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 . . . .

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Eclipse movie review

Twihard Elizabeth Law (by day: vice president and publisher of Egmont USA) reviews the latest Twilight movie. It's all about the hair.

July/August 2010 special issue: Awards

The July/August Horn Book Magazine is out, and selected articles are on our website, including profiles of the Newbery and Caldecott medalists and CSK author and illustrator award acceptance speeches.