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.

Friday, July 06, 2007

With Our Face Sketched On It Once or Twice

Gail Gauthier has a link to a valuable article about book reviewing. What interests me most about Alex Good's piece is that much of what he says about the particularities of Canadian book reviewing speak also to children's book reviewing: both often default to defensive postures re their respective embattled territories:

Do these factors – the small-pond effect, anxiety over blowback, our politeness and deference to authority – contribute to our culture of book reviewing? How could they not? They all help push our reviewing into being more positive. And they come piled on top of the aforementioned doping effect, our consumerist culture’s resistance to criticism, and institutional strictures against being snarky. It is not just the entertainment value that consequently drops off (is there a free-standing book review anywhere as consistently dull as Globe Books?), but the level of critical insight. Reviews become abstract, academic, and non-evaluative. Safe.

Have a look. I'm also interested in what he says about the increased pressure of the marketplace, in that reviewers today are often expected to predict and applaud the bestseller, that a popular book is a good book by virtue of the fact that lots of people like it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The delights of genre fiction

Ah, the British boarding school novel--the chums and mates, midnight feasts, and thrilling escapes "over the wall" to go into town and swap cheeky badinage with the local rogues:

"Oi, sweetheart!" shouted one, standing behind his friend and pointing at Jinx. "Wanna sit on my face?"
Christ, she thought, what an invitation! Please do excuse me while I strip off right here, right now, delighted by this obviously not to be missed, once in a bloody lifetime opportunity.
"Why?" Jinx drawled, in her very best "I am ever so bored by you" voice. "is your nose bigger than your dick?"

(from Those Girls by Sara Lawrence, Razorbill October '07)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

All hail the Potterologist!

That would be Cheryl Klein, so dubbed by Time magazine in a refreshingly informative story about the forthcoming publication of the new HP. While the article about just how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows makes it from Rowling's manuscript to American bookstores is online, you need to read the print version in order to see the cartoon of Cheryl looking slinky in a swoopy Veronica Lake 'do. One of Cheryl's jobs is to serve as continuity editor for the series; all I can say is: yikes. This time around, she also had the responsibility of going to England to retrieve the second draft from Rowling and endured a hair-raising escape at Heathrow security: "Wow! You have a lot of paper in here," said the bag inspector. Chills!

Not to get Cheryl in trouble or anything, but I feel I need to point out a potential lapse in security that occurred when we were in Germany together on an "editors' trip." Now I know, of course, that this was but a blind for some more secret purpose, and I have to ask:

Cheryl, what is in that bag and how could you leave it so casually untethered?

Monday, July 02, 2007

July/August '07 Horn Book

The July-August issue of the Horn Book Magazine is out; selected snippets can be found on our website but, c'mon, subscribe already.

Also new: assistant editor cum tea-dumping subversive Claire Gross gets all in the (British) government's face with a reading list of books about the events of 1776.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


If we decide to go with the flow and think of factoid as describing a true yet trivial thing, I want a word to describe a true, trivial, but oddly compelling experience such as the following, which I share with you here for no other reason than I cannot stop obsessing about it.

The other night we took some friends to see Kiki & Herb's "Year of Magical Drinking" show, itself oddly compelling (Kiki on her upbringing: "if you weren't molested as a child then you must have been ugly") but not what I wanted to tell you about. Before the show we had dinner at Sibling Rivalry, a restaurant whose conceit is that its two chef-brothers create dueling recipes with the same main ingredient. The food was fabulous but the menu made me a little crazy. It listed the dishes on offer in two columns, one for each chef, and headlined each row of two with the featured ingredient, so you'll get, say, two choices starring green tomatoes. At the top of the menu was printed something like "Large plates/Small plates/Entrees/Appetizers" but I could find nowhere on the menu anything to tell me which dish was what, although you could mostly guess from the prices. It bugged the hell out of me that the menu would mention that it listed both appetizers and main courses but would not tell you which was which, so I asked the waiter what was going on. "Are you color-blind?" he asked in return, and upon my affirmative response went off to retrieve a copy of the color-blind menu they apparently keep on hand for so disabled guests. This new menu, marked on the back with a piece of bedraggled masking tape with the words "color-blind menu" penciled upon it, looked very similar to the regular menu, save for the fact that some of the items were printed in italic, a distinction that had been made clear to my dining companions by the strategic use of black and red type on the normal-people menu.

Why, Lord, why? Why, Lord, why? If the appearance of color-blind people in your restaurant is an occurrence frequent enough to require you to print and bind an alternative menu exclusively for their use, you might want to rethink your original design, yes?

It's the little things that haunt us.