Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Blow 'em all out




If I look as if I'm going to collapse right into that birthday cake, write it off to the exertions of turning thirty. The hardest thing about being the guest of honor at a surprise birthday party is convincing people you actually were surprised, which I certainly was.

The party, adeptly organized by Richard, who invented an entire decoy event to throw me off the track, was a wonderful climax to my birthday vacation. Although we did not make it to Disneyland, my cosmic twins and I had a great time in San Diego, including eating red mint chip ice cream at Korky's, spending the mortgage at Brady's for Men, and riding on the Giant Dipper, the very roller coaster (I found out later from Harcourt editor Allyn Johnston) that inspired Marla Frazee's Roller Coaster.

Beautiful, but I don't know how people live out there. "Wonderful weather," I kept hearing, but it's more like wonderful climate. Weather changes; this was more like nonstop perfection. Not my thing.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Home alone on a Friday night?

Cook up some popcorn, break out the bourbon, and listen to the 2006 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards.

But since I've heard it all before, I'll be at the movies, Marie Antoinette if we can get tickets. Back to Versailles!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

From your friendly paparazzo . . .


The Newbery Committee spotted in secret meeting in San Diego Harbor!

The Fatal Detour

While we never did make it to Disneyland, we did not go hungry.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And yes, I want fries with that.

With Miss Pod singing songs from my halcyon California college days--Donna Summer, Cris Williamson, the Captain and Tennille--I'll be wending my way to Disneyland tomorrow and won't be posting again until next week. I'm tempted to dress up as Frances Clarke Sayers, scolding Ariel, bullying Belle, replacing Peter Pan and Pooh with authorized editions . . . .

I'm only worried because there are approximately fourteen In-N-Out stands between our hotel and Sleeping Beauty's castle, any one of which as capable of diverting us from our goal as they were thirty years ago, when Double-Doubles won out over Henry James almost every single time.

Baby's Got Back

"His dark blue eyes met Jenny's, and chills ran down her spine all the way to the toes of her perky rubber boots."

--from Reckless, by Cecily Von Ziegsar

We take requests: here's Taylor Morrison!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Okay, how many?

I found on Bookslut this morning a link to a list of 1001 books you must read before you die. While I think these things are as specious as all get out, I had to, just had to, count. 131. More than Bookslut herself, true, but I am older and should be further along, especially considering the fact that my reads from the list contain a lot of piffle, e.g., Delta of Venus. (If you ever have the time and opportunity, listen to comedian Marga Gomez's routine "The Lost Diary," in which she imagines finding on the bus a volume of Anais Nin's diary that details Nin's erotic adventures in Disneyland: "I zot I zaw Meenee shoot me aah loook.")

The selection from children's books is very limited: Treasure Island and, snore (sorry, Monica!), Alice in Wonderland, some fables. I would have added at least the Little House books, Where the Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat and . . . over to you.

Me at the Feet of a Master

and Kate

One at a Time Seems Best


and Steven . . .

Pics third try

This may be impossible, but let's try again. I hope it isn't too painful for Miss Mac. Here's Lois:

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oh what a night

Please forgive the title; Miss Pod has been compiling a collection of songs to provide the soundtrack for my forthcoming birthday trek to Disneyland along with my two best friends of thirty years standing. That's right: friends since birth.

But the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were the occasion of a great Friday night, and we're lucky nobody invited the fire department as the Boston Athenaeum was seriously overbooked with our guests. The evening began with cider and cupcakes (the new brie, I think) for the honorees and their friends and publishers; Picture Book winner Lois Ehlert was there surprised with a group of friends from Milwaukee who flew in for the event. Fiction winner Kate DiCamillo greeted me with a peace sign; not quite sure what this meant, I later hastened to inform her that, discussions on this blog notwithstanding, I liked Edward Tulane. The event proper began with a gracious welcome by Athenaeum trustee Alice De Lana, who, I discovered, had taught high school English to my college friend Ali Mauran at Miss Porter's. That's right: ten years ago.

The winners' speeches were nicely variegated, and I like the way the shorter remarks from the Honor Book recipients punctuate the proceedings. Only Sandra Markle and Allan Marks, from New Zealand and England, respectively, could not attend; the late Faith McNulty was represented by her niece Katherine Keiffer, who beautifully recalled her aunt's writing and passions. Lois Ehlert was warm and generous; Stephen Kellogg was fast and funny (we're hoping to put some video clips on the website next week; his speech is one you have to see) and Kate DiCamillo was deep and eloquent to the point that my Richard is completely ready to run away with her.

I've been trying to upload some photos but Blogger doesn't seem to like them. I'll try again later.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Time Traveling

Take a look at this story about the uses to which the antiabortion movement is putting Susan B. Anthony. It's nice and complicated, just the way I like my politics, and it also is instructive re children's historical fiction, in which the past is used to serve the needs of the present.

Tonight occasions our annual glamour moment: the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards at the Boston Athenaeum. I need Tim Gunn here for wardrobe assistance (particularly as it needs to be an outfit that will take me from day into evening) but I've drafted Richard to play stylist: we wouldn't want any Serious Ugly in the room. I'll post a full report tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When Bad Things Happen to Bad Writers

Commenting on the great reviews garnered by Marisa Acocella Marchetto's Cancer Victim, Bookslut's Jessa Crispin makes my day:

Just because you lived through something doesn't mean you should write a book about it. I'm getting more and more weary with this "tell your story" bullshit. Yes, tell your story... to your grandkids or your nephew or your cat. The world at large doesn't need to know about it unless you're particularly good at the telling.

I haven't read Cancer Victim so can't comment re, but Crispin's sentiment is one I often find echoing in my head when reading refugee, war, and Holocaust memoirs for children. Too often, I think, they proceed from the assumption that having lived through horrific circumstances is justification enough for publication of memories of same, but it isn't. Nor is moral righteousness, or even heroism. (One of the most interesting Holocaust stories I've heard was from Maurice Sendak, who had met an old lady who as a child had performed in the original Theresienstadt production of Brundibar. Her most insistent memory--the one that still kept her up nights, he said--was about how she didn't get the plum part in the performance that she wanted.) It isn't the historical significance or the moral imperative of a book that gets it read. The testimony has to be compelling.

If not fun. I felt a distinct attack of moral seasickness this morning when I read a forthcoming pop-up book about the Irish famine (Life on a Famine Ship by Duncan Crosbie, published by Barron's in January '07.) Lift-the-flap and watch the farmhouse get wrecked! Lift-the-flap to see the corpse dropped over the side of the ship! Despite the protestations of Fraulein Maria, not everything can be turned into a game.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cheering the Home Team

Boston Globe book editor David Mehegan takes a good look at the forthcoming publication of The Children of Hurin, a Tolkien manuscript sewn together and completed by his son. We claim David as One of Ours because his mother used to be the Horn Book's circulation manager.

And former editor in chief Anita Silvey (after Ethel and before me) is getting a good discussion on Childlit for her article in the latest School Library Journal about the current state of YA literature, more precisely, YA reading: "Of one thing I’m certain: instead of craving realistic stories about people like themselves, today’s teens are crazy about characters (and scenarios) that have little in common with their own everyday lives." She's right that teens are turning away from the realistic "problem" fiction that we think of as the core of YA lit in favor of fantasy and other genre fiction, but I question whether teens ever read realistic fiction because they identified with it: it wasn't potheads who made Go Ask Alice a success, it was junior high girls looking for vicarious thrills. (I think the same appeal is what gets kids into the Gossip Girl genre, too.)

But while Anita is thrilled that kids are broadening their horizons, I have to ask if she would still feel the same way if she were back in the Horn Book trenches, ducking for cover whenever another book cart stuffed with new fat fantasy trilogies comes barreling back to the editor's office!

P.S. I'm with Blogger spellcheck when it suggests replacing "trilogies" with "trellises."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Make it New?

On Project Runway this week, judge Michael Kors was asked about what he looks for when evaluating the contestants' designs. He said that each week he tried to judge just what was in front of him, not the designer behind it and not his or her previous work. I call bullshit. All the judges whine about Uli's drapey halter things, and applaud when a designer tries something new--like when Uli won a challenge by designing a dress that didn't go to the floor.

Book reviewers confront this dilemma all the time: how do you fairly evaluate something that seems like something you've seen before? It's a greater burden for children's book reviewers, too, because the target audience for any given book is far less likely to have read any of the books the reviewer is referencing. I got into this many years ago with editor Melanie Kroupa, who was miffed that I wrote of a Ron Koertge novel that it was too much like the one he had published the previous year. If the book succeeded on its own terms--which we agreed it did--was it then fair to fault it for not being different enough from the author's other work?

No and yes. No, because if a book succeeds in its own right, it deserves praise. But yes, it is also fair to criticize an author for not stretching. A book review has responsibilities to the book (to represent it fairly), to the reader (ditto), but also to literature as a whole: the reviewer needs to ask "what does this book add to the books that are already out there?" PR judge Nina Garcia would call this the "editorial judgment."

Next, maybe I'll examine Heidi Klum's ultimate words of praise: "It looks expensive!"

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Glimpse from the Future

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick and published by Scholastic, won't be out until next March, so I'm going to resist any commentary here except to say that it is tres magnifique. And set in Paris. I just want to share a short quote from a scene in which our hero and heroine are trying to sneak into a movie:

[Isabel] walked to the rear door and took out a bobby pin from her pocket. Hugo watched as she fiddled with the pin inside the lock until it clicked and the door opened.
"How did you learn to do that?" asked Hugo.
"Books," answered Isabelle.

My kind of girl!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Can You Draw the Matchbook Man?

The juicy discussion (not yet a flamefest but wait) over on Fuse #8 about SCBWI reminds me of this bit of mischief with the Institute of Children's Literature.

Chicago online

I've been having fun playing with the new online version of the Chicago Manual of Style (you can get a free trial for a month). I note that Chicago now tells us not to hyphenate any varieties of Americans (African-, Asian-, etc.) even when used as an adjective ("the African American astronaut"), which I hope doesn't get too confusing. It does NOT help with our perennial debates about that thing with both words and illustrations that generally runs thirty-two pages: picture book? picture-book? picturebook?

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's Not Always Good News . . .

. . . when you get your book reviewed in the Horn Book. Although the headline on the Magazine's book review section has stated for at least thirty years that "most [emphasis added] of the books reviewed are recommended," we do try to keep everybody awake with the occasional mixed or negative review. I got an email today from a publisher perplexed about a negative review one of their books had recently received--perplexed, not aggrieved--thinking we only reviewed Thumbs Way Up. Sometimes we review such titles because they're getting a lot of publicity (thus our very mixed review of the second Harry Potter), or because other reviews have been overenthusiastic and we want to provide some dissent (we're publishing a negative review of the new Jamie Lee Curtis next month for just that reason) or because we just can't help ourselves, like the time I got that 20th Century Children's Book Treasury between my teeth and Would. Not. Let. Go.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Scooped again

I see that Simon & Schuster's saboteur (or the NY Times' intrepid spy) has struck again, as details from Bob Woodward's new book--then embargoed until tomorrow--saw light in the Times and elsewhere on Friday, with the book itself reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Saturday (you might remember when she scooped the world with a review of the last Harry Potter on the day of its publication). I like this piece of understated advice: "Howard Rubenstein, a public relations executive familiar with roll-out campaigns like this one by Simon & Schuster, said that controlling such information 'really doesn’t work anymore.'"