Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Change and Challenge: Coping with Aftermaths and New Beginnings

By Carol Baicker-McKee

The Preschooler Problem Solver: Tackling Tough and Tricky Transitions with your Two- to Five-Year-Old
by Carol Baicker-McKee, Ph.D. (Peachtree, 2009)

Like a lot of the contributors to this blog, I'm finding my end-of-summer punctuated with more changes than usual; some expected, some not; some welcome, others decidedly not.

As I was chatting on the phone with a friend about trying to cope with all the challenges swirling about me, I realized I was echoing the advice I've given so often. As a therapist, a teacher, a parent, a friend, I'm often called upon to help parents of young children figure out how best to help their little ones cope with the changes that life inevitably brings. And that recognition in turn made me realize how much our basic emotional needs persist throughout our lives, and how we lay the foundation for meeting them so early in life.

Here are a few of the all-purpose strategies from my parenting book above that will help your child cope with the changes in her life, whether she's starting school, adapting to a new normal after a disaster like Hurricane Irene, or confronting other life transitions big and small. They'll prepare her to meet challenges with hope and confidence all her life. And they'll work for you too!

Embrace Routines and Rituals  A consistent daily structure brings predictability, security - and hope. It often gives us energy to attend to the things that really matter - and if not, helps us keep putting one foot in front of the other anyway and thereby keeps us moving ahead. Rituals, whether a pancake breakfast and a photo in front of the old oak on the first day of every school year, or a traditional funeral for a beloved family member, bring people together and help us put important passages in context.

Play - and Laugh Seemingly frivolous activities help our bodies destress and relax, impart a sense of normalcy, and distract from pain. Observing or joining in your child's imaginative play can also give you a window into his feelings and efforts to cope - and thus help you help him.

Seek Out Comforting Touches There's a reason we feel moved to pat, hug, and kiss others in distress - the same reasons a kind touch can make us melt when we're the one who's overwhelmed. So go ahead and lean on each other - literally as well as figuratively!

Talk about It - with Someone You Love Although recent research has debunked the idea that reliving difficult events necessarily helps people get over them, most young kids need to talk through scary experiences in order to make sense of them and learn what to do should similar situations arise. Nearly all of us benefit from problem-solving together as we try to move on in the face of difficulties. And it's that much more comforting to share your feelings and plans with people you care about.

Last but not Least: Book It Up My family likes to joke that if I wanted to become a brain surgeon, my first impulse wouldn't be to go to medical school - but to the library (okay, or to my beloved Google). The following are a couple of my classic picture book recommendations for preschoolers confronting change - but they're so emotionally right at any age, that I'm curling up and reading them  for the gazillionth time as soon as I finish this post:
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton (originally published by Houghton Mifflin, 1939)
When Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne, his beloved steam engine, are confronted with a world where they no longer have a place, they don't just wallow in misery - but set out to find a way to be useful still. The final resolution takes some creativity and adjustment, but the solution feels satisfying to everyone - even the reader. The illustrations, like all of Ms. Burton's, are lively, engaging and make genius use of white space and two-page spreads. I remember first hearing this story read on the old TV show Captain Kangaroo - which was apparently an important enough event to merit a mention in the Wikipedia entry on this classic story. Want to know more about the author, the child who suggested the ending to the book, and the little boy who was the model for the hero child in the story? Check out these pages on the Houghton Mifflin site.

The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard (originally published by Harper & Bros., 1949)
This book is, as the title indicates, important. Like many of Margaret Wise Brown's books, it is so developmentally perfect for young children, drawing them in to talk with you about what's important in their lives. I read this book dozens of times in therapy sessions to get kids or families talking about the things that really mattered to them - and it has worked as well in my own family. It's reassuring, hopeful, and interesting, and the illustrations by Leonard Weisgard are the perfect accompaniment - not too sweet, not too bland - but calm and inviting. You can read more about the author and her regrettably short life here and here or check out Leonard Marcus's fascinating biography about her, Awakened by the Moon  You can also learn more about the illustrator at this great website created by his children here.

Weisgard, like Brown, really got the importance of books in the lives of young children. "Books," he once said in an interview, "have always, for as long as I can recall, been a source of real magic in this wildly confusing world." (from his website here). Which is why I'm hoping that all the changes in publishing and bookselling - which I know are potentially good as well as bad - serve mostly to improve the quality and availability of picture books in the lives of children.
Wishing everyone the best coping with all the changes of a new school year, a new season, and other unfolding life events!

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Great Revision Race

by Marcy Collier

Finishing the rewrite of a novel is like running a long race, desperately trying to get to the finish without giving up. I get on a roll working on my novel, writing every day, then life gets beyond busy, and I slack off because I don’t have an official deadline.      
A few months ago, my husband began training for the 10K City of Pittsburgh Great Race (http://www.rungreatrace.com/). He started slowly, only running a mile at a time, then two, now he’s built up his endurance to six miles, just shy of the 10K. He gets up every morning at 5:00 a.m. to train before work. Using him as a motivator has not worked for me. I try to wake up with him that early to write, but most mornings, I fall back asleep until either one of my sons wakes me up or my alarm sounds for work. By then, the morning is shot. Between making breakfast and packing lunches and answering work phone calls and emails, I have lost the early morning quiet of plowing through revisions, sipping coffee and listening to the song of birds chatter outside my porch window.  
Unlike my husband, who has a race date and a set goal, I didn’t have that same push with my writing. I didn’t have an actual deadline, until my now self-imposed strict deadline. Last week I received an acceptance letter to the Rutgers One-On-One conference (http://www.ruccl.org/) held in New Jersey each October.

Many of my fellow Route 19ers have been mentees and mentors (Miss Kitty) at this prestigious conference. It’s one of the best, if not the best conference for children’s writers to attend. The panel only accepts 60-70 applicants, based on their writing sample, letter and application. You are paired up with an editor, agent or children’s writer to receive one on one criticism of your work. I am super excited to have the opportunity to attend this year. But, learning from the past experiences of my fellow bloggers and writer friends, I know that I have to make this conference count. I must have my manuscript, query letter and synopsis polished and ready to submit.

So now my revision training and my self-imposed deadline begins.
My husband showed me the savy Google docs to go (https://www.google.com/accounts/ServiceLogin?service=writely&passive=1209600&continue=http://docs.google.com/&followup=http://docs.google.com/&ltmpl=homepage) that he uses to track his running progress. I have set up a spreadsheet online to show my daily writing goals with a ten page minimum for each day. I can track and input my progress from home, work or from the app on my phone. Pretty cool and also super productive. So far, I have exceeded my daily goals. Here's a screenshot of my progress.

I am going to take all of the advice my fellow bloggers have given me before the conference on how to make the most out of the day. After conference race day, I’ll share my results and give you an update.

And for those of you who do not have a deadline coming up, I urge you to make one. If you have had a hard time keeping self-imposed deadlines, ask a friend to help you keep the target date and get to the finish line. Remember, your book will never get published hanging out on the hard drive of your computer. Just Do It!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Say it isn’t so! I recently saw an ad on T.V. for a roll of toilet paper that didn’t have the cardboard tube in the center. I guess the reason for this is to make toilet paper more ecologically friendly. Well, if this trend continues, and heaven forbid spreads to wrapping paper and paper towel tubes, I could be put out of business! You see, I rely on those inconsequential cardboard tubes as a cheap and readily available art supply for many of the crafts in my art activity books. If cardboard tubes disappear altogether, then how would kids be able to make: circle prints (dip one end of the tube in paint and print on paper), an Aborigine rain stick (fill the tube with beans and tape both ends), a viewfinder (tape colored cellophane over one end of the tube), or a snake (cut slits in the top half of the tube then draw eyes and glue on a red paper tongue)? So this is a call to arms. Crafters unite against the invasion of do-good ecologists who dare to take away our freedom to be creative without spending a dime. In the meantime, here’s how to make a toilet paper tube elephant*

Here’s What You Need:
Toilet paper tube
Thin cardboard
Construction paper (gray if possible)
Wiggly eyes (optional)
Transparent tape
Marker (black)
Child safety scissors

Here’s What You Do: 
1. Cut out elephant’s ears and tusks from cardboard. To make the trunk, roll gray construction paper into a narrow tube about 3 ½ inches (8.5 cm) long. Tape to hold.
2. Ask a grown-up to cut slits inside of tube. Insert elephant ears on sides of toilet paper tube using slits. Staple trunk onto front of tube. Then, tape tusks into place.
3. Use markers to draw on elephant’s wrinkles and eyes.

*This craft can be found in my book, ALPHABET ART: WITH A-Z ANIMAL ART & FINGERPLAYS (Williamson Little Hands Series)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Did You Feel the Earthquake?

The one in Virginia earlier today, that is. We felt some trembles here in Pittsburgh.

Where was the largest recorded earthquake in the continental U.S.? California? Nooooo. New Madrid, MO. Earthquakes there in 1811 and 1812 were so large that sidewalks buckled in Baltimore, church bells rang in Boston, and President James and Dolly Madison thought someone was burglarizing the White House. I wonder if the present White House occupants were worried about intruders....

What Teens Want in YA (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Kathleen, Cynthia's 15 yo daughter

As a rising sophomore in high school, I can tell you that the bane of every student’s summer is the outside reading assignment. In these last few days before the school year begins, Facebook has been hit with a flurry of statuses begging for spare copies of the books, or with questions about how many journal entries are needed and how much can you fudge the margins to make four pages of analysis go a lot faster. Procrastination is the word of the week.

Rewind about a month ago, to the excitement building for the release of the second half of the seventh Harry Potter movie. Being an avid HP fan myself, I went to the midnight premier and saw many of the 2,000 costumed fans around me toting one or two of the books, reading them aloud, and hosting trivia wars in their theaters. The pictures posted here are all of my extended family.

What makes Harry Potter so much more exciting than some of the many classics that most schools require students to read? For our 10th grade English class, the list includes such greats as Don Quixote, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I’m sorry but no kid my age, no matter how much of a book nerd they are, looks at filling their vacation with 980 pages of four hundred year old literature without swooning just a little bit. But yet, the World Library’s 100 Best Books of All Time cites Don Quixote to be the “best literary work ever written”. This particular book doesn’t necessarily appeal to me because as a reader, I’m very lazy. I need the writer to come to me. In my spare time I sacrifice the cultural significance of Miguel de Cervantes’ writing in favor of the whimsy, adventure, and magic that J. K. Rowling offers. As my mom, whose usual post I’m taking, can tell you, beneath my bed (amidst much other unmentionable refuse) are piles and piles of unfinished books, tossed on the floor and forgotten.

Like my fellow teenage readers of YA literature, I need to be drawn in and caught, hook line and sinker. If I had to pick one thing, I would absolutely say that this is the biggest challenge for YA authors. Gone are the days when the reader works to find out if your novel is a work of art; now are the times when it’s necessary to prove that it’s worth reading past page ten. For example, I chose to read Gulliver’s Travels and re-read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this summer, both for very different reasons. I love both novels, but their beginnings couldn’t be more different. Gulliver’s Travels begins with a letter from Gulliver to his cousin describing his intensions to publish a book about his travels. This continues for five pages, and then becomes a letter from the fictitious publisher to the reader describing how this book came to be in print. It was…kind of slow. Part of this stemmed from the style of writing, which obviously is a bit different than what kids my age are used to as it was written in 1726, but in this and many older novels the first several pages are description description description. I also found this to be true in A Tale of Two Cities and Journey to the Center of the Earth, and had I not been required to read them I probably would never have gotten far enough to realize what wonderful books all of them are.

In contrast, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sets the reader up with a nice bit of plot to munch on by the end of page one. Strange happenings that are clearly the mark of wizardry, followed by the appearance of the Minister of Magic here to announce the mysterious attacks come from the dark lord himself. I strongly believe that the entire tone of the novel is set within the first chapter or so, and a fantastic beginning is the key to bringing more teens to YA novels instead of getting their weekly dose of literature from Sports Illustrated. Maybe that’s why we have summer reading, because unfortunately high school students won’t always put in the effort to look past “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

You have to bait the end of the line, whether it be with some wand waving, massive explosions, or a well-laid-out and believable character. We’re a curious bunch, so I bet we’ll bite.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Wait For It....

I'm running a bit behind, what with vacation and looking at colleges and my pesky day job. But later tonight we'll have a guest blogger - a real, live teen (my middle child).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Monstrumologist: a happy ending?

Poe has learned that Simon & Schuster has reversed its decision (see previous post), and will publish the fourth book in Rick Yancey's MONSTRUMOLOGIST series.

The news was announced on Rick Yancey's Facebook page 16 hours ago.

Poe will append any interesting details, as they become available.

In the meanwhile, Poe exhorts all of you to save your pennies towards the September purchase of book three, THE ISLE OF BLOOD.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monstrumologist: a premature burial?

Poe is shocked and saddened to learn that Simon and Schuster will discontinue Rick Yancey's award-winning MONSTRUMOLOGIST series after the third title, THE ISLE OF BLOOD, comes out next month. When this Blogue chose endings for our August subject, we little thought any publisher would make our theme so sadly relevant.

The reason for the series' demise, according to the author's own reports, is that sales were disappointing.

Poe finds disappointment in another aspect of this end-times tale. The series opener, MONSTRUMOLOGIST, won a 2010 Michael L. Prinz Honor Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. The follow-up, THE CURSE OF THE WENDINGO, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

Does the literary quality of the book weigh so little nowadays in the decision of whether to continue to publish the series? How many starred reviews and stickers must an author earn before the traditional press feels at least Honour-bound to publish that author's next book?

And if indeed no further paper or shelf space should be spent on this particular series, why cannot Simon and Schuster simply publish the planned fourth and fifth books electronically? Surely the series' readers will buy enough e-copies to repay the cost of editing and formatting them. Does not the Publisher feel obligated to go even to that length?

If you are a lover, or so much as an admirer, of MONSTRUMOLOGIST, Poe urges you to buy the third title, THE ISLE OF BLOOD, the moment it comes available in your preferred format.

But even if monsters are not your cup of nepenthe, Poe urges you to speak out for the value of publishing quality books for young readers. Join the Quest to Save MONSTRUMOLOGIST, organized by Stephanie Oakes on her blog.


One participant will receive a complete set of all three MONSTRUMOLOGIST books, personalized and autographed by Rick Yancey. To be eligible, you need not have read the books, but you must join the Quest before August 25.

Postscript. If Simon and Schuster fail the literary world in this instance, Poe dares to hope that Mr. Yancey will yet endeavour to complete the final books of the series, self-publishing them as ebooks. Sales numbers that disappoint a major press are almost always quite satisfying in the independent market.

Edited to add that you can find an excellent interview with Rick Yancey at


Monday, August 15, 2011

The Power of the (Hand)Written Word

Not long ago I was browsing through an antique mall that had a booth with a basket full of old postcards and some other miscellaneous correspondence.  I started to read some of it but felt I had to stop as the content was a bit too personal.  The owner of the antique mall told me that many of the items from that booth had come from an estate sale.  I felt saddened that the postcards had fallen into the hands of strangers and surely should have stayed with family members.  But perhaps I was being reminded of the death of letter-writing and other personal correspondence in this age of email, tweeting and texting.  Aren't there some things that just cannot be communicated electronically?  Haven't the most heartfelt of all feelings always been entrusted to handwritten letters? 
Through conflicts, disasters, terminal illness and suicides, there have always been moments when all that is left is to find the words to reach out to our loved ones.  There have been letters from soldiers for as long as there have been wars.  Holocaust victims often dropped letters from transport trains in the hopes that they would somehow reach their loved ones.  Most of the victims of the Sago Mine disaster and the sailors on the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk were found with some farewell words in their pockets.  In 2007 the final letter from Antarctic explorer Robert Scott who died along with other of his expedition members back in 1912 was made public.  How powerful, how personal, how provocative these final attempts to communicate all are!  What else do we have but words?

For further reading I recommend Lasts Letters to Loved Ones by Rose Rouse, and Final Letters: From Victims of the Holocaust by Reuvin Dafni

Friday, August 12, 2011

When Is the End, the End?


Dave Amaditz

In dealing with this month's theme of "the end" I thought I had come up with a perfect blog topic. A week or so ago I breathed a sigh of relief because I finished a major rewrite of my young adult novel. I should have known better than to celebrate, well to celebrate the end prematurely anyway, because as any writer should know when writing a story, the end is not always the end.
So let me take you back to the beginning, which would have been the end, had I not had this really cool idea...
Idea wouldn't let go of me. He knew something I didn't know. He knew I needed a beginning before I could have an ending. He knew an ending wouldn't happen unless the thought was put to paper... which finally happened four years later...  just a few chapters, a few notes, a brief outline while I finished other projects.
"Outline notes and a few chapters are not enough," Idea told me. "Finish."
"Don't you really mean for me to begin?" I asked.
"Begin then," Idea said.
So I began my first draft somewhere around 2003 and finished approximately a year later. Finished, did I say? Reached the end? No. No. No. That was just the beginning - - of the beginning - - of five more drafts - -  which takes me here, to the present, to the start of this blog post, to what I mistakenly began to celebrate as the end.
My story is getting stronger. It's in the hands of my writer's group as they critique my work. I know what they're going to say. I know there's more work to be done. In anticipation of that, I've begun to craft another beginning which utilizes tips I recently learned participating in a webinar given by Cheryl Klein. http://chavelaque.blogspot.com/ or http://cherylklein.com/ Anything to make my story stronger. Anything to bring me closer to the end.
I sometimes wonder though if I'll ever be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing I reached the end. If and when my novel is accepted for publication is what I used to think. But I've been around the writing business long enough to know that work on your novel isn't finished just because you've been accepted for publication. Just ask Judy, my friend and fellow blogger, about the changes her editor has requested for her soon-to-be published manuscript.
The end? The end? The end? Will I ever reach the end? Will any writer ever reach the end?
I've come to believe a writer will never be done working. Not as long as ideas are born.  Because as we know, birth is a beginning not an end.
So you may be wondering... will I ever submit my story? Not until I have….
1. Had a trusted eye or set of eyes review my work.
2. Read my work aloud so I hear mistakes I was not able to see.
3. And another I've often heard about, but plan to try. Put my finished work into a drawer for a few months. That way, when I look at it again I'll hopefully see my work with a fresh set of eyes and be able to find mistakes I couldn't find before.
Some final words for you to ponder.
Idea has been keeping me awake at night and trying to distract me while I'm driving. I don't ask for him to do these things. He just does. It seems he never wants to leave me alone. And maybe that's a good thing.
Has he come to visit anyone else? In your dreams? In the shower? While you're walking? Some other crazy spot?
Let me hear from you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Descent into a New Maelstrom, 1: SCPoe to Sample Indie EBooks

To be useful is an end to which Poe ever aspires. And in a writers' Blogue, Poe has been given to understand, it is deemed useful to publicize books.

Therefore Poe will search the maelstrom of the Inter-Tubes, to browse the myriad of books that lie submerged in the murky depths of the Amazon, or enmeshed in the famous Web. Poe will try to bring some of these treasures to light.

But Poe will not review these books. Reviews are certainly useful, but they require, Poe fears, an expertise and authority for which Poe has established no reputation. Besides, Poe reads and reviews slowly, and how useful would one or two reviews a month be?

Therefore rather than review, Poe will browse and report. In ebook terms, Poe will sample. Furthermore, Poe will hunt only certain e-lusive species:

Only ebooks; and specifically, those less likely to be reviewed by mainstream reviewers.
Thus, self-published ebooks; exclusively e-published ebooks; and ebook reissues of out-of-print conventionally-published books.

Only certain genres
; Poe will browse YA and MG Historicals and Fantasies.

Only the samples!
Poe's aim is to bring to light as many indie ebooks as possible. Therefore Poe's reports will offer basic information, a brief reaction to the sample, and a thumbs-up or down indicating whether Poe intends, or recommends, buying and reading the rest of the book.

Poe will apply one of the following ratings to each sample browsed:

Snapped up
(meaning, Poe has already purchased the full)
(Poe has added the title to a likely-to-be-read-eventually list)
Underwhelming (Poe will always specify the reason)
If / then
(Poe won't read on, but will specify the kinds of readers who might)
Rejected (Poe will always specify the reason)
Editorially challenged
(Poe will not mince words)

Is Poe looking for maps and guides? Most assuredly. In a week or so, Poe will post an invitation, and requirements, for drawing Poe's attention to ebooks Poe should sample and bring to light.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Einstein said it

Why do we love fantasy?

There’s a story told about Albert Einstein where a young mother wanted to know what would be best to read to her son so he could grow up smart. “Fairy tales,” the genius answered.
The mother didn’t think she heard correctly. “What?”
“Fairy tales,” he repeated.

Because he believed that imagination was more important than knowledge. Imagination. One of the greatest minds ever believing fairy tales the most important inspiration for a child. Einstein said, “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”

JRR Tolkien, the man who gave us Lord of the Rings, also an Oxford professor had a view of fairy tales. “Fairy stories are not stories about fairies…but rather about Faerie, the realm in which fairies have their being.” So, what is this world? It is a place that “is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.” You will find that many writers were inspired by the Lord of the Rings trilogy, finding much to agree with that “fantasy is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and..the most potent.”

Given that it’s estimated 150,000,000 copies of Lord of the Rings have been sold, we are talking about a very potent story.

What does it mean to you when you hear the opening, Once upon a time? What it means is there is the possibility of perhaps. Perhaps I am a wizard! Perhaps there is a secret in that forest. It is what gives us hope.

What are some of my favorite fantasy stories?

For the young reader I’ve discovered a new animal fantasy, “Tumtum and Nutmeg” about two charming mice who find a way to help the young humans in their house. If you haven’t revisited any of the L. Frank Baum Oz books, do so. But put on your flight suit. I’m fascinated by the world that Jeanette Winterson creates in “Tanglewreck.” Another realm that calls to me is identified as "Steampunk," a mix of Victorian times and clever inventions, sort of if the kids in “The Secret Garden” had access to James Bond’s master of tricks, Q. Two fast fun reads are by Phillip Reeves, “Larklight” and “The Mortal Engine.”

Both of these are exciting tales with strong engaging characters who face devious villians.

So for those who fear fantasy and what doors it might open, please, remember Einstein’s words, “Fairy tales.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Children's Books Finally Escape the Lead Law's Axe! Hooray!

By Carol Baicker-McKee

Illustration by Arthur Rackham for Wagner, Richard (translated by Margaret Amour) (1911). Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods. London: William Heinemann, New York: Doubleday. Public domain image obtained through Wikimedia Commons via Haukurth
Over the years, children's books have battled many dragons: censorship; competition from TV, video games, the internet, etc.; slashed library and school book budgets; changes in bookselling; changes in publishing. Oh! And horrid picture books by celebrities.

They sometimes emerge from these battles a bit singed or bloodied, but emerge they do.

Then a few years ago, another threat quietly crept into the children's book world and threatened catastrophe, especially for libraries and fans of vintage books. In 2008, in the wake of recalls of popular toys (made in China) for high lead levels, Congress nearly unanimously passed a law intended to protect children: the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This law, among other things, required that ALL children's products aimed at kids 12 and under be tested and certified to be (basically) lead-free. Lead is a known neurotoxin and children are especially vulnerable.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, the devil is in the details, and unfortunately the law failed (among other flaws) to exempt zillions of products that pose no significant threat to children. Like books. Which have NEVER been implicated in a single case of lead poisoning.

Not only did the law require expensive testing of each of the components of new books (which would have driven up the cost with no increased benefit to kids), it was retroactive, requiring testing and certification of previously published books. Here's why this was terrible for libraries and used books:
  • Testing is terrifically expensive (and hard to obtain) and libraries and used sellers were required to test every children's book in their collections or for sale.
  • The mandated testing is destructive testing - which means after submitting a book for testing, the library or bookstore would no longer have the book to circulate or sell.
To make things even worse, the Consumer Product Safety Commission discovered that a handful of children's books published before 1984 contained lead in excess of the new stringent limits. In some colors. On some pages. Never mind that a child would have to eat hundreds of books before raising his blood lead level noticeably, the law was inflexible, and the CPSC banned the sale or distribution to children of books printed before 1984.

Fearing lawsuits, some libraries and many used sellers did remove older books from their shelves. But the reason your local library may not have a nearly empty children's department is that the CPSC has issued a variety of stays of enforcement and temporary exemptions (plus there are bunch of feisty and renegade librarians out there) - but all these stays and exemptions were set to expire at the end of this year. And every attempt to amend the law or repeal it has failed.

Until this week!

Here's the start of the announcement of the amended law in Publisher's Weekly (written by Karen Raugust who has done a terrific job of covering CPSIA book developments for PW):
On Monday, three years after the August 2008 enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, publishers of ink-on-paper books and other printed materials suddenly received news they’d been hoping for from the outset. Both the House and Senate passed an amendment to CPSIA that exempts “ordinary” children’s books, along with a few other classes of products (e.g., all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles), from the law’s testing provisions.
It also removes the retroactive provisions of the original law, so old books are officially safe again!!! You can read the rest of the good news here.

Children's books win again!

Sadly, for people who care about kids, the battle to make CPSIA reasonable and effective is far from over. Many, many safe and valuable products were given no relief, including original wall art for kids, small batch handmade toys and apparel (made with all safe components), limited batch items aimed at kids with special needs, and many, many more. Get in touch with your congress-folk and let them know you want further changes! You can read more about how the law affects other products here on the blog of a producer of quality educational products for kids; warning: Rick Woldenburg who writes the blog is angry. Understandably.

I'll leave you with images of a lovely vintage book now spared from the toxic waste dump: Ameliaranne Keeps Shop, "Told in Words by Constance Heward; Told in Pictures by Susan Beatrice Pearse" as it says on the title page. My copy was published in 1928 by David McKay Company, and the story about the kind and resourceful Ameliaranne is as charming and fun to read now as I expect it was nearly a century ago.
 Isn't it gorgeous? And though a few of the Ameliaranne stories are available as downloads, what a shame it would be to miss the visceral experience of holding this beautiful small book! And smelling it - it has a wonderful scent of bookcloth, glossy paper, and time. And love.
Because who could not love Ameliaranne? In this tale, she has to think on her feet and figure out how to thwart a nepharious imposter trying to make off with the shopkeeper's money.
 Fortunately she is as clever as she is good-hearted.
It all works out! For Ameliaranne, the shopkeeper, and Ameliaranne's young siblings who want to go the picnic but need new shoes which their washerwoman mama can't afford.
Even the endpapers are breathtaking.
It is exceedingly hard to track down information about the authors and illustrator of these books, but you can read a little more about the series of Ameliaranne books on Jane Moxey's lovely blog Moxey's Musings here and find a list of all the Ameliaranne titles (which were written by a variety of authors but always illustrated by Susan Beatrice Pearse) on a Fairacre Wikia page here.

I'm jumping for joy!