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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. 2015 Simmons Summer Institute: Homecoming

What an invigorating weekend here on the Simmons College campus, as current students, alums, authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, academics, booksellers, book lovers, etc., etc., etc., came together for the 2015 Summer Children’s Literature Institute: Homecoming. Some highlights are below, and in no particular order. We know. We tried to make it brief. But we just couldn’t. Sorry not sorry.

Shoshana:

Though Michelle H. Martin, who’d taught the longer Symposium class, was unfortunately unable to attend the weekend Institute, Cathie Mercier, director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College, read a brief message from Michelle and then opened the floor to her students, who stepped up and opened the Institute with a glimpse into the work they’d done in her class. We heard astute comparisons between seemingly disparate books, and more about those books’ reflections of home. It was a reminder of the depth of analysis that’s common here at Simmons, and should have been required listening for anyone with any doubts that children’s literature is a serious field of study.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, Vicky Smith, children’s and teen editor at Kirkus Reviews, moderated a panel with illustrators Shadra Strickland, Hyewon Yum, and David Hyde Costello, citing images of home from each panelist’s work and asking about the thoughts behind the images. We learned that Shadra feels it’s important to show children of color in happy, whimsical settings; that Hyewon remembers leaving home to start school but now identifies more with the mother being left at home; and that David thought hardest about a minor character in Little Pig Joins the Band. All three illustrators’ work had enough images of home — some comforting and some unsettling — to drive home (ha!) the importance, especially in childhood, of having a familiar place to return to.

I attended several of the Master Seminars that were offered throughout the weekend. Lauren Rizzuto’s seminar examined the politics of sentiment in children’s literature, and the valuing of emotion both within texts and in response to texts. Amy Pattee borrowed Cathie’s impossible and totally unfair often-difficult exercise of asking those present to divide themselves into those who emphasize books and those who emphasize readers. From those perspectives, we examined some critically successful books and some that were popular in terms of sales, and discussed what each metric values. Jeannine Atkins shared some thoughts about what makes a verse novel work, offering specific, technical advice as well as larger observations. I left Lauren’s seminar feeling a bit more justified in my own feelings of affection toward literary characters; Amy’s with a greater understanding of how my bookselling past informs my thinking; and Jeannine’s with a few ideas of my own.

Joan Tieman, Susan Bloom, and Barbara Harrison.

Joan Tieman, Susan Bloom, and Barbara Harrison at the post-lecture reception.

On Friday night Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire turned the Mary Nagel Sweetser Lecture into a two-voice, three-act play about a subject dear to many of our hearts: the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College. Harrison, the Center’s founder, and Maguire, its first graduate, performed the story of how they got here and how the Center developed. That story, of course, included quotes from quite a few children’s books, words that many of us at Simmons have heard echoing in our ears. Between that and the photos of some familiar faces in bygone years, it was quite the multimedia presentation, and struck a chord with many in the audience.

On Saturday night Jack Gantos gave the most straightforward presentation I’d ever heard from him. It took us back to his childhood home; climbed stairs and trudged through snow to his writing home at the Boston Athenaeum; and scrawled its way through his writing process, but there were no leaps this time to, say, a hypothetical mausoleum. Instead, he connected his thoughts back to the idea of home so relentlessly, the repetition was almost as big a joke as the other actual jokes peppered throughout the speech. Jack Gantos can home in on one idea…who knew?

On Sunday morning M. T. Anderson recalled his adventurous travels abroad, featuring miscommunications that resulted from his learned-from-opera French and a fight with feral cats over a poorly prepared chicken. He realized it might be easier to instead write about places he’d never seen and extrapolate based on books and maps, an epiphany that resulted in the highly creative version of Delaware that appears in some of his books. We were even treated to his rendition of Delaware’s anthem.

Elissa:

Roger Sutton talks with Bryan Collier.

Roger Sutton talks with Bryan Collier.

Friday morning, Bryan Collier, in conversation with Roger — and both in snappy bow ties! — talked about his Maryland hometown (and the chicken farms that he knew were not a part of his future plans). Growing up he was an athlete but also an artist. He didn’t know any other artists, so he left home to find some. The prolific illustrator talked about the work ethic involved in creating art, and he compared creativity to a body of water: some people dip in a toe, some wade in, and others will “jump off a cliff, backwards.” “What do you do when you feel like you’re drowning?” asked Roger. “Trust it. Surrender,” he said. (And speaking of liquids: later I was sitting next to Bryan, in his slick beige suit, and terrified I’d spill my iced coffee on him. Didn’t happen. Phew!)

Kwame Alexander.

“Tall, dark, and handsome” Newbery winner Kwame Alexander.

Horn Book intern Alex introduced 2015 Newbery Award winner (for The Crossover, like I had to tell you that) Kwame Alexander to the crowd, forgetting the salient point — as the man himself was quick to point out — “Kwame Alexander is tall, dark, and handsome.” He is also an amazing speaker, as everyone who was at this year’s CSK Breakfast and Newbery-Caldecott Banquet already knows, both hypnotizing the audience with his confident flow of words and keeping them on their toes, with brains a-buzzing (there was some audience participation involved).

Rita Williams-Garcia.

Rita Williams-Garcia. And yes she is (see quote above).

And how do you follow a speech that is by turns hilarious, heart-breaking, thought-provoking, swoon-worthy (those ladies at church never had a chance), eye-opening, electric, improvisatory…etc. etc.? First, with a standing ovation. Then with a talk by Rita Williams-Garcia, who talked to…herself. Williams-Garcia played the parts of both present-day Rita and thirty-three-year-old (“the age of Jesus”) Rita, discussing her work, her views, her past, future, and in-between times. She talked about the effect The Horn Book’s words had on her — “Rita Williams-Gracia may well turn out to be among the most prominent African-American literary artists of the next generation” — and her evolving thoughts on book awards, who-can-write-for-whom?, and the n-word. It was moving. And deep. And we don’t even mind that Big Ma wasn’t based on a real person.

Martha:

Editor Neal Porter and artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger (whose art was on display in Simmons’s Trustman Gallery all weekend) took us, step by step, through her creative process — with the added bonus that we also got an illuminating glimpse into their working relationship. They shared (mostly late-night) emails, the journals in which Laura loosely brainstorms ideas (but retroactively goes back and gives tables of contents — she’s a born organizer, apparently), and how three of her picture books came to be: Green; a new book coming out this September called I Used to Be Afraid; and a work in progress, a companion to Green called Blue. As usual, their affection and respect for each other permeated the presentation, whether Laura was demonstrating the challenges of using die-cuts or Neal was exhorting the value of the printed picture book. To paraphrase: No one has yet come up with a more efficient format for telling a story in words and pictures than a picture book you can hold in your hand. It’s all about the page turns, and swiping through an e-book doesn’t provide that. (And his analogy — something about slapping an iPad with a dead fish in order to “page” through a picture book? — is pretty hard to get out of your mind.)

Katie:

Molly Idle.

Molly Idle, an artist from age three.

Molly Idle doesn’t write presentation notes, but she doesn’t need to — charming, high-energy, and insightful, she captivated the crowd. (One tweet read, “I think everyone here has a crush on Molly Idle right now. I know I do” to which Molly herself replied, “It’s a mutual admiration society. :)” How great is that?) She talked about her trajectory from animation to illustration, how becoming an illustrator felt like a kind of homecoming, and the logistics of sharing studio space with her family. I was lucky enough to get to pick her brain about how illustration is like dance — “If you could just say it, you wouldn’t need to draw it!” — at dinner afterwards.

Moving from commune to commune during her childhood, Emily Jenkins (a.k.a. E. Lockhart) found home in books and in shared reading experiences that represented stability in her otherwise uprooted life. As a result of her nomadic upbringing, she came to believe that home is not a nostalgic place to return to (i.e., your parents’ house) but rather something you make for yourself every day. She went on to examine some fascinating examples of literary independent children, such as Pippi Longstocking and the Boxcar Children, and how they create home for themselves. Emily closed with a moving passage from her book Toys Come Home:

“Why are we here?” asks Plastic.
“We are here,” says StingRay, “for each other.”
Oh.
Of course we are.
Of course we are here for each other.

Elaine Dimopoulos, debut author of fashion-meets-dystopian novel Material Girls, is really super smart. (She’s also a grad school classmate and good friend of mine, so I am probably a little bit biased. But even Emily Jenkins says Elaine is “crazy smart.”) Elaine discussed the ways that the traditional narrative structures of home–away–home (for younger kids’ fiction) and home–away (for YA) are no longer realistic, and offered some solutions to help writers get grown-ups out of the picture and allow child/teen characters some breathing room. Elaine also told us the story of how, as a Simmons grad student, she introduced speaker M. T. Anderson at the 2005 Summer Institute (and how it changed her life), as well as a little about being a Writer in Residence at the BPL.

And that was it! You know, just all that. There was a wrap-up by Cathie and Megan Dowd Lambert, and everyone went *home* (or wherever), recharged, refreshed, rejuvenated. For a recap in verse (and in homage), check out Shoshana’s “Good Night, Paresky Room.”

See you in two years…

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2. Good Night, Paresky Room

With apologies to Margaret Wise Brown, a recap of Homecoming inspired by the homiest book of them all.

In the Paresky room,
Bird-Window-Chil-Institute.ashxthere were tweeting phones
and thought balloons
with pictures of
the places we’ve dwelt, and with whom.
There were dogs and bears,1 and familiar chairs,
and pulses2 that quicken at art, not at chickens.
Home, and publishing house,3
and a pig and his spouse,4
and a book-signing rush, and the impulse to gush,
and a dean in her teacher voice begging us, “Hush.”
Thank you room
with hallowed aura.
Thank you silent, dancing Flora.5
Thank you artists who fuss and fuss.6
Thank you authors who board the bus.7
Thank you Rita
and thank you Rita.8
Thank you fashion
and thank you passion.9
Thank you shelves
that locate selves.10
Thank you Jack, who kept to theme.11
Thank you Tobin’s Delaware dream.12
The stories of Simmons could fill quite a tome.13
We’re clicking our heels, for there’s no place like home.

_______________________________________

1. and Laura Vaccaro Seeger
2. like Bryan Collier’s
3. such as Neal Porter Books
4. David Hyde Costello’s example of casual porcine diversity
5. created by the delightfully talkative Molly Idle
6. including but not limited to Hyewon Yum
7. led by Kwame Alexander
8. Rita Williams-Garcia, age 33, and Rita Williams-Garcia, age 58, who held an enlightening conversation
9. and thank you Elaine Dimopoulos, who has both
10. because, as Emily Jenkins put it, “Home is where you keep your books”
11. Jack Gantos brings home the record for use of the word “home.”
12. M. T. Anderson’s version of Delaware may have involved some imagination
13. Or a three-act play performed by Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire

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3. You had us at artisanal pickles.

Urban inferiority complex be damned! We Bostonians enjoy artisanal pickles and ironic facial hair as much as the next folks. That’s why we’re pleased to present author/illustrator Stephen Savage’s article on the people in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Or, as we like to call it, “the new Somerville.”

We’re so psyched, in fact, that we’ve decided to devote an entire week to the Brooklynites. Tomorrow you can read Savage’s article “The People in My Neighborhood: One Author/Illustrator’s Rambles Around Brooklyn.” As the week goes on, you’ll fine more Horn Book material on that mighty borough and the people who call it home. Because there really are a lot of them.* And good at what they do? Fuggedaboudit.

***

*In fact, there are many, many, MANY more talented Brooklynites than we could possibly highlight in one article. So, please remind us about them in the comments.

For example, this bears repeating:

Christopher Myers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Wiliams-Garcia... in Brooklyn.

Christopher Myers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Williams-Garcia commune in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Jason Reynolds.

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4. Review of Playful Pigs from A to Z

lobel_playful pigsstar2 Playful Pigs from A to Z
by Anita Lobel; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary     Knopf     40 pp.
7/15     978-0-553-50832-1     $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-50833-8     $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-50834-5     $10.99

Twenty-six pigs wake up in their pen and decide to explore the countryside, running down the road and finding a field of “magical surprises”: brightly colored, freestanding letters of the alphabet. Lobel’s soft early-morning watercolors give way to bolder pages on which each pig is now clothed and standing upright. The entire alphabet, set in a distinctive condensed typeface, runs along the top and bottom borders while each pig interacts happily with a single tall, thin letterform (all are upper-case but i). Lobel uses a name-verb-letter structure (“Amanda Pig admired an A. Billy Pig balanced on a B”), with rolling hills below and plenty of white space behind the pig and letter. Repeat readers will spot an extra object beginning with the letter in question tucked into a lower corner. Gender roles are satisfyingly relaxed: Greta, a female soldier, guards the G, while on the  opposite page Hugo tenderly hugs an H. By the time Yolanda yawns and Zeke zzzs, evening has arrived and the pigs return to their pen in a mirror image of the opening spreads, once again unclothed and running on all fours. Dinner is followed by bedtime, with all twenty-six snuggled together cozily. This playful treatment creates a humorous, easygoing book that should relieve any anxiety about learning the alphabet.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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5. Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland app review

alice app menu2She’s grown taller and shorter so many times that it’s hard to keep track, but Lewis Carroll’s Alice is 150 years old this year. The Morgan Library & Museum is celebrating with an exhibit of artifacts related to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In addition to an online version, the Morgan also offers an app with materials from the exhibit.

After a brief description with some historical background for Carroll’s novel, the app has two main sections: “Transcriptions of Letters and Manuscripts,” and “Tenniel’s Illustrations.” Within each, a book icon brings up the index so you can navigate into any artifact you want, or you can just swipe along in order.

alice app transcriptions2
alice app tenniel's illustrations
The “Transcriptions” section presents a wide range of artifacts related to Carroll’s life, work, and world. There’s an illustrated humorous poem, “A Tale of a Tail,” from the Useful and Instructive Poetry magazine that the thirteen-year-old author created for his siblings. There’s an 1863 letter from Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll’s Alice, to her father. There’s a list in Carroll’s hand of “Newspaper Notices of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” from 1866. In addition to descriptions of the items, all are accompanied by their transcripts, which are useful even though the images are clear — it’s a lot more efficient for a modern eye to read a typed version of a letter than to make sense of the flourishes in Carroll’s nineteenth-century handwriting. Nearly all of these items correspond to what’s on the web exhibit, though many are titled slightly differently. Like the website, this section of the app also has magic lantern slides with illustrations of various Alice scenes, alongside their (somewhat reworked) text.

The second section contains some of John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Most of the images are color proofs, but some are original black-and-white sketches or preparatory drawings. Here, the selection is less extensive than the more carefully curated and categorized offerings in the web exhibit.

alice app cheshire cat

This app is a useful way to view many pieces from the exhibit up close. (Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the manuscript Carroll wrote and illustrated for Alice Liddell, is unfortunately not part of the app.) It’s a useful resource for anyone interested in Alice’s history, and could also be helpful to students learning the concept of primary sources. But the interactivity begins and ends with navigation from one artifact to another, and the app has less to offer than the web version. For a deeper Alice rabbit hole — more illustrations and character design sketches, a playlist of music inspired by the books, and an “Alice on the Silver Screen” section featuring early film adaptations — head over to the Morgan’s digital exhibit.

Available for iPad and iPhone; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.

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6. Remember what the dormouse said

Here KittyDoing some reading for my upcoming interview with Bryan Collier tomorrow at the Simmons Institute, I got to spend a beautiful afternoon at the even more beautiful new children’s room at BPL. You should go see it. But if they ever legalize pot in this state there’s going to be a line out the door for the Pathway to Reading Sensory Wall.SensoryWallSensoryWall2More wall

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7. Luna, Julia, and readers

kostecki-shaw_luna & meWe recently received Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (Holt/Ottaviano, May 2015). It’s sort of dual picture-book biography, telling the stories of a thousand-year-old redwood tree called Luna, which was slated to be logged; and of young activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in the tree for over two years to prevent it from being cut down.

hill_legacy of lunaWhen I was an undergrad attending Humboldt State University in northern (waaaaay northern) California, I read Hill’s 2000 memoir The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods (HarperOne) for a sociology class. Hill discusses the day-to-day experiences of living in the tree (she had a lot of help) and depicts the volatile — occasionally verging on violent — conflict between the activists and the Pacific Lumber Company. My class discussed The Legacy of Luna and Hill’s tree-sit as an exercise in local sociology: Luna is located about 40 miles from HSU, in the same county. We were reading the memoir only a year or two after its publication, and tensions between activists and loggers were still high. In fact, the year after the book came out, the tree was vandalized.

Though I tended to side with Hill and other activists trying to protect the old-growth forest, I soon realized (no doubt as the professor intended) that the situation was extremely complex. The logging industry had long been a major part of the region’s economy, but was starting to flag, and environmentalists were attempting to curtail it further. To make matters worse, there was an “us” and “them” mentality at work: activists tended to be young out-of-towners attracted to the area by the university or by liberal politics, while loggers were frequently locals whose families had lived there for generations. (The university’s mascot? The lumberjack.) Our professor mentioned that, due to its anti-logging stance, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax had caused some controversy when taught in local elementary schools.

In Luna & Me, Kostecki-Shaw is definitely on Hill’s (and Luna’s) side, emphasizing the activist’s courage and determination as well as the historical and ecological value of the ancient tree and others like it. Though she doesn’t demonize the loggers, Kostecki-Shaw doesn’t humanize them, either. (The tree Luna, on the other hand, is personified quite a bit.) There is no mention of loggers’ need to make their livelihood and feed their families. Perhaps that sort of sociological context is a tall order for a primary-level picture book. Kostecki-Shaw writes in her author’s note that she “chose to tell of Julia’s time in Luna in [her] own way — simplifying a very complex, intense, and political journey and depicting her as a girl” rather than as an adult.

Will Luna & Me be embraced by teachers, librarians, and parents in northern California? Or, like The Lorax, will it be viewed by some as problematic? I hope, either way, that it will provoke some thoughtful discussion.

Have you come across any children’s books that are divisive for your own community?

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8. Can’t buy me love

The Gawker debacle has been very entertaining. I read and respect the site too much to enjoy the clusterfuck in a schadenfreudey kind of way, but I am enjoying the intellectual stimulation provided by the whole host of journalism questions set bristling. What’s a public figure? Was the subject in question a public figure, or a behind-the-scenes media rival? Would Gawker have pursued the story had the hooker been a lady? Would the commentariat be as outraged had the hooker been a lady? Will Twitter ever let the “die on that hill” metaphor die on that hill, already?

My take briefly: The story should not have been pursued. The editors should have known better. The publisher should have been–previously–clearer that this kind of story was no longer acceptable, and he should have taken his objections directly to the editors, not to the directors. Taking the story down, however symbolic, was the right thing to do. Rather than resigning in a high-minded huff, the editors should have considered that perhaps all the people screaming at them might have had a point. The advertising director sounds like a dick.

RejectsI’ve been very lucky that in nearly twenty years at the Horn Book I’ve never had to have the kind of conversation that should have gone on at Gawker. Reduce expenses, increase circulation, get your monthly reports in the month they are actually due, Roger–I hear those things all the time. But none of the people who has served as Horn Book publisher has ever tried to quash content. And in cases where outraged subscribers or aggrieved advertisers have complained, the publisher has always backed me up. Thank you, gentlemen and lady.

But when I read that one concern of the Gawker publisher was that the post in question might have lost them advertising dough worth seven figures in one week, my first thought was that I wanted to be very clear with you all about the relationship between Horn Book content and the advertisers who support it. (Actually, my first first thought was SEVEN FIGURES IN ONE WEEK? GIMME SOME.) So here’s the lowdown. You can’t buy a review in the Horn Book. Advertising in the Horn Book Magazine pages doesn’t get you anything beyond exposure for whatever it is you are advertising. Not advertising in our pages has no effect on our decision whether or not to review your book. The decision to give a book a starred review is made by the editors in consultation with the reviewers. As far as articles go, we welcome suggestions and submissions from all comers, but you can’t buy one of those, either.

There are two venues in which Horn Book editorial and advertising intersect. One is our Talks With Roger series, in which a publisher will pay for me (not pay me)  to interview a given author or illustrator and disseminate said interview to our Notes from the Horn Book subscribers and on our website. These are friendly interviews–if I feel like I can’t be friendly to a given author or book, I turn the interview down. While we run the edited interview by the sponsor, it is only so they can offer factual corrections; they have no say over the content. The other advertorial product we create is the Fall and Spring Preview, a labelled supplement to the March/April and September/October issues of the Magazine. In these, a five-question interview of an author or illustrator of a new book faces a page of advertising from said book’s publisher, who pays for both pages. I write the questions but the publisher selects the book. Neither advertising in the Preview sections nor sponsoring a Talks With Roger gets you a review in the Magazine. (Reviews in the Horn Book Guide are essentially automatic, as the Guide is a nonselective  source reviewing all new hardback books for children from U.S. publishers listed in the current print edition of Literary Market Place.)

I hope this is all clear, or clear enough. (It isn’t always. More than one Talks With Roger subject has tried telling me how “honored” he or she is to have been “chosen” for an interview, and while I try to let them down gently, I do let them down.) Please leave any questions in the comments.

 

 

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9. Review of The Skunk

barnett_skunkstar2 The Skunk
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Patrick McDonnell
Primary     Roaring Brook     32 pp.
4/15     978-1-59643-966-5     $17.99

A skunk shows up on the narrator’s doorstep and begins to tail him. Try as he might, our narrator just can’t seem to shake the skunk — “When I sped up, the skunk sped up. When I slowed, the skunk slowed” — despite dodging in and out of an opera house, a graveyard, and a carnival. Ultimately, however, our narrator does lose his unwelcome shadow, crawling down a manhole in an alley and establishing a new life in a new house in a new part of the city (the heretofore low-toned palette now bursting with blue and yellow). It’s not long, though, before he realizes everything’s not what it’s cracked up to be, and he leaves his own party to go off in search of the skunk, vowing to keep an eye on him to “make sure he does not follow me again.” McDonnell’s graceful and simple cartoonlike illustrations mitigate the notes of paranoia and obsession in Barnett’s deadpan text, particularly in their rendering of the posture, gestures, and expressions of the main characters. Barnett has had the good fortune to collaborate with illustrators — Rex, Santat, Klassen — who share his oftentimes offbeat sense of humor; his pairing with McDonnell seems as natural as any of them.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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10. Week in Review, July 13th-17th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

From the July/August 2015 Special Awards issue of The Horn Book Magazine: “From the Guide: YA Memoirs

Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld Talk with Roger

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: #Stuffwhitepeoplelike: Go Set a Watchman

Out of the Box: 

Lolly’s Classroom: Top 5 meta books to teach print concepts

Events calendar

Summer Reading 2015

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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11. Go the BEEP to sleep!

TREND DETECTED! Insomniac robots are rolling off the assembly line.

Here they are blinking their way through bedtime in Todd Tarpley’s Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep! (Little, Brown, September 2015), illustrated by John Rocco.

tarpley_beep! beep! go to sleep

And here, one little robot takes its sweet time shutting off in Anna Staniszewski’s Power Down, Little Robot (Macmillan/Holt, March 2015), illustrated by Tim Zeltner.

staniszewski_power down little robot

Anna also recently introduced a BabyBot, so we can bet she can relate to her book’s tired Mom Unit. Here’s hoping, for her sake and the sake of Parental Units everywhere, that these bedtime books do the trick!

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12. The Cat in the Hat — Read & Learn digital book app review

catReadLearn_Screenshot1Spend a rainy afternoon with the mischievous Cat in the Hat in Oceanhouse Media‘s brand-new interactive digital book app The Cat in the Hat — Read & Learn (July 2015).

After you leave the home screen in “read to me” mode (there’s also a “read it myself” option for reading practice), the energetic narration begins the full text of Dr. Seuss’s classic book. “The sun did not shine. / It was too wet to play. / So we sat in the house / All that cold, cold, wet day…” As the narrator reads, the words are highlighted in the text. Touch any object in the illustration to hear the narrator state its name and see the word appear on the screen, while said object sways, bounces, spins, or makes a noise.

If you’re lucky, the object you’ve tapped will be one of thirty-one throughout the app that reveal hidden stars. Tap the star to access a brief, educational activity (spell “cat”; what starts with the buh sound?; which item would you need to go out in the rain?). Appropriate to the “read and learn” element of the app’s title, these activities are typically literacy-related: spelling, rhyming, and matching words to their associated images.

catReadLearn_Screenshot9

Some pages allow you to drag objects around — in my personal favorite of these, you can throw a ball against the sides of the screen to watch it bounce back and forth across the room — while other interactive moments invite you to physically tilt your device to make things move onscreen. In the scene where the Cat (who has been hopping up and down on a ball while holding up the fish, a fan, a rake, etc.) falls and “ALL the things fall” with him, the objects are flung across the screen; tap to toss them about one by one. Throughout, the color palette and animation choices remain true to Dr. Seuss’s original work.

catReadLearn_Screenshot4

“Picture words” (words that pop up to identify tapped objects), activities, sound effects, and update notifications may be turned on/off in the settings menu. A locked parents’ section offers some usage tips and provides stats on minutes read, pages read, and completed reads, allowing parents to track a child’s progress through the e-book.

The combination of classic story with the added interactive elements creates an enjoyable learning experience for an emerging reader.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch; $4.99. Recommended for preschool and early primary users.

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13. “Classic tales to read, love and share”

storytime issue 4 We recently received two issues of Storytime Magazine (Luma Works), a monthly British children’s magazine which launched in September 2014 with the tagline “Classic tales to read, love and share.” Each issue is filled with retellings of fairy tales and folktales, plus distillations of classic children’s novels (such as E. Nesbit’s “Five Children and It” in Issue 4 and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” in Issue 5). The stories are accompanied by colorful, often full-page illustrations as well as interactive moments inviting the reader to color a rainbow, count beans, find a specific flower, etc. Even more thematic activities and downloads are available at Storytime‘s website.

The contents are organized by headings such as “Favourite Fairy Tales,” “Famous Fables,” “Storyteller’s Corner,” “Around the World Tales,” “Myths and Legends,” “Poems and Rhymes,” “Brilliant Books,” “Storytime Playbox,” and “Story Magic.” These categories seem to shift slightly from issue to issue, but each edition follows the same basic format, containing about six stories, a poem, and thematic activities and games.

storytime issue 5Storytime‘s retold short tales originate in a range of diverse cultures: Issue 4 features a Mayan quest story, an African tale about trickster Anansi, and a Cornish mermaid tale; Issue 5 includes an Aboriginal creation story, plus Greek mythology and an Aesop animal parable. The magazine format (complete with exciting cover blurbs: “Famous Fables! Four animals learn about friendship” and “Jungle Adventure! See how Mowgli escapes from Shere Khan”) gives the tales a fresh perspective, and the absence of advertisements keeps the focus on the stories themselves.

Overall, each issue feels like substantial reading material — either to be devoured straight through all at once, or savored slowly, story by story.

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14. Review of Salsa

argueta_salsaSalsa: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem
by Jorge Argueta; illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh; trans. from the Spanish by Elisa Amado
Primary     Groundwood     32 pp.
3/15     978-1-55498-442-8     $18.95
e-book ed. 978-1-55498-443-5     $16.95

In this latest addition to his series of bilingual cooking poems (Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding; Guacamole), Argueta plays on the multiple meanings of salsa to create a mouth-watering musical recipe. The poem begins with a young boy telling the history of the molcajete and tejolote, the mortar and pestle traditionally made from the volcanic rock that forms from cooled lava and used to grind vegetables and spices. As the boy and his family prepare their weekly salsa roja, the child’s imagination runs wild. Ingredients become instruments — an onion is a maraca, tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums. Argueta’s use of onomatopoeia (prac-presh-rrick-rrick is the sound of the ingredients being ground in the molcajete) and detailed description of ingredients play on the various senses to convey the sounds, flavors, and feelings coming together as the boy’s family dances, sings, and cooks. Tonatiuh’s illustrations, rendered primarily in greens and reds, complement the two types of salsa mentioned in the poem. The earthy tones and Mesoamerican-inspired drawings suit the poem’s combination of the traditional elements of salsa-making with the modern scenes of a family cooking and celebrating. The lack of measurements may leave some readers perplexed (exactly how many tomatoes are needed?), but the more important message of love and family gathering to create something special shines through.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. Top 5 meta books to teach print concepts

As a Pre-K teacher, one of the things I am focused on is helping children learn concepts of print. These concepts include that books are read from left to right and top to bottom (in English at least); the role of punctuation; that print has meaning; the relationship between print and speech; that books have a beginning, middle, and end; and more. One of the fun ways to teach these concepts is using a meta book. Essentially, these are self-referential books that teach children concepts of print and how books work through their plot line and design. Below, are my top 5 favorite meta books:

It's a BookIt’s a Book by Lane Smith
I have seen children not old enough to crawl who know how to operate an iPad. This fact has inspired countless think pieces and studies regarding the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional books and books on tablets and computers. Lane Smith’s It’s A Book plays off of this divide between traditionalists and digital book readers in a way that will amuse both children and adults. In the story, we get one character pestering the other with persistent questions about the book he is reading such as “Can it text? Tweet? Blog?” Since many five year olds are already familiar with tablets and smart phones, this book can inspire discussions regarding the differences between digital books and traditional print books, and how those books work. (Note to educators and parents: the end of the book refers to the Donkey as a “Jackass.”)

We Are in a Book!We Are In a Book! by Mo Willems
Most readers of Lolly’s Classroom are most likely already familiar with Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie series. One of my class’s favorites in the series is the meta book We Are In A Book! In this book, Elephant and Piggie discover that they are in fact in a book and go on to explain how books work in a myriad of funny scenes. For example, Piggie informs Elephant that “a reader is reading us” which leads to the two characters trying to get the reader to say random silly words like “banana.” Concepts like page numbers and that all books end are also learned via the plot line.

novak_bookwithnopixThe Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
Most got to know Newton native B. J. Novak when he played Ryan Howard on the TV show The Office. Since the completion of the show, Novak has expanded his artistic oeuvre to include writing a children’s book called The Book With No Pictures. As you probably guessed from the title, this book contains no pictures. Instead, the book forces the adult who is reading the story to say ridiculous things like “blork,” “Bluurf,” and “I am a monkey who taught myself to read.” This is a great book to teach children that text can have meaning without pictures and can inspire a fun lesson plan for emerging writers by having the children try to author their own book with no pictures.

Grover_MonsterThe Monster At The End Of This Book by Jon Stone
In this book staring the iconic Sesame Street character, Grover sees the title and is fearful of the monster at the end of the book. As the reader turns the book, Grover gets increasingly scared and angry at the reader who, by turning the pages, is bringing him ever closer to the monster at the end of the book. (I won’t spoil the ending, but you can probably guess who the monster turns out to be)

! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Punctuation can be confusing to young children; fortunately, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld teamed up to create this great book simply titled !. In the story, the characters themselves are punctuation marks. At the beginning, we find the exclamation mark upset because he does not fit in with the periods. Eventually, the exclamation marks sets off and meets a question mark who can’t stop asking him questions, which leads to the exclamation mark finding his voice and purpose. This is a great book to read to set up a lesson plan about how different punctuation can change the tone and meaning of a sentence.

Finally, I will leave you with a simple lesson plan to create a “meta book” called “I Am In a Book” Get some small pieces of poster board and onto each piece of poster board attached a self-adhesive mirror tile (they are pretty cheap to buy). Use a hole-punch and book ring to turn it into a book. On the cover write “I am in a book”. On each subsequent page write phrases like “this is my happy face,” “this is my mad face,” “this is my sad face,” “this is my silly face,” and so on. As the children read the book they will make the face that goes along whatever is written underneath the mirror on that page.

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16. Beth Ferry & Tom Lichtenheld Talk with Roger

beth ferry and tom lichtenheld twr

Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.


beth ferryA picture book manuscript can be a lonesome thing. You might even say the best ones generally are, still seeking a companion to bring sense and wholeness to their lives. Beth Ferry’s text for Stick and Stone is particularly terse, even mysterious, taken on its own, waiting for pictures to complete it. Beth and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld here talk about how they turned Beth’s words into a book.

Roger Sutton: My first question is about the genesis of the thing. When you look at the words all by themselves, you think, “Oh, this is rather zen-like.” I’m curious to know, Beth, how you began?

Beth Ferry: It was a challenge I made to myself. I really like to write 500- and 600-word stories, so I made it a challenge to write one under 200 words. I wasn’t sure yet what it was going to be about. I think that was the first time I treated my writing as a job, like it was work — I’m going to write something with the intent of being published. And then I picked friendship as a theme because what I love about picture books is they truly do appeal to all ages. I get a lot out of my kids’ picture books. And friendship, finding and keeping good friends, is a challenge throughout your life.

RS: Tom, is this final text fairly close to Beth’s original manuscript? Is this what you first saw?

TL: Yes, I would say 99.5 percent.

RS: How did you know what to do?

TL: Well, I made a lot of mistakes first.

BF: Which were all brilliant, by the way. Every mistake was brilliant. I’m just saying.

tom lichtenheldTL: Thank you. I did a posting on the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog showing a bunch of my mistakes. After I went down all the blind alleys, I realized what I should be doing, and I did that. I always do a lot of preliminary work. Sometimes it goes somewhere and sometimes it doesn’t. But to answer your original question, the very thing that Beth just talked about, the succinctness, was the thing that attracted me immediately. In that zen-like atmosphere that it creates, I fell under the spell of the rhythm and the cogency. It’s spare, yet it’s rich. Everything dovetails together and fits. It’s still got a dynamic arc to it. There’s pathos at the beginning, and there’s drama in the middle, and there’s a resolution. It walks you through all those things seamlessly. I always know if I want to work on a book from the first reading, and the first time I start doodling. I’ll start doodling right in the margins of a manuscript, if I’m taken with it, and if my doodles actually feel good, then I know that I’m interested in the project. We changed very little editorially as I worked on it. There was one little thing I asked the editor and Beth if we could do at the end, and they were cool with that, so we made that little adjustment, and everything was there.

RS: It’s a very collaborative book. Of course in the theme of the book, the friendship between Stick and Stone, but also in the interdependence of the text and the pictures. Did you work together as the project went along?

TL: We really didn’t, which is unusual for me. I usually collaborate pretty closely with the authors I work with, but this was so figured out already. I could tell that even though it was simple, the simplicity was the result of a lot of work. Everything was just bolted together. There was a little bit of back and forth, but to be honest with you — and Beth, correct me if I’m wrong here — I don’t think there was a lot of it.

BF: No. I had seen some of the original sketches, and Tom did these brilliant puns. There was a lot of conversation between the stick and the stone, and a pinecone making little comments. My whole family and I were laughing out loud. But [editor] Kate O’Sullivan pointed out that when you read any type of conversation bubbles, or however it would have appeared, you lose the rhythm. So I think Kate was ultimately right in saying no dialogue.

RS: There are only a couple of moments when we do get an interjection, like the “boom” of the hurricane.

BF: Right. And you know what I find? When I read the book to kids I never read those words, but they do. I stay with the rhythm, and they’ll read the “boom” and “cowabunga,” which is really funny. And perfect.

TL: I’ve been reading the book quite a bit to kids in schools. Often when I read a book to kids I will stop along the way and talk about the visuals and talk about the story, but I learned pretty quickly with this book to just read it through. It’s that zen-like trance they get into with this story. At first I misinterpreted their silence as uninterest, but then when you really watch them they’re just transfixed. As soon as you get to page three, “Lonely. Alone,” you’ve got them. And it’s hard sometimes not to say something about the story or the pictures, but I don’t say a thing anymore, just read it.

RS: Beth, what surprised you most about the transformation of your manuscript into a picture book? When you look at this book now, what’s in there that you didn’t see for yourself?

BF: I’m not an artist at all, so I don’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about what the pictures are going to look like. I know I could never do justice to them. The characters aren’t full of personality when you’re writing them, especially in something so short, but you want them to be. Every time I see my characters now—every day, because I have a picture of them hanging on my wall — it’s a shock. I don’t know if this happens to other picture book authors who are not illustrators, but it’s truly joyful. It makes me beyond happy to see how they turned out.

RS: How come you made them boys?

BF: That’s a great question. You know what? I don’t know.

RS: I think of it because I had this long discussion with Marla Frazee when we did an interview about The Farmer and the Clown. We were both talking about the clown being a little boy, even though it’s a wordless book and you really can’t tell the difference when they’re that small and they have their clothes on, right? But we both decided it was a little boy.

BF: And I totally concur.

TL: It’s a fascinating phenomenon, Roger. I have this book called Duck! Rabbit!, and there’s a genderless character in it, okay, that’s either a dinosaur or an anteater. When I talk about the character with kids, I make it a she. And immediately, the boys protest, because they’re so accustomed to genderless characters being presumed to be male. It is just amazing, that she’s got her head up in the tree eating a leaf, or she’s got her nose on the ground. It’s really kind of dispiriting, but a fun experiment.

ferry_stick and stoneRS: Even here at the Horn Book, we’ll often initially default to male, even though we don’t know for sure. Luckily a fact-checker will catch that, if the character is not actually identified one way or the other.

TL: It’s built in, I’m afraid. And I’m afraid — this is not an endorsement, just an observation — I’m afraid that girls and women are so accustomed to it that they kind of accept it, maybe not even as a slight, but just as a fact.

RS: Right.

BF: You don’t even notice. I have two bulldogs. One’s a girl and one’s a boy. But to me, all bulldogs should be boys, because they look like boys. I know that sounds silly.

RS: Oh, Beth, I’m worse than you. I think all dogs are boys and all cats are girls.

All right, let’s talk about the gender-ambiguous pinecone. Do you foresee any further adventures of Pinecone?

BF: I don’t know, actually. That’s a great question. Kids do want to know what happens to Pinecone. I hadn’t actually thought about poor Pinecone after being swept away, so I think the way Tom brought the character back — Pinecone’s redemption — was really important for kids. And it does lead to a nice discussion about how you forgive someone who is mean to you. But so far, no, I don’t have a story yet about Pinecone.

RS: Do you two plan to do another book together?

TL: As soon as she sends me another perfect manuscript.

BF: No pressure at all.

TL: The Revenge of Pinecone.

BF: Exactly. We haven’t really talked about it yet. Maybe it would be fun to do another one.

TL: I would love to do another book together but I’m not a huge fan of sequels.

RS: Amen, brother.

TL: Number one, I like challenges. This book had so many wonderful challenges in it. And I feel like I would be repeating myself. I’m fine with a series, a book or a character that is designed from the get-go to be a series, and I’m actually working on one right now. But the difference is it’s built that way from day one, and you make sure there’s a lot of territory to explore with these characters. A sequel for the sake of a sequel I’m not really a fan of.

RS: Yeah, I like the idea of just letting Stick and Stone and their new little sidekick Pinecone walk off into the sunset. It’s our job to figure out what happens next.

TL: Right.

BF: Tom, when you drew the eyes in the cave, was that just for fun, or did you actually have in mind what creature was in there?

TL: I had no idea. I just knew that when you go to cartoon school, there are always eyeballs in a cave. If you’ve got a cave, there’s got to be eyeballs.

BF: It’s funny — when I look at it, I see some type of creature. Resoundingly the kids are saying, “Oh, it’s Pinecone.”

RS: Really?

TL: I never thought about that.

BF: I know. Me neither. The first time someone said it, the kid was like, “Yeah, he’s hiding, because he’s embarrassed that he was bad.”

TL: Wow.

BF: Brilliant, that kid. It never occurred to me.

TL: So smart.

RS: I think one of the neatest things that you learn when you share a picture book with young children is they really do look at everything in those pictures. You can’t let something slip by.

TL: Right.

BF: The details — until I saw your presentation about the dolphin in the logo, I didn’t get that, but I think it’s brilliant.

TL: Very subtle.

BF: Yes, but really smart. And kids love the dolphins, so it’s a double win.

RS: Wait a minute, what are we talking about with the dolphins?

TL: On the spread that says “laze by the shore,” where Stick and Stone are—

RS: Oh, it’s the Houghton Mifflin dolphins!

TL: It’s the old Houghton Mifflin dolphins. Which they abandoned in preference for what I call the drunken geometric shapes.

RS: Yes. Ahem! Tom, I interrupted you before. Do you remember what you were going to say?

TL: Oh, I was talking about the cave. I originally spent a lot of time sketching out scenes where Stick and Stone were wandering around the world, exploring. I did these visual jokes where Stone was sitting in the middle of Stonehenge, because I thought that would be funny, Stone going to Stonehenge. One of the reasons I abandoned that idea was I realized the reason for showing these characters doing some exploring was to enrich the relationship, rather than just make funny jokes about them going to Stonehenge and Easter Island. So when they’re looking into the cave, you notice that Stick is behind Stone. He’s sort of trepidatious and using Stone as kind of a safety net as he peers into the cave. And on the other side of the spread Stone is making a path for Stick.

BF: Every kid is like, “Look what he’s doing! He’s making a path.” They get it. It’s so great.

RS: And do they get the bouncing into the water, the physics of all that? You know, when Stone saves Stick, who’s drowning in the puddle?

BF: I don’t know. I mean, they get what’s happening. They all say, “How does Stone get out?” and I just say, “Well, he rolls out.” Because he can roll. They’re not questioning how that log is just conveniently in the right spot.

RS: It’s brilliant how clear it is — gathering speed on the hill, and then using the log for liftoff, plopping quickly into the puddle, and boom, out comes Stick. It’s a terrific demonstration of physics right there.

TL: Right. I just want to take this opportunity to thank Beth for throwing that one at me. The line says “Stone rescues him quick.” So thanks a lot for giving me a stick and a stone with appendages, and making one of them rescue the other out of a puddle.

BF: When I wrote that line, I thought, “I don’t know how this is going to happen, but the illustrator will figure it out.” And you did a magnificent job.

TL: I love those kinds of challenges. It’s not an unreasonable challenge at all. You just figure it out.

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17. Ring, ring

dawnay_london callsMaybe because it’s vacation season, or because London is always calling me, but this inviting little book appealed to me as soon as I saw it. In London Calls! (TATE, March 2015), two characters — Granny Rose and Pearl — lead the reader through a whirlwind visit to London: “Big Ben is chiming; it’s quarter to eight and London is calling, we mustn’t be late.”

Beginning with a stop in Parliament Square, Gabby Dawnay’s rhyming text introduces London’s major highlights, as well as some of its personality and quirks: “There’s a wheel with an Eye on a city that boasts ancient towers and dungeons…that shiver with ghosts.” Alex Barrow’s illustrations have a retro style, making the book feel reminiscent of M. Sasek’s classic This Is London. At the back of the book, Granny Rose and Pearl provide the reader with more information about London, as well as a seek-and-find activity.

The book’s title is a reference to The Clash song (and album) “London Calling,” which in turn was derived from the greeting the BBC used in overseas radio broadcasts during WWII, “This is London calling…”

I would love to answer the call — I just need someone to buy me a plane ticket.

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18. From the Guide: YA Memoirs

andrews_some assembly requiredAdolescence is a time of transition that for many teens is characterized by hurdles big and small. These new memoirs, written by and/or for young adults, and all recommended by The Horn Book Guide, offer teenage readers real-life stories of hardship and hard-won triumph.

—Katrina Hedeen
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Andrews, Arin  Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen
248 pp.     Simon     2014     ISBN 978-1-4814-1675-7
ebook isbn 978-1-4814-1677-1

YA With Joshua Lyon. The author, born female, suffered profound body dysmorphia until transitioning to male at age fourteen. Now seventeen, Andrews frankly discusses the physical and emotional challenges of his transition, activism, and very visible relationship with another transgender teen (Katie Rain Hill, author of Rethinking Normal, reviewed below). A “How to Talk to Your New  Transgender Friend” guide is appended. Reading list, websites.

Burcaw, Shane  Laughing at My Nightmare
250 pp.     Roaring Brook     2014     ISBN 978-1-62672-007-7

YA With brutal honesty, snarky humor, and a profound sense of absurdity, twenty-one-year-old wise-guy blogger Burcaw recounts the trials and tribulations of growing up with spinal muscular atrophy, with which he was diagnosed at age two. The conversational tone mixes information and personal anecdotes, putting a human face on a rare disability. An engaging, life-affirming memoir for teens.

DePrince, Michaela Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
249 pp.     Knopf     2014     ISBN 978-0-385-75511-5
ebook ISBN 978-0-385-75513-9

YA With Elaine DePrince. This inspirational memoir traces Michaela’s journey from an orphanage in war-ravaged Sierra Leone through her adoption by an American couple to her rising ballet stardom (appearing in the documentary First Position; joining the Dutch National Ballet). Throughout, the daughter-and-mother writing team emphasizes how important optimism, love, and perseverance were to Michaela’s success. Striking textual imagery heightens the immediacy of Michaela’s experiences, whether tragic or triumphant.

Earl, Esther  This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl
240 pp.     Dutton     2014     ISBN 978-0-525-42636-3

YA With Lori 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 written both before and after her death at sixteen are also included. An ultimately hopeful offering.

Hill, Katie Rain  Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition
264 pp.     Simon     2014     ISBN 978-1-4814-1823-2
ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-1825-6

YA With Ariel Schrag. The author lived as a male — suicidally depressed due to body dysmorphia — until transitioning to female at age fifteen. This candid, touching memoir relates her transition, activism, public relationship with another transgender teen (Arin Andrews, Some Assembly Required, reviewed above) and hopes for the future. “Tips for Talking to Transgender People” are appended. Reading list, websites.

Rawl, Paige  Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World
272 pp.     HarperCollins/Harper     2014     ISBN 978-0-06-234251-5

YA With Ali Benjamin. HIV-positive teen Rawl recounts her journey through discovery, bullying, suicidal despair, and activism, tying her story into larger messages about difference, acceptance, healing, and courage, with additional focus on her anti-bullying platform. Rawl is frank and likable; her memoir’s strong narrative arc and relatable emotional reference points make it a highly readable conduit to multiple timely issues. Abundant resources are appended.

Rose, Mary  Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose
329 pp.     Sourcebooks/Fire     2014     ISBN 978-1-4022-8758-9

YA Edited by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil. A posthumously published diary (supplemented by occasional letters and drawings) chronicles a troubled teen’s experiments with sex, drugs, and alcohol in the late 1990s; her conflicted relationship with her single mother; and her eventual decline and death from cystic fibrosis. A series of impressions rather than a shaped narrative, the book’s rawness and angst will nevertheless resonate with many teens.

Sundquist, Josh  We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story
290 pp.     Little, Brown     2015     ISBN 978-0-316-25102-0
ebook isbn 978-0-316-25101-3

YA Paralympian skier, motivational speaker, and video blogger Sundquist’s funny and endearing memoir chronicles his attempt to examine his romantic encounters after he realizes, at age twenty-five, that he’s never actually had a girlfriend. The resulting investigation — presented in a report-like format with footnotes, charts, and graphs — covers ten years of would-be relationships cut short by uncertainty, awkwardness, and misunderstandings.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.

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19. Early books, late books, and books that fade from memory

alksdfjalk

Next post about books that made a splash at the beginning of the year but fade by the end. Horn Book stars that don’t make it onto Fanfare (and some that weren’t starred but grow on us and DO find a place on the Fanfare list). In the next few weeks Robin and I will concentrate on the books that are still being discussed and that seem like very good contenders. Or that others are discussing but we don’t think should be on the list.

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20. Each Kindness

Each KindnessDarn you, Charlotte Zolotow committee! You beat me to the punch, awarding this fine book your award last week! The CCBC website explains, “The Charlotte Zolotow Award is given annually to the author of the best picture book text published in the United States in the preceding year….The award is administered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a children’s literature library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each year a committee of children’s literature experts selects the winner from the books published in the preceding year. The winner is announced in January each year. A bronze medallion is formally presented to the winning author in the spring during an annual public event that honors the career of Charlotte Zolotow.”  If you have never attended the Zolotow celebration, you are really missing out. First, you get to go to Madison, Wisconsin, and second, you get to be with people who love children’s books, and third, the lectures are always terrific. 

So, this lovely book won an award for the text. Do the illustrations hold up as well as the words?

If you have not read Each Kindness, please do. I just gave a talk to 80 or so second graders at a local school and this (along with Island) was the book they appreciated the most. This school does a fantastic Caldecott exploration each year, and by the time I drag in with my little dog-and-pony show, they have some strong opinions about current picture books. I get to tell the story of how I got to be on the committee…blah blah…but then I get to sneak in a few questions about what they are liking and not liking. When I held up Woodson’s book, there was a collective intake of breath and a murmur of oohs and ahhs.

Second/third  grade might be the perfect age for this one. Somewhere around this time, kids start to notice things like clothing and wealth and what makes kids fit in or not. These are the same grades where teachers find themselves reaching for The One Hundred Dresses, a book which deals with a similar theme.

Let’s look at the art, shall we? Lewis’s watercolors never disappoint, do they? The first spread is a lovely school shot– rural school,  snow-covered. A lone child walks up the front steps. Turn the page and Lewis captures the perfect feel of a New Kid. Maya’s eyes are cast down, the teacher is holding her hand, and the perspective lets us know that she is not comfortable. Her clothes reflect the text–her clothes look a tad ragged, especially for the first day. Turn the page and we see the other main character, the narrator Chloe, looking out the window at the reader, a sour look on her face. Maya is faded in the background, but she has a little smile, a little hope on her face. The playground page is almost too painful to look at–three little girls, holding hands, while Maya walks with her hands behind her back. Lewis puts a bit of sunlight around the girls and has the rest of the group looking at Maya. No one is including her.

The art goes on, gently documenting the social strata of this classroom. Chloe rejects Maya and sets the tone for the rest of the class. The seasons change, Maya keeps trying to fit in, but Chloe and her friends do not allow it. We see her in her fancy (but used) dress and shoes or holding the wrong doll and her eyes always remind us of her pain. Even while she skips rope, she skips alone.

The story and illustrations change once the teacher (finally, I say) gets involved. Maya is absent when the teacher presents a lesson on kindness that finally gets through to Chloe.  We see the faces reflected in the ripples of the bowl of water–a nice change of perspective. The art now highlights Chloe. First, her somber face stares at that stone that stands in for the idea of kindness. Then, her eyes are cast down (like Maya’s) on her way home, slowly walking how from the school with the backpack seeming to drag her down. The next page is the only dark page in the book–Maya’s empty desk which will stay empty. The last two pages let us know the truth–that Chloe will never get a chance to make it better. Chloe looks sad and sorry, her body slightly slumped as she contemplates what has happened. She becomes smaller on that final page turn, less powerful, but with a hopeful shaft of light pointing to the future. 

This is a true teacher’s book–with plenty to talk about in a classroom. Will the committee find it too teacher-y or a new classic in the literature of bullying and kindness?

What say you?

 

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21. ALA, the Sunday version

Here are a few pictures from my day. I did not take pictures at the publisher breakfast. It was a tad crowded and I was balancing a coffee cup on my knee. But I did get to hear about a bunch of new books. Always a good thing. Some librarians had volunteered to help out in the presentations. There was storytelling. At 7:00 AM. I am not really a storytelling sort of girl at any hour, so that was a little rough on me. However, I did love thinking about that new Brian Pinkney book.

I am having some issues with these silly pictures…so I will just caption them and hope for the best!

I visited the Horn Book booth for a bit.

 

I ran into two of my favorite guys. One is Roger Sutton. The other is my husband, Dean Schneider, fresh off his book committee work.

 

The Notables Committee members have a LOT of books to consider…and they cannot have a list of four hundred books…

 

Here they are, talking about Notable books.

 

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22. Bully for you and you and you

Aside from one dinner with a college friend and another with MVP and Barbara Bader, I spent ALA Midwinter in the exhibits drumming up business and listening to publishers, who had mostly two things on their mind: the Common Core and bullying. Wait, am I being redundant?

As far as the Common Core goes,

 

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23. TEST star placement in rev of week

Jimmy the Greatest by Jairo Buitrago Jimmy the Greatest!
by Jairo Buitrago; illus. by 
Rafael Yockteng; trans. from 
the Spanish by Elisa Amado
Primary Groundwood 48 pp.
5/12 978-1-55498-178-6 $18.95
e-book ed. 978-1-55498-206-6 $18.95
What happens when a boy from a nondescript small town grows up to be a talented boxer? Most would dream of bigger and better places, but not young Jimmy. When gym owner Don Apolinar encourages him to start running (despite his missing shoes), Jimmy decides he will become a boxer, inspired by a box of clippings and books about Muhammad Ali. When his trainer leaves to make his fortune, Jimmy makes a poignant and surprising decision to stay and support his little town with a library and a fixed-up boxing gym. This town could be anywhere in the tropics, but the (Colombian) author and illustrator do not identify it, giving the book more universal appeal. The background colors of the illustrations—the brilliant blues of the sea and the tempered beige of the sand—highlight the stylized brown villagers, including lanky Jim and bearded Apolinar. Understated poetic language permeates the whole story, but the last page soars. “There are no elegant houses / or fancy things. / But we’re really great. / We dance and we box / and we don’t / sit around waiting / to go someplace else.” In a world where so many must leave their homes to find work, it’s inspiring to see Jimmy able to do a truly great thing, right where he wants to be.

 

LR thinks star looks best when there is no box around it.

To make this happen, first place star as you normally would (i.e. default alignment: left, full size)

It will look like this in post (hit Preview to see it with white box):

Title etc.

Then back in draft, click on art and select icon for editing (little landscape picture)

In Advanced Settings tab (below) under Image properties type 0 (zero) after Border and Horizontal space. When you hit Update, this will automatically change the code in the Styles box to what you see in the screenshot here.

Now when you hit preview it should look like this:

Title etc.

Finally, put the cursor between the star image and first letter of title and add a space:

Title etc.

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24. Rural juror

The Morning News started its tournament of books yesterday with a match between Louise Erdrich’s The Round House and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I thought the critic, Edan Lepucki, did a great job of assessing each book’s strengths and shortcomings and coming up with a winner. Today, the match between Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son and Maria’ Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette is judged by a more milquetoasted Elliot Holt, but I found a useful link in the commentary. I seem to have missed Jacob Silverman’s “Against Enthusiasm” when it appeared in Slate last August, but I hope every member of the kidlitosphere reads it.

 

Our sis School Library Journal begins its Battle of the Books on Monday Tuesday and I’ll be over here critiquing the judges in brackets of two and allowing one to “move forward,” where, eventually (and if I’ve done the math right) one shall face the BoB’s Big Kahuna judge, Frank Cottrell Boyce. I’m not doing this to be mean–unless somebody drives me to it–but to test my frequent assertion that there’s too much diplomacy in children’s book discussion (again, see the Silverman essay linked above). I am also interested in exploring what kind of criticism these non-professionals will employ: will they argue from personal taste, moral significance, reader appeal, aesthetic value? Each or all of these can work; what matters most in this contest is that the judge is able to express a clear preference for one book over another and say why. The prize is two one-year subscriptions to the Horn Book Magazine, one to the winning judge and another to the library of his or her choice.I’ll be judge and jury (shades of SLJ’s Lillian Gerhardt: raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember her infamous Billy Budd Button and Huck Finn Pin!)

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25. Sailor Twain

Sailor Twain

Mark Siegel, editorial director and founder of Macmillan’s graphic novel–only imprint First Second Books

also author/illustrator of Moving House

illustrator of several picture books (Seadogs by Lisa Wheeler, Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant) and another graphic novel for children (Boogie Knights by Lisa Wheeler)

my first introduction to Siegel was To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel, his wife Siena Cherson Siegel’s memoir of her experiences as a preprofessional student in the School of American Ballet.

With Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid in the Hudson (First Second, October 2012), Seigel

surreal magical realism

hefty graphic novel

Captain Twain, captain of a steamboat on the Hudson River, rescues a harpooned mermaid and nurses her back to health.

 

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