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.