Thursday, January 12, 2023

Scholastic book: "Arrow Book of Spooky Stories"

A few days ago, author J.D. King asked on Twitter, "Do you guys remember Scholastic Book Fairs? Did you have those in your school?" It's one of the great evergreen Twitter prompts for bookish types, because it always spurs plenty of enthusiasm and nostalgia in the replies.

But responses these days also leave me feeling a bit old. They're from people happily reminiscing about times long, long after I was attending Scholastic book fairs and filling out those monthly forms to order books. Some folks talk fondly now of the "good old days" when they got Goosebumps and Animorphs books.

For me, the heyday of Scholastic fairs and in-class order forms was about 1978 to 1983. So I was getting stuff by Judy Blume, Three Investigators books, Peanuts-themed novelty books like the Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book that's on my list to write about, and maybe a compilation of Garfield strips.

For me, though, the keenest nostalgia is for the time even before that. I love discovering and writing about Scholastic books from the 1960s and early to mid 1970s, and have have fifty-plus post on that topic over the years.

In 2015 I wrote about 1960's Arrow Book of Ghost Stories. Today, it's the paperback volume that was a followup to that title: 1962's Arrow Book of Spooky Stories, also edited by Nora Kramer1, and this time illustrated by Erwin Hoffman. It's Scholastic book TX 331 and initially had a cover price of 35 cents.

Here's the table of contents:
  • Horace the Happy Ghost, by Elizabeth Ireland
  • Never Mind Them Watermelons, by Maria Leach
  • The Tinker and the Ghost, by Ralph S. Boggs & Mary Gould Davis
  • The Lucky Man, by Maria Leach
  • The Stubbornest Man in Maine, by Moritz Jagendorf
  • Here We Go, by Maria Leach
  • The Friendly Ghost, by Elizabeth Yates
  • The Dancing Jug, by Lupe De Osma
  • The Strange Visitor, by Joseph Jacobs
  • A Shiver of Ghosts, by Cyril Birch
  • The Ghostly Fisherman, by Natalie Savage Carlson

Some of these authors show up in other Scholastic anthologies. Leach, a folklorist who wrote The Soup Stone: The Magic of Familiar Things, and Jagendorf have stories in Nine Witch Tales. Cyril Birch was also a folklorist who wrote a book about Chinese myths that I discussed last summer. (When you've blogged this long, you can almost always find ways to connect to past entries.)

There are, of course, a lot of fond memories of this book. Some folks specifically remember that it was through Scholastic that they discovered the book. Writing an Amazon review in 2011, The Grey Piper stated, "Great spooky stories! Aimed for kids of course, I had this when I was a kid and just wanted to revisit. Some of these might even make good stories for adults, told in a more mature style around a fireplace on a winter's night! Very nice introduction to the ghost story for young readers."

And in a short review for Goodreads in 2014, Pamela wrote: "I read this when I was in third grade. It is best read with a flash light in a tent with your girl friends or with your Girl Scout troop. Lots of fun."

1. Nora Kramer lived from 1896 to 1984. Her obituary in the July 6, 1984, edition of The New York Times described her as an author, editor, and expert on children's book, adding, "She was founder and director of the Book Plan, a personalized book selection service for young people, which she began under the name of Eleanor Brent." She also went by Edna Mitchell Preston for some works.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

1984 advertisement for play-by-mail game Crasimoff's World

This full-page advertisement from Dragon magazine #87 (July 1984) touts the play-by-mail roleplaying game Crasimoff's World.

In that era, if you didn't have a group of gaming friends on your block, in your dormitory or in your city, play-by-mail RPGs offered an opportunity to participate in some dungeoning and dragoning with folks from around the country in the years before participation in MUDs (playing by modem) became more feasible and served as the bridge to the dawn of the online multiplayer gaming that dominates today.

For Crasimoff's World, you needed a few dollars, stamps and envelopes. And plenty of patience. Wikipedia states that the game was the brainchild of Kevin Cropper and launched in 1980 in the United Kingdom, where it was very popular. This advertisement was part of the 1984 launch of the game in the United States, through a licensee. It states that "first turns will be processed in August of 1984."

Here's how the Wikipedia article describes the UK gameplay in the early years:
"Players paid £2.50 for the rulebook, selected a cast of nine characters who were either priests, fighters or mages, and gave the group a name. Cropper would then place the new band of adventurers somewhere in his campaign world, and send the new player a letter that described their starting location, as well as campaign news, recent events in the new group's locality, and some rumours. The player would then respond with what they wanted their party to do, including which direction the party was travelling, trades or purchases, possible actions if encountered by hostiles, and any special instructions or requests. Cropper would then send further information and updates, and the player would respond with their next turn. Each turn cost £1.25. If one player's party wandered into an area already inhabited by another player's party, Cropper would give each player the other's contact information so the players could confer directly to share information."

The advertisement pitches the exciting possibilities of the game experience, including being a river merchant, agreeing to protect a town or leading a caravan across the plains. Discovering "the remains of the legendary Astoffs" is hinted at. It touts that the game's human moderators (as opposed to computer code) allowed for surprises and flexibility within the RPG, which was experienced by players like a good fantasy novel each time a new thick envelope showed up in the mailbox. 

There's not a whole lot out there in terms of first-person memories about Crasimoff's World. James Maliszewski of Grognardia, my go-to online historian for 1970s and 1980s fantasy roleplaying, wrote last summer that "PBM gaming is a huge black hole in my own experience of the hobby, so I must admit to having a general difficulty in comprehending how they worked in practice."

I did find a couple other things of note:
  • Mike Lay's website includes a Crasimoff's World section that by some miracle of the interwebs is still online, even though it hasn't been updated since 1999. It contains descriptions of two parties (The Thanatari & The Silent Guard) and some descriptions of the parties' moves. If PBM RPG history is your jam, I might suggest printing out some of Lay's content before it's gone forever.
  • Iain Wilson of the podcast and Twitter account Roll to Save, which are devoted to RPG history, has mentioned in passing on Twitter that he used to play Crasimoff's World.
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Sunday, January 8, 2023

Old school library copy of "The Glass Slipper"

I discovered this old school library copy of The Glass Slipper, written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard (1879-1976), at the Salvation Army store in Casa Grande, Arizona. First published in 1955 (this is the 1967 printing) it's a new version of the old tale of Cinderella. "Eleanor Farjeon's magical way of re-creating an old folk-tale with fresh and original beauty has endeared her to thousands of devoted readers," states the dust jacket.

The book is actually a novelization of a play by the same name that Farjeon published in 1944 with her brother, Herbert Farjeon.

This copy spent a long time in school libraries. There are checked-out dates between 1971 and 1989. It is stamped inside with both WEST SCHOOL and ELOY JUNIOR HIGH LIBRARY, which is a Phoenix-area school. (So, the book didn't wander far.)

This cursive note appears on the title page:
November 13, 1967 — Viking — $3.30 — Alesco [?]
West School 423
1/70 Gift from West
The book is generally well-reviewed and beloved over at Goodreads. I thought this 2020 review from Julia Wise nicely summed up the pros and cons: "Delightful wordplay and rhymes, frothy, fun. My six-year-old was desperate for each next chapter even though it's not exactly a surprise how it ends. Typical early 20th-century fat shaming which I edited out on the fly, but for its age it wasn't as sexist as I thought it might be."

Here's a portion of a page that I think gives a good example of both the prose and Shepard's fun illustrations. 
It's always fun to find a used book with its circulation card and card pocket intact. It's a wonderful snapshot of all those who read it (or at least checked it out) over the years. In this instance, it appears that The Glass Slipper was read exclusively by girls here in Arizona. And they all had very good handwriting. It also spy one student who checked out the book out twice: once in the autumn and then again in the late winter. I suspect she must have really liked it.