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.