Sunday, December 24, 2006

God bless us every one

Unfortunately, Jamaica Pond doesn't have its Narnia snow this Christmas; Richard took this picture last year. It's virtually Christmas. I hope you and yours are enjoying the season.

Very sad news about Philippa Pearce, who died Thursday. NB: do not click to read Nicholas Tucker's comprehensive appreciation unless you've already read Tom's Midnight Garden, as he gives away the ending, the finest, I reckon, in children's literature.

I am on vacation through New Year's Day, so posting and reading will be erratic. Looking for suggestions, though, to burgeon my Provincetown reading list: so far I have Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book, Kipling's Kim, and Greg Iles's Turning Angel; Miss Pod is bringing a gloomy mystery by Henning Mankell and Maeve Binchy's Tara Road (which is a better class of the same story told in the appallingly written if gamely performed The Holiday, which we saw last night.) I know, it sounds like I have enough already but a boy likes to have options.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Harry's House (and Harry's take-home pay)

I know I've exhausted whatever critical credibility I might have had re Harry Potter, but I need to talk about yesterday's headlines announcing that the name of the forthcoming and final volume to the series could be found at the author's website. Less sporting journalists simply announced the name.

But why the hoopla? Is it an all-join-in-thing? Is it because the publishers made a game out of the news? I mean, I could get all excited if I heard that Hilary McKay was writing another Exiles book (and I am all excited that there's going to be another Die Hard) but I wouldn't care what they were going to call it. Maybe I'm missing a gene.

I do like the name, though, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Fundamentalists, come on down.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Choose your own adventure

I thought about our recent links to digital stories when I read this NY Times review of a London Faust in which audience members, independently and at will, move throughout the various spaces in which the play is being enacted: "It's theater for the interactive age. But instead of moving a cursor, you simply move yourself, choosing whatever character you want to follow, whatever sound intrigues you, whichever enticing corridor you are drawn to explore."

It makes me wonder about reading in the same way--I'll similarly roam around the Bible or a reference book, but how could this work with fiction? Maybe this could be my path into that War and Peace you all talked me into buying last year . . .

Also take a look at this book-arts gallery Michael Joseph mentioned on child_lit a few weeks ago. If anyone is still looking for the perfect Christmas present for me, I'd love Doug Beube's "Interlocutors," in which the pages of a book can be zipped and unzipped together for a multitude of orders.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cue, and . . . car crash!

We saw History Boys last night, and much as I loved it (and not to spoil it for you all), it reminded me of too many gay YA novels from the 1970s. See Michael Cart and Christine Jenkins' new book for details.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Who's Our Enid?

Reading this piece on the Guardian book blog about whether or not to give children books whose moral assumptions have become dated, I thought about our previous discussion about reviewers correcting themselves. What do you do when it's not so much the reviewer who's changed his mind, but the times? The Guardian article discusses Brit favorites Enid Blyton and Willard Price (a writer unknown to me); a similar debate here might focus on "Carolyn Keene" and "Franklin W. Dixon," although their series books have been regularly revised to remove what's now perceived (by those with the power to do something about it) as racial stereotyping.

What's more of a question here is what we should do about classics such as Laura Ingalls Wilder's books or The Five Chinese Brothers or Little Black Sambo. The latter two have been re-illustrated and retold--taking out the stereotyping, to be sure, but also overelaborating the stories beyond the patience of a story hour audience--and Wilder's white-settler tales have been joined by a host of alternative narratives, notably Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House and The Game of Silence.

I'm guessing that what the Guardian treats as a question about parents handing down their childhood favorites to to their children is, in this country, more a concern about what gets intrenched in school curricula. Do we have here an Enid Blyton whose longevity is cause for concern?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

For the Alias fan in mourning:

Check out Inanimate Alice. It's a spooky ongoing digital story conceived and published for the web, and it will suck you right into its tale about a girl whose father's shadowy work takes the family around the globe. There's an interview with the author in The Guardian. I was reminded of William Gibson's great Pattern Recognition, in which the heroine spends her spare time (and increasingly becomes consumed with) questing for "the footage," mysterious segments of film that show up in odd places and at odd moments on the internet.

For some smart thinking about how digital picture books might work read Jean Gralley's "Books Unbound."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"But she wanted a tutu"

Writing the New Yorker's annual children's-book-roundup about ten years ago, Adam Gopnik took issue with Mimi's Tutu, by Tynia Thomassie and Jan Spivey Gilchrist. It's about a young African American girl who wants a ballerina's tutu, but her mother and family give her an African-styled dancing dress instead. Gopnik commented along the lines of "but she wanted a tutu," and went on to discuss books that serve adult agendas at the expense of children's wishes.

I've got two books he might want to take a look at:

One of the valuable results of the picture-book-folktale boom of the '90s was the publication of "Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast," etc. variants from around the world. We got to see folk heroes and heroines of many colors from many cultures.

But Disney will out, it seems. I can't decide if this is revolutionary or reactionary. On the one hand, it's Disney (Jump at the Sun is a Disney imprint), and the retellings are Disney-bland ("Beauty and the beast danced and played together"). On the other, the characters, as pictured, are recognizably African-American--Rapunzel's long hair is braided in dreads--not just sepia-toned drawings of white people. Does a little black girl have to want to be an Ashanti princess, or is she entitled to the Disney dream, too?

Second Thoughts

Over at Booklist's Likely Stories, Keir Graff has some worthy thoughts about reviewers' changes of mind or heart. We grapple with that in a mild way when we construct our Fanfare list every December--some book someone was crazy about doesn't seem so great anymore, and another star bites the dust; a book that was not starred in the first place is giving off more of a glow.

While the Horn Book (and I'm guessing the other journals) will only "take back" a review if it is shown to be factually inaccurate, any reviewer will frequently, over time, change his or her mind about a book. This can partly be ascribed to mood, but mostly I think it is because the reviewer has gone on to read more books and thus acquire a larger and different context to place the reviewed book in. Every book you read changes the way you read the one before it as well as the one you read after.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Giving the pig a happy ending

The upcoming Charlotte's Web movie is engendering the usual publishing spawn; just arrived in our office is Some Pig!: A Charlotte's Web Picture Book. The bucolic illustrations are by Maggie Keen; the text is E. B. White's complete second chapter from Charlotte's Web, "Wilbur."

I guess you just have to think of it as a souvenir. (Like this.) The title will only mean something to someone who's read the book or seen the movie, and the uninitiated may also be perplexed by the opening spread ("Fern loved Wilbur more than anything") with its picture of a girl sitting on the kitchen floor cuddling a pig. But while I imagine kids would enjoy this scenario too much to worry about how the pig got there in the first place, I don't know what they're going to make of the conclusion: "The next day, Wilbur was taken from his home under the apple tree and went to live in a manure pile in the cellar of Zuckerman's barn." The. End.

Through the strategic employment of lemony sun-dappling and manure that looks like the softest grass, Keen does her best to make this scene look happy, but she can't disguise the fact that the line she's illustrating is not an ending but a beginning. This why you have to be careful when messing with the classics--it's not because they're holy, but because they'll go on strike: they won't work.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Those Pesky Annotations

After spending most of last week working on annotations for our Fanfare list, I read the NYT 100 Notable Books of the Year with new eyes. We'll ignore the fact that the list ignores children's books; what I was fixed on were the annotations of the titles. Some are purely descriptive, such as the one for Monica Ali's Alentejo Blue: "Ali's second novel revolves around the inhabitants of a southern Portuguese village." (At least creating a breeze, one hopes!) Many speak to theme (Lisa Fugard's Skinner's Drift: A white farm family is the foreground of this novel; behind it, the sins of South Africa"). Surprisingly few--maybe a dozen--attempt to note why a particular book is notable or even good: Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children is called "nimble," and Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower is "vivid." The block-that-metaphor award goes to the annotator of Allegra Goodman's Intuition: "A cancer researcher's dubious finding sets off a tidal wave that carries many people away."

But God knows, annotating a list is hard work, the haiku of book reviewing. Not only do you have to express a lot in few words, you have to watch out for mindless repetition. I like to remember Betsy Hearne's rule of reviewing: "The use of the words charming, beautiful, or interesting will be allowed on a one-time basis only."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fanfare 2006

For your delectation and debate, the Horn Book's picks for the best books of this year.

Another Tango in the News

The gay penguins are in trouble again, but here at the Horn Book we're marveling at this manifestation of the butterfly effect, courtesy of our publisher Anne Quirk's 1997 middle-grade novel Dancing with Great-Aunt Cornelia.

Here Is Why the Deliberations Are Supposed to Be Secret

National Book Award judge for fiction Marianne Wiggins spills pretty much all in this LA Times piece; for a more discreet recap see Linda Sue Park's notes on being a judge for the young people's award.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Prizing Graphic Novels

With award season upon us, I'm beginning to think about just how graphic novels might fare in January's ALA Awards.

While I'm sure we'll see them on various Notable and Best lists, the odds are against them when it comes to the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz.

Here's the problem: the Newbery Medal is for text; the Caldecott is for illustrations. In neither case is the award for the whole book. (Each award goes to the author or illustrator who created the text or pictures for a book, not to the book itself, and is not shared with the author of a picture book or the illustrator of a Newbery winner.) This situation is of course thought goofy by all right-minded people, and while discussion of changing the award criteria comes up periodically, easier--far, far easier--said than done.

You can see how graphic novels are excluded from the Newbery, since the text without the pictures and placement would be unreadable. The Caldecott, though . . . . That, I'm guessing is going to depend upon any given committee's reading of ALSC's definition of "picture book." ALSC defines it as a book "that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised," and adds that picture books appropriate for older children (through age 14) are eligible. Sounds like graphic-novel territory to me.

The Printz throws a different hurdle in the graphic novel's path. Although the criteria hang considerably looser (and I wish somebody would finally get around to copyediting that page) than those for the ALSC awards, there is that sticky designation of eligibility: "To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as "young adult," i.e., 12 through 18. Adult books are not eligible." To my mind, this excludes the National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, whose publisher, First Second, does not give age or grade ranges to its titles. (And good for them.) While some graphic novels are firmly established as being for children (such as the wonderful Babymouse series), most of those read by older kids and teens are published without regard to age. If the Printz award wants to be meaningful in a fluid publishing era, it has to get rid of its "published for teens" clause, ill-considered when its rules were made and bound to become ever more increasingly out of touch.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

News Flash: Girls are smart

“It’s time we got teenage girls reading comics,” said Karen Berger, a senior vice president at DC Comics. Why? I mean, why not, but why?

Berger goes on to say that teenage girls are "about more than going out with the cute guy. This line of books gives them something to read that honors that intelligence and assertiveness and that individuality.” Well, it's about time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

An apology

I really should apologize for my earlier post suggesting cynicism on the part of HarperCollins' marketing department.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Books for Unfit Mothers

At ALA last year I screamed intemperately at a perfectly nice young woman from Ten Speed Press for publishing this, now it looks like I'll have to go after HarperCollins for this. If only these books that are funny precisely because they fly over the heads of their putative audience could be made to hit the actual audience right in the eye, corner first. Parents should laugh on their own time.

Friday, November 17, 2006

When you want it NOW

Not to get too personal and therapeutic on you all, but my psychiatrist and I have been exploring the possible long-term effects of the prescription of bronchodilatory inhalants for young asthma sufferers in the 1960s. After years of waiting for ingested medicine to take effect, or enduring the terror of an adrenaline shot at the doctors, an entire generation of asthmatic children learned the relieving pleasures of . . . instant gratification. Yay!

While asthma is long behind me, I ponder what the enthusiastic use of what I called "my spray" has done to the way I read. Case in point: The Book Thief. After the first twenty pages of Death's meditations stymied me three times, Martha suggested I try the audiobook instead, allowing me to get through Death's opening remarks less painfully--no pages to force myself to turn. And she was right: once the story itself gets going, it's pretty unstoppable. But those first twenty pages made me so resentful I wanted to give up. Where's my spray?!

I'm of several minds here (perhaps as a result of other abuses of the instant-gratification reflex). One, maybe it's just me--impatience is a subjective experience. And two: as Natalie Babbitt told me (after fielding many letters from children who struggle with the opening chapters of Tuck Everlasting), a writer needs to write the book the author needs to write. And three: sometimes (as Natalie said children also told her) the patience required in the beginning is amply rewarded in the end.

But I'm also reminded of what former NY Times "women's news editor" Charlotte Curtis was told by her first boss, at the Columbus Citizen: "Curtis, you didn't get your clothes off fast enough!," meaning her stories took too long to get to the point (quoted in The Girls in the Balcony by Nan Robertson). In our recent "What Makes a Good Book" special issue, Richard Peck offers plenty of advice for writers on how to begin a book:

It's far too tempting to warm up on your reader's time. I regularly find my first line somewhere on the sixth page, after five pages of starting too early and walking in circles and pleading with the reader. I've learned to pitch those first five out.

(I would add that writers should NOT start as if they took a writing manual's advice "to immediately engage the reader's five senses" far too much to heart, as in opening with "James could still taste the breakfast marmalade on his tongue as he piled grimy handfuls of dirt on the fresh corpse while the scent of magnolia from Grandmother's farm drifted across the sky along with the sound of the circling vultures screeching overhead.")

But (a) what advice do we give to readers? and (b) does it make a difference if the reader is a child or an adult? Martha suggested this morning that what readers need from a beginning is "to know that they are in good hands," that perceived confidence on the part of the writer can inspire the same feeling in the reader. I like that. I remember Hazel Rochman blithely telling her high-schoolers to skip the first chapter of Wuthering Heights. Right on (remember The Rules). And I know I just have to become more patient--but I do love a book that from the first page makes me feel like I've finally gotten some air.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Don't hate me 'cause I'm pretty.

The new PW has an interesting article about the future of the Children's Book Council, and it's something of an eye-opener for those of us nurtured in the institutional end--schools and libraries--of the children's book biz. Take a look.

Not online is their end-of-the-book "Soapbox" column, which this week bemoans the curse of being good-looking. Nora Ephron wrote a long time ago that if one thing bored her more than the problems of big-breasted women, it was the problems of the pretty. Courtney E. Martin has written Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body and is well aware of the irony of worrying about her looks in her attempt to sell her book about worrying about your looks, but "crudely put, no one wants to read a book about the overvaluation of beauty by an ugly girl." Martin claims that publicists came to all of her proposal meetings to "check out the goods," and she must have passed, as Free Press will be publishing the book in April. "And now for the author photo, the publicity campaign, the book tour . . . the beauty pageant of the book world. Ugh."

Ugh my flat ass. If one thing bores me more than the complaints of writers about their author photos, publicity campaigns and book tours, it's the complaints of those who claim to endure it all for the sake of the Greater Good and above all, the kids: "I am not above buying an expensive suit if it means that even one teenage girl in Topeka, Kan., questions why she is spending more time thinking about her waist than the war in Iraq." And with the right shoes and bag, world domination could be just around the corner.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Debating the A-word

Most of my phone call this morning with old pal Betty Carter revolved around gossip, grandchildren and the pleasures of being a Scorpio in an unsuspecting world, but Betty did advance a question that I thought might be of interest here. "Have you noticed," she asked, "that most of the book debate this year has been about allegory?" and went on to mention The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Gossamer, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It's true that each of these titles has inspired strong reactions; also true that what's often being debated is "the lesson" of each story, both its nature and effectiveness. All stories have lessons, of course, but these three seem particularly fixed upon "the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form," my digital AHD's definition of allegory.

Betty also included Jeannette Winter's picture book Mama in this group, but I'm not so sure about that one. Fable, maybe, except it's practically nonfiction. (And, jeez, that's another discussion. While looking back over the year's books for our Fanfare list, we're finding many whose adherence to a given genre seems distinctly optional.) But like the novels above, it's brought the knives out. Why is that? I'm all for a little sharp carving, but I'm wondering if there's something in the nature of allegory itself that prompts the strong response.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Go to the movies

Okay, it's not The Queen, The Departed, or even Marie Antoniette, but you can catch the all-dancing, all-singing Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards ceremony right here.

The spammers are getting better

The email subject line read "Remember the fairytale about Cinderella?"

Inside: "With Ultra Allure Pheromones women will do anything just for your sake."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Irony of It All

I'm sorry to have been neglecting you all; at work we've been doing performance evaluations (everybody passed), which always involve a flurry of concomitant schedule and workflow and management plans, all of which put my head into a different space, man. But two items therein of interest to you: we've hired Elissa Gershowitz as the new managing editor of the Horn Book Guide, and Kitty Flynn, formerly Guide Executive Editor, is now Horn Book Web Editor (that's the provisional title; we're also considering Webatrix) so I guess in some ways she will now be The Boss of Me. Kitty will be responsible for overseeing all of our electronic avenues of publication--website, blog, digital reviews--and she's going to be great at it.

I have taken some time out to enjoy another birthday present (more exactly, a present I picked out for myself because the intended present--the Die Hard trilogy--was so perfect I already owned it), Spy: The Funny Years, a history of my third most-favorite magazine, which includes the best piece of cultural theory from the 1980s, "The Irony Epidemic," by Paul Rudnick and Kurt Andersen.

There was recently a discussion on childlit about the definition of irony as presented in Karen Cushman's recent novel The Loud Silence of Francine Green, and novels such as M. E. Kerr's Gentlehands, Brock Cole's The Facts Speak for Themselves, and Chris Lynch's Inexcusable depend upon young readers being able to detect an ironic stance, a narrative strategy not all teen readers are ready for. (I've always maintained that Catcher in the Rye is popular with teens and deadly celebrity stalkers because they don't Get It.) But forget innocence as an excuse to misuse irony, "The Irony Epidemic" looks at what such a powerful weapon becomes in the hands of heterosexuals:

Victims of the Irony Epidemic do not dread commitment--they fear uncoolness. When Bob wears his garish shirts or his black-rimmed nerd glasses, he implicitly announces, I am aware enough to appreciate the squareness of this shirt and these glasses; I don't like them--I get them.

And history--and Elvis Costello's glasses--has proven Rudnick and Andersen's thesis that such easy irony has neither sting nor staying power: "As this decade began, Bob and Betty thought kidney-shaped coffee tables were amusing monstrosities; as the decade ends, Bob and Betty consider them merely stylish." The article is sidebarred by some of the hilarious compare-and-contrast boxes that Spy pioneered. "Camp Lite: Watching a videocassette of One Million Years B.C., starring Raquel Welch as a cavewoman. True Camp: Working out to Raquel's exercise video and wondering if Tahnee, Raquel's daughter, is a happy girl."

I need to tear myself away from Spy and you to go proof Guide reviews for a while. But, for discussion, I'll leave you with Paul Rudnick's puckish thoughts, printed elsewhere in Spy, on poetry: "Poems are Laura Ashley prints for the mind, unicorn dung. . . . Emily Dickinson never left her cottage in Amherst, and with just cause: no one asked her to. Don't invite Emily, she might recite one of her things."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Here's a cheerful thought

Well no, but salutary nonetheless. From Bill Bryson's recent memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (a birthday present from a friend who apparently knows my taste even better than I do myself, as it's not a book I would have ever picked up on my own yet I loved it):

Each year the teacher held up my pathetically barren [U.S. Saving Stamps] book as an example for the other pupils of how not to support your country and they would all laugh--that peculiar braying laugh that exists only when children are invited by adults to enjoy themselves at the expense of another child. It is the cruelest laugh in the world.

Forty years later it is still too painful for me to put my own example of this laughter here; suffice it to say that it involved a teacher announcing to the class just what book I had purchased that month from the Scholastic book club. No wonder I'm such a freak about reading privacy.

Monday, November 06, 2006


as my grad school roommate would call them, are consuming a great deal of my time just now, as we read and read in preparation for selecting our annual Fanfare list to be published in the January issue. More than a dozen of the titles on the longlist are first volumes, middle volumes, last volumes--the question is, how do you fairly judge them? Need they "stand on their own"? (For a Newbery, they do.) Can a first volume be comprehensively assessed without the reader knowing what the author has in store for the next? Octavian Nothing, for example, seems to stand alone--but what if volume two reveals it all to have been a dream? Or what if I feel like the last Bartimaeus book stands on its own, but someone who has read both of the preceding volumes assures me I am missing a ton? Should an excellent middle book not stand alone?

Then there are the books you thought were over at one blow but NO. Like The Giver. And surely there are those (examples, anyone?) that never see the finish, like TV leaving us with the aliens taking over Florida (Invasion) or the hunky psychiatrist screaming at the sky (Huff). I hope when Lemony Snicket called his last book The End, he meant it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

November-December Horn Book

The latest issue is out and, partially, up. But do subscribe. This blog don't pay the bills!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ten Rules to Read By

Walker UK is bringing back Daniel Pennac's The Rights of the Reader, and I hope it will make its way over here, too. Walter Mayes gave me a copy years ago that seems to have gone astray, but I've not forgotten its maxims (at least in my private life!), including "the right not to finish a book" and "the right to skip." You can see Pennac's ten rights, deftly illustrated by Quentin Blake, on a downloadable poster from Walker.

In the mail

Excavating my desk today, I find two items of note. First, an invitation to the NYPL's Anne Carroll Moore lecture, free and open to all comers and given this year by Patricia C. McKissack. 10:30AM, Monday November 13, at the Donnell Library Center, 20 West 53rd Street. Do go; I hope to.

Second, I've received a brochure touting the NEH and ALA's annual "We the People Bookshelf," with this year's theme being "the pursuit of happiness" Rick Santorum wants you to forswear. (Take that, Founding Fathers!). Get information about how to apply for the collection of fifteen "classic" books here; I'll just sit here and whine about the poetic injustice of turning "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" into a picture book. Count me in with Ethel Heins, who, in reviewing Susan Jeffer's edition of the poem in 1979, wrote "it is often questioned whether an explicit line-by-line pictorial representation of a lyrical--not a narrative--poem may constrain a child's imagination and interfere with his or her response to poetic ambiguity--the spontaneous formation of images in the mind."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Blow 'em all out

If I look as if I'm going to collapse right into that birthday cake, write it off to the exertions of turning thirty. The hardest thing about being the guest of honor at a surprise birthday party is convincing people you actually were surprised, which I certainly was.

The party, adeptly organized by Richard, who invented an entire decoy event to throw me off the track, was a wonderful climax to my birthday vacation. Although we did not make it to Disneyland, my cosmic twins and I had a great time in San Diego, including eating red mint chip ice cream at Korky's, spending the mortgage at Brady's for Men, and riding on the Giant Dipper, the very roller coaster (I found out later from Harcourt editor Allyn Johnston) that inspired Marla Frazee's Roller Coaster.

Beautiful, but I don't know how people live out there. "Wonderful weather," I kept hearing, but it's more like wonderful climate. Weather changes; this was more like nonstop perfection. Not my thing.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Home alone on a Friday night?

Cook up some popcorn, break out the bourbon, and listen to the 2006 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards.

But since I've heard it all before, I'll be at the movies, Marie Antoinette if we can get tickets. Back to Versailles!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

From your friendly paparazzo . . .

The Newbery Committee spotted in secret meeting in San Diego Harbor!

The Fatal Detour

While we never did make it to Disneyland, we did not go hungry.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And yes, I want fries with that.

With Miss Pod singing songs from my halcyon California college days--Donna Summer, Cris Williamson, the Captain and Tennille--I'll be wending my way to Disneyland tomorrow and won't be posting again until next week. I'm tempted to dress up as Frances Clarke Sayers, scolding Ariel, bullying Belle, replacing Peter Pan and Pooh with authorized editions . . . .

I'm only worried because there are approximately fourteen In-N-Out stands between our hotel and Sleeping Beauty's castle, any one of which as capable of diverting us from our goal as they were thirty years ago, when Double-Doubles won out over Henry James almost every single time.

Baby's Got Back

"His dark blue eyes met Jenny's, and chills ran down her spine all the way to the toes of her perky rubber boots."

--from Reckless, by Cecily Von Ziegsar

We take requests: here's Taylor Morrison!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Okay, how many?

I found on Bookslut this morning a link to a list of 1001 books you must read before you die. While I think these things are as specious as all get out, I had to, just had to, count. 131. More than Bookslut herself, true, but I am older and should be further along, especially considering the fact that my reads from the list contain a lot of piffle, e.g., Delta of Venus. (If you ever have the time and opportunity, listen to comedian Marga Gomez's routine "The Lost Diary," in which she imagines finding on the bus a volume of Anais Nin's diary that details Nin's erotic adventures in Disneyland: "I zot I zaw Meenee shoot me aah loook.")

The selection from children's books is very limited: Treasure Island and, snore (sorry, Monica!), Alice in Wonderland, some fables. I would have added at least the Little House books, Where the Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat and . . . over to you.

Me at the Feet of a Master

and Kate

One at a Time Seems Best

and Steven . . .

Pics third try

This may be impossible, but let's try again. I hope it isn't too painful for Miss Mac. Here's Lois:

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oh what a night

Please forgive the title; Miss Pod has been compiling a collection of songs to provide the soundtrack for my forthcoming birthday trek to Disneyland along with my two best friends of thirty years standing. That's right: friends since birth.

But the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were the occasion of a great Friday night, and we're lucky nobody invited the fire department as the Boston Athenaeum was seriously overbooked with our guests. The evening began with cider and cupcakes (the new brie, I think) for the honorees and their friends and publishers; Picture Book winner Lois Ehlert was there surprised with a group of friends from Milwaukee who flew in for the event. Fiction winner Kate DiCamillo greeted me with a peace sign; not quite sure what this meant, I later hastened to inform her that, discussions on this blog notwithstanding, I liked Edward Tulane. The event proper began with a gracious welcome by Athenaeum trustee Alice De Lana, who, I discovered, had taught high school English to my college friend Ali Mauran at Miss Porter's. That's right: ten years ago.

The winners' speeches were nicely variegated, and I like the way the shorter remarks from the Honor Book recipients punctuate the proceedings. Only Sandra Markle and Allan Marks, from New Zealand and England, respectively, could not attend; the late Faith McNulty was represented by her niece Katherine Keiffer, who beautifully recalled her aunt's writing and passions. Lois Ehlert was warm and generous; Stephen Kellogg was fast and funny (we're hoping to put some video clips on the website next week; his speech is one you have to see) and Kate DiCamillo was deep and eloquent to the point that my Richard is completely ready to run away with her.

I've been trying to upload some photos but Blogger doesn't seem to like them. I'll try again later.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Time Traveling

Take a look at this story about the uses to which the antiabortion movement is putting Susan B. Anthony. It's nice and complicated, just the way I like my politics, and it also is instructive re children's historical fiction, in which the past is used to serve the needs of the present.

Tonight occasions our annual glamour moment: the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards at the Boston Athenaeum. I need Tim Gunn here for wardrobe assistance (particularly as it needs to be an outfit that will take me from day into evening) but I've drafted Richard to play stylist: we wouldn't want any Serious Ugly in the room. I'll post a full report tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When Bad Things Happen to Bad Writers

Commenting on the great reviews garnered by Marisa Acocella Marchetto's Cancer Victim, Bookslut's Jessa Crispin makes my day:

Just because you lived through something doesn't mean you should write a book about it. I'm getting more and more weary with this "tell your story" bullshit. Yes, tell your story... to your grandkids or your nephew or your cat. The world at large doesn't need to know about it unless you're particularly good at the telling.

I haven't read Cancer Victim so can't comment re, but Crispin's sentiment is one I often find echoing in my head when reading refugee, war, and Holocaust memoirs for children. Too often, I think, they proceed from the assumption that having lived through horrific circumstances is justification enough for publication of memories of same, but it isn't. Nor is moral righteousness, or even heroism. (One of the most interesting Holocaust stories I've heard was from Maurice Sendak, who had met an old lady who as a child had performed in the original Theresienstadt production of Brundibar. Her most insistent memory--the one that still kept her up nights, he said--was about how she didn't get the plum part in the performance that she wanted.) It isn't the historical significance or the moral imperative of a book that gets it read. The testimony has to be compelling.

If not fun. I felt a distinct attack of moral seasickness this morning when I read a forthcoming pop-up book about the Irish famine (Life on a Famine Ship by Duncan Crosbie, published by Barron's in January '07.) Lift-the-flap and watch the farmhouse get wrecked! Lift-the-flap to see the corpse dropped over the side of the ship! Despite the protestations of Fraulein Maria, not everything can be turned into a game.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cheering the Home Team

Boston Globe book editor David Mehegan takes a good look at the forthcoming publication of The Children of Hurin, a Tolkien manuscript sewn together and completed by his son. We claim David as One of Ours because his mother used to be the Horn Book's circulation manager.

And former editor in chief Anita Silvey (after Ethel and before me) is getting a good discussion on Childlit for her article in the latest School Library Journal about the current state of YA literature, more precisely, YA reading: "Of one thing I’m certain: instead of craving realistic stories about people like themselves, today’s teens are crazy about characters (and scenarios) that have little in common with their own everyday lives." She's right that teens are turning away from the realistic "problem" fiction that we think of as the core of YA lit in favor of fantasy and other genre fiction, but I question whether teens ever read realistic fiction because they identified with it: it wasn't potheads who made Go Ask Alice a success, it was junior high girls looking for vicarious thrills. (I think the same appeal is what gets kids into the Gossip Girl genre, too.)

But while Anita is thrilled that kids are broadening their horizons, I have to ask if she would still feel the same way if she were back in the Horn Book trenches, ducking for cover whenever another book cart stuffed with new fat fantasy trilogies comes barreling back to the editor's office!

P.S. I'm with Blogger spellcheck when it suggests replacing "trilogies" with "trellises."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Make it New?

On Project Runway this week, judge Michael Kors was asked about what he looks for when evaluating the contestants' designs. He said that each week he tried to judge just what was in front of him, not the designer behind it and not his or her previous work. I call bullshit. All the judges whine about Uli's drapey halter things, and applaud when a designer tries something new--like when Uli won a challenge by designing a dress that didn't go to the floor.

Book reviewers confront this dilemma all the time: how do you fairly evaluate something that seems like something you've seen before? It's a greater burden for children's book reviewers, too, because the target audience for any given book is far less likely to have read any of the books the reviewer is referencing. I got into this many years ago with editor Melanie Kroupa, who was miffed that I wrote of a Ron Koertge novel that it was too much like the one he had published the previous year. If the book succeeded on its own terms--which we agreed it did--was it then fair to fault it for not being different enough from the author's other work?

No and yes. No, because if a book succeeds in its own right, it deserves praise. But yes, it is also fair to criticize an author for not stretching. A book review has responsibilities to the book (to represent it fairly), to the reader (ditto), but also to literature as a whole: the reviewer needs to ask "what does this book add to the books that are already out there?" PR judge Nina Garcia would call this the "editorial judgment."

Next, maybe I'll examine Heidi Klum's ultimate words of praise: "It looks expensive!"

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Glimpse from the Future

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick and published by Scholastic, won't be out until next March, so I'm going to resist any commentary here except to say that it is tres magnifique. And set in Paris. I just want to share a short quote from a scene in which our hero and heroine are trying to sneak into a movie:

[Isabel] walked to the rear door and took out a bobby pin from her pocket. Hugo watched as she fiddled with the pin inside the lock until it clicked and the door opened.
"How did you learn to do that?" asked Hugo.
"Books," answered Isabelle.

My kind of girl!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Can You Draw the Matchbook Man?

The juicy discussion (not yet a flamefest but wait) over on Fuse #8 about SCBWI reminds me of this bit of mischief with the Institute of Children's Literature.

Chicago online

I've been having fun playing with the new online version of the Chicago Manual of Style (you can get a free trial for a month). I note that Chicago now tells us not to hyphenate any varieties of Americans (African-, Asian-, etc.) even when used as an adjective ("the African American astronaut"), which I hope doesn't get too confusing. It does NOT help with our perennial debates about that thing with both words and illustrations that generally runs thirty-two pages: picture book? picture-book? picturebook?

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's Not Always Good News . . .

. . . when you get your book reviewed in the Horn Book. Although the headline on the Magazine's book review section has stated for at least thirty years that "most [emphasis added] of the books reviewed are recommended," we do try to keep everybody awake with the occasional mixed or negative review. I got an email today from a publisher perplexed about a negative review one of their books had recently received--perplexed, not aggrieved--thinking we only reviewed Thumbs Way Up. Sometimes we review such titles because they're getting a lot of publicity (thus our very mixed review of the second Harry Potter), or because other reviews have been overenthusiastic and we want to provide some dissent (we're publishing a negative review of the new Jamie Lee Curtis next month for just that reason) or because we just can't help ourselves, like the time I got that 20th Century Children's Book Treasury between my teeth and Would. Not. Let. Go.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Scooped again

I see that Simon & Schuster's saboteur (or the NY Times' intrepid spy) has struck again, as details from Bob Woodward's new book--then embargoed until tomorrow--saw light in the Times and elsewhere on Friday, with the book itself reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Saturday (you might remember when she scooped the world with a review of the last Harry Potter on the day of its publication). I like this piece of understated advice: "Howard Rubenstein, a public relations executive familiar with roll-out campaigns like this one by Simon & Schuster, said that controlling such information 'really doesn’t work anymore.'"

Friday, September 29, 2006

November stars

And lo, behold the glittering firmament of books that will be starred in the next issue of the Horn Book:

Merry Un-Christmas
written by Mike Reiss, illustrated by David Catrow

The Last Dragon
written by Silvana de Mari, translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside

The Green Glass Sea
written by Ellen Klages

Street Love
written by Walter Dean Myers

written by Philip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama
written by Laura Amy Schlitz

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Food, Frolic, and the Fall of Rome

Although he was not to be found in the taupe-tinged atmosphere of Banana Republic, my trip to New York was otherwise full of tasty moments--haute Polynesian with Elizabeth, schnitzel with the Germany girls, Starbucks with Fuse #8, panini with Richard Peck, and Emerald City (Key lime) mousse on a yellow-brick road (made of chocolate) with Eric Carle. The theme of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art benefit bash was, in homage to their current exhibition, the land of Oz : Dorothy et al wandered through the crowd selling raffle tickets, and each guest received a pair of green-tinted shades. When I told an enquiring Peter Sis that the glasses would allow him to see all the party guests naked, he replied, "in this crowd, why bother?" Terribly ungallant, I know, but he did make an exception for one titian-haired publisher I won't embarrass here.

The party celebrated the inauguration of the Carle Honors, given this year to an artist (Rosemary Wells), an "angel" (philanthropist Helen Bing), a mentor (Carle's chief editor Ann Beneduce), and a "bridge" (Weston Woods' Mort Schindel). All, thankfully, kept their remarks brief and gracious; Rosemary Wells opined that while we were living in an era akin to the fall of Rome, "we have something Rome didn't: 'Eric Carle.'"

Well, can't argue with that (except to say that Rome had something we don't: Virgil). Not to pick on Rosemary, who was just being gracious, but her remark reminded me that we in this field do have a tendency to plump the importance of children's books up to a point that can seem self-deluding. As when Philip Pullman said, in his Carnegie Medal acceptance speech for The Golden Compass, "There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book." Balderdash. Old-timers may remember when Horn Book editor Ethel Heins and School Library Journal editor Lillian Gerhardt practically came to blows over this very issue. Literally: Lillian threatened, in print, to come up to Boston and hit Ethel over the head with a chair. Ah, those happy golden years.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Taking a Bite out of the Apple

Limoliner is taking me and Miss Pod to New York tomorrow. We'll be listening to The Emperor's Children (quite addictive and geographically apropos) and reading books for the star discussion next week. I'm going for the Eric Carle Museum bash Monday night, and also have dates with the Germany girls and intrepid blogger Fuse8. Any free time will be spent talking about you all with Elizabeth and stalking my secret boyfriend.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

We're looking . . .

. . . for a managing editor for the Horn Book Guide. Come, join the madness! Details about the job are here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Teddy bear, teddy bear, do a trick--

Teddy bear, teddy bear--oops, better not. Someone from Maine might be reading. If the staff and supporters of the Read With ME organization were less interested in covering their, um, bottoms and more invested in actually defending Schoolyard Rhymes, they might attend to the subtitle: Kids' Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun. They could also learn from Susan Dove Lempke's Horn Book review of the book, from our September/October 2005 issue: "Those who know childhood humor will not be shocked that many of the poems do feature underwear and insults." "There are words in there I don't allow in my house" says outraged Maine mother Erica Smith. Yes, and this is why we fucking make you send your kids to school.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

Talking Trash With the Disney Girls

Jennifer Brabander just forwarded me this Disney fantasia.

Hands Across the Water

I had breakfast this morning with Janetta Otter Barry and Sarah Butler of Frances Lincoln Ltd. in London. They were here both to talk about some books F.L. will be selling in the U.S. in the upcoming seasons and to find out about how the book reviewing system in these parts works: according to Janetta, reviews in the States have much more of an impact on sales here than reviews in the U.K. do there.

I was interested to find out more about how the "distributed in the United States by . . ." kind of publishing works. It's different from publishing companies such as Scholastic, say, which have editorial offices in multiple countries, and different again from selling the rights to a U.S. publisher (Frances Lincoln is the original publisher of Mary Hoffman's Amazing Grace, for example, but licensed the book to Dial for publication here.) Sarah explained that different books will take different paths to becoming available here, depending on what's projected to be the best way to achieve the most sales, and/or find inclusion on the various award and recommended reading lists. It's certainly a fuzzy distinction: I said at breakfast that I thought Frances Lincoln books would not be eligible for ALA's Notable Books list (because the rules state the book must be "published" in the U.S.), but now I see that Canada's Groundwood Books has received Notable citations, and they seem to be in the same situation as F.L., with both companies' books distributed here by Publishers Group West.

I know this all might sound like so much insider baseball, but as trade agreements, publishing, and consumer access to foreign books makes country-of-origin both less and more complicated, we all might need to be rethinking our rules about what we mean by "published here." Where?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Taking the Easy Way Out

My friend Pam Varley and I were emailing this morning about our current audiobook listening, and sharing our common guilt at keeping, on, a "wish list" of books that we plan to listen to that is composed of titles rather more challenging than the books we actually end up purchasing. On my end, the new Peter Carey novel still waits hopefully on the wish list while I merrily download yet another Donna Leon mystery. As Pam wrote, "there's probably a thesis somewhere in a comparison of Audible 'wish' lists and 'buy' lists."

I tell myself, and frequently other people, that guilt has no place in reading choices. But maybe it is part of the pleasure: reading as playing hooky? having an illicit affair? Similarly, virtue should have no greater a place in reading, either, but there's something to be said for the results of dogged determination, or going to church even though you don't feel like it, or even simply bragging rights.

Books I loved reading and books I'm glad I read. Two lists I can live with.

Liquid Paper

J.K. Rowling reports that airport security in New York wanted her to check her handwritten notes for the next Harry Potter with her luggage. What does she write with, shampoo?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Now you see her . . .

Now you don't!

So what do you think was the reasoning behind the cover change of The Green Glass Sea (published this fall by Viking), an excellent historical novel set at Los Alamos, and what it was like for the children there, during WWII? My first thought was that the photo of the girl might have made people think it was an Anne Frank book, or perhaps the publisher might have decided that the design was just too darned busy, especially if somebody decides to put an award sticker on it. The second definitely says literary fiction here, and tones down the math. It's beautiful, but I have to say the first cover made me grab the galley straight away. And, cover questions aside, I'm glad I did. Do watch for the book.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

No news isn't good news, it's actionable.

The Beverly Hills boutique Kitson's is suing US Weekly, for not mentioning its name. I do hope there's more to the story than this or I'm going to be getting papers from T.A. Barron. Or Billy Crystal.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Do Drugs Really Rot the Mind?

Although it was fun finding out, in Judith and Dennis Bradin's Jane Addams: Champion of Democracy (Clarion, November) that Jane experimented with opium in college, perhaps more pertinent to this anniversary day is their inclusion of an excerpt of an article Jane Addams wrote for Ladies' Home Journal in 1913, imagining that men rather than women were agitating for suffrage:

You are so fond of fighting--you always have been since you were little boys. [If you were allowed to vote] you'd very likely forget that the real object of the State is to nurture and protect life, and you would be voting away huge sums of money for battleships, each costing ten million dollars, more money than all the buildings of Harvard University. Every time a gun is fired in a battleship, it expends, or rather explodes, seventeen hundred dollars, as much as a college education costs, and yet you would be firing off these guns as mere salutes, with no enemy within three thousand miles, simply because you enjoy the sound of shooting.

You tell 'em, sister.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Sex Panic

So the fuss (discussion starts about halfway down the page) about The Rainbow Party might have been, uh, overblown.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Caveat Empty-headed

I can't decide who is more embarrassed by the tentative settlement of the James Frey case: the readers, for thinking they deserved a refund, or Random House, for caving in. Personally, I think $23.95 is dirt cheap for a lesson in skepticism.

And now I want a refund for those Sea Monkeys.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Vengeful Tigress or Screeching Harpie?

You decide. But I like "Anonymous"s take-no-prisoners style in this attack on chicklit. The argument, though, is familiar to anyone who's been through the Nancy Drew/Wildfire Romance/Goosebumps wars: bad writing (and reading of said) drives out good. But junk has always been with us, and the audience for literary fiction has always been small. And Anonymous has a tendency to bolster questionable premises ("Chick lit claims . . .) with a muddle of not necessarily codeterminant facts (" . . . to be representative of women's lives, their hopes, fears, dreams and values"). She does this again later, with "as America increasingly devalues intellectual rigor, education and compassion, it becomes harder and harder to find a good book." What does compassion have to do with any of this?

For a more
laissez-les-bon-temps-roulez attitude toward this argument, try Nick Hornby's essay on "How to Read."

Friday, September 01, 2006

September/October Horn Book

Our September/October issue of the Horn Book Magazine is out; a special issue with the theme, "What Makes a Good Book." (We decided to leave the question mark to our readers.) You can view the table of contents, which itself links to a few articles and reviews from the issue, including my long-promised take on stars. To subscribe to the Horn Book, or to order a copy of this issue, please contact Alison Amato at

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

It's the Most Wonderful Time of Year

Yes indeed, late August and surrounded by holiday books. We Do It Now So You Don't Have To Later. Perhaps the most eccentric title in this year's pile is, depending on how you punctuate the title page, It's a Wonderful Life for Kids, or "It's a Wonderful Life": for Kids, due next month from Dutton. Written by Jimmy Hawkins, who played little Tommy Bailey in the movie, it retells, in the form of a sequel, the scenario of It's A Wonderful Life as it might have been experienced by Tommy: in his case, Tommy loses the envelope containing money for the library fund, and in his despair runs to the local bridge, where he meets . . . Arthur, Angel Second Class, sent down by ol' Clarence who once helped out Tommy's father. And, likewise, Timmy gets to see what life in Bedford Falls would have been like had he never been born. Talk about the sins of the fathers . . . .

Still, ka-ching! I wonder who got his wings for this one?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Who needs Judy Miller?

The children's-book beat at the New York Times does just fine without her. Last year, they somehow got an early copy of the last Harry Potter into Michiko Kakutani's hands; now reporter Dinitia Smith has broken into S&S/Margaret K. McElderry headquarters to swipe a copy of the "embargoed" Peter Pan in Scarlet.

Actually, I imagine there is a copy of the manuscript in Times children's book editor Julie Just's office just as there is in mine. Unlike the Harry Potter books from Scholastic, S&S sent out review copies of Peter Pan in Scarlet with the proviso that no coverage appear before the pub date in October. (They wanted a signed agreement to that effect, but didn't get one from us.) That's fine by me: however "authorized," a sequel to Peter Pan is not exactly breaking news--unless your news is breaking the embargo. Emma Dryden, you evil genius.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Heady reading

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer takes a different spin on the topic of YA's reading adult books, that is, adults reading YA books (thanks to Bookslut for the tip). God knows they will find some good reading, but I wonder if it's damning with faint praise to say, as B&N bookseller Lisa Santamaria does, that adults may want "something a little more entertaining or fluffy, so they come to the kids' section, only to find out that these books are not necessarily fluffy at all. Like Harry Potter - it makes you think." If it were up to me, I'd replace Harry Potter in that sentence with . . . --I was going to give an example from any number of candidates, but then I was stymied by the possibly half-baked notion that YA literature is on the whole more interested in making us feel than think. Some do both (Aidan Chambers' novels come to mind) but so many more aim for our emotional investment in a character and situation, rather than (or also) occasioning readers to ask questions about themselves and their beliefs. Shall we compile a list, or am I overreaching?


Pluto's off the list, so never mind the song. And the anti-Castro forces in Miami are going for broke: this will bring the money the Board of Education will spend on the case to at least half a million dollars. Let's not even think about how many books that money could buy; certainly they haven't.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Getting under the covers

First, I happened upon a message board where young readers speculated madly on how the (now-defunct) movie of Gossip Girl should be cast. ("Yohomeboy" said "they should totally find unknown stars to play all the people cuz if they pick a old person like lindsey lohan then everyone is going to have bad thoughts about them already they should totally be new peeps who are perfect for the parts biatch not lindsey lohan!!!!")

Then I found a lengthy rumination on the closing of the fabled Cody's bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley:

Those were the years when just having a copy of a certain book could mark you as hip. Howl, say, or Das Kapital or Steppenwolf or The Rubyfruit Jungle or The Monkey Wrench Gang--carried face-out, of course, or read at a cafe table, it could get you kissed. Buying such a book in Berkeley infused it, and its buyer, with cachet.

But books don't mean what they once did. For those who write and read and publish and sell them, that's sad. But it's reality. When street mayhem broke out on Telegraph in the first years of the new millennium, the thieves stole shoes, scooters, CDs. No one looted the bookshops.

Did Telegraph kill Cody's? Hut Landon of the Independent Booksellers' Association certainly thinks so: "I wouldn't walk that street at night." He lived on Channing and Telegraph as a student in the 1970s. "Yes, there were wackos then but they weren't aggressive," he says sadly. "They weren't all hustling me for stuff. Cody's didn't do anything wrong. Cody's was a victim of its surroundings."

Less willing to blame the neighborhood, Andy Ross speaks darkly of something subtler but more devastating: a cultural shift. They're both right, of course. It's all part of that death by a thousand cuts.

First, America's book-buying demographic changed. Yes, people still buy books, but who are they? In fact, today's customers are the same as yesteryear's--the exact same customers. They're the Rubyfruiters and Monkey Wrenchers of yore; they simply grew up. They're now parents, homeowners, above-average earners. The typical American bookbuyer is a woman thirty to sixty years old. To her, and her male counterpart, books still mean what they always did. The right book can still be a status symbol, a social signifier. But things are different now for the young, including today's Telegraph habitues. The shattering of a monoculture into myriad microcultures has made it impossible for any single book to broadcast: Behold: This is me.

What books once did, tattoos now do.

While I'm certainly hoping that a copy of Gossip Girl doesn't say "Behold: This is me," I'm not sure that a unicorn on the ankle says that either. As the Gossip Girl message board demonstrates, books still do offer community, even when it's one of a more populist, even manufactured, design than the entre nous, "underground" kind that surrounds cult classics. (The article ignores the fact that those for whom Steppenwolf worked as a pickup ploy were always part of a microculture, anyway. Anything with "cachet" always is.)

The thing that's always kept me from tattoos is their permanence. Who wants to be stuck, at fifty, with what you thought was cool in your twenties? Do people look at that yinyang thing on their shoulder and cringe? But with books, you can reinvent yourself more often than Madonna. And I think that the book-as-personal-flirtation-device still has possibilities. (It probably doesn't even matter what you're reading, just the fact that you are ensures a certain degree of self-selection among the passersby.) Provided said book is closed, it's certainly an invitation to talk. But even this old-fashioned strategy proves vulnerable to corporate manipulation: I'm told that Pearson/Penguin commuters have been instructed to carry a copy of the Loren Long edition of The Little Engine That Could this Thursday in support of their company's sponsorship of Read for the Record Day. So if your idea of a good time is someone who whispers "I think I can, I think I can, I think can," then get yourself a copy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Who's Your Favorite Little Woman?

I used to want to be Amy, but not anymore.

Putting the A in YA

Last night we watched "Autopsy Room Four," an episode in TNT's Stephen King series Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Entertaining if too artificially drawn-out, the show was about Richard Thomas watching helplessly as doctors prepare to autopsy his body as if he were dead rather than a victim of snake-bite paralysis. Showing my age, I suppose, I was shocked that the happy ending relied on John-Boy getting an erection while the lady doctor was feeling his leg. On free cable. (I've long gotten used to the naughty bits on the premium channels.) They didn't show it, just everyone's reaction (including that of his fiancee, happy that her boyfriend's back and happy that the impotence problem that's plagued him in the past has at least been temporarily banished).

It was perfectly legitimate tv drama, but I was surprised to see it where it was. (Just as I was always nonplussed that my beloved Friends was shown during "family hour" at 8:00PM.) I'm similarly surprised about a great new book, Thomas M. Yeahpau's X Indian Chronicles: The Book of Mausape, coming out this fall from Candlewick. It's a stunning, mordant collection of linked short stories about young Indian men in "NDN City," a myth-shot modern city of gangs, booze, drugs, and sex, where the atmosphere of alienation and disaffectedness is anything but cosmetic.

But it's really, really (brilliantly) raunchy, and I'm having trouble seeing it as YA, although I'd love to be argued otherwise. It's not that it won't appeal to teens, quite the contrary, and Candlewick grades it for 14 and up, rather than the standard 12-up, so they're acknowledging the sophistication of the material. But why not publish it as an adult book? (This is not a question for Candlewick, which doesn't publish books for adults.) One, I'm afraid a lot of adults (and teens who feel themselves beyond YA) are going to miss it; and, two, I'm afraid that the children's buyers and librarians aren't going to know what to do with it. It's one of those books--again--that has me pining for the old lost cause: adult books for young adults. One of those books that deserves being discovered by a young reader rather than presented to.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Paradigm shift

Three new verses, pronto!

To be sung to the tune of "Farmer in the Dell."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sell-by dates

I went to New York this weekend to take Elizabeth to see Mamma Mia! for her birthday. (She's such a good sport.) Looking for something to read on the Limoliner, I went over to the Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center (I'm dating myself; it's called something like Millennial Square Plaza Exclusive Shops Arcade now) to do some browsing. I serendipitously remembered that I had never read my pal Janet McDonald's first book, Project Girl, and, figuring I could never find it in their spectacularly anti-intuitive system of classification, I asked a salesperson where I might find it. (Yes, reader, I found a salesperson in B&N. I know.) She checked the computer and said they could order it for me but didn't stock it because "it was published in 2000, and we don't usually carry books that old." So if you want to get something at B&N, uh, hurry.

I did find--it's only six months old--and gambled on Sarah Waters's The Night Watch, a novel described on the jacket as being about women in wartime London. While the book did not turn out to be like Maeve Binchy, but with lesbians, I still enjoyed it tremendously. Early on, one of the characters mentions her fondness for going into a movie when it's halfway through, because speculating on peoples' pasts is more interesting than imagining their futures, and likewise the book proceeds backwards, beginning shortly after the war and then going back to two points in the midst of it. The way the time periods and the characters intersect has the effect of a puzzle, almost, but the realism of the relationships and, especially, the evocation of the blackouts of the bomb-battered city keep things from getting too cerebral. I'm thinking I'll try Waters's previous novels now--I hear they're like Leon Garfield, but with lesbians.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Walking after Midnight

When I can't think of anything in particular I want to listen to on the subway for my morning commute, I ask Miss Pod to play a random selection of songs that I haven't yet heard, an easy task since my accumulation of music is more vociferous than my listening to it (the juvenile stamp-collector retains his habits). So after hearing "Hail! Great Parent" from The Fairy Queen and "All This Time (Black Mix)" by Jonathan Peters, all of a sudden I'm listening to Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight," something I'm convinced Miss Pod downloaded on the sly, and probably on company time. But God bless her--what a great poem.

(But nobody beats Hazel Rochman for classy headphone listening. Her favorite in-flight entertainment is an old tape of Eliot's Four Quartets.)

One might think that Coleridge's wintry imagery might have put me in the mood for the morning's task: Martha and I are assigning holiday books for review. But just imagine how different English literature might look if the person from Porlock arrived with seven different (albeit alike in their utter lack of necessity) versions of The Night before Christmas in hand. Not pretty at all, no.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Betsy Halbrooks, R.I.P

Betsy Halbrooks was the mainstay of our office for many years, and I'm sorry I never had the chance to meet her. This obit gives a good idea of what she was like, and her own reminiscence of her Horn Book career was published in our 75th anniversary issue.

September Stars

Here are the books that will receive starred reviews in the September/October issue of the Horn Book Magazine, arranged in the order they will appear in the magazine:

The Cow Who Clucked
written and illustrated by Denise Fleming

One Potato, Two Potato
written by Cynthia DeFelice, illustrated by Andrea U'Ren

Boo and Baa Have Company
written by Lena Landström, illustrated by Olof Landström, translated by Joan Sandin

An Abundance of Katherines
by John Green

Porch Lies:
Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters
(Schwartz & Wade/Random)
written by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by André Carrilho

by Terry Pratchett

Aggie and Ben:
Three Stories
written by Lori Ries, illustrated by Frank W. Dormer

Notes from the Midnight Driver
by Jordan Sonnenblick

by Susan Vaught

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow
written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes

Freedom Walkers:
The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
by Russell Freedman

It's NOT the Stork!
written by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley

Friday, August 04, 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Abridge too far?

In proofreading the Fall issue of the Horn Book Guide today, I came across a series published by Sterling called Classic Starts, a series of--well, let's not here get into a discussion of the term "classic," we'll instead go with "famous and copyright-free"--novels abridged and retold for young readers. Titles include Huck Finn, Little Women, Call of the Wild--the usual suspects. Each volume contains an afterword by Arthur Pober, not, as you might think, pointing out the virtues of each title, but rather supplying the rationale for the series. It's the same in each volume and it goes like this:

Even for a gifted young reader, getting through long chapters with dense language can easily become overwhelming and can obscure the richness of the story and its characters. Reading an abridged, newly crafted version of a classic novel can be the gentle introduction a child needs to explore the characters and story line without the frustrations of difficult vocabulary and complex themes.

Reading an abridged version of a classic novel gives the young reader a sense of independence and the satisfaction of finishing a "grown-up" book. And when a child is engaged with and inspired by a classic story, the tone is set for further exploration of the story's themes, characters, history, and details. As a child's reading skills advance, the desire to tackle the original, unabridged version of the story will naturally emerge.

Oh, sure. Here's what it really wants to say:

Attention Walmart Shopper: For only $4.95, you can buy this hardcover version of a book you have definitely heard of but have probably never read. And not just any old famous book but a classic, the kind of book your third- or fourth- grader should be reading rather than wasting his or her time with an easy and probably demonic "children's book." This book used to be a grownup book, which means your child will be smarter and more advanced after reading it. And think of the sense of pride and satisfaction you will have that your child read a classic. Go ahead and brag. You've earned it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

We Can Only Hope That It Will Stick

Brer Romney, the handsome devil, has got hisself in a speck o' trouble, I'm hoping.

Brer fox, go git 'im!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Actions Speaking Loudly as Words

Storming out of a screening of Clerks II, movie critic Joel Siegel hollered "This is the first movie I've walked out on in thirty fucking years!" Gosh, I wish I had that option. Unprofessional, but feels so good.

I'm no movie critic, and when Richard and I watch something together I'm amazed by the stuff he sees--he used to work in film and tv. (The glamour jaw-and-name-dropping moment of my life came when his old friend Andy Davis called me and asked whether he should cast Annette Bening or Sigourney Weaver as the Warden in Holes. I went with Sigourney and made history.) Whereas I tend to miss as much as I see--it all goes by so quickly.

We saw The Lady in the Water the other night and he assured me I didn't miss much, though. It reminded me of the kind of book I've wanted to walk out on for the past thirty fucking years--the kind where it seems like the author is making it up as he or she goes along. Like a sculpture you try to finish by just slapping more and more clay onto it, rather than carving away at what you already have. When I read that the movie began as a story Shyamalan told his kids at bedtime (a genesis often stated for celebrity children's books, too) I shoulda known it would be trouble. As Zena Sutherland told me Ursula Nordstrom used to say, "you could read your kids the telephone directory and they'd be happy."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Collaring Clifford

Ruth Gordon posted to the ALSC listserv this entertaining story about Scholastic putting the leash on unauthorized clowns dressing as the big red dog.

My second-favorite line from the article comes from a clown who sees her work as historical preservation: "We're helping keep Barney alive." But my most favorite comes from Kyle Good, one of the clowns at Scholastic: "Anyone would understand it's an important property of Scholastic and that we protect our rights and protect children from ever having a bad experience around any of our properties."

Great, so Scholastic books now come with insurance, or what? Do they know what kids do to Barbie?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cuba Libro Libre, for the moment

A federal judge has slapped down the Miami-Dade school district's removal of all copies of Alta Schreier's Vamos a Cuba, (the English edition is called Visit to Cuba) and all other books in Heinemann's Visit to . . . series from the district's school libraries. The suit to retain the books is ongoing, but the school board had removed the books pending judgment. Not. So. Fast. said U.S. District Judge Alan Gold, whose opinion, linked here as a pdf file, provides not only a comprehensive review of judicial decisions regarding schools and censorship, but also a sharp look at how censors seek to disguise their actions (here the school board claimed that their action constituted "government speech" and thus free of judicial oversight. Who do they think they are, the President?).

The case seems to be quite the political futbol in Miami, too. Opponents of the book, one of those cookie-cutter series books about foreign countries for primary grades, object to its lack of commentary on Castro's regime; some objected to the photos of people smiling (just as Ayn Rand did in front of the HUAC). While Vamos a Cuba/Visit to Cuba was the object of the ban, apparently they went for the series in general so as to claim content neutrality. The judge saw through that one, too; I think I'm in love. Miami Herald education reporter Matthew I. Pinzur's blog is also tracking this story; check it out.

Here is the official Horn Book Guide line on the book, which was reviewed together with Visit to Puerto Rico, in the same series. Rating the books as "5s" (not good), our reviewer Elena Abos wrote: "These books offer superficial introductions to the geography, people, customs, language, and daily life in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The formulaic texts are almost identical for both countries, and neither contains more than the barest amount of information. The large-print texts are accompanied by color photographs of varying quality and relevance. Short lists of facts and of nine Spanish words are appended."