Monday, April 30, 2007

Who Cares Who Is John Galt?

Amidst the National Book Critics Circle's campaign to save book reviewing, I can only express my envy of the U.K.'s Guardian book pages with such features as China Mieville's thoughts on propaganda and children's fiction: "Of course a lot of agitproppy art is crap, true, but then so's a lot of everything." It's certainly true that children's book critics eagerly leap upon "didacticism" like it's a bad thing, while pop pap like The Clique gets away with its rampant consumerism because it's "escapist." Good Lord, May Day certainly is in the air.

Horn Book 2.0

Just in time for May Day and in service to workers the world over, we're proud to introduce our newly designed and rejiggered website. What's newest is our Horn Book History section (make Laura Ingalls Wilder's gingerbread!), plus there is now a handy what's-new page, which updates additions and revisions to the blog and website. And for a hint of our glamorous environs, see this picture of the Horn Book Guide office. Lolly Robinson tells me that if you are a frequent visitor to our site you will need to refresh your web cache to see the new stuff. Many thanks to Lolly, our designer and webmistress, and Kitty Flynn, our newly anointed online content editor, for all their work. Please let them know of any problems or suggestions at info-at-hbook-dot-com.

Also appearing today are selections from the May/June issue of the Magazine, including links to my editorial ("Balls! says the Queen," was my preferred title, but I was overruled) our science reviewer Danielle Ford explaining what makes a good dinosaur book, and blogonatrix Betsy Bird, aka Fuse#8, on the why and wherefores of cyber-nattering and with a list of her favorite blogs. Yes! Go see if you are on it!

Friday, April 27, 2007

When It's Time to Keep Quiet

In yesterday's Huffington Post, author Leslie Bennetts complains about a New York Times piece, which, using Bennetts' new book The Feminine Mistake as an example, speculated that the sales of hot-button books have been compromised by their authors' endless talk show rounds: readers figure they already have enough of a gist for their purposes. This is a valuable argument, but Bennetts says that the article's real point was to attack her; she also works in a rather impressive amount of self-congratulation and glowing quotes from reviews, which I suspect is her real point.

From my own one skirmish with trade book publication (Hearing Us Out, Little, Brown, 1994) but also from conversation with writer-friends, I'd have to say that Bennetts is exhibiting the classic signs of an author with a new book. It's the best high in the world. But: no amount of attention is enough, no criticism can be taken lightly, the world is divided into two kinds of people: those who have Read My Book and Loved It, and ignorant pigs. Anne Lamott writes funnily about this phenomenon in Bird by Bird: when publication date arrives she expects flowers and candy and congratulations; she practices modestly digging her toe into the dirt in expectation of all the compliments and attention she's about to receive. Nothing happens.

I think it's a completely understandable and forgivable attitude. For so long, your whole world has necessarily been that book and it becomes natural that you believe others will feel the same. It passes, thank God, or we would all be insufferable, but I wish somebody had told Bennetts that no matter how valid her point is (not, in my opinion), now is not the time to complain about being attacked. When the only response you will find truly acceptable is "you are wonderful," you can't win. Don't play.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Because fried potatoes go with everything.

Becky's Book Reviews led me to the Grasping for the Wind blog and this seductive challenge: to read "5 books you think will challenge your thinking about any topic." My first thought was to reach for a book by Ann Coulter, but then I realized that, if properly taken up, the challenge is subtler than that. After all, I don't think reading a book by Coulter would seriously challenge my thinking, and it would be only lip service to equal time. So what will it be? What book could make me seriously consider the arguments for atheism, creationism, the death penalty? Which one could talk me out of my aversion to Westerns? What would convince me to believe in astrology? Who could make marine biology interesting? That Stephen King is not a hack? That hamantashen are better than latkes?

Androne here

And I'm a modest and shy ocelot who loves long walks in the rain. Have you picked your daemon yet?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

And if you're not an English major?

The discussion about Shakespeare reminds me of something a friend of mine said she was going to do while taking some extended leave from employment: she was going to read Ulysses, because she thought it was something every educated person needs to have on their read-that list.

Maybe, if I'm on a very small, very deserted, Irish island, Ulysses might make its way on to my list--it's not that I'm planning not to read it, but the fact that I haven't doesn't make me feel incomplete. Time spent feeling guilty about the books you don't get to is time wasted not reading something else.

I wish (and maybe this could be my next job) high schools offered their seniors a class in Reading. Not literature (although I hasten to add that I think they should be studying that, too), but a class instead designed to demonstrate the breadth and methods of reading in one's life quite apart from the pursuit of educational degrees. The students would learn about the different genres of popular fiction, for example; cross gender boundaries by reading Danielle Steel and Tom Clancy; go on a field trip to a book store and library to learn how to browse. Slow readers could learn techniques for speeding up (if they so desired); grinds could be taught to relax; fluent readers could be challenged to stretch their preferences. Everybody would learn how to skim. Students could practice giving and receiving book recommendations. They could learn to give up on a book that isn't working for them and how to stick with something that might prove rewarding. You could survey magazines from Car & Driver to Granta; find out how to parse product manuals.

For me, gym class finally became almost bearable in twelfth-grade, when the emphasis shifted from team sports to what the teacher called "lifelong activities" like running, golf, and tennis. For all those people not going on for a B.A. in English, why can't we do the same for reading?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Getting the Shakes

Child_Lit is currently enjoying one of those pearl-clutching reports about the abysmal state of American education, this one taking on colleges that do not require English majors to take a course in Shakespeare but allow them to study such horrors as queer theory and children's literature.

Let's start with the sheer--and shrill--irrationality of comparing required courses to elective ones. The report doesn't claim that Shakespeare isn't being taught, only that courses devoted to him are elective, signalling a dumbing-down in English education that has occurred since . . . well, since when, exactly? The report states but provides no evidence that required classes in Shakespeare used to be the order of the day. It also specifically excludes from the discussion courses that include Shakespeare among others, so a course devoted to English writing of the Elizabethan era, for example, does not count.

The attack on children's literature, critical theory, etc. is completely predictable: it's the same card the Music Man played when warning the good people of River City of the dangers of "Captain Billy's Whiz-bang Book." But even old-school English majors inclined to go along with the sympathies of the report must be embarrassed that nowhere does it ever say why English majors need a mandatory course called Shakespeare. It wants us to take his authority on their word. That's education?

What the report is really trying to do is to use "Shakespeare" as a word to bully people. The report knows that most people pay Shakespeare the same lip service they do to Mozart, PBS, art museums and public libraries: people know they are supposed to consider these things "cultural" and important even if in real life they wouldn't be caught dead actually giving these institutions any genuine attention. The report isn't worried that Shakespeare isn't been taught (it concedes that he is), just that students aren't being forced to read him. What the American Council of Trustees and Alumni really wants is that students be taught obedience and unquestioning respect for authority. It wants people to do as they're told.

What gets 'em going

In preparation for the Horn Book Board of Directors annual meeting tomorrow, I've been going through this blog's entries for the past year to remind myself of what I actually spent my time doing. I was pleased to notice that reader participation has gone way up, and thank you for that. A year ago it was five comments here, six comments there--but then I came across a short, unopinionated and completely fact-based post announcing the winners of the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. Sixty comments? Really? Whatever for? And then I open up the comments box and remember that if there's one thing besides itself that gets the children's-book blogosphere chatting, it's Kate DiCamillo.

Good times. Now: on to cleaning my office!

Monday, April 23, 2007

I'm not sure just how it's supposed to work, exactly,

but we just received an audiobook edition of Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, read by Jeff Woodman. Although the recording makes an attempt to convey the book's lengthy visual sequences via the substitution of sound effects (lots of footsteps!) I'm not quite sure this works for so resolutely bookish a book, one where pictures and text take turns rather than acting in concert. A separate DVD featuring many of the illustrations is also included, though, so perhaps listeners can follow the story with some time with the pictures, and put together the puzzle of Hugo for themselves.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Little did he know"

That line is the tipoff, in Stranger than Fiction, to English professor Dustin Hoffman that Will Ferrell might be telling the truth when he says that he can hear someone (Emma Thompson, we know) narrating his life. Hoffman says that he teaches a whole seminar on "little did he know," and while this seems meant to be a joke about the excesses of literary theory, you really could teach a whole lot about "little did he know" and similar reveals of an author's hand. The line also made me remember my days as Zena Sutherland's assistant--Zena hated "little did he know," and the presence of it or its variations ("had she but known," etc.) in a novel meant a mandatory point deduction in a BCCB review.

We missed this movie in the theater, where it must have come and gone in a minute. When we watched it last night, I kept thinking how much I wanted a Queen Latifah in my life--she plays an "author's assistant," hired by Emma Thompson's publisher to do whatever it takes to get Emma to finish her book. Which Emma does, like, three times, while the movie tries to figure out where and how it wants to end. I was happiest with ending number two. But see it if you can; this movie is one of the more satisfying examples of the fourth-wall cracking we've been seeing so much of lately.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Scaring me

What with avoiding writing and having a cold and pissing off bloggers left and right and all, I've been spending the last couple of days looking at a lot of book blogs. Many of them feature sidebar ads from, and while I have no problem with that, I've noticed that the books featured therein are based on the stuff I've been looking up at Amazon, not on the content of the blog I'm looking at. I assumed children's book blogs would have ads for children's books, but I keep seeing ads for Leon Uris's Trinity--and I was researching his Exodus the other day. It reminds me of my favorite book review line: "This book follows Linda, a sixteen-year-old stalking victim."

How long, asked George and Ira, has this been going on?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why Do I Review Books?

So someone asked amidst the great blog wars of Tuesday. It's a fair question but has a long answer.

Let's first get out of the way me v. The Horn Book, because, obviously, I review books because it's part of my job, and my job is to "blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls," as the first Horn Book editorial had it. The Horn Book, in its two print publications and their subsequent replication on such databases as the, reviews books because that is a great way to blow that horn. We tell people what new books are out there looking for readers. I often tell students that a review is more than a gussied-up opinion and less than literary criticism: it's service journalism, giving people news about something they can use.

So the Horn Book reviews books because it's part of our mission. I started reviewing because Zena Sutherland told me I was good at it. She arrived at that opinion the same way Sally Fenwick (Zena's teacher at the University of Chicago's Graduate Library School, just as Zena was mine) discovered Zena herself was good at it: from the "book cards" each of us had to write for our children's literature class. I enjoyed the challenge of getting the essence of a book onto one side of a 3 by 5 card.

I had always liked writing about books--but then, I was the kind of kid who played "library" by drawing date-due slips inside my parents' books. Book reports were always a complete piece of cake for me--I still remember this long one I wrote about Love Story and the impressive effect it was having on the girls in my ninth grade class. I was never much of a creative writer, but I could expend reams on what any given book made me think about.

School Library Journal was the first place to publish my reviews--I've been thinking again about my review there of Annie on My Mind (my first "starred" review), because I'm writing "A Second Look" column for its, God help me, 25th anniversary. After I had been reviewing for a year or so, SLJ editor Lillian Gerhardt asked me to become their YA columnist, I got on the Best Books committee, the New York Times came calling--I got a lot of attention. So there I was, getting attention (and a little extra income) for doing something I liked and felt I was good at. So why I reviewed books then seems pretty clear.

That would change once I began reviewing books for a living, which happened when Betsy Hearne hired me as an associate editor at the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Zena taught me a lot about style and brevity in reviewing, but Betsy made me work harder, digging deeper into the books I was writing about. She also made me more efficient and more respectful of deadlines: I had to write ten reviews a week, along with the work of preparing the Bulletin for publication. As I began managing the thousands of books the Bulletin received (as opposed to the few brought to my attention by the SLJ editors), I started having a more global interest in, and perspective on, the whole biz. It certainly tempered my reviews, because I was working from a larger context.

I don't review nearly so much now--maybe half a dozen books, tops, in an issue of the Magazine, a couple of dozen more for each Guide. (I also edit, in concert with my HB fellows, every review we publish.) As many of the blog reviewers have been saying for the last couple of days, I review, mostly, books about which I have something to say. For the Magazine, this will include books I like or authors or characters I keep up on, and also topics I know, or books that deserve a public paddling (yes, Jamie Lee, I'm looking at you) I can't talk someone else into administering. For the Guide, I'm often doing cleanup on books whose reviews were not received or which were unusable. That's another thing about professional reviewing: you spend a lot of time reviewing books in which you have no personal interest one way or another.

While reviewing is no longer the core responsibility of my job I still do it. I do it because sometimes, among our review staff, I'm the best person to do a particular book, and I do it because, once I spend the requisite amount of time in the approach-avoidance technique I have about all required writing, I like it. I like the way book reviewing uses my mind. I like the way it changes my mind--even when I've read a book and am pretty sure of what I'm going to say, the actual writing of the review often reveals something about the book I hadn't seen before. Have you ever been surprised by what you wrote? It's a great feeling. And the word-puzzle aspect of reviewing is fun: you think, okay, I want to get this in, and this, and this and I hope I can use that quote . . . and you have fewer than two hundred words to do it.

Plus, I'm a complete sucker for instant gratification. (Thus this blog, I suppose.) I like having a task that I can start and finish within half an hour. (This doesn't include reading the book, of course, but speedy readers and writers definitely have an edge in this profession.) And seeing your work in print does not get old.

The recent discussion of blog v. print reviews made me see a couple of distinct differences between the two. First, I'm reviewing on behalf of an institution, not just to express my own opinions. As our assistant editor Claire Gross pointed out in a comment on the discussion, Horn Book (and BCCB, Booklist, SLJ, etc.) reviews get edited by several people in several stages. Yes, the reviewer whose name or initials appear at the end of the review is definitely the author of that review, but in the eyes of the world, it's the Horn Book's review, and we (the corporate we) stand behind it. Second, I'm reviewing with a particular audience in mind. The core of our readers are public and school librarians working with children, so we give them the information we know they need. When you see the phrase "an index is appended" in a review, it's not because the reviewer had a burning need to make that point; it's that we know that indexes matter in library collection development. And that's another thing I like about reviewing books. It makes me feel useful.

With apologies to Velma

Varner, who played no part in the story I was vaguely remembering on yesterday's blog comments. Varner succeeded May Massee as the children's book editor at Viking, and did many good things, not least of which was suggesting to the young Susie Hinton that she go with the initials S. E. for her first book, The Outsiders.

Here's the story, which is from an interview Leonard Marcus conducted for the January/February 1995 issue of the Horn Book. Leonard was interviewing HarperCollins's library marketing wizard Bill Morris, who was clearly in the mood to spill:

I don't know that this is true, though I've been told it is, that during the years when Miss [Anne Carroll] Moore was chair of the Newbery-Caldecott committee, the committee would never actually meet. The other members would just send in their ballots to her, and she and Miss Massee would get together to count them! If you look at the list of medal winners, there was a period when Viking won something almost every year! It's a marvelous story, whether or not it's true.

That, my friends, is gossip (for those of you who opined that children's book blogs did not traffic in same).

Thanks to all of you who participated in yesterday's ferocious discussion. I learned a lot--mostly that what I was looking for in blog book-reviews was perhaps a case of missing the oranges for the apples. Someone has just asked in the comments there that I address the question "why do you [meaning me] write book reviews?" to which I have a long answer and will try to address after I've gotten a virtuous amount done on the book I am allegedly here at home writing. So it might be tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This is why I don't have a blogroll. Or friends.

In the face of a cranky attack on blogging that appeared in the resolutely print journal n+1 (and which is excerpted here), Fuse #8 this morning offers a defense of review-blogging that, I think, misses a big part of the point. I agree with her about the general cluelessness about the argument, but I don't think the biggest problem the online reviewing of children's books faces is its "out-and-out unapologetic fire and verve." Would that it were. It's more a problem of, to take a leaf from the old Spy magazine, "[b]logrolling in our time." The fact that librarians, teachers, enthusiasts, reviewers, parents, publishers and authors are conversing in the same corner of cyberspace has created a community of interested parties heretofore unknown in the children's book world. (Children themselves are still among the missing). In the old days, public librarians and school librarians barely spoke and both groups complained about teachers. All three groups interacted with authors via publishers and usually discretely.

That the brave new world has all-of-the-above kind of people in't, communicating as peers rather than through hierarchy and intermediation, is in most ways cause for celebration. But I'm not sure it has lead to better reviewing: can we truly "all be in this together" at the same time some of us are judging the work of others? Authors active in the blogosphere get treated differently there from their out-of-the-loop compatriots: they get more and kinder attention. It's hard not to be nice to someone, author or editor, whose own site may appear on your blogroll, or who regularly drops by your place to comment.

I recognize that I speak as someone invested in the system of book reviewers as putatively disinterested experts. But authors: reviewers are not your friends. This is not to say that we are out to get you, either--merely that we don't have your interests at heart. I watch with a sinking heart the "blog tours" of writers; recalling my favorite Law & Order mantra, any subsequent review from any of these blogs becomes "fruit from the poisoned tree." (Likewise, Fuse, with that Little, Brown promotion.) It isn't a bad thing at all that publishers are doing their best to use blogs as marketing tools. That's their job. But it's a reviewer's job to ignore the publisher and the author, and to instead focus on the book and its potential audience. Coziness has its price.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cheap Thrills on the Moral High Ground

We were discussing Holocaust education on child_lit, and a member forwarded an outline of her temple's planned seventh-grade Holocaust unit, which included a showing of Schindler's List. The outline noted, parenthetically, that "sexual content will be edited out." I thought of that this weekend when Richard and I saw The Black Book, a racy thriller from the director of Basic Instinct about a Dutch Jewess who gets involved in the Resistance after she sees her family shot by Nazis. When the Resistance head insinuatingly asks our heroine how far she's prepared to go in pursuit of bringing down a powerful German commander, I fully expected her to answer "at least as far as Sharon Stone did," and sure enough, we see her bottle-blonding her pubes as well as her head. It's an awfully dumb (R and I are divided on whether this was intentional) movie, with improbable escapes, melodramatic music, and lots of shots of the heroine stealthily, perkily, cutting her eyes from side to side as she enters yet another forbidden room or darkened alley. Very Alias meets Perils of Pauline. And very teen-friendly with its surfeit of sex and flesh, furious brain-spattering gun battles and double-crossing action-packed plot--there's even a nod to teen movie classic Carrie in one of the heroine's more disgusting humiliations.

It's certainly not a learn-about-the-Holocaust movie in the way that Schindler's List was. But the flaw of that movie was the way it wore its virtue on its sleeve, and the way it seemed to applaud its viewers for watching it: I felt like I was being congratulated for being a Morally Serious Person Made Even Better for watching it. This heavy handedness is also what makes it a high-school required-viewing staple, because there's no chance kids will miss the message. Black Book offers the same message but, daringly or dumbly, packages it in an entertainment; Schindler's List feels more like going to church (irony acknowledged). Compare and contrast--there's a high school term paper I would have loved to write!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Tish! That's French!

GalleyCat's report on an article (that originally appeared in The Bookseller, whose online subscription is veddy expensive* and thus to whom I cannot link) about books that prosper on either side of the Atlantic but sink when they venture across reminds me of Ben Brantley's recent NYT piece exposing our country's fetish for English accents ("so silken, so stately, so, well, so darned cultured") that I have long accused Hazel Rochman of trading upon. I like the quote about The Thirteenth Tale: "There are two incidences towards the end where they drink cocoa. I haven't drunk cocoa since I was a child. That picture of cocoa-drinking England only appeals outside England." It also makes me wonder if this is the reason that Donna Leon's Venice-set mysteries starring the to-die-for Commissario Guido Brunetti have not, according to Wikipedia, ever been translated into Italian.

*from the same company that brings you the similarly overpriced Kirkus Reviews.

A role model in better clothes

When I got an email from Robin Smith with the subject line "Someone we both love," I thought, oh God, I really cannot handle another death right now. But I perked right up when I opened it and saw that rather than an obituary, it was a link to a New York Times article about My Secret Boyfriend.

But I've decided to promote Tim Gunn from Secret Boyfriend to Middle-Aged Role Model because he's an example of how someone can make a big career shift in the autumn of one's life, moving from the academic slog of deaning to the high-stakes glamor of brand management. Of course, he had a television show to help him do it, whereas I only have you, dear readers. On the other hand, I have a boyfriend, so ha ha ha ha ha ha Mr.-I'm-So-Alone-Gunn.

Wouldn't that be a great job, though? I mean in publishing? Gunn's new job at Liz Claiborne is to "to bring a sense of excitement about fashion to a corporate culture known for blandness and to effect a change in the perception of its brands, from outdated to fashionable." The difference in publishing--a considerable one, I think--is that it's a business where fashionable has become what it's all about, so my job would be instead to get them to straighten up and fly right. To paraphrase Paul Hazard, give them books, give them wings. Let Tim Gunn be the fashion spinmeister; I'll go out and prove you don't have to stick fleurchons all over a book to make kids like it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

This time, it was a friend.

Editor Frances Foster called this morning to tell me that writer Janet McDonald died yesterday in Paris, her adopted home. I never met or even spoke with Janet, but my admiration for her books led to my interest in her writing something for the Horn Book, which led to one of the richest--and definitely the most riotous--files in my email archives. There was no joke she would dare not make, but unlike many funny people, she was just as appreciative of other's (mine, I mean) jokes as she was expert at making her own. After we had finished working on her Horn Book article, our correspondence continued, with sometimes a dozen emails in a day when I was allegedly working at home and she was up late in Paris, allegedly doing the same: "I need a new YA book idea and fast, now that I'm done with the one Frances was awaiting. Or how will I pay my rent? It's too hot to set up my Love Tent in the Bois de Boulogne next to the Brazilian trannies (plus, those gorgeous wenches would get much more traffic than me)." We talked gossip, politics, sex, aging, love troubles--books, rarely. In the past year, there were some breaks in our emails due to Janet's illness, which we both thought she'd beat--she told me about doing a victory dance with Kiley Minogue in the chemotherapy ward--but when I didn't hear from her for a good long time I knew it had come back. I'll really miss her.

Her books will remain a signal contribution to YA literature: smart, teen-intriguing tales set in the African American neighborhoods of the Bronx and Brooklyn, told by someone who really knew what she was talking about, and who knew that a situation was never enough; you need a story. And while Janet's books frequently deal in tough issues, plenty of her characters have a gift for backtalk that could have you, as Janet often said, "on tha flo'!" Her novel Off-Color will be published this November by Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Kurt Vonnegut

has died, and Monica Edinger offers a brief tribute to his impact on her "arty and alienated" group of high school chums. I never "got" Vonnegut the way many of my friends did, but I can certainly appreciate the way he pushed at the boundaries of science fiction to make us rethink it and literature in general in more expansive terms.

I wrote an article for SLJ a hundred years ago about "cult novels," books that may or may not have had a wide audience but still seemed to speak to the kind of coteries Monica and I were both part of. They were books that made you and your friends feel like part of a special elect. Atlas Shrugged, Dune and The Lord of the Rings were big in that way; Monica also mentions Richard Brautigan, someone I remember Not Getting at all but I also knew he was Cool and therefore I should keep quiet. Who is speaking that way to teens today? Neil Gaiman is one I can think of, and I'm sure there is a whole canon of graphic novelists I just don't know. I could also see M.T. Anderson getting that kind of readership but wonder if being published as a YA writer hurts more than it helps. Part of the appeal of cult writers is that you discover them without the apparent aid of adults (but bless the librarians who put them in our way), and the fact that a YA novel says, de facto, this is for you, can work both for and against a book's appeal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hometown Girl Makes Good

Do you read those Seven Impossible Things interviews and think, wow, I wish I could get me one of those? Do like Alvina Ling, who got her start right here as a Horn Book intern!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Flashcards, anyone?

Galleycat, home of the tall hotties, led me to a London Times story about ICUE, a U.K. company that offers electronic books for your cellphone (yes, yours, not mine). Apparently, one way to get around the small screen size is to use an option in the software that flashes one. word. at. a. time onto the screen. According to the Times:

Books can be read in four ways: as autocue-style text moving from right to left across the screen, a scrollable text block moving up and down, single words flashed up in quick succession, or a full page of text. “Teenagers prefer reading one word at a time, but most adults prefer the horizontal scrolling style,” [ICUE cofounder Jane] Tappuni said.

I suppose reading one-word-at-a-time is analogous to listening to an audiobook, but the thought gives me the jitters. Has anyone here tried it?

Maybe this is what Susan Patron was thinking.

In his powerful new picture book memoir The Wall (Frances Foster/FSG, forthcoming in September), Peter Śís quotes from his journals about the darkness following the Prague Spring of 1968:

There is a whole science to learn about dealing with censors. You have to give them something to change. For instance, if you're making a film or a painting, or writing a book or a song, you put in a big church. You can be sure the censors will tell you to take it out, and perhaps they won't notice the smaller, important things. Theater people have the "little white dog" theory. If you let a little white dog parade across the front of the stage, the censors won't notice what is happening in the background.

Monday, April 09, 2007

This is your library. This is your library hung over.

Actually, this is a photograph Lolly Robinson took of our "no shelf," the place where not-reviewed materials land. It's an old photo; the no shelf now retains some semblance of order despite its persistent spiritual kinship with the Island of Misfit Toys.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Got Pith?

We're looking for submissions for the "Cadenza" page in the Magazine. This is the last page of each issue, is usually (meant to be, anyway) funny, and has featured drawings (stand-alone only please, and in black-and-white), cartoons, poems, parodies and maybe a pop quiz or two. ONE Horn Book page--that's short. And unlike the New Yorker's cartoon contest page, any Cadenza needs to make sense. We pay, not much, but we pay. Send queries and submissions to Assistant Editor Claire Gross at cgross at-sign hbook dot com. (We've already got enough Viagra and Nigerian gold, thanks.) We've put some examples up on the website for your inspiration.

UPDATE: Thank you to all who've submitted. Claire has asked that any future submissions have the word Cadenza in the subject line. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between submissions and spam. (No smart remarks from the editors here, please.)

Dutch Trick or Treat

Editing an article for an upcoming issue of the Magazine, I needed to find some information about Lucy Fitch Perkins' The Dutch Twins, and found via Google a digital library which contained it. The Baldwin Project is a real time-sucker of a place--that's a compliment--and after reading about the Twins and their ever-informative mother ( "I shall have milk enough to make butter and cheese," said Vrouw Vedder. "There are no cows like our Dutch cows in all the world, I believe") I found myself wandering around the place, which is apparently intended primarily as a resource for home-schoolers of a certain ilk, such ilk being those parents who believe anything worth reading was published before their own grandparents were born.

While I understand that the Baldwin Project necessarily only collects works that have gone out of copyright, and that we have much to learn from the past, I sure hope that no parent thinks these books will constitute an education. Along with digital editions of the books themselves, the site includes outlines for two curricula, Waldorf and Ambleside (based on the ideas of English educator Charlotte Mason) apparently in some repute among homeschoolers. But surely Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner and Charlotte Mason would take issue with the assumption that the world would not move on without them. Could they truly endorse the idea espoused in Ian D. Colvin's South Africa, published in 1910, that, in considering the rival claims of the Boers and the English settlers of that country, that:

The British ideal has been in the long run a better one. We need labour for mines, and railways, docks, farms, and plantations. Therefore we give the native peace and justice, and a share of the land which is surely big enough for all. But at the same time we must be master of the black people. No good British Governor or British settler has ever preached equality: that has been left to the old ladies at home.

This is only an egregious extreme of a collection that is for the most part middlebrow and harmless (and valuable for those interested in an archive of what has been thought appropriate for the young) but do parents really teach from it? The world must look exceedingly strange to them, and let's hope their kids get some unsupervised time at the public library.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"Green" or just l-a-z-y?

I discovered this loathsome new invention in some anti-Canadian snarking on Gawker. Atwood et al are pretty nervy promoting this higher-tech autopen as anything more than an excuse to multitask watching Canadian Idol and promoting your book at the same time.

I'm not an autograph collector, so I'm not sure I understand the appeal, but isn't part of getting a book signed the commemoration of meeting an author you like? That whole Patricia Polacco "hand that touched the hand that touched the hand" connection? I don't care how Long your LongPen(tm) is, Ms. Atwood, I'm not letting it near me.

New Web Watch

We've got a bunch of new links to stuff related to the current issue of the Magazine. Bring your crayons.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Whole (New) World in Her Hand

Yes, that's trinitite, the mineral created in 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico, when scientists exploded the world's first atomic bomb. A sample of it is here held in the hand of Ellen Klages, author of The Green Glass Sea, winner of the 2007 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

I met Ellen and her trinitite at a party graciously thrown for her by publisher Viking/Penguin in New York this past Monday. Fuse #8 has a lively account of the evening, and I interviewed Ellen Klages for a podcast you be able to hear, oh, next month or so. She's a good talker. When I re-read The Green Glass Sea for the occasion I was again struck by the absolute assurance of its opening pages, pulling readers right into empathy with its protagonist and making them companions on the journey--and, praise Jesus, not a metaphorical one, but an actual trip with an actual destination--she immediately begins. It's a model for How to Start a Book.

In the lineup below are, from left to right, Green Glass Sea editor Sharyn November, O'Dell committee chair Hazel Rochman, me, Ellen Klages, Penguin Books for Young Readers President Doug Whiteman, sponsor of the award Elizabeth Hall, and fellow juror Ann Carlson.