Christmas in Crawford Falls, Oregon, 1963

Today’s Christmas vignette is from the verse novel, Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips, about a teenager named Laura who must cope with her mother’s bipolar disorder in an era when mental illness was a taboo subject. I’m not sure how far we’ve moved toward openness and understanding of mental illness and mentally ill people in the interim, but the book portrays the issues and the possible approaches to healing and resolution quite well.

Before everyone gets here, Mother and Daddy
will have her traditional oyster stew
while I stick to peanut butter and jelly.
Daddy will tell us again
how they had lutefisk and lefse on the farm
in Bemidji when he was a boy.

When everybody arrives we’ll gather in the small
living room, glowing with Christmas lights and candles.
I’ll get down on the floor and play with the kids
crowded around the tree.
Each of them will find a present with their name on it,
little junky toys from Woolworth’s I wrapped myself.
The adults will get louder and merrier
with each round of Christmas cheer,
and I will take pictures
with my Brownie Starfish camera.

I wonder
if nervous breakdowns
money worries
alcoholic tendencies
or stormy relations
will bleed through the negatives.

But for this moment
Christmas Eve is aglow
as it should be.

The Daphne Awards

This idea is genius! Jessica Crispin at Bookslut has come up with the idea of a book award that goes back in time to correct and adjust the mistakes of past years of book awards. As a beloved literature professor once told us, the definition of a classic (or a book that should be “award-winning”) is a book that stands the test of time. So, starting with 1963, fifty years ago, the Daphne Awards will be given to those books that have lasted and still speak to today’s readers.

If you look back at the books that won the Pulitzer or the National Book Award, it is always the wrong book. Book awards, for the most part, celebrate mediocrity. It takes decades for the reader to catch up to a genius book, it takes years away from hype, publicity teams, and favoritism to see that some books just aren’t that good.
Which is why we are starting a new book award, the Daphnes, that will celebrate the best books of 50 years ago. We will right the wrongs of the 1964 National Book Awards.

The Daphne awards have four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s literature. Of course, I’m most interested in the last category. First, I thought I’d look to see what children’s books, published in 1963, won awards:

Caldecott Award: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
Caldecott Honor Books: Swimmy by Leo Lionni.
All in the Morning Early by Evaline Ness.
Mother Goose and Nursery Rhymes by Phillip Reed.
It must be remembered that the Caldecott Medal is given for “most distinguished picture book,” majoring on the excellence of the illustrations in the book. I’m assuming that the Daphne Awards are more literary in nature.

Newbery Medal: It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville
Newbery Honor Books: Rascal by Sterling North and The Loner by Ester Wier.

Carnegie Medal: Time of Trial by Hester Burton. (Never heard of it or her)

Kate Greenaway Medal: Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers by John Burningham. I have heard of Mr. Burningham and read some of his picture books, but not this one. Wikipedia says Borka was his debut book, and from the description, quoting Kirkus Reviews, it doesn’t hold up to the American offerings for the year 1963. “Borka is an ugly duckling who does not undergo a transformation; she is as bald as a goose as she was when a gosling. … The freely stylized illustrations in bold lines and appropriate, vivid colors are many and strong.”

The National Book Awards didn’t have a children’s literature category until 1969.

Other popular and distinguished children’s books published in 1963:
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish. Excellent beginning reader that has stood the test of time.
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss. Not my favorite Dr. Seuss, but a popular entry.
Stormy, Misty’s Foal by marguerite Henry. Another book that is still popular among the horse-lovers.
I Am David by Ann Holm. A twelve year old boy escapes from prison camp in Eastern Europe. Cold War literature that I’d like to go back and re-read to see if it stands the test of time.
Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander. I’ve read this one, but I don’t remember it.
Curious George Learns the Alphabet by H.A. Rey.
Sister of the Bride by Beverly Cleary. What we would call YA romance nowadays without all the angst and sex.
The Winged Watchman by Hilda von Stockum. Excellent WW2 adventure fiction, written by a Dutch-American author and published by Farrar Strauss and Giroux in English in January, 1963.
The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell. I had forgotten about this one, a lovely little story with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. Mr. Sendak was rather busy in 1963 (see below).

Now the Daphne shortlist for Young People’s Literature published in 1963:

51CDZcP-cPL._SX258_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Children’s Literature

The Dot and the Line by Norton Juster
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Mr. Rabbit (and the Lovely Present) by Charlotte Zolotow. I don’t know why they left off the last four words in the title.
Harold’s ABC by Crockett Johnson
Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back by Shel Silverstein
The Moon by Night by Madeline L’Engle
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

If I were choosing from that list, I’d have to go with Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present or with Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective. Where the Wild Things Are is a wonderful story, but Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (illustrated by who else but Maurice Sendak?) should have been at least honored, and Encyclopedia Brown still lives! I love Madeleine L’Engle’s books, all of them, but I’m not sure The Moon By Night was her best, just as Lafcadio wasn’t Shel Silverstein’s finest (see either. The two others are by authors I know, Edward Gorey and Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth), but I don’t know the books.

WINNER (if I’m choosing): Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow.

“The President Has Been Shot!” by James L. Swanson

51Km7NeeU2L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_On the evening of November 22, 2013, I was reading, not an unusual activity for me. But instead of reading C.S. Lewis or any of the many novels that I want to finish, I was reading one of the Cybils YA nonfiction books that was nominated this year. “The President Has Been Shot!” The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson was the sad story of what happened in Dallas fifty years ago, and I was reminded of the fragility of human life and the sinfulness of mankind.

Yes, I remember where I was when I heard the news of Kennedy’s death. Unfortunately for my reputation for perfect recall, I remember incorrectly. I was in first grade in 1963, but for some reason I have a vivid memory of being in my second grade classroom with my second grade teacher, Mrs. Bouska, announcing to us that the president had been shot. I’m not sure why my first grade memory has transposed itself in time into second grade, but there it is. Memory is unreliable.

So we have books—to record the memories and the events and keep us honest. A lot of the information in this book I either never knew or I didn’t remember. I had no idea that Kennedy was shot through the back of the head and his head either fell or was pulled into Jackie Kennedy’s lap where she held pieces of his brain in her hands all the way to Parkland Hospital. Gruesome. Then, it was also rather grisly and horrific to read that Jackie refused to change her blood-stained clothes all that day, saying repeatedly, “I want them to see what they’ve done.” People certainly do grieve and react in different ways to shocking, appalling events.

“History is more than a narrative of what happened at a particular moment in time—it is also the story of how events were reported to, and experienced by, the people who lived through them.” (For Further Reading, p.240) Mr. Swanson does a particularly good job of giving readers a feel for the time period and the way newspapers, magazines, radio, and television reported on the death of the president. Black and white photographs interspersed throughout the book add to the verisimilitude of the story, transporting readers into the early 1960’s when color television was still not in widespread use and newspapers and many magazines were filled with black and white photographs.

Swanson’s 2009 nonfiction tale of an assassination, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, was adapted from his adult book, Manhunt. “The President Has Been Shot!” was written specifically for the YA market, and it shines as an example of a nonfiction history narrative that doesn’t talk down to teen readers and yet keeps the detail to a level that suits young people who may be new to the subject of the Kennedy assassination. I highly recommend the book for students of history and politics who want a simple but thorough summary of the background of Kennedy’s presidency and the events surrounding and leading up to his assassination.

1963: Events and Inventions

January 14, 1963. George C. Wallace becomes governor of Alabama. In his inaugural speech, he defiantly proclaims “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”

April 7, 1963. Yugoslavia is proclaimed to be a socialist republic, and Josip Broz Tito is named President for Life.

'Project Mercury Capsule' photo (c) 1995, Ed Uthman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/May 15, 1963. NASA launches astronaut Gordon Cooper on Mercury 9, the last mission for the Mercury program. Cooper lands in the Pacific after 22 orbits of the earth in his Mercury capsule.

June 3, 1963. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam pours chemicals on the heads of Buddhist protestors. The United States threatens to cut off aid to Ngo Dinh Diem’s government in South Vietnam. Dinh Diem’s forces continue to persecute Buddhists, vandalizing Buddhist pagodas and arresting Buddhist priests.

June 16, 1963. Vostok 6 carries Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.

August 8, 1963. The Great Train Robbery of 1963 takes place in Buckinghamshire, England. 2.6 million pounds in used banknotes is stolen from the Glasgow-to-London mail train. Although several of the thieves are eventually caught, the bulk of the money is never recovered.

August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his I Have A Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to an audience of at least 250,000 protestors.

'President John F. Kennedy' photo (c) 2011, U.S. Embassy New Delhi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/November 2-6, 1963. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem is assassinated following a military coup. Coup leader General Duong Van Minh takes over as leader of South Vietnam.

November 14, 1963. A volcanic eruption on the ocean floor near Iceland creates a new island, Surtsey.

November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. Also on this day, author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis dies at his home, the Kilns in England, and the author of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley. dies in hospital, also in England. This coincidence was the inspiration for Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley.

December 12, 1963. Kenya becomes independent from British rule, with Jomo Kenyatta as prime minister.

Children’s nonfiction for 1963: We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson. Reviewed at Ms. Yingling Reads.

Road to Tater Hill by Edith M. Hemingway

Road to Tater Hill is the story of Annabel and the death of her baby sister Mary Kate. The story reminded me of Love, Aubrey, another Middle Grade Fiction Cybils nominee in which a mother grieves so deeply for her lost child that she neglects the child she has left alive. Also in both books the child who is neglected and also grieving finds a new friend to help her cope with her loss and her feeling of not being enough for her mother. In yet another similarity, Aubrey and Annabel both live with a grandmother who takes care of them while their mothers are recovering from their depression. (You can read Betsy-Bee’s and my take on Love, Aubrey here.)

Road to Tater Hill is also a story that extols the joy and comfort of a reading life. Annabel is a reader, and her new friend, Miss Eliza, also finds strength and consolation in books. In fact, just like in another of this year’s middle grade fiction books, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Semicolon review here). the protagonist finds particular solace in reading one of my favorite books, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

“I dragged out the reading of A Wrinkle in Time. Whenever I really liked a book, I couldn’t stop reading, but this time I didn’t want it to end. I read each page twice, sometimes three times, before turning it. I felt like I knew the characters, and I wanted to keep them as my friends. Once I finished the book, they would be gone.”

I enjoyed the way Annabel and her friend swapped books and reading recommendations. Miss Eliza introduces Annabel to my favorite poem, Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe. Annabel shares her copy of A Wrinkle in Time with Miss Eliza. Reading friends are some of the best friends of all, aren’t they?

The Road to Tater Hill takes place in North Carolina in 1963. The novel is Ms. Hemingway’s first solo book. (She co-wrote a couple of other novels.) If the setting or the subject appeal to you, it’s worth a look. I like the photograph of an actual, whole girl on the cover of the book, by the way.

Book recommendations

If you could recommend a book each for John Kerry and George W. Bush to read that would “deepen his understanding of the realtionship between religious faith and political responsiblity,” what book(s) would you choose? NY Times columnist Peter Steinfels posed this question to various erudite religious scholars, and they came up with all sorts of book recommendations, mostly rather obscure at least to this evangelical Christian.
However Doug LeBlanc at getreligion (see sidebar) where I got the link to the NY Times column in the first place recommends that John Kerry read Between Heaven & Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley by Peter Kreeft (InterVarsity, 1982). I thought this was a rather interesting recommendation, not only since I just posted about Huxley, but also because in reading a blurb about Kreeft’s book I found out that Kennedy, Huxley, and Lewis all died within hours of each other on November 23, 1963. What a creative idea to have these three men discuss the meaning of life and the claims of Christ! So I have yet another book to add to my ever growing list which lengthens much faster than I can read.
As for my recommendations, I would suggest that John Kerry read something by Marvin Olasky, perhaps
The Tragedy of American Compassion
and for George W. Bush maybe
Kingdoms in Conflict
by Chuck Colson.