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!