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: