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.