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.

Nonfiction and two more notables.

Sorry to be such a slug here but we've been knee deep not just in snow (and, yes, we HAD a snow day, but I had to spend it working on reviews) but in our special March/April issue of the Magazine, "Fact, Fiction, and In-Between." Really, subscribe now: I think it's going to be one of the best things we've ever published. Contributors include Kathy Isaacs, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Erica Zappy, Matt Tavares, Marc Aronson, Steve Jenkins, Betsy Partridge, Monica Edinger, Tanya Lee Stone, Viki Ash and Thom Barthelmess, Marthe Jocelyn, Steve Herb, and Leonard Marcus; with short author-essays by Laurie Halse Anderson, Chris Barton, Margarita Engle, Candy Fleming, Jim Giblin, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, Deborah Heiligman, Katherine Paterson, and Andrea Davis Pinkney. PLUS reviews, which include--how does this happen?--two new picture book biographies of Jane Goodall.

And in news of other Great Ladies, I was so happy to see old friend and longtime Horn Book Guide reviewer Henrietta Smith be awarded the Virginia Hamilton Practioner Award for Lifetime Achievement, and that scrappy Patsy Aldana of Groundwood Books has been named a Member of the Order of Canada. Congrats to both!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What did they do, flip a coin?

ALA has posted the 2011 Notables and Best Fiction for Young Adults list.  I had to laugh when I looked at the latter--YALSA got rid of its supposedly ungainly Best Books for Young Adults list last year to focus on narrower lists this year, but what did we get? A YA-fiction-only list that, with 99 titles, is longer than last year's all-comers list of 90. And just how selective is it when more than half of the nominated titles (191 in all) were chosen?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

ALA 2011

As I sit here feeling like Gomer Pyle ("Surprise, surprise, surprise!"), you can take a look at our ALA Awards page, listing all of the winners announced yesterday and, where available, Horn Book reviews of the winning titles.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Take it from the old stage manager

who's seen 'em come and go . . . . When I heard about the new edition of Huck Finn that cleans up Mark Twain's pesky use of the word nigger, deja vu of a very real sort came over me. A similar bowdlerization happened at least once before, more than 25 years ago, and I reported on it in my guise as YA columnist for School Library Journal. Courtesy of Mark Tuchman at SLJ who graciously found and scanned the thing for me, here it is again. From the August, 1984 SLJ:

In the YA Corner
Roger Sutton
Children's Librarian
North Pulaski Branch
The Chicago Public Library

"Sivilizing" Huck Finn

Despite Mark Twain's notice that "Persons attempting to find a moral in this narrative will be banished," the woods surrounding his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are thick with thieves; the only thing being banished is this book. While in a gentler time Louisa May Alcott could remark, "If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses, he had best stop writing for them," the issue today is not coarseness, but racism.

My interest here is in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Adapted, published by John H. Wallace, (John H. Wallace & Sons Co., 1983). A letter accompanying the review copy states, "Very little has been changed. The term "nigger" has been exorcised, as have the stereotypical assumptions that blacks steal, are not intelligent, and are not human." Wallace, who is black, had attempted to ban Twain's book from the Mark Twain Intermediate School in Fairfax, Virginia. "I don't care about the First Amendment. I care about children," he was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times (April II, 1982).

Now, we care about the First Amendment, precisely because we care about children. But Wallace believes that children—particularly black children—are hurt and humiliated by this book. Since his unsuccessful attempt to ban it, he wrote a "sivilized" version.

But given Wallace's premise that the book is racist, can we say that his "edited" version has rendered it less so? I don't think it has. In fact, I believe he has taken Huckleberry Finn, a book containing some strong anti-racist sentiment, and turned it into a very different book, one that is racist "by omission" (to borrow a phrase from the Council on Interracial Books for Children). Wallace's changes are of several kinds. Most prominent is the complete expurgation (Wallace calls it "exorcism") of the word "nigger," replacing it most often with "slave," and occasionally "servant" or "fellow." Sometimes he omits phrases or sentences containing the offending word.

Wallace says, "Very little has been changed"—"nigger" is a word occurring countless times in Twain's book. It is (and was in Twain's time) an ugly word. "Slave," on the other hand, is only descriptive, carrying no value judgment or emotional freight. For the most part, changing "nigger" to "slave" doesn't distort the literal, narrative sense of Twain's book. For example, Wallace changes "By and by they fetched the niggers in and had prayers," to "By and by they fetched the slaves in and had prayers." Despite the change, readers still know, nominally, to whom Twain is referring.

Twain, however, used "nigger," not "slave," and he used it on purpose. Remember, Huck tells the story, and "nigger" is the word he would use. The point of the story is that Huck is an ignorant, uneducated racist who, when faced with a choice between his racism and helping a slave escape, says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell," choosing to aid his friend Jim, a "nigger."

By changing "nigger" to "slave," Wallace rewrites not only Twain but history, fashioning Huck's society to appear less racist than it really was. Whites of that time did believe "Give a nigger an inch and he'll take an ell," but not in Wallace's book—he deleted that sentence. With Wallace's removal of the "nigger," and his softening of white bigotry in Twain's book, readers can conclude that life wasn't so bad for blacks in the South. Indeed, they can conclude that blacks scarcely existed. By simply referring to them as "slaves," readers can forget why they were enslaved to begin with.

Wallace also changes Huck's relationship with Jim. Huck, by Wallace, doesn't believe "He was a mighty good nigger, Jim was." Instead, "He was a mighty good man, Jim was." In Twain's book, Huck, expressing approval of Jim, says, "I knowed he was white inside." In Wallace's, this becomes "I knowed he was good." Why is Wallace so eager to let Huck Finn off the hook? What was, in Twain, a telling exposure of how racism infects even the most sympathetic of characters becomes, in Wallace, just a coupla guys sitting around on a raft, talkin'. Huck is no Simon Legree. He does love Jim, but cannot escape his own racism entirely. That's the point. The world would be a lot simpler if we had bad guys and good guys, but what we do have is a whole lot of mixed-up, uneasy people positively bustling with ignorance. And that's Huck—us—the good guys.

Look at how Wallace sweetens up Aunt Sally. When Huck tells her a fabricated story of a steamboat accident, the old dear replies, "Good gracious! Anybody hurt?" And when Huck replies "No'm," she's relieved. "Well, it's lucky, because sometimes people do get hurt." Let's see this same exchange in Twain:

"It warn't the grounding—that didn't keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head."
"Good gracious I Anybody hurt?"
"No'm. Killed a nigger."
"Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt."

Different, isn't it? Aunt Sally, sweet Aunt Sally, doesn't care if it "killed a nigger" so long as "people" didn't "get hurt." It is as if she didn't hear Huck's response; like Wallace, she ignores the "nigger's" existence. Wallace reduces Twain's neat irony to a pointless exchange, like Aunt Sally, complacently ignorant.

I can say what I do about these two Huckleberry Finns only because (unlike the intended audience of Wallace's book) I have both books in front of me. I can see that in Twain's book the angels "hoverin' round" Huck's father are black and white, the ones in Wallace's are white and "yaller." (The white angel is still the good 'un.) I can see that Jim calls Huck "Honey" in Twain, but not in Wallace (and that change begs more questions than it answers). What I can't see is what Wallace expects students to get out of his book. Twain's stern moral vision, his irony—the reasons this book is taught—are gone. What's left?

What's left is ignorance. Wallace, who has called Twain's book "the most grotesque example of racist trash ever written" (Chicago Sun-Times, May 25, 1984), has revealed his own; and through his "sivilizing" of Huck, seeks to pass it on.

"I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it." Me neither, Huck. Have a safe trip.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Work on volume three begins Monday!

While we don't yet know who will start off the 2021 edition of this durable series, originally published by the Horn Book and now a joint production with ALSC and ALA, the latest collection of the Newbery and Caldecott speeches is now available. In the Words of the Winners: The Newbery and Caldecott Medals 2001-2010 includes, along with the acceptance speeches, the profiles of the Medalists and reviews of the winning books that were first published in the Horn Book Magazine. Plus you get overviews of the decade of Newberys (by Nina Lindsay), Caldecotts (Joanna Rudge Long) and children's publishing in general (yours truly). Available from ALA right now and, for a discount, at the ALA store at Midwinter this coming weekend.

And for those of you STILL ASKING for copies of Stephen Gammell's 1989 Caldecott speech, STOP. He never wrote one. The Horn Book never published one. What you heard, if You Were There That Night, was forty-some minutes of extemporized madness.

The last taboo?

I think it was at the Library of the Early Mind screening last November that someone asked me if there were any taboos left in children's literature. Abortion, I said, and I've been thinking about this again since Ross Douthat's NYT column on Monday. On his way to a conclusion that is more morally complicated than Douthat acknowledges, namely, that more abortions means fewer babies available for adoption, he does begin with a true point about abortion's odd absence in movies and on TV:
The American entertainment industry has never been comfortable with the act of abortion. Film or television characters might consider the procedure, but even on the most libertine programs (a “Mad Men,” a “Sex and the City”), they’re more likely to have a change of heart than actually go through with it. Reality TV thrives on shocking scenes and subjects — extreme pregnancies and surgeries, suburban polygamists and the gay housewives of New York — but abortion remains a little too controversial, and a little bit too real.

This is even more true in fiction for teens, where, given that genre's penchant for melodrama and themes of personal crisis, you would think abortion would show up with some frequency. I free-text-searched the word "abortion" through the Horn Book Guide, and while I found solid representation of the topic in nonfiction, there were only a dozen occurrences of the word in reviews of all hard cover fiction for youth published in the last twenty years. Don't you think that is strange? It's true that the heyday of the problem novel came before the Guide started keeping track of such things, but even from back then I can only remember a book called Unbirthday, a paperback original from Jean Feiwel's great Flare imprint at Avon, published in 1982. It's also true that the Guide doesn't review paperbacks, and I'm guessing Gossip Girl and her ilk must have encountered the subject a time or two.

YA authors and publishers don't shy away from much, which is why they tend to get into trouble, but why is Ellen Hopkins the only one trying to get in trouble with this one?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2011 Scott O'Dell Award

The winner of the 2011 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The summer Delphine is “eleven going on twelve,” she and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are sent from Brooklyn to Oakland to visit their mother, Cecile, who left the family soon after Fern was born. Beginning with the girls’ first scary but exhilarating plane ride, their summer of 1968 is a microcosm of the new directions in which the nation found itself traveling. Their mother, distrustful and secretive, has renamed herself Nzila; she sends the girls off every morning for breakfast and summer school at the Black Panthers’ People’s Center. Why does she have a printing press in her kitchen, and why does she refuse to call Fern anything but “Little Girl”? As expressed through the candid, questioning, and take-no-prisoners voice of the spirited Delphine, Williams-Garcia’s exploration of the nascent Black Power movement is always rooted in the particulars of the girls' experience. In her sturdy self-reliance, Delphine recalls the heroine of a book she has brought along for the summer—Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. Readers won’t be able to forget her.

Established in 1982 by the great historical fiction writer Scott O’Dell, the annual $5000 Award is given for a distinguished work of historical fiction for young people, published by a U. S. publisher; the setting must be South, Central, or North America, and the author must be a U.S. citizen. Since O’Dell’s death, the Award has been administered by his wife, Elizabeth Hall.

Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of the Horn Book Inc., is the Committee Chair. He succeeds Hazel Rochman and the late Zena Sutherland, who served as chair from the inception of the Award. The other members of the committee are Ann Carlson, History and Fine Arts Librarian, Oak
Park and River Forest High School; and Laura Tillotson, Books for Youth Editorial Director of Booklist magazine.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Vote today!

Nina and Jonathan are polling Newbery choices over at Heavy Medal. I never know if such things want me to tell them what I desire or what I predict, but in this case it's all the same to me.

New Magazine, etc.

Happy New Year, everybody. Like just about every reader who goes away on vacation, I brought to the Cape last week stacks of books in print, audio, and pixels but mostly disdained them in favor of a book I picked up at the house we were renting. It was a grisly Icelandic mystery--do the Scandinavians in fact publish any other kind? (I guess the Henning Mankells I've read were relatively bloodless--in more ways than one. Now, somebody go distract Mankell fan Lois Lowry before she comes over here and ritualistically gouges my eyeballs out, paints cryptic runes on my body, and nails me to the floor.)

The January/February Magazine is out and selectively up. You can read the BGHB speeches, check out some anecdotes about agents and find out what makes for a good sports novel. And I encourage you all to read and learn from Barbara Bader's portrait of Virginia Haviland, children's librarian to the nation. It's the first in a series Barbara is writing about the "second generation" of children's library leaders in this country; next up in the May issue is Augusta Baker. Barbara is currently doing preliminary research on the children's librarians of the 1950s and 60s in Cleveland and Pittsburgh; anyone with knowledge of pertinent people and places should write to her at bbader at earthlink dot net.