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.