Friday, June 30, 2006

Librarians Behaving Badly, First in a Series

The dean of library services at the University of the Incarnate Word has cancelled the library's print subscriptions to the New York Times. This behavior is in shameful contrast to that of a Christian-school librarian I met in New Orleans, who hands out Harry Potters under the table. Yay, subversion!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Newbery blogging

The Masked Woman who will chair (elected by a flip of a coin after a tied ballot with Betty Carter) the 2008 Newbery Committee has started a blog-version of the annual mock-Newbery discussion she conducts at the Oakland (CA) Public Library. Join in the fun here.

I was reminded to post this when I came back to the office and saw that the latest issue of the Horn Book had just arrived, including my editorial wherein I discuss the prize process and mention Nina's new project. Articles in the issue include the Newbery and Caldecott speeches, profiles of the winners by their editors, some other views of prizes by Leda Schubert and Colleen Campbell, Brian Doyle on writing for children, Patty Campbell on chick-lit, Barbara Bader on the Red Scare and Lolly Robinson on the friendship between Beatrix Potter and our own Bertha Mahony Miller, upon whose chair my "to do" pile now rests, uneasily.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

And they medalled!

The heartiest hand went to ALSC's Local Arrangements committee at this year's Newbery-Caldecott banquet, and it was well-deserved. ALA in general did a great job, I thought, of handling the challenges of a New Orleans meeting, as did New Orleans itself. (This is the first conference at which I saw souvenir t-shirts for librarians on sale in local shops, God love 'em. Which reminds me of my longstanding favorite exhibit hall anecdote. Several years ago at conference, I watched a woman coming down the aisle. Each hand held overstuffed bags of posters, etc., and her badge was swathed with stickers and ribbons denoting her allegiance to various ALA causes and factions. She was of a certain age and weight and vision-impairment and her hair was all over the place. She wore a t-shirt that read: "NOBODY KNOWS I'M A LIBRARIAN." Uh-huh.)

ALSC President Ellen Fader graciously hosted the evening; glamorously, too, with her hair a subtle dark purple haze (go ahead, sing) to match her gown. Fabulous under the lights, darling. The best outfit on the floor was Nina Lindsay's red and gold leather mask; she looked like something from the infamous party scene in Eyes Wide Shut. When I leaned in to tell her that all her get-up lacked was a whip, I inadvertently whacked a poor waiter right in the shin with the heavy heel of my big-boy shoe, earning me murderous looks for the rest of the evening. I hope he didn't spit in my bananas foster. Still, it was delicious.

The speeches went well, and reminded me again of the difference between speech and print--I had read the speeches months ago, because we print them in the July/August issue, but it wasn't until he stood-and-delivered that I saw how funny (in a good way) Raschka's speech was. The same thing happened last year, where Kate DiCamillo's expert delivery gave a deadpan hilarity to her words (I should have known then that she could be scary.) Lynne Rae Perkins looked and sounded beautiful, but her speech has a lot of layers that I'm glad people will be able to appreciate when they read it.

While I miss the old "Stand and Be Recognized!" line that the Honors winners used to get, it was fun watching them parade to the stage; first prize goes to Shannon Hale, coltish in red, sprinting and beaming to get her due.

I had meant to continue this entry in the exhibit hall, where wireless access is proudly trumpeted but actually only spottily available if you go out into the lobby and sit by the door (get with the times, ALA), but will continue when I get back to Boston. See you then.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Easy Easy Two

Friday night I caught up with great pal and former colleague Deborah Stevenson at dinner at the Monteleone--it was only after we had to send the steak back twice that she remembered Calvin Trillin's advice to never eat in a hotel restaurant. Still, good conversation and gossip about books and friends (shout-out to our mutual best pal Betsy Hearne, not in New Orleans but spending the summer in Ireland in a cozy farmhouse on the Sheep's Head peninsula, where it is not 93 degrees.)

I was at the booth for the opening morning of the exhibits and I must say traffic was kind of slow. But at least J.D. and I got a head start on the poster rolling, and I had a few minutes to try and make Lynne Rae Perkins nervous about eating her dinner on a raised dais facing hundreds, advising her to not worry and keep her legs crossed. Also got to meet Kate DiCamillo and congratulate her on her BGHB award. She is short but I wouldn't want to mess with her. Lunch at the Palace Cafe with Ellen Starkman, an old friend from our Chicago Public Library days, so caught up on more gossip there and enjoyed a fabulous peaches-and-cream ice cream. The Wilder Award committee then conducted its business with good humor and dispatch, allowing us to forgo the meeting we were supposed to have at the freakin' crack of dawn today (okay, 8:00 AM) and thus allowing me to correspond with you.

Dinner with the Harcourt people occasioned a wonderful discussion based on the above-referenced DiCamillo flamefest that occurred a couple of weeks ago here. We discussed the dynamics of award committees, with Pat Scales, for example, talking about the time she chaired the Newbery committee and made every member sit in a different seat each meeting, thus weakening the little cliques-by-proximity that can arise. And there were plenty of anecdotes: Harcourt ed-in-chief Allyn Johnston told about the time Smoky Night won the Caldecott and the publisher didn't find out until the press conference; we heard about a disgruntled medal committee member who went around after an award announcement apologizing to all the publishers; I learned how ALSC takes a fiscal hit when there aren't many honor books (um, there was one the year I served on the Newbery). Later, Pat and I and Betty Carter got ourselves over to a Simon and Schuster party to support my friend (and yours) Elizabeth and eat brownies (there was fondue for those of you who don't regard it as chocolate mucus). Lots of friends there and I was only snubbed by one author, live and learn. It was especially great to see author and agent Dilys Evans, who hosted a wonderful dinner for Richard and me one summer when we went out to Santa Fe for the opera. Romper, stomper, bomper, boo, I'm outta here. More tomorrow after the banquet.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Big Easy Easy Thus Far

All is bright and beautiful if very hot in downtown N.O.--there's lots of construction and renovation going on, including at the convention center, where, nb, the ALA halls are waaaaay down toward the far end.

Despite all the highbrow recommendations I had for plane reading, I ended up with only five minutes to choose something at the airport and was happily entertained by James Rollins's Map of Bones, a better-than-Dan-Brown religious thriller involving popes and anti-popes, the Three Kings (or were there four?), the catacombs of the Vatican, a sharpshooting Eurasian beauty and theories about Biblical "manna" that connoisseurs of Philip Pullman's "dust" will find especially intriguing.

My hotel room window looks out onto a brilliantly whitewashed solid brick windowless wall about five feet away, beautiful in its minimalist way, yet so close that no matter how far I try to look up or down, all I can see are bright white bricks. It's constantly putting me in mind of Emily Dickinson's "Why do they shut me out of heaven . . . ."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"I thought that he was tall"

Nicholas the II, that is, but no, the late tsar was 5'7". Just in time for summer reading I've begun Greg King and Penny Wilson's The Fate of the Romanovs (Wiley) and am ineluctably reminded of my seventh-grade-summer infatuation with Robert Massie's crowd-pleasingly royalist Nicholas and Alexandra. It was one of those books I immediately reread after finishing, but I would hesitate to go back to it now--has anyone else? The Fate of the Romanovs is more of a grown-up book, and focuses on the execution of the family and subsequent attempts to ascertain just who died and when. While it sometimes reads like C.S.I. Ekaterinburg in its dense clinical forensic detail, I'm having a great time.

But while the book is satisfyingly big for a summer's read, it's too big to take along to ALA tomorrow. (As is Aidan Chambers' This Is All, my review of which is due, like, yesterday). I might pack my favorite New Orleans mystery, J. M. Redmann's The Intersection of Law and Desire, in order to scare myself to sleep, but I'm stuck for what to read on the plane. Any suggestions?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Add 'em up, Bobby

Sorry to be so long away; I've been submerged in writing an article for the September issue about book review stars. The short version is that the decision to star a review has larger consequences than I had thought, and I can see why authors really, really want them, and the more the merrier.

In arts news, we had a Tony Kushner weekend, seeing the Peter Eotvos's opera of Angels in America on Saturday, and Caroline, or Change on Sunday. As with the play, I found the first half of the Angels opera meatier than the second, which is here so fragmentary as to be incomprehensible to those who haven't seen Kushner's original drama. The music is engrossing and attentive to the story, spikily modern in a way that almost seems old-fashioned now. All I knew of Caroline was Barbara Bader's reference to it in a Horn Book article ("Echoes of the Old Plantation," March/April '05), where she compared it favorably to a recent clutch of picture books (Mr. George Baker, The Friend) about white children and black adults: "with the psychological insights and the social awareness of a thinking adult, Kushner has escaped the shadow of the plantation. Would that the others could, too." Not really a fan of Angels in America's baroque show-offiness, I found Caroline surprisingly direct and involving, helped by the small theater and lack of miking, with great singing from all. I'd star it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The difference between critics and regular people

We've been working on our "What Makes a Good Book" special issue (out in September) and I'm giggling at a quote Deborah Stevenson (editor of BCCB) is using in her article "Finding Literary Goodness in a Pluralistic World":

. . . delightful as such a spontaneous first response can be, it's not the only reaction we bring to books; considered opinion, after all, is the hallmark of the professional (playwright Jean Kerr jokes that a drama critic looks at a bad play and says, "This is a very bad play; why is that?" while the regular audience looks at a bad play and says, "This is a very bad play; why was I born?").

Of course, often we critics like to have it both ways and only give you the considered opinion after delivering the unconsidered and frequently blasphemous first reaction to the privacy of our offices. We always make the interns check their recording devices at the door.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Random media moments

Product placement (by design) is coming to YA books this fall. I haven't yet seen Cathy's Book, but when co-authors Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart remark that changing their heroine's preference from Clinique # 11 "Black Violet" to Cover Girl's Lipslick "Daring" was a "natural connection," I have to wonder just why these guys know so much about lipstick. And what does "Daring" say about a girl that "Black Violet" doesn't?

Having not read any adult chick-lit since Bridget Jones, I wanted to see what was happening there, so this weekend I listened to Plum Sykes's The Debutante Divorcee. Yikes. "Hello, Editor? Plum here. I've finished my new novel and am phoning it in. Got a pencil?" Somebody recommended Sophie Kinsella to me, and I am enjoying her Can You Keep a Secret? much more.

But let's talk testosterone now, and let me highly recommend the new French film "District B13," an action movie set in the very near future in the housing projects of Paris. I was afraid it was going to be all French and morally ambiguous, but it's a straight-up story of good guys and bad guys with tremendous, but unbloody, fight scenes and superb atmospherics. Go see it maintenant.

Friday, June 09, 2006

"Webwatch" from the Horn Book

We've just started a new web page of links inspired by current articles in the Magazine, and the May/June edition is up. Hope you like it! Any suggestions or comments about this feature may be sent to our marketing manager J.D. Ho.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

"And then they were upon her."

Yesterday's ritual stoning has brought up a host of discussable topics--netiquette, ethical reviewing, awards, Edward Tulane, the relationship between an author and his or her book--but where to start?

I do have to laugh when I think about the editorial I just turned in, in which I applaud the relative lack of rancor surrounding children's book awards compared to such prizes as the Pulitzer or Man Booker. But despite our kerfuffle here, I do think that while children's book award prizes inspire grumbling, there's not much in the way of scandal. (Of course, there was that author who told me about getting a midnight phone call from a "friend" on the Newbery Committee, telling said author that the medal was in the bag. It wasn't.) Most of us seem to take these things philosophically, as in, "it's not what I would have chosen, but they must have had their reasons," and then we move on.

As far as reviewing goes, I don't think it's that difficult for most reviewers to forget about Awful Author or Attractive Author when reviewing a book. More of problem is separating that book from the author's reputation and/or his or her previous books. You neither want to add to the legend nor go all iconoclastic on it, either--the book in front of you is the only that matters for the moment. I do remember one book, a Holocaust memoir, where the author blended false modesty and survivor's privilege in a way that made not reviewing her a real challenge. Jeez, now I sound like Ann Coulter.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sunday Haiku

Reported in the New York Times coverage of the French Open:

Venus Williams advanced to the quarterfinals when she won the final four games to beat No. 7-seeded Patty Schnyder 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Seeded 11th, Williams is the last American in the women's draw.

"Lone flag waving gently in the wind," Williams said.

That's gorgeous.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Why? Because if I hadn't read The DaVinci Code first, I never would have understood the movie, despite all its unintentionally hilarious expository dialogue. Poor Audrey Tatou--all she really gets to do is let out a quoi? every once in a while to let Tom Hanks explain to us all just what is going on.

"X-Men 3" is way better.

Friday, June 02, 2006

July/August stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the July-August issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

Emily’s Balloon
written and illustrated by Komako Sakai

by David Almond

The Black Room:
Book Two of the Dark Ground Trilogy
by Gillian Cross

Zelda and Ivy:
The Runaways
written and illustrated by Laura McGee Kvasnosky

White Time
by Margo Lanagan

The Poet Slave of Cuba:
A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sean Qualls

The Illustrator’s Notebook
written and illustrated by Mohieddin Ellabbad, translated from the Arabic by Sarah Quinn

The Wand in the Word:
Conversations with Writers of Fantasy
edited by Leonard Marcus

Ballet of the Elephants
(Brodie/Roaring Brook)
written by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Picking up on our theme of yesterday, the NYT today publishes an article about swag and the Tony Awards, yet another area in which children's books lag behind the other arts. I did get a "Camp Green Lake" baseball hat when I was on the 1999 Newbery Committee, but it was after the fact and a gift from Ginny McKee, the committee chair, besides. Where's the loot?