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.