Friday, January 30, 2009

For your weekend viewing pleasure

Claire saw Inkheart. It sounds good.

Remembering Kate McClelland

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Kate McClelland and her Perrot Memorial Library (Old Greenwich, CT) colleague Kathy Krasniewicz at Midwinter in a car accident. I did not know Kathy but found Kate a stimulating--okay, irascible--presence, filled with ideas and strongly worded suggestions. If you look back through your Horn Books you'll find several such suggestions from Kate among the Letters to the Editor!

And, in her memory and for your pleasure, here is the seminal article she wrote with Eliza Dresang about David Macaulay's eternally confounding Black and White.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Who Can Win What?

Esme Codell takes Marc Aronson's part in this perpetual debate. One historical point--Esme cites Ouida Sebestyen's Words By Heart as one book that "makes an outstandingly inspirational and educational contribution to an African-American audience and to everyone else as well," thus making the Coretta Scott King Awards suffer for its ineligibility. But I remember the intensity with which the Council on Interracial Books for Children tore into that book for what they saw as its obliviously blinkered whiteness, which is just what the CSK Awards are trying to avoid. But the main argument, as made by Andrea Davis Pinkney and others in our pages, is that the point of those awards is to bring black writers and illustrators into the field and reward them for uplifting books. Ten years on from that debate, I have more problems with the second half of that equation than the first. Good messages do not always a good book make and frequently are the cause of its shortcomings.

Monday, January 26, 2009

ALA Awards

All hail designer Lolly, Twitter-tracker Claire, copy editor Jen and fact-checker Martha, who bring you our webpage on the ALA awards in record time.

What Happened to . . .?

We have been very busy this morning pulling together our webpage of the ALA Awards, which should be available for your viewing pleasure in fairly short order. Scrutinizing what won always reveals a shadow--what didn't? Of course we all have favorites that don't go the distance (like Melissa Leo last night at the SAG Awards--sob!), but what's really interesting are those books you thought, based on buzz and chatter, were sure bets for something but failed to make an appearance. Like, last year, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. And, this year, The Hunger Games. And Chains. And The Way We Work. There are a few walls I'd like to have been a fly on.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I can't quite put my finger on it.

PW has announced its (casually) bookseller-chosen Cuffie Awards, with Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes as the picture book pick. It is a big favorite here, too, getting a starred review and a spot on our Fanfare 2009 list. Every parent I know loves it, and the text and design beg for story hour sharing.

But I have a nagging problem with it. The whole point of the book is that everyone has ten fingers and ten toes, and that while we celebrate each baby's uniqueness, isn't it great that they (and, by extension, we) have this particular array of anatomy in common? "And both of these babies, / as everyone knows, / had ten little fingers / and ten little toes."

Except, of course, when babies don't. Not everybody does--some are born with fewer (or lose them due to disease or accident), some come with an extra one or two, some people don't even have two hands, for God's sake. I know that these people are relatively rare, but there is something that bothers me when a book so determinedly inclusive manages to be so clueless about what it's actually saying. If this book had a mouth, it would be cramming all ten toes into it right now. You would never (knowingly) read this book to a child who didn't have ten fingers and toes, would you? And shouldn't that give us pause about sharing it with the ones who do?

I don't usually have much patience for debates about "sensitivity" and have no idea why this book bugs me as much as it does.

The other good thing about Newbery/Caldecott short lists

would be that we would get a day for children's books like today is for the movies, all cries, whispers, anguished moans and unexpected surprises. A lot of talk focused on a bunch of good books would not be such a bad thing.

My favorite surprise was the nomination of Melissa Leo for Frozen River. Go see it.

I like a man with a sense of humor, and this one is going to need it.

The Times reports that Mr. President has retaken his oath:

For their do-over, the two men convened in the White House Map Room at 7:35 p.m. for a brief proceeding that was not announced until it was completed successfully.

“Are you ready to take the oath?” Chief Justice Roberts said.

“I am,” Mr. Obama replied. “And we’re going to do it very slowly.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

But tell Carole King to get out out out of my head

I'm pleased to announce that Laurie Halse Anderson has won the 2009 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction for her novel Chains, published by Simon & Schuster. Congrats, Laurie!

We're still here . . .

But the Horn Book, Inc. has a new owner. See details on our website.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Still, it's not like a book can give you polio.

From the would-be author who insists to his would-be editor that "my grandkids love this story" to the award committee member who says "my ten-year-old thought this book was boooorrrring," the children's book world is replete with those who use their own children as test subjects. Expanding the notion of "my kids" to those children with whom we have professional contact (as teachers or librarians) gives us an even bigger pool of lab rats even while the scientific validity of the test population remains questionable.

I'm all for writers, award committee members, reviewers, teachers, and librarians "trying out" books with kids, but I think we need to be watchful of what they tell us. My colleague Anne Quirk talks about the "Steve and Daphne Show" she witnessed one year at a Best Books for Young Adults committee, where, as dutifully supplied by a committee member, opinions from these two teens from a single high school library seemed to be providing the pivotal swing vote. I myself like to use the fact that the two-year-old from downstairs loves to scream "ROAR ROAR ROAR" as evidence that Bob Shea's Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime should win the Caldecott Medal.

But talk about experimenter effect! Zena Sutherland used to quote Ursula Nordstrom as saying that kids will enjoy the telephone book if it means they're getting their mother's attention, just as politicians know not to say that Harold Robbins is their favorite writer. Everybody wants to make somebody happy. And just because your kids like or don't like something doesn't mean that other kids will feel the same way. Proximity does not an expert witness make.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Notes from the Horn Book

The latest issue of Notes celebrates the new year with a look at firsts: first novels, first chapters, pioneering thinkers, and that chicken-and-the-egg conundrum. We've also got an interview with first-time novelist Sally Nicholls.

Also, Claire inaugurates her monthly booklists with American Presidents.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One scary mutha

I can't remember how to link from within comments but yesterday's post about over-controlling caregivers reminded me of Lucy Lane Clifford's 1882 "The New Mother," which I instruct you to read before bedtime:

"If we were very, very, very naughty, and wouldn't be good, what then?"

Then," said the mother sadly--and while she spoke her eyes filled with tears, and a sob almost choked her-- "then," she said, "I should have to go away and leave you, and to send home a new mother, with glass eyes and a wooden tail."

Monday, January 12, 2009

I don't need a story tonight, but thanks.

The New York Times has picked up on the story about British mums and dads disdaining fairytales. The Times reporter adds a concern of her own: "My own question about these tales — Brother Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Disney (original and adapted) — has always been: where are the mothers?" I would tell her but am afraid I would swipe my answer completely from an essay forthcoming in the March Horn Book called "The Adventures of Mommy Buzzkill" by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Look for it.

But the person who scares me more than all the wolves and witches put together is one of the Times commenters:

As much as I love books, I’m making up stories for my four year old niece instead of reading books. It sharpens my imagination, makes bedtime more exciting for both of us and enables me to control content. Often it is interactive too–sometimes I invite my niece to make up new characters or decide on the ending.

I think we need to challenge ourselves to rely less on existing stories in favor of homespun, age-appropriate content for our little ones.

I think I would find it very hard to sleep with that person in my house.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sitting at the grownups table

Over at Nonfiction Matters, Marc Aronson cautions us to think about the larger context in which debates about social responsibility and the Newbery take place: "What I'd like is a set of comments on the Newbery that is not drawn from a survey of four winners, or the latest demographic chart, but a wider sense of art and culture in our time."

I'm again reminded of the infamous editorial-page fight between Horn Book editor Ethel Heins and SLJ editor Lillian Gerhardt. Rejecting the line (promulgated by the Horn Book among others) that children's books were all of a piece with other contemporary literature, Lillian wrote that "from where we sit, books for children are more accurately described as: the last bastion of yesterday's literary methods and standards." Ethel then said that modern adult fiction had gone to hell and children's books were the last refuge of Story; Lillian subsequently threatened to take the train up to Boston and hit Ethel over the head with a chair.

Because we view both children and children's literature as protected species, it's true that in our field we have debates that would seem peculiar if applied to adult books and readers. We don't worry, for example, about grown men not reading, except insofar as it might "send the wrong message" to their sons. But worries about "representation" of various ethnicities, gender, and sexual orientations do have a precedent in the social change movements of the 60s and 70s, with such critics as Kate Millett warning us about how destructive Henry Miller was to women. I'm guessing that Marc would tell me that someone got there before Kate, too!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

J.K. Rowling wishes they paid by the word.

Agent Amanda Urban on the economics of book publishing:

“Books can only support a certain retail price,” she said. “It’s not like you have books that can be Manolo Blahniks and books that can be Cole Haan. Books are books. A book by James Patterson costs the same as a book by some poet.”

Which one is the Blahniks?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

On the one hand, vacation is over

On the other, I have wi-fi at home. This concludes this test of blogging from the couch.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

With our best girls Charlene and Lori at Lorraine's in Provincetown last night. Ptown was hit by a blizzard yesterday so it was something of a haul getting to the restaurant but the streets sure looked pretty with the Christmas lights twinkling against the snow. I've discovered a problem with bringing lots of books on vacation--it's hard to settle on one. Currently I'm dividing my time between an audiobook of My Cousin Rachel, an ebook of an old Lisa Scottoline favorite (on my new iPod Touch--thank you honey) and Tana French's The Likeness. Hope you all are having an equally relaxing week.