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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Fusenews: The Caldecott Killer

The other day I spoke on the phone with author James Cross Giblin (he has written, amongst many things, the best Charles Lindbergh bio you can buy for your collection: Charles Lindbergh: A Human Hero).  In the course of our conversation he happened to mention that he was familiar with an old 1959 murder mystery that was at least partially set in the Children’s Center.  Which is to say, my own library.  It was called Dead Indeed and was written by one M.R. Hodgkin (a nice woman, according to Mr. Giblin).  Thinking myself ever so smart I told my Candlewick co-writers Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta about the find.  Peter, however, had not only heard of the book but had written an impressive blog piece about it less than a year ago!  Zounds!  Having read it, he says that it contains a lot of folks in the children’s book scene at the time (Anne Carroll Moore even makes an appearance).  Then he came up with a brilliant question: Why aren’t there murder mysteries set in the children’s publishing world today?  This led to thinking:

“if today’s world of children’s publishing is too cold and corporate to capture anyone’s imagination, a mystery writer could find a goldmine of material writing about yesteryear. We’ve already got mystery novels featuring Jane Austen as a detective. How about a 1940/1950s “children’s book noir” that teams up Ursula Nordstrom and Anne Carroll Moore (with doll Nicholas in tow) to solve THE CASE OF THE CALDECOTT KILLER or LITTLE HOUSE OF ILL REPUTE (in which Laura Ingalls Wilder is kidnapped by a rival publisher and hidden in a brothel.)”

I would read that book.  Oh yes indeed I would.

  • A very different mystery was solved for me recently.  A mystery, in fact, that I didn’t even know existed.  You will recall that back in 2005 Sid Fleischman wrote a book by the name of The Giant Rat of Sumatra.  It’s a memorable title, and yet I was completely oblivious to its long history.  You see, there’s a whole subculture of authors out there that take the off-handed comments Watson makes during various Sherlock Holmes capers relating to interesting sounding mysteries and turn them into actual books.  One of those off-handed comments?  This line by Holmes himself in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire: “Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, . . . It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” The world may not have been prepared but children’s authors most certainly have been.  In his most recent recount of a rare book road trip, Greg Hatcher recently showed about five different Giant Rat of Sumatra covers.  This included:

Apparently in the book the boys are helping their father with his stage musical about Sherlock Holmes.  No giant rat to be seen.  Pity.

  • Every week the blog Sunday Magazine will, “post the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from exactly 100 years ago, with a little bit of commentary or context.”  100 years ago last Sunday the piece was Moving a Million Books into the new Library.  My library turns 100 this year, you see, so the timing could not be better.  In fact, the piece itself is great.  I had no idea that moving vans necessarily existed in 1911.  Indeed, if you look at the photograph of these vans, you’ll see that they are horse drawn.  No mention is made of the children’s facilities in the piece, but that probably came a little later.  Thanks to Adam Rex for the link!
  • Joyce Valenza has started a meme that I can really get behind.  The goal?  Design a new librarian action figure.  As she says, it’s not that we don’t love the Nancy Pearl action figure.  Of course we do!  It’s charming.  But methinks the time has come to pass the librarian action figure torch.  Joyce is soliciting suggestions for a new updated action figure that has something going for it aside from shushing action.  I, personally, would love to see a kung-fu grip.  Just for old time’s sake, really.
  • Thank you time.  First, thanks to Phil Nel for his recent post How to Find Good Children’s Books.  Phil lists great places to find info on children’s books and even has a blog section.  He reintroduced me to Slightly addicted to fiction (which I really need to read more regularly) and was kind enough to mention this site as well.  One small correction, though.  While I would be honored to be the head children’s librarian in my branch of NYPL, I am just a Senior Librarian.  One of many.  Sounds good when he says it, though.  That’s thank you numero uno.  Numero dos goes to author Tricia Springstubb who mentioned to me yesterday that this site was mentioned in a full page ad in the New York Times in conjunction with Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now.  Wow!  I’ve been in catalog copy and the occasional ARC backmatter but this is the first time I made it into a great big beautiful (full-color) Times ad!  Top o’ the world, ma!
  • Jules has been posting the occasional Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast piece on Kirkus as of late.  Clever Kirkus.  And recently she noticed a veritable plethora of wordless and near wordless picture books out there.  Are there always this many or has the number increased for some as-yet-to-be-determined reason?  Dunno, but if you want to see some brand new picture book beauties scouted by a pro, go here.  I have reviewed only two of them as of yet (Ice and Press Here).
  • Movie news!  So word on the street has it that they’re turning Anne McCaffrey’s book Dragonflight into a film.  Lisa von Drasek is skeptical (as well she should be) but I think it’s a cool notion.  But ONLY if they take their visual clues from the edition of Dragonflight that was illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi.  Remember, Pern is another planet, so the dragons should look just a bit alien.  Tony was the first artist I’ve ever known to acknowledge that.
  • Well, I don’t exactly approve of cutting up your Harry Potter books for any reason but . . . awwwww. Thanks to Jonathan Auxier (Blog again, Jonathan! Blog again!) for the link.
  • I teach a regular class at my library for kids on how to use the library’s databases, and when not to use Google.  Dunno if it sinks in, but it’s a good idea for somebody to tell them that Google is not the be all and end all.  Maybe that’s why I found the Lifehacker piece When Not to Google so fascinating.  Kevin Purdy brings ups a range of different search engines that are perfect for those times when Google proves inefficient.  Most I’d not heard of (and Bing I’d skip entirely due to its annoying marketing campaign) but this is a fascinating look at alternatives to the norm.  Thanks to AL Direct for the link!
  • Some nice British tourists were in my library the other day and got into conversation with our talented intern Ellen Wu.  So Ellen comes over to me and mentions that the couple’s eleven-year-old son, Luke, has a blog.  According to his site, one Michael Grove (Education Secretary) “made a comment which inspired a newspaper article which inspired an email which inspired a conversation which inspired a bet which inspired this blog.”  The bet?  For Luke to read all the books mentioned in the recent Independent article The 50 books every child should read before Christmas of this year.  It’s not too dissimilar from Laura, the 5th grader who read all the Newbery Award winners when she was ten, but I like the time limit aspect to it too.  Go, Luke, go!
  • Daily Image:

You may be familiar with the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Well Ms. Norton was an extraordinary writer.  One of the few to write fantasy novels starring African-American kids, actually (Lavender Green Magic is a special book to me).  Of course, she made quite a few adult paperback novels as well.  Golden Age Comic Book Stories recently collected one or two (or forty) of them for display.  Here are just three that caught my eye (you would do well to seek out the others on the site, though, since they are entirely delicious):

I sense a theme.

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. For those interested in more on the wordless (or mostly wordless) books I featured in the Kirkus post, I’ll have art from each of those titles to share this Friday (at 7-Imp, home base). That will be a ginormous amount of art, to be precise, but it’ll be fun to see for those who love picture books.

  2. p.s. I don’t think there are necessarily *more* wordless (and near-to ones) out now, though I’m certainly not basing that on hard facts. Many of those featured in that post are from tinier publishers who bring us imports from across the big blue pond. It’s fun to keep one’s eye on what they’re bringing us and what is generally happening overseas.

  3. The Hardy Boys aren’t wearing their seat belts.

  4. Rebecca Donnelly says

    After reading Peter’s blog post, I ILL’ed Dead Indeed, because the author is a sort of distant relation of mine, and as a children’s librarian I thought it would be an interesting read. I don’t think it stands up all that well as a mystery, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into mid-century children’s publishing. There’s a great interview between the editorial assistant and a couple of nuns who are giving her their thoughts on children’s books for their Catholic book list. (And you may already have noticed this, but the caption under the cover of the books says Ursula Le Guin, not Ursula Nordstrom.)

  5. Reka Simonsen says

    Oh, I adored Lavender Green Magic too! And Octagon Magic, which had a gorgous cover. I must have read them a dozen times each as a kid.

  6. There was a version of _Dragonflight_ that was illustrated by Tony DiTerrlizzi!??

    Where can I find this?

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      It was a mass market paperback that came out in 2002. No longer in print, but you can find it pretty easily online if you’re interested, Erin.