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The Horn Book editor's rants and raves. Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996
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1. Millie’s Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app review

millie tricks and treats menu Millies Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app reviewIntrepid adventurer dog Millie is back in Halloween-themed offering Millie’s Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 (Millie Was Here series; Megapops, 2012).

Knock on each of ten front doors in Millie’s neighborhood to spin a game show–style wheel and receive either a video “trick” (e.g., “Millie Performs an Amazing Yo-Yo Trick,” “Millie Teleports All Over the Place”) or “treat” (spooky-fied bacon treats such as “Frankenbacon”). Judging from the not-too-scary decorations, it seems Millie’s neighborhood includes friendly families of werewolves, mad scientists, aliens, and vampires. A theremin-and-harpsichord waltz continues the Halloween-y mood. Every screen also offers a scratch-off picture of Millie modeling a different costume and a hidden sticker of a creepy-cute creature. Collect badges by finding all of the stickers and reading through the entire app. Each read-through offers slightly different content as the app cycles through a wide range of trick and treat videos and costumed Millie snapshots.

millie tricks and treats mad scientist door Millies Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app review

Trick-or-treat!

millie tricks and treats open door Millies Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app review

a trick: “Millie Knits You a Nice, Warm Sweater”

As in previous Millie Was Here apps, the humor lies in the juxtaposition of the off-screen narrator’s bombastic voice-over and the equally over-the-top title cards with Millie’s mundane doggy activities and interests. In the trick “Millie Turns into a Vicious Werewolf,” for instance, the small, snuggly dog looks up at a projected moon while a horror-movie-worthy wolf howl plays. Many of the videos show hands of human assistants offering treats and helping Millie perform her various tricks; the intentionally low-tech effects are part of the series’ considerable charm.

The navigation is straightforward — just forward and back buttons — and the app requires no reading. Music, narration, text highlighting, touch hints, and sticker hints may be turned on or off and volume may be adjusted (some of these settings are accessible from the navigation bar at the bottom of each screen, others in a parent-locked info section). A “bedtime mode” dims the screen slightly and disables the sticker hunt for a more soothing experience. Tips for keeping pets happy and safe on “Howl-o-ween” are appended.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $0.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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2. Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 Edition

This column is part of a series of recommended board book roundups, formerly published twice a year, now published every season. You can find the previous installments here. Don’t miss Viki Ash’s primer “What Makes a Good Board Book?” from the March/April 2010 Horn Book Magazine.

baker 123peas boardbk2 Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 Edition1-2-3 Peas
by Keith Baker
Little Simon     36 pp.
5/14     978-1-4424-9928-7     $7.99
“Five peas painting— / brush, brush, brush, / Six peas traveling— / rush, rush, rush.” In this follow-up to Baker’s LMNO Peas, the peas row, splash, build, nap, and more, on and around large-size numerals from one to ten, then skip counting by tens to one hundred. The rhyming text bounces along as the spring-green peas frolic in the lively illustrations. The smaller trim size means much of the art’s amusing details are harder to see, but the colorful pages and fun-to-read-aloud rhymes will delight small listeners.

horacek time4bed boardbk Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionTime for Bed: Flip-Flap Fun
by Petr Horáček
Candlewick     16 pp.
9/14     978-0-7636-6779-5     $7.99
First it’s “time to play.” Then, after putting “away my toys,” it’s “time for supper.” A little boy’s recognizable end-of-the-day routine plays out in Horáček’s simple, comforting text and boldly colored illustrations. The thick graduated pages make it easy for small hands to interact with the book. After a bath, teeth brushing, and a story, the final page-turn shows the narrator for the first time, tucked into bed and gently reminding listeners that it’s “time to say good night.”

laden peekazoo boardbk Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionPeek-a-Zoo
by Nina Laden
Chronicle     24 pp.
3/14     978-1-4521-1175-9     $6.99
If a board book could be a considered a cult classic, Laden’s Peek-a Who? (2000) would be one. In this animal-themed follow-up (in a small format perfect for little hands), the pattern is the same. “Peek a” on the left-hand page faces what looks like a linocut design; a die-cut hole hints at what’s revealed on the following spread. “Mew!” accompanies a tiger; “Bamboo!” captions an image of a panda munching on its favorite food. A kangaroo and a cockatoo are also featured, as well as the cute creature reflected in the mirror on the final page: “You, too!” For babies and toddlers, this trick never grows old.

carle pandabear boardbk Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionPanda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?
by Bill Martin Jr; illus. by Eric Carle
Holt     28 pp.
8/14     978-08050-9950-8     $12.99
This lap-size board book’s rhyming text follows the familiar pattern of the author/illustrator team’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear. A panda, water buffalo, spider monkey, whooping crane, and six other endangered species parade across the pages; at the end, a dreaming child sees all ten animals “wild and free.” Carle’s striking, brilliantly colored illustrations are as eye-catching as always, making this ideal for use with groups.

mckee elmer boardbkjpg Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionElmer
by David McKee
HarperFestival      32 pp.
8/14     978-0-06-232405-4     $7.99
Available in a board-book edition for the first time, Elmer has been everyone’s favorite patchwork elephant for twenty-five years. Though the other elephants in the herd love his jokes and games, Elmer wonders if they’re laughing at him because he looks different. He tries to blend in by covering up his colorful hide, but he can’t disguise what’s really special about him. The message about accepting yourself and celebrating differences isn’t likely to interest babies; older toddlers, however, will welcome Elmer into their herd.

mcphail babypigpigtalks boardbk Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionBaby Pig Pig Talks
by David McPhail
Charlesbridge     14 pp.
8/14     978-1-58089-597-2     $6.95

 

 

mcphail babypigpigwalks boardbk Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionBaby Pig Pig Walks
by David McPhail
Charlesbridge     14 pp.
8/14      978-1-58089-596-5     $6.95

Baby Pig Pig (Pig Pig Returns) reaches two developmental milestones in these original board books. In Talks, mother pig names everything they see during a stroller walk: “Snake. Taxi. Tricycle.” Baby Pig Pig repeats after her, sort of: “Hissa. Honka. Dinga.” An overly friendly dog gets him talking — “Mama!” In Walks, Baby Pig Pig wants to explore the world beyond his playpen. After some wobbly steps, he climbs out and heads off “…down the hallway…toward the kitchen” and right into his mother’s welcoming arms. The small adventures have just enough tension to keep little walkers and talkers enthralled.

sayre rahrah boardbk Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionRah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant
by April Pulley Sayre
Little Simon      34 pp.
7/14     978-1-4424-9927-0     $7.99
“Oh boy, bok choy! / Brussels sprout. / Broccoli. Cauliflower. / Shout it out!” Kids may not want to eat their greens, but they’ll dig right in to this colorful feast for the eyes and ears. Sayre’s energetic rhymes are accompanied by appetizing photos of a variety of veggies, many of which may be unfamiliar to small children. Bring this book along on your next trip to the farmers’ market and see how many vegetables you can find. Who knows? Maybe it will inspire some taste testing!

stiles todayimgoingtowear boardbk Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionToday I’m Going to Wear…
by Dan Stiles
POW!     18 pp.
10/14     978-1-57687-718-0     $9.95
“Today I think I’m going to wear a yellow ribbon in my hair.” In a pleasantly rhyming text, a little girl describes her hand-picked outfit, which includes a polka-dot cowboy hat, a too-small coat, “in case of sun, a parasol,” mittens, and rain boots. Stiles’s vibrant graphic illustrations are hard to resist; their hip, retro vibe will appeal to grownups and young kids alike.

wells drduck boardbook  Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 EditionA Visit to Dr. Duck
by Rosemary Wells
Candlewick     30 pp.
8/14     978-0-7636-7229-4     7.99
Little guinea pig Felix eats too many “chocolate blimpies” and doesn’t feel well the next day. His mama tries chamomile tea and fresh air; finally, she takes him to see Dr. Duck. Originally published in hardcover as Felix Feels Better (2000), this edition’s title change puts the focus on going to the doctor — and Felix’s nervousness about the experience will resonate with young listeners. Wells’s comforting tone and warm illustrations will reassure toddler and preschool patients.

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3. New York Times Best Illustrated list announced

Here it is! http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2014/10/30/books/review/2014-BEST-8.html?_r=1&

Usually this list matches up pretty well with our Calling Caldecott list with one or two big surprises. This year I am finding more surprises than matches. But you can be sure we will be locating the books that weren’t so much on our radar and will weigh in as we get our hands on them.

This list always seems to be a bit idiosyncratic. The team of three judges is comprised of one critic and two illustrators. This year they were Jennifer Brown (Bank Street College, Shelf Awareness), Brian Floca, and Jerry Pinkney. When Roger was on this committee, he said that rather than discussing the books together, each member added their favorites to the list, pretty much split evenly. I don’t know if this is how it always works, but the result is always an interesting list.

Please let us know in the comments which of these you love (or don’t) and why. Now I have to go look for some books…

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4. Review of Because They Marched

freeman because they marched Review of Because They MarchedBecause They Marched:
The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America

by Russell Freedman
Middle School    Holiday    83 pp.
8/14    978-0-8234-2921-9    $20.00
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3263-9    $20.00

With characteristically clear prose sprinkled liberally with primary source quotes and carefully selected photographs, Freedman documents the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that featured the horrific Bloody Sunday confrontation between the marchers and the Alabama state troopers. Captured on television footage by all the major networks, these events convinced the nation — and Congress — that something finally had to be done. That something turned out to be the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.” Freedman’s introduction is particularly effective because it focuses on the teachers’ march to the courthouse to register as a major trigger for the movement: “For the first time, a recognized professional group from Selma’s black community had carried out an organized protest.” If the book is not quite as visually striking as its notable predecessor, Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom (rev. 11/09), nor as invested in the youth participation, its later publication date allows the book to touch on the controversial 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. A timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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5. Books mentioned in the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book

Unexplained phenomena

Extraterrestrial Life series

Allman, Toney Are Extraterrestrials a Threat to Humankind?
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-170-5

Kallen, Stuart A. The Search for Extraterrestrial Life
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-171-2

Marcovitz, Hal Aliens in Pop Culture
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-154-5

Netzley, Patricia D. Alien Encounters
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-169-9

 Whiting, Jim UFOs
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-172-9

Arnosky, Jim Monster Hunt: Exploring Mysterious Creatures with Jim Arnosky
Gr. 4–6     32 pp.     Hyperion     2011
Trade ISBN 978-1-4231-3028-4

Everett, J. H. and Scott-Waters, Marilyn Haunted Histories: Creepy Castles, Dark Dungeons, and Powerful Palaces
Gr. 4–6     146 pp.     Holt/Ottaviano     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-8050-8971-4

Halls, Kelly Milner Alien Investigation: Searching for the Truth About UFOs and Aliens
Gr. 4–6     64 pp.     Millbrook     2012
Library binding ISBN 978-0-7613-6204-3

Unsolved Mysteries series

Pelleschi, Andrea Crop Circles
Middle school, high school     112 pp.     ABDO     2012
Library binding ISBN     978-1-61783-300-7

 Zuchora-Walske, Christine The Bermuda Triangle
Middle school, high school     112 pp.     ABDO     2012
Library binding ISBN 978-1-61783-298-7

Memoir

Earl, Esther This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl
With Lori Earl and Wayne Earl
Middle school, high school     240 pp.     Dutton     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-525-42636-3

Ehlert, Lois The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
Gr. K–3     72 pp.     Simon/Beach Lane     2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-3571-1

Kehret, Peg Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue
Gr. 46     175 pp.     Dutton     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-525-42399-7

K’naan  When I Get Older: The Story Behind Wavin’ Flag 
With Sol Guy; illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez
Gr. K3     32 pp.     Tundra     2012
Trade ISBN 978-1-77049-302-5

Leyson, Leon, Harran, Marilyn J. and Leyson, Elisabeth B. The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible…on Schindler’s List
Gr. 46     232 pp.     Atheneum     2013
Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-9781-8 

 

Domestic Animals

Dog Heroes series

Goldish, Meish Science Dogs
Gr. 4–6    32 pp.     Bearport     2013
Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-887-7

Goldish, Meish Shelter Dogs
Gr. 4–6    32 pp.     Bearport     2013
Library binding 978-1-61772-886-0

Green, Jen Inheritance of Traits: Why Is My Dog Bigger Than Your Dog? [Show Me Sciences series]
Gr. 4–6    32 pp.     Raintree     2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-4329-8747-3
Paperback ISBN 978-1-4329-8754-1

My New Pet series

Johnson, Jinny Guinea Pig
Gr. K3    24 pp.     Smart Apple     2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-029-1

Johnson, Jinny Hamster and Gerbil
Gr. K3   24 pp.     Smart Apple     2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-030-7

Johnson, Jinny Kitten
Gr. K3    24 pp.     Smart Apple     2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-026-0

Johnson, Jinny Puppy
Gr. K3    24 pp.     Smart Apple    2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-027-7

Johnson, Jinny Rabbit
Gr. K3    24 pp.     Smart Apple     2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-028-4

Horses That Help with the American Humane Association series

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Draft Horses: Horses That Work
Gr. K–3    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary     2014
LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4220-9

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Performing Horses: Horses That Entertain
Gr. K–3     48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary     2014
LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4219-3

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Police Horses: Horses That Protect
Gr. K–3     48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary     2014
LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4218-6

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Therapy Horses: Horses That Heal
Gr. K–3     48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary     2014
LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4217-9

Animals on the Family Farm series

Stiefel, Chana Chickens on the Family Farm
24 pp. Enslow 2013
LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4204-9

Stiefel, Chana Cows on the Family Farm
24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4205-6

Stiefel, Chana Goats on the Family Farm
24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4206-3

Stiefel, Chana Pigs on the Family Farm
24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4208-7

Stiefel, Chana Sheep on the Family Farm
24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4209-4

Stiefel, Chana Turkeys on the Family Farm
24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4207-0

 

Big ideas

Adler, David A. Things That Float and Things That Don’t
Illustrated by Anna Raff
Gr. K3        32 pp.      Holiday     2013
Trade ISBN 978-0-8234-2862-5

Andregg, Michael M. Seven Billion and Counting: The Crisis in Global Population Growth
Middle school, high school   
88 pp.    Twenty-First Century     2014
Library Binding ISBN 978-0-7613-6715-4

Ross, Catherine Sheldrick Shapes in Math, Science and Nature: Squares, Triangles and Circles
Gr. 46     192 pp.     Kids Can      2014
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Library binding ISBN 978-1-77138-124-6

Schaefer, Lola M. Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives
Gr. K–3     40 pp.     Chronicle     2013
Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Trade ISBN 978-1-4521-0714-1

Zoehfeld, Kathleen Weidner Secrets of the Seasons: Orbiting the Sun in Our Backyard
Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
Gr. K—3        40 pp.      Knopf (Random House Children’s Books)     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-517-70994-8
Library binding ISBN 978-0-517-70995-5

Cookery

Barlow, Melissa Noodlemania!: 50 Playful Pasta Recipes
Illustrated by Alison Oliver
Gr. 46     112 pp.     Quirk Books     2013
Paperback ISBN 978-1-59474-617-8

Elton, Sarah Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know About Food and Cooking
Illustrated by Jeff Kulak
Middle school, high school      96 pp.     Owlkids      2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-926973-96-8

Yummy Tummy Recipes: Seasons series

LaPenta, Marilyn Fall Shakes to Harvest Bakes
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport      2013
Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-742-9

LaPenta, Marilyn Spring Spreads to “Nutty” Breads
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport      2013
Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-744-3

LaPenta, Marilyn Summer Sips to “Chill” Dips
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport      2013
Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-741-2

LaPenta, Marilyn Winter Punches to Nut Crunches
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport      2013
Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-743-6

Checkerboard How-To Library: Cool Young Chefs series

Wagner, Lisa Cool Backyard Grilling: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO      2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62403-085-7

Wagner, Lisa Cool Best-Ever Brunches: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO      2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62403-086-4

Wagner, Lisa Cool Cooking Up Chili: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO      2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62403-087-1

Wagner, Lisa Cool Game Day Parties: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO      2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-62403-088-8

Walton, Ruth Let’s Bake a Cake [Let's Find Out series]
Gr. K3     32 pp.     Sea to Sea      2013
Library binding ISBN 978-1-59771-386-3

These titles were featured in the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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6. Domestic animals

goldish science dogs Domestic animalsGoldish, Meish Science Dogs
Gr. 4–6    
32 pp.     Bearport

Goldish, Meish Shelter Dogs
Gr. 4–6    
32 pp.      Bearport

Dog Heroes series. These series entries introduce two types of “dog heroes”: in Science, dogs are studied to aid beneficial scientific discoveries and innovations; Shelter discusses how unwanted dogs can go on to do remarkable things for humans after they’re adopted. The volumes are accessible, with numerous photographs and interesting personal anecdotes rounding out the texts. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Pets; Animals—Dogs; Animal shelters; Scientists; Science

green inheritance of traits Domestic animalsGreen, Jen Inheritance of Traits: Why Is My Dog Bigger Than Your Dog?
Gr. 4–6    
32 pp.     Raintree

Show Me Sciences series. In a successful series entry, Green walks us through the “Ultimate Pet Show,” describing how dogs, cats, and horses evolved from the wild and are bred to encourage the emergence of certain traits in each species’ breeds. Explanations are clear, specific, and supported by simple diagrams and engaging photos of our animal companions. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Genetics; Animals—Horses; Animals—Cats; Animals—Dogs; Pets

johnson guinea pig Domestic animalsJohnson, Jinny Guinea Pig
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

Johnson, Jinny Hamster and Gerbil
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

Johnson, Jinny Kitten
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

Johnson, Jinny Puppy
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

Johnson, Jinny Rabbit
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

My New Pet series. Young children learn what it takes to care for a new pet. Large print and a combination of photos and drawings of familiar critters present the responsibilities — providing food, water, a place for sleeping and play, gentle handling, regular attention, and veterinary care. The books are narrated simply in the first-person voice of a child; a few notes for parents wrap things up. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Animals—Dogs; Animals—Rabbits; Animals—Cats; Animals—Guinea pigs; Animals—Hamsters; Animals—Gerbils; Pets

spiotta dimare draft horses Domestic animalsSpiotta-DiMare, Loren Draft Horses: Horses That Work
Gr. 4–6    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Performing Horses: Horses That Entertain
Gr. 4–6    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Police Horses: Horses That Protect
Gr. 4–6    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Therapy Horses: Horses That Heal
Gr. 4–6    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary

Horses That Help with the American Humane Association series. Examining horses that work as performers, with police, pulling plows and wagons, and in therapeutic environments, these volumes address the history of horses doing such work, breeds, training, the work itself, and horse retirement. The conversational writing, plentiful examples, and occasional references to the author’s own horse keep things engaging. Photos and “Fast Fact” sidebars enliven the design. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Animals—Horses; Police officers

stiefel chickens on the family farm Domestic animalsStiefel, Chana Chickens on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3     24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Cows on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3      24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Goats on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3     24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Pigs on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3     24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Sheep on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3     24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Turkeys on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3      24 pp.      Enslow

Animals on the Family Farm series. One family’s farm is the setting for these six simple books about domestic animals. In each volume, a conversational text and colorful photos briefly cover basics: what the animal eats, where it lives (coop, pen, etc.), differences between males and females (size, coloring), care of young, and what it’s raised for (eggs, cheese, meat). Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Farms and farm life; Animals–Chickens; Animals—Cows; Animals—Goats; Animals—Pigs; Animals—Sheep; Animals—Turkeys

From the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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7. Cookery

barlow noodlemania CookeryBarlow, Melissa Noodlemania!: 50 Playful Pasta Recipes
Gr. 46     112 pp.     Quirk Books

Illustrated by Alison Oliver. Sections named for pasta shapes (“Twisted & Twirly,” “Wheels & Whatever”) contain recipes that use common ingredients and simple techniques with the usual caveat about grown-up help. Appetizing full-color photos show final products. Pasta trivia, creative cooking tips, and “fun facts” are scattered throughout. A chart suggesting substitutions, such as ravioli instead of tortellini, is a clever addition. Ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Food

elton starting from scratch CookeryElton, Sarah Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know About Food and Cooking
Middle school, high school      96 pp.     Owlkids

Illustrated by Jeff Kulak. Although this book includes some recipes, it’s not a cookbook. Elton explores why we cook, how our senses contribute to food preferences, how culture and history affect food choices, and more. The lively prose is accompanied by stylized illustrations, charts, activities, and other graphics. A “guide to flavor pairing” and a measurement conversion chart are appended. Ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Food

lapenta fall shakes to harvest bakes CookeryLaPenta, Marilyn Fall Shakes to Harvest Bakes
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport

LaPenta, Marilyn Spring Spreads to “Nutty” Breads
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport

LaPenta, Marilyn Summer Sips to “Chill” Dips
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport

LaPenta, Marilyn Winter Punches to Nut Crunches
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport

Yummy Tummy Recipes: Seasons series. Corny titles and static illustrations aside, these cookbooks are something fresh for kids. With seasonal ingredients — pumpkin and cranberry for fall, peach and melon for summer, etc. — they offer enticing and healthy dishes that are perfect for holiday celebrations and generally enjoying each season. Sidebars present health tips, and directions are simple to follow and relatively concise. Reading list. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Seasons—Autumn; Seasons—Summer; Seasons—Spring; Seasons—Winter; Food; Bakers and baking

wagner cool backyard grilling CookeryWagner, Lisa Cool Backyard Grilling: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO

Wagner, Lisa Cool Best-Ever Brunches: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO

Wagner, Lisa Cool Cooking Up Chili: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO

Wagner, Lisa Cool Game Day Parties: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO

Checkerboard How-To Library: Cool Young Chefs series. Each volume emphasizes characteristics of being a good cook (efficiency, creativity, organization, etc.); introduces a cooking technique and safety guidelines; and includes nine not-too-difficult, kid-appealing recipes—caramelized onion dip, black bean chili, breakfast bakes, kebabs, and more—with variations. Clear step-by-step directions include helpful color photos. There is some boilerplate repetition across the useful, accessible series. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Food

walton lets bake a cake CookeryWalton, Ruth Let’s Bake a Cake
Gr. K3     32 pp.     Sea to Sea

Let’s Find Out series. Beginning with a birthday cake baked at Grandma’s (recipe appended), this book explores the origin and processing of the ingredients: sugar, butter, eggs, wheat, and chocolate. Walton generally makes sound choices about coverage for these broad topics, along with occasional advocacy for organic, fair-trade products. Collage-style illustrations and captioned photos help clarify the wide-ranging (and haphazardly organized) subjects. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Bakers and baking

From the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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8. Big ideas

adler things that float and things that dont Big ideasAdler, David A. Things That Float and Things That Don’t
Gr. K3        32 pp.      Holiday

Illustrated by Anna Raff. Adler expertly teaches the concept of density, moving beyond classic floating and sinking experiments to a carefully constructed lesson that helps young thinkers appreciate both scientific explanations and practices. The concepts are kept simple and age appropriate, without shying away from the more abstract dimensions of science. Cartoonlike illustrations portray two children and their curious dog happily doing science.
Subjects: Physics and Chemistry; Water; Vehicles—Boats and boating

andregg seven billion and counting Big ideasAndregg, Michael M. Seven Billion and Counting: The Crisis in Global Population Growth
Middle school, high school   
88 pp.    Twenty-First Century

This book is chock-full of sobering statistics on human population growth. Andregg explains demographic basics, then how numbers are affected by the interplay of politics, religion, depletion of natural resources, poverty, education, and access to health care such as birth control. Photos and graphs extend the rich, thought-provoking text. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Social Issues; Population

ross shapes in math science and nature Big ideasRoss, Catherine Sheldrick Shapes in Math, Science and Nature: Squares, Triangles and Circles
Gr. 46     192 pp.     Kids Can

Illustrated by Bill Slavin. Upper-elementary math fans (and teachers) will enjoy the many hands-on activities in this compilation of Ross and Slavin’s three earlier books about squares, triangles, and circles—and their related solid shapes. Numerous details (historical, architectural, geographical, etc.) are woven in among the projects and games—some of which are quite challenging (e.g., making a sundial). Chapters include diagrams and cartoonlike illustrations. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Mathematics; Mathematics—Geometry

schaefer lifetime Big ideasSchaefer, Lola M. Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives
Gr. K–3     40 pp.     Chronicle

Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. The concept of quantity is cleverly examined in the context of animal lives. Schaefer presents the number of times an animal “performs one behavior” in its lifetime, starting with the single egg sac spun by a spider, up to the thousand babies carried by a male seahorse. Bold and beautifully composed, Neal’s retro illustrations contain the actual number of items mentioned. Supplemental information is appended.
Subjects: Natural History; Animals; Biology

zoehfeld secrets of the seasons Big ideasZoehfeld, Kathleen Weidner Secrets of the Seasons: Orbiting the Sun in Our Backyard
Gr. K—3        40 pp.      Knopf

Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. Alice and friends from Secrets of the Garden return to enjoy her nature-filled backyard. This time, she learns to notice and welcome differences in weather, plants, and animal life in each of the four seasons of the temperate northern hemisphere. Throughout, airy pen and watercolor illustrations make the appeal of nature accessible to even the youngest readers.
Subjects: Earth Science; Astronomy—Sun; Seasons; Nature

From the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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9. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

sam and dave dig hole1 223x300 Sam and Dave Dig a HoleWhat will the Caldecott committee be talking about when it turns its scrutiny to Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole? Maybe the question should be, What WON’T the committee be talking about? Like Yuyi Morales’s Viva Frida, this is one discussable book. Though, perhaps, for different reasons.

The art is certainly distinguished— excellent in execution and pictorial interpretation, appropriate in style for the story and mood, with plenty of child appeal. I don’t think the quality of the art will be in dispute here. Look how the palette gradually changes from soft and pale and airy in the beginning to dark and stark at the climax/nadir of the boys’ adventure and then back to soft and pale at the end. Look at how the considerable white space (well, actually, soft creamy space) at the beginning is gradually encroached upon as the horizon rises and the hole gets deeper. Look at how Klassen makes the earthen landscape so varied and textured and interesting without necessarily drawing our eye to it. Look at the contrast between the softness and texture of the art with the sparseness of the compositions and the clean edges of the white space/tunnel. Both the art and the book design use geometric shapes to great effect. The art, through the tunnel’s rectangles (echoed, often, in the upright figures of Sam and Dave) and the pentagons? of the gems; the book design through the consistently columnar arrangement of the type. (Sometimes the art is columnar, too. Near the end, particularly. The wide vertical tunnels in the center of the page. The figures falling through space, vertically arranged in the center of the page.)

The interplay between text and art is perfect; this is a true, interdependent picture book. The simplicity and mundaneness of the text (“On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole”; snacking on chocolate milk and animal cookies) contrasts humorously with the increasing wildness of the situation and exaggerated size of the gems the boys JUST miss as they dig. There’s also an implied contrast: between the boys’ limited perspective (ie, complete obliviousness) and the reader’s omniscient perspective. Not to mention the dog’s. That dog Knows All. Klassen’s ability to telegraph the dog’s bewildered awareness is brilliant: so simply, using just the eyes, whether it’s looking at the reader with a “what next?” appeal or directly at the buried, just-missed gems or, at book’s end, taking in the anomalies of the backyard in which they have just landed.

Ah, the ending. Yes, we’ve arrived at the discussable part. What happened?!? Where ARE they? The backyard looks the same, but the details are different: different tree, flowers, weathervane. (And either a different cat or a cat wearing a different collar.) Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes put forth a few theories, including It Was All a Dream and — my own favorite — They Have Entered an Alternate Reality. But whatever theory you subscribe to, there is no doubt that this is one open-ended story. (As Sam Bloom put it in his Horn Book Magazine review, “All that’s missing from the trippy conclusion is the theme music from The Twilight Zone. Mind-blowing in the best possible way.”) The story has just begun, it seems. What happens after the last page?

And there’s the rub. Will this Caldecott committee be intrigued by the possibilities or frustrated by the lack of closure? I hope it’s the former. There’s so much to appreciate about this child-friendly, carefully conceived and constructed, funny, provocative book.

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10. Review of The Cabinet of Curiosities

bachmann cabinet of curiosities Review of The Cabinet of CuriositiesThe Cabinet of Curiosities:
36 Tales Brief & Sinister

by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, 
and Emma Trevayne;
illus. by Alexander Jansson
Middle School    Greenwillow    488 pp.
6/14    978-0-06-233105-2    $16.99

Four “curators” — Bachmann, Catmull, Legrand, and Trevayne — travel to lands peregrine and outré to fill their Cabinet of Curiosities museum, sending back grotesqueries and objects of wonder as well as the tales behind them — tales that often bend to the tenebrous and unearthly. The table of contents lists the Cabinet’s “rooms” and “drawers,” each with a theme (cake, luck, tricks, flowers) and four or five tales to explore. In “The Cake Made Out of Teeth” (“collected by” Legrand) a spoiled-rotten boy must finish an entire cake made in his image, despite the sensation of teeth chewing him up with every bite. “Lucky, Lucky Girl” (Catmull) stars a young woman whose good luck seems to depend on the very bad luck of the people around her. In “Plum Boy and the Dead Man” (Bachmann), a rich and opinionated lad has a conversation with a corpse hanging from a tree…and ends up unwillingly changing places with the victim. “The Book of Bones” (Trevayne) features Eleanor Entwhistle, a plucky girl whose courage halts the work of a grave-robbing sorcerer. The stories are remarkable both for their uniformly high quality and for their distinctness from one another; the abundant atmospherics, including occasional stark black-and-white illustrations, provide a unifying sense of dread. The framing device — the curators send letters from the field introducing their latest discoveries — adds depths of mystery, danger, and idiosyncrasy to a book already swimming in each.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Memoir

earl this star wont go out MemoirEarl, Esther This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl
Middle school, high school     240 pp.     Dutton

With Lori Earl and Wayne Earl. John Green dedicated The Fault in Our Stars to Esther Earl, who, in her own words, “went through a life changing experience known as Thyroid Cancer.” This posthumous collection (with a moving introduction by Green) gathers her musings and drawings, which span her illness. Reflections by family and friends both before and after Esther’s death at sixteen are also included. An ultimately hopeful offering.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Women—Biographies; Diseases—Cancer; Autobiographies; Women—Autobiographies; Children’s writings; Illness; Death

ehlert scraps book MemoirEhlert, Lois The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
K–3     72 pp.     Simon/Beach Lane

In a generously illustrated picture-book memoir, Ehlert speaks directly to her audience, particularly readers who like collecting objects and making things. The book is jam-packed with Ehlert’s art and photos from her life: her parents, the house she grew up in, and the small table where she was encouraged to pursue her art; along the way, we see how autobiographical her books have been.
Subjects: Visual Arts; Artists; Illustrators; Autobiographies; Women—Autobiographies; Women—Artists; Biographies; Women—Biographies

kehret animals welcome MemoirKehret, Peg Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue
Gr. 46     175 pp.     Dutton

Animals typically play important roles in Kehret’s fiction. In this memoir, readers see what a major role they play in her life. Living on a protected preserve, Kehret quietly rescues many feral, abandoned, and lost animals. Without undue drama, episodic chapters describe many such events, introducing the real-life models of many of her fictional animal characters.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Animals; Women—Autobiographies; Autobiographies; Authors; Women—Authors; Women—Biographies

knaan when i get older MemoirK’naan  When I Get Older: The Story Behind Wavin’ Flag 
Gr. K3     32 pp.     Tundra

With Sol Guy. Illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez. K’naan is an acclaimed Somali-Canadian rap artist, poet, and songwriter, and his “Wavin’ Flag” was the anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This distilled autobiography chronicles his childhood: first in civil war–ravaged Somalia, then in Toronto as a refugee, and how “music made [him] safe” through it all. Gutierrez’s art has an intense, graffiti-like energy. Music, lyrics, and a note on Somalia are appended.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Poets; Music—Rap music; Somalia; Canada; Songs; Autobiographies; Refugees; Black Canadians; Musicians

leyson BoyonWoodenBox 225x300 MemoirLeyson, Leon, Harran, Marilyn J. and Leyson, Elisabeth B. The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible…on Schindler’s List
Gr. 46     232 pp.     Atheneum

Leon Leyson (born Leib Lejzon in 1929) acknowledges that he was “an unlikely survivor of the Holocaust,” saved from extermination by his father’s lucky place in Oskar Schindler’s Kraków factory. Leyson’s account of his childhood in pre-war Poland and under the Nazi occupation stands out for its brisk and unsentimental style and for its human scale. The tone is forthright and almost grandfatherly. Websites.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Nazism; Schindler, Oskar; History, Modern—Holocaust; Autobiographies; Poland; Jews

From the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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12. Unexplained phenomena

allman are extraterrestrials a threat to humankind Unexplained phenomenaAllman, Toney Are Extraterrestrials a Threat to Humankind?
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint

Kallen, Stuart A. The Search for Extraterrestrial Life
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint

Marcovitz, Hal Aliens in Pop Culture
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint

Netzley, Patricia D. Alien Encounters
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint

Whiting, Jim UFOs
Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint

Extraterrestrial Life series. The notions of aliens as fact and fiction and the basis for their existence (or lack thereof) are recounted in painstaking detail in this series. The books are generally accessible; for some (especially Search), strong interest and aptitude in astronomy and physics would help comprehension. Occasional drawings and photographs, along with sidebars, help liven up these textbooklike volumes. Reading list, websites. Ind.
Subjects: Parapsychology; Extraterrestrial beings; Unidentified flying objects

arnosky monster hunt Unexplained phenomenaArnosky, Jim Monster Hunt: Exploring Mysterious Creatures with Jim Arnosky
Gr. 4–6     32 pp.     Hyperion

Inviting readers to join him on a “monster hunt,” Arnosky ponders the existence of “mysterious creatures” and compares real animals once thought to be folkloric (or extinct) with legendary creatures Bigfoot, Nessie, and Champ from Lake Champlain. Characteristic Arnosky illustrations support a conversational narrative that questions what’s real or possible, making this a friendly outing intended to inspire further research. Resources not included.
Subjects: Parapsychology; Monsters

everett haunted histories Unexplained phenomenaEverett, J. H. and Scott-Waters, Marilyn Haunted Histories: Creepy Castles, Dark Dungeons, and Powerful Palaces
Gr. 4–6     146 pp.     Holt/Ottaviano

This book is a collection of stories, trivia, maps, and drawings of various haunted locations—castles, dungeons and jails, palaces, and graveyards—throughout history. Reluctant readers will appreciate the short entries, snarky narrator, and varied format, while those with a taste for horror will find fascinating, rarely covered material here (e.g., “Top Ten Torture Devices”). Reading list, timeline, websites. Ind.
Subjects: Parapsychology; Supernatural—Ghosts; Haunted houses; History, World; Supernatural—Horror stories

halls alien investigation Unexplained phenomenaHalls, Kelly Milner Alien Investigation: Searching for the Truth About UFOs and Aliens
Gr. 4–6     64 pp.     Millbrook

With a surprisingly evenhanded tone, this book uses an interest in aliens to inspire scientific inquiry. It discusses the history of UFO sightings, crashes, and hoaxes, providing thoroughly researched, factual information while remaining nonjudgmental about unexplained phenomena. A fictionalized thread of an alien mission is interspersed with the nonfiction. The author’s interviews with experts and witnesses are particularly insightful. Websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Parapsychology; Extraterrestrial beings; Unidentified flying objects; Space

pelleschi crop circles Unexplained phenomenaPelleschi, Andrea Crop Circles
Middle school, high school     112 pp.     ABDO

Zuchora-Walske, Christine The Bermuda Triangle
Middle school, high school     112 pp.     ABDO

Unsolved Mysteries series. Archival photographs, sidebars, and maps combine with a straightforward text to present thought-provoking examinations of these “unsolved” phenomena. Theories and possible explanations along with myths and current debates provide a comprehensive discussion. The concluding “Tools and Clues” feature includes a list of equipment used to investigate crop circles and a summary of popular explanations for the Bermuda Triangle. Reading list, timeline. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Parapsychology; Extraterrestrial beings; Bermuda Triangle

From the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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13. Review of Bow-Wow’s Nightmare 
Neighbors

newgarden bow wows nightmare neighbors Review of Bow Wow’s Nightmare 
Neighborsstar2 Review of Bow Wow’s Nightmare 
Neighbors Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors
by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash; illus. by the authors
Preschool    Porter/Roaring Brook    64 pp.
9/14    978-1-59643-640-4    $17.99    g

Bow-Wow is back in this fanciful wordless follow-up to Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (rev. 7/07). This time, the stalwart canine sets out to retrieve his stolen doggy bed from the ornery ghost cats and kittens who live across the street in a haunted mansion — complete with loose floorboards, secret passageways, and moving-eye portraits. Around every corner, it seems as though the pup may have found his purloined cushion at last, but each time, he’s mistaken. With beady-eyed specters peering out from various nooks and crannies ready to nip the tip of his tail, Bow-Wow finally makes his way through the house — only to come face-to-face with the mother of all ghost cats in an absurdly funny (and cuddly) denouement. In a strange house with the lights out, the predominantly grayscale palette captures the eerie confusion of eyes playing tricks with the shadows, while carefully placed flourishes of color amp up the humor at just the right moments. Through expert use of comic-book panels, Newgarden and Cash play with perspective and timing, giving a sense of immediacy and light suspense to each increasingly silly scene. A fresh look at things that go bump in the night.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Neighbors as of 1/1/1900
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14. Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World – The Zena Sutherland Lecture

When we look to the astonishing growth of children’s books — especially YA books — in the last twenty years, we like to credit individuals — J. K. Rowling, for instance. But while it’s a kind of national obligation in the United States to praise individuals over collectives, I want to argue tonight that making good books for teenagers is dependent upon a vast and fragile interconnected network that collectively functions as what I am going to call the YA genre. All of this is offered, by the way, with the caveat that I might be wrong. I am wrong all the time.

My colleagues at Booklist, where I worked from 2000–2005, will tell you two things about me: first, that I was just about the worst publishing assistant in the 110-year history of the magazine; and second, that I am a bit of a worrier. Like Wemberly in Kevin Henkes’s wonderful picture book Wemberly Worried, I worry about big things (like whether there is any meaning to human life), and I worry about little things (like which suit I should wear to the Zena Sutherland Lecture). More or less, any time people ask me, “How are you?” the true answer is not “fine” or “good” or “sad”; the true answer is: worried.

This suits me well as a writer, since a big part of the job is to think about all the things that might happen and try to choose the best one, which is very often the most worrisome one. It suits me somewhat less well as, like, a person living in the world, because there is so much to worry about that if you are going to be a seriously anxious person, you have to devote all your time to it. You have to become like Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk whose legs atrophied while he sat staring at a wall for nine years, except instead of meditating you have to worry. So tonight I’m going to share with you some of my worry, but I’m going to wait until toward the end in the hope that you’ll now have to spend the next thirty minutes worrying about why I’m so worried about the future of YA fiction.

Before that, I want to talk about what I think fiction does so well, and why I think it remains so relevant to the lives of children and teens.

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Ann Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club, a series of novels about enterprising girls who built a small business and also dealt with the everyday problems of being a kid and taking care of kids and dealing with adults and occasionally having boyfriends. I loved these books. I also loved Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books and many other books that were called “girl books,” and I think I loved them both because I saw myself in them — I worried like Anastasia; I felt socially uncomfortable like Ann Martin’s Claudia — but also because I could escape myself. This was the first big thing that fiction did for me as a kid: it allowed me to see myself but also to escape myself. For me, one of the big problems of being a person is that I am the only me I will ever get to be. I am not like the main character “A” in David Levithan’s Every Day; I wake up every day in this body, seeing the world out of these eyes, and because my consciousness is the only one whose reality and complexity I can directly attest to, the rest of you seem — pardon the unkindness here — sort of not real. Even the people I love the most I see in the context of me: my wife, my children. But Claudia in the Baby-Sitters Club is not my anything; she is Claudia, through whose eyes I can, in an admittedly limited way, see the world.

This phenomenon is often credited with leading to empathy: through escaping the prison of the self and being able to live inside fictional characters, we learn to imagine others more complexly. Through story, we can understand that others feel their own grief and joy and longing as intensely as we feel ours. And I think that’s probably true, but I also think it’s just nice to be outside yourself at times, so that you can pay attention to the world outside of you, which in the end is even more vast than the world inside of you.

Here’s the other thing: I think there is an omnipresent pain inside us, a constant and gnawing pain that we ceaselessly try to distract ourselves from feeling, a pain way down deep in what Robert Penn Warren called “the dark which is you.” For most people, almost all the time, we don’t even have to think about this pain, but then sometimes you’ll be sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room or riding on the train or eating a chicken caesar salad at your desk at work and the pain will come crawling out of the cave darkness inside of you and you’ll feel an awful echo of all the pain that has ever befallen you and glimpse all the horrors that might still befall you.

Maybe you don’t actually know this pain, but I do, and for me it is the pain of meaninglessness. I fear that our selves are without value, that our vast interior lives will die with us, and that our brief miraculous decades of consciousness will not have been for anything. For me there is a terrifying depravity to meaninglessness, because it calls into question not only why I should read or write or love but also why I should do anything, in fact whether I should do anything, and so grappling with that way-down-deep-in-the-darkness-which-is-you pain is not like some abstract philosophical exercise or whatever but a matter of actual existential importance.

The obvious thing to do about this deep-down pain is to try very hard to ignore it, because at least in my life, I find that it comes on mostly in undistracted and quiet moments. And, look, if you can distract yourself from pain, great. I don’t want to minimize the importance of pleasurable distraction, of what’s sometimes called “mere entertainment,” be it Flappy Bird or CSI. But we have plenty of it. To quote David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King,

Surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airports’ gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called “information society” is just about information.

It’s also, of course, about distraction. For some readers, books can still be read purely for distraction, but for contemporary children and teenagers, there are far more effective distractions. My four-year-old son does not ask for a book to relieve himself of the terror way down deep in the darkness. He asks for the iPad, so he can play Angry Birds.

For contemporary kids, who can find sufficient distractions in gaming and video, I think books must do something more than just divert attention in order to be successful. And this brings us to morality.

fanfare green Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World   The Zena Sutherland LectureOnce upon a time, I gave a speech at the ALA Annual convention in which I said that I believed in the old-fashioned idea that books should be moral. And afterwards, the publisher of Booklist, Bill Ott, a man I’ve always looked up to immensely, took me aside and said, “That was a good speech except for all that bullshit about morality.” Fair enough. It was, in retrospect, bullshit. Books are not in the business of imparting lessons. What I was trying to say, I think, was that books should be honest without being hopeless. It’s easy enough to write a hopeful story, one that proclaims that If you can dream it, you can do it, or that God has a plan, or that Everything happens for a reason. Be grateful for every day. I parodied these ideas a little in The Fault in Our Stars by having one of the characters’ houses plastered with such pithy sentiments: Without pain, how would we know joy, and so on. In the book they call them Encouragements.

But these Encouragements are unconvincing, at least to me. Sure, you can write a novel about how if you can dream it you can do it, but in actual nonfictional fact there are a bunch of things that you can dream that you cannot do. For instance, I recently had a dream in which I was a banana that had escaped the Earth’s orbit and was slowly floating farther and farther away from my home planet.

What we need, and what good stories provide, are better Encouragements. Encouragements that aren’t bullshit. This is not a question of books being moral; it’s a question of books being hopeful without being dishonest. This is what good YA novels do for teens that Angry Birds cannot: they offer light that can burn bright even in the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. I know this is an old-fashioned way of imagining the making of art, but I believe it. I believe that fiction can help, that made-up stories can matter by helping us to feel unalone, by connecting us to others, and by giving shape to the world as we find it — a world that is broken and unjust and horrifying and not without hope.

So that is why I think books matter. Now I want to turn to genre and talk a bit about why I think it matters. Whenever a properly good writer — Michael Chabon, say, or Joyce Carol Oates — writes a mystery or a romance or whatever, reviewers sometimes say that the author is upending the conventions of the genre. I don’t really find that to be the case — I think Chabon just wrote a really good mystery in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Most conventions of the genre turn out to be really useful, I think, which is how they got to be conventions of the genre. At Booklist we used to joke about that old cliché that novels only have two plots: a stranger comes to town, and our hero goes on a journey. But that doesn’t mean we only have two stories; we have countless stories, each of them building upon and relying upon others. We often imagine the best stories as having arisen sui generis from the mind of a great genius. But, really, every good story is dependent upon millions that came before it, that incalculably vast network of influences that stand behind every novel.

In 2006, Malcolm Gladwell made a stir when he argued that Kaavya Viswanathan’s plagiarism of Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings wasn’t really plagiarism, because, and I’m quoting here, “This is teen-literature. It’s genre fiction. These are novels based on novels based on novels, in which every convention of character and plot has been trotted out a thousand times before.” Now, this was a ridiculous defense of plagiarism, and Gladwell later apologized, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. My novels are novels based on novels based on novels. Almost all novels are. But they change in the retelling. Novels change to stay relevant, so that their hope might be less flimsy, so that they remain honest and relevant. It’s a slow process — millions of writers and readers working together across generations to make stories that can be a light in the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. Writing and reading are not about a singular mind emerging from isolation to create unprecedented art. It’s a massive collaboration spanning millennia.

Let me explain how this works, at least for me. In my first novel, Looking for Alaska — in which, by the way, a stranger comes to town and our hero goes on a journey — I wanted to write a boarding-school novel — you know, like A Separate Peace or The War of Jenkins’ Ear or The Catcher in the Rye — but I was also interested in boarding-school fantasies like Harry Potter and A Great and Terrible Beauty. I liked the pranks, and the freaks at war with the cool kids. I liked the sneaking around campus in the middle of the night and breaking the rules and the omnipresence of one’s peers.

But there were conventions of the genre that were really problematic for me, like the one in which the boy — for the sake of simplicity, let’s call him Holden — flutters around, essentializing women, and the only person who ever gets hurt by his total failure to see women as actual humans is Holden himself, when in fact this habit boys have of imagining the girls they admire as flawless goddesses whose problems cannot possibly be as real or as important as Boy Problems…that habit turns out to be bad for women as well as the Holdens of the world. So, okay. You try to show that in your boarding-school novel. This is not upending a genre. It’s trying to make an honest, human story that isn’t bullshit. But lots of people are making YA boarding-school novels at the same time, and in a way we’re all working together. I think E. Lockhart, for instance, gave the genre its best book in recent years with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, but she did it by writing a proper boarding-school novel that also happens to be a proper feminist novel and a proper postmodern novel and a proper romance.

Basically, I believe that genre is good. I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about being a genre writer. Like, you know how they always have those crazy concept cars at auto shows that look futuristic and exciting and entirely new, but then it turns out that this futuristic car seats 1.5 people and gets four miles to the gallon, and by the time the car actually gets to market…it looks like a car. That’s genre to me. It’s the thing that works. So, yeah, cars look different than they did fifty years ago. They’re safer and more efficient and cheaper to build. But we didn’t actually get there through radical change. We got there through incremental change, by drivers and engineers and designers all working together.

I was thinking a lot about genre while writing my most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a cancer book, but one that is very aware of cancer books. There’s a lot I like about cancer books, but here’s what bothers me: there is often a sick person who suffers nobly and bravely and in the process of dying so beautifully teaches the healthy people around him or her important lessons about how to be grateful for every day, or in the case of American literature’s most famous cancer novel, the lesson that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This is ridiculous, of course: love means constantly having to say you’re sorry.

Anyway, I’m troubled by this convention because it imagines that sick people exist and suffer so that healthy people can learn lessons. This essentializes the lives of the sick, just as teenage boys essentialize girls when they imagine them as larger-than-life, when in fact the meaning of any life is a complicated and messy business that is about more than learning lessons. I wanted to write a cancer story that was about the sick people, not the lessons the healthy learn from them, about people who are disabled and human, who experience love and sex and longing and hurt and everything that any human does. I didn’t invent this idea, though; it’s the plot of many love stories. A stranger comes to town, and love blossoms, but an obstacle appears. Sometimes the obstacle is a basilisk. Sometimes it’s a jealous ex-husband. Sometimes it’s one’s own body.

And this brings me at last to worry. For genre to work best, I think, you must have basilisk stories and jealous ex-husband stories and cancer stories. Genre is not about individual geniuses; it’s a conversation that benefits from many voices.

The great strength of our children’s and YA genres is that we’re broad — we publish thousands of books a year, whereas Hollywood makes a few dozen movies aimed at kids and teens. Coe Booth, M. T. Anderson, Stephenie Meyer, Sarah Dessen, and Ellen Hopkins share the shelf. We’ve got poetry and sci-fi and romance and so-called literary fiction; we’ve got standalones and series and graphic novels and every subgenre imaginable. This year’s Printz winners included a romance, a futuristic fantasy, a violent fairy tale, a boarding-school novel, and a dystopian thriller. Nothing against the Pulitzer Prize, but it rarely offers such diversity. But I think there’s mounting evidence that our breadth is at risk. Consider the recent study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison saying that of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just ninety-three were about black people. That’s better than Hollywood is doing, but not that much better. Okay, so here’s my worry: we’ll see the breadth and diversity of our literature — at least the stuff that gets read — continue to decline, because there will be less institutional support for non-blockbuster books. There will be fewer review journals, fewer school libraries (and those with ever-shrinking book-buying budgets), and far fewer bookstores.

Imagine a world — and I don’t think this is hard to do — where almost all physical books bought offline are purchased at big box stores like Walmart and Costco and Target, which carry a couple of hundred titles a year. Anything that gets published that doesn’t end up in one of those stores doesn’t really get published, at least not in the sense that we understand the word now, because it won’t be widely available: it will only be available at the vast, flat e-marketplaces of Amazon and iTunes, where readers will choose from among a vast and undifferentiated sea of texts. Ultimately publishers will only be able to “add value” to the two hundred or so books a year that are sold at Walmart and Costco and Target, which will kind of mean that Walmart and Costco and Target will choose — or at least have a lot of say in — what gets published. Every now and again, a book will rise up out of the sea of the Kindle store and become so 50 Shades of Grey–popular that it will transition the author from online distribution to physical distribution, but most books that find readers will be franchises. In short, publishing will split: traditional publishing ends up looking a bit like Hollywood, focusing all its resources on a few stories a year that might make a lot of money. And then everything else will live on Amazon.

Amazon’s position is that in the future everyone will be on a level playing field because all authors will have access to all readers and the publishing business will be entirely disintermediated and books will succeed or fail based on whether actual readers actually like them. But of course that’s not actually what happens, as we’re already seeing.

What actually happens is that the richest and most challenging fiction of any category, particularly if it won’t appeal to a mass readership, struggles to find an audience in a world without critics and institutional support. Toni Morrison’s Beloved became a huge bestseller forty years ago. It’s hard to imagine that happening today, barring Oprah’s endorsement or something, and harder still to imagine it happening in the future.

The problem of discovery is complicated by the terribleness of Amazon’s recommendation engine. It is terrible for bestsellers — right now, it implies that if you enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars you might also enjoy Gone Girl, which is just — I mean, that is not good readers’ advisory. And it’s also terrible for books that aren’t bestsellers. For instance, there is a great nonfiction adult book called Ballad of the Whiskey Robber about an alcoholic Transylvanian semi-professional hockey goalie who becomes a bank robber, and right now if you go to that book’s Amazon page, it will recommend that if you like that book, you might also like A. S. King’s wonderful YA novel Ask the Passengers. These two books have exactly two things in common: they both contain text, and about a year ago, I recommended them both in a vlogbrothers video.

So what will it mean to write YA in a future where your work might be recommended alongside nonfiction books about bank robbers or adult mysteries about a very, very bad marriage? Well, we’ll keep writing and sharing stories for children and teens, of course. And lots of people — including kids themselves but also adult supporters such as other authors and librarians and teachers — will continue to recommend them. The genre will go on. But YA was weaker and less broad before it got its own physical sections in libraries and bookstores, and I worry that we will find it difficult to grow stronger and broader in the future.

These days, my career is often held up as a model for how YA novels will get to the next generation of teen readers: authors will build communities online around their work, and those communities will read and share their books. We won’t need gatekeepers or institutions to help us share books; we have Twitter for that now. But there are some problems with this idea. For one thing, there’s a massive advantage to being white and male on the internet; you experience less harassment and many privileges. And there’s also a massive advantage to speaking English on the internet. Furthermore, many people who are good at writing novels are bad at Twitter. I realize this advantage has long been with us — Twain owed much of his success to his crazy hair and hilarious lectures — but it’s a strange and dangerous business to judge a novel by its author, and stranger and more dangerous still to judge a novel by its author’s tweets.

But most importantly, it just doesn’t work. My books didn’t become successful because I was famous on the internet; at least initially, I became famous on the internet because I’d written successful books. My first novel, Looking for Alaska, sold a couple of thousand copies — many of them to libraries — before it won the Printz, an award chosen by a committee of librarians. When my brother Hank and I began our video blog series in January 2007, the few hundred people who watched us and helped to found the nerdfighter community were almost entirely fans of my books — including many YA librarians. Without institutional support, without librarians and teachers and critics and the rest of the human infrastructure of YA literature, my books would not have an audience. And neither would my video blog.

All of us together are making up what YA means as we go along. We are all creating the genre, by choosing what we read and write and lift up, by pushing ourselves and one another to think more complexly about teenagers as readers and as characters so that we might welcome them in to the great old conversations. This is no small thing. We are not in the widgets business, my friends. We are in the story business, the business of bringing light to the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. And in that sense, at least, business is good, because that darkness ain’t going anywhere. Our need to turn scratches on a page into ideas that can live inside of our minds ain’t going anywhere. We’re not at risk of people losing interest in strangers coming to town or heroes going on journeys, and we will always need ways to escape the prison of consciousness and learn to imagine the Other complexly. And this is why, despite my ceaseless worry, I remain quite hopeful. We need to grow the breadth and diversity of YA literature. We need to get more books to more kids so that publishing doesn’t become a business driven entirely by blockbusters. And we need to preserve the roles — critics, librarians, professors, teachers — that contribute so much to the continual growth and change in our genre. None of this will be easy, of course, and it’s all intensely worrying.

But I also know that story will go on. That’s the great thing about genre, about novels based on novels based on novels. The stories go on. They find a way through budget cuts and new technologies, winding their way through the flawed vessels who write and review and share them, flowing past history and memory, a process that has been going on so long that our stories, and our readings of them, are shaped by ancient stories we will never know. Somehow, improbably, even long after they are forgotten, the stories endure. And through them, so do we.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Adapted from the author’s 2014 Zena Sutherland Lecture.

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15. Mini-trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novels

We’ve noticed a welcome trend lately: excellent graphic novel memoirs (or fiction that feels an awful lot like) written by women about their adolescence. Here are a few to enjoy. (Thanks, Marjane Satrapi, for breaking ground with Persepolis, and to the Tamaki cousins for Skim and This One Summer! Also Katie’s girl-crush Lucy Knisley, who has a new book out — An Age of License — described by the publisher as “an Eat, Pray, Love for the alternative comics fan.”

satrapi Persepolis Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novels   tamaki Skim bookcover Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novels   tamaki this one summer Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novels   relish Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novels
eldeafo Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novelsThe November/December 2014 Horn Book Magazine includes three graphic novel memoirs by women. At the age of four, in 1975, author Cece Bell contracted meningitis, leaving her severely to profoundly deaf. The wonderful El Deafo is a characterful, vivid, often amusing graphic novel memoir that recaptures the experiences of her childhood — adapting to deafness, to others’ attitudes toward it, and to the technology of the Phonic Ear, a cumbersome assistive device. At the heart of her story is an experience relevant to most children: the finding of the “True Friend,” a falling out, and a reunion. Bell combines great humor and charm (her characters are all anthropomorphic bunnies) with emotional complexity and seriousness.

telgemeier sisters Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novelsFans of Raina Telgemeier’s 2010 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book Smile will be smiling all the way through this companion book — Sisters — an often bittersweet but amusingly told story about Raina’s relationship with her younger sister, Amara. The summer before Raina starts high school, she and Amara, their younger brother, and their mom take a road trip from California to Colorado for a family reunion. As in Smile, sepia-toned pages mark the frequent flashbacks, which fill readers in on the evolution of this battle of the sisters. The story ends with a solidly believable truce between the warring siblings, who, one suspects, will continue to both annoy and support each other.

abirached Iremember Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novelsI Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached (companion to her 2012 book A Game for Swallows, is the author’s memories of the Lebanese civil war, in a loosely connected series of sobering vignettes and impressions, each beginning with the phrase “I remember.” Black-and-white geometric illustrations capture both the enormous scale of the war (with motifs of falling bombs, helicopters, and stranded cars) and its personal repercussions.

Two new ones that recently came into the office:

Tomboy by Liz Prince: “A memoir about friendship, gender, bullies, growth, punk rock, and the power of the perfect outfit” [from flap copy].

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (roller derby name “Winnie the Pow”), a graphic novel (fiction) about a teen derby grrl.

Prince Tomboy Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novels   jamieson victoria Mini trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novels
Have you noticed a trend? Do you have other books to recommend?

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16. Review of Strike!

brimner strike Review of Strike!Strike!:
The Farm Workers’
Fight for Their Rights
by Larry Dane Brimner
Intermediate, Middle School    Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills    172 pp.
10/14    978-1-59078-997-1    $16.95

Brimner turns his attention from one part of the 1960s — the civil rights movement in the South (Black & White) — to another, a parallel movement among migrant farm workers in the Southwest for better wages and working conditions. This comprehensive history traces California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century, and the often-
forgotten early contribution of Filipino Americans to this particular labor movement, before transitioning to the more familiar story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers strike. Finally, Brimner ponders Chávez’s last years, death, and legacy — and the diminished role of the UFW today. It can be challenging to track all of the players in this drama, let alone the acronyms for various unions and such, but Brimner’s compelling narrative, complete with both textual and visual primary sources, is up to the task. The layout is inviting with swatches of green and purple to complement the dominant black-and-white color scheme and well-placed maps and photos, while brief Spanish translations of selected quotes, titles, and epigraphs are incorporated. An author’s note, a timeline, bibliography, source notes, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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17. Here come the Yankees

It’s not easy being a Yankees fan in Boston. Just ask my husband. Or Ben Affleck. (It’s ok, son. Let it out. We won’t judge. #dothprotesttoomuch)

Here are three new children’s books that will have Yankees fans cheering. And not the Bronx cheer, either.

jeter contract Here come the YankeesDerek Jeter hung up his cleats earlier this year, and now he’s starting his own imprint. The Contract (written with Paul Mantell) is about a boy, named Derek Jeter, who chases his dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. According to an author’s note, it’s “based on some of my experiences growing up and playing baseball,” and the “theme” of the book is: “Set Your Goals High.” Third-grade Derek (the character) is remarkably — and unrealistically — self-possessed and self-aware. No matter; Jeter fans will get a kick out of this kid-version of their hero.

rivera thecloser final Here come the YankeesThe Closer by Mariano Rivera (with Sue Corbett and Wayne Coffee) is an adaptation for young readers of Mo’s memoir about growing up in a fishing village in Panama. (The attention-grabbing first line: “You don’t mess around with machetes. I learn that as a little kid…”) He works hard, gains the attention of a baseball scout, and blossoms into a baseball superstar while remaining an all-around nice guy. Didactic “Notes from Mo” inspirational-message anecdotes are interspersed. With an eight-page color-photo insert.

appel pinstripe pride Here come the YankeesPinstripe Pride: The Inside Story of the New York Yankees is a young readers’ version of the adult book Pinstripe Empire written by Marty Appel, former Yankees PR director. It’s a history of the Yankees juggernaut — the team’s highs and lows — with a little social history thrown in as well. Those Bostonians who don’t root for the home team will be happy to have this resource (though maybe throw on a paper-bag book cover if you’re going outside).

The World Series starts tonight. Needless to say, the Yanks won’t win it (neither will the Sox; it’s the Giants v. Royals), but kids can relive the memories with these Bronx Bombers books.

Bonus: here are a couple more baseball booklists.

 

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18. Review of Into the Grey

kiernan into the grey Review of Into the GreyInto the Grey
by Celine Kiernan
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    295 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-7061-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7409-0    $16.99

When their home burns down, twin teens Patrick and Dominick move with their family to the shabby seaside cottage where they usually spend summer holidays. Almost at once, Pat sees that Dom is being haunted by the ghost of a young boy, while Pat himself is visited by nightmares of a soldier drowning in the muddy trenches of World War I. Eventually Dom is utterly possessed by Francis, the ghost of a boy who died of diphtheria decades ago, and Pat is desperate to do what he can to retrieve his brother. Family and local history come together as the twisting plot makes its way toward resolution: another pair of twin brothers, a senile grandmother, Irish lads turned British soldiers, and a series of surreal dreams and psychic landscapes all fall into place. Sometimes Kiernan’s storytelling is fraught and overdrawn; at its best it is confident, pungent, and poetic. Family love, loyalty, and protectiveness are palpable in a well-drawn cast of characters, and the pace is frequently galvanized with energetic drama and dialogue pierced with Irish dialect.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

barnett samanddave Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

star2 Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Jon Klassen
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-7636-6229-5    $16.99

This adventure starts innocently enough: “On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole.” The boys (indistinguishable save the color of their hats and Sam’s ever-present backpack) are fueled by chocolate milk, animal cookies, and a desire to find “something spectacular.” Alas, Sam and Dave unearth nothing, coming close to — but just missing — the precious gems that dot the subterranean landscape, and oblivious all the while. Eventually the chums stop for a rest, whereupon their canine companion, digging for a bone, inadvertently causes a rupture in the dirt floor underground that leaves the explorers falling “down, down, down,” only to land in what appears to be their own yard. But upon closer inspection, this house isn’t quite the same as before; a number of subtle differences go undetected by the hapless duo, but observant viewers will certainly take note. Barnett’s well-chosen words (“Sam and Dave ran out of chocolate milk. / But they kept digging. / They shared the last animal cookie. / But they kept digging”) and plentiful white space support readers. Klassen’s cross-section illustrations provide a mole’s-eye view of the underground proceedings, extending the spare text with visual humor. As in his previous books, Klassen shows an uncanny knack for conveying meaning with the subtlest of eye movements. How fitting that the wordless final spread features a knowing look between the dog and a cat familiar to Klassen fans; all that’s missing from the trippy conclusion is the theme music from The Twilight Zone. Mind-blowing in the best possible way.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Eleanor and Park

rowell eleanor park Eleanor and ParkRainbow Rowell’s nontraditional romance novel Eleanor and Park portrays a young love that is genuine in its intimacy and awkwardness, as well as the painful realities of life that are well beyond the control of the young protagonists. What are the entry points in the story for readers whose lives are very different from those of the two main characters, set in the 1980s? Why, do you think, has this book resonated so powerfully with young readers and critics alike?

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21. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

absolutely true diary The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time IndianIn The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie tells Junior’s story with a lot of humor, but pulls no punches in depicting the brutal truths of alcoholism, poverty, and bigotry both on and off the reservation. Does humor have a place in a realistic novel about tragic circumstances? If you’ve had classroom experience with this book, how have your students responded to Junior’s story?

We are also reading Alexie’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why the Best Kid’s Books are Written In Blood.” Go ahead an comment on that article here, too.

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22. The Thing About Luck

kadohata thingaboutluck 197x300 The Thing About LuckIn The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, Summer has important duties to fulfill as the daughter and granddaughter of migrant harvest workers, and she must also meet the daily demands of her traditional Japanese grandparents. Summer’s multi-generational family and their lives as agricultural workers are facets of contemporary American culture that may be unfamiliar to many young readers — or adults for that matter. How does Kadohata invite all readers into Summer’s story while maintaining her family’s distinct experience and perspective? What surprised, delighted, or intrigued you most about Summer, Jaz, Obaachan, and Jiichan?

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23. Firebird: A Guest Post by Sam Bloom

firebird 300x273 Firebird: A Guest Post by Sam BloomIs it possible for a guy who has won three BGHB Honors, four Coretta Scott King Honors, and one Caldecott Honor (in 1998, for Harlem) to be underrated? Why yes, yes it is. Christopher Myers continues to fly under the radar every year when it comes to Caldecott buzz, but I’m guessing the real committee will take a good look at this one.

Julie Danielson interviewed illustrator Myers and author/ballet dancer Misty Copeland at Kirkus a while back; it’s a great piece that is definitely worth a look. In it, Myers talks about how he decided on collage because it allowed him to “choreograph across the page,” using color and texture to reflect the juxtaposition of the “riotous energy” and “careful attention to detail” that constitutes the essence of dance. Keeping this in mind when reading Firebird, I would contend that Myers nailed the “appropriateness of style” criterion…but I would argue that he scores nearly as well with the other criteria, too.

Myers’s illustrations are like intricate puzzles for the reader to take apart and put back together, over and over again. For instance, look at the first full-page spread: the young, unnamed dancer gazes up from the bottom left corner as adult ballerina Misty leaps across a night skyline. In the background, buildings twinkle above a frothy-looking river spanned by a bridge. Misty’s white outfit makes a striking contrast against the lovely midnight blues and deep purples of the sky and river. But don’t stop there: look closer. Note first the texture of the collage, the overlapping pieces of cut paper used to make the night sky, the white-washed blues and blacks of the river below. Now zero in on that skyline. The building above Misty’s outstretched right calf…is that a picture of someone’s hand resting on a gray table, cut into a building shape? And the building above her right knee looks to be a shadowed photo of a brick wall… or is that a fence? All of this is barely noticeable when viewing the spread as a whole, but the bizarre (yet lovely) details become apparent when you lean in for a better look.

In Jules’s piece, Myers talks about how he focused mostly on color and texture to show emotion, and to my mind he succeeded completely. To give just one example, the endpapers are a fiery mix of reds, golds, and oranges, extending that Firebird motif from the front cover. This is some abstract stuff, but young readers will no doubt respond to the hot colors (forget that they are normally referred to as “warm”; these hues are habanero-smoking hot) and texture. To be sure, reading Firebird is an extremely tactile visual experience. Looking closer at the endpapers, I see feathers, the bumps of a diamond-studded (I think) strawberry, a fabric of some sort, and either a shag carpet close-up or a sea anemone. And here, as throughout the book, the reader can clearly see where each piece of cut paper ends and the next begins.

I hate to bring up the typography because I find the book to be practically perfect in every way, but the two fonts are not perfectly chosen. The text is a dialogue between the two characters, with the young girl’s words appearing in a bold italic font and Misty’s words appearing in a bold Roman font. I wish there was more differentiation between the two type styles, because I had to look twice on many occasions to see who was talking. It’s a lovely text, though, and Myers does a fabulous job with his interpretation.

Speaking of interpretation, my own interpretive skills aren’t terribly great, so I’m always curious to hear what others think. What do you all think is going on in some of those spreads? Especially intriguing to me is the final spread, where Misty and the young girl dance together wearing matching white tutus. Silhouetted dancers leap and twirl in front of multi-colored backgrounds, including what I believe is a male dancer to the extreme right. The spread itself is a stunner — it’s absolutely gorgeous — but I don’t completely understand it. Thoughts? And in more general terms, what does everyone think? Are you all high on Firebird, too?

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24. I don’t THINK anyone is trying to hunt me down

heathers01 I dont THINK anyone is trying to hunt me downLast weekend my friend Lori was in town and we took the dogs for a walk in the schoolyard across the street. Three tween girls were hanging out on the jungle gym and as we passed they started whispering ostentatiously in our direction and laughing meanly. ‘Girls that age” said Lori, a middle-school math teacher in the Bronx, “are the worst.”

That encounter stayed with me as I started exploring the saga of YA author Kathleen Hale and the Goodreads troll, which Hale described at great, great length in the Guardian. What did the editors think to let her go on for 5000 words? Perhaps they are part of the great catfishing* conspiracy erected to oppress Ms. Hale, because while you begin the essay thinking “poor her,” as Hale unravels you start to smile nervously and look for an exit. It’s far away.

Then I went to a blog that Hale cited as an ally in her fight against the Dark, Stop the GR [Goodreads] Bullies, which I thought would be, I don’t know, some kind of manifesto about maintaining decency in book discussion. Instead I soon felt like Jennifer Connelly discovering Russell Crowe’s crazypants chalkboard diagrams as pages of scans and proofs and links and trolls and catfish whirled about each other with manic glee. Here, as in Hale’s confessional, I saw no victims, just bullies on all sides.

I know it’s unlikely–or NOT, he adds, as the madness infects him–that any of the participants in this circus are twelve-year-old girls, but watching the accusations fly and the drama being whipped up reminded me of those kids at the school, a big helping of attention-seeking with a side of hostility. I’ve avoided Goodreads only because it was too much like work, but it always seemed like such a nice place. Now it looks to me like those spy novels I love, where the apparent placidity of daily life  and ordinary citizens is completely at the mercy of the puppet masters. If you want me, I’m in hiding.

*as Liz Burns points out, that word does not mean what Hale thinks it does.

 

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25. Windows and mirrors book discussion

Lauren had her first adolescent lit class last night at HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education). For last night’s class we talked about How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I love this part of a course when the students go from names and faces on a roster to real people with opinions about books. Lauren gave an excellent overview of literature for adolescents: the history, the jargon, the genres.

oct27readings Windows and mirrors book discussion

For next Monday’s class the theme is Windows & Mirrors and they will all read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. For their second book, they have a choice between Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck. Tough choice!

Please join us as we discuss these books before Monday evening’s class. Things tend to pick up steam later in the week, but we like to put up the posts early for those who are reading ahead.

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