Monday, January 30, 2006

And the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal goes to...

. . . oh, the hell with confidentiality.

Unfortunately, the lady is ineligible, having not published citable work in the last twenty-five years (this rule got Robert McCloskey in trouble, too). But think of what Harper Lee has done for children's literature in this country--and, ahem, pursuant to our last discussion, without even a notion of writing "for children." You see her imprint most clearly in the southern coming-of-age tales by the likes of Betsy Byars, Sue Ellen Bridgers, Katherine Paterson and Kimberly Willis Holt; but I think the seriousness and respect with which she explored a child's moral and creative imagination gave real freedom to all juvenile realistic fiction in the last half of the last century.

Lee can, I believe, win the Margaret Edwards award, although I think one of the (shameless) criteria is that the winner must agree to show up and give a speech, which Lee famously does not do.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Oh Grow Up, Pt 2

After railing against young adult literature's tendency to find and fill with itself whatever gap there might be in teenaged reading, my conscience requires that I give you the link to this year's Alex Awards, ALA's top ten adult books for young adults. I'm happy they chose Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which I'm listening to now on my Ipod and it's completely creeping me out, but in a totally good way.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Back from San Antonio

I really wish I had more fun stuff to report. It was great see the Wilder committee work with dispatch and amity; great to see so many old friends; great to make some new friends, too. The food was fine; best of all was a post-press conference breakfast at a joint far from the convention center so that we could heap praise, scorn and gossip with abandon (It was one of Betty's discoveries and since it may prove useful again, I'm not giving the location away). I'm happy with the award winners, a list of which, with Horn Book reviews, can be found here.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Off to Texas . . .

. . . in the morning for ALA. Still saving my pennies for a laptop (Power Book or Mac Book Pro? please weigh in) so nothin' from me until Tuesday. I'm assured that Newbery/Caldecott/etc. news will be on our website bright and early--the press conference will be at 9:00 AM EST. I'll be there taking notes with Martha Parravano and Betty Carter, and will get back to you on what gets oohed and what gets booed. (Goodness, can you imagine?)

Not even Jack Bauer and his fully loaded man-purse

. . .could get me to post here a prediction for the Newbery or Caldecott (as requested in a comment on the previous post). I'm never right; my more pressing concern is always that we have reviewed the medal-winners or have spelled out in the Guide just why they were passed over by the Magazine.

And I won't tell you what I would like to have win, either. Why tick people off for kicks? Lose what friends I still have? (Alternately, why poise myself for an ignoble fall? I'm still getting teased here for saying that last year's Caldecott committee should take a serious look at Stephen Kellogg's illustrations for Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. I stand by my words.)

I can and will tell you (again; it was buried in the comments of an earlier post) that the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction (and an attached $5,000) is going to Louise Erdrich for The Game of Silence, published by Harper. I know this because I am one of the judges, along with Ann D. Carlson and Hazel Rochman, the jury's chair.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

You really should subscribe, you know

As we try to find ways to make our reviews fly around the world ever more quickly, quickly, we are going to be, in some cases, publishing them first in electronic form, with print to follow. If you are a subscriber you can take a look at our first flight: on our website, we have compiled some six hundred of the reviews that will appear in the Spring 2006 issue of the Horn Book Guide; the reviews are of books published in the fall of 2005. I remind you that while the Horn Book Magazine by and large only reviews highly recommended titles, the Guide, published twice a year, reviews virtually all new hardcover books for children, rating each on a scale from 1 (fabulous!) to 6 (entertaining in all the wrong ways). So if a review of your favorite contender for the Newbery Medal hasn't shown up in the Magazine, a look at this prepub Guide might tell you why.

We aren't at the point yet where we can offer a searchable database of these early reviews (although all the Horn Book Guide reviews are aggregated into a searchable database that can be found here); what you'll get for your secret password is a pdf file formatted like the print Guide that you can either peruse online or print out for reading at leisure. Access to the pdf is free to subscribers of either the Guide or Magazine, but you will need a password to get in. Instructions on how to do so are here, about halfway down the page. And if you aren't a subscriber, get busy.

Oh, grow up.

I've just been reading Patrick Cooper's I Is Someone Else (review to come in the March issue). Published here by Delacorte Press with an April pub date, it's an English novel set in 1966 about a boy, Stephen, who needs desperately to talk to his older brother, long lost on the countercultural road that stretched from Spain to the Middle East to India and Nepal, and impulsively takes off after him. I'm inevitably reminded of when I read James Michener's "hippie" book The Drifters when I was thirteen. It's one of the few Micheners that don't drag you through layers of history (I was so disappointed when, after reading the Condensed Books excerpt from Hawaii, about the tortured missionary and his hot wife, that the real book actually began with freakin' creation.) The Drifters consisted of a calculated mix of young people--a sexy Swede, an idealistic American, a slutty Brit with Issues, an angry black, etc. who travel together and separately on the hippy highway through Spain and Africa in the late 'sixties.

Like The Drifters, Cooper's book has some sex, some drugs, both presented with nuance. But it's still very much a YA novel where The Drifters is what we used to call an adult book for young adults: a book both popular with and intended for adults by that could attract and sustain a teen audience as well. When I was on the Best Books for Young Adults Committee in the early 1980s, we would get in big, big trouble if we put too many YA and not enough adult titles on the list. The Alex Awards were in large part created to solve this perpetual problem of adult titles being ignored by Best Books (and, now by the Printz, which can only be awarded to a book published for young adults; that is, a book published by a children's-book publisher). I sometimes worry that our enthusiasm for young adult publishing gets in the way of the fact that kids are supposed to grow out of it. And want to. Isn't it more of a thrill to get your depraved-hippies book from the adult shelf? Even with the incredible maturing we've seen, in both writing and book design, you can still spot most YA novels as such fairly easily. (I Is for Someone Else has a plot that would be right at home on an Afterschool Special.) Kids know that these are books written For Them--which can make a person feel both acknowledged and patronized by the same glance.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Reading for Young Sheep

I've just spotted what could be a nice addition to the bookstore for baby Nazis; I know, I know, good intentions and all that but please:

It's not the little straight-armed sideways heil on the cover that bugs me so much; it's the text inside: "We follow the rules. We line up. We follow the rules. We sit down. We follow the rules. We walk. We follow the rules. We raise our hands. We follow the rules. . . . ." Readers who enjoyed My Pet Goat might be the audience for this one, I'm just sayin'.

I'm reminded of a story Maurice Sendak told me about a time, years ago, when he and Else Minarik (the author of the Little Bear books) were doing a school visit together. Minarik was reading Sendak's Pierre aloud to an auditorium of kids, and, as kids will, they were all soon lustily shouting along with each "I don't care!" As Maurice told it, she came offstage afterwards and said "Jesus Christ, it sounded like the Bund."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gerald Hodges

I was very saddened to learn tonight that my old friend Gerald Hodges has died. Gerald was most recently Associate Executive Director of the ALA but I met him when he was still a library school professor, specializing in services to teens and schools, and active in what was then the Young Adult Services Division, now YALSA. Betty Carter, Hazel Rochman, Mike Printz, Linda Waddle and Gerald's partner Charles Harmon--it was such a fun crowd to spend ALA conferences among, and Gerald was the funniest (and flirtiest) and warmest of all. When he and Charles moved to Chicago, Gerald to become Director of Membership and Charles ALA Headquarters Librarian, they bought a house (Richard was their Realtor) around the corner from me and we spilled many margaritas together at the local Mexican joint, Las Mananitas. Linda Waddle also moved to Chicago to work for YALSA, buying the carriage house behind Charles and Gerald's three-flat. They had a beautiful courtyard between the two buldings where their beloved dog Pepper could play and entertain us (and Buster had quite the crush)--and I hope she's keeping Gerald company once again. I'll really miss him.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Step away from the story

I notice that the publisher of A Million Little Pieces, while ostensibly sticking by the embattled James Frey, is starting to cover its own ass, as in harrumphing that Frey "represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections."

Second, ALA has inserted itself into's "Don't Read" ad campaign. For the wrong reasons, I think: "trademark violation," which is a bit obnoxious given that the ad is a parody and the ALA is allegedly in the business of protecting intellectual freedom. (It also reminds me of the time Houghton Mifflin was battling the Margaret Mitchell estate for the right to publish The Wind Done Gone, a satiric alternative to Gone With the Wind, while simultaneously suing the band Furious George for copyright infringement on their little monkey.) But I still smell desperation in Audible's defense. "I think people are taking this way too seriously," says Audible's Dave Joseph, which is something I always say just before folding.

Nina's Newbery

Nina Lindsay has just announced the results of her mock Newbery discussion, and the winner is Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins. Honor books (and do let's someday have a discussion as to exactly why Newbery [or Caldecott] Honor Books cannot, upon pain of banishment from all that is good and holy in the realm of the dragon ladies, be called runners-up) are Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Hitler Youth, Marilyn Nelson's A Wreath for Emmett Till, Elizabeth Partridge's John Lennon, and Jacqueline Woodson's Show Way.


I'm enjoying the juicy exposes of James Frey and JT Leroy, despite not having read a word by either. (Running with Scissors is my sole acquaintanceship with the sordid memoir genre, and I didn't believe it for a minute.) Anyone else here old enough to remember Alleen Nilsen's "The House that Alice Built," a very un-library-literature-like look at Beatrice Sparks published in School Library Journal in 1979? It was great. There's a good account of the Go Ask Alice controversy here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

January Horn Book

Subscribers should have the January/February issue of the Magazine by the end of this week; as usual, we've posted selected articles on our website. I thought the blog-reading kind of people might find illustrator Jean Gralley's article, "Liftoff: When Books Leave the Page," of particular interest, and the online version contains a link to a neat demo of how a digital picture book might work that Jean has put up on her own site.

Going to the dogs, again.

Back last night from New York; no sooner were we in the door when the dog started pestering me for his own book deal. Actually, Buster will be more than sufficiently happy when his rambunctious cousin Boomer finally goes home this week to his own daddies after a month's visit.

New York was swell, as were all three plays we saw. The now-closed (and badly-named; don't know if there's a connection) Souvenir, about the eccentric diva Florence Foster Jenkins, was great fun on its own, and far more insightful about music than the drag-queeny Master Class, but gained extra pizzazz with the presence in the audience of great singer Marilyn Horne, sitting right in front of me. We even exchanged words, she apologizing if her coat was in my way, me offering to kiss its hem (well, actually me just replying that it wasn't a problem). I didn't find the new production of Sweeney Todd as revelatory as touted, but Patti LuPone was awfully good as a sexed-up Mrs. Lovett, and if the device of having the actors double as the orchestra (Patti on tuba and triangle) wasn't as resonant as it was apparently meant to be, neither was it as annoying as it could have been. You kind of forget that they're doing it, which I suppose is testimony to its effectiveness (hey! Who wants to start a list of Children's Books That Are Too Darned Gimmicky For Their Own Damned Good?). About Doubt, no doubts. Okay, one: the only truly examined character is the lead, Sister Aloysius, and the other three are less dimensional, but Richard reminded me that even Shakespeare is filled with foils. And the play easily bats big, cosmic questions into the air while still remaining a riveting and convincing realistic drama. It also has a peculiar genius in the way it never resolves the plot's central question--did a priest molest a child?--but is still completely satisfying. We saw Cherry Jones in her last performance as Sister Aloysius, and she was both mesmerizing and funny as hell, um, sorry, Sister.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Bright lights big city

So after a fabulous trip on the Limoliner, Richard and I are looking at the glamorous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree from Elizabeth's office. We are here for my Christmas present, seeing Souvenir, Sweeney Todd, and Doubt, tickets courtesy of Richard, and accommodations courtesy of Elizabeth's sparest spare room. See you next week.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Our Prairie Sisters

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, headed by the formidably (forbiddingly?) intelligent Deborah Stevenson, has released its best-of-the-year list, Bulletin Blue Ribbons. It's a good list, but the inclusion of William Bee's Whatever does cause me to recall Dame Nellie Melba's remark about upstart soprano Frances Alda: "In my day, she might have been considered good enough for the chorus."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Words with which to Greet the Morning

Loosely adapted from Mabel Collins' theosophist Light on the Path and painted onto the rafters by Eugene O'Neill in 1918, the sentiments, one to a rafter, read:

Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears!
Before the ear can hear, it must have lost its sensitiveness!
Before the voice can speak, it must have lost its power to wound!
Before the soul can fly, its wings must be washed in the blood of the heart!

I'm afraid that Miss Collins's occult imperatives were the deepest reading of my Provincetown New Year's sojourn, but I did ponder them every day. Although the house O'Neill lived in at 577 Commercial Street is gone, the beams were apparently saved and moved to one of the condominiums at the same address. Mabel herself led an at least as colorful life as Eugene; see here for an account of her days with Jack the Ripper.