Saturday, October 18, 2014

Scholastic Fest: #9, The Mad Scientists' Club

  • Title: The Mad Scientists' Club
  • Author: Bertrand R. Brinley (1917-1994)
  • Illustrator: Charles Geer (1922-2008)
  • Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
  • Year: First printing, December 1965
  • Excerpt:
    "Zeke Boniface wears winter underwear all year long. The reason we know is that in summer he doesn't wear any shirt. You can always tell how long he's had the underwear on by the different color that shows at the beltline when he bends over to pick something up. The top two buttons are always unbuttoned and the hairs of his chest stick out there.

    "But Zeke runs the most wonderful junk yard in the world. You can find anything if you look long enough."
  • Notes: Some of Brinley's tales of The Mad Scientists' Club first appeared in Boys' Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, before being gathered together for this book in 1965. ... There were eventually four books about the Mammoth Falls gang, and they were collected in a 619-page omnibus paperback from Purple House Press in 2010. ... For the dedication on this Scholastic Book Services edition, the author writes: "These stories are dedicated to all boys — who like to dream about things they would like to do — and to my agent, Carl Brandt, without whose constant prodding I would never would have written them." ... There is a website dedicated to The Mad Scientists' Club; it is maintained by his son, Sheridan Brinley. ... Illustrator Geer, according to his biography on Wikipedia, grew up on Long Island, served with the U.S. Navy in World War II, wrote and illustrated some of his own books, and like to draw the distinct Mansard roof.

NOTE: When I was originally writing this post, I accidentally typed The Made Scientists' Club. That's a much different, sadder book. At the end, all of the scientists are escorted into an empty room and shot in the back of the head. Then Robert De Niro wrecks a pay phone and cries.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Scholastic Fest: #10,
The Wizard of Oz

  • Title: The Wizard of Oz
  • Author: L. Frank Baum (1856-1919)
  • Illustrator: Paul Granger (the pseudonym used by Don Hedin)
  • Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
  • Year: Unclear. This is a Scholastic offering that, as you might imagine, received many printings over the years. It is copyright 1958 by TAB Books. This edition looks like it might be from the 1970s (based on the title page).
  • Excerpt:
    "It's a mystery," replied the Lion. "I suppose I was born that way. All the other animals in the forest naturally expect me to be brave, for the Lion is everywhere thought to be the King of Beasts. I learned that if I roared very loudly every living thing was frightened and got out of my way. Whenever I've met a man I've been awfully scared; but I just roared at him, and he has always run away as fast as he could go. If the elephants and the tigers and the bears had ever tried to fight me, I should have run myself — I'm such a coward; but just as soon as they hear me roar they all try to get away from me, and of course I let them go."
  • Notes: To continue the theme of books with witches this week, here's the gorgeous Scholastic paperback cover of The Wizard of Oz. ... I'm in the generation that grew up watching the special network television broadcasts of the movie version and wondering about the urban legend of the hanging munchkin in the background of one scene. ... For me, one of the fun revelations about this book is that it was illustrated by "Paul Granger." That was the professional pseudonym for Don Hedin (1920-2012), who might be best remembered by my generation as one of the primary illustrators of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. In Justin Sewell's blog on Goodreads, he wrote a wonderful 2013 post in praise of Hedin. Here's an excerpt:
    "Hedin had a gift for being able to see the world through a child's eyes, and rendering scenes in such a way as to gently deliver an often heavy payload. His simply drawn protagonists had surprisingly expressive faces, leaving young readers no doubt what emotion they should be feeling at this particular part of a given book. ... A seer of the world through children's eyes. A man who could render the terrifying amusing and the absurd plausible. A guy millions knew by another name, but shouldn't have."
    You should definitely check out Sewell's entire blog post — In Praise of Don Hedin (a.k.a. "Paul Granger") — which also details, hiliariously, his hand in the creation of a CYOA homage/parody titled Who Killed John F. Kennedy?

    (And that's how you get from Margaret Hamilton to JFK in a single blog post, kids.)

From the back cover of this edition...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Newspapers are still alive and well in southcentral Pennsylvania

Programming note: The Scholastic Fest will resume tomorrow afternoon as we hit #10 in this month's nostalgic countdown.

I'm taking a day off from those posts, as things have been super-busy this week in the Muggle world, where our news organization (in which I'm the Sports Editor) launched a full and fresh rebranding today for its newspaper.

We are now LNP, and president John Kirkpatrick explains the changes in this letter to the readers, if you're interested.

So, as you might imagine, it's been a pretty hectic (but fun) week in the newsroom.

In the meantime, here are some excellent recent posts from my wife's Unschool Rules blog:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scholastic Fest: #11, Nine Witch Tales

  • Title: Nine Witch Tales
  • Editor: Abby Kedabra
  • Illustrator: John Fernie
  • Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
  • Year: First printing, September 1968
  • Excerpt from "The Hungry Old Witch":
    "She was a witch, she was very old, and she was always hungry, and she lived long ago near a forest, just in the corner where Brazil and Argentina touch. Those were the days when mighty beasts moved in the marshes, and when strange creatures with wings like bats flew in the air. There were also great worms then, so strong that they bored through mountains and rocks as an ordinary worm makes its way through clay."
  • Notes: Let's start this time with the artist who did this marvelous cover. His name was John A. Fernie and he lived from 1919 to 2001. He was born in Scotland and, according to Ask Art, he was "an illustrator for major magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post [and] also designed Broadway theater posters and painted landscape and genre scenes in Vermont and Maine." Prashant C. Trikannad wrote a short blog post about Fernie in 2012, and you can see galleries of Fernie's varied work on Facebook and Flickr. This great Scholastic cover was one of his few forays into horror and chills. He should have done more! ... Meanwhile, the editor of this late 1960s anthology is listed as Abby Kedabra, which is obviously a joke. I could not determine, however, who the actual editor was. ... The book opens with an excerpt from The Witches' Chant (from Shakespeare's Scottish play) and then, as advertised, presents nine witch tales from around the world. Here's the full list:
    Palmer (1912–2005) and Lloyd (1924-1998), who were responsible for three of the tales, were an amazing pair. They were loving partners for more than 50 years and were involved in acting, writing and bookselling in England throughout their lives. An excerpt from Lloyd's obituary in The Independent states: "The only divergence was when Palmer took up teaching and Lloyd didn't. Tasks such as book-hunting for stock, say, or the writing of ghost stories took place in the evenings and at weekends, until Palmer retired."2 ... I half wonder if Palmer and Lloyd, who seem like the playful type, were the actual Abby Kedabra. ... This book, while a bit on the wonderfully dark side for a children's title, is remembered fondly by some. One Amazon reviewer wrote in 2008: "I've had this book for since I was just a little kid and I have always loved it. I still read it once or twice every few years. It's a very magical book with very, very, unique witch stories." And, earlier this year, another reviewer wrote: "This is one of the first books ... that I remember reading. My sister had bought it at a school book sale when she was in 3rd grade and I was in 1st. It's probably not on the recommended reading list these days for that age set, as it paints some rather scary scenarios, but I remember enjoying it at the time."

1. According to Wikipedia, the epitaph on Finger's Arkansas gravestone states: "This voyage done, set sail and steer once more To further landfall on some nobler shore."
2. I also love this separate passage from the obituary for Lloyd that Jack Adrian penned in 1998 for The Independent:
"As a bookseller in 1970s Islington, so close to that seething and incestuous haunt of back-stabbing book-runners, Camden Passage, Noel Lloyd often benefited from the track-down skills (genius would be no exaggeration) of the legendary Martin Stone, rock guitarist extraordinaire and the finest literary truffle-hunter this side of the Millennium. Lloyd's own talents as a scourer of north and south London street barrows and book barns, however, not to mention the dubious bazaars around Praed Street, should not be overlooked. The Compton Bookshop invariably had stock you seldom found elsewhere."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Scholastic Fest: #12, Witch in the House

  • Title: Witch in the House
  • Author & illustrator: Ruth Chew (1920-2010)
  • Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
  • Year: 1975
  • Excerpt:
    "Sally was still sitting on the ceiling by the window. She was sucking the end of the pencil stub. When Laura and Jane came into the room she held out the sheet of paper. 'I made a list of things to use in a simple cold brew. Do you think you could get these?'

    "Laura took the paper and read aloud:
    • 1 live frog, toad, or 3 good-sized tadpoles
    • 1/2 tablespoonful of ground glass
    • 1 cup of swamp water
    • 1 jellyfish
    • 1 sprig fresh poison ivy
    "'Are you sure you need all of this stuff, Sally?'"
  • Notes: Let's start with two things: (1) If you were in grade school in the 1970s or 1980s and bought books through Scholastic, you were almost certainly familiar with Ruth Chew, who wrote more than two dozen fantasy titles like Witch in the House; (2) Ruth Chew might be the coolest author featured in this ongoing series, and that's saying something, because we've had many cool authors so far. ... Chew, who did her own illustrations for most of her books, must have enjoyed writing about witches and magic. She had at least 11 books with "Witch" in the title and at least another 11 books with "Magic" in the title. Those were her niches. ... Here's an excerpt from the Chew obituary that Carolyn Jones of the San Francisco Chronicle penned in 2010:
    Ruth Chew, who turned her love of black cats, magic potions and pointy hats into a successful literary career, died of pneumonia May 13 in Castro Valley.

    Mrs. Chew, 90, had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for about nine years.

    "Ruth Chew wrote about witches and wizards and covens and broomsticks and black cats, but have no fear of these witches," wrote a fan, Lucy Day of Singapore, on a Ruth Chew Web site after Mrs. Chew's death. "If anything, they will teach young readers the values of friendship, independence and self-esteem, since that's what the books are really about." ...

    Mrs. Chew was born in Minneapolis, but grew up in Washington, D.C. Her father was a journalist who had been ousted from Canada for his pacifist views during World War I, and her mother was a kindergarten teacher who had grown up in Burma.

    "She loved fantasy from the beginning," her daughter, Eve Sprunt of Dublin, wrote in an e-mail. "She made up stories about the small porcelain dolls that lived in a dollhouse made from orange crates."

    Mrs. Chew graduated from high school at age 16, excelling in every subject but math because "she didn't believe 2 plus 2 equals 4," her daughter wrote.
    The website referred to in that excerpt is, maintained by Lucy Day Hobor, and it is stellar. It contains biographical information and photos, detailed information about all of Chew's books, and information about how you can purchase the new editions of Chew's books that Random House has been issuing since last year. (It's a great model and execution for a fan website about an author. I should do one like that for Ruth Manning-Sanders. Unfortunately, the part where her books are released in new editions hasn't happened yet.)

Did you read Ruth Chew books when you were in school? Do you still have them? Which one was your favorite, and why? I'd love to read some memories of this author in the comments section.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mystery real photo postcard:
Vintage tree huggers

I'm not sure what the deal is with this group of young women and their tree. And we'll probably never know.

This real photo postcard was never written on or mailed. It was manufactured by Velox and the design of the stamp box on the back indicates that it was produced sometime between 1907 and 1917, according to

I suppose the tree might still be around. But the women probably aren't. Unless they're witches who were granted eternal life by the spirits of the forest. In which case they're certainly welcome to have their postcard back.

Related posts

Scholastic Fest: #13, The Witch House and Other Tales...

  • Title: The Witch House and Other Tales Our Settlers Told
  • Authors: Joseph and Edith Raskin
  • Illustrator: William Sauts Bock
  • Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
  • Year: 1971
  • Excerpt (the book's foreword):
    "In Colonial America, life was both difficult and challenging. Not only did people fear real dangers such as attacks by the French and Indians and the tyranny of English kings, but they also had a superstitious dread of the supernatural. Like their fears, the tales they told in taverns and at home gatherings were a weaving of fact and fancy.

    "While devils, demons, and evildoers spiced some of the tales our settlers told, many stories centered about heroic generals, friendly Indian chiefs, or simply honest neighbors. As time went by the colonial people with their romantic imaginings fashioned legends from these oft-repeated anecdotes. Those tales that have come down to us give a fascinating glimpse into the thinking, behavior, and pattern of life of the people as well as the great events of that time. Here are some of our favorites."
  • Notes: The 14 tales in this 127-page paperback include "The Oak That Helped Outwit a King," "Jonathan Moulton and the Devil," "Old Meg, the Witch," "The Goose From Flatbush," and "The Mystery of Pelham House." ... Other books by the Raskins, a husband and wife team, included Ghosts and Witches Aplenty: More Tales our Settlers Told, Indian Tales, and Strange Shadows: Spirit Tales of Early America. ... Joseph Raskin died in 1982 at age 84. According to his short obituary in The New York Times, he "studied at the National Academy of Design, which awarded him several fellowships for his work. His paintings and etchings have been exhibited in galleries and institutions here and in Israel." ... The illustrator of The Witch House and Other Tales Our Settlers Told now lives in Souderton, Pennsylvania, and now goes by William Sauts Netamuxwe Bock. He identifies as a member of the Lenape tribe of Native Americans. His website, is well worth checking out.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Another roundup of great reads to keep you captivated for hours

Urban renewal, city planning, cats, and cadavers.

Volcanoes, power grids, hurricanes and radioactivity.

Corn, olive oil, ghost stories and stolen baby photos.

This new list of great writing for you to check out has all of the above, and much more. And, if you're like me, everything you read will open a door to something else you want to check out or learn more about. It's an endless cycle.

So tell me what you like, and if you have any suggestions, drop me a line on Twitter, @Papergreat.

And finally, to blow your minds a little bit...
  • Huffington Post Science: "Is Life an Illusion?" by Seth Shostak

    An excerpt from Shostak's piece:
    "Taking this to its seemingly logical conclusion, a future historian (or curious teenager) wielding programming skills and access to a honking big computer could construct SimEarth on steroids. They could, for example, run a simulation of 15th century European society to see what it was like during the era of the Black Plague: a so-called ancestor simulation. Unlike Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, the people in the simulation wouldn't know that their lives were merely code running in a machine."

Scholastic Fest: #14, Carmilla

  • Title: Carmilla
  • Author: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814–1873)
  • Cover illustrator: Not credited
  • Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
  • Year: First printing, May 1971
  • Excerpt:
    "Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, 'You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one forever.'"
  • Notes: This edition of Carmilla didn't make it to #14 because of the quality of the cover. It's a fairly pedestrian and boring design. And the yellow sale sticker doesn't help matters, aesthetically speaking. ... No. I'm featuring this book today (1) to kick off a stretch of four straight supernatural-themed titles and (2) because, frankly, I am (happily) stunned that there was a Scholastic Book Services edition of this influential horror novella. (Well, it was the early 1970s.) It wasn't edited or rewritten in modern language geared toward a school-aged audience. Le Fanu's story, which heavily influenced Bram Stoker's Dracula, is about a female vampire named Carmilla who preys on a young woman. And while it was written in the 19th century, Le Fanu was fairly overt with his overtones of sexuality and lesbianism. The above excerpt is straight from this Scholastic edition. And, in fact, that passage is used in Wikipedia's entry on lesbian vampires, a whole book and movie subgenre that Le Fanu is essentially responsible for. (Though if he hadn't invented it, I'm sure someone else would have.) ... I wrote about Best Ghost Stories of J.S. Le Fanu back in March, and the cover of that book features an original illustration from Carmilla. ... Stay tuned for some witchy women in the next three days.