celebrating children's books loved by adult readers

Copyright 2000 Wendy E. Betts. Reproduction for personal and non-commercial use is permitted only if this copyright notice is retained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission. Mail with comments or questions.

All reviews by Wendy Betts unless otherwise noted. For info and archives, see

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Vol. 8, No. 3, November 2000

"Giggerty-geggerty, I can't wait!": long-awaited reprints

David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd. Illustrated by Joan Raysor. Follett, 1957; Purple House, 2000 (1-930900-00-7) $23.95; (1-930900-01-5) $14.00 pb

The first book put out by Purple House Press (a publishing company after my own heart) is a long out-of-print, Nesbit-ish fantasy by the author of Time at the Top. This good quality edition has a new cover and forward by the author, and the original illustrations.

Harriet the Spy written and illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh. Delacorte, 2000 (0-385-32783-8) $15.95

Who was it who said, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away? My glee at seeing the real Harriet once again on the cover of this book, after years of her depicted in sweetly-pretty pigtails, was dimmed by the news that Random House is going to be publishing two new "sequels" by Helen Ericson. I haven't been able to find any previous writing credits for Ericson, so I don't know if she's a good choice or not, but I don't think anything on earth could convince me that this is a worthwhile idea. But oh well, I don't have to read them. Fitzhugh's two sequels, The Long Secret and the not-really-finished Sport will also be reprinted in May 2001, when Harriet will once again be a Dell Yearling. So get your hardcover copies of what is possibly the best children's novel ever written while they're authentic. (The "classic edition" sticker on the cover is removable.)

Heaven to Betsy; Betsy in Spite of Herself; Betsy Was a Junior; Betsy and Joe; Carney's House Party by Maude Hart Lovelace. Illustrated by Vera Neville. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1945; 1946; 1947; 1948; 1949; HarperTrophy, 2000 (0-06-440110-3; 0-06-440111-1; 0-06-440547-8; 0-06-440546-X; 0-06-440859-0) $6.95 each pb

The next batch in the new reprints of the Betsy-Tacy books, including Carney's House Party, a book so elusive that an illicit photocopy of it circulated among Betsy-Tacy fans for years. Fans will also appreciate these reprints for their biographical notes, and photographs of the real-life people the stories are based on.

These are the books that really made the Betsy-Tacy series for me. The series as a whole is delightful, and it's fun to be able to follow Betsy from childhood through marriage, but the high school books stand out for their cheerful but heartfelt portrayal of a girl trying out different roles and discovering who she really is. I was intrigued by Betsy's attempts to become glamorously mysterious--and shared her relief when she realizes she'd rather be herself. Betsy's experience with sororities also made a strong impression on me, as she discovers "you couldn't make sisterhoods with rules and elections... you ought not to go through life, even a small section of life like high school or college, with your friendships fenced in." Part of the charm of these books is that their small town in the early 1900's is such a different, special place... and part of their charm is that the people in that town still have plenty to share with us now.

Take Note: books of special interest to children's book enthusiasts

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes. 1950; HarperCollins, 2000 (0-06-027724-6) $24.95

This 50th anniversary edition is one of the best kind, one that adds to the charm of the book itself rather than simply embellishing the design. It's a beauty, a large, almost picture book version with seventeen new richly-colored plates by the original illustrator, as well the hand-colored illustrations from the recent deluxe edition. The endpapers are especially gorgeous, an exquisite scene of Narnia transforming from a land of wintry snow to a land of springtime green.

The Little Prince written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Translated by Richard Howard. Harcourt Brace, 2000 (0-15-202398-4) $18.00; (0-15-601207-3) $12.00 pb; (0-15-601219-7) $8.00 pb

In the standard English translation of The Little Prince, the dedication is to a grown-up who "understands everything, even books about children." The dedication of this new translation reads "this grown-up can understand everything, even books for children." (My italics.) It's a small but significant difference. I have never thought of The Little Prince as a children's book, and that was, I think, a large part of its charm. But this new translation seems very committed to making it a book for children. Many phrases have been made simpler or more colloquial; this disrupts the flow of a narrative that has an intrinsically formal, old-fashioned tone, and makes it seem unbalanced. I also think the story has lost significance; something important is gone when the bitingly ironic phrase "busy with matters of consequence" is replaced with "busy here with something serious." Making this story supposedly easier for children to understand has taken something they understand very well and destroyed a bit of its soul.

I have no idea which translation is more true to the original, but I think the classic translation by Katherine Woods added to the book as a work of art; this new one, offers us nothing more (and possibly less) than what was already there. Really, I don't care whether de Saint Exupery or Woods was most responsible for the line, "It is such a secret place, the land of tears." All I know is that I need that line in my Little Prince.

Oz: the Hundredth Anniversary Celebration edited by Peter Glassman. Books of Wonder, 2000 (0-688-15915-X) $24.95

In honor of the hundredth anniversary of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (see anniversary edition below), thirty authors and illustrators of children's books have written and/or drawn celebrations of their personal relationship with the Oz books. The result is not as strong as it should be in interesting stories, but seeing familiar artist bring their own style to the Oz characters is delightful. One of my favorites, by Paul O. Zelinsky, depicts the Tin Man and Jack Pumpkinhead pouring over a book of pictures of Zelinsky reading the Oz books to his daughters. Mark Teague envisions the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion appearing on his ordinary southern California street to show him the way to Oz. Michael Foreman shares a memory of his only childhood encounter with Oz, his friends putting on a show of the movie amid the rubble of his bombed English town. But it's not all inspiration and daydreams: Trina Schart Hyman has a smug Dorothy being given the raspberry by a flying monkey, as the Wicked Witch mutters, "oh put a cork in it, you supercilious little midwesterner!" And of course, Jules Feiffer's Dorothy is confessing to her psychiatrist.

Reprints: News

Bonjour, Babar! written and illustrated by Jean de Brunhoff. Translated by Merle S. Haas. Random House, 2000 (0-375-81060-9) $29.95

A one volume collection of six of the original books about Babar the elephant--The Story of Babar, The Travels of Babar, Babar the King, Babar and Zephir, Babar and his Children and Babar and Father Christmas--with an introduction by Kevin Henkes. The publisher stresses that these are unabridged, with every word and every picture.

The Cuckoo Tree by Joan Aiken. Doubleday, 1971; Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (0-618-07023-0) $5.95 pb; The Stolen Lake by Joan Aiken. Delacorte, 1981; Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (0-618-07021-4) $5.95 pb

Companion editions to the recent reprintings of Black Hearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket, quality paperbacks with new covers by Edward Gorey. Unfortunately, they aren't illustrated, a particular loss in the case of The Cuckoo Tree.

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. Illustrated by Erik Blegvad. 1959; Harcourt, 2000 (0-15-202487-5) $17.00; Odyssey, 2000 (0-15-202493-X) $6.00 pb; The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall. Illustrated by Imero Gobbato. 1965; Harcourt, 2000 (0-15-202511-1) $17.00; Odyssey, 2000 (0-15-202517-0) $6.00 pb

Hardcover and paperback editions of the Newbery Honor winning first book about the Minnipins and its sequel, with new covers by the Brothers Hildebrandt.

The Little Fire Engine; The Little Train written and illustrated by Lois Lenski. 1946; 1940; Random House, 2000 (0-375-81070-6; 0-375-81071-4) $13.95 each; Now it's Fall; I Like Winter written and illustrated by Lois Lenski. 1948; 1950 (0-375-81069-2; 0-375-81068-4) $9.95 each

These classic small picture books have been carefully recolored, with soft, muted shades that complement their old-fashioned charm.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. 1963; Doubleday, 2000 (0-385-32721-8) $15.95

One huge tree provides Christmas trees for a dozen human and animal families in this cheerful rhyming story, now reprinted with all full-color illustrations.

Paddington on Top by Michael Bond. Illustrated by Peggy Furtnum. 1974; Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (0-618-07041-9) $15.00

Revised (or is it?) edition, with the original illustrations.

Petunia written and illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. 1950; Knopf, 2000 (0-394-80865-7) $15.95

A fiftieth anniversary edition of the farmyard story about a silly goose who thinks that carrying a book makes her wise..

The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. 1985; Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (0-618-07736-7) $29.95

For those who want it all, the 15th anniversary "deluxe gift package" of this gorgeous Christmas story includes a hardcover of the book, a recording by Liam Neeson, on both CD and audio tape, and a brass Christmas ornament designed by Van Allsburg.

Tim and Ginger; Tim in Danger; Tim's Friend Towser written and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. 1965; 1953; 1962; HarperCollins, 2000 (0-0688-1767-3; 0-0688-1765-5; 0-0688-1767-1) $15.95 ea.

Adventurous picture books by the Kate Greenaway Medal winner, illustrated in pen & ink with some watercolors. All three books are noted as containing the complete original text and art.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Illustrated by W.W. Denslow. 1899; Books of Wonder, 2000 (0-06-029323-3) $24.95

The "100th Anniversary Edition" is a replica of the first edition, snazzed up with thick paper, glossy full-color plates, an emerald green bookmark and gold edging. The two-color illustrations, with coloration over many of the pages, make it one of the more visually interesting of the Oz books. I have always found it the dullest to read however, and those who have never tried any of the rest of the series should note that the formal fairy-tale style of the first book is quite different from the lively tales that follow it.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. Illustrated by Pat Marriott. 1962; Delacorte, 2000 (0-385-32790-0) $16.95

This hardcover edition of the first book in Aiken's alternative England series features a redesign of the original atmospheric cover by Edward Gorey, as well as the original illustrations. This book sadly precedes the introduction of Dido Twite, but it's an enjoyably over-the-top Dickensian melodrama.

New Books: Reviews

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde. Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (0-618-05523-1)$15.00

The "Rumpelstiltskin" problem is this: it makes no sense. As the author's note explains, the story is pretty much nonsense from beginning to end. (How this makes it different from most other fairy tales, I don't know, but never mind that.) So this book of short stories shows six different ways the story might go if you applied some logic to it; in one of the most amusing, the whole straw-into-gold boast is the start of a clever scheme to trick a king into marriage. (The miller's daughter in question "spins" straw into gold that looks suspiciously like the castle's gold fixtures.) There's a bit of redundancy to the stories, but on the whole they're different enough to be entertaining, whether they're farcical or romantic. An enjoyable light read.

New Books: News

The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman. Knopf, 2000 (0-679-87926-9) $19.95

The sequel to The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife.

Burning for Revenge by John Marsden. Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (0-395-96054-1) $15.00

The first American edition of the fifth book in Marsden's series about Australian teenagers fighting against an enemy invasion.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (0-618-05581-9) $15.00

A futuristic fantasy by the author of the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, The Giver.

Now in Paperback

Holes by Louis Sachar. Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1998; Dell Yearling, 2000 (0-440-41480-6) $5.99 pb

First paperback edition of the 1999 Newbery Medal winner.

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block. HarperCollins, 2000 (0-06-028129-4) $14.95

Retold fairy tales by the author of Weetzie Bat.

Skellig by David Almond. Delacorte, 1998; Dell Yearling, 2000 (0-440-41602-7) $4.99 pb

First paperback edition of the 1998 Carnegie Medal and Whitbread Children's Book of the Year Award.

Everything Old is New Again: new editions of books widely available

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. 1948; Dell Yearling, 2000 (0-440-41642-6) $4.99 pb

Perhaps nothing dates a book more than its depiction of parenting styles; I recently read the 1940s Claudia series and was taken aback by their wholehearted approval of lying to children about illness and death. Cheaper by the Dozen is all about long ago parenting, and yet somehow it doesn't date, at least not in a negative way. Some of it, like the mother's use of the word "Eskimo" to denote anything off-color, seems mainly quaint now (leaving aside its potential for offense) and some it of, like the father's nerve-wracking use of physical punishments, seems pretty barbaric. But perhaps because the book is specifically describing experimental child-rearing--or perhaps because it captures the attitudes of its characters so well and so humorously--it still seems fresh.

Cheaper by the Dozen is a memoir about life for the twelve children of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, two very successful industrial engineers who "believed that what would work in the home would work in the factory, and what would work in the factory would work in the home." The Gilbreth children were called upon to participate in all kinds of child-rearing/motion study experiments, including having to listen to language records while they brushed their teeth and learning to touch-type with a blank keyboard--and a pencil rap on the head for every mistake. On the more pleasant side of things was a democratic family Council that voted a dog into the house against the Chairman's (dad's) wishes, and education made fun through their father's imaginative schemes to spark curiosity.

I don't think I "got" this book as a kid, because my main memory of it is horror at the more regimented aspects of the Gilbreth childhood. They still make me uncomfortable, but now I can appreciate that the portrait is not intended to be entirely positive, and enjoy the sometimes rebellious and subversive attitude of the children. And the general impression of the book is that aside from a few lingering scars, the Gilbreth's had a childhood that was rich and fun--and very funny to remember.

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