Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas, now shut up.

I'm over at Out of the Box today opining on Wild About Books, my favorite thus far of the book apps I have read/heard/fingered/etc. A larger question here, though--why are the narrators for these things so annoying? Thank God you have the option to shut them up and read aloud for yourself because I haven't yet heard a reader I thought was much good.  Too perky, too much verbal underlining, too much of that talking-to-the-children voice that would and should get you slapped if you tried it on another adult. Why inflict it on kids? Courtesy of Ellin Greene, my storytelling professor at GLS, I'm definitely of the less is more school.

If you have a couple of days to sink into an audiobook during these holidays I can't say enough to recommend Kate Burton's unabridged reading of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Here's someone who knows how to sound like a child without getting all juvenile about it. She uses not voices but inflections to convey when each character is speaking--at one point Francie's brother is mimicking their mother and Burton gets the doubled effect just right.  What a book, too--I think I last read it when I was twelve and I'm stunned at both what I remembered and what I forgot.

Merry Christmas, everyone. I was not a good do-bee and got all my reviews done before my vacation so I guess I'll be doing some of that (and, yes, Elissa, reading Guide pages) but I hope to get in a few books, several good meals, and some good running when we are in Ptown next week. Hope your week is terrific as well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

R.I.P. Ron Shank

I'm sorry to report the death of former Horn Book publisher Ron Shank. While it was a blink-and-you-might-have-missed-it relationship, as Ron became ill shortly after LJ and SLJ (and he) were acquired by Media Source, he did come up to Boston for a day and everyone here thought he was going to be a terrific boss. He had Great Plans for us and we will do our best to honor his memory.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Toddler talk

Our Kitty and her son Jakob found themselves on Salley Mavor's blog this week.

Jakob of the Ducks

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Notes from the Horn Book, Fanfare edition

The December issue of Notes from the Horn Book is out with the complete annotated Fanfare, our choices for the best books of 2010, and an interview with the Fanfared Megan Whalen Turner.

Also, Anita Burkam reviews (the movie)  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Sounds good!

What IS truth?

We're working on the March/April Magazine, a special issue about non- and historical fiction. (I'm thinking we should quote Pilate for the issue title but this is mostly Martha's baby so I'll have to run it by her.) Anyway, there's going to be a fabulous essay by novelist Marthe Jocelyn called "Was the Pope Old?" Re the provision of "information" by a novel, Jocelyn writes "What I learn from a book depends on what the author chooses to tell me in what order with what emphasis--and what I happen to care about learning just at that moment." Yup.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Yes, it's a book, but . . .

Lane Smith's It's a Book got into hot water on Boston's North Shore when a literacy foundation tried to donate copies to 340 first graders via their schools. While I don't buy into the harrumphing that has plagued this book's final page I do have two cautions. One, first-graders? I think It's a Book is better for third. Two, foundations (and Scientologists and Baha'is and Bible-thumpers) should know that gifts do not trump selection policies in public institutions. Just because you want to give something away, it doesn't mean that somebody has to accept it. If this were true, the nation's public libraries would be swimming with copies of National Geographic, and the nation's public schools would be swimming in Coke®.

I'm also bothered by the concept that one book suits all. Unless the publisher unloaded copies on the foundation, somebody had to pay for these books. Even at Amazon's suspiciously deep discount of 57 percent, that would come to more than 1800 dollars, money that could have been spread around to give the kids some choice.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Fanfare 2010

The following books have been named to the Horn Book Magazine's 2010 Fanfare list, our selections for the best children's and young adult books of the year. The list will be published in next week's Notes from the Horn Book with annotations explaining what makes each book so great. In the same issue, Martha Parravano has "Five Questions For . . ." Fanfare honoree Megan Whalen Turner. Sign up now.

2010 Horn Book Fanfare

Picture Books
Mirror, written and illustrated by Jeannie Baker (Candlewick)
Me and You, written and illustrated by Anthony Browne (Farrar)
I Know Here, written by Laurel Croza, illustrated by Matt James (Groundwood)
April and Esme, Tooth Fairies, written and illustrated by Bob Graham (Candlewick) 
The Village Garage, written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Ottaviano/Holt)
Nini Lost and Found, written and illustrated by Anita Lobel (Knopf)

Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Atheneum)
Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher (Dial)
Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley, by Stephanie Greene (Clarion)
Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same! written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)
The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson (Dial)
Big Nate: In a Class by Himself, written and illustrated by Lincoln Peirce (HarperCollins)
As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth, written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)
The Dreamer, written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sís (Scholastic)
Revolver, by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)
The White Horse Trick, by Kate Thompson (Greenwillow)
A Conspiracy of Kings, by Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)
One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad/HarperCollins)

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, written and illustrated by Salley Mavor (Houghton)

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen (Houghton)
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse, written by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse (Dutton)

They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton)
The War to End All Wars: World War I, by Russell Freedman (Clarion)
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca (Porter/Flash Point/Roaring Brook)
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot [Scientists in the Field], written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery, written by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point/Roaring Brook)

One for the boys

Peter asks a really good question about the William C. Morris Award for first-time YA writers. I hadn't realized that fourteen of the fifteen shortlisted finalists thus far have been women. Given the buzz around  (and the merit of) Charles Benoit's You, I was expecting to see that there. [Edited to read: until I discovered the book wasn't eligible; see comments.] Also, what about Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere? That's the Girl Book of the year.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Field trip!

Writer Susan Kushner Resnick pays tribute to one of our finest local institutions, the New England Mobile Book Fair.

New Guide reviews

The Horn Book Guide Online has just added 290 new reviews for your reading pleasure. Also, beginning in January, the Magazine will be including a supplement of Guide reviews, selected from the last two years, in each issue. Up first we feature reviews of recommended sports books to accompany Dean Schneider's article "What Makes a Good . . . Sports Novel?"

You know, sports is a pretty funny-looking word.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Do you skim?

In her review of the new super-indie film Tiny Furniture, Manohla Dargis wrote of the writer-director-star Lena Dunham that she's "not afraid of boring you," a phrase I am convinced is going to come in very handy when I have to say something at least nominally nice. I've already used it while watching In Treatment.

Dargis meant it as a straightforward compliment, though, and I can see what she means. There are moments in film (or tv, theater, opera) where we accept being bored as either part of the work's artistic strategy (my example of this is always Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky, which uses our boredom to set us up for the explosive ending) or as a time-out for daydreaming until things get interesting again. That's a lot harder to do with a book, though, because a book can't read itself, tapping you on the shoulder when it goes back to being good. Thus the power and pleasure of skimming. While I'd never skim something I was reviewing (cross my heart), I do it all the time in private life. And if it doesn't cause me to give up a book entirely, it frequently enough sends me back to read what I skipped once I've found out that it's going to be worth it. People do get huffy about skimming though, insisting you haven't "really read" a book if you've skipped the snoozy parts or ducked out before the end. But there's reading and reading: I don't know about you, but once I'm bored, I've stopped "really reading" anyway, as my awareness of my discomfort has pushed me from the world of the book.

Hazel Rochman tells everybody to skip the first chapter of Wuthering Heights. I believe I shall, should I ever try to read it again.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

We Real Cool

"To today’s children linear storylines are boring and only relevant in school. Providing access to [video] games/stories became one of the missions of our youth services department. We wanted to be exciting, fun, and relevant to the young customers we see in our library every day."

Take a look at this American Libraries article about how popular a library can be simply by providing video games and equipment. Then come back and shoot me.

It's not that I object to the library circulation of video games. Knock yourselves out. It's the rationale. Since birth, I have given adults who were trying  to be "exciting, fun, and relevant" a wide berth, and I suspect that these librarians are taking the games more seriously than do the kids themselves.  I also think it is rather counter-countercultural to use the ratings determined by the industry's self-regulatory agency to decide which kids get to play what. Are the selection process and access policies suspended for non-book materials?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

January 2011 starred reviews

The following books will receive starred reviews in the January/February 2011 issue of the Horn Book Magazine. And watch for your December issue of Notes from the Horn Book, which will contain Fanfare, our choices for the best books of 2010.

Mirror by Jeannie Baker (Candlewick)

Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow)

Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson; illus. by Timothy Basil Ering (Candlewick)

A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux; trans. from the French by Y. Maudet (Delacorte)

The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield; illus. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Amistad/HarperCollins)

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos (Clarion)

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point/Roaring Brook)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just when you thought she was Over

Betty White narrates an audiobook.

iWatch your movie

and Claire Gross reviews the new Harry Potter movie.  I'm thinking of watching the whole megillacuddy (shut up, I'm in a mixed marriage) of HP movies this weekend, having seen none of them before, and Comcast is offering a deal. Would this be fun?

iDrink your blood

Katie reviews Bekka Black's iDrakula over at Out of the Box.

Friday, November 19, 2010

That's a lotta work, girl.

I just found out via Twitter that former HB editor Anita Silvey has a new blog, the Children's Book-a-Day Almanac. God help her, Anita is posting a book recommendation daily, each tied in some way to that day's significance. Today, for example, she writes about the D'Aulaires' Abraham Lincoln in honor of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19th, 1863. The posts are persuasive and rich with history, publishing and otherwise. Check it out.

Jokers to the left of me, jokers to the right

Leila pointed me to this case in Seattle of Brave New World being yanked from the curriculum for being insensitive re Native Americans. The Prez has already gotten in trouble (per usual) with Fox News for the inclusion in his new picture book of Sitting Bull (; I'm wondering if that same spread is going to get him in trouble from progressives as well, as illustrator Loren Long chose to depict Sitting Bull as a sort of landscape, with buffalo for eyes, hills and cracked earth for nose and mouth, and some pine trees placed so they form eyebrows (and, dare I say, boogers). It's the old one-with-nature stereotype, which wouldn't be so bad had all of the other subjects of the book not been depicted realistically. If you're there, Debbie Reese, what do you think?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In breaking political news

My review of President Obama's new picture book is over at Out of the Box.

In which we are Proclaimed

I must say Cambridge really knows how to be nice to a person. Not only did CPL children's coordinator Daryl Mark treat Martha and Richard and I me to a tasty Indian meal before our program, and not only was our audience (including a dearly loved friend from high school I had lost track of) welcoming, interested, and book-buying, but former mayor and current councillor Ken Reeves presented us with a proclamation:

We tried to keep up our end of the bargain, yes, shilling A Family of Readers, but also, for each of the book's four sections, presenting some new books that would be great gift-giving choices for the upcoming holidays. And, in case you need some tips, here they are for you:

Part I: Reading to Them

Nini Lost and Found, written and illustrated by Anita Lobel
Higher! Higher! [new board book edition] written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli
A Pocketful of Posies, compiled and illustrated by Salley Mavor
Me and You, written and illustrated by Anthony Browne

Part II: Reading with Them

Mirror, Mirror, written by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse
Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same, written and illustrated by Grace Lin
Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley, by Stephanie Greene

Part III: Reading on Their Own

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, written by Sy Montgomery, photos by Nic Bishop
Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce

Part IV: Leaving Them Alone

Annexed by Sharon Dogar
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds
Who can spot our Newbery and Caldecott hoped-fors?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Live and on stage

Martha Parravano and I will be at the Cambridge Public Library tomorrow night to talk about how parents can help children find good books. 7:00 PM in the lecture hall at the main library near Harvard Square.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Turning the Tables

Meant to post this before--Monica Edinger gives me  and A Family of Readers the five-questions treatment over at the Huffington Post.

And, later today, I have five questions of my own for Lincoln Peirce, author of the Big Nate books, in Notes From the Horn Book. Coming your way around 3:00PM, at which time I'll be ensconced on the Limoliner writing book reviews, I swear.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Tweetchat etc.

If you have any interest in the Tweetchat Mitali Perkins so kindly organized for me and A Family of Readers, I think you can find the archive here. Mitali asked some great questions and I will follow up on some of them here once I've had a chance to do some pondering.

Yesterday, Martha and I had another techno-forward event, a bookstore presentation via Skype. They could see us but we couldn't see them, so I am freely imagining hordes of attendees. Our editor Marc Aronson has a report.

Tomorrow I am off to New York for the Times Best Illustrated party (did anyone else get a seriously crunchy DIY vibe from the list?), a meeting with our publisher, and breakfast with Anita Lobel, so I can thank her in person for that glorious cover painting.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Quelle surprise

So Cushing Academy turned a library into a coffee-shop hangout and declare it a win because now more students come there? Talk about diminished expectations.

Friday, November 05, 2010


On Monday November 8th from noon to one P.M., Mitali Perkins will be asking me questions about A Family of Readers over at Twitter. Come join in. She's @mitaliperkins and I am @hornbook; the hashtag is #familyofreaders. Does it sound like I know what I'm talking about?

And if you find yourself in Maplewood, NJ this Sunday at 2:00PM, Martha and I will be talking about the book via Skype at Words bookstore. Our editor Marc Aronson will be there in the flesh to talk and I guess forge our signatures.

You probably think this book is about you.

Scholastic editor and YA novelist David Levithan (whose latest collaboration with Rachel Cohn, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares, will be reviewed in our January issue) has a new novel out for adults. PW and Booklist both like it but can't quite agree on what or who it is about. Of The Lover's Dictionary (FSG), PW writes:

"This cute 'novel' by YA author Levithan consists of a series of words and their definitions, each evoking a phase or theme about a fledgling romance . . . The entries do gradually unravel a love story: the narrator has met a woman ("you") through an online dating site."

Michael Cart, writing in Booklist, says:

"Each word, from aberrant to zenith, defines the language of love, while adding to the reader's knowledge and understanding of the male lovers' partnership."

So was it eHarmony or Manhunt? Would be interesting to know if the "you" is deliberately ambiguous, or if each reviewer read into it what he or she wanted. As we so often do.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Eva Ibbotson and Laura Amy Schlitz

Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz has written a perceptive appreciation of her pen-friend Eva Ibbotson, the English novelist who died on October 20th. We are happy to publish it on our website and grateful to Laura for sending it to us.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

November/December Horn Book Magazine

The November/December issue is out, with a beautiful cover by Anita Lobel, whose Sutherland Lecture is in the issue. We've put online our reviews of new holiday books, Vicky Smith writing about religion and reviewing, Leonard Marcus on picture books from overseas and Mary Downing Hahn, Susan Cooper, and I discussing our choices for snow-day reading.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Over There

Today I'm over at Out of the Box, opining about a couple of YA classics.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cambridge Public Library, November 16th (note date change)

Our new blog

Yes, I'm going to continuing mouthing off over here, but today the Horn Book debuts a second blog, Out of the Box. Although its nature will be defined as we go, its goal is to provide coverage of some of the many books, near-books and neo-books that don't need review so much as they need attention. And don't we all? Go take a look.

Friday, October 29, 2010

She likes us! She really likes us! (She, on the other hand . . .)

(I guess we will see if that reference is as lost as Joan Rivers' joke about Elizabeth Taylor and the microwave.) Jules has a nice review of A Family of Readers over at 7-Imp.

In other blog news there was a Twitter-tempest last night over a blogger's review of Laurel Snyder's completely amiable middle-grade novel Penny Dreadful. Book blogger Noël De Vries was loving the book until she came to a reference to lesbian moms which implied they were "normal." De Vries wrote "The only problem is, being a lesbian is not normal. It's not something that "just happens" to people, like being poor or brave. In fact, when you look through Biblical glasses, homosexuality is, well, an abomination."

Ohhhh-kay. I suppose if you are looking at at homosexuality from a Biblical perspective (albeit a very particular fundamentalist one), De Vries' assertion makes its own kind of sense, but she then veers into a decidedly irrational corollary: "Characters like Willa and Jenny [the moms] with their happy little family, show elementary-age readers that Christian beliefs are hateful and silly. Add these characters to the full-blown assault of politically-correct propaganda that is molding America's children." So if an author depicts characters whose behavior you label abhorrent, then he or she is making you out as the hateful one? Note to Noēl: not everything is about you, dear.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

To Have and to Hold

With my colleagues at JLG and SLJ, I'm working on an upcoming presentation on collection development, specifically, how school and public libraries should balance their print and digital collections. While the medium--it's a Power Point webinar--is new to me, my part of the message very much blows the old horn for fine books for boys and girls, that is, I'm to speak about the importance of printed books. (P.S. Thank God. P.P.S. What is this Power Point?)

One thing I want to talk about is how much a particular book, as a physical object, can mean to a reader, perhaps especially to a young reader. You want to own it (or check the same copy out of the library over and over again), you want to stare at the cover, you want to show it off or carefully hide it, depending. Like a lot of kids my age (in my cohort, to use the lingo of the Power Point era), I felt that way about my Tolkien books--what's doing it for the kids these days? I need some good examples--indeed, I need to know if this bibliophilic passion still goes on, or if kids, those who read, are happy enough with the digital download of Dune.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NBA Finalists

We've posted our reviews of the finalists for the National Book Award, young people's literature category, and I see that our little sister has done the same thing. Compare 'n contrast!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No, I should eat less ice cream

Someone is not clear on the concept of recreational reading. From "Reading in the Digital Age by the Numbers," PW 10/4/2010: "75: Percentage of 9-17-year-olds who know they should read more for fun."

Movie premiere

Don't forgot, tonight marks the premiere of  Library of the Early Mind, a documentary about children's books in contemporary culture (at least, that is what I think it is about, but I haven't seen it). The film starts at 5:30 in Askwith Hall at Harvard, and the screening will be followed by a panel discussion and book-signing/reception with some of the film's interviewees including Lois Lowry, Lesléa Newman, Jerry Pinkney and me. Admission is free.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October Notes

The latest issue of Notes is out, with five questions for Rosemary Wells about Max and Ruby (they should do a live-action remake with Bobby and Sally Draper, no?) and reviews of new picture books, nonfiction, chapter books and YA fantasy. Damn, what isn't published in a series these days?

Off to New York to see some shows, walk in the bamboo forest and spy on our little sister for a couple of days.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Parents and picture books

I'm late to the discussion re the New York Times article about picture books but enough people have now asked me for my thoughts that here they are. Fewer picture books are being published because a) the profit margin on them is not as good as it is for novels and b) fewer people are buying them because i. they are expensive and ii. there are currently fewer young children than there were in eras when picture books boomed. While we would normally expect the numbers of picture books to increase as the population again tends younger (as it is), Cassandra here is having a little trouble reading the future because of the new variable of electronic publishing getting better, cheaper, and reaching younger.

As far as parents pushing kids out of picture books goes, that is neither new nor news. As Robin Smith and Dean Schneider told us in "Unlucky Arithmetic," "throw out the picture books" is one of thirteen time-tested ways to raise a non-reader. When I was a children's librarian, which was probably before the Times reporter was even born, I was regularly told by parents that such-and-such book for Junior was "too easy." People who think reading is supposed to be difficult most often--surprise!--don't like to read themselves and, in a perfect world, would have their interference met by a friendly but firm "you don't know what you are talking about."

And, as many in the blogosphere have been pointing out, anecdotal evidence of bookstore behavior is not going to give us the complete picture. It was the wise Jane Botham of the Milwaukee Public Library who told me that the book to buy in the bookstore was the one the child had already checked out of the library over and over again. Start there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

November/December 2010 stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the November/December issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Me and You by Anthony Browne (Farrar)

Nini Lost and Found by Anita Lobel (Knopf)

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam)

Forge [Seeds of America] by Laurie Halse Anderson (Atheneum)

The 10 p.m. Question by Kate De Goldi (Candlewick)

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle; illus. by Patrick Arrasmith (Holt)

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic)

The Legend of the King [Squire’s Tales] by Gerald Morris (Houghton)

The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud (Disney-Hyperion)

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Salley Mavor (Houghton)

Nic Bishop Lizards by Nic Bishop (Scholastic Nonfiction)

The Odyssey adapted by Gareth Hinds (Candlewick)

Built to Last by David Macaulay (Houghton)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Excuse our dust

while we mess around with ad placement on Read Roger. You might think Google's Ad Sense would have more sense than to run ads for vanity press publishers on a blog that will only mock the same. But I think it is run by robots and in any case our sales force will be handling the ads once we get the layout worked out. Comments welcome.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I Speak, You Shut Up

Following last Saturday's colloquium at Simmons, I had an interesting dinner conversation with Megan Whalen Turner and Virginia Duncan about the Speak debate of a few weeks ago and the more recent challenge to The Hunger Games at a New Hampshire school. Both cases have me in "yes . . . but" overload.

Yes, the op-ed objection to Speak was stupid and uninformed, and I'm glad lots of people said so. But the #speakloudly hashtag campaign on Twitter felt more like a parade of people swanning about in their virtue than anything else: "My name is Roger and I #speakloudly against censorship." Oh, good for meSpeak had not--in the situation being discussed--been censored or even challenged. I will spare you my usual tirade against the ALA's willful and sneaky conflation of challenged and censored books but neither was the case here. This was one idiot in the local paper mouthing off about a book he hadn't read. If this is what gets Twitter going, it's not going to go far.

The Hunger Games challenge is more serious. In this case, a mother had gone to the school board because her eleven-year-old daughter was being required to read Collins' novel in a seventh-grade class. This is a true challenge, and if the school board does remove the book from the curriculum I could be persuaded to call it censorship, if not as egregious as a decision to remove the book entirely from the school's library. But still I think, The Hunger Games? Required reading? For an eleven-year-old? Whether to make a book required reading or not is a professional judgment on the teacher's part, but must that judgment go unquestioned? In this case, I'm questioning it.

I wish the concerned parent had talked to the teacher rather than the school board. But I also wish schools and libraries would mean what they say when they ask parents to get involved. If the only possible solution to a parent's objection to a required book is to remove that child from the classroom, the wrong discussion is going on. If the school board meeting was the first time the teacher heard someone say The Hunger Games? Required reading? For an eleven-year-old? then the right discussion never happened.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

More flogging

Not the fun kind . . . maybe the other fun kind?

Wednesday evening Martha and I will be speaking and signing A Family of Readers at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. 7:00 PM. Do come!

And on Friday, to my complete terror, I will be speaking at an event sponsored by the Beatrix Potter Society. (Terror, because too many cozies and BBC serials have led me to believe that meetings of  literary societies always end in murder.) I will be speaking on the topic of "Beatrix, Bertha, and Me," an invitation to hubris and murder if ever there was one. Thank God Lolly, who really does know her Beatrix and Bertha, will be there. Betsy Bray, the North American Liaison of the Society, has invited me to invite you. The talk is being held at the Cambridge Public Library main building (my first visit since their reopening) at 10:00 AM; if you would like to attend email Betsy: braybetsy at gmail dot com.

Monday, October 04, 2010


While we ran a little long and no one could ever find a cab, I would have to say that our first Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards at Simmons and the next day's first Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium went  swimmingly. Here are a few photos:

Nonfiction winner Betsy Partridge channeling Miss Brodie

Laurel Croza and Matt James, picture book winners
Hmm, fiction winner Rebecca Stead seems more amused than her editor, Wendy Lamb

That's my grandson you're autographing for, Peter, so cheer up!

Lost In Translation, sans scotch
Picture-book royalty, Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham
Next year's BGHB chair Jen Brabander with Raina Telgemeier and her husband Dave Roman. That smile was totally worth it, Raina!
You can't see much of it here, but Megan Whalen Turner won the prize for Best Dress
Judge Gregory Maguire presents the picture books

Judges Julie Just and Martha Parravano tell all

Thursday, September 30, 2010


We're in the final hours of planning the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (tomorrow night) and the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium (Saturday). Thanks mainly to the super-capable and farsighted Katrina Hedeen, we seem to be on track, but last night I dreamed that Seal and Heidi Klum RSVPed late and I could not find room for them. Pictured above are the swag bags Katrina, Katie, Cindy and the interns pulled together for Saturday. They are bunched in groups of five and held together by heavy duty rubber bands, making them both easy to count and easy to carry. Given all the time and resources in the world I still never would have thought to do that. And those kids even knew how to rent something called a Zip Car to get them all over to Simmons. I am in awe.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Let's go to the movies

Lolly Robinson, who teaches children's literature at the Harvard ed. school along with her myriad responsibilities here at the Horn Book, has put together the premiere of The Library of the Early Mind, a documentary about children's literature today. The Askwith Forum series will be presenting this showing for FREE and it will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Lolly, with the film's director and producer and some of its STARS, um, interviewees. There will also be a book signing and reception. Please come. Tuesday, October 19th, 5:30-8:00PM, Askwith Hall, Harvard University.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our book is out!

A Family of Readers is published today, but I keep remembering that funny story Anne Lamott told in Bird by Bird, when she expected big things to happen on her publication date and absolutely nothing did. But you can buy it now!  Kitty has set up a page where we will post news and information about book-related goings-on. (Mouse over the photo there for a little cross-dressing fun.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Our new publisher

Please join me in welcoming Ian Singer, our new publisher. Ian had been working as VP of content and business development for Media Source and takes over the job of publisher (of Horn Book, Library Journal and School Library Journal) from Ron Shank, who is on extended leave. Brian Kenney is adding the editorial directorship of the Horn Book to his portfolio of LJ and SLJ. (I'm still EIC here.) Here is the complete press release.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


If you're around Cambridge this Friday, the Cambridge Public Library Children's Room invites you to an evening with Avi, celebrating the release of his new book Crispin: the End of Time. The program begins at 7:00 PM and will be held at Cambridge College, 1000 Mass Ave., room #152. Porter Square Books will have books available for sale and autographing. For more information, call the Children's Room at 617-349-4038.

Avi and I got off to a rocky start twenty-five years ago, when we got into it in the pages of SLJ. His article? "Reviewing the Reviewers." My response? "Reviewing Avi." Things got much better between us since, though.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Did she just say what I think she did?

Sparked by the Speak drama, the Tea Cozy asks the question, "what would you do if someone used your review as 'proof' that a book shouldn’t be in a library or a classroom?" and there's a good discussion in the comments.

My own touchstone for this question is Judy Blume's Here's to You, Rachel Robinson, in which the word fucking appears once. I know that there are school and public libraries that would not want this book on their shelves because of that single vulgar utterance (by a troubled character, by the way, in case you thought Blume was cussing out her readers or something). But should a review mention it? On the one hand, I can't think of a review reader who would mind having that pointed out, whether because it stopped them from buying the book, made them aware of potential controversy, or made them even more eager to read it. On the other, in a two-to-three-hundred word review, would quoting that word give its presence in the book undue weight? Or, by omitting any mention, am I trying unfairly to get people to buy the book? (This also happens when a reviewer substitutes the word meditative for the word boring when reviewing a book by a friend or admired author.) In the Blume case, I decided not to mention it because it did not seem fair to the book as a whole. Any book review has responsibilities in two directions--to the book in hand and to the audience of the review. Sometimes these interests can conflict and you have to come down on a side.

On the way to work today I was listening to Shirley Bassey's latest recording, The Performance. I do love Dame Shirley--have you heard her cover of Pink's "Get This Party Started?" Majestic. I'm listening to the second track, "The Apartment," and start chuckling at its work-related (and beautifully enunciated) lyric:

I'm running away from Cinderella
don't want to go to Rapunzel´s hairdresser
Get me outta this
This, this here fairytale
According to me dreams are hell

Set to a catchy Latin beat, it's fun, right? But then I hit the second verse:

I don't want to kiss that faggot froggy
don't want to fall in love . . .

WHAT? It kind of put me off the whole thing. Even after (actually I suppose I mean to top it all off) I discover it was written by super-gay Rufus Wainwright, the levels of irony, unreliable narration, etc. in the usage just make me work too hard to enjoy the fucking song.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Porn? Really?

If you were on Twitter at all yesterday, you probably saw the outrage directed at the nattering nabob in Missouri who characterized Laura Halse Anderson's Speak as "soft pornography" and called for the book to be banished from local schools.  In an essay called "The Discovery of Like-Minded Souls" in A Family of Readers, I made my case for the book's value:

While the success of Speak inspired a flurry of teen novels about elective muteness, those rather missed what made Anderson's book so magnetic. Speak is about a girl on her own with a terrifying secret. She is silent but watchful and smarter than just about everyone else in the story. You can see how this might be appealing, Silent and watchful and feeling smarter is part of what being a reader is all about. And Speak spoke to undedicated readers as well: the voice is smart and ironic but the style is crisp and immediate, and the fact that we don't know for quite a while exactly why Melinda isn't talking gives the book suspense.

It's worth repeating that Speak and other "problem novels" aren't meant to be read as problem-solvers: in real life, a girl in Melinda's situation doesn't need a book; she needs help. Books help, yes, reading helps, but it's not a case of connecting the dots. If you were a girl in Melinda's situation, the last thing you might want is a book that comes that close. But if you're a girl who feels different, misunderstood, maybe isolated (that is, if you feel like a reader), then this book could speak to you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What's Gonna Win?

SLJ's always entertaining Heavy Medal blog is back for the season and today Fuse #8 speculates on Newbery and Caldecott possibilities. I'm hopeless at this game and anyway remember the way Betsy Hearne was (verbally) spanked for having the temerity to suggest in a BCCB editorial that the Newbery Committee ought to give serious consideration to Brock Cole's Celine. In those pre-blog days, nobody was supposed to tell the award committees what to do, especially in print.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

First stops on the world tour

A Family of Readers is coming out this month and already there has been some nice talk about it. BCCB found it "informative and entertaining," PW called it "indispensable" in a boxed review, and blogger Natasha Maw has been underlining her favorite quotes via Twitter and the hashtag #familyofreaders. You should see in the right border here a widget that will allow you to see the cover and read some of it; you can buy it (if you like it) via the widget or through all the usual suspects, from to your favorite indie. On-sale date is September 29th.

Martha Parravano and I will be making a few appearances starting next month to promote the book. On October 6 at 7:00 PM, we'll be signing at Porter Square Books; on the 27th, we will be speaking at the Foundation for Children's Books; the evening of November 2nd brings us to the Cambridge Public Library. I'll provide more details as I know them and hope to meet some of you at one or another of these events.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Because people are buying them for the wrong reasons

When people ask me why the Magazine doesn't review many best-selling picture books, I can now just point them over to J. L. Bell's place.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

September Notes

The September issue of Notes is out and features an interview with The War to End All Wars author, Russell Freedman, as well as a look at some of his previous nonfiction books. Also included are reviews of the best new picture books, chapter books, and YA fiction.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Does anyone still wear a hat?

I'm sure Miles won't be so easy to amuse as time goes by but I'll try to enjoy this while I can. We spent the weekend in Chicago for a surprise birthday party for Ethan, who apparently spotted us before he was supposed to ("How weird. I could swear I just saw Dad and Roger walk by") and got to spend an afternoon with this newest Asch boy. Also got to have lunch with Hymie and Hazel Rochman, who showed us the apartment in their building where Barack and Michelle lived before they got so famous and all, and perusing the shelves of the most excellent Unabridged Bookstore I met librarian and YA writer James Klise, who was demonstrating excellent taste by way of the Sarah Waters books he was holding. I was supposed to be reading Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply (well, I was really supposed to be reading the books I'm assigned to review for the November issue and I'm paying for that now) but Frank, our host for the weekend, had a copy of Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth hanging around and I became hooked and was foraging for a copy of my own. Why do I even bring books on vacation? I always find something waiting.

The September-October 2010 Horn Book Magazine

is now out. Online excerpts include "What Makes a Good Book for All Ages?," Ashley Waring writing about reading with her autistic son, Jerry Griswold on the new Natalie Merchant record, and me interviewing Patty Campbell. The print edition also includes two essays from the forthcoming A Family of Readers, Barbara Bader on folktale publishing, Leonard Marcus writing about big and little picture books and four writers (Chris Myers, Ron Koertge, Monica Edinger and Sharyn November) on growing up with books.

And we are in the midst of editing the November issue, which will feature M.T. Anderson and Chris Heppermann about teaching and studying writing for children, Anita Lobel's Sutherland Lecture, Dean Schneider on "What Makes a Good Sports Book?" Leonard on picture books from other countries, and five writers (Mary Downing Hahn, Steve Jenkins, Jack Gantos, Holly Black, and Cheryl Klein) on snow-day reading. Anita Lobel has created a glorious Christmas painting for the cover.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Here's another thing I don't get to do in my day job

While I am used to growing impatient with plays, movies, and operas halfway through, I think I only left a movie twice: Madness of King George and Shakespeare in Love. (Hmm, is there a pattern?) But I was shocked when Richard, who feels a moral obligation to finish every book he opens, eagerly agreed to go home last night at the intermission of ART's production of Cabaret.

We might have soldiered on had it not been a school night, but, man, it was grueling. The performances were fine (headlined by Amanda Palmer as Emcee) but the production heavily underlined anything it could to evoke . . . something but I'm not sure what. The decadence (black underwear, Palmer in an uncovered breast-binder and a cock in her pants) made me think of what Cliff, the Christopher Isherwood character, says to Sally Bowles: "Are you trying to shock me?" And the Kit Kat dancers as soulless zombies walking through the audience toward a glaring light reminded me of a production I once saw of Weill's Mahagonny[no, it was Parsifal] where the director had all the characters line up to drink poisoned Kool-Aid. In Auschwitz.

But still--to miss the second act. I fear I have offended the critical gods and will somehow be punished for this.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reading versus watching

Richard and I saw Salt the other night. It was great--Angelina Jolie as the central player (or so we think) of a vast conspiracy. Is she good, is she evil, predator, prey? It's baroquely over the top yet obeys the laws of our known contemporary physical and secular universe (if you accept that, say, Die Hard does the same). Although she looks spectacular in every scene, Jolie's beauty is not a plot point or character trait and goes unremarked. I also came away thinking that while she is obviously too old, I could see her as Katniss.

The plot is twisty but emotionally involving (unlike, say, Duplicity) and the tone is coherent--no winks or comic asides. Afterward, we were going over the plot, trying to figure out the spot where Salt first shows her true colors, and arguing whether or not the story held up under post-mortem examination. Richard maintained that while the movie might have contradicted itself in a place or two, it didn't matter--what counts is how you feel while the movie is going on.

I wonder if it is different with books.  While I  love my audiobooks, they do miss an essential quality of print-culture literature. What's unique about text is that it encourages you to move around, skip back, reread, skim, go ahead, go away, come back later, etc. You are the thing that moves, not the book. It's a little easier to hold up to the light that way. But then, maybe the distinction is really about expectations: we watch an Angelina Jolie thriller differently from, oh, that languid Patricia Clarkson in Cairo film, just the way we read The 39 Clues differently from The Westing Game.

Or maybe what I like best about going to the movies is that I feel no professional pressure to have an opinion beyond SUCKS or LOVED IT.

Monday, August 30, 2010

She'll be swell, she'll be great . . .

 . . . and she's got SLJ on her plate! Today Chelsey Philpot becomes the former editorial assistant at the Horn Book Guide as she begins her reign as assistant editor for School Library Journal's book review section and managing editor for the Second Helpings newsletter. We sent Chelsey off to New York with all our best wishes, a membership to MOMA and a dvd set of the first season of That Girl. Brian, Trev, Luann--be NICE. You are very lucky to have her.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What did Liz Taylor say to the microwave?

(Anybody besides me and Elizabeth remember that joke?) But, yes, if you are thinking about signing up for the Horn Book at Simmons, hurry because we are going to run out of spaces soon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Free spoilers here!

for Mockingjay. See comments for my continued thought from Twitter. Add anything you want. [I changed the name of this post. I meant to say that there would be no spoilers on this main page but plenty in the comments. Which there are.]

Monday, August 23, 2010

The best of all possible worlds?

In the 8/16/10 issue of PW, I read a brief obituary of agent Elaine Koster, which noted, among other accomplishments, that "in 2002, she took on Khaled Hosseini, who had been previously turned down by 30 other agents. She sold his book, The Kite Runner, to Riverhead Books in a pre-empt; it went on to sell more than 21 million copies." This is a beloved publishing trope (see J.K. Rowling, who found an agent easily enough but was rejected by twelve publishers before being signed by Bloomsbury), meant to cheer on the discouraged and to allow the enlightened to shake their superior heads sadly at the many, many ignorant people unfortunately making publishing decisions.

But, really, how do we know? Would a different agent have had the same success with Hosseini? Had Harry Potter been published by some other house, might it have flopped? (Wow, imagine what publishing today might look like had that happened.)  I'm sure I've talked here before about my discussion with an editor who turned down a book that would go on to win the Caldecott Medal. She expressed no regret, saying "had I been the editor, it wouldn't have won."

Has anyone read the late Olivia Goldsmith's The Bestseller (which I don't think it was)? It was about the fortunes of five books on a publisher's list--what hit, what flopped, what surprised-- and the attendant personal drama among the authors and editors. Pulpy but engrossing, it showed me how much luck goes into the whole business. Or am I naive?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Do I call them the dragonettes?

While there's been quite a lot published about the first generation of children's librarians, editors and booksellers, Barbara Bader has had the idea to take a closer look at the second generation--those who learned from those pioneers and struck out in new directions. For next year's Horn Books, Barbara is planning a series of short profiles of some of these women and is seeking out anyone with first-hand experience with the following librarians: Augusta Baker, Mildred Batchelder, and Virginia Haviland. You can contact Barbara at bbader at earthlink dot net.  Truly juicy stories should also be cc'ed to me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lend a hand--and your eyes--to the Horn Book

Our designer Lolly Robinson, who is the go-to gal for any questions about graphic design, paper, Horn Book history and all things Beatrix Potter, is looking for an intern. Scanning, formatting, layouts for both print and electronic publications. It's unpaid but you would learn a ton and could enjoy the glamorous HB lifestyle for a few hours a week. Direct inquiries to Lolly at lrobinson at hbookdotcom.

A dilemma

Can I be appalled at the Humble, TX decision to disinvite (upon the advice of a perfidious school librarian) an author from their YA bookfest but still feel that said author needs to take a pin to her head?
Then Mr. Sconzo went on to say that there are so many authors they could never have them all at their Teen Lit Fests. Like I’m just another author. (Oh, except one that apparently gets under people’s skin.) I am not just another author. I’m an author who is a voice for a generation that faces real problems every day. An author who tries to dissect those problems, look for reasons, suggest solutions, show outcomes to choices through characters who walk off the page. I’m an author who cares about her readership in a very real way. I am thoughtful, respectful of my readers, and not afraid to tell the truth.
I'm on your side and all, but please don't make it any harder than it needs to be.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Horn Book lends a hand

Cynsations interviews illustrator Nicole Tagdell, who credits a Horn Book article by our reviewer Susan Dove Lempke with inspiring her career.

Perfect for the no-no corner

I know summer is rapidly leaving us, but I wanted to tell you that Dean Schneider and Robin Smith's poster, "When A Is for Xbox: 26 Ways to Prevent Summer Reading," is now available. You can either print out a copy for yourself for free or order the full-size, full-color scroll from us for seven bucks.

I want Dean and Robin to do a follow-up: "Top ten conversational tip-offs that somebody doesn't like to read"

1. "I'd rather DO something."
2. "I wish I could find the time to read."
3. "I think that's in my queue."
4. "Reading is great for when you're bored."
5. "Why don't they have books for people like ME?"
6. "I have the complete works of William Shakespeare on my Kindle."
7. "I make my kid read twenty pages a night."
8. "Reading helps you get ahead."
9. "My friend reads EVERYTHING."
10. "Did you learn that from a book?"

Monday, August 16, 2010

The parents are okay too

We finally saw The Kids Are All Right this weekend. I quite liked it, and it has the plot of a YA novel: two teenaged kids of lesbian parents curious about their sperm donor dad seek him out, wreaking entertaining havoc and ultimately begetting a bit of growing up for all concerned. While the story is classic teen lit, the focus is on the three parents: Annette Bening as the alcoholic perfectionist; Julianne Moore as the dreamy earth mother; Mark Ruffalo as the dreamy-looking donor dad, who eventually gets it on with Julianne.

While the movie got mostly great reviews in the press, there is some sizable dissent among gay and lesbian viewers, and I happened upon a furious debate over at the queer message board Datalounge. Someone began it by posted a naysaying review by a lesbian critic and virtual screaming rapidly ensued: I'm tired of lesbians going bi in movies! Lesbians don't watch gay male porn (a little kink the couple has)! Why does Annette have to have a drinking problem! This movie sets the movement back twenty years! And, of course, regular interjections of "who cares, we get to see Mark Ruffalo's bare butt!"

What struck me most was seeing how the arguments and tangents so closely resembled the discussions we have in the children's book world, especially when it comes to books that involve someone's identity politics. Concern about role models, stereotyping, and cultural accuracy. The belief that there are so few books about x that any book about the topic needs to be "positive." Holding one book responsible for the sins of a genre. Grandstanding for its own sake without having read the book in question--one of the Datalounge posters insisted that there was NO WAY Annette Bening's character would sleep with a man. Somebody else published a link to a review which complained that the movie was racist because of something heinous (and racist) Julianne Moore does to a Mexican gardener, confusing, as we often do, the behavior of a character with the attitude of the author. So the whole debate made me feel right at home; the only (and interestingly) absent complaint was that no one seemed upset that neither Bening nor Moore are lesbians, a criterion that frequently zooms right to the top in our children's book discussions of insiders and outsiders.

Most of all, I'm disappointed when people want their movies or books to be conflict-free, or only allow it between the sainted and oppressive. If the good guys--or lesbians--aren't as screwed-up as the real people I know, how am I supposed to connect?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Notes, On Your Toes

An interview with the authors of Ballet for Martha headlines the August issue of Notes from the Horn Book, which also includes brief reviews of the best new nonfiction, picture books and middle-school fiction.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More Guide reviews

We have just uploaded some five hundred new reviews to the Horn Book Guide Online, check it out.

And I've just finished proofreading the preschool section of the forthcoming (print) edition of the Guide. Lots of go-to-sleep books, along with the apparently unstoppable flood of Mommy/Daddy-Love-You-More-than-Anyone-Has-Been-Loved, Ever (and you had better love him/her right back) books. My generation certainly raised a bumper crop of insecure parents.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Where There Be Dragons

Elissa just pointed me to this interview with Children's Book Shop owner Terri Schmitz. Opinionated, indeed--when I was recently in there buying some birthday presents, Terri heaped scorn upon a book that had been highly recommended in the most recent Horn Book. Stop by, and maybe she will tell you what it was.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Common sense, my aunt Fanny

Pat Scales weighs in on "Common Sense Media." (How can I NOT put that in quotes?) You might recall our earlier discussion.

Off to New York today to help Elizabeth celebrate her 29th birthday. I have The Little Stranger and The Godfather of Kathmandu for the Limoliner, so I should be sufficiently prepared for the horrors of Manhattan in August.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Eating Our Own

Writing in the August 8th issue of Entertainment Weekly about the divided reception to the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Karen Valby comments, "When women rally around something in pop culture, it isn't long before the objects of their affection are loudly trivialized or dismissed." What she doesn't say--and what I think--is that the sneerers are most frequently other women. Not that I think Eat, Pray, Love (or Twilight, for that matter) has an extensive audience of male fans, but most men probably find both books either off their radar or beneath their notice, condemnation to be sure, but not active engagement. Professionally, however, I do labor in female-intensive vineyards so maybe my viewpoint is skewed.

(Or I am simply wrong. When I went to ET's site to see if Valby's interview with Elizabeth Gilbert was there, I couldn't find it, but I did find this reader comment from "Jorge": "Karen Valby loves this retarded chick flick with julia freakin' roberts, but can only deign to give 'Monster of Florence' a 'b'. Clearly she can't distinguish between a talented artist such as Douglas Preston and the intestinal waste shoved down her gullet by hollywood.")

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Good enough to eat

Baby Joshua stopped by for a snack:

September starred reviews

The following books will receive starred reviews in the September/October 2010 issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

April and Esme, Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham ((Candlewick))

The Boy in the Garden by Allen Say (Houghton)

Keeper by Kathi Appelt; illus. by August Hall (Atheneum)

Annexed by Sharon Dogar (Houghton)

Aggie the Brave by Lori Ries; illus. by Frank W. Dormer (Charlesbridge)

What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

The White Horse Trick by Kate Thompson (Greenwillow)

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Rick Allen (Houghton)

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton)

My personal favorites? The Allen Say and the Kate Thompson, both concerned with the invisible line between the quotidian and fantastic, a place I like to be.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Please Come to Boston

in the fall. We're in the midst of planning the Horn Book at Simmons, a one day colloquium on October 2nd, focused on this year's crop of Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners and honor books. When Cathie Mercier (Simmons College), Andrew Thorne (Media Source) and I first began planning the day, we didn't even know what was going to win, so it was interestingly speculative. But now we know, and we have a theme: Collaboration (used in a different sense from The Statement, a movie about Vichy France we watched this weekend in pursuit of my current Tilda Swinton fixation. P.S. Don't bother). Collaborations between writers and illustrators, book creators and editors and designers, authors and readers, librarians and young people. There is quite a lineup of speakers and while it is going to be like herding cats to get them all into the day in a coherent fashion, I know it can be done. DO come. All participants will also receive a ticket to the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards ceremony held the evening before, also at Simmons for the first time. Fun fact:  Horn Book founder Bertha Mahony Miller was a member of the first Simmons College class. Fun fact two: she received a C+ in her library class.

Monday, July 26, 2010

2010 Scott O'Dell Award

Elizabeth Hall (right) and I (left) awarded Matt Phelan (center) the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction during the ALA convention in Washington last month. Matt's publisher Candlewick hosted an elegant little party for the occasion, and I wanted to share with you Elizabeth's remarks about Matt's book, The Storm in the Barn, when she presented him with the prize:

The Storm in the Barn plunges us into those discouraging days of the Dust Bowl.  It’s set in 1937, when choking dust obscured the sun most of time.  It was the year of 134 dust storms, and most of the farmers had abandoned their farms—and their states.  Two years earlier more than a quarter of the population had already deserted the plains—following the loss of 850 million tons of topsoil.  Only the toughest were left. 

In this devastated land Matt Phelan introduces us to Jack Clark, an 11-year-old farm kid who’s never farmed.  Since my grandchildren grew up on a farm, I can tell you that eleven-year-old farm kids are skilled at farm chores: weeding, caring for livestock, helping bale hay, harvesting field crops—even driving tractors.  But Jack’s never learned any of those jobs. Ever since he was seven, his state of Kansas had been part of the dust bowl.   

What Jack does know is dust--great clouds of it, blowing across the land, blotting out buildings, smothering seedlings, sifting through cracks, seeping into houses.  His only task seems to be caring for his younger sister while watching his older sister’s case of dust pneumonia slowly grow worse.  Bullied by other boys, blundering and inept when he tries to help his father with mechanical tasks, Jack feels more incompetent every day.  Only Ernie, the general storekeeper, who fills Jack with traditional Jack tales of derring-do, provides him with any social support.

Like Jack’s parents, these Kansas farmers are nearly defeated.  In their desperation, they’re willing to cast spells with dead snakes.  Losing their sparse gardens to the voracious appetites of jackrabbits, they feel forced to round up and destroy their small competitors.  Here Matt gives us a look at human nature, as some of the club wielders tap into a blood lust that fades into a square of solid red before it changes to sorrow and shame.

When Jack’s neighbors migrate west, a strange presence moves into their abandoned barn.  Nightly thunder and lightning shake the building with The Storm in the Barn.  Is its source really The Rain, who has withdrawn from the land in the hopes that folks will worship him?  Or is Jack suffering from a case of dust dementia?  Why is Jack’s little sister singing the rain away?  And where did she find those umbrellas? There’ve been no wet skies since she was born.  Is she under the spell of The Rain? 

The children’s bleak lives are brightened by Jack’s older sister Dorothy’s beloved Oz books.  They promise a lovely country just over the deadly desert—one as fertile as the farmland Jack’s mother describes as existing there before the drought.  Perhaps it’s a belief that the glowing colors of that beautiful waiting land could heal his own sister that gives Jack courage.  He challenges and bests the giant Rain in combat, ripping apart the satchel that holds the rain and initiating a powerful thunderstorm.

In this graphic novel, Matt Phelan uses a limited palette to capture exactly the time and the place of the Dust Bowl.  Only the blue of The Rain’s cape and the redness of rabbits’ blood intrude on the tans and grays.  His sure pencil line lets us know exactly what each of his characters is feeling.  We see the smug, the frightened, the depressed, the discouraged, the shamefaced—and the loving and compassionate.

Today’s children must find it hard to believe the kind of life people like Jack and his family endured.   Not in this country! The Storm in the Barn is a valuable book, in part because it lets us see its discomforts, its dangers and its desperation through the eyes of those whose lives it disrupted.   That achievement goes to the heart of the Scott O’Dell Award.  Scott believed firmly in Santayana’s proposal that those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.  And he hoped that his award would keep future generations from forgetting the lessons of our past.

I am a bit daunted but pleased to be taking over as chair of the O'Dell Award committee, as Hazel Rochman has decided to make her retirement more worthy of that name. The other committee member, Ann Carlson, and I are happy to welcome new member Laura Tillotson, Editorial Director of Books for Youth at Booklist magazine. You can see pics from the party at the Scott O'Dell Facebook page, and more information about the award can be found on the O'Dell site.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Agent in Place

Booksquare led me to this profile of agent Andrew Wylie. I think my favorite line is "I suspect that the trashier the book, the more likely it is to be converted to an e-book. You don’t have a desire to save James Patterson in your library. Those who want to keep a book for a long time will buy a physical book." Of course, this brisk sentiment is somewhat hedged by the fact that Wylie's new ebook company has just published editions of Nabokov, Updike, Erdrich, Rushdie . . . .

While agents were off my radar for much of my career, I've noticed that, increasingly, I have to deal with them in negotiating contracts for Magazine articles. I suspect they are not in this for the money (10% of three hundred dollars is obviously not a lot) but because of digital rights, as magazine publishing becomes more diversified in the way content is distributed. Leonard Marcus is interviewing agent-to-the-stars Sheldon Fogelman for an upcoming issue and I'm anxious to read what they talk about.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How do you think the billing went down at the Quimby household?

Rocco Staino reviews Ramona and Beezus and likes what he sees.

(Next up: Toad and Frog? Martha and George? Tib?)

Barbara talks Tana

Our frequent contributor Barbara Bader has a guest post up on Greenwillow's blog about the great Tana Hoban, to whom I give full credit for the way in which Whole Foods arranges its fruits and vegetables. BB also paid tribute to Hoban in the Horn Book on the occasion of Hoban's death.

Bring back Louis Darling!

Some on the ALSC listserv are complaining that a new ALA poster lacks ethnic diversity. (If you squint you can see two kids of color in the background.) But the poster is based on Beverly Cleary's major characters (white people all, yes?) as seen in their latest editions, illustrated by Tracy Dockray. As black-and-white illustrations within the books, Dockray's drawings are serviceable but bland; on this poster they look generic and thus, I think, the complaints. Dockray's illustrations have not taken enough hold that people look at this poster and think, "ah, Ramona!" They just see (mostly) white people, so the slogan "Libraries are for everyone!" seems a little optimistic.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Woman in chains

Hunkered down writing my reviews for the September issue (among them the new Knuffle Bunny, a Mary Downing Hahn and Annexed), I've been simultaneously worried that this blog isn't keeping up up up! with the action, leading me to worry that Scott Westerfeld had it right, that the future was all going to be about getting attention. The New York Times says that might be true.

So in the spirit of page view hits and loads of comments, do we think that Lindsay Lohan is actually going to surrender herself to justice today?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Local gal makes good

in the latest issue of Notes from the Horn Book. Along with Jen Brabander's interview with townie Grace Lin, the July Notes features great easy readers, new picture books, good books for boys, and the best of the latest YA.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Do these people even like to read?

Brian Kenney's SLJ editorial about Common Sense Media led me over to their site for a gander. While Brian and Liz Burns, among others, have pointed out the problems with their labeling system and lack of a review policy (plus the creepy way they simply disappear reviews that have raised eyebrows), what bothers me most is that their ratings reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of how and why kids read. Which is to say: like the rest of us.

I spent this weekend reading John Sandford's Wicked Prey. I can see the little Common Sense Media icons lighting up, five little bombs for violence, five "#!"s for language,  maybe three lips for sex, five cocktail glasses for substance abuse (bourbon for the good guys, crystal meth for the bad) and probably a couple of dollar signs for detective Lucas Davenport's vanity about his clothes and shoes. As far as role models (CSM's big thing) are concerned, there's a young girl who goes all vigilante on a pervert without telling her parents. (Deceiving one's parents seems to be the number one sin in the CSM bible.) Almost twenty-four hours have passed since I finished Wicked Prey, and I haven't yet killed anyone, abused any substances, or bought any shoes.

But it's different for kids, I imagine CSM would say. No, it isn't. It's different for parents. Parents who think Educational Value, Messages and Role Models (their caps, for what CSM calls "the good stuff") are what reading is about need to remember why they became readers in the first place.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Do you have to be one to play one?

Lily Tomlin famously said no, and Arthur Levine has a good discussion about Ellen Wittlinger's article in the July issue going over at his eponymous blog.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Website worries

If you're trying to get onto our website ( you can't because it isn't working. We hope it will be back soon. [Update 8:45 AM Wednesday:  it's fixed, and, on my computer anyway, faster than ever.]

Five questioned

When I asked Matt Phelan if he would ever consider illustrating The Wizard of Oz, be brought back childhood terrors by mentioning the Wheelers, a ferocious little bunch of hoodlums from Ozma of Oz. Thanks for that, Matt.

I was already punchdrunk Saturday morning when I was inviting people to come by the booth and meet Sharon Stone. But Tanya Lee Stone is a formidable person in her own right--when I asked her if she'd like to ride in the Space Shuttle she answered "yes" without a moment's hesitation.

Rebecca Stead said that winning the Newbery allowed her the luxury of buying fresh flowers once a week, and she gave a lesson in poster-rolling as well.

Libba Bray and I remembered a time--our respective adolescences--when books like Going Bovine would have been unthinkable as YA novels.

Charles R. Smith Jr. explained to me why the World Cup isn't the big deal in the States that it is everywhere else--that soccer is just one of many sports kids play here and thus doesn't gain the critical mass it does in other countries. I countered with my Algerian barber's opinion--that soccer has no halftime thus depriving it of lucrative ad revenue and subsequent exposure.

While acknowledging that Denzel Washington would probably be the most popular choice, Vaunda wants Will Smith to play Bass Reeves in the movie. I suggested Ernie Hudson.

Jerry pleaded the Fifth when I asked him if Lion and the Mouse had made him feel any different about spotting a cheeky cheese thief (as one book we reviewed had it) in the kitchen.

And who will be interrogated next year? The countdown begins . . . .