Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quest Book: SugarPink Rose

If I ever find myself in one of those hypothetical fires where, immune to the threat of smoke inhalation, I have time to calmly take stock and decide which few, precious items to rescue—well, Sugarpink Rose will be one of my saves.

It’s a feminist children’s book, given to me by my mother’s best friend when I was little.  I didn’t think it was anything other than a cool story growing up.  But somehow, through luck, I hung on to it over the years and dozens of moves since it was given to me. I love it for nostalgic reasons, but I also love it because it’s a book that teaches kids about gender equality through a tight story and gorgeous illustrations.  Finally, I love it because I have the original, and it’s not widely available (I know, totally snobby and silly, but there you go).  

To my happy surprise, I found out that SugarPink Rose is a book that other people obsess over, and try to track down. You know, a book that you’ve loved as a child, and try to find again as an adult, but just can’t? (Incidentally, the ALA has a great YALSA listserv where librarians search their collective brain for answers to these stumpers.)  I’m dubbing these lost books Quest Books (superfluous capitalization because I can.)

In Googling Sugarpink Rose, I found posts by several people who were trying to remember this book, and/or wanted to buy it.  It was a successfully answered Yahoo Question.  In the comments thread on a Guardian article about feminist children’s books, "Gr1ffe" responded: “I had that book about the elephants with the girl elephants were pink and had to live in an enclosure the boys were grey and got to play in the mud when I was little! I LOVED it - especially the bit where the girl elephants took off their pink bows and booties and jumped in the mud!  As I remember it got quite tatty after being bitten and chewed and read and reread as kids book do. I don't know what happened to my copy either but I wish I could remember what it was called or find another copy as I wanted to read it to my children when I have some!” ("Gr1ffe," check your inbox!)

Quest Books—they’re this brain itch of loss and love that can’t be scratched. Do any of you have a book that you’ve read as a child, that you’ve tried to remember the title or author of for years, and maybe even tried to research? I’ve had two Quest Books, once of which I’ve found.

The Devil's Children and An Evil Doll

I could only remember the plot of Peter Dickinson’s The Devil’s Children, in which an English child heroine in a post-apocalyptic world joins up with a group of Sikhs. One day, while I was working in a library, I did some research and found it.  The book is one of a trilogy focusing on an apocalypse which has made everyone deathly afraid of modern technology, and The Devil's Children is actually the last book.  As an adult, I read the trilogy, and it was decent. But The Devil’s Children was as awesome as I remembered.

My second Quest Book is still out there. I’ve done a fair amount of research on it—I’ve looked in WorldCat, Novelist, etc., but no luck. I still haven’t found it.  The book (or, it could be a short story) is about this sinister wax doll that has killed all of the little girls who previously owned it/her. The little girl who is the current owner is lured out onto a balcony by the wax doll, and almost dies. Then, somehow, the little girl discovers that the doll is cursed by voodoo, for some obscure reason I can’t remember. It was so scary, and so good, and I checked it out from the Arlington Public Library

Once you find your Quest Book, you’ve recovered a piece of your childhood. Maybe one day, if I’m very good and lucky, I’ll find my evil doll book.


  1. Just a few months ago I reconnected with my OWN questing book what turned out to be Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea. It was a book that affected me powerfully as a kid, and it's often been in my mind but I didn't know the author or the title, just the story. Maybe it's not a real questing book because I didn't try to look for it, though; I didn't know where to begin to look for it. Also it's famous.

    Something I've more actively quested after is not a book but an animated FILM STRIP (!!) our music teacher would show us every year at Halloween. It was of skeletons coming out of their graves to fiddle and dance, set (of course) to Saint-Saens's Danse Macabre, and it's about the only thing that doesn't exist on the Internet. When I wrote about it a few years ago in my livejournal, a couple of anonymous strangers commented on the post so I'm pretty sure I didn't imagine it, and possibly a copy exists yet in some board of ed's forgotten storage space. One day I'll find that copy and put it up on YouTube, THUS BECOMING A HERO TO SEVERAL. This story has a grisly epilogue: I heard that years later my music teacher had to have her legs removed for some reason.

  2. It's not this, is it?

    If so, yay! But also boo, because I like the idea of it being unearthed from some storage space.

  3. This isn't it, but I HAVE seen this one before and a bunch of others, too, in the course of my researches -- I guess it is a pretty popular theme. I like "Midnight Dance" on YouTube In particular, and there's a certifiably ancient film strip composed of pretty evocative still images that might actually be it, except I was almost positive it was animated. Anyways, my favorite thing about yours is the very feminine headband worn by the girl skeleton.

  4. Oh, bummer! It seemed so similar to what you described. That skeleton couple had very stylish rags, I gotta say.

  5. Could the second quest book be Ruth M. Arthur's A Candle in Her Room? It also sounds like something Ruby Jean Jensen would write. Was it a "trashy" paperback horror novel? Or more like a YA book? She's known for her cheesy covers, but I spent the summer reading a lot of her evil child/evil doll books and find her really fascinating as one of the few female authors who wrote straight horror during the 70s and 80s.

  6. Michelle,

    It sounds almost exactly like A Candle in Her Room, except I'm 95% sure that the doll in my book is wax, and Dido in that book is wood. But it sounds right in terms of the tone.

    I checked out some Ruby Jean Jensen plots. They look awesome! The girl who comes home from prison to seek revenge on the killer doll?! I'm definitely going to read some of these. I don't know how I never came across her before!

  7. That one is actually my favorite and probably one of her better ones! It's pure schlock.