Tuesday, December 29, 2009

So long, Claire-bear

I'm sorry to have to tell you that our cherished Claire Gross is soon to depart these glamorous environs for the delights of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, home of many Horn Book friends including Betsy Hearne, Christine Jenkins and Deborah Stevenson. So now you will have to subscribe to BCCB. As well. It is a first-rate school for first-rate Claire, and if I've done nothing else in this job I can die content knowing I helped bring Claire into the noblest profession. But our days will be a little poorer and considerably more disorganized in her absence.

Monday, December 28, 2009

More Fanfare

The official Fanfare 2009 list is up on our site, along with links to previous lists going back to 1938, the year we began constructing such a thing. It's both enlightening and sobering to go back over the lists to see which books stick around (from 1938, The Hobbit) and which disappear (Jerry of Seven-Mile Creek) into the mists.

Now all you Jerry of Seven-Mile Creek fans, lemme have it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Check for lint

Andrew sent me this op-ed re Kirkus and consumer reviewing whose sentiments I much appreciate, especially this gem: "Too often, the pretense of sharing advice devolves into oversharing the contours of one's navel."

Meghan Daum is here talking primarily about consumer boards like Yelp and Amazon reviews, and I noticed yesterday while looking something up on Yelp that what caught my attention were reviews and ratings that confirmed my opinions about stores and restaurants I had already patronized. I don't read children's book blogs the same way--the bloggers feel like peers; the Yelpers more like neighbors. I'm still working on what that difference means.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


(Approximating the fanfare from the old Imperial margarine commercial)

The new issue of Notes is out, complete with the Fanfare choices, our picks for the best books of the year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kirkus Alive

Frequent Horn Book contributor and former owner of Kirkus Reviews, Barbara Bader offers her thoughts on the announced shuttering of that review service:

Kirkus Alive

Within days, Kirkus will cease publishing after 76 years. A long, sometimes turbulent run, which has meant different things in the fields of children’s and adult books.

I was successively, and sometimes simultaneously, children’s book editor, non-fiction editor, editor-in-chief, president, and co-owner; but this is the place to talk primarily about children’s book reviewing in the Kirkus context.

When I succeeded Lillian Gerhardt as children’s editor in 1966, Kirkus Reviews was an outlier. It was privately owned, by book people; it didn’t take advertising; the reviews were anonymous; and the reviewing of adult and children’s book was closely integrated. Gerhardt reviewed some adult books, as I did in turn, and adult staffers took on some children’s books.

Virginia Kirkus herself had been a children’s book editor, at Harper, before founding the service in 1933, and it was not until the early 60s that Gerhardt came on board as the first children’s specialist—someone who’d been a children’s librarian, as I was.

In a small office, there was a lot of cross-pollination. We didn’t mince words about children’s books, any more than about adult books. This made a few editors, and more than a few authors, unhappy. They were accustomed to approval or, at worst, a shade less than total enthusiasm. People who write for children often think they’re doing a good deed, and expect to be praised for their efforts. Adult authors are more accustomed to taking the bad with the good, though not invariably.

In the slings-and-arrows line, Maurice Sendak likes to talk about the librarian who covered Mickey’s nakedness, in In the Night Kitchen, with a diaper. My favorite story of disapproval is the jiffy bag that arrived one morning, in the day’s heap of mail, with a dead fish.

With Publishers Weekly, Kirkus did pre-publication reviewing (Library Journal and Booklist came to it later) and like PW, Kirkus was heavily used, for adult reviews, by producers, publishers, and such, as well as by librarians, But Kirkus also took its place as a source of reviews of children’s books, which librarians had less need to order in advance, with other trade organs: SLJ, Booklist, the Horn Book, the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. My counterparts, all prominent in the field, were Lavinia Russ at PW, Gerhardt at SLJ, Paul and Ethel Heins at the Horn Book, and Zena Sutherland at the Bulletin.

As different as our publications and their voices, we became buddies, most of us. Then and later, we made our own contributions to children’s books.

At my departure in 1971 to write American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, my place as children’s editor was taken by Sada Fretz, who kept a very low profile, served admirably for more than a dozen years, and never became well known. (Harper’s Bill Morris, who knew everyone, marveled in later years that he’d never met Sada.) She was a terrific reviewer, though—with a relaxed style that masked the sharpness of her perceptions.

Even as circumstances at Kirkus changed, subsequent children’s book editors—Joanna Rudge Long, Karen Breen—put their own stamps on the reviewing, and made their own marks in the field. Autonomy fosters individuality.

After more than seven decades, from the depths of the Great Depression to the day after the Great Recession, was the demise of Kirkus inevitable?

Perhaps the state of the publishing industry condemned it, along with the cuts in public funds. But Kirkus was not intrinsically a money machine. When it was owned by Virginia Kirkus herself, by a small group of insiders, by the New York Review of Books, and by my partner and me, its purpose was to review books well and at least break even; to evolve and keep going.

Business people, on the other hand, tend to think that a small company chugging along, with a faithful customer base, can be made more profitable with business know-how. And why go on with a business that can’t be made profitable?

The imminent end of Kirkus, as reported on the New York Times blog, elicited considerable regret from readers (including stung authors) as well as, predictably, some glee. With a strong independent identity, it may cease to publish but it won’t vanish from memory. --Barbara Bader

Saturday, December 12, 2009


The news about Kirkus is very sad. I am friends with several of the children's editors--Lillian Gerhardt, Barbara Bader (who was also the owner and publisher for a time), Diane Roback, Joanna Rudge Long, Karen Breen and current editor Vicky Smith. And I treasure one issue, published interregnum and written by the adult staff, which was complete bedlam.

Kirkus had a reputation, memorialized by Trina Schart Hyman (no friendly flower herself) in a drawing she did for a Jean Fritz picture-book biography, for being mean. I remember Zena taking umbrage at a Kirkus review of (if I have this right) a children's book by the actress Barbara Bel Geddes: "as a writer, Miss Bel Geddes is a wonderful actress." But, jeez, if that's what you think of as mean, get out more. (And let's not forget Zena could be ruthless when she thought the book was asking for it.)

Speaking only of the juvenile reviews, I think what people had trouble with was the fact that Kirkus was no coddler. Children's books generally occupy a protected status because of their intended audience, and if you shouldn't be mean to children, then you shouldn't be mean to their books. "But kids like it" is a defense mounted in our field all the time, an argument that would be laughed right out of any critical conversation about books for adults. As well, preachiness is tolerated in children's books (because preaching to children comes second nature to adults) even while grownups won't stand for it in their own recreational reading. What Kirkus did was to treat books for children and adults the same in the same publication. Good for them. It was also, almost always, fun to read.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Now we had both done what we both swore we'd never do."

Simon & Schuster has reissued V. C. Andrews' notorious Flowers in the Attic and Petals on the Wind in an omnibus edition that screams "if you liked Twilight . . ." But oh how it brings me back.

I began my career as a library journalist with Flowers in the Attic. SLJ editor Lillian Gerhardt had asked me in 1983 to become their YA columnist, and the first thing I wrote about was Andrews, in the essay (named by Lillian), "Passion Power." As with Twilight, the Andrews books were all about forbidden and forestalled love. (Although less forestalled than Meyer: Chris and Cathy do the deed on page 337 of this new edition, and I would like to thank Elissa Gershowitz for her help in determining this fact.) Flowers in the Attic, although putatively aimed at the adult market, reached precisely the same demographic as Twilight, females aged 10 and up. Through the time of the series' height, I worked in two very different libraries, a conservative exurb of Chicago and then a poor neighborhood in the inner city, but the craze respected no boundaries--we could not buy enough copies. I wrote then that girls sought these books out because they acknowledged something girls knew--sex was exciting, scary and dark--in a way that the hygienic sex-is-a-wonderful-expression-of-love themes of the the YA problem novels of the day did not. Plus, it's really hard to miss--probably because reading is generally a solitary act--with a book about secrets.

This was of course all pre-Internet. I wonder how the craze would have played out today?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Infer this.

Magazine reviewer Jonathan Hunt offers his picks for the five best YA works of fiction this year over at NPR. I will nitpick that one of the choices is not fiction and another not YA but all five are good books. Three of them appear on our Fanfare list, which will be whizzing its way to your inbox in just one week.

To link this morning's post with yesterday's, Jonathan and Debbie Reese are arguing over at Heavy Medal about Albert Marrin.

And apropos of nothing but still burned in my mind is this sentence from Amy Sohn's Prospect Park West, which I heard this morning on my iPod and which caused me to wonder if, when they came, they first came for the copyeditors: "Not once had Rebecca heard a mother infer even obliquely that she was hard up [for sexual gratification]." (I'm listening to this because PW gave it a starred review while over at Audible.com all the Prospect Park parents are leaving bitter comments about how bad it makes them look.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Jacob's Java?

This past Sunday, Debbie Reese's blog featured her friend and colleague Jean Mendoza's trip to Forks and La Push. With photos! The one thing I like about those books is the weather; Jean Reports that no Cullens were seen on her trip, probably due to the abundant sunshine.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A question for the pop culture critics

I've just started listening to an audiobook edition of Jane Eyre narrated by Juliet Stevenson. (Did anyone see her recent PBS Mystery turn? It was great.) Stevenson is terrific, but hearing the spooky scene in the Red Room makes me wonder if Stephen King has ever credited it as inspiration for the "Redrum" motif in The Shining? Does anyone know?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

January-February starred reviews

The following books will receive starred reviews in the January-February issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

Incarceron; by Catherine Fisher (Dial)

Salt; by Maurice Gee (Orca)

Half-Minute Horrors; edited by Susan Rich (HarperCollins)

A Faraway Island; by Annika Thor (Delacorte)

The Champion of Children: The Story of Janusz Korczak; by Tomek Bogacki (Foster/Farrar)

An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers; by Natasha Wing, illus. by Julia Breckenreid (Holt)

Step away from the bar, ladies

So SLJ is in trouble with some of its readers over their cover photo of some boozin' bloggers. Honestly, you never know what's going to bring in complaints--and Letters to the Editor are far more frequently objections than compliments. As Monica Edinger (first reprobate to the left) points out, you might expect objections to the Sex and the City cast of the cast (all good-lookin' white girls) but who expected this? And too often, when you want to start a discussion--as I did with the Nikki Grimes article about black people and the Caldecott Medal--you get zip.

But here is one of the treasures from our archive, ripped from a subscriber's magazine, label carefully removed (coward), and mailed to me in an anonymous envelope:

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Still to Come, My Pretties

Beavering away here at our Fanfare list, which will be announced FIRST in Notes from the Horn Book, so sign up, you slugs. And we--that is, Lolly, mostly--are finishing up the January issue in glamtaborous full color and new features. Lolly has really knocked herself out working on it and the editorial staff has given her plenty of good stuff to design. Right now I am at the point in my editorial where I have to makes choices between things like " . . . the Horn Book" and " . . . The Horn Book." And how is your day?

Years before I had this job, I remember listening to Anita Silvey worry over writing the HB editorial and while I made all the polite responses, inside I was thinking really, how bad could it be? It's only six times a year. I have apologized to Anita for this, publicly and in my head, many, many times in the last fifteen years.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Claire Takes a Bite

out of New Moon.

What to Watch?

We had only been watching half an hour or so of the new Prisoner mini-series when Richard said, "I'm tired of these shows." Pressed for elucidation, he said "you know, shows where the whole thing is WHAT'S GOING ON?"

There certainly a lot of these cued on our DVR--Heroes, FlashForward, Fringe, with Lost coming back soon, yes? We were also fans of that canceled one about the people in the bank robbery and that other canceled one about the aliens in the swamp. We gave up on Dollhouse (Eliza Dushku as a robot, quelle surprise) and after Richard announced last night that he had Had It with Fringe, we deleted that, too. (I was done with that one weeks ago, but would contentedly play iPod Scrabble while R attempted to parse the increasingly careless storytelling.)

These shows are quite a risk, especially in the aggregate, as people get more conservative about just how many they can handle, and as even regular shows like Ugly Betty and Law & Order (Anita gets cancer and a boyfriend) up their serial quotient. The only show we follow where you won't get confused watching out of order is Modern Family. Stand-alone TV episodes are about as rare as stand-alone fantasy novels!

But the real problem is with those shows that ask us to trust them to eventually solve the mysteries that provide their premises. Lost in only watchable if you have faith that it is going someplace worthwhile. Let's hope it doesn't end like Alias, but the issue isn't so much that the conclusion needs to satisfy us as it is that we feel encouraged along the way. Wait, now I think I'm talking about religion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

To "see like a child": all it's cracked up to be?

Back on the discussion of long book reviews, Maluose commented that "those of you who think kids are naturally great reviewers have never had to endure any of their blow-by-blow plot summaries. They make most bloggers sound positively terse." Too true. The "book reviews" kids would deliver when I ran a summer reading club a hundred years ago were painful. And those "a kid's review" posts on Amazon might be shorter but they are not very illuminating. (Does anyone know how that tag gets there? I can't imagine a child using it of his or her own volition.)

I was thinking about children's taste on Saturday when I met a friend and his little kids at a local tot lot. The place is incredibly popular because there are lots of toys--scooters, trikes, a play stove, a little house--all made out of that child-safe but phenomenally ugly molded plastic that, my friend tells me, is very expensive. The colors on this stuff manage to be both flat and garish, and the plastic picks up dirt like a magnet. Whoever thought kids had a natural instinct for beauty probably didn't get out much.

Of course, kids with style are a nightmare all their own.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One question or two?

So, what does it mean--if anything--that Phillip Hoose's National Book Award winning Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is ineligible for the Coretta Scott King Award (because Hoose is white) and Jerry Pinkney's Lion & the Mouse is in the same position because it isn't about black people? Does it not matter, or have the CSK awards painted themselves into a corner?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Too damned long

I see that PW has followed up on Betsy Bird's thoughts on the Amazon Vine program; their speculation that membership in Vine might be a perk for good customers is intriguing if not substantiated. What seems oddest to me is that this program--for which publishers and other producers pay for the privilege of having their products evaluated--is being criticized for eliciting cluelessly negative reviews, which does not seem to serve the purposes of either publishers or Amazon. It's not like the books don't otherwise get customer reviews, but perhaps the Vine reviews post early enough so that any early buzz they provide outweighs what they actually say?

Vine reviews, customer reviews, and, sorry, blog reviews--they are all too damned long. That's the problem I have with 'em. Just because the technology allows one to prattle on forever should by no means encourage one to do so. The one Amazon review I remember appreciating was a negative review of a recording I adore, Adam Guettel's musical Floyd Collins. It read, in its entirety, "Too much yodeling."

Monday, November 16, 2009

We skipped the maple candy, too

Back from Vermont--we did get to visit the Patersons (that Katherine bakes a mean scone and gave us plenty to take back to our Killington chalet, no snow but there was a hot tub) but not JRL as poor Buster was by then too exhausted and disoriented to either move or leave behind. (He is better now but still, twenty.) Our chief entertainments were books in the daytime (me, a Joy Fielding--never again--and the second Stieg Larsson mystery; Richard, Possession (and finally skipping the poetry like I told him to) and The Godfather movies in the evenings. (How had I missed all three of those?) Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire only really comes to life when The Girl is onstage, but then it is irresistible. Christopher Hitchens suggests that Winona Ryder should play her in the movie but I kept seeing Bjork or that little fey thing who was on Absolutely Fabulous.

We only went shopping for ice cream once, and the only locavore alternative to Ben & Jerry's was some coconut sorbet. No thank you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I hope it isn't ALL Ben & Jerry's

Going to Vermont for a few days; hoping to see Katherine Paterson and HB reviewer Joanna Rudge Long (who lives not near but ON the Appalachian Trail) but otherwise just r&r, Roger and Richard, and Buster, who at twenty is too old for any trailwalking but we hope will enjoy the fireplace. Lots of reading planned--Richard gave me the latest Arthur Phillips for my birthday and I've got the second book about the tattooed lady (as well as the new Vanity Fair which promises a hatchet job on same by Christopher Hitchens) and the new Isabel Dalhousie "mystery" on audio. All that and a hot tub!

And look for the new Notes from the Horn Book later today, where I interview Jim Murphy about his new book about the Christmas Truce--appropriate for Veterans' Day, yes?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Lions are . . .

The New York Times Best Illustrated Books list is out, along with my review of The Lion & the Mouse. What a great book--I wish they had given me twice the space. When I sat down with it and my two young neighbors, the two year old boy announced, looking uncertainly at the cover, "lions are scary." His more intrepid four-year-old sister took over the narration from there ("Look out for the bird!") until the end, whereupon the two-year-old said, "lions are NOT scary." Now it's his favorite book, so we gave him a copy for his birthday, along with a little plastic lion he can carry around in his hand. What's your talisman?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Can I buy an umlaut?

I love it when my second-favorite magazine meets the interests of my first:
"The young miller is naive, vulnerable and over-enthusiastic, with a poetic imagination, but not psychotic! As to the cycle's ending, his death in the brook makes me think of the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials. Pullman imagines death as a dispersal into the universe, an absorption into the cosmos, and that's very much the sense we have here."

--Tenor Mark Padmore talking about Schubert's Die schone Mullerin in the November issue of Gramophone.

Friday, November 06, 2009

If Jim Carrey says it's Christmas now, who are we to argue?

While we've already given you our choice of the best holiday-themed books of the season, Deborah Stevenson and her elves at BCCB offer a handy handout of more than three hundred recent titles suitable for gift-giving. Deborah and I both learned our trade from Zena Sutherland and Betsy Hearne, so you know she has excellent taste. Too.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

More Meta

In Betsy Bird's SLJ article "This Blog's for You" (and I thank her for including Read Roger in the list of "Ten Blogs You Can't Live Without"), she asks a bunch of swell questions:

Do kids' lit bloggers influence publishing decisions? Are library systems basing their purchasing decisions on our recommendations? Should they? And to what extent is a blog about literature for youth a reliable source of information?

My short answers to the first three are not a lot, ditto, and no. As to reliability: while I don't see a lot of misinformation on children's lit blogs and am in fact impressed by the care which with bloggers source their facts, we first need to ask what we mean by information--and it's the answer to this question that tells us why blogs are not, generally, as useful to librarians as Betsy's first three questions would have them be. The glory and the bane of book blogging is its variety. Glory because lots of talented people are saying lots of different things about different topics in different ways to different audiences. Bane because this same riotous abandon confounds any but the most limited usefulness. While an individual can pick up the odd book-buying tip from reading the blogs, a library can't--it needs more systematic information than the blogosphere provides. A library collection based upon blog recommendations would be a mess.

If somebody needs a master's thesis, I wish he or she would take a look at whether or not there is such a thing as a blog-friendly book. We've had lots of discussions about bloggers all pushing the same books at the same time (a phenomenon exacerbated by blog tours) but I wonder if this is less a result of publishers pushing certain titles than it is that some books more than others will appeal to people who like to blog about children's books. Many bloggers are emphatic about their desire to write about books they personally love (and again, if a youth services librarian built a collection on the basis of what he or she loved, the library would be useless to the actual kids allegedly being served). There's a whole sub-genre of children's literature that has found its best audience among the adults who serve children (The Wednesday Wars, for example); does the same thing go on among bloggers?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Not quite the Myracle it seems

While Scholastic has gotten a lot of press these last couple of weeks about censoring its book club selections, this is not new; the company has been cleaning up its club editions ever since dirty words started appearing in children's books. Six Boxes of Books has the best analysis of the controversy I've seen yet.

Props to SLJ for getting this story out in the first place, but I have to note one thing that skeeved me out about the lede in the original article: "Don't expect to see Lauren Myracle's new book Luv Ya Bunches (Abrams/Amulet, 2009) at Scholastic school book fairs this year. It’s been censored—at least for now—due to its language and homosexual content." Calling the presence in a children's book of a couple of lesbian mothers "homosexual content" is gross unless the two of them are totally going at it.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Why Such a Lonely Beach?

The new issue of the Magazine is out (with a cover by Lane Smith that makes me want to watch Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol immediately). You can see the table of contents with links to selected reviews (holiday books!) and articles (fan fiction!) right over here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I know this has happened before,

but when do you think trick-or-treating starts when Halloween is on a Saturday? I can't believe Hopey has been running things since January and still hasn't gotten back to us on this.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Let's not forget that the gal had a good point, but

The discussion/flamewar over at Betsy's place about the Amazon Vine program reminds me yet again of the best way to get people to leave comments on a blog post: write something about blogging that implies in even the tiniest way that some practices might be better than others. People love to go all meta on that stuff.

In other words, as Betty Cavanna's Diane Graham (in A Date for Diane) recalls from a teen dating etiquette book she's optimistically memorized, "let a lad talk about himself."

Now, if someone would kindly leave a note in the comments accusing me of accusing Betsy of doing the same thing that I am doing right now, we can all watch the metaverse explode together.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Paging the Ambassador . . .

The most interesting statistic of this teen reading survey concerns who responded to it: "while we purposely marketed the survey to attract male readers, females are the vast majority (96%) of responders."

It would be really good to know if book reading breaks down in similarly dramatic proportions. We know that girls and women read more books than do boys and men, but how much eek! many more?

Friday, October 23, 2009

The science museum had lost its charm

I twittered my on-the-spot reactions to the Harry Potter exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science, mainly, as a way to kill time because this show was definitely So Not My Thing. While I knew it was going to be about the films (which I've only seen out of the corner of my eye on TV) rather than the books, I dragged my companions along to the preview with the promise that there might be some cool stuff about moviemaking and special effects. Instead, it was an admittedly dazzling faux-Hogwarts gallery of costumes and props, a couple of minimally interactive pit stops (skee-ball like Quidditch tossing; plastic plants that made a noise when you touched them) and a big fat $ouvenir emporium. No ideas of any kind about science or magic or movies were offered. True fans will not be deterred, I'm sure, but I was a little embarrassed for the Museum, whose role, I think, is limited to giving the exhibit space (I wonder how the profits get sliced up). It could have been great, though, with opportunities to look at the science behind alchemy, say, or how CGI really works. But this was all "celebrate the magic," complete with English-accented guides and guards recruited from Craigslist. Why, so you feel like you're in an English museum? I dunno.

But Where in the World Is Nina Garcia?

It's getting very difficult to muddle on without her, but we have nevertheless appointed our judges for the 2010 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. They are Horn Book Magazine executive editor Martha V. Parravano, NYT children's books editor Julie Just, and novelist (and long-time-ago Horn Book columnist) Gregory Maguire. Information about the awards and guidelines for submissions can be found on our website.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wild Thing, I think I . . .

. . . well, I don't know what to think of the new Spike Jonze movie but luckily Claire does and she tells you here.

Feed me.

A couple of weeks ago, in the aftermath of telling Alan Kaufman to do a not very nice thing to himself, I asked him to name names of the "high-tech propagandists" who tell us that we will be better off without books. I found one:

. . . the techies in Silicon Valley are giving us powerful new tools for telling stories. Scary because the old ways of telling stories are about to become obsolete, and if we cling to them, we'll be washed away. In the past we've all worked in silos. "Print people" had one way of describing the world. "Video people" had another. But the silos are getting crunched together. It's as if for most of your life you could get by speaking only English, but now you need to learn a bunch of other old languages, and, what's more, you must then master a new language that is evolving out of the DNA of all the old ones.

Newsweek journalist Dan Lyons is primarily speaking about news-delivery here, but he does lump in book reading along with all the other exciting things that full-time connection to the Internet is going to give us: "these devices will play video and music and, of course, display text; they will let you navigate by touching your fingers to the screen; and—this is most important—they will be connected to the Internet at all times." Coming from a generation that was always admonished to turn out the light when leaving a room, I do wonder who is going to pay for the apparently unproblematic necessity for lots and lots of electricity. And as for being connected to the Internet at all times--Alan, pass me a pitchfork.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How many words would it take?

Inspired by our Martha, Jonathan Hunt has a good post up over at Heavy Medal about the possibility of a picture book ever winning the Newbery Medal.

Taking names

I think it was in Martina Navratilova's autobiography that I read that Rita Mae Brown found names for her characters by wandering through old cemeteries. Now she could just wander through my junk mail, which today provided me with Dahlia Holley, Ailene Petruso, Arlean Taina, Shane Zavatson and Sarah Madrid. There must be a science to spam-name generation and I would love to know it--they are usually just the other side of plausible.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Magic School Bus Visits the Bowels of the Unconscious

The Horn Book offices will be closed this afternoon as the staff is making a field trip to see Where the Wild Things Are.

Horn Book reviews of NBA finalists

Kitty has posted 'em. One is still forthcoming and another will not be reviewed as its publisher decided rather late in the game that it was in fact a book for young people.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good luck with that

I'm not sure just how sustainable e-lending e-books is going to be for public libraries. Three points made in yesterday's Times article about the practice moved my eyebrows higher and higher until they were indistinguishable from my hair:

“'People still think of libraries as old dusty books on shelves, and it’s a perception we’re always trying to fight,' said Michael Colford, director of information technology at the Boston Public Library. 'If we don’t provide this material for them, they are just going to stop using the library altogether.'”
Okay, so people don't care about books in libraries, but if we can give them something they don't even need to leave their bedrooms to obtain, that's going to keep the lights on?

". . . with few exceptions, e-books in libraries cannot be read on Amazon’s Kindle, the best-selling electronic reader, or on Apple’s iPhone, which has rapidly become a popular device for reading e-books. Most library editions are compatible with the Sony Reader, computers and a handful of other mobile devices."

Who wants to read a novel on a computer?

"Most digital books in libraries are treated like printed ones: only one borrower can check out an e-book at a time, and for popular titles, patrons must wait in line just as they do for physical books. After two to three weeks, the e-book automatically expires from a reader’s account."

Who wants to wait in line to read a novel on a computer?

I understand that libraries are doing the best they can, faced with restrictions from publishers (several of whom, big ones, will not license their ebooks to libraries) and the mercurial nature of electronic files. But I wonder if libraries are trying too hard to fit ebooks into a circulation model designed for physical media. While the reasons for borrowing a physical book from the library are several--it's free, you don't have to provide storage for something you'll only read once, browsing the shelves provides serendipitous discoveries--right now, anyway, the only reason to get an ebook from a library website is that it is free, albeit hampered by considerable restrictions. Are there enough people willing to wait in line for a digital copy of The Lost Symbol that they will have to read on their desk- or laptop or Sony Reader, when they can buy it for around ten bucks (digital edition) or fifteen (widely discounted hardcover)? This does not sound like a situation upon which to build a future.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October Notes

The latest issue of Notes from the Horn Book has just been published, with an interview with Kristin Cashore, reviews of new fantasy sequels, new chapter books, new picture-book biographies of artists, and new books about autumn. New! New! New!

NBA Nominees, Young people's division

from Publishers Lunch:

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

I'm a little surprised by the Small in this category as I don't think it was published as a children's book and was not sent to us for review.

If you liked The Lost Symbol . . .

It occurs to me that now that Robert Langdon has raced around Rome, Paris, and D.C. he ought to go to New York; precisely to Madeleine L'Engle's current residence, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. His readers would love her; hers, I'm not so sure about.

Rough Cut

Here's a clip from my interview last Friday. I'm afraid to listen to it, so you be the judge.

Friday, October 09, 2009

They're Gonna Put Me in the Movies

Some documentarians are coming by today to interview me for a forthcoming film about children's books. It did make me clean my office, so that's good.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

BGHB Awards, pictures and video

The indefatigable Lolly Robinson and Katrina Hedeen have posted photos and video from the 2009 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards held last Friday evening. Check it all out. (In this pic l. to r. are Harper editor Anne Hoppe, judge Jonathan Hunt, winner Candace Fleming, judge Ruth Nadelman Lynn, and me.)

Think before you write.

"The red liquid was wine, but it shimmered like blood."--from The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. I'm sure Stephenie Meyer could be trusted to rearrange this simile into its proper order.

And can we talk about that title for a minute? In my opinion, "The Lost Symbol" is right up there with "When You Reach Me" for unmemorability, and by that I mean my inability to remember it correctly. The Secret Symbol? The Lost Code? When I Reach You? When You Get Here? Some years ago I had similar trouble with the beautiful picture book Night Driving by Jon Coy and Peter McCarty. In the space of one issue of the Horn Book I think I referred to it as Night Ride, Drive at Night and Night Drive Home (oops, that's Joni Mitchell).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Hot air didn't stop the Nazis, either.

From a San Francisco bookstore forum, reported in Shelf Awareness:

The idea for the panel, said co-owner Margie Scott Tucker, came from a statement made by Alan Kaufman, novelist, memoirist, influential in the Spoken Word movement and editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Literature: "When I hear the term Kindle, I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit." Kaufman moderated the panel, called the "Great Internet Book Burning Panel." (No books e or otherwise were actually burned despite the catchy title.)

Other panelist included beat generation icon Herbert Gold, San Francisco Noir author Peter Plate, Ethan Watters, author of several books including Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? and Cleis Press's Brenda Knight, a participant in the Google case.

Kaufman began by reading an essay soon to be published in Barney Rossett's Evergreen Review, which is now an online-only publication, he noted. "The book is fast becoming the despised Jew of our culture. Der Jude is now der Book," he read. "High-tech propagandists tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form of technology; that society would simply be better off altogether if we euthanized it even as we begin to carry around, like good little Aryans, whole libraries in our pockets, downloaded on the Uber-Kindle."

Even speaking as someone whose Kindle gathers dust and who views shopping at Amazon.com as an unpleasant act of last resort, get the fuck over yourself.

Monday, October 05, 2009

November-December Stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the November-December 09 issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

Imogene’s Last Stand (Schwartz & Wade/Random) written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

The Lion & the Mouse (Little) illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

War Games (Random) by Audrey Couloumbis and Akila Couloumbis

Crossing Stones (Foster/Farrar) by Helen Frost

The Storm in the Barn (Candlewick) written and illustrated by Matt Phelan

The Great Death (Holt) by John Smelcer

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have (Egmont) by Allen Zadoff

The Mitten (Scholastic) retold by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal (Carolrhoda) written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary (Viking) by Elizabeth Partridge

I feel like a butler.

We will be posting the video from last Friday's Boston-Globe Horn Book awards before the end of the week, and the speeches will appear in the January/February issue of the Magazine. Thanks to all who came, in person and in spirit.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Shh! The movie's started!

Over at SLJ's excellent Heavy Medal, Nina Lindsay and the Horn Book's own Jonathan Hunt are playing Siskel and Ebert with A Season of Gifts, a debate I predicted (or precipitated--my working theory about FlashForward) a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Milton Meltzer, 94

"That damned Horn Book"--the first words Milton Meltzer ever said to me, upon our mutual introduction fifteen years ago. Meltzer was ever-watchful of how the review journals were treating nonfiction books, a crusade begun by him in our pages more than thirty years ago. We commemorate the passing, on September 19th, of this omnivorously curious and immensely prolific writer with a profile of him written by Wendy Saul upon the occasion of Meltzer receiving the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 2001.

Monday, September 28, 2009

See Baby Miles. See Baby Miles Read.

(I take it as a mark of long-delayed maturity that I now find holding a baby more rewarding than playing with a puppy.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Two Scary Stories

Julianna Baggott (aka N.E. Bode) writes in the Boston Globe about a scared-silly principal, who apparently isn't down with her homonym.

And Jon Scieszka leads off the Library of Congress's Exquisite Corpse adventure. (Thanks to Leila for the tip.) I'm not sureI am down with the LC reading software but my eyes are old.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I agree with everybody

Pirate Pete asked my thoughts on the Almagor/Flake debate. I was unable to post while it was at its height and did not want to stomp in at the end, but I felt like they were both right, a situation made possible because they weren't talking about the same thing.

It's the same dilemma we see presented by the Coretta Scott King Awards. Why is there not more overlap between the CSK Awards and the Newbery and Caldecott? While some have speculated, evidence be damned, that the Newbery and Caldecott committees sometimes pass over books by African Americans because they figure the CSK committee will fill in the blanks, I think it is because the committees have radically different criteria for their choices.

Where the terms for both the Newbery and Caldecott specifically say that those awards "[are] not for didactic intent," here is the CSK explicitly endorsing didacticism: "Given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society."

The current dominant mode of children's-book evaluation at least nominally disdains "didacticism," by which it means preachiness or sermonizing. But the provision of explicitly uplifting messages (and, in picture books, the explicitly sermon-structured text) is a prevailing, if by no means absolute, characteristic of contemporary African American literature for young people. Whether this is because of the CSK criteria or whether the criteria and the literature spring from the same aesthetic, I don't know, but I think that the arguments on the Debating Black Books thread demonstrated more than anything an underlying disagreement of terms.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Probably Think This Word Is About You

Choire Sicha has an interesting point about the use of the word gay to mean lame.

Here, Kitty

On October 3, the Eric Carle Museum is sponsoring a panel discussion about the legacy of NYT children's book editor Eden Ross Lipson along with a display of books from an exhibition Eden had been planning for the museum, "The Silent Cat." While it is NOT true that the Caldecott Committee awards extra points for unexplained feline wanderings in illustrations, it is definitely one of the more offbeat but persistent tropes of the picture book. Mordicai Gerstein will be on hand to discuss and sign copies of his and Eden's new picture book Applesauce Season (in which a dog performs the cat role en travesti.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Debating Black Books

Due to popular demand, we're posting Lelac Almagor's And Stay Out of Trouble: Narratives for Black Urban Children from the September/October special issue on Trouble. And to further, er, trouble the waters, we have a response to the article from writer Sharon G. Flake. I'd be interested to hear any comments in the comments.

As previously mentioned, I am going to California to see our boys, their wives and the new grandson. Kitty and Lolly will be here to keep you all in line and I'll be back next week. Au reservoir!

[Update: Lelac Almagor responds]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Get Your Factoids Straight

I've got the new Dan Brown (audiobook edition) for our flight this weekend to meet the grandchild. Can't wait for either! Child_lit has been discussing how books perceived as page turners (like The Hunger Games) don't get the respect they should, but I figure there's page-turners and then there's page-browsers--James Patterson, I'm looking at you.

What I think I like most about Dan Brown is the opportunity he gives me to go around correcting everyone's use of the term factoid to mean a small, arcane, interesting fact. But Brown uses factoids in precisely the way coiner Norman Mailer intended: small, interesting, but completely made-up bullshit designed to look as if it were true.

Friday, September 11, 2009


That is, What Would Miss Manners Do upon receipt of a blog tour "invitation" that opened "Pick a date in the month of November that you'd like to host us."

Hmm, let's see. "Gentle Reader: While Miss Manners was pleased to be in your thoughts she thinks you have your roles mixed up. It is the host who offers the invitation, not the guest. Miss Manners confesses she is quite agog with confusion over the prospect of a world in which a guest might phone one up and suggest dinner at one's domicile. She is further confounded by the notion that a host appreciates being offered a "menu of options" that the guest would find acceptable. Even if Miss Manners were running a restaurant--which she is not--she would settle upon the menu herself. She would also charge, which would rather change the position of the guest to that of a customer, no? But Miss Manners is as loathe to charge for her hospitality as she is likely to enjoy having you "stop by" on the "tour" you are proposing. Bon voyage!"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"What do YOU do when your favorite author turns out to be a puppy-kicker?"

That's a great question, asked by an Anon on the Richard Peck post, and it's the third time in as many days that I've seen it pop up. First, poet Marilyn Nelson had a question over at her Facebook page: "how do we measure the value of the art made by an artist who is also a monster, who is known to have done monstrous things?" Then I saw at Judith Ridge's Misrule a discussion about A.S. Byatt's contention that writers for children have a greater than average propensity to be terrible parents, a hypothesis that neatly dovetails with the case, discussed on Marilyn's page, of Anne Sexton, a sometime-children's poet who sexually abused her daughter.

First, I don't think it takes a monster to do monstrous things--Anne Sexton was a deeply disturbed woman, not a monster--but I wonder what it might take to cause me to boycott an author, or to use an assessment of his or her life in qualitatively judging his or her work. One thing is for sure: "by their fruits ye shall know them" does not apply to writers!

Reading aloud and alone

Twitter is atwitter with responses to Richard Peck's remark in Notes that
"over and over [kids are]telling me that the books I wrote for them to read are being read to them by their teachers. And hearing a story read doesn’t seem to expand their vocabularies. If a teacher is going to take limited classroom time in reading aloud (and even giving away the ending), the least she could do is hand out a list of vocabulary from the reading to be looked up and learned."
While I think Peck was complaining about classrooms where kids' only exposure to trade books was hearing them read aloud, some teachers have articulated thoughtful responses, among them Monica Edinger and Sarah, who blogs at The Reading Zone.

I'm just grateful that Peck is still doing so well in his dual roles, as a novelist both respected by critics and enjoyed by kids, and a provocative voice in the shaping of young people's literature and its importance for readers. Thirty-five years ago, in American Libraries, he wrote one of the most cogent responses I've seen to Cormier's newly published The Chocolate War. And, with the Grandma Dowdel books, I'm loving his renaissance of books for younger readers--remember Blossom Culp?

Also, I predict that this Twitter tempest will seem but teacup-sized once the p.c. police get wind of Mrs. Dowdel's charade, in A Season of Gifts, with the bones of the alleged Indian princess. Pass the popcorn.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

New Notes, September edition

An interview with Richard Peck leads off the latest issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

September October Horn Book Magazine

The September/October special issue is out. Trouble is its theme and we've posted a few of its articles, including Betsy Hearne's topic-setting "Nobody Knows . . ." on the website. Take a look.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Can we grow the number of readers?

Zetta Elliott makes some great points re people of color in books and as authors.

Without in any way diminishing the very real problem of the white worldview of children's book publishing, I am struck by how often and widely charges of non-representation ("why aren't there more _____ in children's books?" "where are the books for ____ children?") are made of children's and YA literature. Books for and about boys. Books that show children in non-traditional families. Books that show children in traditional families, attending church. Middle-class black people. Girls who don't like pink.

The thinking goes that if there were more books about and for _____, more kids who are the same _____ would read. I wonder. Although I do believe that readers, at least in part, read for "the shock of recognition" Richard Peck talks about, I'm not sure that translates to wanting to read books "about people like me." It's more about being able to see yourself in circumstances unlike your own. To take the argument to its absurd conclusion, the belief that books should reflect their readers' circumstances means we could all give up reading and just look in the mirror.

But the concern here isn't so much with readers but with nonreaders. Do you remember the scandal of a few years ago with those Freakonomics guys, claiming that an enjoyment of reading was genetic? That kids didn't read because their parents read to them twenty minutes a day, they did so because their parents, as readers, were more likely to read to them twenty minutes a day? This is a little too mechanistic for me but I don't discount it completely. The pursuit of a more varied literary universe is an unalloyed wonderful thing--for readers. But I don't know that it will swell the ranks.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Would you trust these people with your kid?

Well, of course, not you, but I'm thinking that even parents who haven't cracked a book in years would think twice about sending their children to a pricey private school without any books in the library. They need to realize, at the least, that college admissions Deciders have a vested interest in validating their own expensive educations and are thus likely to look dimly at applicants who have been told they don't need books.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

It's Not How Long You Make It, Is It?

A tangential question that came up when we were discussing digital review copies made me pull out my calculator. How much longer are books getting?

I compared fiction for ages 12 and up reviewed in the Magazine in the September issues of 2009, 1999, 1989 and 1979 (October issue; we were on a different schedule then).

Average number of pages in books for teens reviewed in 1979: 151
1989: 157
1999: 233
2009: 337

Now, part of this is the current preponderance of fantasy, which has always tended to run longer--the longest book reviewed in the '79 issue was Robert Westall's (fabulous) Devil on the Road, at 245pp. But when I took fantasy and sf out of the 2009 sample, I still came up with 280 pp. average for realistic YA fiction, almost twice as long as it was thirty years ago.

The success of Harry Potter must take some of the heat for this; another factor could be that YA has gotten older: there is much more published for older high school students than there was even ten years ago. Plus, realistic YA seems more character-driven than it used to be in the old problem novel days, and while this has given the genre undeniable depths, it may also have encouraged a certain amount of yammering on. And people are also blaming the nexus of word-processing, larger lists, and smaller editorial staffs combining to mean less pruning. What else? I suppose we have to consider the possibility that the current crop of Horn Book editors and reviewers likes longer books, but surely you know us better than that.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Happy to help!

M.T. Anderson tipped me to this thoughtful NYT piece about the state of trade books in the classroom (wow, that phrase sounds as antiquated as whole language) and the fact that the Horn Book gets a shout out on the third page. We are of course always gratified when teachers find us helpful in their work, but the fact that a student found us so . . . well, there are no words.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Digital reviewing

We had a call this morning from a publisher who is thinking about supplying reviewers with f&gs of picture books in digital form and wanted to know if Horn Book could work with that/those.

I demurred. Electronic galleys for fiction, maybe. Although my Kindle gathers dust (too hard to hold; I hate the buttons and typeface; the "page" is too gray), my iPod Touch is perfect for reading on the subway or in the dark and can hold hundreds of books. Lots of editors and agents are already using Kindles or Sony readers to manage otherwise innumerable reams of manuscript pages. (It is unfortunate that there is nothing about digital technology that will reward people for writing shorter books.) But picture books demand to be held, and the page-turn and your fingers are part of the story. Less ethereally, picture-book reviewers will often hold them at a distance to see how an image might carry across a story hour, or they will want to try one out with an individual child or group. I remember Chris Van Allsburg musing about the unlikelihood of families gathering around the cozy glow of the computer screen to "read" the cd-rom version of The Polar Express.

I understand the publisher's desire to keep down costs, and, theoretically, electronic galleys would allow reviewers to post their reviews earlier, which is to everyone's advantage. But I wonder if the distance between what is seen by the reviewer and read by the consumer is too great. Are film reviewers allowed to watch the movie on TV?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Karla Kuskin

Very sorry to read of Karla Kuskin's death last week; there's an informative and appreciative obituary in the New York Times. I was lucky enough to work with Karla ten years ago when I asked her to write something for us about reviewing picture books, a craft at which she excelled.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Wow, what a great movie. I'd gone in expecting another Spirited Away, which I found gorgeous but rambling and portentous and adult, but Ponyo is a true kids' movie. That's not to say I didn't have a fine time playing spot-the-allusion--forget "The Little Mermaid," Ponyo has The Magic Flute all over it--but the heroes seem like true five-year-olds. I also loved the way the human boy, Sosuke, interacted with his mother Liz Lemon--needing her, disregarding her, helping her--and always from the point of view of a kid, not from an adult's idea of how a kid should view things. It's great, too, in a world of airbrushed Pixar animation, to see moving pictures again--when was the last time a cartoon showed what looked like a hand-drawn line? And, best of all, I never once heard a joke or saw a scene that seemed intended as a sop or wink to the adults in the audience, something even the best Pixar movies do regularly. I love the fact that even nine-year-olds might feel too old for this film.

I think Sendak would adore this movie--it was preceded by a preview of Where the Wild Things Are and, truth be told, I felt a little worried by the wooden dialogue. But let's wait for the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

From Cape Cod to Christmas

My mini-break at the Cape was lovely for all kinds of reasons, most notably the best ice cream I've had in a long time, at Four Seas in Centerville. I tried the chocolate, peppermint, peach and butter crunch--all sublime. Closes September 13th for the winter so hurry on down. Richard and I stayed just a block away at the Long Dell Inn, which went a long way in alleviating my suspicions of the term bed and breakfast. Nice bed, great breakfast, friendly innkeepers. Kept myself occupied each morning at the beach with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while Richard one-upped me with Midnight's Children.

Oh yes, work: the writers' conference afforded me (and the attendees, I hope) a great six-hour discussion with Mary Lee Donovan, Debbie Kovacs, Alison Morris, Nancy Werlin and Martin Sandler about contemporary children's publishing, from the nitty-gritty of getting an agent to larger questions about the future of the market. Everybody seemed to think that we were not seeing enough picture books (the form, Mary Lee suggested, most likely to survive as printed book) and perhaps too much YA. Nancy wisely advised the audience to cover its ears when we moaned about the current depressing economic situation--since you need to write the book you need to write anyway, she said, discouraging words can only harm.

And I finally got to meet Mitali Perkins. Yup, she's tall.

Now the Christmas books are calling--I have to go write a review of Jim Murphy's forthcoming Truce, about the sadly ephemeral Christmas peace on the Western Front in 1914, for our Holiday Books feature. Ho-ho-ho.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Served by a window with an ocean view

Heading out tomorrow to spend a few days at the Cape Cod Writers Center talking about children's book publishing. I'll be giving a keynote speech and moderating a mega-panel with Debbie Kovacs, Alison Morris, Nancy Werlin, Mary Lee Donovan and Martin Sandler. My main goal, though, is to meet Mitali Perkins, who is one of my best blog pals and lives not five miles from me but who has thus far eluded me in person.

Talking to writers--especially unpublished writers--is a dicey thing for a critic to do. Mostly, they are looking to get published, and I can't help them there. Or they want to know trends, and I can't help them there, either, because if I told them to get started right now writing a picture book about animal derrieres (the big trend revealed in proofing the forthcoming Guide), it would be too late, because we will have all Moved On by the time any such book could be published. Plus, it's not really in my best interest if everyone who wanted to be published were published. I guess that is my keynote speech in a nutshell!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'll Be Seeing You . . .

Last Friday we had a very entertaining time of proofreading the Guide, aided by candy and fave tunes from the 80s provided by Miss Touch-Me Pod, whose little speaker recalls the halcyon days of AM transistor radios. There was an ongoing war, too, over the merits of The Time Traveler's Wife, loved by Elissa and Chelsey and hooted at derisively by Kitty and me.

But I am glad that time travel seems to be back in a big way and I'll gladly give Audrey Niffenegger the credit if she wants it. The children's book of the summer is Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me (see my interview with the author here), and I'll be glad when you've all read it so we can talk about it. For those of you who have, and without giving anything away: do the kids and neighborhood remind anyone else of Vera Williams's Scooter?

I also recently enjoyed--and Time Traveler's Wife fans can here hoot at me--Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, a chick-lit novel by Laurie Viera Rigler about a young lady of Austen's milieu whooshed into contemporary L.A. via a fall from a horse. The book is a sequel to Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, about the L.A. gal who trades places with the Regency one, but that conceit seemed rather more ordinary to me so I didn't pick up the book. The two books together make me think of Nancy Bond's sadly neglected Another Shore, about a contemporary girl time-travelled back to colonial times, aware that a girl from then and there has taken her place in the present--and probably has it much, much worse.

Why is it that when I hit my head, I only get a lump?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

September/October Stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the September/October issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

All the World written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/Simon).

Fire by Kristin Cashore (Dial).

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge (Bowen/HarperCollins).

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Schwartz & Wade/Random).

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon written by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon (Aladdin/Simon).

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (Dial).

Thumb and the Bad Guys written by Ken Roberts, illustrated by Leanne Franson (Groundwood).

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) written by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat (Levine/Scholastic).

The Frog Scientist written by Pamela S. Turner, illustrated with photos by Andy Comins (Houghton).

Saturday, August 01, 2009

In the footsteps of giants

I'm going to New York next week to help select the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and I'm taking names. Here are the criteria:
Author or illustrator of fiction or nonfiction books
U.S. citizen, living in the U.S.
Excellent and facile communicator
Dynamic and engaging personality
Known ability to relate to children; communicates well and regularly with them
Someone who has made a substantial contribution to young people’s literature
Stature; someone who is revered by children and who has earned the respect and admiration of his or her peers
Most important, he or she will have to follow in the big clown-shoe footsteps of Jon Scieszka. Who do we like? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

[Update: Thank you for all the suggestions and discussion. An announcement of the new Ambassador will be forthcoming later in the year. Your comments were very helpful as the committee deliberated.]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is It a Crime?

Drinks for anyone but Elizabeth who can identify the musical quoted in the title.

The Simmons program Crime and Misdemeanors is ending this morning with closing remarks from M.T. Anderson, and my responsibilities--save paper-grading--will be through. I've been twittering away from the back of the room, but it's difficult to convey the extravagant genius and delivery of a Jack Gantos in 140 words. (And something tells me that Mr. Tobin Big Words won't be any easier.) If you go to the HornBook feed (linked over there on the right) you can at least get a sense of who's been talking.

Yesterday I was on a panel with Vicky Smith (Kirkus) and Deborah Stevenson (BCCB) about reviewing; the best moment for me was when Deborah and I confessed to letting House in the Night slip by while Vicky quietly crowed that Kirkus had named it the best picture book of the year. What we neglected to get into is how incestuous this whole business is--I used to run BCCB, Vicky formerly reviewed for the Horn Book, Deborah taught the Simmons summer course the last time and has an article coming up in our November issue. It's a very small pond.

I'll try to get you some more moments from the Institute later this week but am off tomorrow for some kind of management retreat in Ohio. If they think I'm doing trust circles or paintball wars . . . .

Monday, July 20, 2009

ALA aftermath

At a birthday party in the Catskills this past Saturday night, not only did the conversation--among civilians, no less--turn to the pleasures of The Graveyard Book, the waitress chimed in as well: "that book is so awesome." So I was proud to be able to brag about my interview with Neil Himself at ALA last week. I was a little taken aback when I saw him, black-clad and sunglassed, coming down the aisle accompanied by a bevy of slender young women also dressed in black--jeez, a freaking entourage, I thought, but the conversation was good. The highlight, I thought, was Neil's response to my favorite question: "have you ever seen a ghost?" While Naomi Shihab Nye, hands down, had the best response I ever got to this one, Neil had a good story too, involving a dark country night, solitary streetlight, and a gypsy. His storytelling skills are as impressive off the cuff as they are on the page. [Update: Naomi's ghost story is posted in the comments.]

Although we had a little trouble perfecting the sound system (but kudos to my roadies Andrew and Randy for keeping at it) the five interviews I did were all swell. (Six were scheduled but Laurie Halse Anderson had a family emergency and had to go home.) Highlights from the others:

--I asked Candy Fleming if she had ever had to give up on a biography because she got bored with her subject. She said no, but that in her work on a forthcoming book about Amelia Earhart, she had definitely found her admiration for the aviator tempered. I hope the book will tell us why.

--Brian Selznick said that becoming an artist means accepting the fact that you will live in a state of terror. (I think he's been hanging out with Sendak too much.) He also said that he's working on a book that, at this point, is twice as long as Hugo Cabret.

--Ashley Bryan gave us a preview of his call-and-response Caldecott speech, getting us to roar along with Eloise Greenfield's "Things." The crowd also serenaded him with "Happy birthday," whereupon he invited us all to his party the next night. I wish I could have gone but, honestly, at eighty-six that man wears me out.

--We had a triple threat Monday morning with Caldecott medalist Beth Krommes (pictured), her author Susan Marie Swanson, and their editor, Ann Rider. Beth explained scratchboard technique and knowing when to stop; Susan read their book aloud; Ann talked about how an editor envisions a picture book with only a brief manuscript in hand. They all got bemusingly embarrassed when I asked Beth an innocent question about what reading antique furniture magazines at bedtime did to her dreams.

I hope we can do it again next year--hey, Midwinter is in Boston, maybe I can get some of my favorite homies to submit to interrogation.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Some enchanted evening . . .

"Once you have found him, never let him go. Once you have found him . . . "

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blast from the Past

Jen Robinson alerted me to the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award for YA fiction, new to ALAN/NCTE but not to me. Years ago, Walden offered this award to YALSA, which turned it down because of her insistence that the winning book demonstrate "a positive approach to life." We (I was on the board then) didn't want to get into the position of deciding somebody else's road to happiness. That said, it's nice to see Walden get some recognition again--back in the 50's-60's she wrote several crypto-lesbionic sports novels notable for their fearless female main characters and basketball play-by-plays as exciting as anything penned by the boys.

Not to mention the flaming cheese. Opa!

Back from ALA but barely. Returned to Boston Tuesday evening then spent Wednesday on the phone for a Horn Book board meeting; faced today with two hundred pages of Guide editing and my Simmons class coming over to talk about reviewing in situ. It was a great conference--the author interviews went very well despite some problems with the sound system and Katrina was a selling demonette. Saw lots of old friends (including one I hadn't seen in thirty years, only at ALA via her library-architect girlfriend) and made plenty of new ones, too. Nikki Grimes's Horn Book article started kicking up a fuss on Monday when we published the new issue, and I hope the conversation continues. More later, with photos.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

July Notes

The latest Notes from the Horn Book is out, with an interview with Rebecca Stead; four more great books about New York City; summer reading for middle-schoolers; picture books about food; and a tip of the hat to the Coretta Scott King Awards, celebrating their fortieth birthday this year.

In a first, you will find the CSK acceptance speeches in the July issue of the Magazine but DON'T LOOK YET, as it cannot be published until Monday, after the Newbery and Caldecott speeches are given at ALA in Chicago. I'm told you can get a copy hot off the presses at our booth (#2259) that day if you sign over your first-born or sign up for a subscription.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Speaking as one old fart to another

Somebody asked on the previous post (and I STILL need your questions) what I thought about Nicholas Kristof's recommendations for summer reading. Not much--any list of the Thirteen Best Books is pretty random and thus useless and I have to wonder whether, in including the Hardy Boys, he means the ones he read as a lad (nostalgia time) or the ones currently published (out-and-out lame). I also wonder about his assertion that IQs dip during a summer not spent reading. Does IQ work that way?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Five Questions for . . .

You might know our monthly Notes from the Horn Book feature, "Five questions for . . ." in which I ask an author or illustrator of the moment questions both pertinent and inane. At ALA next week (yikes) in Chicago, this feature is going live at the Junior Library Guild booth (#2256) right across from ours (#2259) in the convention center. Here's the lineup:

Saturday 10:00 Candace Fleming, who has just won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for The Lincolns.

Saturday 12:00 Neil Gaiman, Newbery Medalist.

Saturday 2:00 Ashley Bryan, Wilder Medalist.

Sunday 11:00 Brian Selznick, for one last walk down the runway before he surrenders his Caldecott crown.

Monday 10:00 Laurie Halse Anderson, this year's winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Chains and author of the much talked-about Wintergirls.

Monday 11:30 Beth Krommes, Caldecott Medalist, and she will be accompanied by Susan Marie Swanson, who has promised to read their House in the Night aloud.

Do come! And do here, in the comments, suggest some questions I might ask any or all of them.

More information about our conference activities--dancing boys! beautiful women!--can be found here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

School of the Air

I totally wanted to go to one of those. But here's your chance, if you feel like playing along with the class I'm teaching at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature. The class begins today and is called Crimes and Misdemeanors, and it is something of a lead up to the Center's biannual Institute, which you can attend, and which will take place at Simmons July 24-26.

But if you're lonely in the outback, here's the reading list to keep you warm. Asterisks by the title indicate that the author will be appearing at the Institute.

Anderson, Laurie Halse, Chains, Simon and Schuster, 2008
*Anderson, M.T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party
*Avi, Nothing but the Truth, pub? 1991
*Babbitt, Natalie, The Devil’s Storybook, Farrar, 1974`
*Balliett, Blue, Chasing Vermeer, Scholastic, 2004
Bannerman, Helen, The Story of Little Black Sambo, HarperCollins
*Brooks, Martha, Mistik Lake, Kroupa/FSG, 2007
*Cashore, Kristin, Graceling, Houghton, 2008
Cormier, Robert, The Chocolate War, Pantheon, 1974
Forbes, Esther, Johnny Tremain, Houghton, 1943
*Gantos, Jack, Hole in My Life, Farrar, 2002
*Gantos, Jack, Rotten Ralph books, Houghton and Farrar, various (read a few)
Harris, Robie, It’s Perfectly Normal, Candlewick, 19994, 2004
*Henkes, Kevin, Lilly’s Big Day, Greenwillow, 2006
*Henkes, Kevin, Olive’s Ocean, Greenwillow, 2003
*Hinds, Gareth, The Merchant of Venice, Candlewick, 2008
Lamb, Charles and Mary, “The Merchant of Venice” in Tales from Shakespeare
*Lawson, JonArno, Black Stars in a White Night Sky, Boyds Mills, 2008
*Levine, Ellen, Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories, Putnam, 2000
*Look, Lenore, Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything, Atheneum/Schwartz, 2006
Myers, Walter Dean, Monster, HarperCollins, 1999
*Nelson, Marilyn, The Freedom Business, Boyds Mills, 2008
Parnall, Peter, And Tango Makes Three, Simon and Schuster, 2005
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Levine/Scholastic, 1998
*Silvey, Anita. “Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?” School Library Journal, October, 2008
Von Ziegesar, Cecily, Gossip Girl, Little, Brown, 2002

Can I borrow your notes?

Monday, June 29, 2009

When writers attack!

I wonder what you call the Twitter equivalent to drunk dialing?

And if you're going to whine about how you used to be reviewed (and how that must hurt) by Anne Tyler, it might be politic to spell her name right.

[Update 11:45 AM. It looks like Alice Hoffman wisely thought to retreat from the field and suspended or cancelled her account. But for those who missed it, Hoffman had taken issue, via several Twitter messages, with a review by Roberta Silman of her latest book in the Boston Globe. Along with publishing the reviewer's phone number and encouraging readers to call and give her hell, Hoffman complained, "Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?"]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo and 652 more

Elissa, Kitty and Chelsey have achieved their first step toward world domination with the release of the latest quarterly update to the Guide Online. We have a very nice new page designed by Lolly, and you'll notice that you can now access lists of the authors and titles of the 653 books newly reviewed. We hope, of course, you will subscribe.

And, per the post title, butts are big in this update. HUGE.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Judging a Book By Its Title

I wonder if the legendary Making It With Mademoiselle (a crafts book from that magazine) will be joined by Janet Evanovich's latest in the annals of books banned by mistake.

Who's reading YA?

A tweet from Chair, Fireplace, etc. led me to this article questioning the link between the health of YA as a publishing category and the assumption that it means teen reading is flourishing. Every time I see The Book Thief on bestseller charts I wonder about this correlation, and I also think the question speaks to the thriving (thanks, all) conversation we've been having about blog reviewing and how it differs from print. Save for the odd review in VOYA, all major print reviews of YA are written by adults for an audience of other adults selecting books for teens. Blog reviewers include both teens and adults, and more often than not YA blog reviews don't speak from or to a gatekeeper perspective--the reviewer treats the book as one she has (or, more rarely, has not) enjoyed and recommends (or not) to those reading the blog, with no "for your kids" implied. This may be why meta-discussions of blog-reviewing get so heated: it's personal.

I don't wring my hands about adults reading YA as much as I used to, but before you go thinking I've become more generous of spirit take a look at the article linked above--maybe YA books are simply adult books with more appealing covers!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Here's our grandson!

Miles Henkels Asch, born to Julie and Dorian Asch on June 20th at 12:44PM PST, 7 lbs. 6 oz., 19" long.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Publishers and bloggers

In a comment on a recent thread, Elizabeth posted a comment that I thought deserved its own discussion so I moved it here for your consideration:

Re. the question of anonymous posting, I seem to be the only person who holds the opinion that I would prefer to see people use their names, yet hold it I do. I may post my reasons why later, but for now I'd like to talk more about a question that publishers are debating re. the blogosphere, and which I don't think has been discussed on the thread below.

We are getting a lot of requests from YA bloggers, many of them teens themselves, who want galleys of one or another of our upcoming books. We are working at sorting out which of these bloggers have big enough followings to merit sending them a galley. Let's say it's roughly $8.50 to print and mail a galley, and our supply, and our time, is limited. How many of these bloggers might have enough readers to make it worth our while? Or, for that matter, write compelling enough entries that someone would want to read the book they are talking about? Interestingly, most bloggers, when asking for a galley, have not yet learned to say "I get 1000 unique readers a month" or whatever the appropriate lingo is. They just say they love YA literature, such and such book sounds good, and that they'd love to write about it on their blog. And as others have suggested, I think they'd also like to brag to their friends that they get a lot of galleys. But that's not a lot of use to us.

And as Roger and others *have* mentioned on this thread, while we have no idea what professional critics are going to write about our novels, we do expect most blog coverage to be positive. Maybe some of it will be really positive, maybe some of it will just mention our book in a long list of titles, but so far blog coverage, particularly of books seen in advance of the general public, has been pretty positive. When or if that changes, it will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe we'll keep a "naughty or nice" list!

10:51 PM, June 17, 2009