Authors of children's books can struggle for years to get published -- many never get past the rejection-slip stage. Susan Whitcher had her first book accepted by the first publisher she contacted.
"I thought I had made it as an author on my first try," said Ms. Whitcher, who lived for 13 years in Anneslie, just south of Towson, before moving to Portland, Ore., last year.
That first book, written six years ago, still hasn't come out. The first publisher, a big-time house in New York, didn't contact Ms. Whitcher for a year and a half. She withdrew the manuscript and submitted it to another prestigious publisher. The editor there loved it, too, and signed Ms. Whitcher to a contract right away. She is still under contract, but the manuscript hasn't become a book.
"It's still in limbo land," Ms. Whitcher said.
Meanwhile, her second book, "Moonfall" is on the shelves in bookstores. Her third, "Real Mummies Don't Bleed," will be released this fall by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
"Mummies" is a collection of "silly, spooky Halloween stories for elementary school kids, set in Baltimore neighborhoods," Ms. Whitcher said.
"Moonfall," with pictures by Barbara Lehman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14, ages 3-8) is dedicated to Margaret Sydnor, librarian at Stoneleigh Elementary School in Baltimore County. Ms. Whitcher's daughters attended Stoneleigh before the family moved to Oregon.
The book is full of wonder and fun. Sylvie, a young girl, happens to be looking out the window one night when she notices the crescent moon is dangerously low in the sky. In fact, it seems to be caught in the branches of a neighbor's lilac bush.
Twice she rushes into her parents' bedroom to tell them the news. Twice they brush her off.
"The moon looks low, because it is passing behind the shoulder of the world," her mother says. "But really it is up high far away in the cold sky. Go back to bed."
The third time she looks out, the moon has fallen into the lilac bush. But when she runs in to tell her parents, they are asleep.
For 15 nights, there is no moon. Finally, Sylvie's neighbor finds some crumpled-up trash underneath the lilac. It looks like a curved, narrow strip of white aluminum siding, with jagged edges. Sylvie takes it home to scrub and polish it, but a horrible thing happens. The moon melts into the soapy water of the washtub.
The happy ending, however, will delight anyone who loves to blow bubbles.
Here are a couple of first-time efforts by other picture-book authors who deserve to be in the running for 1993 rookie of the year:
* "Blue Claws" by Walter Lyon Krudop (Atheneum, $14.95, ages 6-8) is set on the Great South Bay of Long Island, though it easily could be the Chesapeake Bay. It's the story of a young boy making his first visit alone to his grandfather's house on the shore.
Grandpa is a crotchety sort, snapping at the boy when he doesn't tie the right kind of knot in the crab line, even though the boy looks to be no older than 4.
But as the day wears on and the pair catches a bucket full of crabs, Grandpa mellows. The old man never says much, but the boy grows comfortable in their shared silence. "I liked sitting on the dock and not thinking about anything," he says.
Mr. Krudop, who often went crabbing with his grandfather, began painting when he was 8. Then, working as a restaurant busboy, he took home cardboard to use as a surface for his oil paintings. He grew to like the cardboard so much, he now uses it instead of canvas, saying it frees him from the "masterpiece syndrome." So if he doesn't like the way a painting is going, he just tosses it.
The effect is captivating. His paintings are filled with light and texture, borrowing touches from impressionism.
* "Don't Climb Out of the Window Tonight" by Richard McGilvray, illustrated by Alan Snow (Dial Books for Young Readers, $13.99, ages 3-7) belongs in a rookie category all its own. Mr. McGilvray wrote the book at age 7, as part of an elementary school project in Oxford, England.
It opens with a little girl peering out her second-floor window. Each right-hand page has the warning, "Don't climb out of the window tonight because. . ." Then you turn the page and find the reason: ". . . alligators are in the pond," and "goblins are lurking in the grass," and "giants are jogging by."
Mr. Snow's watercolors, filled with pen-and-ink cross-hatchings, will be familiar to fans of "The Monster Book of ABC Sounds." His monsters and bad guys are hilarious -- there are a couple of goofy witches, for instance, eating worm sandwiches -- and his details are dynamite.