Extravaganza of Authors at 17th Annual Sharon Event


View and purchase photos

In an era when publishing has become truly democratic—when anyone with even modest means can publish his or her own book without the tyranny of publisher or agent—new volumes of all kinds are flooding the market. Some are good, some sink immediately under their own weight.

It is a long way from when books were painstakingly crafted with hand-painted printing on vellum and read only by the literate few. Books today are even given to newborns, as happens at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington when it distributes copies of “On the Night You Were Born,” sending the babies home with a wish for a lifetime of pleasure and learning through reading.

The history of children’s literature is a fascinating field and one that has been explored in depth by Leonard Marcus, author of a number of acclaimed books about children’s literature and the authors and artists who create them, including “Show Me a Story!”; “The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth”; “Funny Business”; “Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way” and more.

Recently he curated the highly successful exhibit “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” at the New York Public Library and wrote the lead essay for “Maurice Sendack, A Celebration of the Artist and his Work,” a catalogue of the more than 200 images exhibited in a second show at the Society of Illustrators in New York City.

Mr. Marcus is among the more than 30 nationally acclaimed and regional authors, editors and illustrators who will take part in the 17th annual Sharon Summer Book Signing Friday, Aug. 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. He will sign copies of his oral biography, “Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices,” and his catalogue of Sendack’s works.

Among those who will to be signing books this year are Rose Styron, who edited a volume of the late husband’s letters, “Selected Letters of William Styron”; Janet Malcolm with her “Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artist and Writers”; Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, Edmund Morris, who will sign his latest book, “This Living Hand: And Other Essays”; Jeffrey Frank, “Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage”; Adam Van Doren, with his memoir, “An Artist in Venice”; and Roxana Robinson, author of “Sparta.”

The event will also feature the library’s first afternoon children’s book signing–which is open free to children and their caregivers and which will feature 11 authors and illustrators. The children’s book signing will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Children’s literature has been Mr. Marcus’ field of endeavor since his post-graduate days. “I ended up, unlike most of my fellow students, by writing my senior paper in the form of 24 books,” Mr. Marcus said wryly, referring to his lifetime study of the subject.

He studied American history at Yale, where he was interested in the early years of the American republic. That led to a curiosity about childhood in Early America and “imagining [childhood] being different under the domination of kings,” he said.

“Then I took it to the next step and wondered what childhood books existed in those days. The Beineke [Yale’s rare book and manuscript library] had a good collection of old American children’s books—a wide range of books,” he said. “Every book reflected a philosophy, and the range of those philosophies was very extreme, from fire- and-brimstone Calvinism on one end to the romantic ideal on the other that holds that children’s are imaginative beings well served by books of fantasy. Some of the books took it for granted that children were reasonable beings and had minds of their own.” Continued...

The trend continued, Mr. Marcus said, to the point that, later in the 19th century, “even mischief was thought to have a certain value for learning.” In books such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer,” the protagonists “have to have independence of mind to make a great leap” to reject immoral systems condoned by society and to embrace their own perceptions.

In curating “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter,” an exhibition that took him almost two years to create, he continued to seek answers to the questions that surround the study of children’s literature. “I was determined—and the library agreed from the first moment—that I didn’t want the ‘greatest hits of children’s literature,’” he said. “I wanted to find questions that the objects would raise and help answer. The first part explores visions of childhood. There is the oldest copy of the New England Primer, which shows children as being sinful, sitting next to William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence.’ Having them side by side sets people to thinking about childhood, about the phenomena of having very different feelings about it. There are other cases that look at different ideas—books for reasoning children; romanticism, where the inner life of children is explored; old stories reclaimed from the oral tradition; the impact of play as the work of childhood.”

Other sections explore how children have gotten books over the centuries, look at how children got books over the years and consider the future of books in the digital age.

Mr. Marcus concedes that the study of juvenile literature is “a huge field that covers everything from books for babies to books of teenagers.” Picture books for children became more readily available in the early 1940s when Golden Books came on the market. “They were by far the most affordable illustrated books then on the market,” he related. “They cost 25 cents when other books cost $1.50 to $2. Golden Books represented democratization. They were books everyone could afford and were sold where everyone went—the five and dime store, drug stores … . Before then, the assumption was children would go to libraries for books, but it was understood by educators and others that it made a difference to have a home library.”

Suddenly that “home library” was available to virtually every child. And the books were attractive little volumes created by talented people, some of whom were European emigrés while others were animators who had worked in the Disney studios.

Despite their availability and attractive illustrations, Golden Books did not find favor with everyone. In the book world, they were seen as being mass produced—“almost as Henry Ford made cars,” according to Mr. Marcus. “But it didn’t matter. While the librarians tried to rule the roost through the reviews they wrote, Golden Books were sold where people could buy them without anyone’s opinion. A typical picture book would be printed in run of 5,000 to 10,000, while Golden Books were printed in runs of 50,000 to 100,000. And they had a place to write the child’s name and that was part of the ideal—they wanted the children to feel they owned the books.”

“As time went on, books for children became more finely calibrated,” he continued. “There are lots of talented writers and illustrators who want to do books for children, so the chance for something exciting to happen is great.”

Among the great things that can happen are books illustrated with wonderful, evocative art. “Picture books are advertisements for themselves,” Mr. Marcus said. “These days, there are art schools all over the country where people are training to become illustrators for children’s books.”

There will be plenty of work for them to do.

“Publishers are eager to find new talent and never think they have enough,” said Mr. Marcus. “I can think of people who were unpublished one year and who have a pretty good career two or three years later because their work resonated with some editor.” Continued...

But there are still more people who want to try their hand at the field, he reported. “I was in a coffee shop once and the owner said he had a good idea for a children’s book. I thought, ‘Do I have to hear this?’ Every doctor, everyone in business, says, ‘I have a great children’s book I wrote.’ Everyone thinks it’s easy, but it is an art form and there is no margin for error. If you are writing a 500-page book for adults, 400 pages can be disposable. But in a 32-page picture book, you can’t have anything that doesn’t belong. Famous writers have fallen on their faces trying it—it requires talent and understanding of the genre.”

But sometimes the child’s version by a famous writer can supersede the original. Mr. Marcus expressed the opinion that Amy Tan’s children’s picture book “The Moon Lady” (1992), which retells Ying-ying St. Clair’s story of the Moon Festival from “The Joy Luck Club,” is better than the original because it makes the story more concrete.

“People have all kinds of preconceptions about what is required in children’s books,” he continued. “Sometimes the moral is just that it is worth reading and that’s enough.”

As much as children’s literature has changed in the past, so, too, does it continue to evolve. Mr. Marcus said there are many trends within the field, not the least of which is the graphic novel. “It is a blend of a storytelling genre, the comic book, that was thought to be sub-literary,” he said, “a blending of the high and low.”

When it comes to literature for young adults, he concludes, “Teenagers love a little darkness. It helps them confront the effects of what their hormones are forcing on them. It gives them a chance to step back from things they have no control over.”

Even young children’s books have developed a little edge. “Picture books are more sophisticated,” he said. “There is more about knowingness and being hip to the world. That may have something to do with the fact children are exposed to things earlier—or it could also indicate that we live in a cynical age where children are viewed as consumers … .”

“It’s nice for parents to realize that reading to a child is an experience,” he concluded. “Buying a book is not just a purchase.”

Friday night’s sale of new books at the Sharon book signing will be followed by the annual used ook sale on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hundreds of collectible older books will be priced starting at $2. On Sunday all books will be sold at half price. All proceeds from this event go to support the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon.
In an era when publishing has become truly democratic—when anyone with even modest means can publish his or her own book without the tyranny of publisher or agent—new volumes of all kinds are flooding the market. Some are good, some sink immediately under their own weight.

It is a long way from when books were painstakingly crafted with hand-painted printing on vellum and read only by the literate few. Books today are even given to newborns, as happens at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington when it distributes copies of “On the Night You Were Born,” sending the babies home with a wish for a lifetime of pleasure and learning through reading.

The history of children’s literature is a fascinating field and one that has been explored in depth by Leonard Marcus, author of a number of acclaimed books about children’s literature and the authors and artists who create them, including “Show Me a Story!”; “The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth”; “Funny Business”; “Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way” and more.

Recently he curated the highly successful exhibit “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” at the New York Public Library and wrote the lead essay for “Maurice Sendack, A Celebration of the Artist and his Work,” a catalogue of the more than 200 images exhibited in a second show at the Society of Illustrators in New York City.

Mr. Marcus is among the more than 30 nationally acclaimed and regional authors, editors and illustrators who will take part in the 17th annual Sharon Summer Book Signing Friday, Aug. 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. He will sign copies of his oral biography, “Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices,” and his catalogue of Sendack’s works.

Among those who will to be signing books this year are Rose Styron, who edited a volume of the late husband’s letters, “Selected Letters of William Styron”; Janet Malcolm with her “Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artist and Writers”; Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, Edmund Morris, who will sign his latest book, “This Living Hand: And Other Essays”; Jeffrey Frank, “Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage”; Adam Van Doren, with his memoir, “An Artist in Venice”; and Roxana Robinson, author of “Sparta.”

The event will also feature the library’s first afternoon children’s book signing–which is open free to children and their caregivers and which will feature 11 authors and illustrators. The children’s book signing will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Children’s literature has been Mr. Marcus’ field of endeavor since his post-graduate days. “I ended up, unlike most of my fellow students, by writing my senior paper in the form of 24 books,” Mr. Marcus said wryly, referring to his lifetime study of the subject.

He studied American history at Yale, where he was interested in the early years of the American republic. That led to a curiosity about childhood in Early America and “imagining [childhood] being different under the domination of kings,” he said.

“Then I took it to the next step and wondered what childhood books existed in those days. The Beineke [Yale’s rare book and manuscript library] had a good collection of old American children’s books—a wide range of books,” he said. “Every book reflected a philosophy, and the range of those philosophies was very extreme, from fire- and-brimstone Calvinism on one end to the romantic ideal on the other that holds that children’s are imaginative beings well served by books of fantasy. Some of the books took it for granted that children were reasonable beings and had minds of their own.”

The trend continued, Mr. Marcus said, to the point that, later in the 19th century, “even mischief was thought to have a certain value for learning.” In books such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer,” the protagonists “have to have independence of mind to make a great leap” to reject immoral systems condoned by society and to embrace their own perceptions.

In curating “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter,” an exhibition that took him almost two years to create, he continued to seek answers to the questions that surround the study of children’s literature. “I was determined—and the library agreed from the first moment—that I didn’t want the ‘greatest hits of children’s literature,’” he said. “I wanted to find questions that the objects would raise and help answer. The first part explores visions of childhood. There is the oldest copy of the New England Primer, which shows children as being sinful, sitting next to William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence.’ Having them side by side sets people to thinking about childhood, about the phenomena of having very different feelings about it. There are other cases that look at different ideas—books for reasoning children; romanticism, where the inner life of children is explored; old stories reclaimed from the oral tradition; the impact of play as the work of childhood.”

Other sections explore how children have gotten books over the centuries, look at how children got books over the years and consider the future of books in the digital age.

Mr. Marcus concedes that the study of juvenile literature is “a huge field that covers everything from books for babies to books of teenagers.” Picture books for children became more readily available in the early 1940s when Golden Books came on the market. “They were by far the most affordable illustrated books then on the market,” he related. “They cost 25 cents when other books cost $1.50 to $2. Golden Books represented democratization. They were books everyone could afford and were sold where everyone went—the five and dime store, drug stores … . Before then, the assumption was children would go to libraries for books, but it was understood by educators and others that it made a difference to have a home library.”

Suddenly that “home library” was available to virtually every child. And the books were attractive little volumes created by talented people, some of whom were European emigrés while others were animators who had worked in the Disney studios.

Despite their availability and attractive illustrations, Golden Books did not find favor with everyone. In the book world, they were seen as being mass produced—“almost as Henry Ford made cars,” according to Mr. Marcus. “But it didn’t matter. While the librarians tried to rule the roost through the reviews they wrote, Golden Books were sold where people could buy them without anyone’s opinion. A typical picture book would be printed in run of 5,000 to 10,000, while Golden Books were printed in runs of 50,000 to 100,000. And they had a place to write the child’s name and that was part of the ideal—they wanted the children to feel they owned the books.”

“As time went on, books for children became more finely calibrated,” he continued. “There are lots of talented writers and illustrators who want to do books for children, so the chance for something exciting to happen is great.”

Among the great things that can happen are books illustrated with wonderful, evocative art. “Picture books are advertisements for themselves,” Mr. Marcus said. “These days, there are art schools all over the country where people are training to become illustrators for children’s books.”

There will be plenty of work for them to do.

“Publishers are eager to find new talent and never think they have enough,” said Mr. Marcus. “I can think of people who were unpublished one year and who have a pretty good career two or three years later because their work resonated with some editor.”

But there are still more people who want to try their hand at the field, he reported. “I was in a coffee shop once and the owner said he had a good idea for a children’s book. I thought, ‘Do I have to hear this?’ Every doctor, everyone in business, says, ‘I have a great children’s book I wrote.’ Everyone thinks it’s easy, but it is an art form and there is no margin for error. If you are writing a 500-page book for adults, 400 pages can be disposable. But in a 32-page picture book, you can’t have anything that doesn’t belong. Famous writers have fallen on their faces trying it—it requires talent and understanding of the genre.”

But sometimes the child’s version by a famous writer can supersede the original. Mr. Marcus expressed the opinion that Amy Tan’s children’s picture book “The Moon Lady” (1992), which retells Ying-ying St. Clair’s story of the Moon Festival from “The Joy Luck Club,” is better than the original because it makes the story more concrete.

“People have all kinds of preconceptions about what is required in children’s books,” he continued. “Sometimes the moral is just that it is worth reading and that’s enough.”

As much as children’s literature has changed in the past, so, too, does it continue to evolve. Mr. Marcus said there are many trends within the field, not the least of which is the graphic novel. “It is a blend of a storytelling genre, the comic book, that was thought to be sub-literary,” he said, “a blending of the high and low.”

When it comes to literature for young adults, he concludes, “Teenagers love a little darkness. It helps them confront the effects of what their hormones are forcing on them. It gives them a chance to step back from things they have no control over.”

Even young children’s books have developed a little edge. “Picture books are more sophisticated,” he said. “There is more about knowingness and being hip to the world. That may have something to do with the fact children are exposed to things earlier—or it could also indicate that we live in a cynical age where children are viewed as consumers … .”

“It’s nice for parents to realize that reading to a child is an experience,” he concluded. “Buying a book is not just a purchase.”

Friday night’s sale of new books at the Sharon book signing will be followed by the annual used ook sale on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hundreds of collectible older books will be priced starting at $2. On Sunday all books will be sold at half price. All proceeds from this event go to support the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon.

ADVERTISEMENT


Social Wire


Community Calendar

October 2014
Su M Tu W Th F S
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31

Legend:

No events

Events listed

Recent Activity on Facebook