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."

Friday, July 21, 2006

When wiser (or grayer) heads prevail

Not every teenaged writer can be Amelia Atwater-Rhodes or Christopher Paolini (or, on the other hand, S.E. Hinton). Here's the story of a grown woman who actually dared to look back at an adolescent effort.

As Dorothy Parker Once Said

"And I am Marie of Rumania."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Heat wave diversions

Links to paper dolls, audio excerpts of new books, and mini-movies can now be found at our web watch page, which digitally accessorizes each issue of the Magazine.

Also, have a look at A. O. Scott's essay about why the world needs movie reviewers. I don't think he makes his case, but the tap-dancing around it is entertaining.

I don't have the visual retention skills to be a movie critic, but I do recommend The Devil Wears Prada for Meryl Streep's surprisingly unactressy portrayal of the big bad boss, and it's a helluva improvement on the book.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Do Foxes Even Like Grapes?

A million years ago, I wrote an essay for the NYT Book Review, "Yooks, Zooks, and the Bomb," about anti-nuke books for children. You might remember that in Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book the Yooks and the Zooks are quarreling because one eats bread butter-side up, and the other, down. I complained that the can't-we-all-just-get-along message was compromised by the metaphor, that eating bread butter-side-down was "objectively stupid, not just different." Well. I had missed the fact that stupid had become as verboten as doo-doo-head, and some frothing lefty wrote in to the letters page complaining about my disrespect for other cultures. I told you fables were trouble. The Yooks and the Zooks aren't real, and when we try to draw a correspondence between fantasy and reality to make a moral point we need to make damned sure that everything lines up neatly. This is hard, because reality resists neatness, so a fable always risks both glibness and biting itself in the ass.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Whither Jackie Paper?

While showering this morning, I recollected for no good reason the fact that, as a child, I always thought that Little Jackie Paper died. And now I'm reading John Green's marvelous An Abundance of Katherines, and am pleased to have found another child for whom fables were not all that: "if only he'd known that the story of the tortoise and the hare is about more than a tortoise and a hare, he might have saved himself considerable trouble."

And if children's writers would just stay away from the fables, already, they would save us ALL considerable trouble. Making a story (The Gift, by Robert Morneau) about transubstantiation into one about pumpkin pie enlightens us about neither subject. Making a story (Bravemole, by Lynne Jonell) about the World Trade Center and terrorists into one about molehills and dragons demeans all concerned. It shouldn't come as a surprise that so many celebrity-amateur books (Madonna's Mr. Peabody's Apples; Patricia Cornwell's Life's Little Fable) indulge in this sort of thing, because the financial model for a successful picture book is The Giving Tree. But the thing is this: The Giving Tree never was a book for children; it was a book for adults charmed by thinking themselves sophisticated for finding such "wisdom" in a kiddie book. Idiots.

What brought this on? I'll tell ya. I'm reviewing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a novel-length fable about the Holocaust. And once I hit the first instance of the word Auschwitz rendered in irony-laden lisping babytalk ("Out-With") I knew we were in trouble all over again.

Monday, July 10, 2006

You want more? We got more.

"Former Monkees' drummer Micky Dolenz has penned an accessible but lackluster original myth about a primate that is mocked by the others because he walks on four legs while they walk on two."

Horn Book Guide Review 'o the Day

From a forthcoming review of A Promise Is a Promise, by Krister and Eve Tharlet:

When Bruno, a blanket-toting marmot, awakens from hibernation, he befriends a dandelion. After days of playing together, the dandelion asks Bruno to blow on her, promising that "everything will be just fine."

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Lucent Lolly

Check out this gorgeous photograph HB designer Lolly Robinson took whilst on her tour of southern France last week:

Unfortunately, I can't share with you the chocolates and olives she brought into the office. Thanks, Lolly!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Who's Missing?

Watching Amelie Mauresmo beat that dirty, no-good, rotten, pig-stealing, uh, I mean, the plucky little Belgian Justine Henin yesterday at Wimbledon, I was pleased to see the French player's vindication. Amelie, you might remember, won the Australian Open earlier this year over Henin only after Henin, losing soundly, pleaded illness and defaulted, thus leaving a little question mark forever over Amelie's victory, her first Grand Slam win.

It happened before, in 1921, when the legendary Suzanne Lenglen faced the U.S. champ Molla Mallory in the American championship at Forest Hills. The supposedly uncrackable Lenglen was losing 2-6, love-thirty, when she retired to the sound of hisses in the crowd. The next summer, the two players again faced each other in the final of Wimbledon, which Lenglen won 6-2, 6-0. Billie Jean King tells the story this way:

Afterwards, Lenglen reportedly told her opponent, "Now, Mrs. Mallory, I have proved to you today what I could have done to you in New York last year." To which Molla reportedly replied, "Mlle. Lenglen, you have done to me today what I did to you in New York last year; you have beaten me.

Snap! But there are many great players who never won a Grand Slam, and it makes me think about acclaimed writers who have never won a Newbery Medal. For years, Avi was the perpetual bridesmaid, but he finally made it with Crispin: Cross of Lead in 2003. So who's missing? Gary Paulsen, for one, Nancy Farmer, Bruce Brooks: all have won at least two Newbery Honors while still seeing the big prize remain out of reach. Anyone wanna place a bet?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

My Heart Leaps Up

I had such a nice little moment on the subway this morning, seeing a boy, maybe fourteen or so, engrossed in a beaten-up hardcover library copy of The Hunt for Red October. While I always hope to like Tom Clancy more than I do, I envied that kid his big summer book. And I hope for everybody's sake it wasn't part of his assigned summer-reading list!

Over on her blog Original Content, Gail Gauthier has been wondering why Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys was named a Best Book for Young Adults by ALA. In this era of the burgeoning ranks of YA fiction, it's easy to forget that the main mission of YA librarians used to be to bring teen readers into the world of adult books. Obviously, when pioneers such as Margaret Edwards were working, YA fiction was far more limited in both range and numbers, so librarians had no choice but to bring young readers out of the box. But now I worry (and Horn Book YA columnist Patty Campbell and I have been arguing this one for years) that the surfeit of YA lit--if you believe there is one, and I do--keeps librarians from moving kids along. And when I hear that we should be thinking of YA as including people into their twenties I get apoplectic. Push 'em out of the nest, already.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Shout Out

to Horn Book audiobook reviewer Kristi Jemtegaard here.

Beginning at ALA, I've been listening to New Orleans mystery The Axeman's Jazz by Julie Smith. While Kristi could give you a far more evocative analysis of her delivery ("rendition," the audiobook true believers call it), I can say that the book gets a great narration by Cristine McMurdo-Wallis.