Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Mysterious Author

From Crime Reads:

Let me tell you about the most popular mystery author you’ve probably never heard of.

He sold 50 million of copies of his books worldwide. His work was translated into a dozen languages. The Mystery Writers of America gave him a special Edgar. The character he created became a cultural icon—spoofed by The Onion, the star of a short-lived television series, and the subject of a nasty lawsuit over the movie rights.

His name was Donald J. Sobol. He was World War II veteran and New York City native who moved to Florida in 1961. Two years later he created his “Sherlock in sneakers,” boy detective Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown.

Smarter than the Hardy Boys and wittier than Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown solved mysteries for nearly 50 years and never charged more than a quarter. Although “born” in 1963, young Brown remains forever 10.

His beat is an idealized Florida beach town named Idaville. It exists in the era before cellphones, video games, and Arianna Grande, when kids went fishing or rode bikes for fun. He runs his cut-rate detective agency out of his family’s garage on Rover Avenue.

Sobol’s sleuth has a keen eye and a prodigious memory for arcane facts—hence his nickname. (These days he’d have to be Wikipedia Brown, which just doesn’t sound as authoritative.) He solves small mysteries for his friends and sometimes helps out on big cases that baffle his police chief dad, exposing robbers and con men by spotting the clue everyone else missed.

. . . .

But the real mystery wasn’t inside the books. The real mystery was: Who’s Donald J. Sobol?

Most authors would love to be a big name—a Stephen King, a James Patterson, a John Grisham. People buy their books not for the title or cover image or first page, but because it’s the new King, the new Patterson, the new Grisham.

Not Sobol. He preferred nobody know who produced all those books.

“What I really wanted, and couldn’t achieve—it was just a pipe dream—was to remain anonymous,” Sobol once told his college alumni magazine. “That never worked.”

He came close, though. He never gave a single television interview. When he talked with newspaper and magazine reporters, he did so by telephone. That way they couldn’t take his picture or even describe what he looked like. A photo of the author only appeared in one book, and he said that was by mistake.

“I am very content with staying in the background and letting the books do the talking,” he told the Oberlin Alumni Magazine in 2011.

. . . .

He was the most unlikely of authors, joking once that “I am totally unqualified to be a writer. My childhood was unimpoverished and joyful. Even worse, I loved and admired my parents.”

Donald J. Sobol—the J was just that, no middle name, just an initial—was born and raised in New York City, where his father owned gas stations. As a child, he was more like Brown’s frequent nemesis, inept gang leader Bugs Meany, than his hero, “but only in that I thought up devilish pranks. I never had the courage to act out on them.”

He didn’t read mystery stories. Instead, he was attracted to tales of adventure. As a kid he wanted to be a police officer, or a firefighter, or a shortstop for the Yankees. In high school he tried his hand at sculpting.

In World War II, he was part of a combat engineer battalion, then attended Oberlin College on the GI Bill. He took the college’s only creative writing course, and was hooked. After the last class, he asked the professor if he could take an advanced writing course. The professor explained that there wasn’t one. Sobol said later he just stared at the professor “like a dim-witted penguin watching water freeze.”

Then the professor asked he’d seen action during the war. They talked about that a bit, and finally the professor agreed to teach an advanced writing course for just one student.

“Without his help, I probably never could have had a career as a freelance writer. I owe him so much,” Sobol told the alumni magazine. Not only did the professor help him become a better writer “but he instilled faith in me, in myself. I will always be grateful.”

Two of the stories Sobol wrote for his advanced class wound up selling to the pulps, and he was on his way.

. . . .

Sobol cranked out the first book in the series, Encyclopedia BrownBoy Detective, in just two weeks. That first book contained all the elements that would show up in all the other books: the idyllic setting, the 25-cent fee, the roster of regular baddies like dimwitted Bugs Meany, leader of the Tigers gang.

In inventing his hero, Sobol started with Brown’s nickname, then fleshed out the character from there. “I wanted a name that would appear on the cover and tell readers that this was a book about a smart youngster,” he told an interviewer in 1984.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads


 

Marie Kondo to Publish a Children’s Book!

From Book Riot:

Marie Kondo fans: check it out. Kondo will be publishing a picture book this fall called Kiki and Jax, to be illustrated by Geisel Honor­–winning author/illustrator Salina Yoon.

The book, which will have a 250,000 first print run, will hit shelves November 5. Kiki and Jax is inspired by the KonMari method, as it follows two best friends — Kiki, a collector, and Jax, a sorter — as they work through what it means when their friendship has to navigate things. When those things begin to get in the way, they learn the power of how their friendship works: the spark of joy.

Kondo said, “I’m pleased to share this timeless story about friendship, and I hope that the characters of Kiki and Jax inspire children and families to tidy and embrace joy!”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG has been “tidying” his office over the past few days. He hasn’t found any joy to embrace yet.

One question for visitors to TPV, what’s the difference between cleaning and tidying?

Another question, this time involving gender – Do men tidy? Or do they clean? Or do they haul trash? In big noisy trucks?

Is tidying the new cleaning? Or, as Marie suggests, is it more transformative than cleaning?

Can PG properly tidy while wearing sweat pants? Before he takes a shower?

PG would love to be able to back a trash truck up to the door of his office.

Nine-Year-Old Author Shares Her Story and Seeks to Publish

Apparently a press release. PG has added paragraph breaks. The italics are part of the original.

From LifePulseHealth:

Mantua resident and Centre City elementary school student MaKayla Rose had a problem one night at bedtime. She couldn’t find a book that she wanted to read. She couldn’t find a story that represented her family and her point of view.

MaKayla is a problem solver, however, and knew that the best way to fix the problem was to write a story of her own! This was the beginning of “Why Bedtime Sucks: The Opposite of a Bedtime Story”, and a journey for her whole family.

Once MaKayla had written her story and hand drawn her illustrations, she shared it with her peers and teachers. Other students were inspired by her initiative and began writing stories of their own.

This is when her mother, Shalina, knew that Why Bedtime Sucks was a story that could reach and inspire so many other young people to relate and create for themselves, and she began the process of making MaKayla’s tale into a book.

One of the first steps was to connect with the right illustrator. All the illustrations in Why Bedtime Sucks are hand created in collaboration with artist Isabel Rivera of Cancun, Mexico.

To retain the creative independence and MaKayla’s true voice in the story, the Hubbs have decided to self-publish launching the project as a campaign on Kickstarter. Why Bedtime Sucks is an opportunity to provide diversity into illustrated children’s books that would benefit all children.

Link to the rest at LifePulseHealth

The Dictionary of Difficult Words

From Quick and Dirty Tips [rough transcript of an interview with author Jane Solomon by Mignon Fogarty A/K/A Grammar Girl]:

There’s actually a long history of dictionaries that cover just difficult words. And we talked about one from 1604 called “A Table Alphabetical,” but Jane also sent me a follow up email with details about others, and I’ll share a little bit of that with you now.

There were a bunch of subject-specific dictionaries in the 17th century that covered topics like natural history, law, and medicine, but there was also a trend at this time for dictionaries of thieves’ cant—slang that criminals used because of the rise in rogue literature. People were reading about rogues, and they wanted to understand the language they were reading, so other people made dictionaries for them.

The first comprehensive English dictionary that went beyond difficult words and included regular words like “green” and “the” was Nathaniel Bailey’s “An Universal Etymological English Dictionary,” which was published in 1721 and according to Jane, was the most popular dictionary of it’s time, more popular even than Samuel Johnson’s “Dictionary of the English Language,” which is probably the most well-known of the early dictionaries today. That book was published in 1755, and set the standards and methodologies practiced by lexicographers today, but it was not the first dictionary to include ordinary words. And now, on to the interview.

. . . .

Mignon: Right. So you have a new book out called “The Dictionary of Difficult Words,” and it is one of the most adorable books I’ve ever seen.

Jane: Oh, thank you.

Mignon: It’s a really wonderful so. And what’s so fascinating is that it’s a dictionary just of difficult words. And a lot of people probably don’t know that there there’s sort of a history of those kind of dictionaries. So can you talk us through first before we talk about your book specifically? Can you talk about the history of this kind of dictionary? And maybe when we got the kind of dictionaries people think of today?

Jane: Sure, of course.

Jane: So originally, you know, when we think of a dictionary today, we think of a book that has any words you could possibly want to look up in it.

Jane: But as you mentioned, this is not how dictionaries always were. Originally, they were only lists of vocabulary items and difficult words for people to look up the words they didn’t know in them. So…and they would they would often be very subject specific. So you might have one about falconry. Or you might have one about law or medicine or gardening or something like that.

Jane: And when the first dictionaries were made, a lot of these word lists that were existing were compiled into these dictionaries. So sometimes you hear people talk about the history of dictionaries having a lot of plagiarism in it. It’s because of how these lists were taken in. And this is also why if you look at modern dictionaries, sometimes they have more words about falconry than you would expect because they’re based on this, you know, an early falconry vocabulary list for people who want to learn about falconry.

. . . .

Jane: . . . [O]riginally people just thought, “Oh, yeah. These are words that we don’t know and that’s the only thing we’re going to want to look up.” And then later on, people decided that, no, we want to actually define any word that you’re going to come across because you want to be able to be certain that you understand the meaning. And there’s so many nuances of meaning that a dictionary can really help with that. So you see that. You see that in dictionaries, you know, post Samuel Johnson. He definitely had a lot of more of the simple terms in them. I mean, if you look at Cawdray with “A Table Alphabetical,” which is what year that is, but that that’s from the 1600s. And the purpose of that dictionary is it’s dedicated to ladies and other unskilled persons. And it’s so you can understand the language that sophisticated people bring back to English from other languages when they go and travel abroad, or the difficult words that they learn when they’re when they’re studying. So so dictionaries are have, you know, historically very much been about these hard words.

. . . .

Jane: So I actually was looking at some earlier dictionaries in terms of pronunciation, because in an earlier version of this project, we weren’t going to have pronunciations. And I was wondering, oh, is that is that going to be difficult for the kids? Is there is there any precedent in that? And actually, earlier dictionaries didn’t always have pronunciations. That’s something that is always included in modern dictionaries. But it was not as included in some of these earlier dictionaries. I think Samuel Johnson’s dictionary doesn’t have pronunciations.

. . . .

Jane: So in that case, it’s actually really important to be able to to have the pronunciations right there, especially if you’re if you are an adult reading this to a child and the child asks you how to pronounce the word. It’s right there. So you don’t have to you don’t have to go and look for it. At the same time, I think this dictionary is very much a jumping off point for discovery. You know, there’s only so much you can include in 112 pages. For each each word that I have in there, I only include one definition. I only feature one definition. So if people get very excited about a word, they can go look it up in a bunch of other dictionaries and see what else they can learn about it.

. . . .

Jane: This project started in a very surprising way to me. I wasn’t someone who ever thought “I want to write a book.” I wasn’t someone who ever thought “I want to write a children’s book.” But one day, it was last February, I got contacted out of the blue by the publisher, and they had the idea for the title, and they knew they needed a lexicographer to write it. So they contacted me and asked me if I was willing to do it. And I was. I was actually very familiar with the publisher. So it’s it’s being published by Quarto Kids, and it’s under the imprint Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. And I actually knew this exact imprint because I have a friend who is a children’s author and illustrator who has written award-winning children’s book with the same team. So I responded right away very enthusiastically. “Yes, I would love to do this.” And within the week we had a call. And originally the project was, I think that the publisher and the editor, they definitely knew they wanted it to be a dictionary of difficult words, but they didn’t know how difficult the word should be because in the first call, the publisher, her name is Rachel Williams. She said that when she was younger, she was in a spelling bee, and she got the word “photosynthesis.” Correct. And she felt so good about it. And she would spell the word for everyone, define it for everyone around her. And so it’s the idea of that passion about language that you can develop really young and and the pride you feel when you know a word and how much delight you got as a as a young person talking about the word with everyone around you. So the book, it was sort of to capture that kind of spirit.

Link to the rest at Quick and Dirty Tips and you can listen to the recording of the original interview here


Little Red Riding Hood Too Sexist for School

From BookRiot:

A school in Catalonia has withdrawn from its library 200 classic children’s books such as Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood because of their depiction of sexist stereotypes.

After analyzing the contents of its library for children up to the age of six, the management of Taber School in Barcelona found that around a third of its stories were “toxic,” and that only one-tenth of the books were written from a gender perspective.

Anna Tutzó, who was on the commission that looked at the books, said gender bias also pervades fairytales and the change of gender roles in society “is not being reflected in stories.”

. . . .

In the U.S., at least, studies show that only 11% of the stories in history textbooks are about women. Is this because 50% of the population only contributed to 11% percent of the country’s events?

Link to the rest at BookRiot

10 Quotes from Ramona the Pest to Celebrate Beverly Cleary’s 103rd Birthday

From Book Riot:

Happy 103rd birthday, Beverly Cleary! In order to celebrate your birthday, I dug my tattered and torn paperback Ramona the Pest out of a box at my Dad’s house and began reading it to my 5- year-old son. As we snuggled before bedtime and laughed at all of Ramona’s antics during her first months of kindergarten, I remembered how much I appreciated your stories when I was a child.

You really seemed to understand how puzzling the adult world can be to a little girl. I recall feeling relieved as I read how Ramona also threw fits to get what she wanted, felt frustrated when adults were distracted, and sometimes was so angry that she pounded her feet on her bedroom wall and reveled in the fact that her oxfords left scuff marks on the walls. Now, I read your books and remind myself that children are complex little people with real feelings who are simply trying to figure out a world in which they are the smallest and the most impatient.

Below are ten quotes from Ramona the Pest that capture the confusion, joyfulness, and spirit of childhood and show how amazingly well you understood your audience and their “slowpoke grown-ups.”

. . . .

“She was not a slowpoke grown-up. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.”

. . . .

“Ramona looked forward to many things – her first loose tooth, riding a bicycle instead of a tricycle, wearing lipstick like her mother – but most of all she looked forward to Show and Tell.”

“Only grown-ups would say boots were for keeping feet dry. Anyone in kindergarten knew that a girl should wear shiny red or white boots on the first rainy day, not to keep her feet dry, but to show off. That’s what boots were for – showing off, wading, splashing, stamping.”

“Ramona, who did not mean to pester her mother, could not see why grown-ups had to be so slow.”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Baltimore Mayor Takes Leave of Absence Amid Criticism over ‘Healthy Holly’ Books

From The Wall Street Journal:

 Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she is taking an indefinite leave of absence because of pneumonia, as she faces growing pressure over revelations that she sold her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she sat on its board of directors.

. . . .

Ms. Pugh, a Democrat elected in 2016, made the announcement hours after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called for the state prosecutor to investigate the medical system’s purchase of 100,000 “Healthy Holly” books for $500,000 since 2011. Ms. Pugh previously said she returned $100,000 to the system, one of the state’s largest private employers.

“These are deeply disturbing allegations,” Mr. Hogan wrote in the letter to State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt. “I am particularly concerned about the UMMS sale because it has significant continuing ties with the State and receives very substantial public funding.”

. . . .

“The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also [have] to deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive,” he tweeted.

Ms. Pugh said last week that the deal with the medical system had been a mistake. “I am deeply sorry for the lack of confidence or disappointment which this initiative may have caused Baltimore city residents, friends and colleagues,” she said at a news conference Thursday, after being released from the hospital where she was treated for pneumonia. Her office’s statement on Monday said Ms. Pugh has been battling pneumonia for the past few weeks.

Ms. Pugh resigned from the University of Maryland Medical System board last month, after the Baltimore Sun published an article exposing the deal.

On Monday the Sun reported that health provider Kaiser Permanente also bought Ms. Pugh’s books, and that some were purchased during a period when the company successfully sought a contract to provide health benefits to Baltimore city employees.

A spokesman for Kaiser told The Wall Street Journal it has purchased 20,000 copies of the “Healthy Holly” books for $114,000 since 2015, delivering them to back-to-school fairs, elementary schools, day-care centers and religious institutions. It said it bought them from Healthy Holly, LLC.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Not Your Kid’s Picture Book Anymore

From Publishers Weekly:

There are picture books that engage, transport, amuse, intrigue, enchant, comfort, or even haunt adults, but that don’t connect with the children who are their purported audience. This would be absolutely fine—picture books are a unique and endlessly variable art form—but it can be hard to overcome customers’ resistance to buying them for themselves. As one of my bookselling colleagues said recently, people will spend $40 on glossy coffee table art books they’ll look through once or twice, but are reluctant to buy themselves an $18 picture book they can’t stop leafing through in the store.

I’ve had more than a few customers over the years pore through picture books, then sadly place them back on the shelves, saying, “I love this, but I don’t have little children in my life anymore.” Good news, my friends: Picture books are not just for children, especially now.

Why have we come to a place where picture books are relegated to the landscape only of the very young? It was not always thus. We didn’t used to hurry children away from picture books into beginning readers and chapter books at age six, the way most parents do now.

. . . .

Parents often dismiss picture books as an entire class—not registering their relative complexities, subtleties, and nuances. They don’t want to spend money on books they think are beneath their children’s intellectual capacities. Even in the span of time I’ve been a bookseller (22 years), I’ve seen word counts shrink and parents push their children out of picture books younger and younger. They may not understand that the language in picture books may be much more sophisticated than the chapter books they are eager for their kids to read.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here are some of the picture books mentioned in the OP. Each has Look Inside enabled to provide an expanded view of the images and design. If clicking on the cover doesn’t work, I’ve included a text link below each cover.


The Stuff of Stars

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The Fox and The Star
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The Journey

What Books Will Boost Self-Confidence in My 10-Year-Old Son?

From The Guardian:

Q: What books would help instil confidence in a preteen boy?
Stay-at-home mother, 33, trying to help her 10-year-old son to become calmer and more confident

A: Fiona Noble, children’s books editor at the Bookseller, writes:
The act of reading can itself create an oasis of calm in a busy world, and I believe children’s fiction can play a powerful role in building confidence and resilience. Look for stories showing characters facing and overcoming fears and persevering in tough times. SF Said’s modern classic Varjak Paw, with wonderfully menacing artwork from Dave McKean, is about a young cat on a voyage of discovery and self-acceptance in the big city, replete with martial arts and terrifying villains. Another thrilling tale of bravery is Katherine Rundell’s epic adventure The Explorer, last year’s Costa children’s book of they ear. Four children lost in the Amazon jungle face a compelling physical struggle to survive while each facing their own, more personal battles.

Nonfiction may also offer inspiration. In Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, Ben Brooks looks beyond the stereotypes, at a diverse selection of male lives, from Lionel Messi to Barack Obama and Daniel Radcliffe.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG would add The Dangerous Book for Boys to this list.

You can get a sense for this book from the book’s first page, which describes Essential Gear for boys:


As a former boy of a certain age, PG can attest to the attractiveness of the items on this list to such a boy, not necessarily because they’re essential for specific tasks, but rather because they’re highly beneficial for the imagination of such a boy and contribute to his self-confidence.

If a boy is prepared to write down a description of a crime he might witness, even in the tamest of neighborhoods, he becomes more observant and feels a bit of mature responsibility for the safety of others. A small flashlight will keep him amused for hours and he will certainly use it to examine a map, even one he draws himself, in the dark or perform a late-evening security check of the perimeter of his home.








The Secret Power of the Children’s Picture Book

From The Wall Street Journal:

Millions of people—perhaps you’re one of them—have watched viral videos of a Scottish granny collapsing in laughter while she reads to a baby. Comfortable on a sofa with her grandson, Janice Clark keeps cracking up as she tries to read “The Wonky Donkey” and, in a second video recorded a few months later, “I Need a New Bum.”

Her raspy burr sounds great, and she’s fun to watch, but the real genius of the scene is what’s happening to the baby. Tucked beside her, he’s totally enthralled by the book in her hands. In the second video especially, because he’s older, you can see his eyes tracking the illustrations, widening in amazement each time that she turns the page. He’s guileless, unaware of the camera. He has eyes only for the pictures in the book.

What’s happening to that baby is both obvious and a secret marvel. A grandmother is weeping with laughter as she reads a story, and her grandson is drinking it all in—that’s obvious. The marvel is hidden inside the child’s developing brain. There, the sound of her voice, the warmth of her nearness and, crucially, the sight of illustrations that stay still and allow him to gaze at will, all have the combined effect of engaging his deep cognitive networks.

Unbeknown to him and invisible to the viewer, there is connection and synchronization among the different domains of his brain: the cerebellum, the coral-shaped place at the base of the skull that’s believed to support skill refinement; the default mode network, which is involved with internally directed processes such as introspection, creativity and self-awareness; the visual imagery network, which involves higher-order visual and memory areas and is the brain’s means of seeing pictures in the mind’s eye; the semantic network, which is how the brain extracts the meaning of language; and the visual perception network, which supports the processing of visual stimuli.

And it is all happening exactly when it needs to happen, which is early. In the first year of life, an infant’s brain doubles in size. By his second birthday, synapses are forming for language and many other higher cognitive functions. And by the time he’s blowing out five candles on his birthday cake, today’s viral-video infant celebrity will have passed through stages of development involving language, emotional control, vision, hearing and habitual ways of responding. The early experiences he’s having, and the wiring and firing of neurons they produce, will help to create the architecture of his mind and lay the pathways for his future thought and imagination.

. . . .

Just as Goldilocks sighs with relief when she takes a spoonful from the third bowl of porridge and finds that it is “just right,” so a small child can relax into the experience of being read a picture book. There is a bit of pleasurable challenge in making sense of what he’s seeing and hearing. There is time to reflect on the story and to see its reverberations in his own life—a transaction that may be as simple as the flash of making a connection between a real donkey he once saw with the “honky tonky, winky wonky donkey” of Craig Smith’s picture book. The collaborative engagement that a child brings to the experience is so vital and productive that reading aloud “stimulates optimal patterns of brain development,” as a 2014 paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics put it, strengthening the neural connections that will enable him to process more difficult and complex stories as he gets older.

Much of the hidden magic of reading aloud has to do with those curious eyes and that devouring gaze. Looking at a book with an adult, a child increases his capacity for “joint attention,” noticing what others see and following their gaze. This phenomenon has a remarkable tempering power in children. It encourages the development of executive function, an array of skills that includes the ability to remember details and to pay attention. Children “learn to naturally regulate their attention when they are focusing on a task they find interesting in a context that is nurturing, warm and responsive,” as Vanderbilt University’s David Dickenson and colleagues put it in a paper summarizing the rich developmental value of reading aloud.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Ontario’s 49th Teachers Site Supports Canadian Books in Schools

From Publishers Perspectives:

Launched in the spring of 2018 with the aim of getting Canadian books into Ontario classrooms, 49th Teachers expands on the established book promotion platforms 49th Shelf and 49th Kids, but is designed to connect directly with teachers and teacher-librarians.

. . . .

The new teacher initiative may well be of interest to other world markets’ publishers who would like to see their books better featured in educational settings.

The site offers educators a database of nearly 20,000 Canadian-authored kids’ and YA books as well as nearly 800 related resources, all available as free downloads.

One area of the site, for example, features “character education” selections that are recommended for development of respect, responsibility, empathy, kindness, teamwork, fairness, and so on.

. . . .

In addition to the database, the site offers users:

  • Options to search by author, title, genre, subject area, age, and grade level
  • Access to nearly 800 resources developed specifically for use with books in the database, searchable by subject, grade, and by resource type such as teacher’s guides, reading guides, handouts, etc.
  • A variety of themed booklists prepared either by the site editor or by educators
  • A books blog written by a children’s books librarian
  • Links to reviews, recommendations, and purchasing options
  • The ability to create book lists and share them with other site members

Link to the rest at Publishers Perspectives