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>When something’s not as cool as you thought it was.

>That last thread about the tree-face which I thought had been handcrafted by a local free spirit but which turned out to be only the latest thing in lawn ornaments, brings me to another question: why do I now think the tree-face is kind of tacky just because there are thousands like it around the country? Is that fair? (Maybe.) Am I being a snob? (Yes.)

I’m reminded of two things, make of them what you will. The first of them is a story I read, in a children’s writers’ newsletter, which had as its hero a little boy named Bennigan. Named, the author said in a note, in honor of a delightful little family restaurant she lunched at while visiting some friends out of town.

The other thing takes me back to the mid-seventies, when my friends and I were all going off to college, and my friend Susan told me how she quickly realized she had to hide her Carly Simon albums at the back of her Smith College dorm closet.

Hell is other people. Just look in the mirror.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >This reminds of an interview with Kevin Kline I heard years ago. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that early in his career he had little concern with popularity, only with high-minded art. In fact, he planned to be *so* good that no one would come to see him perform.

    I’ve often wondered if popularity isn’t the reason the Harry Potter books have been pooh-poohed by the literati. If the sales figures for the series were slightly more earthbound, would the books be held in higher regard?

  2. Lisa Yee says:

    >Bennigan. Hmmmm . . . what if she had she dined at a delightful little family restaurant called Olive Garden.

  3. >Guys, guys…Bennigans IS Olive Garden without the garlic in Iowa. They’re everywhere (if you count everywhere as Des Moines and Iowa City). And they are AWFUL in that Applebees sort of way.

    I had to hid my undying love for Bruce (Springsteen) and all the major bass players (George, Pete, Bill) I loved when I hit Berkeley in 1985. Rock was OUT and so were the super hot bass guys.

  4. >I did get into early rap, though, like Run DMC which was a trade off of sorts.

  5. janeyolen says:

    >Gee–I went to Smith College in the 1950s along with my Pete Seegar records and long hair. And felt no need to conform or to hide my stuff in a closet. In fact I flaunted them. Have things changed that much at Smith? Not from what I see.


  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >C’mon Jane–sounds like you were one of the beatniks, aka cool kids. You had nothing to hide. And Jewish, too, so a touch of exotica. I’m not sayin’ you made fun of the girls with the Lennon Sisters records, but you could have. P.S. There’s no way to flaunt a Carly Simon record.

  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >To M–I don’t think you can say the Harry Potter books have been pooh-poohed by the literati. A few curmudgeons like me and Harold Bloom aside, yes, but the thing about HP is that those books have respect and popularity, unlike previous children’s book juggernauts like Goosebumps.

  8. janeyolen says:

    >Actually, Carly Simon is MUCH more exotic and Jewish than I ever was.
    And a better singer!


  9. Anonymous says:

    >I went to Smith in the 80s and didn’t hide my Carly Simon tapes. I also didn’t hide my rainbow poster, which probably explains why I wasn’t smart enough to hide my Carly Simon tapes. I wish I could say the rainbow poster was a gay-pride kind of thing. Or, to bring books into the conversation, a Rainbow Party thing. It wasn’t.


  10. >I suppose there’s a reason why all my friends call me the “Elitist English Girl”

  11. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yes, Stella, particularly if you enjoy it. 😉

    Kitty–these days, so I hear, so long as you’re displaying the infamous Carly braless album (“No Secrets,” heh) I think you would be ok.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >what these women are “flaunting” is not their record collections but their EGOS. “Look at me, I’m so DIFFERENT!”

  13. janeyolen says:

    >You may call it flaunting, but in my case it was total cluelessness. I mean–didn’t EVERYBODY listen to Pete Seegar? And Carly? Didn’t EVERY English major read poetry?

    I’m a slow learner!


  14. Roger Sutton says:

    >Well, Anon, that’s kind of a universal of adolescence, isn’t it? To quote The Fantasticks: “I am special. I am special. Please, God, please, don’t let me be normal!”

    It doesn’t stop then, of course. I still flaunt my cd collection, to show how much more interesting my taste in music is than your stupid Norah Jones records.

  15. Andy Laties says:

    >Speaking of Carly Simon and looking in the mirror to encounter My Own Private Hell, what about that clever song of hers “You’re So Vain” for setting up an inescapable Chinese finger trap. I think that line “I bet you think this song is about you” is a pretty hilarious slant on the way that popular singers generally address the various “you” characters in their lyrics.

    I mean what can the listener say, but “I did NOT!” and then in order to say this you had to actually ask yourself the question. “Is she talking about me? Am I like that?”

    She isn’t just nailing her various ex-boyfriends. She’s nailing every guy who’s ever been an ex-boyfriend. To her I say: “Ha. Ha. Very. Funny.”

  16. Anonymous says:

    >Huh. That’s interesting, RS, because I’d say a universal of adolescence is the desperate need to conform. To seem normal. Everything I did back then, contrary to Anon.’s interpretation, was informed by what I saw other people doing. I don’t have the energy to be that vigilant anymore, thank god.

    Sooo…I guess you’re saying you don’t want those Norah Jones tickets I gave you last week. Way to spare my feelings, man.

  17. Anonymous says:

    >oops. I meant to sign that.


  18. >I think Roger and Kitty have described the two major schools of adolescents: “I’m so weird” vs. “I just want to fit in”. And then there were people like me, who were just clueless and went bumbling along not paying a lot of attention to what other people thought and no doubt being laughed at much more than we realized. That’s why Stargirl is such a popular book with the junior high crowd. It catches all of those perspectives at once.

    Roger, at least your tree-decorator did it well, with the face up where the branches seemed like arms. And at least it wasn’t the cut-out of a few years ago of the woman in a polka dot dress bending over that you found charming! That would have been so sad.

  19. Anonymous says:

    >I’m with Sue in the Clueless adolescent category! But- regarding Carly Simon-wasn’t she always rather “hip”? I distinctly remember Johnny Fever thinking so!

  20. rindawriter says:

    >Dear me, I must have been brave flaunting my one Joan Baez songbook in a christian university when Andre Crouch was all the rage…I could not afford a record player or tapes or tape player or records as a scholarship workstudy student going to that very expesnive private school…just the one book for $4.95 and me swiping listens on my roommate’s Joan Baez tapes when I could…with my long,frizzy hair, long dresses, beads, sandals, and guitar…I couldn’t afford to buy the nice clothes either…Don’t think any of it hurt me much.

    I confess that I secretly LIKE klitzy junky STUFF! Especially in collage and mosaic art, art made from throw-away materials, cheapie stuff, etc. Not sure about the vinyl tree faces yet, though.

  21. Anonymous says:

    >what an amazing sequence of self-imagery! all the time I thought the Bennigan lady was just making a little (probably private) joke and giggling to herself. what would she think if she were to read this torrent of self-revelation!

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