Cybils nominations closing in five...four...three...

That was fast! The Cybils nomination window closes today, so if, like me, you have been waiting to nominate for whatever reason, now is the time. Kids can nominate, too, so if you have any of those around, please help them navigate the nomination process. They are experts on at least one of our criteria: kid appeal.

For the rest of us, there are lots of nomination strategies, and good reasons to have waited. In the past I've thought about using my nominations to bring attention to diverse books (before it was a thing, even!)--multicultural, international, translated. You might choose to nominate books written by debut authors, or published by small houses . Usually I end up nominating books I'm just surprised haven't been nominated yet! There are always some great ones out there.

See this post from the Cybils organizers for more information on how to nominate, and remember that eligible books will have been published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014. So if a book has a publication date of yesterday (and many do--books tend to come out on Tuesdays), this is its only chance. Likewise books that came out late last fall.

I'll be back tomorrow with my list of nominees!

The Bagthorpes: A Who's Who

Somehow Trina Schart Hyman managed to include every one of the Bagthorpes on the cover of Ordinary Jack ("Being the First Part of The Bagthorpe Saga") by Helen Cresswell. Why should you care? Because the Bagthorpes are eccentric and brilliant (well, all except Jack; he's ordinary), and the books are like manic 1970s versions of the classic British family story (as well as the inspiration for Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, if that helps). Here's a who's who, which may or may not make sense, but should give you a feeling for what the books are like and whether you would like them:

Back row
Aunt Celia, who is not only ravishingly beautiful but can also solve The Times crossword in ten minutes flat without a dictionary and do pottery and poetry.
Uncle Parker. The way he drives his car is the talk of the neighborhood.
Tess. A Black Belt in Judo besides talking like a dictionary.
Mrs. Bagthorpe. Has an Agony Column in a monthly journal under the name of Stella Bright.
Mr. Bagthorpe, a screenwriter for the BBC. He fell over at teatime.
William. A veil of secrecy must be preserved.
Grandpa. S.D. (Selectively Deaf.)
Atlanta, the au pair. Bilingual in Danish and German.

Front row
Daisy. Four-year-old pyromaniac.
Rosie. Second string, portraits.
Grandma. Likes arguments and gets disappointed when nobody else wants them.
Mrs. Fosdyke, the Daily. Moves like a hedgehog, i.e. fast without actually doing much.

Front and center, Jack and his dog Zero (also known as Nero, or rarely Hero). The plot of Ordinary Jack has to do with Jack's search for a way to distinguish himself from among the rest of his relentlessly talented family; his Uncle Parker decides he should become a prophet. To be honest, it didn't immediately appeal. But the plot is incidental (in both senses of the word), and I quite liked the book! I only wish there had been more than three Bagthorpe books at the sale (I also picked up Bagthorpes Unlimited and Bagthorpes V. the World), but at least I get the pleasure of tracking them down. Maybe not all ten of them, though.

[For comparison, here is the poster for The Royal Tenenbaums, which may well have been inspired by the Trina Schart Hyman book covers (she illustrated the covers for the first five books in the series). I haven't seen the movie since it first came out, and now I'm curious about the Bagthorpe connection. I will say that Gene Hackman is a ringer for an older Mr. Bagthorpe. Apparently the role of Royal Tenenbaum was written just for him.]

The Puffin Scale

I love a good used book sale. How good was the sale I went to on Friday? A three on the Puffin Scale. The Puffin Scale is my own, completely unscientific, rating system for used book sales. It goes from 0 to 4 and is calculated based solely on the number of Puffin books I pick up at the sale (anything more than four is just me being greedy). The three I bought at this sale are in the pile on the right: The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander, The Sword and the Circle by Rosemary Sutcliff, and a backup copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this one with the Quentin Blake illustrations. (I also picked up a copy of the play.)

The Puffin Scale doesn't capture most of what I buy at a book sale, but it usually corresponds pretty well to how happy I am with what I did buy. In this case, a lovely stack of books by Helen Cresswell, including three of the Bagthorpes (I have it on good authority that the Bagthorpes are not to be missed) and something called The Bongleweed; two by Jane Gardam, although sadly not Bilgewater; plus others it is too tedious to list here (not really, but perhaps too tedious to read about). My daughter has claimed a handful of them already--the Pierce and the Wrede were particularly appealing--while I'm still deciding what to read, or re-read, first.

Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory

This book was written, says author Lucy Mangan, for all those who loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when they were young, and those who love it now. That would be me, and I wasn't disappointed by Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory: The Complete Story of Willy Wonka, The Golden Ticket, and Roald Dahl's Most Famous Creation (Puffin, 2014). Dahl's granddaughter Sophie provides the forward, in which we learn how to pronounce Roald ("long stretched Roo, al like the end of mall, silent D") and that she never could: she called him Mold. The rest of Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory is likewise full of fascinating tidbits of information, family photographs, manuscript pages (longhand and typewritten), and illustrations from the British and American editions of Charlie. There's also a whole chapter ("Television Chocolate") on the stage and screen adaptations of Dahl's book, none of which I've seen, but interesting nonetheless.

As far I'm concerned, though, the whipple-scrumptious fudgemallow delight here is the first chapter, "Sugar-Coated Pencils: Writing the Book." (The pencils were actually Dixon Ticonderogas, which Dahl started using in the US and later had sent over to England specially.) Sadly, tragedy struck the Dahl family twice during the writing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; but Mangan doesn't dwell on it, moving on to an analysis of the manuscripts (altogether there are five in existence; an earlier one was lost), and the editorial and revision process that led to the finished book, published in 1964--making this the golden anniversary of the golden tickets.

Charlie book.jpeg

Dahl's first choice of illustrator for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was none other than Maurice Sendak, who was unavailable at the time (probably working on Where the Wild Things Are). Instead, Joseph Schindelman illustrated the American edition; Dahl's other illustrators include Faith Jacques, Michael Foreman, and, famously, Quentin Blake. I grew up with Schindelman's illustrations (that's my very own battered paperback), and they're still my favorites, but it's fun to compare all four versions of everyone from Willy Wonka to the Oompa-Loompas in Mangan's chapter on illustration, "Behind the Gates of the Chocolate Factory: A Visual Tour." Not surprisingly, my kids like Quentin Blake's illustrations best, and even I have to admit that Dahl and Blake go together like chocolate and...more chocolate, which is just how Roald Dahl would have it.

[Ages 12 up. Reviewed from library copy. 100% of author royalties from the sale of this book are donated to the Roald Dahl charities. Be sure to check the jacket flap for your very own golden ticket!]