Friday, February 29, 2008

NOT by the hair of her chinny-chin-chin, apparently

Off to the Eric Carle Museum today for tomorrow's program; let's hope the weather holds out! [UPDATE: It's not going to. The event has been canceled and will be rescheduled.]

Just read that the multimillion-dollar-lawsuit-inspiring Misha, a Holocaust memoir in which the author claimed to have been sheltered by wolves for a time, has been exposed as a complete hoax. ['nother update: Globe reporter David Mehegan has more on the story.]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frontlist becoming backlist

Hearing Norma Jean Sawicki talk (see Tuesday's entry) about the massive debt behind the publishing industry's mergers and acquisitions made me feel much better about my Visa bill. It also made me think about how much more company is on top of what I personally see at most houses--I might know the editor in chief, the children's publisher, occasionally that publisher's boss, but most often a company goes up up and away into corporate dimensions we just don't see on the ground. Norma Jean and I had a good time talking about what that can mean for which books get published how.

The question that only came to me today is about how much frontlist becomes backlist, and how long it stays there. For example, what percentage of, say, juvenile hardcover fiction published five years ago is still in print? Ten years ago? What percentage of first-novelists get a second crack, and has this figure changed? When I look at the piles of new novels rolling in, I wonder how long an attention span any one of them can command. I worry about those forlorn first-in-a-projected-but-abandoned-trilogy books, their characters left at the breath of the Fire Dragon or in the mouth of the Imponderable Cave. How many books disappear, and how quickly? This is not to say that many of them shouldn't, and not soon enough, but have our expectations of a "normal" literary lifespan changed?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We Were There

Does anyone remember the We Were There books? There were two I read over and over: We Were There at Pearl Harbor and We Were There at Guadalcanal. I would have been reading them around 1964, roughly twenty-five years after the events in the books took place, which seemed to me like forever ago.

I'm thinking of them because tomorrow I'm talking to Norma Jean Sawicki's publishing class at Simmons; my topic, the last twenty-five years of children's book publishing. I was there. How weird. Now I know why Betsy Hearne was once initially resistant to giving the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction to a book set during WWII. She was there, so it didn't feel like history to her.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Forget Celebrity Writers . . .

. . . for Oscar Day, I present you with a celebrity reviewer, movie actress Saffron Burrows in the Guardian. Good job, too.

My Oscar hopes: No Country for Old Men, Coen brothers, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, none of them*, Amy Ryan, Persepolis; don't care about the rest but think the un-nominated Eastern Promises shoulda won for Best Score.

My predictions: No Country for Old Men, Coen Brothers, Daniel Day-Lewis, Javier Bardem, Julie Christie, Ruby Dee (Richard's pick because I can't decide), Ratatouille. Atonement for Best Score although it sucks big bombastic rocks.

*I know this isn't an option. It's like the Newbery and Caldecott: once you've decided that "choosing the best" is a defensible activity, then something has to win. We're talking comparatives, not superlatives, a distinction not observed in Zadie Smith's recent short-story contest. So I guess I'll go with Julie Christie. She makes me go misty.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's more than horse books

There's a piece on the International Children's Digital Library in today's Boston Globe that inspired me to take another browse over there. The ICDL is currently running a bunch of features on Mongolia, which fits in nicely with my Silk Road kick--I'm reading Colin Thubron's Shadow of the Silk Road and listening to Sainkho Namtchylak, kind of a Mongolian Bjork.

The ICDL reader is still kind of cranky on my computer--much as I love Jeannette Winter's The Christmas Tree Ship I wish it would let me read something else--but browsing through the Mongolian-language books on the site is in itself an education. Nice pictures, too--look especially at the books by Bolormaa Baasanuren.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Who's in your backyard?

Horn Book Guide editorial assistant Rachel Smith reviews the new Spiderwick movie.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

For reals?

I'd like to take a moment to thank HarperCollins for putting a nail into the coffin of a word that's long outlived its usefulness. Explaining their plans to publish a series that will provide opportunities for product placement, Harper children's boss Susan Katz explains:

“If you look at Web sites, general media or television, corporate sponsorship or some sort of advertising is totally embedded in the world that tweens live in. It gives us another opportunity for authenticity.”

So that's what we're calling it now.

Monday, February 18, 2008

You can buy a printer, but can you buy a clue?

We got a call last week asking if the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards accept submissions of print-on-demand books. Editorial Anonymous explains why not.

Clueless wannabes will always be with us but what confounds me more are stories that indulge in all the sentimentality, preachiness, lame rhyming and anthropomorphism we say never, ever to indulge a manuscript in, and yet they somehow get published, by a real publisher, anyway. (Yes, Peach and Blue, I'm thinking of you.) Let's make an award for that. (Anyone remember SLJ's Billy Budd Button and Huck Finn pin?)

This made me go all teary

Watch the clip.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Notes from the Horn Book

Be the first on your block to sign up! Each free and non-spam-generating issue of our new monthly newsletter, debuting the first week of March, highlights a small stack of new children's books of particular interest to parents and other adults who just need a little Horn Book help at the library or bookstore. In the March issue I interview Jon Scieszka, review some books about nature, spot some sequels, and answer some totally made-up questions in the advice column. Pass it on.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Cybils Speak

The winners of the 2007 Cybil Awards have been announced. A group project of the children's-book blogosphere, the Cybils attend to both literary quality and child appeal. Losers I'm most interested in hearing the gossip on: Shaun Tan's The Visit [ed: OOPS, The Arrival] and Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I thought they'd be shoo-ins.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What good do do-good books do?

I just received a press release from HarperCollins for Declare Yourself: Speak. Connect. Vote. 50 Celebrated Americans Tell You Why (Greenwillow, May), a compendium of essays about the importance of voting and civic participation by such allegedly teen-friendly names as Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) and Atoosa Rubinstein (a name I know only because Gawker makes fun of her); YA writers including Naomi Shihab Nye, Meg Cabot and Chris Crutcher; and NPR-friendly types like Norman Lear and the late Molly Ivins. Ugly Betty's America Ferrera is the "celebrity editor," a job I would kill for.

Published in association with the teen-voter registration organization Declare Yourself, the book supports a worthy cause and could, in fact, be a good book, although I always feel a certain degree of self-inflicted social blackmail when reviewing anything whose profits support a 501(c)3: be nice to this book or a dog will die. And while "it's for a good cause" has caused me to buy plenty, it's never gotten me to actually read anything.

How to Make a Book Look Good and Work Well

In our new podcast, Horn Book designer (and webmaster) Lolly Robinson talks to Lee Kingman Natti: author, editor, and old Horn Book hand. Lee discusses working with Virginia Lee Burton, picture book design and the aesthetic of the Folly Cove designers.

Lee mentions that she first wrote for the Horn Book in 1929, when she won that year's Reading Contest: "for the best set of fifteen book notes on as many well-chosen books, each book note not to be more than 200 words or less than 100--a prize of ten books." And I must say I like the then nine-year-old Lee's straightforward approach to book reviewing: "I like the book because of the horrible things the Bastables did."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Play Ball!

Claire has a roster of A-team sports books for you, so batter up before I run out of metaphors.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Why Can't a Woman?

On Saturday March 1st at 1:00PM, I'll be at the Eric Carle Museum, moderating a panel discussion inspired by our earlier conversation about why women don't win the Caldecott Medal as often as they might. The panelists for "Read Roger Live" will include illustrator Jane Dyer, children's-books sexpert Robie Harris, Viking publisher Regina Hayes, and critic Leonard Marcus. I know the discussion will be lively, and the museum is beautiful, so come on over.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

People Lust for Fame Like Athletes in a Game

Is or is not "Stars" the most lugubrious song Janis Ian ever wrote? And that is saying a lot.

In either event, here are the starred books from the March/April Horn Book Magazine:

Dog and Bear: Two’s Company (Porter/Roaring Brook) written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Rex Zero, King of Nothing (Kroupa/Farrar) by Tim Wynne-Jones

On the Farm (Candlewick) written by David Elliott, illustrated by Holly Meade

Frogs (Scholastic) written and illustrated with photos by Nic Bishop

Spiders (Scholastic) written and illustrated with photos by Nic Bishop

What To Do about Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy (Scholastic) written by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City (Knopf) written by Janet Schulman, illustrated by Meilo So

If you're in need of a sign of spring, go with Pale Male, one of my favorite books thus far this year. It makes you want to take a walk in the park with Janet Schulman (who I never thought of as a walk-in-the-park kind of gal) and Meilo So's watercolors have never been so rich.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Monday, February 04, 2008

February Web Watch

Zoe has been poking around again.

Fiction doing backflips

In watching the three Bourne movies in close succession over the past week, Richard and I spotted a neat thing we had missed when viewing them at the theater: the final scene of the second movie, The Bourne Supremacy, is also the climax of the third movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, with a completely different dramatic purpose. I asked Elizabeth if she could think of any books-in-series that worked this way, and she came up with two related but inexact examples: that it wasn't until Lloyd Alexander had submitted The High King to his editor Ann Durrell that she told him he had missed a book and sent him off to write Taran Wanderer; and that Jan Karon was forced after the fact by fans to plug a plot hole in her Mitford series. Any others?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

When Jane got a train

In one of the group homes I lived in after college (not like it sounds, but too haphazard to be a commune) one of my housemates had placed in the bathroom an oversized children's paperback book called What Is a Girl? What Is a Boy?, affixing to it a note that said something like "this is for all you losers who can't tell the difference." The book was a photoessay showing boys and girls engaged in all kinds of anti-gendered behavior, and the last two spreads showed a naked boy and girl, then a naked man and woman, explaining that genitalia was the only meaningful difference between the sexes. By Stephanie Waxman, it was published in 1976 by Peace Press in California . (It was republished in 1989 by T.Y. Crowell. Had Us become Them?)

K. T. Horning's post "Retro Reads: Before Heather" makes me remember those days. I'd love to have the Horn Book take a good look at this era of leftist small press publishing for children--any takers?

Friday, February 01, 2008

White man speaks

Debbie Reese revisits one of the more interesting events of my years here. In another recent entry she talks about author John Smelcer's aspirations to Indian-ness. Our review of The Trap didn't mention it, but the jacket flap does claim that the author is "of Ahtna Athabaskan descent," which apparently he isn't, although his adoptive parents are Indian.

Debbie asks if publishers or reviewers might vet an author's claims to Indian-ness. If I were a publisher, I would want to, but I would also want to trust the writers I published. As a reviewer, I don't think I'd know how to go about it. As Debbie acknowledges, it would be ethically dubious to do this for Indian claims but not for others, but forget the workload issue, who would you ask? What would constitute an acceptable answer? And as with all questions involving "authentic representation," who gets to decide?

I'm pondering the parallels and differences between Smelcer's claims (and he's certainly not the first white guy to "play Indian") and those of people who passed themselves off as white and/or male to get what they wanted, be it publication or remuneration or freedom. Your thoughts?