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 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 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 ZoĆ« 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.