The Literary Heart.

The author, Lissa Evans, is currently writing a follow-up entitled Horten’s Incredible Illusions and it’s due out in September 2012. It is available for pre-order in the U.S. and the U.K. on a variety of sites.


Magic, Mystery, and A Very Strange Adventure

“The telephone cord was hanging from the receiver, wires sticking out of the broken, dangling end.

Time to go, Stuart thought. And then the phone rang.”


Survey Monday


“We Have So Much Time And So Little To Do”

Without knowing how many of you will actually read this post, I am willing to wager a $5.00 bet that at least once in your childhood, you either read a book, or saw a movie about a book, by Mr. Roald Dahl.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 50 years, and by some weird chance you don’t recognize the name, Mr. Dahl is the author of a number of very popular children’s AND adult’s books. I won’t list them all here (if you’d like a list of them all, please go to the website) but I will tell you three of my favorites are James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’d like to share with you some of what I learned about Mr. Dahl while doing my research for this post.

According to the “bio” information on the Roald Dahl website, Mr. Dahl was born to his Norwegian parents in Llandaff, Wales in the U.K. His mother was a story-teller by nature and provided Roald and his sisters with a deep sense of security. His father was an astute observer who kept detailed diaries of current events. Roald Dahl did not enjoy his school-aged years. While attending prep school, he remembers a school matron “who disliked small boys very much indeed” and a cane-wielding headmaster, both of which eventually morphed into Miss Trunchball, the hateful and horrible headmistress in Matilda. Amazingly enough, while attending public school, one of his school teachers felt that Dahl was “quite incapable of marshalling his thoughts on paper”.

However, he did have a few bright spots during his school years and interestingly enough, they involved candy. In his younger days, Dahl recalls standing in front of candy store windows with his friends as they contemplated the mysteries of certain candies like “gobstoppers” and “sherbert suckers”. In Derbyshire, where he attended public school, the Cadbury Chocolate Factory was located nearby so the students were often given free chocolate for testing purposes. On a side note, it was not uncommon for factories to send spies in to their rivals’ factories in an attempt to learn trade secrets. Here were the seeds of the stories to come.

His first children’s book was not James and the Giant Peach, as everyone believes but instead was a book entitled, The Gremlins and was a picture book written for Disney. Disney originally intended to make a movie based on the book but it never happened. Shortly after Disney decided to drop the project, Roald Dahl began writing for adults and did so for the next 15 years. He wrote frequently for the Saturday Evening Post, Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s.  He won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America three times and was also a writer for the television series, Tales of the Unexpected. His short stories and books for adults were hailed by critics as “dark”, “funny”, “inventive”, and “imaginative”.

It wasn’t until Dahl had children of his own and began telling them bedtime stories, did he begin writing stories for children. His books have been published in 34 languages and have won numerous awards.

In 3rd grade, my teacher, Miss Pruski, used to read to us after we came back to the classroom after recess. The class would quiet down and we would sit expectantly as Miss Pruski picked a book to read to us. When she started with a new book, she would tell us the title and the author. She would show us the book and we would discuss the cover art and the synopsis. Then she’d begin. She’d read about a chapter a day. Sometimes we’d listen to her read that book for a few days, sometimes for a week, sometimes, a little longer. Her trick was to get us to a point in the book where we needed to move forward, to find out what was going to happen. After several days of reading to us, just as we were getting to the meat of a good story, she would abruptly put the book away and inform us if we wanted to know what happened in the book, we would have to go to the library and check the book out. It was in this way that I discovered James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Charlotte’s Web (we’ll be talking about E.B. White in the near future).

Roald Dahl was a master of children’s books because he remembered what it was like to be a kid. He remembered what it was like to be scared of principals, to hate school, to love school, to have a crush on your teacher, to feel like the most deprived kid on earth, and to feel like the richest kid there ever was. He remembered what it felt like to crave something you couldn’t afford or the feeling you got as a kid when you bit into that candy bar you saved up all your pennies for. Roald Dahl tapped into childrens’ psyche better than anyone and his books continue to entertain and engage us. When you begin reading a book by Roald Dahl, you are a kid again and there’s a magic in those books that very few authors have been able to replicate.

On the market today, a 1996 first edition of James and the Giant Peach will run you about $7.00 and up. A 1973 near fine edition starts at about $50.00 and goes up. A 1961 first edition, later printings starts at roughly $200.00 and a 1962 signed first edition, first printing in fine condition will cost you about $12,500.00!

A 1996 first edition of Matilda starts at about $10.00. A 1988 first edition, first printing starts at $30.00 and works it’s way up to $400.00 for a signed near fine copy.

A 1976 first edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starts at about $$15.00. A 1964 first edition, later printing (like the one pictured here) starts at about $75.00. A rare 1964 first edition/first printing starts at $995.00 and a signed version of that book begins selling at $7500.00 and works its way up to $19,250.00 for a signed first edition/first printing in very fine condition.

I share these prices with you, my readers, so you are aware of what you may have lying around in your attic AND so that you may know the depths of love and joy Dahl’s readers take in his books. I hope that you have had the opportunity to do the same and if you haven’t, you really owe it to yourself to do so.

FYI, the Royal Mail, U.K., is honoring Roald Dahl with postage stamps. The link to purchase some is here.


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