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.]