Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I would dearly love to give these Citizens a pop quiz based on their recommended books. My guess is that they are not readers, and that they approach reading with equal amounts of awe and superstition. As they do the internet--blogging is another of their concerns, and their grasp of how it works is about on a par with their grasp on felicitous writing: "As long as young eyeballs spend time on the Internet, there will be Web sites whose sole purpose is to capture big chunks of their time and attention." If this is a demonstration of literary standards, give me Toni Morrison.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Saturday, November 26, 2005
I guess I should have known. The only time I've ever intentionally walked the Freedom Trail was when I first moved back to Boston, and got lost in between the subway and the office, then located on Beacon Hill. The red stripe led right to the door . . . .
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
An Innocent Soldier; written by Josef Holub, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Levine/Scholastic)
Inexcusable; by Chris Lynch (Seo/Atheneum)
Skybreaker; by Kenneth Oppel (Eos/HarperCollins)
The Silver Spoon of Solomon Snow; by Kaye Umansky (Candlewick)
Re my ambivalence and semi-despondency: I can't speak for Janis Ian, but it bugs me that we've all gotten so hooked on stars. Authors and illustrators love 'em (and think that they're the only reviews worth getting); publishers often make their advertising decisions based upon them; librarians confess that, pressed for time, they are the only reviews they read. And review editors like them because sticking a star on something is both a shortcut to popularity and an easy out from the responsibility of actually being articulate about why and how a given title is so terrific. We're all in the business of words, so why don't we trust them?
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
At home, Richard and I are watching Fortunes of War, an old BBC miniseries based on a series of books by Olivia Manning I read a hundred years ago. The director and screenwriter have found a very effective way of getting historical information in by making the character played by Emma Thompson all nosy and blunt and new to the scene (1930s Bucharest), and asking the questions viewers will have about the politics of the time and region. We get the context we need at the same time Thompson's character is being developed--quite canny.
Monday, November 21, 2005
But throughout this hectic time I've been listening to the audiobook of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, wanting to have read it before seeing the movie. What a story--and it is inadvertently reminding me of something that seems to too frequently go missing in children's books of the "worthy" kind. By these quotation marks I mean novels that announce that they are going for higher stakes than entertainment, that seek to shed light upon some overlooked social or historical injustice or other. Too often, these books forget to tell a story, opting instead for (sometimes quite vivid) portraiture or scene-painting, trusting that the rightness of the theme is enough to carry readers along. It isn't.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
"On Nordstrom's instructions, the udder of the Cow Jumping Over the Moon was reduced to an anatomical blur so as not to disarrange the fragile sensibilities of some librarians--the 'Important Ladies,' as she called them."
But, alas, at least one "important lady" was not to be budged--and the Horn Book Magazine never did review Goodnight Moon! It's kind of sad that Miss Nordstrom did not give us (librarians) more credit, though.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
I'm back from my talk at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. It was my first visit there and the place is mightily impressive--three galleries, an inviting small library, a hands-on studio filled with paper and media and ideas for pictures, and a first-rate bookstore run by Andy Laties, who used to own the fabulous Children's Bookstore in Chicago. (Incidentally, Andy has published his bookselling memoir/manifesto, Rebel Bookseller, which I'm taking with me for my trip to New York tomorrow.) You can read Lolly Robinson's account of the museum's dreams, goals and activities here.
Above's a picture of my favorite place in the museum, the entrance hall with "wallpaper" (his term) by Eric Carle. I'm with Rosemary Agoglia, the museum's Curator of Education.
I think the talk went pretty well. While I had intended to give my How Thomas Locker Sold the Soul of the Picture Book harangue, instead I talked a bit about how we review picture books at the Horn Book and a bit more about my governing faith: if we proceeded as if we realized that children read the same way grownups do, children's books and the world would both be better off.
More Tuesday--I'm off in the morning to New York for the Times reception for the Best Illustrated winners. I'll report back.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
But the whole dust-up makes me miss the late Bill Morris, Harper children's books library promotion director, terribly. Bill adored smoking, and I'm sure this is giving him a good laugh. Goodnight, Bill.
I just had a waking nightmare about what it would be like to be married to one of these guys. You're finishing dinner together, chatting about the day, when hubby dearest straightens his tie, prissily dabs at his face with his napkin, purses his lips and makes a small smile to himself before saying, in that tone you've come to know and abhor, "well, my dear, you're just not being very logical. Let's examine your prem--" when the brass candlestick, so long denied, comes down on his pointy little head.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
He once told an interviewer that he had received a sweet letter from a cancer patient in New York who wanted very much to believe that Nicholas, the protagonist of "The Magus," was reunited with his girlfriend at the end of the book - a point Mr. Fowles had deliberately left ambiguous. "Yes, of course they were," Mr. Fowles replied.
By chance, he had received a letter the same day from an irate reader taking issue with the ending of "The Magus." "Why can't you say what you mean, and for God's sake, what happened in the end?" the reader asked. Mr. Fowles said he found the letter "horrid" but had the last laugh, supplying an alternative ending to punish the correspondent: "They never saw each other again."
Children's books rarely leave us guessing in this way, although there has been something of a trend for ambiguity in books for teens (see Patty Campbell's "So What Really Happened?" in the July/August 2005 issue of the Horn Book). Lois Lowry kept us guessing for a while there as to whether The Giver's Jonas lived or died, but she apparently later decided to go on the record as allowing that he survived. See, his sled took him deep into the snowy woods where he met a boy with a hatchet . . . . Okay, no he didn't, but with their sequels that aren't really sequels, both Lowry and Gary Paulsen sure do keep a fellow confused.
Monday, November 07, 2005
"By story’s end, big red dots still cover Barney, indicating this series isn’t over even when the fat pig screams."
Friday, November 04, 2005
Here's the list:
ARE YOU GOING TO BE GOOD?
By Cari Best; illustrated by G. Brian Karas.
By Anu Stohner; illustrated by Henrike Wilson.
CARMINE: A LITTLE MORE RED.
Written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
CHATO GOES CRUISIN’
By Gary Soto; illustrated by Susan Guevara.
ENCYCLOPEDIA PREHISTORICA: DINOSAURS
Written and illustrated by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart.
THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW
By Norton Juster; illustrated by Chris Raschka.
THE PROBLEM WITH CHICKENS
By Barbara Jean Hicks; Illustrated by Alexis Deacon.
By Bruce McMillan; illustrated by Gunnella. (Houghton)
Written and illustrated by Jon Agee. (di Capua/Hyperion)
TRACTION MAN IS HERE!
Written and illustrated by Mini Grey. (Knopf)
Incidentally, I'd like to acknowledge Eden Ross Lipson for her twenty-some years of children's book coverage in the Times Book Review (and her good work in bringing children's-book coverage to other parts of the paper as well) and wish her the best in her retirement; the Horn Book Magazine will be featuring an interview with Eden in an upcoming issue.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
"Kids get older younger now,'" said Bob Chapek, president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment. "When I started in this business 12 years ago, kids entered into the Disney Classic range at 6. Now, at 2 to 3 years old, kids are buying the Cinderella classic DVD."
The NY Times today gives us the not exactly startling news that little girls want to pretend to be princesses. The reporter, Jodi Kantor, bemoans the fact that girls prefer Cinderella in her post-transformation mode as belle of the ball rather than as the "cruelly oppressed wretch" she is at the start of the story. But come on: wouldn't you? And more to the point: didn't Cinderella?
This little guy (I speak without reference to gender) has Germany covered, standing in the corners of bookstores, drugstores, stationers and grocers every where I went, proffering a bucket of small paperback picture books priced at just under one euro each. I wish we had them here--while the publishing trend these days is for ever-longer hardcover fiction, surely we can find some room for "small books for small hands," as Ursula Nordstrom remarked about Sendak's Nutshell Library; not to mention small allowances.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
"You'll have to forgive Intern Alexis if she seems a bit sluggish today-- it's just that this week's edition of the Times Book Review is the most depressing thing she's read since Dicey's Song. "