Tag Archives: Kiddie Lit

Nothing But Desolate Wastes and Fierce Beasts!

“A Wangdoodle would eat ten of them for breakfast and think nothing of it. And so, I said, ‘Come and live with me in peace and safety, away from all the Wangdoodles, and Hornswogglers, and Snozzwangers, and rotten, Vermicious Knids.'”

A Straight Line is NOT the Shortest Distance Between Two Points

While I’m on my time travel kick (have you visited the old Messerman mansion, lately?), I suppose quite a few of you already know, “there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

If you didn’t read A Wrinkle in Time when you were a kid, you and I need to have a serious discussion. We’re not talking about just time travel, we’re talking off-planet travel AND time travel! A simple child’s mix of particle physics, Einstein, relativity, and good vs. evil, A Wrinkle in Time was formed from questions and discoveries of science and a life in the cold war of the 1960’s and took us to places not many girls dared to travel.

Original Cover Illustrated by Ellen Raskin

If the term “drama queen” had been common place in the mid 1960’s, Meg Murray might have been labeled a drama queen. She doesn’t think she’s smart, she doesn’t think she’s pretty, and she walks around with a big chip on her shoulder just daring someone to knock it off. I suppose in some ways, she has a right to be sullen and somewhat resentful, though. Her father left for a top-secret job and never returned. Her mother is a brilliant scientist who is absorbed in her work and with dealing with town gossips talking about the husband that abandoned her. Meg’s middle brothers are fairly well adjusted and don’t understand why Meg can’t just conform. And Meg’s younger brother, Charles Wallace, is small for his age, extremely intelligent, and doesn’t speak in front of strangers which makes him the perfect target for bullying.

This sets the stage for a story that captured the imaginations of children and adults everywhere. The first of a planned trilogy, which eventually became a tetralogy (often referred to as The Time Quartet), author Madeleine L’Engle told a story of a young girl in flux. An adolescent, pre-teen, who is learning the hard way that people can be mean and not so understanding when you feel as though the world is crashing down upon you. But, in the middle of all this misery, she learns how important her family is and she also discovers that love can be found in the most unexpected places.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote that in the process of trying to publish this book, it was formally rejected by 26 publishers. On the Random House website, in a section entitled, “A Special Message from Madeleine L’Engle“,  Ms. L’Engle wrote “‘A Wrinkle in Time’ had a female protagonist in a science fiction book, and that wasn’t done. And it dealt with evil and things that you don’t find, or didn’t at that time, in children’s books. When we’d run through forty-odd publishers, my agent sent it back. We gave up.”

The book, which blended adult themes, science fiction, and fantasy, went on to win numerous awards including a Newbery Award Medal, a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and it was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Anderson Award. A Wrinkle in Time has been in continuous publication since it was first published in 1962.

I first read this book when I was in the fourth grade and still have my original paperback copy. While I was in my 20’s, I purchased a new set of the collection (in paperback) and then a few years ago, I purchased a hardcover copy of The Time Quintet. About a year ago, I came across a copy of the first edition (pictured) in its 31st printing. It had the original dust jacket and was inscribed by Ms. L’Engle herself. Her inscribed books are selling on the market starting at $100.00 all the way up to $20,350.00 for a 1st edition/1st printing in fine condition.

January 27, 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time. A Wrinkle in Time: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition is available now on Amazon. Just click the link or the picture below to go straight to Amazon’s page to purchase this commemorative edition. According to Amazon’s website, this redesigned edition includes “an introduction by Katherine Paterson, an afterword by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis that includes photographs and memorabilia, the author’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech, and other bonus materials.

For more information on Madeleine L’Engle and ALL the books she’s written (including the rest of the Time Series), go to her website at www.madeleinelengle.com and Happy Tessering, everyone!

The Fifth Dimension

“In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”

The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden

Another book that etched itself upon my young mind was about a young girl who is the neighborhood pain in the ass. She’s unruly, she’s a bully, she’s the neighborhood terror! One day, she makes her way into an old mansion which has been gated shut for quite some time. Her name is Maureen and she makes the mistake of stealing something she finds there in that old, abandoned house, and in doing so,  brings down the wrath of the seven wicked sisters who still live in that house…or do they?

The book, written by Mary Coyle Chase in 1968, and illustrated by Don Bolognese, was my first real experience with time travel and the supernatural. I think it’s one of the reasons that I’ve never been able to get this story out of my head. I checked it out of the library to read in the fourth grade and never forgot it. I searched for a copy for years and was unable to find one.

About 15 years ago, I actually called the San Antonio Public Library and asked for the children’s librarian. I could not remember the title of the book at the time, only the plot, so I described it to her. She had no clue at all about what book I was referring to but she knew a librarian in another city in Texas (I hesitate to name the city for reasons that will become clear as I tell you my story) who specialized in children’s literature and if anyone would know which book I was trying to find, she said, this librarian would know. So I called the other librarian and described the story to her and she knew exactly which book I was talking about. The title was The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden. She informed me the book was out of print but she had one in her library that no one ever checked out and she would be happy to send it to me. I gave her my address and she was as good as her word. About a week or so later, I had the book in my hands and I was able to visit the old Messerman Mansion with bratty Maureen once again.

The funny thing about this book is that I never payed any attention to whom the author may have been, even as an adult. It just wasn’t anything I had given much thought to until a few years ago when I decided to look up the author and find out more about her.

I was surprised and delighted to find out that Mary Coyle Chase was primarily a playwright who was best known for writing one of my favorite plays entitled, “Harvey”. Remember Harvey? The giant, invisible white rabbit? Mary Chase later adapted her play into the movie that starred Jimmy Stewart. In 1945, Ms. Chase was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in drama for Harvey. To date, only a handful of women have been awarded a Pulitzer prize in the area of drama. Ms. Chase wrote several plays but only two books and both of them were children’s books. In 1958, she wrote a book entitled, Loretta Mason Potts, a book of which (I am ashamed to say) I know absolutely nothing about, and my book, The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden.

In 2003, Knopf republished the book with the revised title of The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House and is still somewhat difficult to find. Prices for the 2003 printing vary from $3.00 used, in good condition to $69.82 for a new copy. The original 1968 publication is currently selling for anywhere from $160.00 for a library copy all the way up to $449.00 for a fine copy. I think now it may be easier to understand why I didn’t want to share which library gave me this book so many years ago!

For me, this is one of those books I’ll never sell, even if I were to find a better copy. This was a childhood book whose story never left me. Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned the author of this story was also the writer of one of  my favorite movies. And, my book also carries the memory of a kind librarian who helped me to reconnect with a book from my childhood I never thought I’d find again.

The Secret of Nancy Drew

“Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen, was driving home along a country road in her new, dark blue convertible. She had just delivered some legal papers for her father.” Nancy Drew

When I was 10 years old, 18 was so far into the future, I couldn’t begin to fathom what life would be like at that age. Yet, here was a girl, who at 18 years of age, already owned a convertible and was delivering LEGAL PAPERS, for gosh sakes, for her dad. Could it get any more exotic?! Of course it could because Nancy Drew didn’t just have a great car and a cool dad (he bought her a dark blue convertible, people), she had an entourage that consisted of a cute boyfriend (Ned) and two awesome friends (Bess & George), and sometimes, their boyfriends. Nancy got to travel all over the world (with a chaperone, of course) and was able to escape every dangerous situation (bombs and gunshots and kidnappings, oh my!) that was thrown at her and her stalwart friends. Nancy Drew was a bad-ass and I’m almost ashamed to admit I relayed all this information to you without having to look at any reference material. That’s right. Nancy and her crew are indelibly etched in my memory whether I want them there or not.

Girls didn’t have many role models to look up to in the late 60’s and early 70’s. They were on their way but I didn’t know it back then. I was more concerned with other things. I wanted a cool car. I wanted to solve mysteries. I wanted to be Nancy Drew! I probably could have done without Ned, but that’s another story.

Nancy Drew’s very first adventure, The Secret of the Old Clock, was written in 1929 not by Carolyn Keene, whose name graces all Nancy Drew books as the author, but by Mildred A. Wirt. Ms. Wirt went on to write 23 of the first 30 books. There were other writers I’m not familiar with but as ghost writers, they signed away their rights to the books and were paid set amounts for their works. In 1993, the first Nancy Drew Conference was held in Iowa and Ms. Wirt was finally acknowledged as the original Carolyn Keene and future printings will acknowledge her contributions to the Nancy Drew series. For more information with detailed history and everything you ever wanted to know about Nancy Drew but were afraid to ask, go to the Nancy Drew Sleuth website. There are tons of other Nancy Drew websites out there. Nancy is still sleuthing and enjoying her never aging life of mystery.

As for the books, here’s some information for anyone who is interested in revisiting their Nancy Drew love. The earliest versions of the Nancy Drew books were published between 1930 and 1961. Volumes 1-22 had white spines and removable dust jackets. In 1946, some volumes were published with a “wrap spine” dust jacket. This means the “wrap spine” volumes had dust jackets with a cover photo that actually “wrapped” around the spine. From 1962 to 1986, covers were matte and had yellow spines (these are the volumes I have in my collection). The final incarnation, excluding the paperback version, is the glossy “flashlight” yellow spine picture cover format. The flashlight refers to a kind of light “beam” on the spine of these books. They also have a yellow strip across the top of the front cover with the title of the book and the volume number.

I was lucky enough that my parents bought me the collection as a surprise gift when I was a kid. I own volumes 1 through 54. In the process of growing up and moving about, I lost about 3 volumes that I’ve managed to replace over the years. I own the series with the matte covers and yellow spines and I’ve always coveted the early volumes but in good condition, they sell for anywhere from $40-$75 per book so I limited myself to only one. The books in my series (matte with yellow spine) usually sell anywhere from $3 per volume all the way to $12 per volume, depending on certain characteristics of the book itself. If you were looking to own an entire collection, it’s best to inform yourself prior to making a purchase because the styles, copyrights, and types vary widely. I estimate that a collection like mine (which I don’t ever see myself sellling) would probably sell for $150 and upwards. If you were lucky enough to find the entire white spine series, you would be looking at paying around $1000, give or take a hundred dollars or so.

So, to recap why Nancy Drew was the coolest chick in books:

  • Nancy Drew owned a convertible.
  • Nancy Drew’s mom was never in her business. (Her mother died when she was very young and her housekeeper, Hannah Gruen took care of her but it’s not the same.)
  • Nancy Drew’s dad was a lawyer AND he bought her a car AND let Nancy do whatever she wanted.
  • Nancy Drew was rich.
  • Nancy Drew had an entourage.
  • Nancy Drew was smart as hell and could figure ANYTHING out way before the police knew what hit them.
  • Nancy Drew could escape from any trap anyone set for her.
  • Nancy Drew often cheated death.
  • Nancy Drew traveled all over the world with her friends.
  • Nancy Drew never aged.

I’m sure there are more reasons Nancy was such an inspiration and such a cult-like figure to little girls all over the world but I can’t think of them all right now.

I’ll close this post with a solid, “Nancy Drew rocked!” and a shout out to all my fellow sleuths out there. If you want more information on Nancy Drew books drop me a line. If you would like to leave a comment about your memories of Nancy Drew and how the books impacted your life, please share, I’d love to read them!

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