Saturday, October 29, 2005
Friday, October 28, 2005
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."
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
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at
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.
Monday, October 24, 2005
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
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.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
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!
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
*and will, on November 12th, at the Eric Carle Museum.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Friday, October 07, 2005
Thursday, October 06, 2005
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
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 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.