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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

I am big. It’s the children that got small.

In the future we will all be wearing yellow sweatshirts and Bumpits

We’ve been doing a fair amount of weeding in the old Children’s Center these days.  I’ve taken on the challenge of tackling the fiction.  Weeding a fiction collection is rather like weeding a garden.  There’s a lot of dead heading involved.  Space to fill.  Dead matter to discard.

While going through the books of yesteryear I’ve been intrigued by the passing fancy of some authors.  While folks like Judy Blume or Laurence Yep have written for decades and remain popular figures on the Summer Reading Lists, certain writers have fallen by the wayside.

The other day Jennifer of the Jean Little Library blog left this comment on my post about movies that usurp their books in the public consciousness: “Re. Doubtfire, Anne Fine used to be majorly popular – take a look at a library shelf that hasn’t been weeded for a while. She’s still a big deal over in the UK, although her popularity over here has waned, at least in my library. She seems to be mostly writing beginning chapter books now – Jamie and Angus anyone? Her older book Flour Babies still checks out frequently, despite the awful cover.”

She’s not wrong.  Weeding the Fine books I had to determine which ones would stay and which ones would go (we have reference editions of most books, so this is not quite the dire situation I make it sound).

It gets one to thinking: Who are the popular children’s authors of yesteryear who remain on unweeded children’s library shelves around the country?  Who just doesn’t move like they used to?  A couple names come to mind right off the bat.

Anne Fine:  Already mentioned.  In a way, her popularity has been usurped by Jacqueline Wilson.

Paula Danziger:  She may be in need of a book jacket revival.  In fact, I believe such a revival has already happened overseas in Britain.  In her day, Danziger was the go-to funny female writer (shoes that are now filled by Lisa Yee).  Some of her titles still go out, in spite of their covers, but for the most part they shelf sit more than I’d like.

Peter Dickinson: We have a heckuva lot of Dickinson on my library’s shelves, but when I bring up books like Eva with my kids all I meet with are blank stares.  I think he was always more of a YA writer anyway, so it’s strange that we have so many of his books in the children’s section.  Maybe he should have been purchased for the teen collections all along.

Scott O’Dell – Aside from Island of the Blue Dolphins and Zia, his books don’t really go out.  Compare his outdoor survival tales to those of Gary Paulsen or Jean Craighead George and you’ll see a definite difference in circulation stats.

Those are just the first four to come to mind, though there are certainly others out there as well.  Confess it then, folks.  Are there great authors of the past that just sit on your shelves, where once they used to fly?  If possible, limit yourself to folks who did particularly well in the 70s and 80s (even early 90s) but don’t write all that much today.  We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, after all.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Constance Greene is one–when I first became a librarian back in the 80’s, the same children who read all of Judy Bloom read Constance Green. And Marilyn Sachs is another–I think both these good authors could use new covers. Danziger’s P.S. Longer Letter Later book (written with Ann Martin) is still extremely popular, along with its sequel–children who read P.S. sometimes go on to Danziger’s other books.

  2. E.L. Konigsburg – Mixed up Files still circulates somewhat, but not much else, including her latest.
    Zylpha Keatley Snyder – Fifth and sixth graders love The Egypt Game, but do not check out other titles.


    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Constance Greene, check. We’ve a fair amount of her on the shelves. Snyder, heck yes. The Egyptian Game, The Gypsy Game, The Headless Cupid, and anything with a new cover does okay. That said, the older stuff sits and sits. And Konigsburg, yes. Though we’ve had luck with the Jennifer, Hecate, etc. book in its new cover, and A View from Saturday does well on Summer Reading Lists.

  3. Konigsburg? Say it isn’t so!

  4. We’re weeding our juvenile fiction collection as well. I’ve asked the other librarians who are weeding to collect the books that never checked out or have really old and dated covers. I’ve scanned the cover and collected the circulation info and put them on a posterous blog. It’s really interesting to see. The Isis Pedlar by Monica hughes is my favorite. We’re trying to draw conclusions from our weeding, so far it’s too random. I’m writing this at home so I don’t remember some names, but I remember: Betsy Byars, particularly Bingo Brown. Diana Wynne Jones and Kathleen Karr

    I’m trying to put one book out a day, so visit more than once on your trip down children’s lit memory lane

  5. I’m curious whether you all think it’s because the writing gets dated, the jackets get dated, or whether the frontlist-loaded publishing model is pushing backlist aside. I do know from the publishing side that perennial backlist classics, things that have sold well for decades, are now in precipitous decline and it’s not clear why.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Kristin, to my mind the jackets are a large part of it. Someone mentioned Barthe DeClements, but I can attest that with her new covers we’ve had difficulty keeping her paperbacks on the shelf. Good writing doesn’t date (though some big name writers do date to a certain extent). When you say that perennial backlist classics are in decline, do you mean they’re being republished less or selling less well?

  6. Sarah Dotts Barley says:

    I loved that–yes, that–Paula Danziger book.

  7. Lois Lowry’s books remain popular in our library, except for the Anastasia Krupnik series. I don’t know if the covers have been updated, but we still have the original covers. I recently reread the first one and I still love it. I remember reading them when I was a child, but they don’t seem to circulate as much as her other books do.

    Check out Thomas Memorial Library’s (Cape Elizabeth, ME) Lonely Books Club. They won an EBSCO Award for this program. Children read books from the Lonely Books Club display (of books that don’t circulate frequently) and fill ou reviews for chances to win prizes. If you do a search (library’s name + “Lonely Books Club), you can find out more (including downloads if you want to start a club). I haven’t done this yet, but it’s been on my agenda ever since I read about it.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I adore the idea of a Lonely Books Club. Might have to steal that idea for my own bookclub kids. And alas, Miriam, we sell all our books through an online vendor. No in-house book sales coming up, I’m afraid.

  8. Oh, I see that we were supposed to include writers that aren’t as active as they used to be, so that leaves out Lowry. Well, I loved Barthe DeClements’s books when I was a kid, but I don’t think hers go out as much.

  9. Semi-off-topic, does all this weeding mean that there’s a big library book sale coming up? I do love me a chance to buy large stacks of worn library-bound books…

  10. Kristen: book jackets can be replaced, I think it’s the literature trends that push titles. Harry Potter brought fantasy to a new level and I think children became sophisticated readers. thick books have become a whole genre in our library. as in What would you like to read? A thick book… they don’t seem to care what the genre is, they want the story to last a long time… look at Tumtum and Nutmeg it’s 504 pages long for third and fourth graders.

    Anyway, fantasy ruled the land for almost a decade which has sort of morphed to SF and horror (we’re doing a werewolves, vampires and zombies staff reading assignment this month). So with these trends, great books like bingo brown and anastasia krupnik faded (but Beezus and Ramona and Judy Blume still get read….) Maybe mama’s who read Lowry and Byars and Konigsburg will gently remind their offspring of these good books.

  11. Ellen Conford – loved her in the 70s, she hasn’t written much lately, and my library doesn’t carry many of her books. I’d like to re-read And This is Laura.

    Definitely Marilyn Sachs (my library doesn’t have the full Amy and Laura trilogy, boo) and Constance Greene (I remember really liking A Girl Called Al, but it’s not in my library).

    I’m guessing also Bette Greene, other than Summer of My German Soldier – I’d love to re-read Philip Hall Likes Me I Reckon Maybe, but my library doesn’t have it. And how about Mary Stolz? My library does have a bunch of hers (The Noonday Friends is just as wonderful today) but I’m wondering how circulation is.

  12. Despite my frequent attempts to hand-sell/book talk/slip them in the backpacks of unsuspecting kids, it was a rare day when a book by Susan Cooper or Llyod Alexander got checked out at my library.

  13. THANK YOU, Jennifer Schultz, for the Lonely Books Club idea! I am SO SO USING IT. Our collection is presided over by a little old lady who REFUSES TO WEED ANYTHING, EVER, and we have so many terrible-looking old books, and I’ve been longing for a way to get some USE out of them…!

    I wonder if it’s mostly your Contemporary Realistic fiction that gets left behind, just because more books that are actually still contemporary show up to take their place, and it’s only a few really classic ones that survive (like Ramona. Although it did scare me how many people came in looking for “the book ‘Ramona and Beezus,’ that movie is supposed to be based on a book,” as if they had NO CLUE BEFORE). Doesn’t explain the Scott O’Dell, but the rest at least. But old or ugly covers are probably an issue too. One of the ideas I did have for our Really Old Books was a make-a-new-cover contest….

    Also, HAH, I knew I wasn’t imagining the slip in Konigsburg popularity. That was why I was surprised Mixed-up Files made it to #5 in the countdown last spring, and nobody believed me for being surprised. It’s not a question of whether she DESERVES to be slipping in popularity, it’s just an observation!

  14. Rebecca Donnelly says:

    This is a timely topic. I’ve just taken over our teen fiction, and I’m looking at authors like Paula Fox, Theodore Taylor, Jean Thesman, and William Sleator–the urge to hang on to the stalwarts is strong, but the shelves are sagging. As for children’s, how about Willo Davis Roberts? Paula Fox would fit there, too.

  15. With Paula Danziger’s books, my library has the newer elementary reader Amber Brown series, but none of her MG/YA books that I loved, like The Pistachio Prescription and Can You Sue Your Parents For Malpractice?

  16. My past as a Dell Sales representative is coming back to haunt me! Almost all the titles mentioned thus far were published by Dell Yearling and Laurel Leaf in the 80s and were part of my daily life as the Northern California sales rep (1981-1995).

  17. I wish we’d get a cover update on Paulsen and Joseph Bruchac, I’d love to see those get more circs than they do. And I’ll second an above wish for new covers on Lloyd Alexander’s books.

    Edith Nesbit doesn’t circ as much as I’d like.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Nesbit actually does pretty well in my branch. We’ve about 5 different versions of Five Children and It and they all circ a surprising amount. Lloyd Alexander much much less so. He did get a cover update about 5 years ago, but it doesn’t seem to manner. Had a kid trying to decide between the newly re-jacketed The Book of Three and Philip Pullman’s Clockwork. He went with Clockwork. Ah well. They both sported skulls on the covers.

  18. R.R. Knudson is a writer that I read voraciously as a teen and whose work does not seem to be read much these days! Darn shame too, because her sports books for and about girls promote such girl power and she created such strong female characters. I think I have probably read Zanboomer at least 10 times – might be time for another re-read right now! : )

  19. You were right about Scott O’Dell’s books not circulating except for Island of the Blue Dolphins, which is much too bad. However, the schools here put The Black Pearl on their reading lists. Has anyone else noticed that?

  20. Same here: O’Dell, Alexander, John Christopher, Paterson and Konigsburg. (with every author the award winners go out, everything else sits there). We have a teacher in the district who assigns Jean Craighead George books, otherwise those would stay on shelf as well.

  21. The Paula Danziger titles were repackaged with new art (by Tuesday Mourning) just a few years ago, all but the Matthew books were given new covers and a new launch in paper.

  22. I LOVE the idea of a Lonely Book Club. We will be stealing – I mean using – this idea at our library. Thanks Jennifer

  23. Aw. Oh well, can’t blame a girl for hoping.

  24. My system weeds religiously. Anything that hasn’t gone out in 18 months is OUT OF THERE. Leads to a lot of heartbreak on the part of librarians, but it also sometimes leads us to really promote books that we think might be on the precipice. Scott O’Dell, E.L. Konigsberg, Christiana Brand, Diana Wynne Jones, Sleator, Lloyd Alexander etc. still have healthy shelf lives.

    I agree though, I think it’s the realistic fiction that gets left by the wayside. Might be why some of us responded so strongly to When You Reach Me – it felt just exactly like some of those older forgotten titles.


  25. I’m echoing another commenter here, but I wanted to note that Tuesday Mourning redid the Danziger covers and Tuesday Mourning is awesome!

    Hate to see great books weeded out. Sometimes you see stuff at a library sale and fall to the ground wailing “why? why?”

    Perhaps classic books should be sold with special dust jackets that would allow you to just slip out the old cover and slip in a hip new cover every couple years.

  26. Thanks for including me in the same paragraph as Paula Danziger. She blurbed my first book, Millicent Min Girl Genius!

  27. Stephanie Whelan says:

    I loved Monica Hughes and can’t find her anywhere! Add to them Pamela Service, William Sleator, Alfred Slote, John Christopher (who gets reprinted pretty often), H. M. Hoover, all of Asimov’s Norby books. Ah the days of SF for kids in the 80s . . . I still have trouble drumming up interest in most SF books versus fantasy.

    Tamora Pierce remains a strong writer who’s popular, but Robin McKinely has lost ground–she’s mostly writing for adults these days. Diana Wynne Jone’s new books seem to have lost something for me–and the old ones aren’t on the shelf much. Cooper and Alexander I keep on the shelf mainly for booklists and nostalgic parents, but they don’t jump off the shelf much. Neither does Natalie Babbit, except for Tuck Everlasting (I always preferred the search for Delicious). Our Edward Eager books haven’t seen much circ lately, though our Ibbotson is pretty regularly checked out. Interestingly enough, Jacques’ Redwall series has managed to stay strong in circ.

    I see similar slowdown with Konisberg, mostly it’s booklists and teacher assignments that check out anything but the most famous. I don’t have much Danziger left beyond the Amber Brown stuff, but I’d like to see if it’d go out. Haven’t seen much movement of our Betsy Byars books either, or Virginia Hamilton.

  28. Our older Pamela Service doesn’t check out – but her new beginning chapter series, Alien Agent, is HUGE at our library. Probably b/c I fell in love with it and talk it up on all occasions – and I got a couple teachers to read it aloud to their classes.

    Brian Jacques is dead at our library – I stopped buying Redwall last year. Even the Warriors fans won’t read him for some reason.

    I get a lot of older classics checked out in the summer, Edward Eager, Nesbit, Burnett, etc. but during the school year kids seem to want new materials. New covers definitely help – My L’engle was sitting on the shelf until I bought the new Square Fish paperbacks and now parents and kids are reading them eagerly.

  29. This Place Has No Atmosphere was the first Paula Danziger story I ever read–a lame cover but not a bad book at all. There were crystals in it…and then everyone put on a play! I got to talk to Paula about it and she claimed she’d never even heard the term “space opera” before.

  30. I actually just checked out all the Monica Hughes and H.M. Hoover titles from the library system where I work, in hopes of preventing them from being weeded!

    I totally understand that it’s really hard to get kids past a dated cover, and some of the actual science fiction is a little dated too (a book about life on the moon that assumes people will still be sending paper letters!), but I haven’t really come across many writers who are doing that kind of humanistic/anthropological, not totally dystopian (although both Hughes and Hoover did write dystopias) SF nowadays.

    To their credit Tor/Starscape reissued a lot of the Hoover books with updated covers, and Monica Hughes _Invitation to the Game_ is being reissued this fall as _The Game_.