Sunday, April 30, 2006

Back into the Blue

I do love TLA. The librarians I meet there are hardworking, engaged in the profession, and funny, and their capacity for multitasking can be awesome, as with the young librarian-in-progress who visited our booth, where she filled out a subscription form (both Magazine and Guide, thank you Lord), talked about her MLS program, and chatted with her fiance via cell phone all at the same time.

Anne Quirk is the mistress of booth-setup, so after speedily dispatching with that we got to spend the day at the Houston MFA, a beautiful pair of buildings, and languidly wandering around Rice University and its posh neighborhood. Anne tried--twice--to talk me into attending a baseball game but I each time affected an attack of the vapors.

In the exhibit hall, the floor talk often turned to the issue of labeling, whether it be by grade or age level, Lexile score, or Accelerated Reading points. Fortuitously, one of our very own blog commenters is working on an article re this for a future issue of the Magazine. One of my best libraryland pals (and HB reviewer) Betty Carter also came through with a good pitch (see, I can use the metaphors without enjoying the game) for a piece we hope to publish in September, and U.K. novelist K.M. Grant told me an amazing story about an ancestor of hers who was the last man in England to be drawn and quartered--she has the head. We'll be getting that story into our pages as well.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often

From today's Boston Globe, another plagiarism case, this one involving a coupla chicklits sitting around apparently talking. Call me a mean 'ol misogynist, but given the tropes that the genre recycles again and again, are we surprised?


I'm off today to the Texas Library Association conference in Houston, so if anyone is going to be there please stop by the Horn Book booth--I'll be there with our marketing director and associate publisher, the vivacious Anne Quirk. I'm also speaking on a panel Friday morning, something about gay-themed books for teens with panelists Michael Cart, Julie Anne Peters, James Howe and David Levithan. In other news of interest to the community, Julie Andrews is also speaking. The title of her speech has not been announced but I have plenty of suggestions:

"Libraries: My Favorite Things"
"How do you solve a problem like Republicans?"
"I have confidence in books!"
"The hills are alive . . . run!"

Miss Mac has not yet decided if she's coming with me, so I don't know if I'll be in touch before the weekend. But see you then.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Threats, we get threats

So today we were threatened with legal action by a disgruntled publisher who wanted us to stop reviewing their books. They wrote that if we did review any more of their titles, they would "seek legal remedies on the grounds that your publication is publishing misinformation" about their books. Meaning we don't like them very much. On the phone, I was told by the publisher that we (or any review media) need permission from them (or any publisher) in order to review their titles.

All I can say is that their grasp of the law seems to equal their grasp of what makes a good book for children.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

When Frog and Toad are more than friends.

Battle joined once again in Lexington, where an outraged parent--honestly, those words are becoming as yoked as disgruntled employee--is complaining about the reading of King and King in her seven-year-old son's classroom. I guess I misread the zeitgeist when I reviewed the book, saying "the whole thing is so good-natured that only the most determined ideologue will be able to take offense." Lexington school superintendent Paul Ash is my hero, saying "Lexington is committed to teaching children about the world they live in, and in Massachusetts same-sex marriage is legal."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

What Is the Sound of One Knee Jerking?

I am not sure what to think of Glen DeVoogd's article "Question Authority," published in the April issue of SLJ and online here. DeVoogd says that kids need to be taught the means and value of questioning texts and curricula: "it's our duty to teach kids to ask serious questions about the authority of the words they read. Our schools need to teach that being skeptical of the curriculum is acceptable." Well, right on. But I get the feeling that DeVoogd has, one, set up a straw man by asserting that children should learn that there was more to discovering America than Columbus. They do. Second, it seems that DeVoogd isn't so much interested in getting kids to think for themselves as he is in getting them to see the world the same way he does: "Ultimately, the goal of critical literacy is to create a more equitable, just world." By whose lights? Conservative critics such as Diane Ravitch and Sandra Stotsky would argue that American education is currently exactly where DeVoogd would like it to be, emphasizing the contributions of women and minorities, for example, at the expense of the whole picture.

I don't know if DeVoogd is responsible for the accompanying resource list, but the inclusion therein of Hoffman's Amazing Grace, Rinaldi's My Heart Is on the Ground, and Jane Yolen's Encounter as "books that expand understanding" is not going to endear DeVoogd to those most likely to otherwise welcome his article: all three books have been targeted by leftist critics for their perceived crimes against history. But if I were in charge of the curriculum, the first thing the kids would be learning is that irony is always waiting to bite you in the ass.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

At the Movies

I see that Russell Crowe is set to star in a movie adapted from Robert Cormier's Tenderness, certainly among the more filmable of Cormier's often narratively cunning novels, but we shall see. I'm sure I'm forgetting something completely obvious but the best movie I've seen from a YA novel was Gas Food Lodging, adapted from Richard Peck's Don't Look and It Won't Hurt.

We saw two movies this past weekend, Friends with Money and Inside Man, completely different from each other but united in--I hope I'm not giving anything away--the way each ends unexpectedly. It's not that the conclusions are shockers, more that you don't expect the movie to end when it does, a far cry from the Ramona book still on my desk from last week: "All the little first and second graders running around the playground, looking so young, made Ramona feel tall, grown up, and sort of . . . well, wise in the ways of the world." Now, that's conclusive. Anyone feel like contributing their favorite Last Line?

(Oh, and in between the two movies mentioned above we watched Duel in the Sun on cable, and I now take any opportunity I get to emulate Jennifer Jones as the "half-breed" temptress, pulling down one shoulder of my button-down shirt while sobbing "I'm trash, I tell ya. Trash!")

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More News from the North

Thanks to Martha P. for this story on "Easter Crime" week in Norway, in which people spend their Easter vacation skiing and reading mystery novels. Sounds like heaven. The novels part, anyway.

The hands-down most transcendent confluence of reading and atmosphere I have ever had was when Richard and I were in Lutsen, Minnesota, on the far northern shore of Lake Superior. We were staying in a cozy ski condo, and one early evening I was sitting on the porch reading Smilla's Sense of Snow while I could hear the fireplace crackling and see the Northern Lights do their thing over my head. I still drank then, too, and had a nice tumbler of bourbon in hand. That was heaven.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

And what will she be reading?

As has been noted widely, today is Beverly Cleary's ninetieth birthday, and, not coincidentally, the first annual Drop Everything and Read Day, inspired by an episode in Cleary's Ramona Quimby, Age 8:

"No book reports on your Sustained Silent Reading books," Mrs. Whaley promised the class. Then she went on, "I don't think Sustained Silent Reading sounds very interesting, so I think we will call it something else." Here she printed four big letters on the blackboard, and as she pointed she read out, "D. E. A. R. Can anyone guess what these letters stand for?"

I like the sentiment--how could you not?--but a visit to the D.E.A.R. website has me spitting tacks with its endless frantic iterations to "celebrate reading together!":

Drop everything and read--literally! Have your special guest readers put down the tools of their trade--a doctor lays down her stethoscope, a chef his apron and spoon, a coach her ball and whistle--and pick up a book. Or go for the dramatic entrance,such as firefighters arriving in a fire truck and rushing in to drop everything and read!

I thought the whole point of D.E.A.R. was to give people some quiet time, alone, with a book, not to occasion flamboyant displays of emergency workers leaving their tasks for a little show-and-tell. Tell it to the marines.

Ramona, as usual, has the right idea: "Ramona decided that she preferred Sustained Silent Reading to DEAR because it sounded more grown-up. When time came for everyone to Drop Everything and Read, she sat quietly doing her Sustained Silent Reading." You go, girl. And you too, Mrs. Cleary.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Spring Fashions

Last night I attended a dinner honoring a new author, Catherine Murdock, whose first YA novel, Dairy Queen, is being published by Houghton Mifflin next month. Chatting with Murdock's editor Margaret Raymo, I mentioned that we had received yet another door-stopper (I refer only to size) of a review copy yesterday, a new Aidan Chambers novel clocking in at 808 pages. Says Margaret, "well, long is the new black."

Monday, April 10, 2006

I want this boy to become a librarian,

Because one Christopher Paolini is enough, and we want to make sure he uses his powers for good.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Reader in the Book

Okay, maybe it's just me, but David Copperfield and I have just visited Steerforth's family home, and between Steerforth calling the lad "Daisy," and the Queer Eye-view of the decor and inhabitants of the house, I feel like the book is just about to burst into little flamy flames. I'm reminded of K.T. Horning's reading of Harriet the Spy, published in the Horn Book last year.

Some of our readers got seriously steamed with K.T. for finding a proto-lesbian role model in Harriet M. Welsch, but don't kids always find their own paths into books? A friend was recently telling me how she disliked Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising (a personal favorite here, with its spectacular weather effects) because the book emphasized that the young hero was the only one (One, I guess) to whom the sacred mission could fall. My friend said "I felt like it couldn't happen to me, then."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sutherland Lecture 2006

I'm hoping some of you might be able to join me and the Chicago children's-book posse at this year's Zena Sutherland Lecture on Friday, May 5 at 7:30PM at the Harold Washington Center of the Chicago Public Library. This year's speaker is Jacqueline Woodson, and her chosen topic is "How Do I Come Home Again?"

Tickets to the lecture and reception are ten dollars in advance (twelve dollars at the door); send check to University of Chicago/Sutherland Lecture, Blaine Library, 1362 E. 59th St., Chicago, Il 60637. Please enclose SASE; tickets for requests received April 28 will be held at the door. For more information call 312-747-4780.

The event is always a lot of fun, so come on down.

P.S. I love that the blogger.com spellchecker wants me to change "Zena" to "Zen."

Bless this man, but send him some body armor

In the March issue of the British children's books magazine Books for Keeps, there are capsule profiles of three children's librarians. Youth services manager Ian Dodds of the Bromley library near London is in a spot of trouble: "Some members of Bromley's library staff are still dumbstruck by Dodds' decision to ban craft activities from children's libraries this summer. His insistence that toffee-apple making and hair-braiding must go because they've got nothing to do with books or reading hasn't been popular in some quarters."

And those are two activities you definitely don't want to do at the same time.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Field trip!

Here's a guest entry from J.D Ho, our circulation and marketing manager:

In an office full of kids' book reviewers, there aren't many comics readers -- just myself and Alison, the circulation and marketing Assistant. Overflowing with missionary zeal, I undertook to organize a trip to the comic store, a place Alison and I visit every Wednesday (new release day). There was some foot-dragging, but eight of us finally went to the Malden branch of New England Comics this morning. I had warned Jim, the store manager, that we'd be arriving, and he kindly gave us a tour.

Something I didn't know was how popular Manga has become. Jim told us that the section has grown five- or six-fold in the last few years, and that the audience for manga is much more varied than it is for American comics. I love the superhero genre, but most girls don't. You'd be hard pressed to find a romance title put out by DC Comics, but there are plenty of romances in the Manga section. The rest of our tour covered the big publishers (DC and Marvel) as well as the smaller, indie publishers, who (in my opinion) lead the way with more offbeat stories. Some of my favorite titles have come from Slave Labor Graphics, Fantagraphics, Viper, Top Shelf, and Oni Press.

One of the things I love about comics is the serial storytelling of the format. Jim told us that actual comics (the familiar magazine format) are filling less of the store than they did a few years ago. Trade paperback collections are becoming more popular. It makes sense for libraries and bookstores to order the paperbacks, which are sturdier and easier to obtain from book distributors, but I hope the magazines never die out. It would mean an end to those exciting Wednesdays, and possibly an end to comic shops. Then where would budding comic geeks hang out after school? And where would I take the office on field trips?

Creative review clipping

I once ended a review panning an over-the-top YA novel with the phrase " . . . but melodramatic teens will love it." It soon appeared in the publisher's ad for the book, abbreviated to "teens will love it."

Apparently Miramax Books has a similarly free-spirited attitude toward quotation.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A-B-C, baby, you and me!

The Association of Booksellers for Children has announced the winners of its E.B. White Read Aloud Awards. They are: for best read-aloud picture book, Chris Van Dusen's If I Built a Car; for best read-aloud chapter book, Deborah Wiles' Each Little Bird that Sings.

"Janet! Donkeys!"

Happy Monday, everyone. Seduced by persuader par excellence Barbara Bader, I spent much of my weekend enthralled in David Copperfield (a la audiobook). Why did I dodge it until now? (Is anyone up for a game of--what is it called?--that reverse-snob competition where you name books you haven't read but are positive everyone else has? In a children's book version, I would make my opening gambit with something by Rosemary Sutcliff.) My acquaintance with Dickens is very spotty, not much beyond Great Expectations (in 7th grade) and "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." I think I was afraid David Copperfield would be alternatingly dismal and jolly, but the compass of tone is fully rounded, and the story is most agreeably eventful, with both plot and tone turning on a dime. I'm up to David's meeting his formidable aunt--so quite a ways to go, a happy prospect.