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


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't call me "Baby."

Elizabeth Bluemle has a great lament up about not trusting--and feeding--children's imaginations. The saddest line: "It used to be that naming your new stuffed animal was practically a sacred rite of passage in plush parenting; now, if the tag on the creature doesn't provide a pre-fab name, we're seeing kids at a loss, calling their new dog 'Puppy' and their new cat 'Kitty.'"

(Of course, my little brother did call his blankie "Tag," cause that's where he clutched it.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blogs and buzz

Here and elsewhere, there have been some valuable discussions about children's book reviewing on blogs and an email I just got has me wondering about the distinction between book reviewing and book buzz. The email, of the multiple-recipients variety, was from Penguin: "Have you read FIRE yet? We want to know what you think! Please send me your thoughts, comments, quotes, etc. so we can get buzzing about the biggest young adult book of the year! Looking forward to hearing from you!"

I think those exclamation points will allow me to forgo another cup of coffee this morning. Fire is Kristin Cashore's sequel to Graceling (published by Harcourt, Awkward.) and will be released in October. The buzz-begging went, I presume, to people who had received ARCs, and I'm guessing that this group includes a fair number of bloggers, given how well Graceling did among that group last year.

I wonder if book-bloggers are going to have to choose between being creators (and subsequently beneficiaries) of buzz and reviewers of books. As I wrote in the comments on my last post, reviewing a book months in advance of its publication is not particularly useful if the audience for your review is the general public. (Advance reviewing of the kind Kirkus does is useful, because it's going to an audience--librarians--who routinely order books before publication date.) But months-in-advance is perfect for creating buzz, and blogging is a terrific medium for just that kind of publicity. Can a blogger provide buzz in advance and a review later? Does involving oneself in buzzing compromise any subsequent review? How cozy can a blog get with a publisher's marketing strategy? And if you DO have "thoughts, comments, quotes" on a book, are you going to give 'em to a publisher or save 'em for your blog?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"The fanboys can be merciless."

This Times article about the gypsies invading the castle of professional film criticism has a lot of import to the kidlitosphere as well, as amateur (I use the word in a strict sense) and independent critics join the established professional players in reviewing new books for children. I like what A. O. Scott has to say: “the paradox is that the Web has invigorated criticism as an activity while undermining it as a profession.” He means, I think, that as more people are embracing criticism as valuable, the notion that particular people can have expertise (worth paying for) becomes devalued: all opinions become equal.

Here's what worries me more. In the recent dustup about the BEA bloggers panel and subsequent debate about first- and second-generation bloggers, a-list and b-list bloggers, whether blog tours do any good and what constitutes pay and payola in the book-reviewing blog world, I kept thinking about my favorite Nora Ephron crack, which I will have to paraphrase as I can't find my copy of Crazy Salad. Writing about her experience with a 70s feminist consciousness-raising group, Ephron noted that in its waning days the conversation had devolved into a discussion about how each woman was going to stuff her turkey that Thanksgiving, and that none of the members was even particularly interested in hearing what the other women had to say, they were just impatient for their turn to talk. (Or as Fran Leibowitz put it, "conversation is not the art of listening. It is the art of waiting.") I worry that Internet 2.0 is turning us all into better talkers than listeners--that's what will kill criticism from wherever its source.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Twits

I'm currently experimenting with Twitter as @Hornbook. Have already been asked by one user if our site is "SFW," given our salacious name, I suppose. If you're on there, say hello.

In between twats I and the other Mag editors have been beavering away at the September special issue, theme song "Trouble." It's gonna be great--cover by Harry Bliss and articles by Betsy Hearne (Fifty years of children's book trouble), Pat Scales (What Makes a Good Banned Book), Susan Patron ("Why didn't I get in trouble that time I used uterus?"), Stephen Roxburgh (how much trouble could Roald Dahl be?), Marc Aronson (authors versus the internet), Leonard Marcus (interviewing Jean Feiwel, who brought you Goosebumps) and much more. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Notes

The June issue of Notes from the Horn Book should be in your inbox. I talk to Printz winner Gene Luen Yang, and we recommend some great new YA, middle-grade animal stories, picture books about summer, truck books for preschoolers and audiobooks for those long family drives. Enjoy!

And Claire has a new list of "Folklore Around the World."

You want car crashes? Yes, you do.

Katie Roiphe's Wall Street Journal article about dark days in YA literature is deja vu all over again and again. We last had major hand-wringing over the alleged bleakness of YA about a decade ago with the publication of books such as Norma Fox Mazer's When She Was Good and Brock Cole's The Facts Speak for Themselves. Roiphe seems to have missed this moment; more eccentrically, when she does acknowledge that YA has always had its dark side, she reaches back to Catcher in the Rye and over to Little House on the Prairie for her examples. As Elise Howard points out in a comment on the WSJ site, what about such YA evergreens as Lisa, Bright and Dark and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden? It seems that Roiphe has missed the fairly essential point that YA was at first defined by its darkness; without any apparent irony she writes that "it may be no coincidence that the dominant ambiance of young-adult literature should be that of the car crash about to happen." The road of YA lit is littered with car crashes, a signal event of just about every problem novel published in the 1970s.

We should be used to journalists painting in broad strokes; the real gap in Roiphe's essay is its lack of any acknowledgment of the enduring popularity of books about problems, death, evil, etc. among everybody--look at any bestseller list. When Frances FitzGerald was writing a similarly themed piece for Harper's a few years ago, I kept hammering her to understand that teens--and kids--read for the same reasons adults do. As Thumb points out to his friend Susan, in Ken Roberts' excellent new Thumb and the Bad Guys, "without bad guys, Harry Potter books would just be stories about school."

Monday, June 08, 2009

Think of the grownups.

A discussion on child_lit about book reviews that give away a book's plot twist or ending led NYPLer John Peters to post a link to Library Journal's announcement that it had begun editing its reviews with the reader--rather than the librarian selecting for that reader--in mind, as well as making them more Twitterific. Meaning: because the real money in book-review publishing now lies in their dissemination through databases rather than as print publications, it's smart to make them as versatile and buzzable as possible. But it would also be smart--financially--to make book reviews as positive as possible, too, as the companies that purchase them--from Baker & Taylor to Amazon.com--use them in alliance with systems designed to sell people books. So we all need to watch our step.

I wonder what if anything this might mean for the children's review media. While I don't think anyone will be urging SLJ or the Horn Book to write reviews for children themselves, there is a larger and larger audience of adults who read children's books not as gatekeepers but for their own pleasure. Should we be worrying more about "spoilers"? As it is, half the Horn Book office is closing its ears around the other half, all because of Catching Fire.

(And I won't spill anything here. Catching Fire is great fun to read and will be especially appreciated by people who enjoyed The Hunger Games, he said ambiguously.)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Flunk reading, do not go directly to jail.

Apparently some politicos are fond of spouting a factoid (please note correct usage, book reviewers everywhere) that links third-grade reading scores to the formulas states use to estimate their future requirements for prison beds. Not so.

No word yet whether or not Baby Einstein foretells a playdate with Old Sparky.