Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sense and Meta-bility

Marilyn Sachs meta-fictionalizes Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen in her new novel, First Impressions (Brodie/Roaring Brook, 2006). After positing in a term paper that P&P is "really a tragedy that just got away from the author" and whose true fulcrum is the hardly-mentioned sister Mary Bennet, Alice is forced by her teacher to do a thorough rewrite--of the paper, but Alice instead finds herself irresistibly drawn to rewriting Austen's novel, despite the ample good reasons for not doing so provided by her life as well as by the spectral presence of Austen herself. Sachs's book is ambitious but sweet, too--although I still think there might be something to Alice's original theory. I guess that makes me an Austenite.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Life in the Old Girl Yet

Nancy Drew parodies aren't new (one of my favorites is Mabel Maney's Case of the Good-for-Nothing Girlfriend) but Chelsea Cain's Confessions of a Teen Sleuth is exhaustive in trying out the dimensions of a metafictive life. In this "autobiography" (dedicated to Frank Hardy) Nancy is determined to clear up the mistakes made and lies put forth in a series of novels by an old college chum, Carolyn Keene. Nancy has problems of which Carolyn has no idea, such as an ongoing feud with Cherry Ames, simmering when the two meet at Joe Hardy's funeral, and later heating up when they are both on a panel at a feminist conference in 1975 at Vassar, where Nancy scoffs, "she can't even hold down a job. Dude ranch nurse. Cruise Nurse. Private Duty Nurse. Army Nurse. Rest home nurse. Ski nurse. One right after the other." Throughout, the various fiction worlds of the genre heroes intersect, as does Nancy's with the historical events of the twentieth century. Did you know that Hannah Gruen slept with Eisenhower?

Friday, February 24, 2006

The exception that isn't

When it comes to celebrity books, Linda Sue Park asks only for better editing. Because the authors are amateurs and the publicity extensive, Park argues that "with celebrity titles, publishers have even more responsibility than usual to produce a good book," and that to let something by that is second-rate shows a lack of respect for children. Yes--and a lack of respect for those celebrity-writers, too, although perhaps they don't care.

But can I just say that I have some trouble with the Jamie Lee Curtis Exception, where we routinely exempt her books from celebrity-book stigma? Curtis's books are as message-y as Madonna's, and their child-voice sounds synthetic to me. Sure, there are worse, but isn't there always? Frankly, I think we give her a pass because of the illustrations by Laura Cornell, which have a distinctive style of their own and bear no resemblance to the labored realism that is too often seen illustrating the pages of celebrity picture books.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Breed update

Thank yous, please, to Lolly and her able ally Claire, for formatting and uploading the Clara Breed article I referenced the other day. Here it is. Some of Breed's opinions, such as her implicit (or perhaps cagey) acceptance of the necessity for removal of Japanese-Americans from California for the duration of the war, look complacent in hindsight, but her account is both eye-witnessing and timely--let's pray it isn't prescient.

Less being more

I've just finished reading Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs (Penguin paperback, 2004) and I have a couple of complaints for the publisher. Maisie Dobbs, an Alex Award winner, is an adult novel, kind of a mystery, kind of a romance, kind of an elegy, about a female private eye in 1929 London. She takes a case whose roots are in the battlefields of France during the Great War. The book has some triteness in both plot and character, but there is so much good about the thinking Maisie does as she pursues her case, and the way the author constructs her story, with a hefty section in the middle devoted to a flashback that illuminates both the opening and closing sections. It shouldn't work but it does.

Anyway, the book has nothing to do with Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe, but a review quote on the back cover from the AP calls it the "British counterpart" to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The two books are completely dissimilar, and besides, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is already the British counterpart to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. (I'm reminded of Florence King's rejoinder to a critic finding King's "fascination for machines rather than people" the "most disturbing and extreme form of necrophilia." King retorted, "When will feminists learn to think before they write? The most disturbing and extreme form of necrophilia is necrophilia.")

Still, as Elizabeth pointed out to me, no publicist worth his or her salt would let the McCall Smith reference go by unblurbed. (We both cherish the memory of a money-spinning review quote for a YA novel whose memory need not be sullied by identification: "gives new meaning to the word 'art.'")

More irritating--almost fatally so, at least to me--is the stupid "Readers Guide" appended to Maisie Dobbs. Way back before the rise of the reading group craze, I remember Delacorte appending questions to Don Gallo's groundbreaking short story anthology Sixteen, and the collective Best Books committee roasting then-publisher George Nicholson for putting homework assignments into a trade anthology. Who needs it? Who needs prompts (props?) for a recreational book discussion? What threatened to kill Maisie Dobbs for me was when, in the appended interview with the author, Winspear is asked "How were you able to create such a humanly sensitive private investigator?" (calling Jeff Gannon: I think we might have found a job for you) and Winspear, in part, responds, "as far as what enabled me to create such a character, I think my own life experiences together with my training and work as a personal/life coach have helped." Crap. So what all the while I've been reading as an exceedingly beguiling assay of the nature of knowledge and its interrogation by experience has in fact been just a pile of New Age hooey? Phooey. I'll know better next time to stop at The End.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Clara Breed

Have a look at this story about Clara Breed, a San Diego librarian who in the 1940s, outraged at the internment of her young Japanese-American patrons, sent them books at the internment camp at Poston. Joanne Oppenheim has a new book about Breed, Dear Miss Breed, which is being reviewed in the March issue of the HB, and the magazine also had an earlier part to play in the story, publishing Miss Breed's contemporary account of the situation. I'll get that uploaded for you when the office opens tomorrow.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Dinner and a Movie

Join editors Jennifer Brabander and Kitty Flynn for their take on Curious George. My last motion picture experience was Cache, and I'm getting the feeling that George might have been more my speed.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I was born too soon.

So where was this guy when I was in junior high?

"For Children"

The recent challenge in Colorado to a video introducing Gounod's Faust (featuring Joan Sutherland and puppets) and our upcoming article by Vicky Smith regarding adaptations of Shakespeare both came to mind last Saturday morning. Richard generally keeps the radio going nonstop in the kitchen, always tuned to WCRB, Boston's classical station. And when, back from walking the dog, I'm in there making coffee, this infernal children's classical music program comes on. You know the kind--lots of music imitating animals, and an announcer with one of those 'storytelling' voices, breathless with barely suppressed--albeit totally manufactured--excitement. It makes me want to hurl. The radio.

But how do we bring kids to the classics, musical, literary, or visual? The tendency seems to be to reach down--witness all the art history books that ask kids to "find the dog" or "count the flowers" in a painting. Might it be better to encourage kids to reach up? In some way, this is a continuation of my rant about our field's prejudice against young people reading adult books.

As Vicky says in her article, do middle-graders need Shakespeare? I guess I feel the same way about Faust --making it allegedly "kid-friendly" can only dilute the qualities that lead us to want to expose children to it in the first place. But that said, I hasten to add that those who accused the Colorado teacher of using Faust to promote Satanism are too stupid to be allowed near children, opera, or any task involving opposable thumbs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Spoken Here

I'm getting quite enthusiastic about Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, which has been around for a few years but has only recently appeared in paperback. Not only is its theme--why the extinction of a language matters--important, but Abley has a good eye for detail and anecdote in each of the cultures he surveys. PLUS I'm finally learning what generative grammar is, I think.

A time-sucking website about language can be found here, courtesy of Brian Eno (of all people).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

V-Day Confessions

The question is, what literary character could make you see stars, complete your life, take you dancing and love you forever?

I'll go first. When I need to feel highbrow, I go with Emma's Mr . Knightley. But my heart truly belongs to John Sandford's Lucas Davenport, who can cook, shoot, and design computer games, and whose best friend is a nun.

Limiting myself to children's books . . . as a young teen I had a crush on the girl Jesse in Lois Duncan's Ransom, and Monsieur Roger Tunnel in Kin Platt's The Boy Who Could Make Himself Disappear. And now I kind of have a thing for the Nac Mac Feegle, yup, all of 'em. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Tom and Daphne Show

I think these were their names; years ago my colleague Anne Quirk came back from observing a Best Books for Young Adults committee meeting and said, "It's become the Tom and Daphne Show." Tom and Daphne were young people known to one of the librarians on the committee, who was having them read nominated titles and report back to her; she would then bring their comments to the committee as a whole: "Tom loved it.'" "Daphne was bored."

I was reminded of Tom and Daphne while reading Ty Burr's review of the new Curious George movie in the Boston Globe:

A fellow movie reviewer of my acquaintance recently spent some time railing against the habit some of us have of canvassing our own spawn for opinions when reviewing a kids' movie. Sentences like "the little critic sitting next to me thought 'Madagascar' was a brilliant addition to world cinema" drive her nuts, reeking as they do of both exploitation and smarmy parental indulgence.

And not just that--as Anne said of Tom and Daphne,"Do these kids have any idea of the power they wield?" This has been my experience as well--the opinion of a single child being allowed to trump the collective experience of a committee or the considered judgment of a reviewer. Why can't we have faith in what we are supposed to be good at?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wise words

from the forthcoming Rosy Cole's Memoir Explosion by Sheila Greenwald (Kroupa/FSG):

"Writing a memoir is not the assignment," Mrs. Oliphant reminded me. She opened the dictionary on her desk and turned to the page for memoir. "'A memoir is a narrative from personal experience and memory,'" she read. Then she closed the book. "A memoir is difficult to do. It can be tempting to exaggerate the truth for a better story. That can get you into trouble. It's risky."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Warming up for their annual email-go-round re the Red Sox (and why does the person who lives two miles from Fenway Park care the least?), my scattered cousins and siblings have all been swapping variants on the chocolate bread pudding we were all served as children. Heeding SheWho's suggestion that providing recipes is the way to make a blog really pop, I hereby give you my mother's version of the recipe as preserved by my brother Rand:

Mary McNally Sutton's chocolate bread pudding recipe

Heat together:
2 cups milk
1 tbs butter and 5 1/3 tbs cocoa - OR - 2 sq
Cube 4 slices of white bread and pour heated mixture

1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
pinch salt

Stir everything well

Pour into greased bowl and bake at 350 for 1 hour. If
doubled, cook 1 1/2 hour
Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

ok - there it is. traditionalists cube the bread and
modernists and brats break it up. I tend to use 1 tsp
of vanilla. Wonder bread works well but I've taken to
using the Pepperidge Farm Farmshouse White bread and
it really holds up. I've tried it with using squares
of chocolate and have never had any success that way.
hershey's cocoa is the way Mom made it - but I have
gone all Martha and used Ghirardelli with great
results. the cold pudding microwaves well without
losing consistency or getting chewy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Oh, Grow Up Pt. 3

The March issue's focus on graphic novels has me thinking again about how we do/should/shouldn't define YA literature. Graphic novels, like comics before them, have done just fine outside the frame of traditional children's book publishing. Thrived, even. But now it seems like every children's publisher is adding graphic novels to its list, or creating a new imprint to handle them. I wonder if part of the success of graphic novels, though, is due to their not coming from the children's book establishment, not published for teens, or for children?

But maybe this will at least mean that publishers might start cutting back on their fiction lists, which have become completely out of control.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More March

We're just sending the March-April issue to the printer, and it looks great. Robin Brenner and Hollis Rudiger, separately, on graphic novels; Bart Moeyaert and Brian Doyle (not the Canadian one) on translation; our own Vicky Smith on bastardizing the Bard in children's books; Judith Ridge on cross-cultural writing in Australia; and a reminiscence of Meindert deJong by his friend Judith Hartzell. Sometimes this job is as much fun as people think it is.

And May is already poking up its shoots; I talked today to Barbara Bader, who is credited by Susan Hirschman with inspiring the late Tana Hoban to greatness. Barbara says it didn't go quite like that, but she'll tell you all about it in her tribute to Hoban in the May/June issue.


Some readers of this blog (thank you, J.D. and Susan Lempke) kindly passed along a mention of Read Roger in a review of children's lit blogs that appeared in The Star Online, "connecting Malaysians around the world." I intend to get blog t-shirts made up with the money quote: "not for sheep." Any takers? Designers?

Friday, February 03, 2006

March Stars

Or would that be March, stars!, anticipating a newly disciplined red carpet at the Oscars this year. (Forgive me, the fever is just breaking.)

Anyway, the books whose reviews will be starred in the March/April issue of the Horn Book are (in the order they will come in the book review section):

Lilly's Big Day (Greenwillow) by Kevin Henkes
My Mei Mei (Philomel) by Ed Young
Ask Me No Questions (Seo/Atheneum) by Marina Budhos
The Quigleys in a Spin (Fickling) by Simon Mason, illus. by Helen Stephens
Ptolemy's Gate: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book Three (Miramax/Hyperion) by Jonathan Stroud
The King of Attolia (Greenwillow) by Megan Whalen Turner
The Book Thief (Knopf) by Markus Zusak
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor (Farrar) by Emily Arnold McCully

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Snake Tale

Hey all, home with a cold here but had a bit I wanted to say re the Harriet Ziefert scandal. When I was walking around the ALA exhibits in San Antonio, I saw Harriet at the Blue Apple/Handprint booth, where she pointed out A Snake Is Totally Tail to me as something she was sure the Horn Book would like. While not as on-the-spot as the sharp (and fellow Lucinda Williams fan) Karen Breen of Kirkus, I knew the title, at least, was not new, and I asked Harriet if it was a reissue, but her attention had already gone on to someone else.

I do not think this is a case of knowing plagiarism--no one could be that venal and stupid. As I see it, the problem is one of the dangers of boutique publishing--Blue Apple, editorially speaking, is essentially a one-woman show, and while Harriet had clearly forgotten she knew the book, there was not the series of filters, nor sets of eyes, that the book would have been subjected to at a larger house. (Although, as KT Horning pointed out on child_lit, a similar boo-boo was made when a large publisher--Dell?--did not recognize a manuscript found in Louise Fitzhugh's papers as the published work of Charlotte Zolotow, and republished it as being by Fitzhugh.)

Deborah Stevenson of The Bulletin sent me a note about the story, signing it "Helen 'Frost King' Keller" and I believe Ziefert made much the same kind of mistake as the precocious--and impressionable Helen!