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.