Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mice at the Movies

Claire reviews The Tale of Despereaux movie.

I still crack up thinking about my librarian friend who, when Despereaux won the Newbery, was besieged by culturally anxious helicopter parents who wanted a copy of "The Tale of Day-pair-EUH."

Not since . . .

For those of you lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, the Oakland Public Library is again sponsoring its Mock Newbery discussion, this year at the Golden Gate branch. (I would love to be able to tell people I worked at the "Golden Gate Library.") Librarians Sharon McKellar and Nina Lindsay have assembled a discussion list of eight titles (seven novels and one biography) of which I think five are ringers.

All the recent kerfuffle about the Newbery . . . well, it just makes me feel old. As I told a Boston Globe reporter on the phone yesterday, his was at least the third phone call I've had from his paper in the last twelve years on the very same topic. What galled me most about Anita Silvey's original premise was the idea that her observation was something new, that the Newbery had been going downhill only since 2004 (possibly the fakest statistic I've seen since the one that allegedly demonstrates that Goodnight, Moon causes bed-wetting.) Way to take the long view, Anita. It reminded of me of the way sportscasters whip up excitement by proclaiming that so-and-so hadn't hit such-and-such since, oh, last month. For people who think whining about the child appeal of the Newbery began with Kira-Kira, I have four words: A Gathering of Days. Oh, look, four more: A View from Saturday. And it wouldn't be a party without Onion John.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas koan

If the tree tilts toward the room, can we see it? Shall we fear it?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Go west, young man, WEST!

Childlit has been debating historical accuracy in fiction--what's dramatic license and what's a betrayal, basically. It makes me think of the many romances of stage, screen and text where Elizabeth R and Mary, Queen of Scots excitingly rail at each other, when in real life they never met.

It also makes me remember when Elizabeth (L) and I saw When Harry Met Sally and laughed about the improbability of these two chipper coeds actually attending the University of Chicago when they were so clearly Northwestern types. We were outraged, however, when the film sent them on their way from Chicago to New York by heading NORTH on Lake Shore Drive, which would only take you to the East Coast if you went via the Soo Locks.

Yesterday I was reading a (terrific) novel which in one spot took its main character to my neighborhood. I got a little worried for him when he got off the subway and walked five blocks east when in real life there is no there there. The street he was on only heads west. A shame, really--he was an intriguing character and the right direction would have practically brought him to my doorstep!

It of course doesn't matter and few will notice (and fewer care). But maybe it's a lesson about our standards regarding accuracy--we mostly only notice when it hits home.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday catch-up

--Claire has a new booklist of fairy tales up on our site.

--Cynsations interviews my pal Cathie Mercier, director of the terrific Simmons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature, which includes among its founders Horn Book editors Paul and Ethel Heins, and for which I will be leading a seminar next summer.

--Mother Reader offers sixty-some suggestions for book-allied presents, like pairing a copy of Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek with a set of Lincoln Logs. If Santa is listening, I'll take a copy of A Little Princess coupled with a secret midnight feast delivered by a dark and handsome stranger.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dasher, Dancer, Dunder and Jesus

More Christmas sadness--"Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" got temporarily yanked for its "religious overtones." (That must be the Mongolian throat-singing version.)

Got the Horse Right Here

What interests me most about the new William C. Morris award for new YA writers is the presentation of a shortlist from which the winner will be chosen. While standard procedure for some children's book awards in other countries and for our own National Book Award, this is a new twist for ALA.

I'm of two minds but mostly I like it. The announcement of contenders allows librarians--and kids--the chance to invest themselves in the process and thus the award. It also allows for two chances of outrage, joining "they didn't even nominate X" to "they picked Y?!," that second chance currently the only one available to Newbery, Printz, etc. watchers. Outrage is good for an award and has kept the Oscars going for decades. (Go see Slumdog Millionaire, by the way.)

On the other hand, I've talked with NBA finalists and winners who hate the whole horse race aspect of the thing, disliking being put into competition with their peers and, frequently, friends. The thinking seems to be that literature is meant for better things and finer feeling. We all know that the Oscars are essentially a sham, driven by politics and money as much as by sincere regard for a film's achievements, and are happy that, whatever their failings, the ALA book awards are largely free from such pressures. (Yup, they are.) The knowledge that one of a certain five books is going to win an award makes the whole publisher's-dinner drama (that's not a post in itself, it's a chapter. Of my memoir.) at ALA more suspect than usual, yes? Luckily, the stakes are small.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

If you need a good Christmas cry

New Notes from the Horn Book--Fanfare Edition

The latest issue of Notes features our Fanfare list with parent-friendly annotations, so pass it along. Also: Martha Parravano talks to picture book hero Kevin Henkes.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Dutch Courage?

I mentioned over on Facebook showing one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Snowman, based on Raymond Briggs's book, to the little Dutch kids from downstairs. One is two and the other four and they both seem to enjoy the film (or maybe it's just that hypno-glaze the Snowman himself demonstrates when he watches TV for the first time). But Elizabeth said, "But the snowman dies! Were the kids ok? I've heard that used as the 'difference between Americans and Europeans' argument. We have Frosty, who comes back to life. Their snowman dies."

They seemed okay--when the boy in the movie opens the door into the sunny morning to greet his friend, the four-year-old said "he melted." She also said "it was all a dream," so maybe she's just a realist by nature. I'm guessing she doesn't understand enough about death to see melting as possibly analogous.  Has anyone else experience with sharing this movie with young kids?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

[Title of Post]

I review John Green's Paper Towns and Kevin Brooks's Black Rabbit Summer in the Times today. I had originally called the piece "Cherchez la Femme," as both books are mysteries about boys looking for missing girls, but the Times in their wisdom retitled it. I like mine better but titles have to be the editor's prerogative--witness my discussion years ago with the author who did not understand why I wouldn't let him call his article, "The Lead in My Pencil."

Friday, December 05, 2008


We're doing an office clean-up today and uncovered something that seems far too relic-like for its relatively unadvanced age: an unabridged cassette recording of Ian McEwan's Atonement. Narrated by Jill Tanner, it's a superb rendition, but who knows from cassettes anymore?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

And the hits just keep on comin'

We proudly present Fanfare 2008, the Horn Book's choices for the best books of the year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

January/February Stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the January/February issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

The Tale of Two Mice (Candlewick) written and illustrated by Ruth Brown
Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche (Children’s Book Press) written by Ina Cumpiano, illustrated by José Ramírez
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (Harcourt) written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Little Panda (Houghton) written and illustrated by Renata Liwska
Ways to Live Forever (Levine/Scholastic) by Sally Nicholls
Heroes of the Valley (Hyperion) by Jonathan Stroud
Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered (Feiwel) written by Barry Denenberg, illustrated by Christopher Bing
Christo and Jean-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond (Flash Point/Roaring Brook) by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Holt) by Deborah Heiligman

Let me particularly commend your attention to the last, Charles and Emma, which wins my personal award for Book Least Likely to Capture My Interest but Did. I'm thinking it might make a nice retirement gift for the soon-to-be-former First Couple.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt update

While I could not get HMH to confirm or deny Jane Yolen's claim that the children's division was not bound by the no-submissions policy announced last week, I see from a Hillel Italie AP story that Joe-the-spokesman is apparently talking to someone. In a report of today's resignation of adult trade publisher Becky Saletan, Italie also wrote:

Blumenfeld has offered conflicting statements, saying the publisher of authors such as Philip Roth and Guenter Grass had "temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts," but later acknowledging the policy didn't apply to education and children's books and a mystery book imprint.
I don't know where or when this later acknowledgment was made.

My best friend

and frequent commenter here is interviewed over at Cynsations. The photo is graciously intimidating and makes me think Lawzy has the potential to become a true dragon lady. Oh, but when we were young . . . never mind, let's leave something for the memoir. On thing I'll share, though, that Elizabeth did not: as a child, she asked for and received a gift subscription to The Horn Book Magazine.

Newsflash--I was interrupted in my posting by the surprise visit of Marianne Carus, founder and editor-in-chief of Cricket Magazine. She was in the building with her husband Blouke visiting Jackie Miller down at Reach Out and Read. Marianne is Great Ladydom in spades.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The true luxury of hindsight: schadenfreude

I've gotten behind on my New Yorkers--I subscribe to the audio edition--and am just now getting through October's issues, which were filled with news and commentary about the upcoming election. It is infinitely more fun to read about this way--leisure to gloat, of course, but also no nervous tension. I'm getting an idea of why my friend GraceAnne DeCandido says she likes to read the end of a book first.

So You Don't Have To

Rachel watches the web for pertinent links to articles in the current issue of the Horn Book Magazine. Abe and Mary Todd on Facebook, even.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Support your local superstore!

A. Bitterman has some tips!

He does bring up a moral question that vexes me, though. If I want a copy of, say, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (which Betsy Hearne says I do), am I morally required to go out of my way to purchase it at an independent bookseller? There are two small independents in my neighborhood, but I can't go into either with the assurance they will have any given book I am seeking--one is mostly remainders (Jamaicaway Books and Gifts) and the other is too random (Rhythm and Muse). I can go to the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge on my way home from work if I take an extra bus and train, but both Borders and Barnes & Noble are on my subway line. I always drop a hefty wad of cash at the Brookline Booksmith when we go over to Coolidge Corner for a movie, but that trip requires a car (and, thus, driver, thus Richard). As far as I can tell, Boston supports no full-service independents. What's an enthusiastic non-driving reader to do? On the one hand, shopping at an independent is, in the particulars, more fun, and I invariably buy more books than I had intended to. And in general, the existence of independents, with their handselling and appeal to big readers, allows more kinds of good books to flourish. But it has been my experience that immediate gratification wins out over virtue when shopping or reading (this is why I don't shop online). It says something great about reading when you just can't wait to get your mitts on a book--but it also makes it unlikely that you will wait until you can plan a day around its purchase.

I think what I miss most about Chicago is living a five-minute walk from Unabridged Bookstore. That place is heaven.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Something to whet your appetites

Claire reviews the movie Twilight.

Color My World

Via Andrew Sullivan, an exhibition of photographs of children by Jeongmee Yoon displaying their obsessions with gendered colors. I see pink-bedecked and -accessorized little girls all the time but are there enough boys who feel similarly about blue to make the comparison meaningful? When I was a lad, the only rule was not-pink.

Monday, November 24, 2008

(Un)block that metaphor!

"We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline"--Houghton Mifflin Harcourt spokesman Josef Blumenfeld, explaining the company's rationale for ordering its editors to stop acquiring manuscripts.

No, Joe, what you have turned off is the water supply, rendering both the pipeline AND spigot irrelevant.

Into the West

Not with the hobbits but with the intrepid lady librarians who left the library school founded in Illinois by Katharine Sharp in 1897 to pioneer library services in the wild wild west. No slouch in the lady-librarian pantheon herself, my former boss and perpetual role model Betsy Hearne narrates a brief film about their adventures.

Would you care?

The legal wrangling over Project Runway has prompted the jilted network Bravo to start another fashion show:

Last week Bravo completed a four-city casting tour for a new series tentatively titled “The Fashion Show,” whose winner will be chosen by viewers rather than a panel of fashion experts, as it is on “Project Runway.”

Color me not excited. While it's true that American Idol similarly involves its audience in choosing a winner, I don't think anyone would tune in were it not for the hijinks of Randy, Paula and Simon, whose cutups and comments prompt as much of the voting as do the contestants themselves.

This is why no one gets as excited about children's choice book awards as they do about those chosen by "experts." There's no arguing with popularity--something is or it isn't. But when a committee of alleged authorities does its bestowing, a conversation is started, even if the opening salvo is What Were They Thinking?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Which would YOU rather have?

Forthcoming from the Spring 09 Horn Book Guide, we've posted our review of NBA winner What I Saw and How I Lied.

I've noticed that the recent panels of judges for the award have been composed exclusively of writers. When I judged it back in 1999 (When Zachary Beaver Came to Town was the winner), the panel was three critic-librarians (Hazel Rochman, Zena Sutherland, me) and two writers (Veronica Chambers and Mary Ann McGuigan). I wonder what difference it makes? There is rarely overlap between the ALA awards and the National Book Awards, and I wonder if it is a difference between expert readers and expert writers. Not to say that one cannot be both.

I'm reminded, though, of those winners of the Screen Actors Guild awards who gush that the SAG award is way more gratifying to receive than an Oscar because it's given by "the actors." In the words of the immortal James Marshall, "oh, sure."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tons of Fun

The James Marshall evening at MIT--Susan Meddaugh, Susan Moynihan, Anita Silvey, David Wiesner, and me moderating--went fabulously. I've moderated many of these things, and sometimes it's a lot of work to make the panelists a) stay on topic and b) have a conversation. This lineup was great: Susan Meddaugh was an old buddy of Marshall's; Susan Moynihan reads his books to each new crop of kids in her school; Anita knew Jim from both her Horn Book and Houghton days; David met him when they each had their first Caldecott honors, in 1989. As we discovered at dinner prior to the event, that ALA banquet was germane for several reasons--David was there for Free Fall, Anita was chair of the Wilder committee that year, and I was sitting with Marshall for the speeches. Whose speeches? Oh, my friends . . . .

That's one Caldecott acceptance speech you won't find in the Horn Book, although maybe there is a recording of it buried deep, deep in the ALA archives at the University of Illinois. Winning for Song and Dance Man, Stephen Gammell spoke off-the-cuff for what I think was fifty-two minutes. At one point he introduced us to the lint in his pockets. Waiters cleared tables. The lights were flashed off and on. Poor Elizabeth Speare, winner of the Wilder medal, must have been wondering if she would live to give her speech. And James Marshall was kicking me under the table and barely suppressing his mirth.

Last night couldn't match that one for drama but I was deeply impressed with the engagement the panelists brought to the subject. We talked about Marshall's artistic techniques, lauded his sometimes overlooked gift for writing, assessed his impact on the field, and pondered just why kids respond with such immediacy to his books. What we didn't get to was his legacy of smart-alecky back-talking--Scieszka and Smith owe him their careers (which they acknowledge) and don't even get me started on Dav Pilkey's Dumb Bunnies. Was Marshall the picture book's first sarcasticist?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Add 'em up, Bobby

Could somebody do this math for me? If Sarah Palin did in fact receive seven million dollars for a book contract, how many copies would the publisher have to sell to recoup its cost? Would it be possible?

Yes, I intend to use song references for my blog headings until I get good and tired of it.

Is It Worth Waiting for?

Claire has a new booklist up about food.

And don't forget, tonight I'll be moderating a panel with Susan Meddaugh, Susan Moynihan, Anita Silvey and David Wiesner to celebrate the work of James Marshall, artist and cook. Yummers!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Practicing for grandchildren

Mads seemed content and Julia politely waiting until we got to something with princesses in it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poor Kate!

Via Andrew Sullivan, this account of schoolbus cheers:

Matthew Whoolery and his wife aren't blaming the school district for what happened on the bus but they do think all parents need to be careful about what they say and teach their children.
Whoolery and his wife couldn't believe it when their second and third graders got off the bus last week and told them what other students were saying.
"They just hadn't heard anything like this before," said Whoolery. "They were chanting on the bus, 'Assassinate Obama. Assassinate Obama.' Then adding in a name sometimes of a classmate on the bus, 'Assassinate Obama and Kate.'"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Notes!

The November issue of Notes from the Horn Book is now out. An interview with Mini Grey, books about heroes, villains, talking dinosaurs, and more. Subscribe now and tell your friends.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Amazoning Out

JasonB's post at Galleycat about Thomas Nelson's new program of supplying free books to bloggers on the condition that they review the book and copy said review to an online vendor such as Amazon.com brings up lots of questions, and don't miss the link to the Guardian's essay on the subject, which includes an entertaining, increasingly hostile debate in the comments section.

My own question is about Amazon review overload. It looks to me like customer reviews at Amazon have become an increasingly insidery sport, fun for the reviewers themselves but too overwhelming, in numbers and attitude, for someone wanting to buy a book. There are some excellent reviewers there (hi, Fuse!) but also a lot of amateurism--in the pejorative sense--involving competition among the reviewers themselves to one-up each other. I wonder if and when Amazon will decide that this doesn't help them sell books. Or does it?

Friday, November 07, 2008

When the Joke's On You

I'm having some trouble with PW editor Sara Nelson's hand-wringing over the use of King & King by advocates of California's Proposition 8, which this past Tuesday overturned the right of gay couples to get married in that state. Nelson was upset by a TV ad produced by the Yes on 8 campaign that featured a Massachusetts couple, Robb and Robin Wirthlin, who objected to King & King being read in their kid's school. (The Wirthlins were in the news here when they filed a lawsuit attempting to stop their school district from using the book.)

Like Nelson, I'm no-on-8 and ok-with-King & King. But while I can buy her assessment of the situation ("a book made of socially liberal intentions is being used to defeat those intentions--against the wishes of its publisher and, perhaps, its creators, who are Dutch and, so far, silent on the matter") I can't share in her dismay. If a book can be used to speak to public policy (which King & King surely does), why can't it be used to protest it? It's not as if the book is being misrepresented, and it's certainly not as if anyone needs to secure the blessings of the creators or publisher in order to use a book to make a point.

I think this is what happens when you forget you've chosen sides. Republicans were horrified when Tina Fey and Saturday Night Live used Sarah Palin's own words to make her look foolish, while those of us who were against Palin found it all an example of karma writ hilariously. Freedom of speech and freedom to publish will always include the risk that someone will turn your own words against you.

Come See Lolly!

Horn Book designer and production manager Lolly Robinson will be at the Eric Carle Museum on November 16th at 1:00P.M., moderating a conversation about picture books with Kinuko Craft, Jerry Pinkney, Rosemary Wells, and Paul O. Zelinsky.

Free with admission to the Museum, the program stems from an exhibition Lolly has curated from the collection of Zora Charles. That exhibition opened this past spring at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, from whence Lolly filed a report.

Come See the Stupids Have a Ball!

On Tuesday, November 18 at 7:00PM, I'll be moderating a panel honoring James Marshall's contributions to children's literature. Sponsored by Houghton Mifflin (who has recently published a revised and expanded collection of George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends), the Cambridge Public Library, The Foundation for Children's Books, MIT, and the Horn Book, the free event will take place at MIT's Stata Center (the wild Frank Gehry building) on Vassar Street in Cambridge.

Panelists include author-illustrators Susan Meddaugh and David Wiesner, former HB editor and Houghton publisher Anita Silvey, and Cambridge school librarian Susan Moynihan. We will be reminiscing about Jim (my own favorite story is unprintable but perhaps not unspeakable) and talking about his place in the canon, his legacy to children's literature, and how his books have fared among children. Hilarity, I hope, will ensue.

More information can be found at the Cambridge Public Library.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dibs on the one in baby blue

In case you haven't seen this latest spectacle of adorability . . . . Be sure to turn your speakers on.

11/08/08 P.S. If you click the link and just see a couple of photos cycling it means the webcam is offline. Check back later.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just one more musical moment

Gertrude Stein by Robert Indiana

Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson's opera The Mother of Us All is a wildly fantasized biography of Susan B. Anthony, who, wondering and worrying over whether her celebrity has obscured her cause, asks of her supporters (in her tremendously moving final aria), "Do you know because I tell you so, or do you know do you know?"

You know. Go vote.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A bipartisan moment

in honor of the election. Ginsburg and Scalia find common ground in Leontyne Price.

Here she is, in what looks to me like an earlier White House appearance:

Friday, October 31, 2008

November/December Horn Book Magazine

The new issue is wending its way to your mailbox and we've posted selected excerpts online, including a three-way take on e-books and our annual list of the best holiday books. Does this mean I can finally start listening to Christmas carols?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fun with Intertextuality

I'm not even completely clear on who the Watchman really is, but this is really fun.

But can I just say how much I have always loathed W. C. W.'s poem about the plums in the icebox? We-coulda-made-pie versus some poet's fucking sensitivity--is it even a contest?

Yes, boys, but when no one is looking?

Katie Couric apparently asked McCain and Obama about their favorite books and got pretty convincing answers: McCain chose For Whom the Bell Tolls and Obama Song of Solomon.

As I said in the comments on yesterday's post re Palin's reading choices, "What are you reading?" and "What is your favorite book?" aren't as easy to answer as they look. Both the presidential candidates give clearly deliberated answers (so would I), meant to convey Who They Are. I'm more interested in knowing what they read off the clock--beach, bedtime, bathroom.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

There Is No Shame in Loving The DaVinci Code

People magazine (November 3, 2008 issue) gives Sarah Palin three chances to enlarge on her claim to be a "voracious reader" and three times she escapes:

People: What do you like to read?

Palin: Autobiographies, historical pieces--really anything and everything. Besides the kids and sports, reading is my favorite thing to do.

People: What are you reading now?

Palin: I'm reading, heh-heh, a lot of briefing papers.

People: What about for fun?

Palin: Do we consider The Looming Tower something just for fun? That's what I've been reading on the airplane. It's about 9/11. If I'm going to read something, for the most part, it's something beneficial.

I don't know if you have to be a reader to be President (although I did find myself liking GWB a little more when he said he was reading Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, a terrible book I thoroughly enjoyed) but I am reflexively suspicious of someone who only reads "improving" books and claims to love reading. They are lying about one thing or the other.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

State Birds and Foods of Many Lands

In the most recent Booklist, Michael Cart wonders why "curriculum-related nonfiction" hasn't "migrated more or less completely to the Internet by now." Me, too: hardcover series books about countries of the world, mammals of Asia, rocks and minerals of the fifty states, etc. still proliferate like crazy, even though the information they contain is available all over the digital place. And with list prices averaging over twenty dollars per volume, they aren't cheap. And, for the many series entries that devote themselves to "current events," the information is often out of date before the book is published.

Why do schools and libraries keep buying them? Is it because book-based assignments are more manageable, or because a book feels more authoritative than the Internet? Lack of imagination? Fear? Laziness? To me, it feels like it all comes down to control, a favored emotion found in grownups dealing with the young. Series books promote the idea that they have things covered, you don't need to look anywhere else, that the things that are essential about, say, Nebraska, are the same things essential to Delaware. India, like Denmark, is "a land of contrasts." Everything you need to know is here, in a collection of books that look and sound the same on purpose. It's all under control.

Luckily, kids don't read this way!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Think Pink!

Mitali Perkins Facebooked and Twittered a question to her friends: "should an author describe the race of a character or leave it to the reader's imagination?"

Good question, and she got some good answers. (Thanks, Gail, for the tip.)

It's a question we also face in reviewing--when do we mention the ethnicity or skin color of a character and when do we not? Sometimes, relaying details of the story will make things clear enough, but it's tougher when reviewing everyday-life-type stories, especially picture books, where the characters happen to be one color or another in a way that has no particular effect on the story or theme. And, as Justina Chen Headley points out in Mitali's post, we tend to mention skin color only when that color is not white. Awwwwwkward. I remember when Ms. magazine made a go of using "European American" wherever white people showed up in a story but it didn't last.

(And, really, there should be some kind of prize for the awkward ways in which well-meaning children's writers signal skin color: "Kathy's cocoa-brown-with-a-hint-of-whipped-cream face glowed warmly as she reveled in the attention of her more boringly-tinted friends." Yeah, I made that up but you know what I mean.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Take my kid--please.

I keep imagining how different writers might approach making a story out of the unintended consequences of Nebraska's "safe haven" law. The idea that your parents could give you up--or give up on you--so capriciously (and lawfully) is like a Maurice Sendak Nyquil nightmare. In The Grounding of Group Six Julian F. Thompson found a good deal of black humor in the premise, but in the right hands--Nancy Werlin, I'm looking at you--it could be terrifying.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Read and Grow Thin

The New York Times is reporting that reading a novel about weight loss can help you lose weight. I'd love to believe this. But don't.

Help me out?

Martha and I are looking for illustrations for our forthcoming book for parents and want to include an iconic cover or illustration from a YA book that shows a teen reading. Any bells ringing? I was hopeful for The Book Thief but it's got dominoes.

More NBA

We've added a page linking to the reviews we've published thus far of the National Book Award finalists.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

National Book Awards

Finalists in the Young People's Literature category include:

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Hyperion)
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum)
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon and Schuster)
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (Scholastic)
The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (Knopf)

Listen to the children, one more time

Scholastic gets out the vote. And so does Hayden Panettiere (sound NSFW, but I was grateful to learn how she pronounces her name). Personally, I wish she spent less time on electioneering and more on making Heroes stop sucking so hard.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lights Out

That single dim bulb that is my brain misfired this weekend, sending me off to re-read and view The City of Ember when all the while Alicia Potter was already busy with her review. I have a few more issues with the gigantic predatory star-mole than she, but I'll save them for the sequel. (But will there be one? We went to a Columbus Day matinee and there were fourteen people in the theater.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

This crazy digital world

It wasn't until I got home today that I remembered I had promised Kitty that I would see The City of Ember movie and review it for the website. I wanted to reread the book first but of course neglected to bring it home. Then I thought, Kindle! And sure enough the book was available for five bucks so I ordered it on my computer and then went to read it on the magic Amazon reading machine. Oops--the power had flatlined (despite the fact that I never use it) and the recharge cord was back in the office. Then I had the bright idea of downloading it from Audible.com--twelve bucks more--and settled in to listen but was defeated by the excess of voiciness in the narration--I get that the Mayor wheezes while he talks; do it once and let it go. But Miss Palm, faithful Miss Palm, gently reminded me that while she was getting on in years she, too, was no slouch at e-booking, so a visit to ereader.com and five bucks more finally has me happily reading. I'll only have to leave the house to see the movie.

Well, it's not like there's an election or financial crisis or anything.

So I'm glad our hardworking Massachusetts legislators are doing their bit to declare Moby-Dick the "state epic novel." How many of them do you think have read it? (I haven't.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Show and Tell

The complete Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards ceremony is now up for your viewing and listening pleasure. Many thanks to Lolly Robinson for her persistent and patient digital efforts!

Songs for the New Depression

Claire* reviews Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

*Making Martha and me feel old, for being the only people in the office who seemed to know Nick and Norah when they were Nick and Nora.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Downtown at the BGHB

That rockin' place the Boston Athenaeum was once again the host for the annual Boston Globe Horn Book Awards, and you can view some highlights and hear the speeches here. Video coming soon.

Monday, October 06, 2008

As Manderley burns . . .

photo by Duncan Todd

Actually, that's not Mrs. Danvers, it's Horn Book publisher Anne Quirk keeping an eagle eye on the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards this past Friday night. Look for more photos later today.

November/December 08 stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the November/December issue of the Horn Book Magazine.

The Pencil
written by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman (Candlewick).

Old Bear written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow).

Who Made This Cake? written by Chihiro Nakagawa, illustrated by Junji Koyose (Front Street).

The Graveyard Book written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean (HarperCollins).

Rapunzel’s Revenge written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury).

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve (Scholastic).

There’s A Wolf at the Door written by Zoë B. Alley, illustrated by R. W. Alley (Porter/Roaring Brook).

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade/Random).

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (Candlewick).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

She's got her eye on you.

Legendary huntress Rachel Smith again stalks the series of tubes to bring you some web content that goes down great with the latest issue of the Horn Book Magazine.

Going for the Gold

Horn Book veteran Anita Silvey puts herself in the hot seat this month over at School Library Journal, where, to sum up, she complains about the lack of broad appeal of the last four winners of the Newbery Medal. Anita has been around for a long time and she knows just how stirred the dragons get when their precious gold and silver is disturbed. This could be very entertaining.

But--to quote one former SLJ editor speaking of another former HB editor--I think she is all wet. The main problem with Silvey's argument is that she's comparing the popular appeal (which is in any case not part of the Newbery's criteria) of current winners with that of winners from earlier decades. But the question before each committee is not "how does this book stack up with the great books of the past?" but "how does this book stack up with the others published in the same year?" It's easy to compare, say, Kira-Kira with The Giver and find the first book wanting in terms of wide resonance, but what book published in 2004 should have won instead? To make this argument work, Silvey needs to name names, and not those cherry-picked from the Newbery's long and (sometimes) illustrious past.

Silvey writes:

In the humble beginnings of the Newbery Award, its founders clearly sought a book that would have broad appeal. As children’s book historian Leonard Marcus reminds us in Minders of Make Believe (Houghton, 2008), back in 1922, when the first Newbery was awarded, ALA allowed any librarian who worked with kids—even part-time librarians—to nominate one title. The Story of Mankind (Liveright, 1921), nominated on 163 of the 212 ballots, won that year. Obviously, the founders cared deeply about the opinions and needs of those who worked directly with children.

But librarians are still allowed--encouraged--to nominate books for the Newbery, and the awarding committees still largely comprise librarians working with children. What has changed? One thing that hasn't: complaining about the winners.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cast your vote for the future

over at Nina Lindsay and SLJ's new mock-Newbery blog, "Heavy Medal." Lots of titles are being suggested, including the two BGHB Honor Books Savvy and Shooting the Moon. I'll be meeting authors Ingrid Law and Frances O'Roark Dowell this Friday at the BGHB Awards, held as usual in the swank confines of the Boston Athenaeum. I hope to see some of you there, too.

Philip Gets His Groove Back

After his unusual demureness in face of the star-making machinery, I'm pleased to see Philip Pullman recovering his characteristic pugnacity to defend his dark materials from the interference of the interfering Faithful: "Religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

James Joyce wins BGHB?

You know, I was there and it was nothing like this.

[Update--the link was to a German blog titled "Boston Globe Horn Book Awards" filled with English words and sentences strung together in a way that occasionally made sense but more often were simply madly stream-of-consciousness insanity. Apparently now it takes you to another site. This is the kind of spamming I don't understand. I mean, the gold-farm people want your money but this didn't have anything like that.]

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Well, here's one thing in the mail that is not a bill."

Said Beverly Cleary in her Newbery acceptance speech, quoting from a letter written to her by a young reader. Cleary went on to bemoan the cookie-cutter class-assignment letters she received by the thousands, and who can blame her?

But who can top her? Lisi Harrison (The Clique), that's who, caught by Chasing Ray in a delicious quote that, with any justice, will come back to haunt her:

"I don't mean to brag -- but I get literally thousands and thousands of letters, thousands and thousands of e-mails from these girls, and I do read them and not one of them has accused me of perpetuating poison into their world and their society," she said. "Every one of them says, 'I suddenly realize that it's not so important to be popular anymore. I used to be like this with our friends, but we've all changed. Truly. I really, really mean it.'"

Which would you rather read thousands and thousands of times? I suddenly realize that it's not so important to be popular anymore or Where do you get your ideas?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Palin/McCain for peace and quiet

Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go has won the Guardian's children's fiction prize. The book was published this month in the U.S. by Candlewick and will be reviewed in the November issue of the Horn Book Magazine. It's an SF novel about a society where people can hear each other think. Like that dude on Heroes!

Star bar

My favorite curmudgeonly critic Norman Lebrecht offers his point of view about the ever-increasing trend toward using stars as critical shorthand:

Of all the devices that devalue the function of criticism, the bar of stars is among the most pernicious. It suggests that artistic creation can be ticked off like a school essay and subjected to a set of SATs, in which the individual, expert guidance of teachers and examiners is set aside for the one-rule-fits-all solution of 21st century politicians.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Well, that's one way around it.

Jezebel has a post up about the recent challenge to Of Mice and Men at a Kansas City high school for use of the word nigger. I liked this comment from "Miss Scarlet in the hall with a . . .":

In middle school I knew a girl who "objected" to Huckleberry Finn because of the racism and her mother said something and she read something else. In private she told me she tried to read it and it was so boring she just told her mother she had a problem with it so she could read something else. I was 12 and knew that was wrong (and slightly jealous because it was boring).

When Worlds Collide

Our designer Lolly Robinson was spending a choir rehearsal break sitting in a Plymouth coffee shop and re-reading Shaun Tan's The Arrival, only to emerge and see this:

Lolly emailed me, "It made me wonder what other experiences like this people have had while still in the thrall of a children's book." It reminded me of when I saw Independence Day one summer day in New York, emerging afterwards into the full-on Manhattan Friday five o'clock rush hour just like the mad dash from the aliens the New Yorkers made in the movie. They ARE here. I also remember a train trip on a rainy day through a wooded portion of Connecticut while listening to an audiobook of The Fellowship of the Ring--full-on cognitive assonance!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Holding Mary Sue's Feet to the Fire

If these are the questions I don't want to see the answers.

I'll have to remember this argument come January.

From the NYT report on the Emmy Awards, interviewing David Shore, executive producer of House:

“There are awards for [popularity]; they’re called ratings,” Mr. Shore said. “There are really good shows on cable, and even if only 10 people are watching them, if they’re good they should be recognized.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Princess Delite

"Speed straight to the happy ending, without stopping to think about the story along the way." Boston Globe critic Joanna Weiss has a great piece on the contemporary commodification of fairy tales.

Friday, September 19, 2008

From the land of the long white cloud

Elissa is back from Middle-Earth--and tea with Margaret Mahy, who apparently lives in a cliff. For today's pop quiz, translate and i.d. the following:

"Ki raro au!" hei tā ikā.
E kore pai ki āu!
Ki raro!" hei tā ikā
"E KORE au hia takā!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

From the people who brought you . . .

As Peter observed in another context last Sunday, so many people have Ursula Nordstrom spinning in her grave that it must be like a blender in there. This won't help.

R.I.P. Coleen Salley

Horn Book publisher Anne Quirk writes:

Coleen Salley died yesterday. Her professional life was spent mostly at the University of New Orleans, where she was a distinguished professor of children’s literature, and that’s the excuse most of us in children’s book publishing used for inviting her out for dinner whenever we were within hailing distance of a bayou. But the real reason was that she was the funniest person ever born. When Colleen began to wrap her smoky southern drawl around a story, we cradled our drinks and prayed that story would never end. In her 70s, she began writing down some of those tales she’d been telling. If you never met Coleen, search for one of the several audio books she recorded over the years, then imagine her sitting across your table. That might give you some sense of the terrible loss so many of her friends are feeling today.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

That Marilyn McCoo Thing

Editors, have you ever come across something in a manuscript that seems like a wild left turn, an odd fact or digression whose relevance is completely indiscernible and whose presence is clearly only made accountable by the perverse willfulness of the author?

I had to explain this phenomenon to another editor today. (Don't ask why.) I call it That Marilyn McCoo Thing. Back when "One Less Bell to Answer" was the number one song in America, the Fifth Dimension made a guest appearance, as themselves, on It Takes a Thief. On the show, they were recording "One Less Bell to Answer," and lead singer Marilyn McCoo was insisting on finishing the song with an odd sequence of four dissonant chords. She would not be moved, even though everyone around her--Billy, Lamont, Ron, Florence and the recording engineers--said it was a bad idea. Well. It turned out that Marilyn's brother had been kidnapped by bad guys who threatened to kill him unless the song was recorded with this ending--because the sound waves of the chord sequence, when played over the radio, would cause a bomb, secreted in a ship-in-a-bottle that sat on the desk of someone the bad guys wanted dead, to go off.

So when you ask someone to murder their darlings, be careful.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In other news, dog bites man

The author of Daddy's Roommate is shocked--shocked--that Sarah Palin disapproves of his book.

And to paraphrase Florence King, when will liberals learn to think before they speak? To complain that Sarah Palin "has a small town mind" is not helpful.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Urban legend alert

If one more person sends me that list of books Sarah Palin tried to ban from the library I'm gonna vote for Nader.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Check your in-box

for the latest issue of Notes from the Horn Book, and please pass along to your colleagues, customers, family and friends. This issue stars our favorite teachers, Dean Schneider and Robin Smith!

But enough about you. Or me.

As we did late last year, Child_Lit has been discussing the U.K.'s age-banding proposal with some ferocity the past few days. While I am firmly in the camp of those who oppose the scheme, a speech Philip Pullman gave on the subject is working my nerves. It's very much a speech to the choir (which it was, being delivered at a conference of the Society of Authors), and at the beginning quotes from the research report that allegedly boosts the proposal: "A recent trade survey has shown a general preference to move to age ranging, although with some strongly held contrary views, but now what’s needed is a piece of research that delivers some definitive answers from the people who matter most – book customers and readers."

Pullman then clutches his rhetorical pearls for this response:

The people who matter most?

Whoever wrote that – whoever read that and believed it – needs to be reminded that without us, without our work, our talent, our willingness to put up with almost anything in the way of reduced royalties, humiliating treatment over jacket design, endless travels to this bookshop, that school, that library, anything to help our books reach the readers – without us there would be no editors, no designers, no marketing teams, no publicity people, no secretaries, no helpful personal assistants, no senior executives, no expense account lunches, no pension schemes, no company cars, no sales conferences in attractive places, no publishing industry whatsoever. Any of the people who do those other things could be replaced with very little difference. Take us away, and you’ve lost everything. The people who matter most? Authors and illustrators are the people who matter most, and no publisher with any sense of what’s right and true would have allowed that sentence, and that attitude, to stand.

While I agree it would have been both politic and useful to ask writers what they thought of the idea of printing suggested reading levels on book covers, jeez, Philip, get over your bad self. I ask, with similarly high-camp drama but equal sincerity, isn't anyone thinking about the children? They are the people who matter most in this question. They are the ones who will have to suffer walking around with a book they want to read but are officially too mature for; they are the ones who will be told "you aren't ready" for a book deemed Too Hard. The problem with the age-banding proposal is not that it ignores authors, it's that it ignores young readers.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The happy couple

Aren't they bee-yoo-ti-ful?

Yeah, I only have the one suit

The fathers-of-the-groom walking up the aisle at Ethan and Becca's wedding in Sedona last Saturday. The monsoon took down the chuppah but we all soldiered on, and there was nary a drop during the ceremony. The officiant said that there was an ancient Sedona tradition (uh-huh) that rain on a wedding day was good luck, but come on--what else are they going to say?

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Invigilator Strikes

A complaint from an "exams invigilator" has caused Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Education for Leisure" to be removed from the U.K.'s GCSE curriculum. Children's Laureate Michael Rosen is quoted being sensible ("Of course we want children to be talking about knife crime and poems like these are a terrific way of helping that happen. Blanket condemnation and censorship of something never works") while an unnamed spokeswoman for the AQA--the organization which oversees the GCSE exams--makes me think she flunked Plain Speaking: "We believe the decision underlines the often difficult balance that exists between encouraging and facilitating young people to think critically about difficult but important topics and the need to do this in a way which is sensitive to social issues and public concern."

The poem is a good one and can be found at the link.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

There's a thousand library trustees just like her.

I wouldn't elect Sarah Palin to anything, but this old censorship charge is really reaching. As far as we know, as mayor of Wasilla she asked the public library director three times about the possibility of removing "objectionable" books from the collection. Three times the director said no. (Positively biblical!) Then Palin tried to fire the director but changed her mind. Unless that former director (who is not talking) tells us otherwise, we have no reason to believe that Palin's request went beyond the hypothetical.

This is actually pretty typical of people who get power--and three-year-olds, come to think of it. They want to see how far they can push it. Mayors, school superintendents and library trustees alike are often surprised to discover that they don't get to personally decide on library purchases or discards. It's the librarian's job to explain to them why this is a bad idea and arguably illegal.

I'm reminded of the time when Chicago aldermen removed--at gunpoint--a satiric portrait of the late Harold Washington from an exhibition at the School of the Art Institute. THAT was censorship. But just asking? Nope.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

You Haven't Read Children of the New Forest?

Fuse 8 has a good game going.

September/October 08 Horn Book Magazine

Our September special issue on School is out, and you can view selected articles on our website. Make sure to try the quiz by Monica Edinger and Roxanne Hsu Feldman--it's harder than it looks.

I'm leaving tomorrow for Sedona to marry the other one off; I'll be sure to steer clear of the legendary cougar in the canyon. With any luck, her tired, grizzled mate will be sucked up by one of these. See you next week.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

Maureen McCormick won't be seeing Tropic Thunder because she doesn't like the plotline involving an actor's bid for an Oscar by playing "Simple Jack," a--as Tropic Thunder calls it--"retard.":

I want to add my two cents to the opinions on whether it's offensive to the mentally challenged. I know Ben Stiller has said that he's making fun of actors, not people with disabilities. Still, the movie is geared toward a younger crowd and I fear a lot of those teenagers and college students will leave the theater thinking “retard” is an okay word to use.

Where to start? First, go see the movie if you want to have an opinion of it. Second, don't patronize "the younger crowd" (sounds like something Alice would say!) by assuming that they view movies as life manuals. Were big sisters the world over corrupted by how mean you could be to Jan? The assumption that "they" won't "get it" underestimates young people, prompts an impulse to control what they see/hear/read, and infantilizes the rest of us. It's a power trip.

The controversy about this movie reminds me of the worst-titled children's book ever, Someone Called Me a Retard Today . . . and My Heart Felt Sad. While it's difficult to argue with the book's theme--name-calling is hurtful--it missed the point that "retard" is an insult thrown around promiscuously, so much so that the term "mentally retarded" is no longer used to describe those individuals who actually have mental disabilities, a point excellently made by YouTube's Retarded Policeman and his brother.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

If the substitution is that simple, there's something wrong with the sentence.

Another one from the Guardian, about a little furor surrounding Jacqueline Wilson's latest, My Sister Jodie:

"The word 'twat' was used in context. It was meant to be a nasty word on purpose, because this is a nasty character," said a spokesperson for Random House. "However, Jacqueline doesn't want to offend her readers or her readers' parents, so when the book comes to be reprinted the word will be replaced with twit."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fightin' Words or the Simple Truth?

The Guardian's Derek Draper on Meghan McCain's new picture book:

It's easy for us Brits to assume that such sentimental spin will backfire but, having lived in the US for three years, I can assure you that Americans are made of gooier stuff.

Is Passion Old-Fashioned?

Over on the PUBYAC listserv, Jan Hanson of the Longview Public Library in Washington is looking for it: "A HS teacher called and is asking for ideas of books that illustrate a teen with passion, as in "a passion for dancing" or a "passion for football."

I love this query; it's requests like these that make us think about what books for kids do and don't do. Off the top of my head I think of that Joan Bauer book about a girl with a passion for shoe-selling, Hope Was Here Rules of the Road, and several of Chris Crutcher's early books feature teens with a passion for various sports. Oh, and that extremely high-minded but badly dated Madeleine L'Engle book about a fledgling actress, The Joys of Love. What else? Generalizing wildly, too often it seems that intense interest in something that isn't another person is viewed in YA books as dysfunctional or simply as a way to i. d. a character; i.e. "Jane loves music," but do we ever see her practice?

P.S. I put Harriet the Spy in the tags because she's the most passionate person I know in children's books, plus I've just started listening to Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost, an adult mystery that begins, anyway, with a very Harriet-like third-grader.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How Green Are Its Pocketses

PW's Rick Simonson has some uncomfortable questions for Chelsea Green, the publisher who is wrapping itself in virtue and giving Amazon first dibs on its new Obama book at the same time. Fuse #8 has been hosting a serendipitous discussion on the propensity of book blogs to link to you-know who.

I'm so old I remember when Amazon was cool.

I love them

Semicolons, that is. I am less taken with apostrophe-s, but that's what Chicago tells us to do, along with B.C.E., usage of which just makes me feel old if still A.D. (.)

Apropos of nothing, I have drops in my eyes from an opthamology exam this morning and am thinking about an incredibly lame Betty Cavanna novel where the heroine's sweet but plain best friend finally gets a date only because the guy who's askin' has just been to the eye doctor and can't see clearly. Hilarious, right?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Listen to the Children When They Are Holding Sharp Sticks!

The listservs are ablaze this morning with talk about a children's knitting club being banned from the library. I'm guessing the ban will be lifted by the end of the day; meanwhile, I sure wish I could knit--it would be great to make myself useful while watching the synchronized diving, and, since we're currently reviewing Christmas and other winter holiday books, I'm lusting for a nice black cashmere scarf. (Um, is cashmere knit?)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Listen to the children!

Maybe Sherry Jones, whose The Jewel of Medina was cancelled by Ballantine for fear of Muslim terrorist rage, was just working with the wrong division of Random House. The copyright page of each fall 08 Random House ARC I've received states "Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New Notes, August 08

We've just emailed the latest issue of Notes from the Horn Book, which this month covers new books about school, nature study and space; some good recent chapter books, and five writers' (and an editor's) own summer reading choices. Sign up now!

And, especially for teachers, this issue provides a link to TeachingBooks.net that gives free access to Notes-related content (curricular connections, author videos, etc.) on their site. Lemme know how this works out for you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Moore being Moore"

I wish I had thought of this earlier, but we published a far more perceptive account of ACM and her little ways than did that upstart New Yorker. Read Barbara Bader's take here.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Breaking Dawn Breakdown

Gail Gauthier is interesting on the new Stephenie Meyer (which I haven't read yet as I am only halfway through New Moon).

Friday, August 08, 2008


Liz B. pointed me toward this PW essay on the thin line between reader's advisory work and putting limitations on library access for kids. It gives me the willies.

Is it right for me to discourage a kid’s reading choice? No. But is it right for me to give a kid a book that I think is probably not appropriate? At the risk of sounding censorship alarms, or being seen as an “uncool” librarian, my answer is again, No. I just don’t feel comfortable giving a sixth-grader one of these books—all popular titles that, in my library, are shelved “over there” in the teen area, through the door and around the corner from the children’s room.

I don't see how these positions (not discouraging a reading choice and not giving a kid an inappropriate book) are reconcilable. I recognize that the author recognizes that the question is a difficult one, and I agree that some books are too mature for some kids. But I think she errs on the side of caution where I would rather give the kid what she asks for (an eleven-year-old wanting Twilight is an example she cites), hold my breath, and hope for the best. What we don't know from the essay is how easily kids are allowed to dodge the librarian's best intentions entirely and simply go to the YA or adult books by themselves. That would have been my own strategy as a sixth-grader, particularly if I had had a previous encounter with a librarian that made me feel snooped upon or deflected. While I hate librarians who don't move out from behind the desk, there's a little too much leading patrons by the hand going on here.

What the essay does not take up--and what so few arguments for restricting access do--is what she thinks is going to happen if a child reads a book he or she "is not ready for." Really, what? Sexual thoughts, anxiety, nightmares? Maybe, but by no means necessarily--and, while I hate to quote Dick Cheney, so what? Kids have sexual thoughts, anxieties and nightmares anyway. Normal, healthy kids. And as Liz points out, what's more likely is that a kid simply will breeze past what she doesn't understand: "Deenie had masturbation? As a kid, I had no idea."

Just how old IS Ellie Berger?

As quoted in the Wall Street Journal:

"There has been a real revolution" in books that "have more kid appeal," especially when it comes to boys, says Ellie Berger, who oversees Scholastic's trade division. "It's a shift away from the drier books we all grew up with."

And I would love to know whose ass this statistic was pulled out of:

Last year, U.S. publishers released 261 new works of juvenile fiction aimed at boys, more than twice the number put out in 2003, according to Bowker's Books in Print database. There were 20 nonfiction entries for boys, compared with just four in 2003.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Winnie lives

In my new fascination with readers-as-fans, I've been visiting fanfiction.net, where readers become writers, choosing their own adventures for Harry, Hermione, and Bella (is that name an hommage to Mr. Lugosi?). While the site has more than 350,000 Harry Potter stories and 32,000 Twilights, who would have thought that Tuck Everlasting would have 182?

Here's a taste:

"Fuck that Amy, Give me the bottle." Beatrice had just downed her third shot that night and was reaching for the entire bottle of Jack Daniels as her drunk friends looked on, laughing their heads off. Her alcoholism had just begun that past month. It was two twenty am and she was already high, getting drunker by the second.

She was a victim of unrequited love.

She had fallen into a downward spiral of depression, and only one man could pull her out.


Winifred Foster went to work every morning, no matter how hungover she was from the previous night. 7:00am at the local diner, close to where the spring used to be. She was now 107 years old. But to her 'friends' and colleagues, she was 17 year old Beatrice Allen, new to the town of Treegap since a year ago, when she had grown tired of Tokyo. Winnie had dyed her naturally chocolate hair black, and bought some hazel contact lenses to hide her vibrant green-blue eyes. She did this in fear that somebody should recognize her, over time. She kept a low profile, and traveled around a lot, blown off lots of replaceable friends, but she did this because she could not risk the secret of Tuck Everlasting.

The spring had survived, she was still the rightful owner of the wood, she refused to sell it. Even if she had wished to, no buyers would be able to track her down. So many years of aliases, and fake IDs. Her actual identity was a mystery to anyone who wanted to find out. She only faintly remembered the 'Man in The Yellow Suit' now, but he was still there, taunting her somehow. Maybe it was her remorse, for not being there when her mother died, for faking her death and leaving everyone behind. It wasn't her fault she had begun getting older and not a thing had changed. She had no choice but to run. She had a new life to expect then. Now? After nearly one hundred years, and still no Tucks. She had no idea what to expect.

And as she poured some water for a kind gentleman in his booth, she wondered if she could make it another day, in her meaningless existence. She contemplated drinking herself into alcohol poisoning; but 'of course', she thought with a bitter laugh she would never die.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Monday, August 04, 2008

Fans and readers

We didn't receive a review copy of Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn, so you won't find any spoilers here. What I've been finding fascinating in a train-wreck kind of way are the vox populi debates over at Amazon.com, particularly a discussion thread attempting to start a RETURN THIS BOOK campaign in protest of Meyer's "betrayal" of her readers: "I agree totally. I saw about 20 returned copies at Target tonight. Returning them is the right thing to do. Burn them and she will still have the money. Don't let that happen." And these are fans talking.

I'm interested in the ethical propriety of returning a book because you didn't like it. Can't imagine doing that myself--the reader is paying for consuming the intellectual content, not just for the physical item. I'm equally interested in the whole question of the difference between readers and fans, if there is one. One distinction the Meyer debates seem to bring to the fore is the way fans personalize the object of their affection--the ones who hate Breaking Dawn feel that Meyer has betrayed them and must suffer; the ones who like the book feel they need to be "loyal" to the author: "You do realize Stephenie Meyer reads these don't you? How disgustingly mean can you get? Stephenie Meyer wrote this for us, the twilighters. Her fans."

What makes people behave this way? I'm aware, of course, that the Amazon posters are probably a distinct subgroup of Meyer's readers, or do her books inspire this kind of Ayn Randy cultishness?

Making connections

between the July-August issue of the Horn Book Magazine and the wild reaches of the world wide web, Rachel Smith offers the latest Web Watch.

Friday, August 01, 2008

So which is it?

Two books reviewed in the forthcoming issue of the Horn Book Guide:

From Bearport, Meish Goldish's Deadly Praying Mantis

From Lerner, Sandra Markle's Praying Mantises: Hungry Insect Heroes

Nothing* p.o.'d the late Zena Sutherland more than a nonfiction children's book ascribing virtue or venality to animals.

*Except maybe simultaneous translation in dialogue, as in "'Hola, Juan!' exclaimed the pretty teacher to the new brown-eyed and chubby-cheeked boy, 'Hello.'"

Thursday, July 31, 2008

September/October starred books

The following books will receive starred reviews in the September/October issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

Traction Man Meets Turbodog (Knopf) written and illustrated by Mini Grey
Ghosts in the House (Roaring Brook) written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara
The Cardboard Piano (Greenwillow) written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime (Hyperion) written and illustrated by Bob Shea
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves (Candlewick) by M. T. Anderson
The Hunger Games (Scholastic) by Suzanne Collins
Tender Morsels (Knopf) by Margo Lanagan
Nation (HarperCollins) by Terry Pratchett
All Stations! Distress!: April 15, 1912: The Day the Titanic Sank (Flash Point/Roaring Brook) written and illustrated by Don Brown
The Way We Work (Lorraine/Houghton) written and illustrated by David Macaulay

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A message from the future

Simon & Schuster offers new picture book biographies of Hillary Clinton (Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight by Kathleen Krull and Amy June-Bates), Barack Obama (Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, by Nikki Grimes and Bryan Collier), and John McCain (My Dad, John McCain by Meghan McCain and Dan Andreasen ). Of interest solely to their respective fans, the books are equally adulatory (Clinton by understatement, Obama by overstatement, McCain by, c'mon, he's her dad), but only the last dares predict the future. To be published on September 2, My Dad, John McCain ends "in September 2008, the Republican Party had a big meeting, the Republican National Convention. And on that day, my dad was officially chosen as the Republican candidate for president of the United States."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Are They Here?

Does anyone else think it's kind of wild that the New York Times published an op-ed warning us to take UFO's more seriously? I mean, I will, I do, just strange to see it there.

The TV debut of the Teletubbies was not at all surprising to those of us who had read John Christopher's When the Tripods Came.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Actually, should you even be here?

Is reading on the web going to destroy our children's ability to read books? Does it matter? Here's an excellent article on those questions.

Have you noticed how much the web likes to talk about itself? That's what I find worrying!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Listen to Grandma

In reading Jill Lepore's New Yorker account of the battle between E. B. White and Anne Carroll Moore, I couldn't help finding my sympathies more with the old lady. Lepore seems to favor E. B. and Katharine White because they're more sophisticated, the cool kids. Moore's the earnest, humorless battle-axe, given to such pronouncements as "reading is an end in itself; its object is lifelong pleasure and profit," "reading should be more commonly treated as a sport of continuous interest in all schools," and "both literature and children stoutly resist grade limitation." What a bore.

Of course she had her limitations and of course she went down fighting, but children's literature and librarianship owe her plenty.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stick to Your Own Kind?

I'm intrigued by Arthur Laurents's plans to bring West Side Story to Broadway next winter in a "bilingual revival," having the Puerto Rican characters speaking Spanish and otherwise making the show "more realistic." (Here's hoping he doesn't try to set it in the present, though, because that gorgeous, swanky 1950s brass would sound as corny as Kansas in August.)

That theme of bridging cultures (I know WSS is based on R&J, but making the Montagues and Capulets into Jets and Sharks throws us into contemporary contexts) came to me yesterday when I was editing a Guide review of The Umbrella Queen, a picture book by Shirin Yim Bridges and Taeeun Yoo. Apparently based on the "umbrella village" of Bo Sang in northern Thailand, the story is about a little girl, Noot, who longs to paint umbrellas the way all the women in the village do, but instead of painting the traditional patterns of flowers and butterflies, she paints elephants. The Thai king comes to judge the umbrellas in the annual contest and names Noot the winner, "because she paints from her heart." It's a nice enough little story, but has an unacknowledged dynamic that shows up time and again in American books for children about "other cultures," allegedly honoring different cultural norms but in fact contravening them to celebrate the spirit of individual expression. (Historical fiction does this too, as Anne Scott MacLeod wrote in a brilliant essay for us.) It's a case where the story's need for conflict subverts its simultaneous claim on cultural authenticity. There's no story if Noot happily paints flowers and butterflies, but the fact that she triumphs by painting elephants says, in effect, that the tradition that inspired the story isn't worth holding on to. Can you have it both ways?

Monday, July 14, 2008


When Richard and I went to Paris a few years ago, I was intent upon visiting the House of Balmain, where I purchased a beautiful tie from their small men's collection. But I was less interested in shopping than I was in seeing the place where Valentine O'Neill began her career as a fashion designer. Valentine is fictional, a character in Judith Krantz's Scruples, a book that positively sizzles with brand-name-dropping, put there not as paid product placement but as verisimilitude of an especially glamorous kind.

So I'm a little impatient with the argument that we should be worried about brand names in YA fiction. I could certainly get into a fine frothing if the YA series actually whored themselves out to the highest brand-name bidder, which would be both sneaky and lazy: if it doesn't matter if your heroine wears Chanel or Balmain you haven't thought hard enough about her. But that's not what's happening, and I am more scandalized that the Times article pimped this possibility so heavily only to reveal that it had no basis in fact. Yet.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

She works hard for the money

Claire has a new book list devoted to careers. (And gosh darn, why didn't I think to show her my treasured copy of Bruce Learns About Life Insurance?)

Trivia question

What novelist for children with more than three or four books to his or her name has never written a sequel? I ask because I'm surveying my books to be be reviewed for the September issue (surveying being far more entertaining than actually, you know, reviewing) and, like, six out of the seven novels are sequels. (And Jen and Martha know to keep the fantasy far, far from me so it's not that.) I thought Katherine Paterson, but then Martha pointed out that Lyddie shows up twice.

If any M.L. S. student is in need of a thesis topic, I think it would be very interesting to examine sequel-publishing over time. We've always had 'em, I know, but do publishers these days routinely encourage writers to follow a successful book with a related one? Or have they always?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

New Notes

The new Notes from the Horn Book is hot off the virtual presses. In this issue we recommend some new books about the Olympics and China, make a truck stop for some new toddler tales, listen to some recent audiobooks, and ask R.L. Stine what scares him the most. Read and subscribe (it's free) here.

And to those of you who have already signed up, thank you--the circulation of Notes has doubled since the first issue, which makes us very happy indeed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

After the Gold Farm Rush

Due to the enthusiastic spamming of the Chinese gold farm miners, I've enabled comment moderation on this blog, meaning that I have to approve your comment before it appears. But flare and flame away, as I'm only using it to stop spam (and, as before, off-topic personal attacks on others than myself).

Not that a career as a gold farmer isn't an interesting one.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The breadth of children's literature

It's a wide world, all right. I'm editing Guide reviews this week and got conceptual whiplash when I hit these two picture book reviews in a row:

Harriet Dancing, by Ruth Symes and Caroline Jayne Church. "A hedgehog's feelings are hurt when the dancing butterflies won't let her join in."

Giant Meatball, by Robert Weinstock. "A reckless, oblivious jumbo-sized meatball bounds into a small town, unintentionally terrorizing its residents."

Really--between those two, what more could you need?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

ALA: the Long and Short of It

The long pants: with Linda Sue Park at the N/C banquet; photo by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

The short pants: with Elizabeth Law and Doug Pocock at Disneyland; photo by lassoed stranger.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Voice of the People

I love Marla Frazee's A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (a BGHB honor book this year) but wondered about the audience. Lily Feldman clears that up for me.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

July/August Horn Book Magazine

Get your collector's edition now! While the limitations of technology (and the absence of a thrilling soundtrack and a screaming crowd) means that the tour de force with which Brian Selznick opened his Caldecott speech won't have quite the same effect on paper, those same images can still be yours for as long as the acid-free paper holds out. Likewise, you won't get the same dramatic impact of Laura Amy Schlitz's bravura performance, but you will get every single word she rather breathtakingly memorized for a notes- or paper-free delivery. (As I've noticed about prior speeches, the thing on the page can be astoundingly different from the thing as written--what drew laughs in Schlitz's speech Sunday night often provokes a more meditative response in print.)

You will only find the speeches in the printed Magazine, (which can be ordered from khedeen at hbookdotcom) but we have uploaded a selection of other articles, including profiles of Selznick and Schlitz by their editors, Simmons prof Amy Pattee on Sweet Valley High (and reflections by several authors on their own adolescent "guilty pleasure" reading) and my editorial on just why Newbery girls and the swingin' teens of Sweet Valley are sisters under the skin.