Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas Darlings

Hey, I finally made it.

I hope everyone gets some nice uninterrupted recreational reading time over the holidays. I've started my own off with The Exception by Christian Jungersen (Talese/Doubleday), a hugely engrossing mystery/thriller/black comedy (I think) about the employees of a Danish genocide documentation center. The women who work there have been receiving threatening emails and they're all a little bit crazy already, especially Anne-Lise, the center's librarian who thinks the others are Out to Get Her. And they May Be.

To follow up I have some Sarah Waters, Denise Mina, James Lee Burke . . . it's going to be good times in P-town this week.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Live and on stage

Susan Cooper, Gregory Maguire and me, at MIT last month.

Chickens and Eggs

Galleycat's post re the First Book project reminds me of the argument advanced by Freakonomics that while the presence of lots of books in the home correlates with children being proficient readers, such literary wealth does not cause that proficiency, it simply means that reading parents tend to have reading children. That bio-determinated thought also puts the question to the British book labeling scheme I talked about yesterday--even if the prominent display of reading levels cause more parents to buy more books, will that cause more and better literacy?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wasn't that the short one that Robin McKinley loathed?

How the heck do you wring two movies out of The Hobbit?

For the cool kids only

Guide and Magazine subscribers can now access the Horn Book Guide Spring 08 preview, more than 600 reviews, on our website. Email Agent Zoe for the password.

What's the difference between confidence and fluency?

Commenter Zolah passed along this story about a proposed scheme in the U.K. to label children's books by "reading age." Let's hope the Brits don't try to bring this one into Boston Harbor. The organizers claim that children will not be put off by having their books belly-branded with "early, "developing," "confident," or "fluent," but I know I would. And who will be assigning the designations and by what criteria: will individual publishers make their best guesses (there goes "for all ages") or will a central Authority feed all the books through a Lexile machine?

What I'd mostly like to know is what the presence of these labels is supposed to do. The article calls the idea "an important breakthrough in children's literacy," but how?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

As Betty and Wilma say, "CHARGE!"

Children's Book Shop proprietress Terri Schmitz talks with Kitty Flynn about children's-book shopping for the holidays and recommending some of her favorites on our latest podcast.

I'll be over soon, Terri. We've got this swell Dutch couple renting our first floor apt and they have two completely adorable kids--a one year old boy and a three year old girl. Richard and I feel like we've acquired grandchildren and are spoiling them appropriately. The little girl, of course, initially spoke no English, and she would talk away at us in Dutch, too young to understand that we couldn't understand her. But then she and I had our Patty Duke--Anne Bancroft moment. She was talking to me in Dutch and clearly had an important question. I saw this little light go on in her eyes and she blurted, "Wheah's Wichawd?" Thanks, kid-- but spoken like a born Bostonian.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

When Frog and Toad Are More Than Friends

Who needs old closet case Dumbledore when Claire has put together a first-class list of out-n-proud GLBTQ-and-sometimes-Y fiction?

I've got an editorial in the upcoming Horn Book about the outing of Dumbledore, who in fact joins a long line of characters who coulda-woulda-shoulda be gay if the reader so inclines--like Shakespeare in Susan Cooper's King of Shadows as we discussed here a few weeks ago. Or Harriet the Spy. (Or Sport, Beth Ellen, or Janie.) Betsy and Tacy! Frank and Joe! Nancy and George! Or not, too--the point is that characters become your imaginary friends whose lives, loves, and destinies can become what you need them to be.

I'm reminded of 1965, the momentous year when Barbie became flexible. Durable characters always are.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Someone must have read the book in the meantime

the ARC:

the finished book:

Deirdre Baker has some pertinent thoughts (from "Musings on Diverse Worlds," Horn Book Magazine, January/February 2007):

In some cases, where the politics of inclusivity is not in the foreground of the story, the racial attributes of nonwhite heroes are rendered virtually invisible. Both Ged of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series and Eugenides of Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief and sequels are described explicitly as "dark-skinned." Indeed, in conversation Turner has said that the images in her head of the Eddisians were "deeply influenced by the people of the Himalayas." But the brown skins of Ged and of Eugenides are downplayed by the books' current cover art, which shows Ged to be as bronzed as a white surfer (The Tombs of Atuan, 2001 edition) and Eugenides to have a noticeably pink and white complexion (The King of Attolia, 2006). While the texts give nonwhite readers the opportunity to see themselves reflected in these heroes, the cover art is telling them something else.

I'm glad this cover art changed its mind!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And I promise not to withdraw it.

Claire's review of The Golden Compass is here.

Second thoughts?

Alerted by an anonymous commenter, I see that the Catholic News Service has withdrawn its review of The Golden Compass. Without comment. Maybe the Magisterium is at work.

Monday, December 10, 2007

You can't run a library without Tomie dePaola

as I told the Boston Globe.

A different movie

Claire is going to be reviewing The Golden Compass for you all, so let me skip my opinions on that for the moment to recommend what we saw as the first half of our Saturday night double-feature: Enchanted. Pretty hilarious if insidious, too, wrapping a Disney-princess-power theme in so many layers of parody and sincerity that your head spins. Blacks and gays provide comic relief.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

But enough about you

This idea of the internet as a solipsistic wonderland--oh wow! You're reading my blog!--really gained ground this weekend with two of our leading internet magazines--Salon and Slate--each using the premier of The Golden Compass as a springboard for people to talk about themselves while pretending to do otherwise.

I have a lot of respect for Donna Freitas's work on His Dark Materials, but on Salon she unconscionably sets up Catholic Leaguer Bill Donahue as the Grand Inquisitor and herself as Galileo: "Allow me to plead my case, for I think I am innocent. (Though I fear I might be on trial, or even be found guilty without a trial.)" Stop, Donna, we need the wood.

And I would really like to see some documentation for "Catholic principals, librarians and teachers all across the United States and Canada are being told by their diocese to remove "His Dark Materials" from their shelves and classroom curricula." I can find three instances of The Golden Compass being removed from Catholic schools (two in Canada and in Oshkosh, Wisconsin), and in none of them was the diocese involved: trustees, principals and one benighted librarian pulled the book without orders from above. Of course there are probably other, quieter instances of the book being removed (as that's how it's usually done, in public and parochial libraries alike) but the point is that the Catholic Church is engaged in no war with Philip Pullman and no one is being threatened with excommunication. It's just weenie Bill Donahue calling attention to himself via his self-administered interviews, and Freitas falling right into his trap by making him seem more important than he is.

But Freitas, at least, does have a point to make, and it's an eloquent and important one, about the feast of religious inquiry in Pullman's trilogy. Emily Bazelon writing for Slate, on the other hand, explains that she's not going to encourage her sons to read Pullman's trilogy because she really dug Flowers in the Attic even though her mother said it was dreck. (Thanks to Kelly Herold for the link.) Did I mention that I'm going to see The Golden Compass tonight and Nobody Listens to Andrew used to be my favorite book?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Susan Cooper speaks

WGBH has posted audio and video versions of Susan Cooper's Cambridge Forum lecture on fantasy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Compass points

Kitty's put together a Philip Pullman page in anticipation of The Golden Compass opening this weekend; she's included links to both Monica Edinger and Bill Donohue, who must be stamping his little feet over The Catholic News Service's benevolent review.

And we apologize for the kind of rough audio, but my podcast interview with Pullman is also up for your listening pleasure.

December Web Watching

Zoe's been at it again.

Update: and Claire kicks off a new occasional series of booklists about world religions with one on Islam.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Magnum Opera

When Renee Fleming announced that upon consideration she would not, in fact, be singing Norma at the Met (or anyplace else), my first thought was, good call, Renee, but my second was to wonder if writers have any equivalent kind of challenge.

Bellini's Norma is something of a Mount Everest for sopranos. She's an allegedly virginal Druid priestess who has in fact been getting it on with with one of the occupying Romans with two children resulting. Then she finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her number-one handmaiden, Adalgisa. They sing a duet of "Does He Love You (the Way He Loves Me)?" later popularized by Reba McEntire and Linda Davis. Then Norma thinks about killing the children but instead decides to kill herself, and the boyfriend, realizing how good he had it, joins her in self-immolation.

It's passionate stuff, as you can see, but the challenge comes from marrying the drama with the sheer technical difficulty of Bellini's bel canto music--lots of fast scales, trills and other coloratura magic coupled with tons of close harmony. You need a big but agile voice and those are rare. There haven't been any hugely acclaimed Normas since Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland (although I've been hearing good things about a recent Edita Gruberova recording). But every big-girl soprano has it in her landscape if not in her sights: will I do it? Can I do it? Will I disgrace myself? etc.

But writers have to make it up for themselves every time; we don't say, "yeah, Holes was great, but when's he going to write Walk Two Moons?" I do know that children's writers, particularly, face the "so when are you going to write a real book" question, but only from amateurs. Is there a mountain a writer is expected to climb? Do you feel the need to write a Big Book? We'll leave the question of whether you should kill yourself, your boyfriend, your best friend, or your children for another time.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fanfare 2007

is up for your reading pleasure. This list will be published in the January/February issue of the Horn Book Magazine.

Picking a (Prize) Fight

This report on the Ratatouille producers' dilemma about whether to promote the film for a Best Animated or Best Picture Oscar slot reminds me of our children's book also-rans, the Coretta Scott King Awards, the Sibert, and the Geisel. Before anyone gets huffy, what I mean is to question whether the existence of these awards makes it less likely that books eligible to receive them become subconsciously marked-down by the Newbery and Caldecott judges because they can win "something else." After all, wasn't it the relative lack of award attention for books by black authors and illustrators, for nonfiction, and for easy readers, respectively, that brought these new awards into existence in the first place? (Personally, I'll give an award to anyone who can diagram that last sentence.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Meg Cabot as Alistair Cooke

Meg Cabot brings an American classic to life.

Congrats to my best pal

and our frequent commenter Elizabeth Law, whose appointment as VP and publisher of Egmont USA has just been announced. Yay, Lawzy! Send us pics, I mean snaps, from your glam London party!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Excuse My Dust

A Horn Book interview with Philip Pullman is forthcoming on our website later this week; Philip and I spent a few minutes on Friday discussing the upcoming Golden Compass movie and the peculiar Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, whose job I totally want: the man makes more than 300,000 smackers a year interviewing himself for press releases.

In preparation for the interview I reread The Golden Compass, something I hadn't done since reviewing it for BCCB way back when. In all the subsequent debate re the trilogy's weighty themes and dizzying ideas, I had forgotten just how action-packed this book was, complete with cliff-hanging chapter endings. It has completely propelled me into The Subtle Knife, which I'm re-reading via audiobook, an excellently addictive production (despite some cheesy musical interludes) narrated by Pullman himself with full-cast dialogue seamlessly worked in.

Now is this work-reading or pleasure-reading? Virginia Heffernan wonders why we draw a distinction.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Burning down the house?

Amazon's new e-book reader, Kindle, is here. I have great hopes for e-books, read them regularly (via Miss Palm) and Kindle has a lot of neat features, mostly stemming from its free (if limited) wireless access to the internet. But two things are stopping me from wanting one: it's ugly and it doesn't have a backlight. If technology doesn't allow us to read in the dark, what's the point?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Starred Books, January/February '08 Horn Book

The following books will receive starred reviews in the January/February issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

Becca at Sea (Groundwood) by Deirdre Baker

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (Foster/Farrar) by Peter Cameron

How the Hangman Lost His Heart (Walker) by K. M. Grant

Jabberwocky (Jump/Hyperion) illustrated by Christopher Myers

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs (National Geographic) written and illustrated by Hannah Bonner

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas (Clarion) by Russell Freedman

War in the Middle East: A Reporter’s Story (Candlewick) by Wilborn Hampton

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Gregory Maguire and Susan Cooper, photo by Richard Asch

While the rest of you were chowing down on thousand-dollar-a-plate surf-n-turf at the National Book Awards (unless you were too busy fondling--oh ICK I can't even say it) I was scarfing cookies graciously provided by Candlewick Press and Simon & Schuster as refreshment for our evening of talk about fantasy, the reading and writing of it, with Susan Cooper and Gregory Maguire. The house was full (guarding the door, Cambridge P.L.'s Julie Roach told me she heard all manner of subterfuges--"my friend has my ticket"-- and brooked none) and the conversation lively. Greg is naturally loquacious and Susan more reserved, so my job as moderator kept me on my toes. MIT will be posting a video of the event on their MITWorld site and I'll let you know when that's up; in the meantime you can still catch Susan Cooper tonight, free, at 7:30 PM at the First Church in Harvard Square.

Monday, November 12, 2007

What are the odds?

The New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Books have been announced; as commenter Ruth notes on a previous post, the gender score is eight to two. Elsewhere in the Times's special section on children's books I review Jaclyn Moriarty's The Spell Book of Listen Taylor (Levine/Scholastic).

I note with only fortuitous smugness that the last time I judged this list, in 2005, we selected five male and five female illustrators. But I didn't know this until now, as Henrike Wilson (winning for Brave Charlotte) and Alexis Deacon (for Jitterbug Jam) didn't come to the party.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Another Phone Call from the Past

I realized a forty-year-old dream last night when we went to see a community theater production of Hair. The Rent of its day--although far more transgressive--Hair was the Big Thing for little show-tune freaks, given even more appeal by the fact that we had to listen to the record (which was all we knew of the show, since we certainly wouldn't be allowed to see it. Nudes!) out of earshot of our parents. I remember clandestinely (I thought) listening to my older sister's recording and my mother overhearing "Happy Birthday Abie Baby" ("emanci-motherfuckin'-pator of the slaves") and pitching a fit. Has High School Musical ever occasioned such perfect drama?

Growing up in Boston added allure, too, as, when the show came to town in 1970, it was promptly shut down and banned for a month until the Supreme Court allowed it to reopen. I remember faking illness to stay home from school one day because the cast was going to perform on some local TV talk show. How ironic that "America's oldest community theater" (the Footlight Club opened in 1877) would be presenting it thirty-some years later without fuss, obscenities and (discreetly lit) nudity intact.

I didn't get half of the sex jokes back then, and certainly didn't recognize just how druggie it was--my exposure to illegal substances was then limited to the "awareness tablets" that a cop had brought into our junior high and lit in front of the classroom to demonstrate what marijuana smelled like so we would know when to blow the whistle on a party, I guess. Last night, at fifty-one, I had little patience with the show's loosey-goosey free-range dialogue that was supposed to convey the inspiration of drugs and wondered how anyone could have ever heard it as meaningful or even sincere.

But to think of drugs as "mind-expanding" is even more taboo today than in 1968, as is the show's gleeful employment of racial epithets. Forget getting banned in Boston; can it play in L.A.?

What I mostly thought last night, sentimentally and dolefully, is that now I'm the parents and, really, so is the show. I'm betting the sweet kids on stage were as bemused by the LBJ jokes they were spouting as I had been by "Sodomy."

Friday, November 09, 2007

New Podcast: Grace and Alvina

Our latest podcast is up.

In anticipation of the Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure snowflake auction, Lolly talks with author-illustrator Grace Lin and her friend, co-blogger, and editor at Little Brown, Alvina Ling.

Creative Writing Exercise

Try and rewrite this story, forwarded to me by Kitty and Zoe, as an episode in a YA novel by:

a) Jack Gantos
b) Cecily von Ziegesar
c)Chris Crutcher
d) Paula Fox

Compare and contrast. I thought of including Ron Koertge among the choices, but this scene already practically happens in his first novel Where the Kissing Never Stops.

Phone Call to the Past

Pursuant to my recent post about sequels, I see from A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy that not only are Ellen Emerson White's old books about The President's Daughter being republished, she's rewriting them to bring them in line with the most recent book, Long May She Reign, which is set in the present day but picks up the action from the end of the last book, Long Live the Queen.

Phew. If only they could do this with the old Magic Attic books, which apparently invite readers to join a fan club by calling an 800 number which time and fate have transformed into a phone sex line. And I wonder what's happened to 537-3331, Amy's phone number in I Am the Cheese. If you figured out the area code you could find yourself talking to "Amy's father," aka Robert Cormier. Or so I was told.

Vote for Claire!

cuz she's got a new booklist up about politics.

And speaking of which, did anyone catch Al Gore on 30 Rock last night? He's huge.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Book TV

I've never watched it. Is it really this bad?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Reading by the numbers

Monica Edinger has been hosting a lively discussion stemming from Jonathan Hunt's Horn Book article, "Epic Fantasy Meets Sequel Prejudice." Sequels sure do pose questions to reviewers: can you fairly evaluate volume one of something when volume two is meant to finish the job? What if you've skipped volume one, only to find that volume two has made it worthwhile? Or one was terrific, but two doesn't do it any favors?

I once had to review a volume three of something where two had not been published (in this country). And there's the recent example of Ellen Emerson White's new Long May She Reign, sequel to an out-of-print series whose most recent entry was published in 1989 . . . .

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Music

Miss Pod is happy that Claire's latest Monthly Special compiles books about music.

And here's an old favorite--one of the best evocations of music I've read is Bruce Brooks' YA novel Midnight Hour Encores (Harper, 1986).

The Nov/Dec 2007 Horn Book Magazine

is out and we've posted some selections on our website along with a nifty bunch of web extras (who knew Astrid Lindgren could be such a . . . oh, go look for yourself and fill in the blank).

And that Christmassy cover of Olivia is giving me complete permission to ramp up the carols on Miss Pod. A great way to get into the seasonal spirit: try singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun."

Monday, October 29, 2007

The other g-word

I'm just writing up a notice for Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art (Philomel), which isn't really for kids but is an extremely handsome exhibition-in-pages of some great illustrators, including for each a gorgeously reproduced self-portrait as well as photos of their workspaces and preliminary studies and sketches. With sales benefiting the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, it's a great gift idea for the children's librarian in your life. Who may, in fact, be you.

But I couldn't help noticing that only five of the twenty-three artists included are women. Having no idea if this representation is proportional, I compared it to the last 23 years of Caldecott winners. Only four women there. What do we think is or is not going on?

Three Little Words

Despite the fact I announced I would have no opinions in re Dumbledore's sexual orientation, I, of course, do and have been arguing them ferociously to the J.K. Rowling in my head. The short version is that while I applauded her mischief and relished the subsequent panty-twisting, I thought she had no business making up her readers' minds about what happens (or, in this case, happened) to Harry Potter and his fellows beyond what information she gave us in the books. By telling us that Dumbledore was gay, she implied that she had the story all sewn up, that readers had only to ask--her--to fill in the blanks she had left. But filling in those blanks, melding a story with one's (or One's, to quote from the hilarious Uncommon Reader) own imagination is what reading is all about. A huge part of the reason the Harry Potter books (volumes one through three, anyway) held so little charm for me was Rowling's insistence upon doing all the coloring-in herself, leaving the reader few opportunities to put his or her own imagination to work. That's why I grumbled that they were books for people who generally preferred to watch TV, and that's why I though Rowling's announcement was a little grabby. (The child_lit railings about whether it was a corrective or a confirmation of the Potter series' "heteronormativity" left me untouched; the only flag you need to fly is your own).

But I've since learned that Rowling's remarks were less peremptory than I had thought. While the newspapers were reporting that she said "Dumbledore is gay," the Leaky Cauldron has posted a rough transcript of the Carnegie Hall q-and-a, and according to that she said (in response to the question "did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?") "I always thought of Dumbledore as gay." That I always thought matters enormously. Writers are as free as readers to mentally embroider or annotate a book; I imagine that a writer has to, even, settling into her imagination a rich landscape from which details are drawn for the page. I'm reminded of Margaret Mitchell being asked if she thought Scarlett ever got Rhett back. She didn't think so, she said. That didn't--and needn't--stop optimistic readers everywhere from imagining otherwise.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back from NYC

and a fine trip it was. Monday evening I had the chance to meet scads of people from the child_lit listserv including its creator Michael Joseph, whose glasses I want but don't think I could pull off (him or on me). The food was just-okay--wild boar shouldn't be as boring as this one was--but the conversation was lively even before Linda Sue Park showed up with a Colin Farrell story I'll let her tell.

The next day I had a commiserative--and tasty--lunch with FSG publisher Margaret Ferguson which was its own delight and came with the bonus of a gift from editor Wes Adams--Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, a novella, Wes assured me, that would provide fine entertainment for my bus trip home. Concerning itself with what might happen should the Queen conceive a passion for reading, it did, hugely. I can already see Helen Mirren doing it as a Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas Special.

I didn't know Lloyd Alexander but he certainly had enough friends without me, many of whom spoke warmly at the celebration in his honor hosted by Cricket's Blouke and Marianne Carus. Did you know Lloyd was "Old Cricket"? Most unexpectedly hilarious was Lloyd's longtime editor Ann Durell explaining why she agreed to publish, in a fantasy-unfriendly era, what would become the Prydain series: Lloyd's agent had plied her with martinis. My old BCCB colleague Kate Pierson Jennings was there, too--she had been exchanging letters with Lloyd since she was ten years old.

Back here to the sad news that Elizabeth Watson--Horn Book Board member, longtime reviewer and past president of ALSC--had died on October 13th. Liz was great--sometimes the conversations at our old reviewer meetings could get a bit rarefied, and cutting right through it all would come Liz's cultured and authoritative contralto: "no child is going to touch that book."

Monday, October 22, 2007


Barring funerals, pretty much the only time I hear from my now far-flung McNally relatives is when the Red Sox are doing well at whatever it is they do. Which, I guess, they've done. Honestly, I feel like I should trade houses with my California (or Delaware, Maryland . . .) cousins, because while I live a scant three miles from Fenway Park, the only reason I even check the game schedule is to find out if we're going to have trouble parking for the movies. I went to a game once, forty-five years ago with my Cub Scout troop (oops, I automatically spelled that troupe, how gay is that?) and all I remember is that we got popcorn in little cardboard megaphones. But I'm glad my family is happy.

I've got a three-way going on with Jules and Eisha, the gals of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, reviewing Perry Moore's Hero; check it out.

Going to New York for a few days to see Elizabeth and attend a memorial celebration for Lloyd Alexander; tonight I'll be dining with the Child_Lit crowd, bloggers Betsy, Cheryl and Monica among them. That should be particularly lively as the list is currently divided among* those who think J. K. Rowling is a hero for her recent revelation re Dumbledore, those who think she is a publicity-seeking fame whore, and those like myself who haven't read Book Seven and are just staying out of the whole thing.

* Joanna Rudge Long recently called me on following between with three things. Is it really wrong?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Merriman is gay?

Oops, wrong fantasy*. But in honor of the upcoming extravaganza with Susan Cooper and Gregory Maguire, Kitty and Claire have put online some of the Horn Book Magazine's finest fantasy articles, including Susan Cooper on Tolkien and Tom's Midnight Garden, Gregory Maguire on Philip Pullman, Philip Pullman on The Republic of Heaven, and several more esteemed writers on the whole doom-and-unicorns shebang. They won't be up forever, so read 'em now.

*But I still maintain that, in Susan Cooper's time fantasy King of Shadows, young hero Nat and the Bard of Avon totally had it going on, if you know what I'm saying.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hitting Them over the Head

Child_Lit has been unusually lively the last couple of weeks, with discussions of The Dark is Rising, Love You Forever (again), gypsies, and gay-seeming children all perking along nicely, but what has intrigued me most is a thread inspired by a post from GraceAnne DeCandido, who has given me permission to reproduce it here:

Dear colleagues,
it is one of those teaching days that make one want to scream and
throw things (the Yankees loss last night did not help, but I

Several of my students (graduate students all) think that if they
buy a book or give a booktalk or promote a book to a teacher or a
class it means somehow that they condone and approve everything
that takes place in a book. They cannot, for example, buy or
promote Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist because that means
they approve of the language (which is salty and true to life). One
student objected to the grammar and usage in Walter Dean
Myers' books because she felt it didn't model good and
appropriate speech.

This is of course all connected to the teaching book/didacticism
thread we have had. I am teaching a literature course to adult
people studying for the MLIS degree. I need to find ways of
addressing this issue, although I am puzzled so much by their
attitudes that I scarce know where to begin.

Well my dear GA, I think three things are going on here. First, either these students aren't readers or they've forgotten that kids read the same way grownups do: just as reading a Donna Leon mystery does not overwhelm me with the urge to push someone into the Grand Canal, reading Nick and Norah . . . isn't going to introduce the word fuck into a spoken vocabulary from which it was previously absent. So, I think we're talking about library school students who don't love reading, which makes me want to jump into the Grand Canal.

But here's the second thing, which is worse: humans over time have demonstrated an inordinate fondness for the ability to push around those of their kind who are smaller and weaker. And some people, especially people who don't like to read, use books as weapons in service to this objective. This goes for books that are either suppressed or required when the point of either action is to control what another person thinks or does.

The third thing, though, can give us all hope; namely, that these grad students are laughably deluded if they think any child really cares what the librarian thinks.

But I wonder if these students really are the grammatically correct Polly Puremouths they're presenting themselves as. Are they truly worried about modeling bad behavior, or are they just afraid to get in trouble with other adults? That fondness for picking on the vulnerable doesn't look so good when the vulnerable is you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Congrats to Sarah!

(photo courtesy of CNW Group)

Longtime Horn Book contributor (I swear, she must have started writing the "News from the North" column when she was twelve) Sarah Ellis has won the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for Odd Man Out. And, in an oh-let's-be-vulgar shout out to any civic-minded U.S. banking corporation, she gets 20,000 smackers. Canadian, which is like a million in our money, right?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Anastasia Krupnik loves Casablanca

and Lois Lowry is a big movie fan, too. Find out more in our latest podcast.

Some BGHB reports

From J. L. Bell and Loree Griffin Burns.

Bear footed

Unlike this lucky little guy, who sat the whole thing out, I had to wear my big-boy shoes twice this weekend, first for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards on Friday and then again for Dame Kiri's farewell recital last night. Lolly and Kitty will be busy today to bring you more pictures and moments from Friday night's celebration; I'm betting Kiri has her feet up, too.

P.S. The photo is by Richard, whose birthday it is today. Happy birthday sweetheart!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We'll come to you

with the Horn Book Podcast, now available for subscription via iTunes and God-knows-who-else.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The '07 National Book Award finalists

. . . have been announced and we've got reviews of the Young People's Literature choices. The judges were Elizabeth Partridge (chair),Pete Hautman, James Howe, Patricia McCormick, and Scott Westerfeld; the nominees were announced by Camille Paglia, whose legendary battle via fax with Brit critic Julie Burchill is available for your enjoyment here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

As Claire originally began her review, WTF?

So keep that in mind when you read her review of The Seeker.

Do the Math

Jennifer Weiner knows why the New York Times doesn't review her books and she's not afraid to share. Her rant might have been more effective had she not spent so much of it bragging about being rich and popular. I'm reminded of the time I was collared at BEA by a joke-book author who complained that he had never been reviewed in the Horn Book Magazine even though his books had sold several hundred thousands of copies. "Why do you care?" I asked him.

I recently fielded a call from a publisher whose books have never (at least as far as either of us could tell) been reviewed in the Magazine, although they have received some good (and bad) reviews in the Guide. It was not a phone call that could end happily, as our premises (his that the HB deliberately snubbed his books, mine that we didn't) were unmovable and mutually exclusive.

The long answer as to why any particular book was not reviewed is that the Magazine is extremely selective, reviewing fewer than five hundred of the several thousand books we receive. (That's the long answer because it invariably provokes a response that the not-reviewed book in question should have been among the five hundred.) If the book is in hardcover, there's a very good chance the book was reviewed in the Horn Book Guide, thus often providing a print source for the short answer: sorry, we didn't like it all that much. But, on top of the five hundred books recommended by the Magazine are around 1600 more that get wholly positive reviews in the Guide each year. Frequently, those are your Jennifer Weiners: perfectly respectable books that no one needs to be ashamed of reading (or writing) but that don't command extended review attention, at least not from us. Have we ever simply missed something? Sure--I would rashly estimate that a dozen of those 1600 might have been reviewed in the Magazine had the weather or something been different. That, of course, cuts both ways, as in the case of a starred review of a book that no one can remember a year later.

Monday, October 08, 2007

We make dreams come true.

At least Lisa Yee's. My next editorial is about George Clooney.

(photo by Richard, taken at Joanna and Norwood Long's house)

Friday, October 05, 2007

But I bet he loved Clueless

from the Globe and Mail review of The Seeker: "Whether you fully embrace the Harry Potter phenomenon or simply live with it, there's no question that J. K. Rowling is an imaginative story-spinner. The trouble is that she has ruined the field for the legions of the second-rate."

Update: here's a link to the Maclean's blog post on the movie that commenter Clare references. It's really good.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Read Zoe

Our new Web Watcher. This month, she's found lots 'o links for our special issue on Boys and Girls.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I'm guessing Greenwitch will be a whole 'nother ball of wax.

The upcoming opening of The Seeker, formerly known as The Dark is Rising, has a lot of people on edge, not least Susan Cooper. I'm reminded of another time this title got in trouble, branded as racist in 1976 by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in their Human and Anti-Human Values in Children's Books: A Content Rating Instrument for Educators and Parents. And it was the title itself that got Cooper's book in hot water with this crowd, who believed that the equation of darkness with evil was "racist by commission," meaning overtly harmful. If I recall right, The Dark Is Rising was also labeled "racist by omission," by the CIBC, because it didn't have any black characters. I'll have to remember to ask Susan what she thought about all this.

And then they were upon her, and with good reason, too.

Fuse8 posts a link to what she accurately characterized as another hand-wringing piece about allegedly depressing YA novels on reading lists, but I am even more depressed by the author (a professor of creative writing, no less) condemning some "young adult fiction", unnamed, where "a town holds a lottery. At first it seems like an innocent exercise, but the author slowly reveals that the winner of the lottery will be sacrificed."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Yes, I do want fries with that.

Galleycat links to a thoughtfully cranky piece about booksellers who pat themselves on the back for selling "banned" books such as Huckleberry Finn while simultaneously refusing to sell Tintin in the Congo:

Providing unencumbered access to the literary works created under the auspices of free speech (all of 'em -- not just the ones we agree with or approve of) is our business. Bookstores shouldn't have to rally around themselves once a year to proclaim that they hate censorship and the banning of books.

While I agree with the scorn directed at the sometimes unseemly preening that accompanies Banned Books Week, I've never thought that booksellers should have to stock anything they didn't want to. What I would really, really, like to know is how many of the 546 challenges recorded by the OIF in 2006 resulted in restrictions or banning, a hardly-irrelevant statistic that seems absent from ALA's press materials. "Banned Books Week" is certainly a catchy slogan, but are they selling sizzle or steak?

Snuggle Up

Claire has compiled a list of recommended bedtime stories perfect for these cooling nights. Allow me to add one--Jonathan Bean's At Night (FSG), which received a starred review from Jennifer Brabander in the September/October issue but whose perfection I only realized when I read it aloud in Vermont last week.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Milk, milk, lemonade

I brought back from Vermont a pound each of chocolate and penuche fudge for office sharing and have been industriously monitoring which is going faster. The results are surprising: although the chocolate is maintaining a consistent edge, the penuche is holding its own. Perhaps the Horn Book is even more New-England-parochial than we had all thought.

I share this thought with you because Kitty told me that I should reserve comment for another day on the amazing number of picture books we've recently received about pooping.

Friday, September 28, 2007

For your listening pleasure

Our latest podcast is up. Boston Globe-Horn Book award winner M. T. Anderson (who also won a little thing called the 2006 National Book Award for Young People's Literature) talks with his good friend and Horn Book publisher Anne Quirk about The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party. Got feedback? Comment here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Steve Jenkins says Just Say Know

Steve Jenkins gave a great speech yesterday morning here at the Red Clover conference connecting his own (and children's) interest in scale, the large scale and numbers involved in contemporary science, and the refusal of a large part of the public to believe in the scientific evidence regarding, among other issues, evolution. I'm hoping he will turn it into an article for us, so Steve, (or anyone at Houghton Mifflin, where Steve is visiting today) you're on notice that I'll be calling.

In the afternoon I hammered yet again at my favorite theme, that reading is ultimately a private exercise of the imagination and not a group activity, and that as librarians we have to remember to select books whose effects we will never know--it can't all be surefire story hour fare. For this point I chose to contrast Rachel Isadora's new edition of The Twelve Dancing Princesses (Putnam) with Jonathan Bean's At Night (FSG). Both books are great, but the first is a simply told, visually bold book that is perfect for sharing with a group while the second has its best audience in a group no larger than two.

Richard and I ended the day with a visit to Horn Book stalwart Joanna Rudge Long and her husband Norwood, who live in a Vermont-red house surrounded by mountains, the Appalachian Trail, and a maple-sugaring operation that looked nothing like the hole-in-a-tree-with-a-bucket I remembered from the picture books of my youth. The technology, scenery, company (including two smart and sweet dogs), conversation, and food could not have been better. While walking in the Longg' backyard--otherwise known as the AT--we endured a brief shower but were rewarded at its end with a full-on rainbow.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

November-December stars

Kitty here. While Roger is communing with ISBNs in VT and Blogger is currently cooperating, I'm happy to present you with a list of the books that will receive starred reviews in the November-December issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

Picture books:

On Angel Wings (Candlewick) written by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Quentin Blake
First the Egg (Porter/Roaring Brook) written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
The Arrival (Levine/Scholastic) illustrated by Shaun Tan


Little Rat Makes Music (Harcourt) written by Monika Bang-Campbell, illustrated by Molly Bang
Being Bee (Holiday) by Catherine Bateson
Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic) by Christopher Paul Curtis
Passion and Poison: Tales of Shapeshifters, Ghosts, and Spirited Women (Cavendish) written by Janice M. del Negro, illustrated by Vince Natale
Red Spikes (Knopf) by Margo Lanagan

Folklore and Poetry:

The Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm (Candlewick) retold by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Max Grafe
Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose (Harcourt) selected and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon


Whale Port (Lorraine/Houghton) written by Mark Foster, illustrated by Gerald Foster

Monday, September 24, 2007

How many do YOU bring?

I will be out of the office the rest of this week, giving a speech in Vermont and then taking a few days to enjoy the Green Mountain State ( a visit to Beau Ties, I hope, and any recommendations for food and ice cream would be much appreciated). And I'm bringing a prodigious number of books whose pages I cannot hope to get through and whose ISBNs I reproduce below in the spirit of reckless theft of intellectual property:


Richard, on the other hand, is only bringing 978-0385721790 and 978-1400032914, which is far more sensible (and they're both excellent) but I always worry that if I bring only two, it will be the wrong two. And then where are you?

Miss Pod is coming with us too, and she's fully loaded with Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, which I'm rereading-hearing in preparation for our chat in November. It's always good to have a book along you already know you love.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Shout-out in Shul

HB reviewer Lauren Adams and I went with our nice Jewish boys to Kol Nidre services last night, where none other than that nice Jewish girl, our own Jane Yolen, was referenced in the sermon. The theme was something about "remembering the person you always wanted to be," and Jane was brought into it via an essay she wrote about the power of stories to make sense of our lives. Mazel Tov, Jane!

Friday, September 21, 2007

I used to spend a lot of money

at the Coop bookstore in Harvard Square. I knew it was a Barnes and Noble, but I liked the selection and the clerks are nice and I knew where it was (I still find Harvard Square hard to navigate). But now that I have heard, via Bookshelves of Doom, that the Coop considers freakin' ISBNs to be their "intellectual property," I'm done.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Throw the book at her?

Librarian Kristin Peto of Maine sent me the story about the woman, JoAnn Karkos, who checked out two copies of It's Perfectly Normal (a 1995 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor awardee, so you know where we stand) from Maine libraries and is declining to return them, sending checks for $20.95 (I'm guessing the price on the jacket) to the libraries instead.

This instance of civil disobedience doesn't seem to have been all that well thought out. Both libraries involved have already ordered replacement copies (one bought two, citing the demand engendered by the theft), so access to the book has been at most temporarily impeded. Neither library will accept her check (which would make them parties to the crime), so some other books will now go unbought at the same time It's Perfectly Normal sells three more copies.

Here's the most eccentric detail: the woman who says It's Perfectly Normal is "a predator's dream" now has two copies. Mind your children . . . .

Monday, September 17, 2007

I'm over

at Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog today and feeling cynsational!

Why we 'see' movies and 'watch' TV

Watching the Emmys last night (and was Sally Field cut off because she spoke out against the war or because she said "goddamn"?) I idly queried why the Oscars have more prestige and glamor when more people watch more TV than they do movies. Richard had a ready, comprehensive answer: in an impulse hearkening back even unto the Greeks, film is public ceremony that demands respectful attention, and it's bigger than we are. While we may eat during a movie (Twizzlers for me, thanks) we may not talk and the film cannot be paused by the audience or the sponsors. We watch it in the dark, all eyes on the screen.

The way we read is practically the opposite: we do it alone, in the light, and hold a book in our hands. But the status of the act of reading is greater than either seeing movies or watching TV, both despite and because of the fact that books have the smallest audience of the three. This may explain why censors go after books: they're both bigger than us and easier to bully.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Let's play "peel the label."

I haven't touched the stuff in years, but this NYT booze blog piece querying the value of blind tastings has me thinking about book reviewing, prompted by its rhetorical question, "why are book critics permitted to know who wrote what they are reading?" The question of how a critic's judgment is affected by his or her knowledge of the author (or publisher, etc.) of a book was addressed by Doris Lessing, when she published two books under a pseudonym, Jane Somers. In 1984 she told the Times:

''I wanted to highlight that whole dreadful process in book publishing that 'nothing succeeds like success.' If the books had come out in my name, they would have sold a lot of copies and reviewers would have said, 'Oh, Doris Lessing, how wonderful.' As it is, there were almost no reviews, and the books sold about 1,500 copies here and scarcely 3,000 copies each in the United States.''

But what did she prove, really? That people are more interested in hearing what Doris Lessing has to say than in what an unknown writer might? It is a rather dramatic example of how hard it is for a new writer to get noticed, I'll grant that. But book reviewing (and wine reviewing, I guess) is as much news as it is evaluation--readers want to know not just that there's a new spooky thriller just out, but that Stephen King has written a new book. (King of course himself invented a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, not to test the public but to enlarge his share of the market.) Would I be reviewing Ana's Story were it written by someone other than the President's daughter? It's more "not bad" than it is good (which, in an era of egregious books by celebrities, is itself news) but I can definitely see a teen audience for it; kids who would read it regardless of its author's name. But that's the other question, of course: would it have been published had a Name not come with it?

Blind reviewing could certainly shake things up, though. How would publishing would look if reviewing was done that way?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Kathy Griffin Isn't the Only One to Drag Jesus into It

And at least she was funny. Last month, we got a letter from a woman who decided she wanted to cancel her subscription to the Magazine because of Patty Campbell's report on the word fuck, Susan Patron's account of the little scrotum that could (and did) and our then upcoming special issue on gender, the one you, ahrmmm, should be holding in your hands. Fine. Let her go join those subscribers who left when I presumed to give some advice to the First Lady. (Incidentally, young Jenna's book has some good things going for it; see my review in our November issue.)

But then. But. Then. We sent this disgruntled former subscriber a refund for the balance of her subscription, and apparently we mistakenly mailed her two checks or something, and Margaret, our business manager, asked her to send one back. All she had to do was stick it in an envelope or, hell, say "Suck it, Horn Book," and cash it but NOOOOOO. "I received your message on Wednesday and am happy to return the check that was written in error. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I cannot take from Horn Book what is not due me. It would not be honoring to my savior, and so here is the check."

I think I'll use it to buy her a Mass.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Developmentally Delighted

This Newsweek story about the over-diagnosis of developmental problems in kids reminds me of a discussion in my children's lit class in library school. We were all enthusiastically talking about Harriet the Spy until one student, an infiltrator from the psych. department, sputtered, "I can't believe you all are recommending children read this book about a sociopath."

A typical office conversation

. . . is the subject of our latest podcast. Yes. Kitty and I while away the precious minutes between editing philosophizing about the big picture. We never talk about TV, for example, or our coworkers' sartorial choices. So have a listen to what passes for gossip in the Horn Book offices.

Kitty has also uploaded a brief clip from an interview with our beloved Mr. Todd that was recorded some years ago. His office conversations were always lively!

Monday, September 10, 2007

R.I.P Thomas Todd

The Horn Book's publisher and president emeritus Thomas Todd has died at the age of eighty-nine. Mr. Todd had been a part of the Horn Book since his youth, as his father had been our first printer. He was a good boss and a good man. Please see publisher Anne Quirk's memorial notice here.

"The Writing of Fantasy": Susan Cooper and Gregory Maguire

Last Friday Daryl Mark (of the Cambridge P.L.) and I went over to MIT to look over the new location that anticipatory enthusiasm for the evening seemed to demand. So, we're still on for the program with Susan Cooper and Gregory Maguire, we're still talking about the writing and reading of fantasy, and it's still all going to take place on Wednesday, November 14, at 7:00PM. But note the new location: the program will now be taking place in the Frank Gehry glam Stata Center. MIT kahuna Paul Parravano (yes, consort to the inestimable Martha) showed us around, and it's quite an impressive place. Tickets (free but limit of four) for the evening will be available October 15th by sending an SASE to: Susan Cooper Event, Cambridge Public Library, 359 Broadway, Cambridge, MA, 02139. Note: seating is first come, first served; overflow "population" (MIT-speak for audience) will be accommodated via TV monitors. A reception will follow.

The following evening Susan Cooper will deliver a lecture, "Unriddling the World: Fantasy and Children" for the Cambridge Forum. This event is also free, no ticket required, and will be held at 7:30 PM at the First Parish church in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

We commemorate Madeleine L'Engle with a profile written by her husband for the Horn Book on the occasion of her 1963 Newbery Medal. And we've got some reviews of her work up as well. I like what Ruth Hill Viguers wrote about The Arm of the Starfish; it can be said of L'Engle's work as a whole:

The plot moves with such speed and variety, and emotions are so tautly stretched, that if there are weaknesses, the reader is much too occupied to be aware of them. At the end he might wish that the restraint and subtlety had held to the last page. But the critic who turns back thinking to pinpoint a flaw is caught again not only by the vigor of the plot and the power of the overtones, but by the small imaginative details: apt naming of the characters, realistic conversations, brief moments of awareness of commonplace joys.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

We had joy, we had fun

Perhaps inspired by the Spring Awakening music (too rockeroo for the high-school me but I love it now), I was tempted by this top one hundred songs of your senior year meme, but had to swiftly back away when I saw what they were. I don't recognize half of them and won't own to remembering most of the others, but it did make me wonder if there was some kind of calculus of regret and denial for those of us who, as adults, make our livings in professions devoted to the young. Do we do it because we liked being kids? Or because we didn't, and are trying to patch that over? Does being embarrassed by the tastes of your younger self make you a better or worse librarian? If you still love "Dark Lady," are you hopeless? More or less so if you never did learn the words?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Adolescent upsets

In addition to the satisfying spectacle of Maria Sharapova being picked off by a younger (and quieter!) player, I was also treated this past weekend to a superb exposition of teen angst, in the unlikely Broadway musical Spring Awakening. Based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 German play, the show and catchy tunes are pure YA: love, sex, death, and grades. Go see it. Take the kids!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Ho ho ho

Off to New York for my last year's birthday present from Elizabeth, seeing my namesake challenged by the Jolly Green Newbie. Back to our usual programming on Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hear Us Roar

The inaugural Horn Book Podcast is up for your listening pleasure. Lolly is setting it up with iTunes so you'll be able to subscribe; for now, go to the podcast page on our site to hear my interview with Jon Scieszka.

I interviewed Jon for our special September issue, Boys and Girls. That too is now just out and you can see the table of contents here and web extras here. I think this is one of the best issues we've done.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

Son of a Preacher Man

I'm spending Richard Peck's summer vacation editing his Sutherland Lecture for publication in the November HB. It's a great speech--Peck has always been among the best of our writer-speakers--and his epigrammatic style can be pure poetry. I'm working directly from the speech manuscript, and I've never seen one quite like it, with the paragraphs carefully subdivided into clauses, giving it the cadences of a well-wrought sermon and the rhythm of a verse novel. Peck has an instinct for formal shape, in his poetry and short stories as well as his novels, so I guess it's no surprise his speeches have the same discipline.

Cathy Mercier swears I once gave a one hour talk at Simmons from three words written on an index card but I know I'll never be that good (or nervy) again. I find in my twilight years that I really need to have the whole damn thing in front of me. What methods do you-all use? Full text, cards, outline? Do you wing it? And how do we feel about PowerPoint?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Off topic: this is just for those

. . . for whom a day that does not start with inappropriate laughter is not, uh, a day.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lesbolicious is the word

for this picture of dykon Louise Fitzhugh, looking like James Dean's love child on KT Horning's new blog Worth the Trip. The blog is going to be devoted to coverage of GLBTQXYZ books for kids and teens and with KT at the helm you know the thinking and writing are going to be first-rate.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Walking and chewing gum at the same time

This story about headphones, etc. being banned from running races makes me think about our various discussions re audiobooks. I wonder why I'm capable of reading a printed book as a discrete activity, but listening to one requires me to either be in motion or playing solitaire or some low-level computer game. I can't just sit and listen. Are there any neuro-psych types out there who might be able to explain?

I understand the safety aspect of banning headphones from races but the "purity" aspect of it--that real runners are soooo tuned into their bodies and higher power and all--makes me laugh about how similar it is to readers who turn their nose up at book listeners.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Writing for the Horn Book: Field Notes

Field Notes is our column for essays about connecting children and books. Contributors can be librarians, booksellers, parents, publishers, teachers, writers--anyone who has seen children's books in action. It's not a column for tips on running a summer reading program or how to read aloud, but rather it's a place where we invite contributors to explore how real book-child interactions have made them think about children's literature or children's reading in a new way. Avoid the words "magic" and "treasure." Keep it short--1000 to 1500 words, and payment varies. Send queries or submissions to Assistant Editor Claire Gross, cgross at hbook dot com.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A small correction

I have a short piece about Harry Potter up on the New York Times site, and it has a small but glaring (to me, anyway) mistake. The passage that reads

Nonreaders found in Rowling a benignly authoritarian guide: she told you what to look at and how to feel about what you saw. Those already accustomed to the pleasures of action learned early on to skip the adverbs, rejoicing instead in the wholly imagined world.

should read

Nonreaders found in Rowling a benignly authoritarian guide: she told you what to look at and how to feel about what you saw. Those already accustomed to the pleasures of fiction learned early on to skip the adverbs, rejoicing instead in the wholly imagined world.

The Times editor is on vacation so I don't think it will be fixed there anytime soon, and I hate sounding even more clueless than I am. At least I don't sound as churlishly brain-dead as Orson Scott Card does on the same page; there's a comfort.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Oops! I did it again

Via a colleague, I was recently warned by someone "just trying to be helpful" to refrain from political commentary on this blog. The thinking was that making fun of Republicans was not good for children's books, the one place, apparently, where we all get along.

And children's books have certainly been good to the Republicans. Just ask Mrs. Voldemort. And now Laura Bush is getting into the act. But I have just a small friendly suggestion. Really. Kids who don't like to read hate books that tell them "books can be a lot of fun." (Kids who do like to read hate them, too.) To them, it's just another instance of grownups telling them how wrong they are. As my "helpful" correspondent pointed out, nobody likes to hear that.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


So Baby Einstein is actually bad for babies? While this study will probably only provoke more rounds of the coffee-hurts-you-coffee-helps-you kinds of further studies, I'd love to let the Freakonomics guys loose on this one. There are so many other correlations: if the Baby Einstein videos don't do what they promise, it could be because the parents don't use them as instructed (be warned, that link plays plastic classical music over and over again, trying to make you as smart as El Divo) or because dumb parents who think TV is good for babies pass their dumb genes on to their children (harsh, but that's Freakonomics for ya). Always nice to see Disney get a little grief, though.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I meant that about the pencils

Yesterday's announcement re the September 2008 special issue ("School") has already reeled in its first submission, and yes, all of you are Called even while I can't speak to who is Chosen until I've seen what ya got.

Since I'm devoting this month to cranking out prose I thought I might give you the chance to do the same. The Horn Book Magazine is always on the lookout for good features and columns. Next month, for example, in our special issue "Boys and Girls," we'll be publishing several people I met via blogging, Gail Gauthier, Lisa Yee, and Mitali Perkins among them. It could be you.

While we are set for book reviewers right now, there's always room for a good column or article or letter to the editor. (I've already told you about Cadenzas.) Here is the submission policy:

How do I submit an article for The Horn Book Magazine?
Articles submitted should be of a critical nature on some aspect of children’s literature and should be no longer than 2800 words in length. Potential contributors are advised to have a solid familiarity with The Horn Book Magazine before submitting manuscripts. Please allow four months for a decision about acceptance. Payment is received upon publication. The magazine does not publish fiction, nor does it publish work by children. To submit an article send hard copy or disk to The Horn Book, Inc., 56 Roland Street, Suite 200, Boston, MA 02129.

In the upcoming days I will be posting advice re the various idiosyncrasies of our columns, and our likes and dislikes in articles (rule no. 1: no term papers) but in the meantime leave your general questions here.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Still looking ahead

if not so far as Christmas, Claire Gross has compiled a list of starred school stories for all you kids who need to start getting in the mood now.

And on a related note, and for the truly hardcore delayed gratification junkies, I'm pleased to announce the theme of our 2008 special issue: School. Pencils sharpened?

Friday, August 03, 2007

He Knows When You're Asleep at the Wheel, Too

Yep, it's 96 degrees out there but we've started pulling together our "Holiday Books" review section for the November issue. We will have some good books to tell you about there, I promise, but meanwhile I thought I would mention three concepts that might need to go back to Santa's workshop for some retooling:

--celebrating Hanukkah with a dreidel piñata

--giving the crippled kid magical legs while the rest of the family gets real presents

--a Santa who can't stop farting

The elves are waiting for your call.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I thought we were over this

But apparently not. Where I think listening to instead of reading a book-club selection might get you in trouble would be if another member challenged you to point out textual evidence for whatever point you were making. When the book under discussion is He's Just Not That Into You, however, maybe that problem doesn't come up.

Jon Scieszka discusses his wife's book club in the September Horn Book, saying that more often than not the book is peripheral to the discussion, which centers more on what's going on in the members' lives. What we used to call a kaffeeklatsch. And that's why guys tend to not like them. We tried one once at the Horn Book--the book was Sapphire's Push--and it was not very successful. I blame the book, though.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

September-October stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the (jumbo-sized special issue) September-October issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

At Night (Farrar) written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean
Cowboy & Octopus (Viking) written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio (Holt) by Lloyd Alexander
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little) written by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney
Mistik Lake (Kroupa/Farrar) by Martha Brooks
A Darkling Plain (Eos/HarperCollins) by Philip Reeve
Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors (Candlewick) written by Phyllis Root, illustrated by David Parkins
The Wall: Growing Up behind the Iron Curtain (Foster/Farrar) written and illustrated by Peter Sís

Pirate ships have lowered their flags.

In case you've been wondering where I've been, we're proofreading the next issue of the Horn Book Guide, and the Intermediate Fiction section is crawling with Greek gods. The pirates seem in retreat. As are the faEEries.

I wonder when publishers find out that they're all doing the same thing, and how they feel about that?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

When good kids show bad judgment

Today's NYT article about the popular Junie B. Jones books brings up a number of reasons adults don't like the series, mostly citing its demonstrations of bullying and other bad behavior. But my heart belong to a Mr. Lewis Bartell, a man mindful of the future:

“My dad doesn’t like the grammar,” said the Bartells’s youngest, Mollie, 9. “And I guess that’s important, because maybe when you grow up and you’re at work and you say, ‘I runned,’ people will get annoyed at you.”

Mollie, that is so true. In fact, I'm already kind of annoyed at you at nine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Get a grip.

I'm staggered by the readers' comments, all four hundred-plus of them, attached to NYT public editor Clark Hoyt's defense of Michiko Kakutani's review of Harry Potter. I routinely skip reviews of things I want to "see for myself" first: did this not occur as a strategy to anyone? (I saw the epitome of this thinking on Child_lit, where someone pronounced the book satisfying, and somebody else started screaming about spoilers.) And the outrage that the Times did not honor Scholastic's embargo--why are so many so willingly led by the nose?

Not by Harry Potter, I hasten to add, but by the mentality of a herd that somehow thinks that its numbers--and the presence of children, cautiously surrounded and protected by the adult bulls and cows--justify a ludicrous degree of entitlement. Is the book's merit so shakily dependent upon plot turns that it is so easily spoiled? Why can't the Times give Harry Potter the same treatment they would give any book? (That is, review it ahead of publication date?) How can Scholastic (admirably) turn the release of a book into news and then complain that it is treated as such? And don't quote "Jo" at me. I haven't met her, neither have you, but in any case respecting--even considering--her wishes regarding the reviewing of her books is both ickily sycophantic and cowardly.

Yes, it's hot here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Wanna get spoiled?

Actually, she doesn't give all that much away, but Claire Gross' review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is up. The review will appear in the September/October issue of the Horn Book Magazine.

Pursuant to the topic at hand,

Claire Gross sent me here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Owl Has Landed

And the UPS lady told me they had two trucks in my neighborhood this morning, packed with copies. Our reviewer is on her way over now.

While you're waiting, take a look at this op-ed from a man after my own heart: "Our obsession with spoilers has a diminishing effect, reducing popular criticism to a kind of glorified consumer reporting and the audience to babies."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry and the Horn Book

And while I was whining over here, Kitty Flynn posted links to all the high spots in the Horn Book's coverage of Harry Potter. Missing is the letter from the (former) subscriber who took her leave from us upon our less-than rapturous review of The Chamber of Secrets.

Speaking for myself, that Harry provided me an entire chapter in my memoirs, so, thanks, kid.

And here I thought Monday would be timely.

But the New York Times and Baltimore Sun got the jump on us, with reviews today of the new Harry Potter. And bravo to them: while Scholastic is entitled to try and stoke the flames of publicity--I mean, "preserve the magic moment"--by insisting on all kinds of secrecy, it's equally the job of the press to get the scoop. More than equally: by loudly embargoing review copies, swearing booksellers to hide the boxes, and going after bloggers who might or might not have reproduced pages from the book, Scholastic made their own blockade news, practically obliging journalists to get their hands on a copy. (You wouldn't know this from the deeply embarrassing Huffington Post story, though, which, in its stomping around like a little girl, reminds me that we are talking about a book for ten-year-olds.)

Our review, if the owls or whatever get the book to my house on time Saturday, will appear online Monday. Given that Scholastic seems to be insisting that the entire world should and will read the book this weekend, I guess we don't have to worry about spoilers. Except I do think we need to worry about spoilers, or at least be concerned about a willfully infantilized culture of suspense junkies so insistent on "not knowing the ending" that the future is probably going to kick our whiny, self-obsessed ass into oblivion. But that's a topic for another day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More Harry

for the insatiable; Claire Gross reviews the new Harry Potter movie. And I had a few more words to say about the boy in USA Today.

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's Her Party

Anne Fine offers a personal take on the Tintin in the Congo controversy, citing examples from her own work where she has revised lines to better speak to contemporary sensibilities and her own raised consciousness. P.L. Travers, you will recall, did the same with Mary Poppins, replacing the racial representatives of the "Bad Tuesday" chapter with friendly animals instead.

It's interesting that Fine doesn't do the same with her adult books: "I have six adult novels on the shelves, and wouldn't dream of going at those with a red pen just because times have changed." Her reasoning seems to be that children read both more intensely and in greater ignorance, that they don't have a concept of books becoming "dated." (Thus the pressure on Judy Blume to update Forever to include condoms.) But isn't it the natural way of things that old books give way to new books? Not that people won't continue to read a mix of new and old, but what Fine is advocating is a kind of artificial life support for books that might otherwise fall out of fashion or favor. Let 'em.

Friday, July 13, 2007

It was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny . . .

Galleycat reports on the news that Boyds Mills Press has backed out of negotiations to publish a picture book series by German artist Rotraut Susanne Berner after the author refused to change two pictures that displayed nudity, both small representations of artwork displayed in a museum. Oh, the horror, oh, the censorship, oh these self-righteous blog posts that write themselves.

But if I were running Boyds Mills Press, I would have made the exact same call, although I might have spared myself the embarrassment of expressing interest in the first place. Selling picture books is difficult, selling foreign-born picture books is almost impossible, add some boobs and a little dick to the mix and you might as well just climb up to the roof and throw your money over the side. It's not censorship, as there is no private obligation to publish. It's stupid parents. Again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Waiting for Harry

The reporters are calling again, looking for a new Harry Potter story. I wish I could be more helpful, but there really is no news. When they ask what the "next Harry Potter" will be, I point out that there was no last Harry Potter, depriving us off the crucial second dot from which we might be able to derive a meaningful line. Of course, we've seen book crazes before--Goosebumps, Sweet Valley, Babysitters' Club--and we can look back into the early 1970s to see another children's book that took over the adult bestseller list: Watership Down. But there has been nothing like Harry. And the next one, if there is one, probably won't be about a boy wizard, if the lack of success of the many post-Harry wannabes is any indication.

As for another frequent question, I really have no idea whether Harry Potter will be widely read in twenty years. One journalist floated the notion that once All Is Revealed, the series' cultural capital will be spent, but knowing that Frodo succeeds in his quest hasn't stopped fans from reading Lord of the Rings over and over again. There is an interesting comparison there, I think, but more for its differences than similarities: while both Harry Potter and the Tolkien books are multi-volume fantasy tales of an unlikely hero shouldering the weight of the world, Lord of the Rings for years was what you read if you were cool (at least, that's what its readers thought) or if you were a dork (that's what its scorners thought). The mass-market success of the Peter Jackson movies (and a Harry-wrought fantasy-friendly zeitgeist) might have changed that, but Harry Potter has been a crowd-pleaser from the start. You don't read Harry because that's what the cool kids are reading, but because that's what everyone is reading. (And I've never seen popular taste so ferociously defended. Tell people you don't like John Grisham, fine. Tell 'em you don't like Harry, and it's as if you have insulted humanity.)

The review copy of the latest Harry should arrive Saturday morning [correction: the 20th] at my house, from whence it will swiftly be retrieved by the assigned reviewer. When she's done, then we'll have some news.