Happy 25th Birthday, Big Green Pocketbook!

Posted May 14th, 2017 by Candice

About this time 25 years ago a box of books landed with a thud on my front porch.  Comp copies of my first picture book.

The idea for this book came to me in the summer of 1981.  We were living in our Greenbrier rental house.  My niece Susan was staying with us for the weekend.  She lay on the sofa reading.  I was sitting on the green shag carpet thinking about nothing when I had a flash of the green pocketbook Mama gave me when I was five.

I left my pocketbook on the Trailways bus once, and the kind bus driver returned it to me.  That memory made me think of all the times we rode the bus to Manassas to run errands, just two girls going to town.  I loved those trips, knowing our day would end at Cocke’s Drugstore for ice cream.

A picture book was born.

Flash forward to June 1988.  We were living in our own house and the story was finally finished.  I sent The Big Green Pocketbook to my editor at Scholastic.  The comment inside the BGP folder says, “She didn’t much like it but passed it to another editor there.”  That editor rejected it as “too quiet” on Oct. 11.  Never one to let grass grow under my feet, I sent it to Harper the very next day.

In the spring of 1989, my mother was very ill.  I forgot about the manuscript until the morning of April 11 when I picked up the mail on my way to the hospital.  I saw the return envelope, but was too worried about my mother to care.  Later I noticed, in very tiny letters across the front, Not a rejection.

Laura Geringer requested a few changes (so minor, I don’t even remember them) before she acquired the book.  Next she told me Felicia Bond agreed to be the illustrator, but it would be a while before the busy illustrator would get to it.  I could not believe my luck.  Felicia Bond!

In 1992, at ABA in New York (what Book Expo was called back then), I met Laura for coffee and she showed me Felicia’s final dummy.  A year later, the book arrived!

At the next ABA, Harper gave away a promotional poster created by Felicia to announce the book and also tie in her other book characters.  The poster hangs in my office.

Pocketbook was the lead title in Harper’s spring 1993 catalog.  It got good reviews.  No stars.  No fanfare, just a nice little picture book.

Felicia’s fresh, breezy illustrations made my personal story universal.  Readers everywhere could follow the simple day out with a mother and little girl (who Felicia called Pearl).  She added the cats.  She made the town so charming, I wish I could live there.

The book went into paperback in 1995.  It was a Book-of-the-Month Club Alternate when it first came out, and then a Book-of-the-Month Club selection two years later.

I went on to write other picture books, and middle grade novels, and chapter books, and biographies, and easy readers, and straight nonfiction.  As I churned out books, The Big Green Pocketbook kept selling quietly, year after year after year.

I featured the book in countless school and library programs . . . and still do to this day.  Around 2000, the book gained new life as a text for second graders to learn economics.  Maybe those second graders all became bankers because they wanted to work in a place with “cool marble walls that smell like pennies.”

Over the years, mothers told me, “You wrote The Big Green Pocketbook!  That’s my daughter’s favorite book!”  Then those comments became, “My daughter is in college but she still loves your book!”  And then, “My daughter has a little girl and she reads your book to her.”  (I was starting to feel like Mr. Chips from James Hilton’s novel.)

When the book reached its 20th birthday, I realized it would be considered a classic if it hung on another five years.  And it did.  I don’t know how many more years Pocketbook will stay in print.  Forever, I hope.

Some things have to be explained to today’s children, like buses that aren’t school buses, and five and ten stores, and drugstores, and typewriters, as Miss Eileen the Story Teller does in her enthusiastic reading.

My mother left us in June 1989.  She never got to see the book I wrote for her.  But she is alive, not just in my memory, but as the mother in The Big Green Pocketbook.

Every time I open my book, I see her hooking her purse over her arm, and taking me by the hand as we walked down our driveway. In my mind, we are waiting for the Trailways at the bottom of the hill, just two girls going to town.

Mama at the Greenbrier house, summer 1981

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama.

 

 

 

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14 Responses to “Happy 25th Birthday, Big Green Pocketbook!”

  1. Ruth Sanderson says:

    And one of my favorite books of yours as well. Bravo for hitting the magic 25!!

    XxRuth

    • Candice says:

      You *never* know which book will hit. You can try and plan and promote and social-media something to death, but the readers make the book. I didn’t pay any attention to BGP for the first 20 years–the readers did it all. And I’m very grateful.

  2. Elizabeth D says:

    A hearty congratulations! And I love these pictures of you! Hugs, 🙂 e

    • Candice says:

      Gah! I hate putting in pictures of myself, but I have none of me and my mother when I was little. So the yellow sweater one is from around the time BGP went into paperback. The library appearance is from 2012. My mother was 63 in her photo, two years younger than I am now . . .

  3. Melodye says:

    How lucky you are, to have those precious mama-memories! And how generous you were, to have tucked those moments into a quietly successful story about an oversized green pocketbook.

    • Candice says:

      Ah, you caught on that the book was about something different than I thought, just as this blog post was. I never knew I was immortalizing those little trips to town with my mother. I was actually thinking more of the kindness of the bus driver when I wrote it! It took me years to figure out why I really wrote that book.

  4. jama says:

    What a heartwarming post. Loved hearing all about the book’s history. Congrats on 25 years! This is the first time I’m seeing the real green pocketbook. Love it. This story is such a beautiful way to remember your Mama; it resonated with me because my mother and I also did a lot of just two girls shopping together over the years.

    • Candice says:

      Thanks, Jama. Only you know the exact spot where we caught the bus! In later years, I loved going shopping with my mother. She always encouraged me to buy whatever I tried on. I did the same, but she would always complain, “The neck doesn’t hang right,” or “I can’t wear anything cut on the bias.” If Mama was around to day, she’d be shocked at the “fast-fashion” stuff we buy, the heck with the way the neck hangs.

      Happy Mother’s Day to us both, for remembering our mamas.

  5. Poppy Wrote says:

    A wonderful post! And yeah on 25 years for the Big Green Pocketbook.

  6. Once again, you tug at the heartstrings. That’s why the book has stayed around so long and been so successful. Congrats on making 25 years!! I’m sure you have many more classics out there.

    • Candice says:

      Only if I write a new one, Laurie! And the way books are remaindered so fast, it’s hard. There were no huge expectations for BGP–of course, having Felicia Bond illustrate didn’t hurt things, but there was none of the pressure we have today. The book just coasted along and Harper kept it in print.

  7. “The Green Pocketbook” is a tale of three journeys – the bus journey, the publication journey, and the readers’ journey.
    I like that the publisher had the empathy to write on the cover “Not a rejection”. Those few seconds when opening a letter when expecting an answer can be dreadful.

    • Candice says:

      It is a tale of three journeys . . . like a fairy tale. I have always been grateful to my editor who wrote on the envelope. Sometimes writers don’t even open the big return envelopes (back when we sent them) for weeks. And I had so much going on then, that was a possibility.

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