Friday, September 09, 2011

This blog has moved

and it, along with its archives, can now be found over here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

New World Coming

A new website, anyway, launching next Tuesday, September 6th (fingers, legs, eyes, toes, etc. crossed). The address remains the the look will be livelier and the navigation easier. This blog will be at (likewise for /outofthebox) and don't forget our new blog debuting that day, /callingcaldecott.

One thing I'm most looking forward to is the ability to make and respond to comments about any articles, not just blog posts, we put on the site, and I'm hoping you will, as Quentin Blake had it, all join in.

Here's a preview of my new look, courtesy of designer Lolly Robinson and illustrator Ed Briant:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The cake she baked

Simmons gal Susan Bloom made this delicious wedding cake for us, chocolate with praline frosting. YUM. While it is true that I am taller than Richard, I am represented by the little faux-Hummel guy in the bow tie (whose head fell off when we washed him; sorry Kitty) while the tall man is an Alias action figure of arch villain Arvin Sloane as played by Ron Rifkin, to whom Richard bears a startling resemblance.

Thank you Susan for the cake; Kitty for the faux-Hummel and all the Horn Bookers who made fruit salad, took pictures, danced, and held my hand.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Family Values

After twenty-odd years of living in sin, Richard and I are getting married this weekend (the pic above is from the lovely surprise shower thrown for me today by the Horn Book ladies) and tomorrow is the start of the preparatory madness. Music: check; lights: check; suits: check; vows, food, rings, cake, cleaning: not so much. See you all next week!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cross out Beezus!

I just saw two three four new YA novels indulging employing  annoying pervasive strike-throughs to indicate a narrator's dithering second thoughts or transparently self-buffing lies strategic rearrangements of the truth. I think this might be 2012's dead girl OCD selectively mute protagonist of choice. It's kind of like when everyone gets the same toy for Christmas an interesting  new post-modern narrative choice that reveals the self-centeredness reflexivity of the typing writing process.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Question re The Help,

which I have just finished and found interesting in ways intended and otherwise. But I am unsure about a major plot point and will to try to phrase my question so as not to spoil it for anyone planning to read it or see the movie: Did Minny actually do what she said she did to Hilly or was the genius just in making her believe she did?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Hubris alert

I am looking forward to the ART production of Porgy and Bess, the first opera I ever saw from good seats (I was taken by the late great Oz librarian Margaret Trask twenty-five years ago in Sydney)  and thus responsible for my financial ruin. And I understand that this production is not going to be the full-on opera, with dialog replacing the recitative and a Broadway singer (the wonderful Audra McDonald) starring as Bess. One of the great things about the work is the way it has survived various incarnations and the success many of the "numbers" have had as pop and jazz standards (best being, I think, Nina Simone's "I Love You, Porgy")

But a recent NYT story makes me verrry nervous, especially this quote from playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, tasked with revising the opera for this production. She says, "if [Gershwin] had lived longer he would have gone back to the story of ‘Porgy and Bess’ and made changes, including to the ending.” She's going to change the ending? The ending is the BEST: Porgy, freed from jail, returns to Catfish Row only to find Bess has run off to New York with that no-good Sportin' Life. "Bring me my goat!" he commands, referring to the goat-driven cart he uses to get around (although not, apparently, in this production; he'll use a cane instead). And off he heads to New York, leading the chorus in the rousing "Oh Lord, I'm on my way." What is Parks going to do instead, send Bess to rehab? This is kind of like saying that had E.B. White lived, Charlotte would be happily spinning sheets for Fern's babies.

So now I'm just hoping it won't be the adolescent disaster that was ART's Cabaret.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Counting YA

Harold Underdown has done some interesting digging into the statistics about YA publishing that were used by journalist D.B. Grady for an article in the Atlantic. But whether there were 30,000 YA novels published in 2009 (unlikely, as Harold demonstrates) or 8,000 (as Harold estimates), can we all agree that there are too many? My own recent research into this question revealed that while the number of hardcover books published for children and teens in 2010 (about 4500) was just 25% higher than the number published in 1998, the percentage of those books that were novels almost doubled, from 18% to 33%. (I did not differentiate middle-grade and YA, but I'll try to recrunch and get back to you.)

On a related note, have you ever noticed how much the menfolk of the children's book biz love to count things? Ask Peter Sieruta or Jonathan Hunt or Ray Barber about  what-won-what-when-and-how-many-times and prepare to be amazed. Maybe Travis Jonker should design some Newbery-Caldecott trading cards, complete with stats on the backs.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Press here

I was just checking some links for the forthcoming issue of Notes from the Horn Book and found this beautiful thing.


Richard and I have been watching MI-5 (The Show Originally Known as Spooks) via Netflix. Andrew Thorne warned me not to get too attached to any of the characters, and I'm seeing why, as the show seems liable to bump off anyone at any time, either by death or banishment to a foreign country. It's a very different experience from watching any high-stakes American show, in which any departure (lethal or otherwise) of a main character is scheduled for Sweeps Week or the season finale, and is accompanied by much drum-banging in advance. (Of course, this might have happened in the U.K. when the shows were originally broadcast--does anyone know?)

When i was speaking at the Simmons Institute this past weekend, somebody asked me if the broader parameters for YA (age range, subject, sheer numbers) meant that our expectations of the genre had become more uncertain. My first thought was that we have an awful lot of main characters dying in the first chapter, but since they go on to narrate from The Beyond it's not all that disturbing. But are we thrown for more loops? Despite the ever-greater perils into which they are thrown, can we still count on YA heroes to stick around for the finale? Who's done a body count?

Frankly, I'm up for any book which doesn't make me say, "oh, it's another one of those."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Word order

The Boston Globe's thumbnail review for Captain America says the movie "packs a powerful, but predictable, patriotic punch." How is that different from saying that it "packs a predictable, but powerful, patriotic punch?"

I'm curious about which construction you all think is the more positive, because this is a trick reviewers use all the time, choosing between

a powerful, but predictable, patriotic punch
a predictable, but powerful, patriotic punch
a powerful but predictable patriotic punch
a predictable but powerful patriotic punch
a powerful--but predictable--patriotic punch
a predictable--but powerful--patriotic punch

to hedge an opinion or (more frequently in our circles) to "say something nice" even when you don't feel particularly enthusiastic. But I'm not sure readers agree about which placement does what. I think that the second adjective generally has more of an impact than the first, but you could argue that the phrase set off by commas will be read more parenthetically and thus more readily dismissed. And if you don't use the commas, do the adjectives become equal?

Monday, July 25, 2011

September/October starred reviews

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

The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories by David LaRochelle; illus. by Paul Meisel (Dutton)

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka (Schwartz & Wade)

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Farrar)

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck; illus. by Kelly Murphy (Dial)

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf (Candlewick)

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin (Holt)

A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young by Halfdan Rasmussen; trans. from the Danish by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland; illus. by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick)

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert by Marc Aronson (Atheneum)

Orani: My Father’s Village by Claire A. Nivola (Foster/Farrar)

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani; illus. by Leland Myrick; color by Hilary Sycamore (First Second)

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say (Scholastic)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Beth Krommes (Houghton)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Marvin Redpost v. Stanley Yelnats

This Guardian article about authors famous for the wrong book has me turning children's authors and titles over in my head. I do think Paula Fox's best book is One-Eyed Cat, not The Slave Dancer or Desperate Characters. I like Lois Lowry's Autumn Street more than The Giver, and Hilary McKay's The Exiles has it all over her books about the Cassons. In wake of my re-immersion in "Laura World" courtesy of Wendy McClure, I'm going with The Long Winter over any of the Wilder books with Little in the title.

Any iconoclasts feel like knocking something over?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry 76.5

Kazia Berkley-Cramer reviews the new Harry Potter movie over at Out of the Box. We just watched the first part of Deathly Hallows on TV the other night and I am still a little confused about the Horcruxes. Richard wanted to know why Voldemort and Harry were enemies, so I was at least glad to be able to know something about that.

[Cindy points out that the new movie is actually the second half of the seventh, not the sixth. Having given up halfway through the third I plead ignorance.]

Monday, July 18, 2011

With churned butter

Am reading @HalfPintIngalls' (aka Wendy McClure's) really engrossing The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, and I find myself unseasonably wishing for Laura's gingerbread.

Shocking? I hope so.

The Simmons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature is gearing up for its biannual Summer Institute, this year themed "The Body Electric" and taking place July 28-July 31st. Simmons' favorites Jackie Woodson, Jack Gantos and M.T. Anderson will be there along with a host of others; hope to see you there.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July Notes

The July issue of Notes from the Horn Book is out, featuring "Five Questions for . . ." Sophie Blackall, a recent BGHB Honor honoree who seems to be everywhere these days and doing some great work. Also: new picture-book bios (talk about something that's everywhere), middle-grade fiction, and a roundup of the kind of YA novel the Wall Street Journal loves to hate.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Where Be There Dragon Ladies?

Margaret Tice has an article in the new SLJ, querying what the de-funding of supervisory youth services positions might mean for children's librarianship. If you missed them, take a look at Barbara Bader's acute portraits of two of the greats from NYPL: Anne Carroll Moore and Augusta Baker. In the latter, BB also has a good observation for those who think libraries can do without children's coordinators: "library work with children loses a spokesperson on the inside, and a representative to the outside: politically nullifying its two bases of support. Who’s to say, then, what’s good for children?"

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Five Questions for Paolo Bacigalupi

It was kind of neat to talk to Paolo in New Orleans, which, in Ship Breaker, is underwater. He said he wasn't nervous. The Printz Award winner and I discussed how far away the future of his book actually was, a fact left undetermined for readers to sort out for themselves. (Some people like their dystopias, far, far away; others like to believe they could occur tomorrow.)

I asked Paolo his thoughts about the infamous Wall Street Journal article and was happy that the first thing out of his mouth was not "YA Saves" but "that writer owes Sherman Alexie an apology." Amen--Megan Cox Gurdon took a gratuitous swipe at The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian while skirting around the issue of whether she had read it or not. Paolo agreed with Alexie (and me) that "books should give you a boner." (No, not THAT kind. Necessarily.)

Congratulations, Paolo!  I think Mike Printz would have loved Ship Breaker--he liked books that were rough and tough. Fans will be pleased to know that a book featuring the half-man Tool is forthcoming.

Five Questions for Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop

Hee hee, Nic is afraid of ticKs. I think someone should write a picture book, A Tick for Nic. I told our Sibert Medalists that I would speak on their behalf to The Grobster, aka Betsy Groban, publisher of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Books, about funding the intrepid pair for a trip to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, from whence they will return with a terrific book about squids and penguins. Or maybe that's two books. And I'm also happy to inform you that both Sy and Nic think (some) animals can love us back.

Congratulations, you two, and safe travels.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Five Questions for Brian Selznick

Brian has been a busy boy--not only is his Wonderstruck coming out this fall (I'm reviewing it for the September Horn Book) but Martin Scorsese's film of The Invention of Hugo Cabret will be out before Christmas. (In color AND 3-D, obviously intent on making miracles of a very different kind.)

I asked Brian if he had any plans for a little book (Wonderstruck being about a hundred pages longer than Hugo) and heavy-lifters will be happy he said "no, not really." But fans of his picture-book bios with Pam Muñoz Ryan will be happy to hear that the two are going to be working together again.

I also asked him if the boys in Wonderstruck were as, er, happy, as I thought they were and he didn't say yes, he didn't say no--but I'll save further speculation for my review, which I should be writing RIGHT NOW.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Five Questions for Rita Williams-Garcia

Poor Rita--three times in PUBLIC I made her join me in singing the first line of "It Was Right on the Tip of My Tongue (and I Forgot to Say I Love You)" by Brenda and the Tabulations, a group referenced in One Crazy Summer. Rita, I promise I will learn the rest of the song, and I'm working on "Dry Your Eyes," too.

Fans will be pleased to know there will be another book about Delphine, but not just yet--Rita is working on a novel about virtual reality. I like it when writers step out of their boxes, even when it's just to write about mice.

Rita is the same age as I (thus our overlapping mental jukeboxes), and I asked her what she thought was the most important lesson of the 1960s. She said that the 60s made everyone make choices--the status quo was so indeterminate that you had to find your own way. I'm sure glad she found her way to writing.

Thanks for stopping by, Rita--and thanks to to HarperCollins, who threw a swell dinner for Rita's Scott O'Dell win. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Hall, Odell's widow and the award's administrator, was defeated by the weather and could not join us, but I had a fine time singing (again) with Rita, meeting her daughter, and spending some time with her sworn sister, Rosemary Brosnan.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Five Questions for Bryan Collier

It was clear from the start of our interview that Bryan Collier sees Dave the Potter from the point of view of one artist to another--their eras were different, their circumstances, their mediums, but what compelled Bryan was the (open) question of just what caused Dave to create his pots and--even more mysteriously--inscribe poetry into their clay. Why do people make art? More prosaically, Bryan also told me how he found a model who looked like his vision of Dave, whose likeness remains unknown. Congrats to Bryan Collier on his Coretta Scott King Award and Caldecott Honor; agent Marcia Wernick profiles him here.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Five Questions for Tomie dePaola

At last! I have loved Tomie's books since being a children's librarian (even thirty years ago, he seemed to have picture books about everything), and we've worked together on some articles and two Horn Book covers, but we had never met. He looks like he drew himself. And a man of firm opinions: his favorite own book? Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs. Favorite fellow Wilder winner? Ashley Bryan. Digital future? Picture books will never go away. And--in another self-interested question--he said he'd love to illustrate a book of opera plots, and with his editor Nancy Paulsen sitting in the front row, I told him I wanted to write it. Tomie's old friend Barbara Elleman introduces him here.

Great to finally meet you, Tomie!

Five Questions for Erin and Phil Stead

Way to make me feel old. These two are completely adorable and I want their lives (and dog). When I asked them who their favorite Caldecott winners were, I loved that they both reached back to Evaline Ness, a choice both fresh and true to their DIY aesthetic. And despite being joined at the hip since high school, they each maintain a clear sense of artistic self, working in the same studio but (at least as I pictured it) back to back. Thanks for stopping by!

P.S. To the person who made my heart stop after the interview by insisting that it was pronounced "STEED," wrong.

Five Questions for Clare Vanderpool

With Clare, her being from Kansas and writing about Kansas and loving Kansas and all, I got to reminisce about Mike Printz, who ran an oral history project with his Topeka West High teens, documenting the lives of famous Kansans. (We did an SLJ article together called "E.T.'s Mom Phones Home," about how Mike's teens got Kansas actress Dee Wallace to come to their school.) But I was thrilled to hear that Clare's next book will be set in Maine, Vanderpool regarding Abilene's story as "finished" and laudably resisting the trend toward sequelization.

Her kids and husband were there, her sister was there, and, wow, is she poised. And, as she also demonstrated in her Newbery speech the next evening, very funny. Thanks for coming, Clare!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Five Questions for Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan, pointing out where he gets his ideas.

Rick Riordan, first up in our Live Five series at ALA, has to be one of the nicest people in the world. When I asked him if he had problems with people worried over "false gods," he couldn't even offer me a stern lecture for the would-be censors, saying that his books have mostly stayed off that particular radar, perhaps because his Percy Jackson and Kane Family Chronicles never take their source material too seriously. In my first of a few self-interested questions, I asked Rick if he had any plans to head north to Valhalla--my favorite pantheon--but he said no, the Greco-Romans and the Egyptians kept him busy enough. AND popular--the stage area was packed well before the interview began.

Thank you, Rick!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where are the SERIOUS books?

When Twitter alerted me to this--well, naive might be understating things--report on last month's Book Expo, all I could think of was Fran Leibowitz's observation (I paraphrase) that "the girl in high school who insists that the drama club put on The Bald Soprano will be a thorn in the side of everyone she meets forever."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Alex Forrest, at your service

In anticipation of the Big Banquet a week from Sunday, I'm giving you an early look at Mind the Gap, our annual list of those books snubbed by the ALA Awards. Okay, snubbed is harsh--overlooked? Dismissed? Ignored? (For the literalists: we know that not all of our choices were eligible, but we're still coming to boil your bunny.)

Mind the Gap will appear in our July/August issue devoted to the ALA awards (because, despite our most strident cavils, those awards do more than anything to keep children's books good and honest). The whole issue is a treat (it's also the biggest we've published since I've been here), with essays on the year's contenders by Deborah Stevenson and Vicky Smith; K.T. Horning on Newbery secrets; Megan Lambert and Leonard Marcus on the Caldecott Honor honorees; editor Patti Gauch on how to write a Newbery winner; and Robin Smith on the rewards of award committeeship. PLUS the acceptance speeches and profiles of the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Wilder and Coretta Scott King awards.

And oh-wait-there's-more: I asked a couple of dozen colleagues to name their choices for the books most significantly overlooked by the awards through the years. I told them not to pick Tuck Everlasting as I was afraid they all would; even so, one book received four nominations. You can read all about it when the issue is published: Monday morning, June 27th, at ALA in New Orleans. Come by the booth and get a copy!


Here is a handy page with all our ALA booth info including the Live Five schedule and how to get your copy of the gawjus Awards issue, published the day after the Big Banquet. Plus, there's going to be a drawing to get a spa day. In fifteen years in this job I have never had occasion to type that term before.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Come to the movies

On June 25th at 8:00PM at the ALA conference in New Orleans, ALSC is presenting a free screening of The Library of the Early Mind, a documentary about contemporary children's literature including interviews with many authors and illustrators. I think my favorite segment is the coverage of an attempt to ban Annie on My Mind, although the shots of Jack Gantos on an automated walkway at Logan Airport give the whole thing a nicely nouvelle vague frisson.

Sponsored by Media Source (just like this blog) and the children's book groups of Little, Brown and Macmillan, the movie will be followed by a brief q and a with the director, Edward Delaney, and three of the stars: Grace Lin, Jack Gantos, and Daniel Handler (I'll be moderating). Then there are free snacks and a cash bar. Please come! At the convention center, Auditorium C, 8:00 P.M.

Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards

The 2011 BGHB winners are:

Winner: Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)

Honor: Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial)
Honor: Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke (Kane Miller)

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

Honor: Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross, illustrated by Stephen Biesty (Candlewick)
Honor: Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White (Candlewick)

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

Honor: Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by
Rick Allen (Houghton)
Honor Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

[Go here for the complete press release.] Judged by Jennifer Brabander (chair), Robin Brenner, and Dean Schneider, the BGHB Awards will be awarded on Friday evening, September 30th, 2011 at a ceremony at Simmons College. The following day, we will again present The Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, led by me and Cathie Mercier, Associate Dean and Director of the Simmons Center for the Study of Children's Literature, and featuring this year's winners with presentations, conversations, and workshops. You can sign up now.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


What probably bugged me the most about the WSJ YA piece was its blithe anecdotalism: the author found four YA books that (she thought) proved her point but ignored not just everything that had been published since The Chocolate War but the many, many books being published for teens today to the point of looking like an ignoramus even to those who would like to agree with her. As I said yesterday, to wring your hands about contemporary problem novels and not even mention Ellen Hopkins (who has an audience far larger than that for the four books Gurdon mentions combined) or, as I think of it today, Laurie Halse Anderson, makes it easier to dismiss you as a Sarah Palin-like no-nothing crank, chirping merrily on about Paul Revere ringing those nonexistent bells in defense of the as-yet unthought-of Second Amendment to a still-unwritten Constitution. It's as if I took my favorite bad picture book, The Gift, about a personified pumpkin who agrees to be made into pie so that people might eat, and said "See? This is what's wrong with picture books today! No wonder people aren't buying them."

I'm reminded of the time when, after many years of not watching TV, I randomly caught an episode of Married . . .with Children and saw a visual blowjob joke involving an eclair. What??? This was not on Bewitched! When I started editorializing madly to my friends who a) had watched TV regularly over time and b) were completely up on the controversy Al Bundy et al regularly courted, I quickly learned that the problem was not so much the show but that I had not been paying attention.

But I have been paying attention to YA publishing for thirty years (here's my take on the last Bleakness Outrage) and can confidently tell Megan Cox Gurdon that you can find an example of just about anything in its purview, and that the books she cites are far from typical of the genre as a whole, which in the main has been given over to high-concept, hook-heavy beach books whose most alarming characteristic is their resemblance to one another and sheer replaceability. Do you think the Wall Street Journal would like an op-ed about what's wrong with that?

Meet you at the Tick Tock Tea Room

Francesca Lia Block is speaking at the Cambridge Public Library on Saturday. I wonder if she'll have anything to say about the latest YA drama. Liz Burns, by the way, has a good roundup of the WSJ coverage over at the Tea Cozy.

Monday, June 06, 2011


I have a few thoughts regarding the Wall Street Journal article about YA that has everyone, uh, a-Twitter.

1. Why does the author have to reach back FORTY YEARS to talk about "dark YA" when our last big go-round on the topic was just fifteen years ago? The generation of Sarah T., Go Ask Alice, and Je Suis le Fromage is not the parents of today, it's the grandparents. If I'm recalling right, the WSJ made this same argument back in 1997, when such books as When She Was Good, The Facts Speak for Themselves, and pretty much anything by Chris Lynch were the New Thing in YA and equally decried by worried adults. This article is missing a lot of history, as well as any sense of the breadth of YA today, citing Lauren Myracle for an atypical book, ignoring Ellen Hopkins (queen of the kind of book Gurdon is appalled by), and recommending A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a "Book for Young Women" while not seeming aware of, say, the best-selling Sarah Dessen, whose books exemplify all that the article wants to find good.

2. Gurdon's argument about why gritty YA books are published is classic straw-man stuff:

The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.

Who actually believes this is how reading works?  It was Sheila Egoff who pointed out that the audience for Go Ask Alice was not drug-crazed runaways but nice little middle-class junior high girls with a taste for melodrama. People like reading about people like themselves whose problems are more interesting than their own. Unfortunately, the Twitterati are buying into Gurdon's thinking from the other way around, claiming that "YA saves," and that YA writers are brave and heroic and helpful, none of which qualities being particularly useful for a writer. Give me an author who is truthful and talented; spare me an author who writes to save lives.

3. If you're a teen who is running your reading choices by your parents, grow up. If you're a parent who feels compelled to approve your child's reading, shut up. The books and the kids are all right.

Friday, June 03, 2011

July-August starred reviews

You can see what we're going to star in next month's jumbo-sized Horn Book Magazine over at Out of the Box.

My New York Social Diary

I've spent the week in New York, talking with the sisters and brothers at LJ and SLJ. Brian tried to pry the BGHB winners (which will be announced in just over a week) out of me, but like Colonel Klink, I really do know nothing(k). So while we did get a little planning done re the awards evening and the following Horn Book at Simmons day (sign up now!) we are still a little short on specifics. I also commandeered a little cubicle there, with just a partition separating me from old pal Barbara Genco, who I met years ago at the Columbia library school (back when it had a library school) summer children's literature institute. Of course I had a good gossip with Trev Jones, mostly about the various categories of publishers' complaints ("Why didn't you review it?" "Why didn't you STAR it?")

And breakfast with Barbara Marcus, late of Scholastic and currently a Media Source board member and consultant for the Open Road ebook venture; she gave me advice about wedding rings, for which R and I are currently in the market. I've never worn a ring but Barbara says they don't interfere with writing, which is what I was afraid of. A special treat was lunch with Lillian Gerhardt, editor emerita of SLJ, who gave me my start in this opining biz when she hired me in 1983 as a YA columnist. She had a few juicy items re ALSC and ALA that I am now going to check out.

Two plays with Richard: The Normal Heart, which I found underwhelming, and Jerusalem, which I recommend to any fan of the great Brit fantasists. Same material, very different spin (nobody but the English uses the c-word with such gusto and versatility).

Okay, back to work (and sneaking in glimpses at Roland Garros on the side. Have you seen my new wallpaper?) Allez!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer reading

We've posted our suggestions for summer reading--strictly recreational--so dig in. For the grownups, I'm recommending Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, an orgy of Victoriana with a bracing touch of postmodernism and what I think (I'm only a few hours into the forty-something houred audio edition) is going to be a lot of sex. Read it before Masterpiece Theater takes the guts out of it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Real Boy Movie

We saw Thor last night, and it made me think about the chapter I wrote about boy books for A Family of Readers. I called that "Go Big or Go Home" after Will Hobbs's novel of the same name, and boys and other people who loved that book will love this movie. Explosions, challenges, slapstick, father-son drama, sacrifice, and just a hint of romance (object of which being Natalie Portman, who I like a lot more here than in Black Swan).

However, I will never be able to go to the movies again without looking back to check the projector. And here I thought it was just my aging eyes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We have a winner

Our new blog about all things Caldecott Medal, debuting this fall, will be called Calling Caldecott, a name first suggested to us by Anamaria of Books Together. It was the first suggestion! So, Anamaria, send your mailing address to kbircher at hbook dot com and we'll get you your copy of A Family of Readers.

Any early Medal contenders out there?

Monday, May 16, 2011

You have to love someone who could call her own granddaughter a psychopath

Rocco has a great interview over at SLJ with Paula Fox, who wrote one of the greatest novels I have ever read (One-Eyed Cat) and who is at the heart of the oddest piece of children's book gossip I have ever heard.

Enough already

Okay, I laughed when I saw the cover of Go the Fuck to Sleep and I laughed again at least through the first half of the pdf of the whole book that has been making the rounds. But when it became A Thing and a big prepub bestseller and people all over the net lining up to buy it and baby-shower it, I realized it's at heart just a potty-mouthed version of It's All About Me, yet another book that allows parents to feel cool and special and hardworking and essential to the little baby for whom they so graciously interrupted their fucking stupid hipster douchebag lives.

Yes, I do feel better, thanks for asking.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

For appearances sake

Because of a scheduling conflict, Martha P. and I will be speaking at the Eric Carle sometime later in the year rather than this month. But I am all set for this evening's panel discussion at 7:00 P.M. at the Cambridge P.L. with the Scooby-Doo Diversity Gang--Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, Deva Fagan, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, and Francisco X. Stork. Poor Francisco--he's not just the only guy, he's the only one who steers clear of fantasy. Thus far, anyway: look for Marcelo: First Bite in bookstores soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May Notes from the Horn Book

Wherein I interview Patrick McDonnell (Me . . . Jane), and we review more nature books for young children,  three new chapter books, audiobooks for middle-schoolers and some new YA novels.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Neil speaks

 . . . and apparently gets into a lot of hot water for doing so. Even before people in Chicago knew that Neil Gaiman was giving the 2012 Sutherland Lecture, they were talking about kooky Matt Dean, the Minnesota legislator who announced that he "hated" Gaiman (whether the books or the man he did not make clear), called the author a "pencil-necked weasel," and accused him of "stealing" $45,000, the fee Gaiman received for a speech, from the state.

What is up with Republicans? When they're not trying to monkey with the laws of supply and demand, as above, they keep busy legislating health care. Ayn Rand is crying in hell, and the fact that Gaiman donated his fee to charity only makes her feel worse. (I'm kind of with her there.  I'm sorry Gaiman felt compelled to tell us how he spent the money--who cares?) If somebody wants to pay me $45,000 for a speech, I'll gladly take it and do my utmost to push those dollars swiftly back into our flatlined economy. Dentists, opticians, roofers rejoice!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mo speaks

 . . . and did a great job. I loved that he took on our under-examined slogan "People Need Books" and flipped it to explore how books, unlike TV or digital media, need people--while a TV show will keep rattling on even when you leave the room, a book can't do anything unless someone is reading it. (Marla Frazee and Allyn Johnson make a similar point in their article about picture books in the current issue.) And he warmed my misanthropic little heart when, in response to a question by a teacher who always told her students that "writers work in groups," said that he worked alone, only showing his manuscripts and drawings to his wife and daughter, from whom the acceptable response was praise. My favorite question, from a little kid: "Does the Pigeon have a sister?" And circling neatly back to his opening theme, Mo replied "you tell me."

Next up for the Sutherland:  Neil Gaiman, May 4, 2012. Don't even think about trying to get a ticket until next April.

But speaking of groups (and Mo did say he heard a lot of YA writers did work this way), this coming Thursday, May 12, I'll be at the Cambridge Public Library moderating a panel consisting of Malinda Lo, Francisco X. Stork, Sarah Rees Brennan, Cindy Pon, Deva Fagan, and Holly Black, talking about "diversity in YA fiction." The event begins at 7:00PM and I would advise showing up early if you want a seat. Porter Square Books will be on hand to sell books for a signing following the panel.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Pigeon Speaks

I'll be in Chicago tomorrow for the Sutherland Lecture (I would have been flogging it here but the event sold out very quickly) with Mo Willems. He's interviewed on the occasion by Time Out Chicago, and look for his speech this fall in the Magazine.

People who make purchase decisions based on starred reviews aren't doing their job right

Considering how professionally bankrupt--giving 'em, getting 'em, using 'em--the whole starred review system is, I really like what Shelftalker has to say about the whole business.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Live Five Schedule

At ALA in New Orleans next month, I will be conducting five-question interviews with the following authors and illustrators at our booth (#939). And we have a NEW sound system!

Saturday, June 25:

10:00 AM Rick Riordan
11:00 AM Clare Vanderpool
2:00 PM Erin and Philip Stead

Sunday, June 26th:

10:00 AM Tomie dePaola
11:00 AM Bryan Collier
1:00 PM Rita Williams-Garcia
2:00 PM Brian Selznick
3:00 PM Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop

Monday, June 27th:

11:00 AM Paolo Bacigalupi

Anything you want me to ask?

I never went

 . . . to a prom, but I admire the way these authors proudly show off the ruffles and powder blue of youth.

Monday, May 02, 2011

May/June Horn Book Magazine

The May/June issue is out and a whole bunch of it is up online, including cover artist Marla Frazee and Allyn Johnston's argument for the picture book; Barbara Bader on children's library leader Augusta Baker; Chelsey Philpot on To Kill a Mockingbird, Andy Laties on why traditional publishing works so well, and Viki Ash and Betty Carter on What Makes a Good Baby Shower book? Also: my editorial on reading quotas, author Madeleine George defending herself against charges of "fatphobia," and author Russell Freedman defending himself against Marc Aronson.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I'm always trying to decide just what kind of sister we are to School Library Journal. Are we like Elizabeth and Jessica? Beezus and Ramona? Louise and Caroline Bradshaw? Or, eep, The Silent Twins?

In any event, we are going to be totally copying Li'l Sis this fall as we embark on a companion to SLJ's Heavy Medal blog, which runs throughout the fall and early winter, parsing the rules and possibilities for the Newbery Medal. Our blog, to be helmed by Horn Book designer Lolly Robinson and Magazine reviewer Robin Smith, will focus on the Caldecott:  what might win? what can win? what should win?

More details will be forthcoming but this blog needs a NAME. Put your suggestions in the comments; the winner--if there is one--will receive a signed and inscribed copy of A Family of Readers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I hope the book is as good as its cover

Coming this October from Akashic Books.

Library School of the Air

On US Air earlier this month, I ran across a brief article in the in-flight magazine that referenced this study, which finds a positive correlation between physical proximity of research co-authors and citations to their work. (I'm SURE there is a more graceful and scientific way to put this.) The news-you-can-use the magazine was inferring from this was that in-person cooperation resulted in a better product than something created via long-distance collaboration.

I have no idea how true this might be but I did keep thinking of it on my travels, where I kept running into MLS students in distance education programs, where the only meetings between faculty and students, or students and each other, were via the web. I have no experience with such programs and I'm wondering what you all think. Are they as good, better, or just less expensive and more convenient than bricks-and-mortar schools? Feel free to opine about the general usefulness of library education generally, but be warned that any whining about how "it's just a union card" might get you mocked.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Live Five early warning

I've been scheduling our Live Five Questions series for ALA in June, and I'm happy to tell you that the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Wilder, Sibert and Printz awards will all be coming by the Horn Book booth to submit to my ruthless interrogations. I'll put the schedule up next month. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poetry plug

TWU professor Sylvia Vardell and poet Janet Wong have collaborated to bring us PoetryTagTime, an ebook compilation of new poems for children. With Joyce Sidman, X.J Kennedy, and Jane Yolen among the thirty poets included, the organizing principle of the book is neat, with each poet "tagging" the next to write a poem which in some way links to his or her own. Fun and cheap: 99¢! The poems are light and lively, and I'm glad to report that the line-breaks remain sacrosanct no matter how you mess with the font size. Available for Kindle and Nook.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yes, another time-travel post

Has anyone else seen Source Code yet? The ending reminded me of Tom's Midnight Garden (that cool thing with the skates) although I don't think it completely held together. Post any theories in the comments and don't hold back on spoilers. Also feel free to speculate on the wonderful Vera Farmiga's resemblance to Pam on The Office.

Speaking of Tom, when I was at TLA last week Betty Carter reported on the same phenomenon I've noticed: grad students today hate the book. Why is that?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I blame Kate DiCamillo

for the fact that her fellow Newbery Medalists Lois Lowry, Cynthia Voigt, and Richard Peck all have new middle-grade novels about talking mice.

P.S. Now I'm remembering Susan Dove Lempke's story about this snooty mom coming in after Kate's Newbery was announced, and requesting "The Tale of Day-Pehrr-Rehhrrr." (I know my phonetic fake French is bad but so was hers.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Have You Seen This Man?

I love this picture. At the Hattieburg festival, Tom Barron told the story of how he finally met Madeleine L'Engle (which meeting was both forestalled and engendered through a cruel, cruel joke) and what an inspiration A Wrinkle in Time had been to him. When I was out running this afternoon, I came upon a stretch along Leverett Pond which was busy with people. I had already taken off my headphones to tell a couple that their standard poodle was so black and curly and perfectly still that I was within five feet of him before I knew whether I was looking at his face or the back of his head. So I was paying attention. And then I saw no one around me until I was passing a bench where, suddenly it seemed, a man was sitting reading the paper. I was startled and almost bumped into him. Was he a time traveler, was there a glitch in the Matrix? Or did his cloak of invisibility suddenly fail him? He was not wearing a yellow suit.

Southern Misschief

Back from Hattiesburg, off to Austin, where I'll be seeing many of the same people it seems. Those Hattiesburgers really know how to keep a speaker happy, I must say. Eric Tribunella, prof. in the English department, picked me up, drove me around, held my hand and gave me permission to have seconds of the monster pecan cobbler they served for dessert one night. The unflappable Karen Rowell ran everything with a light touch, and Ellen Ruffin of the deGrummond Collection gave us a great backstage tour, although I was little alarmed when she told us proudly about the new fire-extinguishment program, which would suck all of the oxygen out of the archive wherein we were standing in eight seconds.

I won't play favorites among my fellow speakers as they all probably now have more on me than I really should have allowed them. But I can give props to storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy because we didn't get more than a hi-nice-to-meet-you before she took to the podium to tell a hilarious story about her sixth-grade self and a fire alarm. Carmen was there to accept the 2011 Coleen Salley Storytelling Award, and I must say Coleen's spirit was everywhere those three days. When I recollected drinking bourbon with Coleen the last time I was at the Festival in 1998, somebody told me "you must have been off campus; do you know what we had to do just to get beer and wine in here?" While my imbibing this time was limited to good old Co'cola, I had a wonderful time. And did you know that the stately, sultry lawns of Southern Miss (no period, Eric informed me) house feral cats? We saw some hunting at dusk.

I got some articles out of it, too. deGrummond Medalist T.A. Barron (who told a tragicomic tale about how he met Madeleine L'Engle) is going to write about the necessity of making the Hero's Journey an economical one (i.e., unpadded) and Ellen Ruffin is going to work with Our Martha on something to commemorate next year's fiftieth anniversary of The Snowy Day. My Keats Lecture, about what Harry Potter did for/to children's trade hardcover publishing in this country, will also show up sometime.

But now--laundry! Packing!  Hope to see some of you at TLA.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Can we still say Big Kahuna?

Sounds like Chief Illiniwek in a different headdress to me, but in any case, Richard Peck is as worthy as anyone of the title and he has spoken. Is there a teensy jab in his discussion of the virtues of Keeper or am I reading that in? Gotta watch those smooth talkers.

Friday, April 01, 2011

April Stars

A list of the books that will receive starred reviews in the April issue of the Horn Book Magazine can be found over on Out of the Box.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where we make your dreams come true

It was thanks to the Horn Book that Lisa Yee got to meet her childhood favorite writer. And how does she thank me? Lisa tells me that in honor of my legendary enthusiasm for the American Girl company, she named a character "Rachel Sutton" in her American Girls book Aloha, Kanani, set in contemporary Hawai'i. What she didn't tell me is that Rachel Sutton is the heroine's whiny little bitch cousin from the mainland who wrinkles her nose at all the riches of the Aloha State.

Thanks, Lisa. Next time could I just get a date with Danno?

Even if he is only three feet tall.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Diana Wynne Jones, R.I.P.

In honor of Diana Wynne Jones, a long and true friend of the Horn Book who will be much missed, we're posting an article she wrote for the July/August 2004 Horn Book. Also, a rather funny letter.

May/June stars

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

 Tweak Tweak by Eve Bunting; illus. by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion)
RRRalph by Lois Ehlert (Beach Lane/Simon)
Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus! and Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke; illus. by Lauren Tobia
(Kane Miller)
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm; illus. by Adam Gustavson
The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson
Lark by Tracey Porter
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Encyclopedia Mythologica: Dragons & Monsters by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda
Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins; illus. by Vicky White
Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross; illus. by Stephen Biesty

Come on down

Next Tuesday through Friday I'll be down at the University of Southern Mississippi's Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival, delivering the Ezra Jack Keats Lecture on Thursday. Hope to see some of you there. I last spoke there in 1998 and have gone to the Guide to find some very interesting differences in what publishing looked like then and what it looks like now. Short version: boy wizard.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pizza with rabbits

Kevin Henkes and free pizza are appearing at the Cambridge Public Library Wednesday night. You have to be at least five years old to attend but I heard a rumor that a flash mob of protesting toddlers is already suiting up.

Are historicals history?

In my capacity as chair of the Scott O'Dell Award, I received a letter from a prominent author of historical fiction, bemoaning what she sees as a current lack of interest in the genre among publishers. I have no idea if this is true, as what publishers are in the market for now won't reveal itself to me for at least a year. And while it's true that fewer historicals seem to be published now than in the heyday of the Dear America series (which is being re-amped, I've noticed), the publishing of historical fiction seems to have been fairly consistent over the past decade. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rowling on Lifetime--this could be good. Snort.

But at least Sam got a new job! I'm so happy she's moved on--Brian was a total wimp and Jack would only break her heart again.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mata Haris

Valerie Plame's announcement that she is embarking on a series starring a female spy reminded me of one of my favorites, Evelyn Anthony's books from the 1980s about Davina Graham, starting with The Defector. Subsequent titles include The Avenue of the Dead, Albatross, and The Company of Saints, and while they were reissued with new titles by Severn House in the mid 2000s everything seems out of print. Look for them in your library and only lament that Brit TV never got around to them when Helen Mirren was in her Jane Tennison glory days.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In which I possibly overextend my metaphor to dangerous ends

Last night we went to a preview for the new Omnimax movie Tornado Alley. If you like weather porn, it's really swell, with big scary skies, hail, and lots of cloud and funnel action. I'm not sure I learned much more about tornadoes than I knew going in, but that could be because the immersive footage overwhelms Bill "Big Love" Pullman's Paxton's! narration of the science behind what we were seeing.

Two points I began considering when my attention wandered: One, the only other Omnimax movie I remember seeing is The Polar Express, awful in more ways than I can say. So I don't know if it's my inexperience with the medium that lead to my queasy but delighted disorientation, for, say, the first fifteen minutes of the 45 minute film. I thrilled to the rain, the approaching tornadoes and the zooming-in on the Mad Max-like storm-chasing truck. But after a while, the screen simply looked big, and I felt less like I was experiencing the weather and more like I was watching a movie. (Richard fell asleep.)

My second point might be related to my first. Through most of the movie, we go along with stormchaser-filmmaker Sean Casey as he seeks to plant his truck (which has these cool extensions that grip the ground) right in the middle of a tornado. With aid of radar and other Science, he gets close, closer, but the storms either die down or dance off in another direction. The funnels--gestating, growing, twisting--are awesome to see. But when he does get himself inside, at the end of the movie, it's a letdown, just a blur of wind and rain and white noise. It turns out tornadoes are a lot less interesting (visually, anyway) from the inside than they are from without. Bill Pullman's Paxton's! other tornado movie, Twister, made high drama of the (admittedly ludicrous) moment when he and Helen Hunt are chained at the heart of the storm, watching little silvery cups twirl up into the funnel, their experiment a success and their love renewed. So don't go see Tornado Alley thinking it's going to look like this.

My work-related conclusion concerns our now-reflexive expectation that an "insider's view" is always better, and more "authentic," than an outsider's when it comes to a book 's cultural context. I know people aren't weather. I know outsiders looking in can "get stuff wrong." But I'm guessing that if tornadoes had people living inside them (hey publishers! a new hook!), those folks would have no clue about what their home looked like from the outside--and it's a spectacular view. Inside, it just looks like rain as usual. Now, it is true that Sean Casey's journey into the storm promises to give us new knowledge about tornadoes, and who's not for that? Let's just not automatically dismiss the view from the outside as one not worth seeing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

BALIS workshop, SFPL

Of COURSE I stood up for The Book (in this case, Patrick McDonnell's Me, Jane), but, really we all did--moderator Nina Lindsay and my co-panelists Kristin McLean and Jason Griffey--in the March 4 panel on e-books sponsored by the Bay Area Library and Information System.

We were speaking in the wake of HarperCollins's announcement about their new rules for libraries and ebooks, but that didn't take up as much of the discussion as I thought it would. Mainly, this is because ebook-reading seems to be mostly an adult thing, at least at this point. Kristen's research seems to bear this out--that while kids are adept consumers of various digital products and devices, they still seem to like their book-reading on paper between covers. And Jason acknowledged that while he expects his daughter to do ever more of her reading on screen as she ages, for now books are definitely part of the mix.

You know, there's reading and then there are books. I already do most of my reading on a screen, don't you? It seems to me that the future is going to involve a rather interesting parsing of what we mean by recreational reading, and just what part librarians will play in that mix.

My point with Me, Jane was that some books depend upon format more than others, that paper (in this case) allows you to see the textures that are an important part of the storytelling strategy, and that page-turns can be crucial. And my visit later that weekend with grandson Miles got me thinking about something else: kids want their screens to do stuff-- move, squeak, respond. There are a lot of books where those things simply don't need to happen; in fact, we don't want them to happen. But does this mean printed books will survive, or that a taste for no-frills long-form reading will die off?

Monday, March 14, 2011

BoB Round One

SLJ's Battle of the Books kicks off with Francisco X. Stork making the wrong choice. And he kind of wimps out.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fingers first

I really tried to work it with Miles and the iPad:

Ehh, thinks Miles, but now his mother really, really wants one.
But, at not-quite-two, he did not seem to understand that touching various spots on the glass would make different things happen. He did go after the one non-virtual button on the iPad with a vengeance, but all that does is close whatever program is open at the time, meaning we didn't get very far in A Present for Milo. And he looks more interested in my finger than in the screen.

Or in my eye:

Yes, that's his favorite, The Tushy Book
Or in his firetruck:

With me and Richard--hey is this kid a lefty? Takes after me!

Make it new!

Marc Aronson takes on challenges, particularly a substantial critique by Jim Murphy, to his article "New Knowledge," which appears in the current issue of the Magazine. In his post Jim says he wishes we had a way for readers to comment on articles we post on the site and SO DO I. Until we figure out how to do that, you can comment here or in our Letters to the Editor column, reachable at Magazine at hbook dot com.

(Oh, and that thing Marc blames on us? Totally him. But he is still among our beloved.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grandchildren are important

if only for the way that, posed correctly, they can take thirty pounds off a guy.

photo by Richard Asch

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ladies and a Gentleman

I'll be reporting on my trip to SF once I wrest the photos from Richard's camera; short version: it was swell.

Meanwhile Katie celebrates Women's History Month with a new booklist of some excellent recent biographies and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art announces its 2011 Carle Honors Honorees: artist Lois Ehlert, artist and philanthropist Jeanne Steig, University of Minnesota's Children's Literature Research Collections curator Karen Nelson Hoyle, and picture book editor extraordinaire Michael di Capua. Congrats to all!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Mean Girls wannabe

Horn Book intern (and competitive latte artist) Beth sinks her teeth into Amy Holder's The Lipstick Laws over at Out of the Box.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Muppets go BOOM!

Over at Out of the Box, Muppet fan(atic) Cindy raises the curtain on BOOM! Kids'* graphic novels featuring Jim Henson's Muppets.

*which has, as of two weeks ago, morphed into KABOOM!

My whereabouts

Off to San Francisco to talk about ebooks with the children's librarians, have dinner with Nina Lindsay, catch up with college friends, and see the kids. Miles is getting Miles to Go (Candlewick) by Jamie Harper, and Sofia, daughter of my friend Georgie I met in an anthro class, is getting Me . . . Jane (Little, Brown) by Patrick McDonnell.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Keeping it up

We're editing Magazine reviews today, and a couple have made me wonder when and whether we should mention author or publisher websites that promise additional material that supports the book. If anyone in library school is reading this and needs a paper topic, please take a sample of books published, say, three years ago, that coaxed readers to hop online for more. I want to know what that more looks like now.  My guess is . . . less.

This space for rent

Our (well, Kitty's) very own licensed characters, Jakob and Chloe, celebrate Dr. Seuss Day.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

And THEN I'll stick FORKS in my eyes.

I'm over at li'l sis's place today, declaring my love for Big Nate.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

and someday Man will walk on the Moon

Interesting discussion on the ALSC-L listserv: they are discussing what to do with Judith St. George and David Small's So You Want to Be President, which, last revised in 2004, includes the statement that "no person of color has been President." On the one hand it is dated and inaccurate; on the other, the original edition (ending with Bill Clinton) won the 2001 Caldecott Medal. What trumps what?

In any case, Scottie Bowditch at Penguin tells me that a revised edition (with some new pics as well) is due out next January.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Let's hope this doesn't catch on

An author is suing the publisher of a book review for criminal libel. The Times article is entertainingly snarky (it doesn't hurt that the author, reviewer, and publisher are all lawyers) but don't miss the exchange of letters between the author and the publisher (it's a pdf), who seem to be friends. Or at least they were.

Although there was that one time a publisher threatened to sue us if we reviewed any more of their books (we did and they didn't, by the way, but they no longer submit their titles for review), most of the flack we get here is about the books we don't review. (Cue Alex Forrest, with a butcher knife, holding a copy of Peter Rabbit.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gratuitous or essential?

Watching the Grammys the other night and finally succumbing to the hook they seemed to be playing over and over (reminding me of the night, now and forever, the Tonys would not let go of "Midnight . . . all the kitties are sleeping . . ."), I became curious about the apparently runaway success of "Need You Now." (The original is fine but I love this tribute even more.) I was interested to discover that the label had some concern about the line "It's a quarter after one, / I'm a little drunk, / And I need you now." Luckily, the band and wiser heads prevailed, as I think the song became the ubiquitous hit it is because its slight whiff of realism gives those who disdain "adult contemporary" or "smooth country" permission to go ahead and enjoy the song. I wonder if the inclusion of what we used to call swear words do the same thing in books for kids. That even if a sentence would read perfectly well without the fuck thrown into the middle of it, does the use of the offending word gives readers permission to trust the book?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When books become real

This little bit of internet mischief always makes me think of Frindle.

R.I.P. Margaret K. McElderry

In memory of the great and good Margaret K. McElderry, who died on Monday, we offer the two-part interview Leonard Marcus conducted with her for the November-December 1993 and January-February 1994 issues of the Horn Book Magazine.

The list of books Margaret published that I love is very, very long, but it begins with Margot Benary-Isbert's The Ark, which my mother bought for me when I was around ten, and which I read over and over for years. Every kid should be fortunate enough to find such a book to love so much, and it's thanks to the MKMs of the world that they get published. God bless her.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

HBGO à go-go

The Horn Book Guide online has just posted 349 new reviews of the great, good, and distinctly mediocre.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Boy in the Garden and Two Great Ladies

I review Allen Say's latest book in the Times today. I had been hoping that book, along with Anita Lobel's Nini Lost and Found might figure in the ALA lists and awards but do they listen to me? In any case, we've made a beautiful cover from Nini's art for the forthcoming Horn Book Guide. (And in related news, I saw and heard Anita's daughter Adrienne via the magic of HD satellite transmission yesterday afternoon during the intermission of the Met's production of Nixon in China, for which Adrienne had created the sets.)

One last and sad Anita and Nini connection--I heard late Friday that Anita's Knopf editor Janet Schulman had died. Janet, formerly of Macmillan (the old one) and retired publisher of Random House children's books, is a true legend and was a great colleague. A good writer, too--in the recently published  In the Words of the Winners, our collection with ALSC of the last decade's Newbery and Caldecott speeches and related material, I cite her Pale Male as a book I thought the Newbery committee should have paid attention to. Janet had promised me a walk in Central Park to see the titular hawk but now I will have to do it in her memory.

Friday, February 11, 2011

You're terrible, Muriel

English writer Martin Amis, quoted in The Guardian:
I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book', but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.
 Pass the popcorn.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I guess Dakota Fanning would be too obvious a choice

for Alice, but Greenwillow reports news of casting choices for the movie version of The Last Apprentice, one of my favorite scary books.  Jeff Bridges as the Spook, huh. Saw him last night in True Grit, a movie that seemed to me compelling but not involving.

When there's not an app for that

And speaking of science, check out this smart SLJ article by Douglas Rushkoff about the perils of raising consumers, rather than creators, of digital delivery systems. While it is true that I've never actually used the assembly language I learned in library school (twice, as I flunked it the first time), it was good to get an understanding of what's under the hood.

And no pink sneakers for you, young man

Oprah's pal Dr. Phil offers advice to a mother whose five-year-old son likes girls' clothes and Barbies:

"This is not a precursor to your son being gay," explains Dr. Phil. He'll know that in time, but this is not an indication of his sexual orientation.

Dr. Phil tells Robby that she has a job to do: "Direct your son in an unconfusing way. Don't buy him Barbie dolls or girl's clothes. You don't want to do things that seem to support the confusion at this stage of the game ... Take the girl things away, and buy him boy toys."

Most importantly, he tells Robby, "Support him in what he's doing, but not in the girl things."

One, "Robby" needs to clean up her act and refeminate her name. Two, we wonder why boys don't read more. Three, any man who makes a career of sitting around on a couch to chat with the ladies is in no position to throw purses.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

February Notes

The February issue of Notes from the Horn Book is out, headlined by Martha Parravano's Five Questions for Wilder Award winner Tomie dePaola. Otherwise, we give you a handy annotated list of the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Sibert, King, and Belpre-winning books.

Becoming a Nation of Wusses

The recent report about the reluctance of high school biology teachers to teach evolution really drives me crazy. Again. I think I am most bothered by the 60% of teachers who weasel out of or around the topic because of fear, not their own convictions. It's like librarians who don't buy certain materials because they are afraid they will get into trouble. Sometimes this threat is real, sometimes not, and sometimes it's just projection, the teacher or librarian using an imaginary public to justify his or her own worldview. But if science teachers won't stand up for science, who will?

We've got a great piece coming up in the May issue by Steve Jenkins about the politicization of science and its effect on education. Read it and weep.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Alice McKinley called, and she wants her cover back

Phoebe Stone's The Romeo and Juliet Code, which is getting a starred review in the March-April issue of the Magazine, is a book with many mysteries. Not least of which is the cover, left. Call me obtuse, but there's nothing about that cover that screams or even whispers eccentric, mildly over-the-top tale about a sturdy English girl who in 1941 is taken across the treacherous Atlantic by her parents to stay with some unconventional relatives who live with a whole bunch of secrets in an old house on the coast of Maine. P.S. No beach-blanket cuddling.

And slept, on the bus, through the Superbowl

Back from a weekend in New York--Lost in the Stars at Encores! (terribly worthy and high-minded), Billy Elliot (LOTS of fun) and a double-dip at MOMA with Andy Warhol's movies and the Abstract Expressionists (my favorite pictured, Jackson Pollock's Easter and the Totem).

I wonder when we learn to be willingly (if grudgingly) edified. Watching Lost in the Stars, I thought, "well, this is dull and preachy and the singing isn't all that exciting, but I'm glad to have finally seen an Encores! production and to add to my knowledge of Kurt Weill's music, which in the main I like." I guess it's a form of delayed gratification, never my favorite concept, but perhaps I'm growing up.

As far as "Modern Art" goes, I just stick with Gertrude Stein's considered response: "I like to look at it."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

March/April stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the March/April 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage (Scholastic)

Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial)

Recovery Road by Blake Nelson (Scholastic)

The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (Levine/Scholastic)

Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt; illus. by Louise Yates (Knopf)

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade/Random)

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown)

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski (Farrar)

Shoulda stuck to their guns

Colleen has a great post up summarizing the drama that's been going on around Bitch Magazine's publication of "100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader." The comments on the magazine's site are the best--incensed that Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels (among others) had been removed from the list because it might "trigger" victims of rape, other writers who have books on the list (Maureen Johnston, Ellen Klages, Scott Westerfeld, etc.) are demanding that their books be removed, too.

But these "triggers." I dunno--while I don't deny that subsequent experiences can unpleasantly or even horrifically cause a previous trauma to reemerge, who knows what is going to do what to whom?  It seems like the ultimate drama queen trump card: you can't say/write/show/do anything that might cause somebody/somewhere/sometime to have a panic attack? Shoot me now.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Well, what about Dick Sargent, then?

The children's librarians over at PUBYAC are discussing impossible homework assignments--like the kid who came in and needed a biography (it had to be a book) about Dick York, famous Indianan. I sympathize--I'm sure I've mentioned here before the hordes of kids who came into my little branch library needing copies of God Is My Co-Pilot. The YAC-kers, per usual, have lots of helpful suggestions, not for Dick York biographies, unfortunately, but how to effectively and tactfully communicate to schools just what kinds of resources are available at the local library--or on the planet.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

In a perfect world Hawaii Five-O would be the number one show

I would love to be a Nielsen family, but I have never understood why the TV industry still relies on sampling for data. And apparently they will have to change.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Maybe they just have better things to do.

Considering that it's kind of like a Guinness Book of World Records for grownups, I guess I'm not surprised that less than 15 percent of Wikipedia's contributors are female.

I've dotted an i or two over there but that's it; I wish the survey had asked the respondents if they were employed!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Practice, practice, practice

So whadda we think about Tiger Mom? It's funny how meta everything gets so quickly now--outrage over Amy Chua's article rapidly devolving into debate over the outrage, answered by Chua's emendations and demurrals . . . . I wonder if she lets her kids read from the Newbery shelf only. "I don't see a sticker on that book, Lulu. Where is the sticker? What? What? What is this TTYL? No! I'm burning it. Watch me burn it now. Bye-bye, TTYL, you bad book with no sticker. Hellooooo, A Gathering of Days!

One thing Chua is right about is piano practice. I've just read Jane Breskin Zalben's new middle-school novel Four Seasons (Knopf), about Ally, a gifted kid who studies piano at The Julliard School (only amateurs, she tells us, refer to it as just plain Julliard). I can't remember a book so honest about the demands made upon young serious musicians--by their teachers, their parents, themselves.  Ally's parents have an interestingly complex job of raising her: her father is an active professional musician and her mom, well, her mom has a story of her own. On the one hand, they want Ally to be happy and have a "normal" life, etc., but on the other, they know how hard she is going to have to work if she wants to make the piano her life. Whether she does want to do that provides the novel with its theme, and it's a truly engrossing exposition. Highly recommended to all those forced through "Lightly Row" and "The Spinning Song."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Win Jan Brett

I have it on good authority that when Jan Brett was asked how she paints the incredibly intricate borders of her popular picture books she replied, "an inch an hour."  But you can ask her yourself by entering (and, duh, winning) her contest for a free school or library visit. Just be the school or library who gets the most people to "like" Jan on Facebook. I love the tip on winning: "The teachers and parents from the school went to all the nearby assisted living housing and asked the residents to help out by sending in entries. They won!" Now that's ruthless.