Saturday, October 29, 2005

Janet MICKDonald

Janet McDonald just wrote to ask me to correct the spelling of her name in a previous post so as to more accurately reflect her heritage. I'm so embarrassed--and me mother a McNally! It's done, deirfiur ma cher (she might be Irish but she lives in Paris).

Friday, October 28, 2005

Silvey in St. Louis

Just got word that former Horn Book editor Anita Silvey will be speaking at Washington University in St. Louis on November 9. Her topic: "100 Best Books for Children: Our Greatest Children's Books and the Stories Behind Them." From the press release: "The event is free and open to the public and begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, in McMillan Cafe (Room 115), McMillan Hall, located on the university's Hilltop Campus. Seating is extremely limited. For more information or to reserve a seat, call (314) 935-5576."

Be sure to take a look at Anita's book of (almost) the same name. Her taste in books is impeccable (breeding will tell ;-) and for each of her selected titles, she gives a lively and illuminating "story behind the story."


Boy, is that an ominous word or what? Our deadline for review completion is next Tuesday, for the January/February issue. This deadline is particularly fraught, as in the January issue we also publish "Fanfare," our best books of the year list, and thus must by then have dealt with each of the books published in 2005 one way or the other. There's a bit of catch-up involved, and I always worry that we're going to miss the Newbery or Caldecott, (which will be announced on January 23rd next year). It's one thing to miss a prizewinner with forethought ("I don't care if this wins the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz AND the Pulitzer, I still don't like it") and quite another to simply miss it.

The Horn Book Magazine reviews mostly books it likes a lot, which comes to about eight hundred titles a year. But if you look at the Horn Book Guide, which reviews all (the good, the bad, and the ugly) new hardcovers from established publishers, you'll see that there are maybe not thousands, but at least a thousand more books we think are just fine in any given year. The line between the good and the very good is the hardest one to define, I think--and don't even get me started on the great.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Indiscretion? No, she'll probably get a promotion.

In the NYT today, Jennifer Bergstrom, publisher of Simon Spotlight Entertainment, had this to say in praise of her staff: "The thing that impresses me most about our editors is that they understand that it's not all about the book. It's about the money you can make from that book."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Remembering Rosa Parks

Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Mills College. She sent the following reminiscence of Rosa Parks to the child_lit listserv today, and has graciously allowed the Horn Book to reprint it here. Daphne Muse can be reached at R.S.

Everyday, history is made by people whose names remain unknown as well as those who become eternal icons. In May of 1980, a woman who forever changed our country spent a week in our home. The East Bay Area Friends of Highlander Research and Education Center joined with founder Myles Horton to honor two of the Civil Rights Movements most courageous pioneers: Rosa Parks and Septima Clark. Clark broke ground as a pioneering force in citizenship training and voter education. The two women met at Highlander in 1955, a place where my own mother-in-law Margaret Landes was trained during the 1930s.

Founded in 1932, Highlander is a civil rights training school located on a 104-acre farm atop Bays Mountain, near New Market, Tennessee. Over the course of its history, Highlander has played important roles in many major political movements, including the Southern labor movements of the 1930s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s-60s, and the Appalachian people's movements of the 1970s-80s. Through books in our home library, her teachers and my own work as a writer, my daughter Anyania knew about the role Ms. Parks played in changing the course of history.

Like millions of other African Americans, Mrs. Parks was tired of the racism, segregation and Jim Crow laws of the times. Through her commitment to freedom and training at Highlander Research and Education Center, her refusal to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955, spawned a movement. Parks took a seat in the section of a Montgomery city bus designated for whites. She was arrested, tried and fined for violating a city ordinance. Mrs. Parks, a seamstress, often had run-ins with bus drivers and had been evicted from buses. Getting on the front of the bus to pay her fare and then getting off going to the back door was so humiliating. There were times the driver simply would shut the door and drive off. Her very conscious decision turned into an economically crippling, politically dynamic boycott and ended legal segregation in America. A three hundred and eighty two day bus boycott followed her morally correct and courageous act.

In the course of preparing for her visit, Ms. Parks noted to members of the committee that hotels just didn’t suit her spirit and she preferred the tradition extended through southern hospitality of putting people up in your home. She then asked if I would mind if she could be our guest during her week long stay in Oakland. She made only one request of us: that we keep her presence a secret. She and her long time friend Elaine Steele were eager to be in a place where they could relax, listen to music and eat great food without being disturbed. The disturbed part was my greatest concern for between the bullet-blasting drug wars and the press, I was concerned about how to maintain that part of the agreement.

Our modest home in the Fruitvale community of Oakland, California had served as a cultural center and refuge to many writers, filmmakers, artists and activists including Sweet Honey in the Rock, novelist Alice Walker and poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Although we’d never even met, when Rosa Parks walked through our front door, she instantly became family. She and Anyania melted into one another’s arms like a grandmother seeing her grandchild for the first time. One morning as Anyania was about to take off for school, the button on her dress popped off. It was a jumper filled with multicultural images of children my mother had made for Anya. Ms. Parks asked if I had a sewing box, threaded the needle and sewed the button back on. My spirit spilled over and I just burst into tears.

Anyania was so good at keeping the secret. I, on the other hand, wanted to blurt out to my family, friends and students at Mills College “Guess who’s sleeping in my bed? A few months ago, a former neighbor came by to pay a visit and started searching the scores of photographs hanging on the walls in our living room. She stopped, turned around and blurted out, “No that isn’t.” I instantly knew the photograph to which she was referring. Along with pictures of Fannie Lou Hamer, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Jim Forman hangs a very precious photograph of Rosa Parks surrounded by my then seven-year-old daughter and her playmate Kai Beard. Dottie was simply undone that in all the years she’d come into our home, she like so many others simply thought the woman sitting next to Anyania was her grandmother. A few weeks after she returned to Detroit, Ms. Parks sent Anyania an exquisite portrait of her painted by Paul Collins. That portrait now hangs in Anya’s home in Brentwood, California where my grandchildren Maelia and Elijah live, read and play everyday.

--Daphne Muse

Monday, October 24, 2005

How to Get Published, Two . . .

We've just received advance copies of the November/December issue of the Magazine, with one of the more luscious covers Lolly Robinson has designed for us. (Speaking of Lolly, who designs every page of the Magazine and the Guide: she is the curator for "Beatrix Potter in America," an exhibition of original art, paintings, sketches, letters, and first editions appearing at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art through December 4th.)

Appearing in this issue is an article by Jon Scieszka, "What's So Funny, Mr. Scieszka?" based on his Zena Sutherland Lecture, which he delivered last May in Chicago. Along with publishing the acceptance speeches for ALA's Newbery, Caldecott, and Wilder Awards (in every July-August issue), and those for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (every January-February issue), the Horn Book frequently publishes articles that first saw light on a podium. While the award speeches are published virtually verbatim, all others are subjected to the necessary and sometimes full-on transformation from oral speech to written article--what works for the one frequently falls flat in the other. So: if you do have a speech you think might make good reading for the Horn Book, make sure it graces the page with the same eloquence it had from the microphone. To reproduce comic timing, for example, is really hard--Jon lost a couple of his jokes. And you can't let italics do all the inflecting.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Thank you

Thank you all for reading and sending suggestions for this new Horn Book blog. I hope it will be entertaining and useful. Many colleagues have been helpful, especially Sharyn November, Judith Ridge, and Anastasia Suen, and I've been getting to know some of the children's book blogs, including Judith's, and Kids Lit (very helpful links) and Gail Gauthier's (informed and opinionated, and she loves the Horn Book ;-).

In an essay published in the New York Times this week (but God knows where and when exactly, as the "Times Select" articles-for-pay don't seem to include that information), Times editorial board member Verlyn Klinkenborg says that "writing means allowing yourself to think while paying attention to what you think as you think it." The self-reflexivity of blogging tempts one to go a step even beyond that, and I fear we may all be headed to meta-meta-land.

But maybe it's just me. In any case, this weekend I face the wood-pulp plugs and white laminate of Ikea, Inc. in the form of about a dozen cd towers waiting to be put together. God bless the Swedes.

A cosmic tangent

Perhaps inspired by the Ipod playlist I was listening to on the train this morning (a smartlist consisting of songs that had in common a question mark in the title, from "Is that All There Is?" to "What'll I Do?" to "Ain't It a Pretty Night?"), my thoughts turned philosophical, and I started musing on my (almost) ten years here at the Horn Book. It doesn't feel like a long time at all, but then I started comparing it to the same span in a child's life, where it seems--is--enormous. That would be first grade to tenth grade. I think time seems to go faster for adults because each year we add becomes an increasingly smaller part of our lifespan as we age (I am really proud to have figured out that math all by myself ;-). I wonder how writers for children rethink themselves into such a profoundly different apprehension of time--it's more than the excruciating waits we can all remember for Christmas or summer or a birthday, it's an entirely different scale, but one whose balance is constantly gaining in one direction. It was Richard Peck who put me on to the idea that kids can be as nostalgic as adults, but in their case it can be just last summer that brings forth the bittersweet!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Harriet the Sly, Part Two

My day began with Martha P. expostulating, rightly, over the "further reading" page in the forthcoming Harriet the Spy®, Double Agent by Maya Gold. Facing the title page, it is headed "Other books featuring Harriet the Spy and her friends," and then lists Harriet the Spy, Harriet Spies Again, The Long Secret, and Sport. Alphabetical order be damned: as the song says, one of those things is not like the others. And, as Reeve Lindbergh says, WHEN WILL WE OPEN OUR EYES?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

How to Get Published in the Horn Book: Notes toward a manifesto

The other Magazine editors (Claire, Jen, Kitty, and Martha, to be specific) and I were going through article submissions today, and it made me think we need to get a little more articulate in our submission guidelines, which can be found here. I thought I might try out some ideas on you.

Many of the unsolicited manuscripts we see are college or grad school term papers, most often unrevised for publication. Think: when was the last time you willingly read beyond "In this paper I shall prove" in a magazine article? Certainly, academic work can be the basis of a fine article--Horn Book reviewer Vicky Smith's "A-Hunting We Won't Go," an essay about anti-hunting bias in children's books, appeared in the Magazine in 2004 but first saw light as a paper for the Simmons' children's literature degree. But in rethinking the piece for us, Vicky boiled down the survey into an argument. We love a good argument, and I don't just mean the bristling sort of debate Marc Aronson and Andrea Pinkney had in our pages a few years back. I mean an article--whether research-based or speculative--that has a reason for being, that wants to tell us something new and convince us it's worth our attention. Hey, I think I'll extend this criterion to the book review section!

Thank God for the "e"

from a customer's review on of Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle: "The heroine grew on me, though, so I felt hooked enough to continue listening."

My own favorite catch, in a draft of a Horn Book Guide review, was "this book follows sixteen-year-old Karen, a stalking victim." Then there was the time we almost printed Magid Fasts for Ramadan (a picture book by Mary Matthews and E.B. Lewis, about a Muslim boy who wants to join the adults in the Ramadan fast) as Magid Feasts for Ramadan . . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

But does she love tomato sandwiches?

Wonkette has a bit of children's book fun today with an item on the Supreme Court nomination: "Harriet the Sly."

Robert's Snow

In other local news, I've been asked to alert you to the Robert's Snow project, a fundraiser for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/The Jimmy Fund. Founded by Boston-area writer and illustrator Grace Lin and her husband Robert, the project solicits hand-painted wooden Christmas tree ornaments from children's book illustrators for auction on eBay. (I can hold forth* for some time on what happens when you hang book illustration on a wall [or tree] but when it comes to eBay, you're on your own.) Information about the project, the illustrators involved, the auction details, and a list of galleries that will be exhibiting the ornaments are all available at the project site.

*and will, on November 12th, at the Eric Carle Museum.

Make Way for Mudslinging

Robert McCloskey's fabled ducklings have waddled right into the middle of Boston's mayoral race, with challenger Maura Hennigan airing a TV commercial apparently (I haven't seen it) animating and mimicking the style of McCloskey's work. Her message? "Make way for Tom Menino [the current mayor]. He's ducking the issues again." Menino supporter Nancy Schon, sculptor of the famous (and perennially-snatched) duckling figures which pay tribute to McCloskey's book in its real-life setting, the Boston Public Garden, is outraged.

Friday, October 14, 2005

I Love Laura

Ingalls Wilder, and am thrilled to chair the committee that will select the 2007 recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children for the American Library Association. The Wilder Medal "honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children." This biannual award last went to Laurence Yep in 2005; a list of previous winners can be found here. I welcome your suggestions for the committee's consideration; please email them to me here and be sure to put "LIW" in the subject line. The winner will be announced in January, 2007, but nominations close at the end of 2006, so get busy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Homework Help

I thought I had left behind the misery of the mass-homework assignment--my favorite example of which being the local seventh-grade teacher who sent thirty-five students to my tiny branch in search of copies of God Is My Co-Pilot--when I left public library work. But no. I have an annual crop of library media students (grownups, I emphasize, for anyone who thinks it's only kids who try to weasel out of assignments) who all want to know how the Horn Book Magazine "acknowledges the winner of the Caldecott Medal." The phrasing in the query is always the same, as is the question from year to year, as is my answer: the Horn Book Magazine reprints the Medalist's acceptance speech and runs a profile of the winner in every July/August issue. But sometimes I am tempted to tell them that each July/August issue comes packaged with a shot glass and a bottle of the winner's favorite hooch, and that the game is to down a shot each time you read the phrase thank you.

National Book Award nominees . . .

have just been announced. And, last night, Publishers Weekly's inscrutable Quills were bestowed.

More awards

I'm enjoying thumbing through Ruth Allen's Winning Books: An evaluation and history of major awards for children's books in the English-speaking world, published in the U.K. by Pied Piper Publishing (ISBN 0-954638-45-X). Although the lack of running heads makes the book a bit difficult to use for reference, it's a very browsable paperback, with complete lists of just about every English-language children's-book award complemented by histories of each award, shrewd observations about trends and choices, and the occasional anecdote. I've just been reading Allen's account of Lucy Boston winning the 1961 Carnegie Medal. Boston had madly prepared and memorized an acceptance speech, only to be then told that a simple "thank you" was all that was required--or wanted: "I lost my temper and hit the table till the cups danced. I poured out my rage at the wasted time and nervous exhaustion, the nights of fear. With rage came adrenalin and I knew I could address thousands without turning a hair, that I was in fact all agog to do it and mad at being defrauded."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Booker Prize

The announcement of the Booker Prize makes me think about the relative circumspection with which we promote children's book awards in the U.S. The fact that the chair announced that he had cast the deciding vote for the winner is in such contrast to our well-bred Newbery and Caldecott committees, which pledge confidentiality unto death. What you get instead, though, is gossip: x won because the committee was torn between y and z (an outcome that is in fact mathematically very difficult, given the way the balloting works); a Caldecott garnered on the strength of clever endpapers; a "Butterfield 8" Newbery, in which the winner is being recompensed for not having won for an earlier, better book (the term comes from Elizabeth Taylor's first Oscar). So which is better publicity: a relatively forthright explanation of how the voting went, or the inevitable whispers which will surround a confidential debate?

Friday, October 07, 2005

BGHB Pictures

Norton Juster (with Chris Raschka) looks surprised!

Phillip Hoose (in the hat) accepts his award for The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Kroupa/FSG). Photos by Richard Asch.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Coming in November

I think we're finally finished with the November/December issue of the Magazine. It has something of a Hans Christian Andersen focus (2005 marks his bicentenary), with a cover photograph of one of his paper-cuttings, an article by Brian Alderson about editions and translations of Andersen through the years, and a report by Elena Abos about a symposium held at the International Youth Library on illustrating the birthday boy. In addition, we have Jon Scieszka (it has taken me many years, but I can now spell Scieszka right on the first try ;-) on being funny, an article adapted from his Zena Sutherland Lecture of last May in Chicago; and Janet McDonald on bringing high and pop culture together in books for teens.

My editorial gamely tries to play along with our main theme by bringing in my trip to the IYL last spring in the company of Elena A., but what I was really interested in was what that trip taught me about what American children's book people mean when they call a book European. Hint: it's not a compliment.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Forbidden Children's Books

Still working on those BGHB pictures . . . there is one up of Neal Shusterman on our website at the BGHB link to the right.

I'm just back from a couple of days in New York, staying with my dear friend Elizabeth. We met twenty-five years ago as students in Zena Sutherland's children's literature class at the University of Chicago, and now she is a children's book publisher in New York. What has perhaps sealed our friendship even more than our vocation has is our shared devotion to the Off-Broadway revue "Forbidden Broadway," an evening of speedily-paced parody songs and sketches burlesqueing the current Broadway season and spoofing theatrical stars of today as well as yesterday's legends (there is always an Ethel Merman or a Carol Channing moment). We thought the highlight of last night's performance was a showdown between "Cherry Jones" and "Kathleen Turner," each in character from her most recent performance, Jones as Sister Aloysius in "Doubt" and Turner as Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The climax of the number was Jones exhorting Turner to "DOUBT!" to the tune of "Shout!"

It made me think about when children's books make fun of themselves, as in the Lemony Snicket Books, The Happy Hocky Family, or A Fate Totally Worse than Death. (There are also those books whose status as parody is debatable, but I'll let you name your own choices there.) I also recall what I think was a Sheila Greenwald novel in which the young heroine is being fed a diet of Judy-Blume like novels, including one blissfully, perfectly, named, Life Goes On, I Suppose. Thirty years or so ago, the ALA's Gay and Lesbian Task Force (as I think it was called then) performed a skit at annual conference, underlining all the cliches of the then-young gay-themed young adult novel. The skit ended with a car crash--the defining moment of books including Trying Hard to Hear You, I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip, and Sticks and Stones (that last by the wonderful Lynn Hall. Where is she?) While we can still acknowledge the grievance, I always thought that criticism failed to concede that the car-crash-climax was by no means limited to gay-themed novels--the books about teenaged alcoholics worked exactly the same way. Before you all start stepping on my head for equating homosexuality and alcoholism, just . . . wait. Have a drink, darling. I know, I know, that's not funny, and we were talking about humor.

Another place I see children's books being needled (car crashes figured in the drug books as well, btw) is in those lists of parody children's-book titles (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Dead Fish) or creatively redesigned children's book covers--the one I can think of at the moment has Eminem superimposed upon the great green room for a book called Goodnight, Bitch. Hee. I love this kind of demonstration of the place children's books can take as cultural markers in the big world. The country she-done-me-wrong lament that goes, " . . . now I'm the one who's caught in Charlotte's web," presupposes that the listener knows Charlotte's Web. I think that's great.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards

The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were bestowed last night at the Boston Athenaeum (see link to the right for a list of the winners). It is the 39th year of the award (an arithmetical fact I could only work out by writing out the years since inception: 1967, 1968,1969, etc.; what is the formula for that?) and my tenth year as m.c. I’ve never been a judge for BGHB, but I’ve always thought that this award frequently goes to unexpected but good choices, probably because a three-person jury can more nimble (and quirky) than one with fifteen (like the Caldecott and Newbery). The fact that each award committee is surveying books published from the fall of one year through the spring of the next means a different pool of possibilities from that of the calendar-year awards, practically guaranteeing different choices from the Newbery and Caldecott. (There have been a few trifectas, with the same book winning Newbery, National Book Award, and the BGHB award, most recent example being Holes.) Another difference is the inclusion of books originally published in another country and/or language, and dividing the award among fiction and poetry, nonfiction, and picture book categories means a fairer shake for each genre (although the joining of fiction and poetry is an awkward one, and different years have seen different juggling). A third distinction—and one where I think we have it all over the Caldecott—is that the picture book award goes to both the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the cited book. (The Blogger spell-checker queried Caldecott, wanting to replace it with coldest. I’m sure there are many picture-book writers who would agree!)

The ceremony last night was quite lively, with a couple of hundred from Boston’s children’s book crowd on hand. My partner Richard took pictures, and I’ll post some here as soon as we figure out how it all works. The acceptance speeches and excerpts of the judges’ remarks will be published in the January/February issue of the Horn Book; the cover illustration is being created by this year’s Picture Book winner Mini Grey.