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.