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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature: Ramona invented the original Portlandia

Ooo.  Lots of adult books with smatterings of children’s literature littered about the pages today.  Don’t even know where to start with this one.  Let’s see, eeny meeny miney . . . MO!

Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books by Christine Woodside


This is the most interesting of the batch in many ways.  This year saw the publication of the book The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, published by editor William Anderson.  I know these letters well since Jules Danielson and I used them for our book Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature.  Yet little did I know that the story of Rose Wilder was far more interesting than the degree to which she wrote the Little House books herself or whether or not she could swear like a sailor (she could).  Listen to this part of the description:

Rose hated farming and fled the family homestead as an adolescent, eventually becoming a nationally prominent magazine writer, biographer of Herbert Hoover, and successful novelist, who shared the political values of Ayn Rand and became mentor to Roger Lea MacBride, the second Libertarian presidential candidate. Drawing on original manuscripts and letters, Woodside shows how Rose reshaped her mother’s story into a series of heroic tales that rebutted the policies of the New Deal.

Nope.  Didn’t know that one!


Lois Lenski: Storycatcher by Bobbie Malone


Sometimes a book gets published and I sit in my library and think, “Is anyone else in the entire world going to really read and enjoy this besides me?” Then, after a moment, I’ll get a crazed look in my eye, stand up at my desk, and scream, “THEN I SHALL MAKE THEM ENJOY IT!!!!”  Little wonder my desk is sequestered at the end of my floor, far from my cowering co-workers.  This Lenski bio may have a limited built-in audience but for Newbery die-hards (Strawberry Girl fans, are you with me?) this is a must.  Plus I really like the central conceit involving inherent class structures.  Says the description: “Lenski turned her extensive study of hardworking families into books that accurately and movingly depicted the lives of the children of sharecroppers, coal miners, and migrant field workers.”  Now somebody out there write me a comparative study looking at how Kate DiCamillo has done similar work with working class people in Florida, with a good compare and contrast of the two award winning authors’ work.  And . . . go.


Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises by Lesley M.M. Blume


Okay.  You’ll bite.  What’s the children’s literature connection here?  Is it the fact that the book’s about Hemingway and we know that his grandson Eddie Hemingway makes picture books?  Is there going to be a revelation in the book that Hemingway based The Sun Also Rises on The Velveteen Rabbit (think about it . . . no, wait, don’t)?  No, it’s a lot simpler than that.  Its author, Lesley M.M. Blume, has made a veritable plethora of children’s books over the years.  My personal favorite was her Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate.  Now she’s getting stellar reviews on the adult side of things.  Bully for her, says I!  Well done!


Love From Boy: Roald Dahl’s Letters to His Mother by Donald Sturrock


What We Know: 2016 marks 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl.

What That Means: Lots o’ books about Dahl.  Some covering areas we’ve seen before.  Others traipsing into new territory.  I certainly haven’t seen this one before and as the mom of a 2-year-old boy it gets frighteningly close to teary-eyed territory.  I also love this part of the book’s description: “Sofie Magdalene kept every letter her son wrote to her (sadly, her own side of the correspondence did not survive).”  Tsk.  Ain’t that like a boy.


The Best “Worst President” by Mark Hannah, ill. Bob Staake


Bob Staake cover and interior art.  Nuff said.


Walking with Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland by Laura O. Foster


One of my catalogers came up to me the other day, book in hand.  Baker & Taylor has cataloged this book as 813.54 (literary stuff) but the book is clearly (Cleary-ly?) a travelogue.  Indeed, open it up and you get a whole mess of delightful Portland, Oregon haunts.  Where the HECK was this book when I was moving there, all those years ago?  I would have lapped it up.  As it stands, it’s really very delightful.  Those of you planning to move there, or have friends or kids moving there, grab this thing.  Like I say – Ramona invented the original Portlandia.


In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant, Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Garygreatgreen

 Hold the phone. Now hand the phone to me.  Someone else besides Leonard Marcus has written a biography of Margaret Wise Brown?  Who is this Amy Gary type personage?  Sez the description: “In 1990, author Amy Gary discovered unpublished manuscripts, songs, personal letters, and diaries from Margaret tucked away in a trunk in the attic of Margaret’s sister’s barn. Since then, Gary has pored over these works and with this unique insight in to Margaret’s world she chronicles her rise in the literary world . . . Amy Gary has cataloged, edited, and researched all of Margaret’s writings for the last twenty-five years.”

Oh.  There you go then.

Okay.  One more.


Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I by Paula Becker-Brown


For whatever reason I feel like this is slightly more accessible than the Lois Lenski book.  Probably because MacDonald had a career outside of children’s literature occasionally.  “Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and The Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald’s vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald’s Ma and Pa Kettle characters.” Piggle-Wiggle is what she’ll go down in history for, but it’s nice to see another side of her as well.  Could have put a little more work into that book jacket, though.  Seriously, University of Washington Press.  You weren’t even trying.

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. Denis Markell says

    One more Hemingway kid lit connection: He appears in “Turtle In Paradise” as a character. Speaking Of Jenni Holm masterpieces, I finally got around to reading “Penny From Heaven” and was totally blown away. I went to Amazon, curious about reader reviews, and the featured review was a LONG one from 2006 by some librarian named E R Bird “Hall Of Fame top 1000 reviewer.” Now there’s something to put on your resume! (I think whoever this E R Bird character is loved the book as much as I did)

    • Hemingway also appears in Holm’s “Full of Beans,” which on the strength of I totally need to read this book for the other back story.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      The sad thing is that ER Bird used to be a “Hall of Fame Top 100 reviewer” before she got lazy. Lazy/kids. Ah, for the days of my prolific youth . . .

  2. Great list of authors! Since I live in Seattle I especially like Betty MacDonald – she lived in Seattle just a few blocks from my house. And it’s fun to go to the Kitsap Peninsula and try to find the actual farm where ‘The Egg and I’ took place. I think I found where it was once – but it’s not marked with any sign.

  3. “Cleary-ly” made me snort! Thanks. Your sense of humor makes me feel slightly less alienated from humanity.