Friday, May 29, 2009

Man Without a Face redux

Or Batman and Robin, or maybe it's simply Twilight for little gay guys, but Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain is quite the adolescent epic of doomed, yet eternal, love. Philip, the half-Chinese son of a wealthy colonialist, is sixteen when he meets Endo-san, an older Japanese man who has rented the small island owned by Philip's family, offshore their palatial home on the Malayan island of Penang. It's 1939, so you know this isn't going anywhere good, but the boy and man become inseparable, Philip introducing Endo-san to the nooks and crannies of Penang; Endo-san teaching Philip the martial arts and Zen philosophy of his homeland. On the page, there's nothing sexual between the two, and readers can decide for themselves just whether all the kisses and embraces and intense soul-searching gazes exchanged by the two constitute a romantic liaison or simply a very close friendship, one that, Endo claims, the two have had in previous lives and will go on to have in the future. The writing is just naive enough to make me wonder whether the author fully knew what he was implying but regardless, The Gift of Rain is a Boy Book writ large--tons of action, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, swordplay (heh), Eastern philosophy, spies, betrayals, secret caves, oaths, seppuku, and hardly a girl to be seen (except for Philip's plucky older sister and an old Japanese lady--also a martial artist--who encourages the now-elderly Philip to relate the story of his youth). I do hope boys can get past the flashback structure and the Oprah-looking cover for the grandly idealistic war story and safely sublimated romance.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

July-August stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the July-August Horn Book Magazine:

Thunder-Boomer! (Clarion) written by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Carol Thompson
Machines Go to Work (Holt) written and illustrated by William Low
The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story from Alphabet Town (Knopf) written by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
When You Reach Me (Lamb/Random) by Rebecca Stead
The Eternal Smile (First Second/Roaring Brook) written by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim
Sky Magic (Dutton) selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Mariusz Stawarski
Mission Control, This Is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon (Viking) written by Andrew Chaikin and Victoria Kohl, illustrated by Alan Bean

Friday, May 22, 2009

Starring Adam and Kris!

"Strategically placed almost midway between the annual Games, [the Victory Tour] is the Capitol's way of keeping the horror fresh and immediate."--from Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

Blurring boundaries

Kelly Herold (of Big A, Little a) has a new blog with a very promising premise. Crossover "focuses on a rare breed of book--the adult book teens love, the teen book adults appreciate, and (very, very occasionally) that Middle Grade book adults read. I'm interested in reviewing books that transcend these age boundaries and understanding why these books are different." She kicks things off with a discussion of Twilight. Don't forget the Twi-moms, Kelly!

My new crossover favorite is Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim's The Eternal Smile, a collection of three thematically linked graphic stories (First Second/Roaring Brook). Yesterday I had an interesting talk with Lauren Wohl of Roaring Brook about the challenge graphic fiction presents to our traditional concept of grade level. I thought Eternal Smile was YA, or YA enough, to review in the Horn Book but SLJ apparently booted it over to their big brother Library Journal. Conversely, I thought the same publisher's Laika was clearly adult, but Lauren told me it had won a bunch of children's/YA awards. Graphic novels are just one development that promises to keep the reviewer's lot lively; when I think about self-publishing, print-on-demand and e-publishing, I just want it to stay Memorial Day weekend (which I intend to spend reading the new John Sandford and Tom Rob Smith thrillers) for the rest of my life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Go boys, go!

Eric Carle and Walter Dean Myers are USBBY's nominees for next year's Hans Christian Andersen Awards. The complete list of nominees is here.

The disproportionate number of men, worldwide, nominated for this award this year reminds me to link to Editorial Anonymous's current discussion of the CSK Who-Can-Win-What question. My thoughts on that have already been documented*; let me also remind you that the Horn Book will this July be publishing the speeches by the winners of the CSK Author and Illustrator Awards along with those by the usual Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder crowd.

*But let me just add: after a year in which two of the biggest buzzed books, Kingdom on the Waves and Chains, were by white people writing in the voice of African Americans, let me just say that EA is NUTS to think white writers are excluded from publishing about blacks by virtue of their exclusion from the CSK.

Looking forward

We saw Star Trek this weekend--I don't know what the Trekkies thought of it (I was more of a Lost in Space guy) but I really liked it. It made me think about Farah Mendlesohn's article we published in March, where she complained of the dismal scenarios conjured by most contemporary YA SF, more Children of Men than Star Trek. Why can't the future be fun?

Friday, May 15, 2009

My new secret boyfriend

Like Leila, I'm in something of a reading slump, or in my case listening, as none of the several audiobooks I read on my commute seem to be doing it for me. The new Anna Pigeon mystery reminds me of why I gave up on Nevada Barr years ago (lurid and incoherent); Elizabeth and Mary is repetitive and overfond of the first queen at the expense of the second; the new Dennis Lehane is too hairy-chested; and those New Yorkers pile up as readily on my iPod as they do on the bathroom scales.

Let's just say I've been in a mood. But what hand of Providence brought me to download At Home in Mitford, the first of Jan Karon's novels about the mild-mannered Episcopalian Father Tim and his flock in a cozy Blue Ridge Mountains hamlet? Oh my goodness (as F.T. might say) I am loving it. And the hero has already made me a better person. Last night I came home to see Richard folding the t-shirts I had left in the dryer last weekend. To cover my own embarrassment at falling down on the job, my left-handed Scorpio instinct was to say something caustic about it being high time someone got around to the laundry but I thought, what would Father Tim do?, and instead said "I'm sorry I left the t-shirts in the dryer."

The pleasure of the book is its comfortable, steady-paced, dullness--right now, Father Tim is trying to settle on the menu for a dinner party he wants to have for his friends. He's just gone jogging for the first time. His irrepressible (by Mitford standards) dog Barnabas will only sit when Father Tim orates Scripture. The village vet and his wife, in their middle age, are expecting a baby. I am completely engrossed. Martha says if I like this sort of thing I should try Miss Read's books, too.

I've been editing a lot of Guide and Magazine book reviews this week, and the contrast to my new reading crush could not be greater. Once you get above chapter book level, it seems like almost all new fiction for kids is (or wants to be) thrilling, exciting, harum-scarum, suspenseful, non-stop, etc. Don't kids ever read to relax?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I'm a little stunned myself.

From a press release I received this morning:

When Margaret Benedict, former educator and author, taught her social studies curriculum she required her students to read eight biographies a year. She was stunned when she found out that no biography of Joyce Clyde Hall existed. With determination to reveal the true entrepreneur that Hall was, Benedict worked closely with Hallmark Cards, Inc. to write An American Entrepreneur: Mr. Joyce Clyde Hall, Founder of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How Others See Us

The New York Times obituary for Eden is a gracious tribute but does that thing I hate: "Eden Ross Lipson . . . was a force in bringing the enchanting but often overlooked world of children’s literature to wide public awareness."

The REASON children's literature is overlooked is because we persist in regarding it as ENCHANTING.

Okay. I'll stop shouting. And, to answer a query on yesterday's note, Eden was terrific at negotiating between the world of the professional children's-book critic and that of the Times children's-book-reviews reader, the educated parent. She knew what I didn't know about what they didn't know.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

R.I.P. Eden

Former New York Times children's book editor Eden Ross Lipson died this morning. She was the editor who first hired me to write for the Times, and she taught me a lot in regard to how to write for a general audience about children's books. We became pals over the years and I'll miss her. For our November, 2000 special issue on "the Future of Children's Books," I asked a couple of dozen writers and critics to name one book to put into the time capsule for future child readers, and you can read about Eden's choice here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Last one standing, again.

I'm late announcing this but Lois "Shoelace" Lowry has made her BoB choice, and Suzanne Collins totally owes me.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What does this make the future look like?

Children's book publishing history is marked by scandalous firings and layoffs of editors; see Leonard Marcus's Minders of Make-Believe for some of the stories. I took one on a dozen years ago, but this latest round: wow. Emma Dryden and Kevin Lewis of Simon & Schuster are the most recent of many veteran editors and publishers who have left their positions in the past year; the list also includes Brenda Bowen, Ginee Seo, Melanie Kroupa, Michael Eisenberg, Joanna Cotler and Laura Geringer. (I'm a little leery of naming names here; when Leonard wrote last year in Minders that Susan Hirschman had been dismissed forty-five years ago from Harper Junior Books, Susan wrote to the Horn Book to correct the record, saying she had resigned. If you feel unjustly included or unmentioned, my apologies in advance.)

Beyond my sympathy and good wishes for all these individuals, I only have questions about what this disposal of proven talent means for the future of children's publishing. And they really are questions, not opinions in disguise: Will lists get smaller? (They should.) Or, will editors need to edit more titles? Will the increased reliance on editorial freelancers or "editors at large" change what sorts of books get published? Does company history matter, and who are its custodians? What happens to a profession when many of its leaders are removed from positions of authority? Will new leaders emerge (and how will they lead?), or will everyone just get a little more gun-shy?

I'm sure you have questions of your own, so ask them here. And I'd love for anyone to take a stab at some answers.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Summer reading

Claire has a big list and it's all about fun. Let's hope not too much compulsory reading gets in its way.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Craig Virden

I was sorry to hear of Craig Virden's death today. We first met when I was chair of the Margaret Edwards committee and he was Richard Peck's publisher at what is now Random House. Craig was more excited than winner Peck (who got the news while transiting the Panama Canal, so there's that). We weren't close friends but I always found Craig to be genuine and honest and contagiously engaged--enthusiastic. You can read his blog postings from the recent Bologna book fair to get a real sense of his voice.

May/June Horn Book Magazine

The May/June issue is out, bedecked with a pastelly portrait of Frances the badger digging into her bread and jam. Along with the articles you can read online--an interview with Sarah Dessen, Jack Gantos on booze and books, Janet Hamilton on science books--the print edition includes an essay by Linda Sue Park about food, glorious food in children's books with associated anecdotes by Lynne Rae Perkins and Peter Sis and a heartbreaking poem by Arnold Adoff; Lizza Aiken writing about her mother Joan; and writer Debby Dahl Edwardson on what raising children in the Arctic taught her about the who-can-write-what-about-whom debates. Caldecott Honor winner (and once co-conspirator with me in creating the perfect birthday present for Elizabeth) Melissa Sweet contributes the Cadenza, "4 p.m." Subscribe, already.