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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. 2013-2014 yearbook superlatives

mortarboard chocolates 2013 2014 yearbook superlativesAs summer winds down and the new school year looms, we look back on the year that was. Here are our senior superlatives for characters in the class of 2013-2014. What superlative would you award your favorite character?

Wild-and-craziest: Mr. Tiger (from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown)

Slow-and-steadiest: Giantess George (from Galápagos George by Jean Craighead, illus. by Wendell Minor)

Bravest: Peggy (from Peggy: A Brave Chicken on a Big Adventure by Anna Walker), Chicken Little (from Brave Chicken Little by Robert Byrd)

Most chicken: Alvin Ho (Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look, illus. by LeUyen Pham)

Most zen: Koo (from Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J Muth)

Most loyal: Santiago (from Santiago Stays by Angela Dominquez)

Class clowns: the Vole Brothers (from Splat! Starring the Vole Brothers by Roslyn Schwartz)

Miss Congeniality: Princess Ko (from The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty)

Mr. Congeniality: Jackson Greene (from The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson)

Cutest couple: Emily and Sam (from Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan), Amy and Matthew (from Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern), Devorah and Jaxon (from Like No Other by Una LaMarche), Mouse and Mole (from Mouse and Mole, Secret Valentine by Wong Herbert Yee)

Most complicated love triangle: Alix, Swanee, and Liana (from Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters)

Most likely to elope in Vegas: Holly and Dax (The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt)

BFFs: Rose and Windy (from This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki), Sophie and Bernice (from Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illus. by Wilsdorf), Pom and Pim (from Pom and Pim by Lena Landström, illus. by Olof Landström)

Best frenemies: Dog and Cat (from Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall)

Best dancer: Josephine (from Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illus. by Christian Robinson), Rupert (from Rupert Can Dance by Jules Feiffer)

Best artist: Emily (from Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, illus. by Lisa Brown), girl with red crayon (from Journey by Aaron Becker), prehistoric child (from The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein)

Best knitter: Needles (from When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds)

Best dresser: Rose (from The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee)

Best/worst babysitter: Octopus (from Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell), Baba Yaga (from Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire)

Best car: Mike and Tschick (from Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf)

Best facial hair: George E. Ohr (from The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan)

Best teachers:

French: Mr. Hulot (from Hello, Mr. Hulot by David Merveille)

Chinese: Norman (from Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illus. by Qin Leng)

Sex ed: Sophie Blackall (author/illus. of The Baby Tree)

Best bus drivers: Joe (from My Bus by Byron Barton), Gus (Gus, the Dinosaur Bus by Julia Liu, illus. by Bei Lynn)

NBA-bound: Josh and Jordan (from The Crossover by Kwame Alexander)

Future mathlete: Annika (from Annika Riz, Math Whiz by Claudia Mills, illus. by Rob Shepperson)

Future gymnast: Jake (from Jake at Gymnastics by Rachel Isadora)

Most likely to be a vet: Lulu (from Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay, illus. by Priscilla Lamont)

Most likely to win an Oscar: Kate Walden (from Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens by Julie Mata)

Most eco-concious: Kate Sessions (from The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illus. by Jill McElmurry)

Most traveled: cat (from City Cat by Kate Banks, illus. by Lauren Castillo), dad (from Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Skottie Young)

Most likely to get abducted by aliens: Robbie and Marilee (from The Summer Experiment by Cathie Pelletier), Aidan, Dru, and Louis (from Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith, illus. by Andrew Arnold)

Cutest siblings: Gaston, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La/Antoinette, Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno (from Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson)

Weirdest siblings: Merciful and Gospel Truth (from Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee)

Most dysfunctional family: the Romanovs (from The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming)

Most well preserved (for her age): Lady Dai (from At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins, illus. by Sarah S. Brannen)

Poshest: Lord and Lady Bunny (from Lord and Lady Bunny — Almost Royalty!: By Mr. & Mrs. Bunny by Polly Horvath, illus. by Sophie Blackall)

Bathing beauties: Queen Victoria (from Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illus. by Nancy Carpenter), Elizabeth (from Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox, illus. by Brian Floca)

Night owls: Hannah (from Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai), Chengdu (from Chengdu Would Not, Could Not Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg), Tippy (from Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilli Carré)

For more Horn Book silliness about books we love, see the 2014 Mind the Gap Awards and our 2012-2013 yearbook superlatives.

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2. Review of Buried Sunlight

bang buried Review of Buried Sunlightstar2 Review of Buried Sunlight Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm; illus. by Molly Bang
Primary    Blue Sky/Scholastic    48 pp.
9/14    978-0-545-57785-4    $17.99    g

In the latest of Bang and Chisholm’s excellent books on the role of the sun’s energy in powering life processes on Earth (Living Sunlight, rev. 5/09; Ocean Sunlight, rev. 5/12), the production and consumption of fossil fuels are explained, along with the sobering — and overwhelming — evidence for the consequences of all that energy use: climate change. The sun itself serves as narrator of the process termed the “Cycle of Life”: the relationship between photosynthesis (plants) and respiration (animals) and energy. A slight imbalance in this cycle produces the fossil fuels — i.e.,“buried sunlight” — so dear to modern civilization. Bang’s illustrations brilliantly represent the chemistry: bright yellow dots of energy against a deep-blue background hover over their producers, and the tiny black and white molecular structures of oxygen and carbon dioxide spread across the sky like no-see-ums on a summer night. The sun gets stern as it turns to modern-day fossil fuel consumption, explaining human contributions to global warming: “Will you humans keep burning more and more fossil fuels…or will you work together?” Extensive end notes provide a deeper explanation of the science of climate change.

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3. Engaging literature and students with CHARGE syndrome

This summer, I was asked by a parent whose child had attended our reading tutoring program in the spring, to work one-on-one with her daughter, a rising middle schooler with CHARGE syndrome. CHARGE syndrome involves a number of developmental and medical differences (see www.chargesyndrome.org to learn more), and for this particular child it means profound deafness in addition to other factors. Her signs could at times be challenging to understand, and it was not always clear when you asked her a question whether she understood the answer or whether she was repeating what you last said to her. So what was my approach in teaching reading with this student? Pull out all my favorite picture books, naturally.

When my undergraduate student who had been tutoring her in the previous semester pulled out The Red Book by Barbara Lehmann, she was at first confused and later delighted to find this rich story told entirely through pictures. Over the summer, in addition to many others, we have been reading a great deal of Mo Willems (the Knuffle Bunny books and the Elephant and Piggy books) and Jon Klassen (mostly of the hats-being-stolen-by-fish-and-rabbits genre). Halfway through Knuffle Bunny Too, she had the whole story figured out, excitedly signing to me, “Wrong rabbit, wrong rabbit!” The language and understanding that came through when presented with engaging literature was a delight to see.

lehman redbook 300x300 Engaging literature and students with CHARGE syndrome    willems knuffle bunny too Engaging literature and students with CHARGE syndrome    klassen thisisnotmyhat 414x300 Engaging literature and students with CHARGE syndrome

We do more than read picture books, of course. We work on building vocabulary, we develop American Sign Language (ASL) skills and compare how concepts are conveyed through both languages, and we even examine word order through mixed-up sentences. But these lessons are always underpinned with  marvelous books that are clever and engaging. It is through these books that her abilities come shining through. And although reading tutoring during the summer months would not be the favorite activity of most middle school students, her mother told me that she actually begins laughing and smiling as they approach my building. The joy of reading!

Has anyone out there worked with children with CHARGE syndrome or those with multiple disabilities? I would love to learn about strategies you have used to support their reading!

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4. The Empire Strikes Back

No Fighting1 The Empire Strikes BackALSC Past-President Starr LaTronica responds to my July editorial. Incidentally, we’re publishing a terrific piece in the November issue by Thom Barthelmess (former ALSC prez and BGHB chair) about how to conduct oneself in a professional book discussion. Thom is far more temperate about these things than am I.

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5. Rockwell and Engelbreit

Over the weekend my family visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. It was suggested as a things-to-do-with-kids-in-the-Berkshires activity because of Rockwell’s “accessibility” as an artist. (Be that as it may, the little boys were much more interested in climbing on the outdoor sculptures — allowed! — and running around on the lawn.) Amidst all the small-town folksy scenes and the smiling cheerleaders was Rockwell’s arresting The Problem We All Live With. Large and horizontal, among the mostly vertical and more contained (and restrained) pieces, the image commands attention and reminds viewers that Rockwell, though undoubtedly adept at capturing cozy Americana, had something more to say.

rockwell The problem we all live with Rockwell and Engelbreit

I then read in the news about the flap caused by illustrator Mary Engelbreit, best known for her sweet, cherubic children and bucolic scenes — from her website: “Mary Engelbreit is known throughout the world for her distinctive illustration style, imbued with spirited wit and nostalgic warmth.” The St. Louis native was inspired by events in Ferguson, Missouri. Who knew she had it in her? You go, Mary.

engelbreit ferguson Rockwell and Engelbreit

It’s an apt time to re-post last summer’s thoughtful, moving piece by Christopher Myers — “Young Dreamers” — about cultural diversity in children’s media, the state of race in America, and childhood cut short.

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6. Review of The Madman of Piney Woods

MadmanPineyWoods Review of The Madman of Piney Woodsstar2 Review of The Madman of Piney Woods The Madman of Piney Woods
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Intermediate, Middle School   Scholastic    370 pp.
9/14    978-0-545-15664-6    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-545-63376-5    $16.99

In this companion to Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton (rev. 11/07), it is now 1901, and for thirteen-year-old Benji Alston of Buxton, Ontario, the American Civil War is ancient history — great material for war games, but tedious when the Buxton elders harp on it. Life for this African Canadian nature lover involves coping with two irritatingly gifted younger siblings, spending time with his best friend Spence, and dreaming of becoming a newspaper reporter. In nearby Chatham lives Alvin “Red” Stockard, a scientifically inclined Irish Canadian boy whose borderline-abusive grandmother tells horrific stories of the Potato Famine and coffin ships on the St. Lawrence River, tales that, in her mind, justify her inflexible hatred of Canadians and “anyone whose skin is darker than [hers].” The two boys eventually meet and become friends, discovering unexpected similarities in each other and their family histories. And then there is that supposedly mythical woodland monster — called the Madman of Piney Woods by Buxton residents and the South Woods Lion Man by Chatham folk — who tragically and irrevocably brings the past into the present for both boys. Curtis takes his young protagonists — and his readers — on a journey of revelation and insight. Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.

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

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7. The Voice of Reason

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to The Horn Book’s July/August 2014 editorial (“Don’t Speak!”) regarding the ALSC Policy for Service on Award Committees that was revised during the 2014 ALA Midwinter meeting.

In response to the ever-increasing number of requests regarding the appropriate use of social media from conscientious award committee members wishing to respect the code of confidentiality that has sustained the stature of these venerable awards well, the ALSC Board of Directors established a task force (TF) to examine the current policies and bring forth recommendations. The TF was intentionally designed to include a range of member and stakeholder thinking, and consisted of a representative from the publishing profession and four past or current award committee chairs; one of whom is a reviewer and blogger of national reputation, another of whom has served as consultant to the award committees for the past three years and has grappled with the queries and concerns from circumspect members and chairs. The issue of confidentiality within the changing landscape of electronic communication and social media was carefully considered. Many colleagues, including children’s librarians and publishers beyond those who actually served on the TF, were surveyed and consulted.

The TF and the ALSC Board absolutely acknowledge and respect the role that social media play in the professional responsibilities of librarians. We recognize their benefits and power in accessing, assessing, and promoting books and information to our colleagues and to our clientele. We value the dynamic discussion that they facilitate amongst passionate professionals. We appreciate the possibilities for enriching our service and our lives. However, we recognize that there are pitfalls as well. As former Horn Book editor Paul Heins observed in a School Library Journal letter to the editor from May 1972, “Twentieth Century life has become overorganized and overcomplex,” and that was over forty years and several eons ago.

Privacy is a price one may pay for public dissemination of information and opinion. As information professionals we have always worked to balance the public’s right to know with the individual’s right to privacy. ALSC award committee members value the confidentiality that guards the privacy of all committee discussion and fosters an environment of candor, honesty, and flexibility. Indeed, the preservation of this policy has kept the awards, as noted in your editorial, “admirably if boringly scandal-free.” Committee members are free to speak frankly, ask questions, and change their minds without worry that their comments will be repeated or even implied beyond that meeting room. If these confidences are compromised, and the effects compounded through global dissemination by electronic means, it could have a chilling result. This courtesy also extends to authors and illustrators whose work is under consideration. Many have heard Lauren Myracle speak of her public embarrassment when Shine was mistakenly announced as being on the short list for the National Book Award. When committee conjecture or inside information is released, it travels far and fast and can never be fully retrieved, much like the old folktale of gossip and feathers in the wind. Such a situation would undermine both the process and the perception of these prestigious awards. Committees of the present and future deserve the same protections and considerations as committees of the past.

A receptive atmosphere is also cultivated when members enter into the discussions with an open mind and without taking an official, public position on any title prior to discussion. Such a stance, whether endorsement or indictment, does have an influence on the ensuing deliberations, where every title should begin on level ground. While committee members are encouraged to discuss their opinions verbally (despite the title of the editorial), when commending or condemning an eligible title in writing via blog post, tweet, email, or signed review, a member is establishing a viewpoint from which the rest of the committee must then work. Readers of blogs and recipients of email are not under a confidentiality agreement and not constrained from forwarding on a committee member’s opinion, thus increasing the influence exponentially. As Miss Cary exhorts Benji in Christopher Paul Curtis’s novel The Madman of Piney Woods, “The written word is different. Once you commit something to print, you are, in effect, chained to it. It is always available to be looked at again and traced back to you.” That is true more than ever these days.

Despite the assertions of your editorial, librarians (and editors of review journals) who serve on award committees are still “able to promote good books” and fulfill their professional responsibilities (and pleasures) in many ways:

• Members of all committees may write and publish unsigned reviews of any book.

• Members of all committees (except the Batchelder) may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any book previously published in other countries, or by an author or illustrator who is not an American citizen or resident.

• The Batchelder committee members may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any book that has not been translated.

• Books with no illustration provide a wide field for members of the Caldecott committee.

• Books with no text are available for Newbery committee members (and seeing that all three Caldecott Honor Books qualified for that category this year, it would seem a rich field).

• The Belpré committee members are welcome to write signed reviews or discuss via social media any books by non-Latino authors and illustrators.

• Members of the Sibert committee may write signed reviews or discuss via social media all works of fiction.

• Geisel committee members may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any books beyond the scope of a beginning reader.

• The wide and wonderful world of YA literature is available to all of us who value and evaluate literature for older youth.

The editorial calls for “more fresh air” in the awards program. Luckily, there is a plethora of blogs and discussion lists offering ample opportunity to follow the thoughts and insights of well-read colleagues who are not serving on award committees and to engage in communal speculation and promotion of worthy titles — combining electronic communication and professional expertise for the best possible advantage and allowing us to participate vicariously without jeopardizing the purity of the process and dissipating the distinction of the awards, as with the editorial’s example of the Children’s Choice Book Award, where too many voices can crescendo into cacophony.

I confess that I am perplexed by the comment that impugns the integrity of members who contribute unsigned reviews “and remain free to revel in the attentions of publishers eager to wine and dine them.” The implication is that attending a publisher’s event without making a public declaration about a book is somehow unethical. I know of no member, reviewer, or editor of a review journal, whether penning an opinion or not, who would be influenced in such a manner. While some committees and individual committee members occasionally do decide to forego such invitations, that is their prerogative.

I am indebted to award committee members for their dedication to service and for requesting clarifications that have led to examination of the policy. I honor their concern and commitment to maintaining the ethical standards that underpin the eminence of these awards, and their understanding that awards of distinction (e.g., the National Book Award, The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books, etc.) carry a commitment to a certain level of comportment. They have our complete trust and confidence.

I am proud to be a member of this passionate profession and am grateful to all those who have added their voice to this discussion. Even when we may differ in opinion on process, I know that ultimately we all agree in principle — we want the very best for children. I invite any interested parties to peruse the official documents.

Roger Sutton responds:

I also encourage Horn Book readers to examine ALSC’s award guidelines and commentary at the link Starr provides, as well as to look at my editorial and the (sometimes heated!) comments it engendered.

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

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8. Review of Quest

becker quest Review of QuestQuest
by Aaron Becker; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-6595-1    $15.99

Journey (rev. 9/13) introduced a girl with a magic red crayon who could draw her way into an adventure and back home. At the end of the book she met a boy with his own purple crayon. Quest — the second in a planned wordless trilogy — opens where we last saw the friends, in a present-day city. While sheltering under a bridge during the rain, they are surprised by the arrival of an old man who gives them an orange crayon, a colorful map, and a holster with six small chambers. After the man is seized by soldiers, the children follow them into the same land we saw in Journey. Reading their map, the kids go on various quests (each lasting two or three spreads) to collect different-color crayons that fit neatly into the holster. Along the way they use their own purple and red crayons to draw objects that help them escape baddies in steampunk dirigibles. They make their way back to the Journey city and save the old man with their now-full holster, creating a magic rainbow. Becker’s illustrations are satisfyingly lush and full of subtle clues that will reward multiple readings. Compared to Journey’s simple yet mysterious story line, however, Quest seems overly complicated and, after the first reading, predictable — particularly for those familiar with the Myst computer games. Nevertheless, fans of the first book will probably be happy to explore this fantastical world in more depth.

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

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9. Frankly, tired of reading Anne Frank

frank diary of a young girl Frankly, tired of reading Anne FrankI’ve hit an academic dilemma at summer camp this year. For the past three years at this gifted students’ camp, my lead instructor has chosen to teach The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank). Yes, the book provides an entryway into a very difficult historical topic; yes, it’s pretty amazing to watch Anne’s growth; and yes, she is a role model and a hero for multiple reasons. But I’m so tired of reading and teaching Anne’s diary year after year. Though it’s new to my students every time, it’s become monotonous to me. I’m bored!

I encountered the same problem with another lead teacher during the school year, except she couldn’t stand Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.  Having been raised in California, I read this book in elementary school because the narrative explained so much about Native American daily life in California. My lead teacher had used the text for over ten years, so it was understandable why she was simply sick of the book. As her assistant now given the task of teaching Island of the Blue Dolphins, I asked her why she didn’t switch Island of the Blue Dolphins out for another book. Her reasoning was that she saw the value in teaching it despite her feelings.

inside out back again thanhha lai hardcover cover art Frankly, tired of reading Anne FrankMy solution so far is to find suitable replacements (Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, in case you were wondering) but recognize that this isn’t feasible for most teachers on a regular basis. To choose a replacement means taking the time to find a book that matches what you find value in the original (now boring) book, write a whole new curriculum, and figure out how to teach it. It’s much easier to pull out familiar curriculum.

So what to do about Anne Frank? I still haven’t decided if I want to say goodbye to her forever. But the question still stands: what do you do when you have a book of value and you don’t have the passion for teaching it anymore? Do you continue to teach it because of its merit, or shelve it?

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10. Do you read your reviews?

statlerwaldorf Do you read your reviews?I’ve been reading soprano Barbara Hendricks‘s memoir, Lifting My Voice, and it’s led me not only to a rewarding reacquaintance with her singing but to some thinking about the relationship between the artist and the critic. Hendricks spills a suspicious amount of ink over how she doesn’t pay any attention to critics (whose opinions of her highly distinctive voice have long been divided), but even if the lady doth protest too much for me to exactly believe her, her essential argument–that critics aren’t helpful to artists–is a good one:

“A review of my performance is totally useless in teaching me about myself. Reviews reveal so much more about the reviewer than they do about the artists. Until her death Miss Tourel [Hendricks's teacher, Jennie Tourel] was my most demanding critic, and since then I have had to assume that task myself. I learned during my first year as a professional singer that a review was not the right criteria to determine how well I had done my work, whether I had done what I had set out to do. I know my repertoire and I know when I have done my best work.”

Hendricks goes on to recall contradictory reviews, mean reviews, and seeing a reviewer who had really gone after her: “He was slight, had thinning hair, wore very thick glasses, and did not look like a happy person.” But all this is to miss the point. It’s not a reviewer’s job to make a singer–or a writer–a better one. We aren’t here to help you; we’re here to help inform audiences and potential audiences. (Even Hendricks graciously if barely allows that she “imagines critics serve some purpose and I do not want to do away with them.” Big of you, thanks.)

If I were a novelist I hope I wouldn’t go near reviews of my own work. What have I to gain? Stars and pans, Kipling’s impostors alike. (I guess I would hope that my agent or editor were paying attention, though, so as to strain anything that might be useful to me through a filter of helpfulness.) Must be hard to resist, though, especially in an age when reviews go flying about through social media and a “we’re all in this together” ethos pervades the field.

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11. Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

bill nye desk Bill Nye the Science Guy app review2013 was an anniversary year for the live-action educational TV program Bill Nye the Science Guy. In honor of that occasion, developer Disney Education created the Bill Nye the Science Guy 20th Anniversary App.

Welcome to Nye Labs, where you’ll discover on the main screen (a.k.a. Bill’s retro-looking desk) an assortment of objects that when tapped lead you to different sections of the app, all narrated by Bill himself.

Learn about telling time with a sundial on Mars versus on Earth (Martian minutes are longer) or enter the “Whorl of Illusion!” to learn about different types of optical illusions. When you tap the Bill Nye bobblehead on the desk, he provides science trivia (e.g., “Humpback whales can go without eating for six months”). In the TV portion of the app, you can watch episodes of the show in which Bill teaches you about chemical reactions, the heart, the planets and sun, gravity, earthquakes, magnetism, friction, light optics, and mammals. NB: Each video costs an additional $1.99 in the app store. “The Book of Do-It-Yourself Experiments” provides instructions for hands-on projects, such as testing eggshell strength and cleaning pennies, to try at home.

bill nye book Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

Two games are included in the app. One is an “Archeology Dig of Science” with robot Diggity and his dog Rocky in the yard behind the lab. Complete three levels (crust, mantle, core) by having the robot dig down into the earth to discover artifacts worth points. You need to earn a certain number of points within the time limit to advance to the next level. In the other game you are looking for signs of life on the Plutoid Pluto — but you have to travel there from Earth in a rocket ship. Along the way you’ll pass other planets and learn facts about each one. You must figure out how to use each planet’s orbit to move you forward in space when you launch your rocket; timing is everything here. You also must complete missions along the way, such as photographing each planet and launching satellites. Engaging in missions will earn you “money,” which you need to continue playing the game (launching rockets is expensive!). But remember to save some missions for the end so you can drop a probe on Pluto and get back to Earth. And don’t get lost in space!

bill nye space Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

Both games were a bit tricky to master and certainly not designed for the youngest users, but with a little practice they were fairly enjoyable.

Inside the desk drawer on the main page, you’ll find a few little extras, including a step-by-step guide on “How to Tie a Bow Tie” — so you can wear one like Bill Nye — and a copy of the Periodic Table of Elements with facts about some of the elements. There’s no way turn off the sound effects or Bill’s narration in any of the sections, so they got repetitive after a while.

This app contains a random assortment of science facts and experiments… but it’s just that sort of variety that made the show so interesting to watch when it aired on PBS Kids in the 1990s and that makes the app, with its impressive and responsive graphics, an informative and entertaining e-introduction to Bill Nye’s approach for making basic science concepts accessible to kids.

Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); free with in-app purchases. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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12. Happiness and high school humanities

I got a request this past year from my friends at Boston Green Academy (BGA) to help them consider their Humanities 4 curriculum, which focuses on philosophies, especially around happiness. This was a tough request for me, and certainly not one I had considered before. There aren’t any titles I can think of that say “Philosophy: Happiness” on their covers to pull me directly down this path.

But as I thought about it, I got more and more excited about how this topic is tackled in the YA world. The first set of books I considered were titles that dealt with “the meaning of life” in a variety of ways. Titles like Nothing by Janne Teller, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, and one of my personal favorites, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp give lots of food for thought about where we expend our energy and the wisdom of how we prioritize our attention in life.

 teller nothing 213x300 Happiness and high school humanities    maas jeremyfink 201x300 Happiness and high school humanities    tharp spectacularnow 199x300 Happiness and high school humanities

This, of course, led to stories about facing challenges and finding happiness despite (or because) of the circumstances in our lives.  So we pulled texts like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, which all deal with characters finding ways to deal with and even prosper alongside difficult circumstances.

green faultinourstars Happiness and high school humanities     vizzini kindofFunnyStory 204x300 Happiness and high school humanities     stork marcelo 195x300 Happiness and high school humanities

Then we happened upon a set of titles that raise questions about whether you can be “happy” if you are or are not being yourself. We pulled segments of titles like Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Tina’s Mouth by Keshni Kashyap, American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Rapture Practice, which I’ve talked about here before.

openly straight Happiness and high school humanities     saenz aristotleanddante 199x300 Happiness and high school humanities     keshni tinasmouth 234x300 Happiness and high school humanities     hartzler rapturepractice 203x300 Happiness and high school humanities

And then there were a world of nonfiction possibilities, those written for young people and those not — picture books by Demi about various figures, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas about work and play, and any number of great series texts about philosophers and religions and such.

So I guess the (happy) moral of this story is that it was much easier than I thought to revisit old texts with these new eyes of philosophies of happiness. I left the work feeling as though every text is about this very important topic in one way or another, and I can’t wait to see how the BGA curriculum around it continues to evolve!

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13. Sometimes, reading the book just isn’t enough – LeakyCon Lit

leakycon Sometimes, reading the book just isn’t enough – LeakyCon LitWell, after the glorious, gleeful exhaustion brought on by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, your intrepid intern still had a whole conference to attend.

For those of you who haven’t heard of LeakyCon, it originally started as a Harry Potter–themed fan conference in 2009, but has since morphed into an all-out geek-fest in which fan communities from all kinds of media platforms come together to celebrate the power of story and fandom. In fact, the conference has been renamed and will be known as GeekyCon from here on — opening up to the wide, wide world of geekdom!

It will not surprise any of you that I spent most of my time at the conference at the LeakyCon Lit panels. Organized by YA authors Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman, LeakyCon Lit brings together YA authors from all over to talk about writing, their books, and plenty of weird, awesome, totally unrelated things. This year’s speakers were Stephanie Perkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Holly Black, Gayle Forman, John Green, Varian Johnson, Kazu Kibuishi, Lauren Myracle, Rainbow Rowell, and Scott Westerfeld. With such a diverse group presenting, we got to hear about everything from designing love interests to killing off beloved characters, from graphic novels to world-building, from Stephanie Perkins’s morning jigsaw puzzle routine to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s near miss with quicksand.

The programming ranged widely between serious panels (such as “Diversity in YA” and the “War Against YA Lit”) to game shows (including Jeopardy and a variation on The Lying Game, an old British game show). Maureen Johnson interviewed John Green in a Between Two Ferns–eqsue style, providing a hilarious exposé of their friendship. Johnson also moderated the panel about killing off characters — which meant, unfortunately, that the audience didn’t get any new information about a certain beloved [spoiler] she killed off in [spoiler]. But we did have the opportunity to harangue some of the other authors, who discussed the tension between emotional attachment and resonance and deciding when a character’s death serves the story best.

The panel centered on diversity in YA was especially powerful. The panelists discussed YA literature’s erasure and misrepresentation of people with diverse gender identities and sexuality, people of color, and people with disabilities — as well as the kind of backlash faced by authors who create those characters. I found it provocative when the authors on the panel discussed a question they often get regarding their characters of color: “Why did you make that character a specific race if your story isn’t about racism…why bother?”  The discussion which followed emphasized the importance of recognizing the bountiful diversity of experience in the world and the role literature plays in representing that diversity to its readership.

While most of the programming at LeakyCon Lit this year was phenomenal, a couple of the panels were better in conception than they were in execution. One panel called “I Made You, You’re Perfect” focused on romance in YA and how to construct romantic relationships and compatible characters. The panel, however, was comprised entirely of straight women; this lack of diversity was particularly apparent during a mishandled question on asexuality. The “War on YA” panel was concerned with the way that YA as a genre has been either denigrated by the media as too sweet and too small (especially for adult readers) or lambasted as the source of all evil for young people. Rather than exploring this phenomenon and its impact in depth, however, the speakers on the panel mostly reiterated what many of us had seen them write on Twitter and their blogs in recent months.

Overall, however, LeakyCon Lit was a perfect mix of whimsy, banter, and critical discussion. The authors are all knowledgeable and engaging, and their comments and discussions were accessible and enjoyable. I’ve been attending this track for the past four years and I can say with certainty that there is plenty to enjoy for both teens and adults.

The rest of the LeakyCon is not devoid of book-related fun for kids and grown-ups, of course. The subjects of the panels range from investigations into Harry Potter canon and characters to sing-alongs and debates. Each night there’s a concert by bands who get their material from Harry Potter (or The West Wing, or Doctor Who, or a whole host of other awesome platforms and stories). Pemberly Digital, a production company which creates modern adaptions of well-loved classics, premiered the first two episodes of Frankenstein, M.D., which follows Victoria Frankenstein, a young doctor determined to prove herself in a male-dominated field. Pemberly Digital is the same group who created the Emmy award–winning adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Which you should watch right now. Don’t worry. I’ll wait!

Seriously though, they are really good – as is Emma Approved (adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma), which is currently airing on Pemberly’s YouTube channel.

By the time we woke up on Sunday morning, we were about ready to lounge the day away by the pool. But we were in Orlando, and there is no such thing as a trip to Orlando without a visit to the Magic Kingdom. We did have to put down all our new books and our new geeky swag…but books are always there when you get back!

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14. Review of At Home in Her Tomb

liu perkins at home in her tomb Review of At Home in Her TombAt Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui
by Christine Liu-Perkins; 
illus. by Sarah S. Brannen
Intermediate, Middle School    Charlesbridge    80 pp.
4/14    978-1-58089-370-1    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-60734-615-9    $9.99

Late in 1971, workers digging an air-raid shelter in Hunan Province found three tombs of a noble family from early in the Han dynasty. The oldest tomb, 
of the Marquis of Dai (d. 186 BCE), was plundered long ago. His son’s 
(d. 168 BCE) retained important artifacts, though it had been damaged during construction of the third tomb, which was virtually intact and of enormous archaeological significance. Here, buried in 158 BCE in a preservative so effective that autopsy was still possible, was the still-soft body of “Lady Dai,” the marquis’s wife, cocooned in twenty layers of silk within four nested coffins; and more than a thousand artifacts — treasures in painted silk, lacquer, brass, and wood. Liu-Perkins describes the discovery in fascinating detail, including the lady’s household appointments, diet, amusements, and death; brief imagined scenes supplement the evidence. Perhaps the most significant find was a “library” of books written on silk and bamboo, safe in a lacquer box in the son’s tomb: fifty texts and documents, many of them unique, concerning science, philosophy, history, and government. Illustrative materials include maps and well-captioned photos as well as Brannen’s watercolors of the imagined scenes. Sidebars, too, supplement and clarify information, as do timelines, a glossary, citations for quotes, an index, and a two-page bibliography. Lady Dai’s remains are of huge interest in their own right; as Liu-Perkins ably demonstrates, such a find not only extends our factual knowledge but also deepens our appreciation of the diversity of past civilizations.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist Attractions

look alvin ho great wall Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist AttractionsAlvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions
by Lenore Look; illus. by LeUyen Pham
Primary, Intermediate    Schwartz & Wade/Random    163 pp.
8/14    978-0-385-36972-5    $15.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-36973-2    $18.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-449-81986-9    $7.99

Alvin Ho, who’s afraid even when safe at home, faces previously unknown fears when his family travels to China to introduce his new baby sister to relatives. Forget fear of flying (“small enclosed spaces filled with strangers, hurtling across the sky at 600 miles per hour”); Alvin’s afraid of his own passport photo — in which he looks like he “robbed a bank and got run over by the getaway car.” The hilarity (for readers, that is) begins at airport security, when Alvin’s ever-present Personal Disaster Kit is found to contain, among other things, forks and knives (he’s “allergic to chopsticks”) and a rope (“for climbing the Great Wall”). As usual, Pham’s many illustrations capture the “fun” being had in Look’s action-packed story, this time most especially by Alvin’s long-suffering dad — all while wearing a crying infant strapped to his chest. First, Dad’s hauled away by federal air marshals (Alvin’s panicked and repeated use of the call button), then he accompanies his son up and down thirty-two flights of stairs (no elevators for Alvin), and then he must hurl himself onto a toboggan when Alvin instantaneously decides that riding down the Speed Chute is less scary than standing around on the Great Wall. This series entry’s heartwarming moment involves Alvin’s idea to grant some Christmas wishes to a group of orphans, including someone’s wish for a friend. Alvin may be full of fear, but he’s also got loads of empathy.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Read about female pilots on National Aviation Day

Today, August 19th, the U.S. is celebrating National Aviation Day. This day was first established by a presidential proclamation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate advances in aviation. The date was chosen to coincide with Orville Wright’s birthday to recognize his contribution, together with his brother Wilbur, to the field of aviation — but it is a holiday meant to recognize all aviators who have advanced the field through their efforts. While the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart come to mind as the premier pioneering pilots, there are many unsung aviators. The books below highlight the stories of some of the most famous early female aviators and are the perfect way to celebrate National Aviation Day!

Burleigh NightFlight 300x300 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayNight Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor (K-3)
This book tells the story of Amelia Earhart’s historic crossing of the Atlantic on May 20, 1932, which made her the first woman to complete a solo flight across that ocean. The flight was a dramatic one, including both mechanical difficulties and fierce weather and both the prose and the paintings of this book capture the tension of the flight and the elation when Earhart touches down in Ireland. The book also includes a brief biography of Earhart, a list of additional sources on the subject and a fascinating collection of quotations from Earhart’s speeches and publications.

Moss SkyHigh 300x272 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DaySky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss with illustrations by Carl Angel (K-3)
Maggie Gee knew from a young age that she wanted to fly planes. It was a dream that stayed with her throughout her childhood and when World War II started, she leapt at the chance to serve her country by flying for the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs. Despite stiff competition for a limited number of spots amongst the WASPs, Maggie succeeded, becoming one of only two Chinese American pilots in the organization. This book traces her path from her childhood dreams to her work as a WASP. An author’s note at the end fills in more details about her life after World War II and includes pictures of Maggie and her family throughout the time covered in the book.

Cummins FlyingSolo300x294 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayFlying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared Into America’s Heart by Julie Cummins with illustrations by Malene R. Laugesen (K-3)
While many know the story of Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic, fewer people know that Ruth Elder attempted to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic years earlier in 1927. Though her attempt was cut short by a malfunction over the ocean, she nevertheless became famous, not only for her attempt but also for her later aviation exploits. This book tells her life story, focusing primarily on her attempt to fly across the Atlantic and her participation in a cross-country air race in 1929. Ruth’s story will excite fans of planes and flying and the illustrations will transport readers back to the 1920’s through their vivid details. The book also includes further sources of information about Ruth’s life as well as a final illustration that highlights a number of other important female aviators.

Borden FlyHigh 238x300 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayFly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger with illustrations by Teresa Flavin (4-6)
This book tells the story of Bessie Coleman, an African American woman who grew up in the south in the late 1800’s with a dream to get an education. When she moved to Chicago in 1915 for a chance at a better life, she discovered aviation and decided to head to France to pursue an opportunity to learn to fly. Once she had her license, Bessie returned to the U.S. where she flew in air shows and gave speeches encouraging others to follow her path. Though the book ends with the tragic tale of her death in a flying accident, the story is sure to inspire those interested in learning to fly.

Tanaka AmeliaEarhart 300x298 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayAmelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka with illustrations by David Craig (4-6)
Illustrated with a combination of paintings and photographs from Amelia Earhart’s life, this book is an impressive biography of a woman who is arguably the most famous female aviator in American history. Starting in her childhood and continuing until her disappearance in 1937, it offers a look into Amelia’s entire life, including aspects that are often glossed over in other books, such as her time as a nurse’s aide in Toronto and her work with two early commercial airlines. Both the pictures and the illustrations bring Amelia to life for readers and a list of source notes and other resources at the end of the book provide lots of options for further reading.

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17. Review of My Teacher Is a Monster! 
(No, I Am Not.)

brown my teacher is a monster Review of My Teacher Is a Monster! 
(No, I Am Not.)My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)
by Peter Brown; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.
7/14    978-0-316-07029-4    $18.00

From the cover, it is clear that Bobby and his teacher do not agree: “My Teacher Is a MONSTER!” says Bobby in a giant word balloon; Ms. Kirby replies, “No, I Am Not.” It’s true that she is much taller than tiny Bobby, her skin is monstrously green, and she has claws and sharp teeth and giant nostrils. They clash in class when Bobby sends a paper airplane flying, but when later they meet unexpectedly at the park, they begin to see each other differently. In a multi-page sequence of panels, the pair sits awkwardly together on a park bench, and they converse in word bubbles: “Ms. Kirby, it’s REALLY strange seeing you outside of school.” “I agree.” After Bobby catches her blown-off hat for her, they find more things to do together, and gradually in each picture, Ms. Kirby looks decreasingly monstrous as her face becomes less green and animal-like. Bobby isn’t perfect at the end, and Ms. Kirby reverts to a little of her scariness when Bobby disobeys, but child readers will understand the subtle shift in their relationship. Using thick paper and watercolor/gouache/India ink illustrations, Brown uses a cartoon-type format with panels and speech bubbles, varying the pace with full-page art, in a story that students and teachers will enjoy equally.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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(No, I Am Not.) appeared first on The Horn Book.

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18. Week in Review, August 11th-August 15th

banner weekinreview 550x100 Week in Review, August 11th August 15th

This week on hbook.com…

August’s Notes from the Horn Book newsletter: five questions for Judith Viorst, back-to-school picture books, early chapter books, narrative nonfiction, and YA starring teen boys.

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

Out of the Box:

Lolly’s Classroom:

2014 Summer Reading

Events calendar

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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19. Just a girl from where nothing really happens

isobel journal Just a girl from where nothing really happensHipster teens rejoice! Here is your new poster child (though she would probably reject the title — which is, of course, the hipster thing to do).

With The Isobel Journal: Just a Girl from Where Nothing Really Happens (Switch Press, August 2014; first published in her native UK by Hot Key Press, 2013), nineteen-year-old art student Isobel Harrop shares her journal of quirky drawings accompanied by obvious, but often hilarious, observations about life. (Sometimes she likes to play “Pretend I am Beyoncé.” Don’t we all?) Imagine Amelia of Amelia’s Notebook growing up and going to the Rhode Island School of Design. If you love the grungy and odd, vintage clothes, championing music no one else has heard of, rhapsodizing about tea, and ironically listening to ’90s girl bands, meet your new best friend!

A few of my favorite entries:

isobel tea Just a girl from where nothing really happens

I can empathize — I, too, fear of being “one of those people.”

isobel smile Just a girl from where nothing really happens

isobel bathroom floor Just a girl from where nothing really happens

Here’s a link to a soundtrack compiled by Isobel to listen to while perusing the book.

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20. Review of Brave Chicken Little

byrd brave chicken little Review of Brave Chicken LittleBrave Chicken Little
retold by Robert Byrd; 
illus. by the reteller
Preschool, Primary    Viking    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-670-78616-9    $17.99    g

The chick is not just a witless wonder in this expansion of the familiar folktale. Bopped on the head by an acorn, this Chicken Little does rush off to tell the king that “the sky is falling,” joined as usual by other barnyard fowl. However, the numbers are doubled here by the likes of Natty Ratty, Froggy Woggy, and Roly and Poly Moley. Once Foxy Loxy has locked the whole crowd in his cellar, our chick turns clever hero, rallying the other animals to help him escape so he can then free them. Then, realizing his initial misapprehension, he turns the tables: he drops apples on the fox, who runs off with his own foolish warning for the king. Thus Byrd upends both the classic tale’s conventions and its cautionary message; still, his revision works as an underdog-makes-good story, much abetted by his elegantly detailed illustrations. The lively action is undertaken by comical yet delicately limned creatures in fabulous ancien regime attire and a bucolic setting alive with animated trees and multitudes of insects and flora. With Chicken Little learning his lesson, this is an entertaining variant; it’s also one further from the earthy nature of the tale’s animal prototypes, a difference highlighted at the end when Mrs. Chicken Licken (like Peter Rabbit’s mother) tucks her weary and wiser son into his cozy, well-appointed bed.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. World Elephant Day 2014

To celebrate World Elephant Day (August 12, 2014), here are some books about those larger-than-life creatures, with reviews from The Horn Book Guide Online.

Picture Books

tweak World Elephant Day 2014Bunting, Eve Tweak Tweak
40 pp. Clarion 2011. ISBN 978-0-618-99851-7
(Preschool) Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. “‘Hold on to my tail, Little Elephant,’ Mama Elephant said. ‘…If you want to ask me a question, tweak twice.’” Tweak and ask she does: from the names of the animals they encounter to what each is doing. Can she, Little Elephant, do those things, too? The pairing of Bunting’s elegant text with Ruzzier’s offbeat art, including surreal, rather Seussian landscapes, is unexpectedly fabulous.

debrunhoff babar World Elephant Day 2014de Brunhoff, Jean and Brunhoff, Laurent de Babar’s Anniversary Album: Six Favorite Stories
144pp. pp. Random 1993. ISBN 0-394-84813-6
(Gr. K-3) Reissue, 1981. Introduction by Maurice Sendak. This compilation of six stories–three by Jean de Brunhoff, Babar’s creator, and three by Jean’s son Laurent–about the French elephant was originally published to commemorate Babar’s fiftieth birthday. The volume includes a photo-essay by Laurent de Brunhoff that includes family photographs and sketches and paintings by both Laurent and his father.

mckee elmersxmas World Elephant Day 2014McKee, David Elmer’s Christmas
32 pp. Andersen 2011. ISBN 978-0-7613-8088-7
(Gr. K-3) After a day of Christmas preparation, patchwork elephant Elmer and seven young elephants spy on Papa Red (complete with Santa hat and whiskers). While watching him gather gifts from under their tree, Elmer explains, “this is the season for giving.” McKee’s story sends a friendly reminder about the importance of generosity during the holidays. Playful, vividly colored illustrations complement the cheery tone.

willems elephants cant dance World Elephant Day 2014Willems, Mo Elephants Cannot Dance!
64 pp. Hyperion 2009. ISBN 978-1-4231-1410-9
(Gr. K-3) Elephant & Piggie Book series. Elephant Gerald intones, “Elephants cannot dance.” But as it turns out, elephants can try to dance. Even though Gerald can’t keep up with Piggie, he has a few (unwitting) moves of his own. Color-coded speech bubbles in this easy reader focus attention on the simple words and expressive illustrations. The easily understood story will provide instant reading success and lots of laughs.

 Fiction

One and Only Ivan World Elephant Day 2014Applegate, Katherine The One and Only Ivan
307 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4
(Gr. 4-6) Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. In short chapters that have the look and feel of prose poems, Applegate captures the voice of Ivan, a captive gorilla who lives at the “Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.” When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan realizes they deserve more than their restrictive environment. Ivan’s range of thoughts and emotions poses important questions about kinship and humanity. 2013 Newbery Medal winner.

dicamillo magicianselephant World Elephant Day 2014DiCamillo, Kate The Magician’s Elephant
202 pp. Candlewick 2009. ISBN 978-0-7636-4410-9
(Gr. 4-6) Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. In a fictional Old World city, Peter searches for his sister, instructed by a fortuneteller to “follow the elephant.” The book’s theme is the triumph of hope over despair, as Peter’s idea that the “world is broken” gives way to a belief in possibility. DiCamillo’s prose is remarkable in this allegorical and surreal novel.

fleischman the white elephant World Elephant Day 2014Fleischman, Sid The White Elephant
95 pp. Greenwillow 2006. ISBN 0-06-113136-9 LE ISBN 0-06-113137-7
(Gr. 1-3) When Run-Run’s elephant accidentally sprays water on a cranky prince, he and Run-Run get a gift they neither want nor can handle: Sahib, a sacred white elephant. Fleischman’s original tale tells a touching story of the enduring power of love. Short chapters, evocative pencil sketches, and a rich Siamese setting will hold the interest of readers and listeners alike.

kelly chained World Elephant Day 2014Kelly, Lynne Chained
248 pp. Farrar/Ferguson 2012. ISBN 978-0-374-31237-4
(Gr. 4-6) Ten-year-old Hastin must endure the cruelty of his employer, a circus owner. Kelly crafts a layered, convincing tale of interspecies friendship as Hastin comes to understand his charge, Nandita, an elephant calf. A kind older man proves an ally in Hastin’s quest to protect Nandita, but it is the bond between boy and elephant that will stick in readers’ minds.

Nonfiction

lewin balarama World Elephant Day 2014Lewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Balarama: A Royal Elephant
56 pp. Lee 2009. ISBN 978-1-60060-265-8
(Gr. K-3) In Mysore in southern India, elephants are featured in the annual Dasara festival procession. The Lewins describe Balarama’s triumphant first appearance as procession leader. Pageantry and noble beasts alike are vividly realized in Ted Lewin’s signature watercolors, while Betsy Lewin’s agile drawings add deft characterizations, lively action, and humor. It’s a gorgeous glimpse at a continuing custom. “Elephant Facts” are appended. Glos.

lewin Elephant Quest World Elephant Day 2014Lewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Elephant Quest
48 pp. HarperCollins 2000. ISBN 0-688-14111-0 LE ISBN 0-688-14112-9
(Gr. K-3) In search of African elephants in Botswana, the Lewins provide careful observations of animals in their habitats that lend insight into animal behaviors and survival tactics. Throughout, a cheerful tone combines with reverence for the beauty and variety of nature. Betsy Lewin’s humorous, emotive sketches and Ted Lewin’s full-page paintings illustrate their encounters.

oconnell a baby elephant in the wild World Elephant Day 2014O’Connell, Caitlin A Baby Elephant in the Wild
40 pp. Houghton 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-14944-1
(Gr. K-3) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. In text and numerous color photographs we follow a newborn female elephant through her first months in the Namibian scrub desert as she learns the behaviors that will enable her to survive. The account is straightforward and unsentimental yet filled with detailed and fascinating scientific information, including the lifelong ties among elephants that will resonate with readers’ own experience of family.

OConnell Elephant 300x246 World Elephant Day 2014O’Connell, Caitlin and Jackson, Donna M. The Elephant Scientist
71 pp. Houghton 2011. ISBN 978-0-547-05344-8
(Gr. 4-6) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. Scientists in the Field series. Scientist O’Connell’s contributions to our understanding of elephant communication propel this account. O’Connell and Jackson describe the findings in a way that lets readers witness the unfolding of a research program, as hypotheses lead to new insights that beget even more questions. The many photographs, predominantly from Namibian field sites, capture the majestic elder elephants, their always-appealing offspring, and dusty, rugged landscapes. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind. 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book winner.

schubert ballet World Elephant Day 2014Schubert, Leda Ballet of the Elephants
32 pp. Roaring Brook/Brodie 2006. ISBN 1-59643-075-3
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Big, lumbering elephants performing a ballet? This event did happen–with fifty elephants (and fifty human ballerinas). Four individuals (John Ringling North, George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, and Vera Zorina) are artfully introduced through background material that connects each person to the whole. Parker’s loosely scrawled ink outlines contribute to the magical tone. A personal yet informative author’s note is appended. Further reading, websites.

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22. What’s the media Feeding us?

feed Whats the media Feeding us?For the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of teaching an English course to a group of highly motivated high school students enrolled in the summer session of an Upward Bound program. This summer’s book selection — Feed by M. T. Anderson — has spurred a campus conversation that I keep catching snippets of while I wait in line in the cafeteria or when I walk down the halls in the dorm. (I’m serious — a large group of teenagers, in school in the summer, are really talking about a book in their free time!)

Feed never fails to generate intense feelings and is also one of those books that could be suited to almost any theme or purpose that a course might cover. It lends itself to discussions of identity, social class, gender roles and expectations, conformity, language, as well as the topics around which I organized my summer course: media and technology.

The overarching question my students and I have been grappling with over the course of the summer is “Does the media create or reflect reality?” Feed is the perfect title to use as a case study for exploring this question, as it presents a dystopian world where the majority of people have a device — the “feed” — implanted directly into their brains. The feed constantly bombards its users with advertisements that are responsive to their locations and emotional states and also offers seemingly unlimited access to information. Of course, it also leads the users to have tremendous blind spots in terms of their understanding of the world around them and is controlled by powerful corporations who may or may not have the best interests of their users at heart.

Feed is the perfect choice for a course focused on media literacy. The book itself articulates and reinforces the need for precisely the skills learned in media literacy exercises: how to think critically about the content present in media messages, how to actively engage with information rather than passively accepting it, and how to uncover who creates the media and what their agendas might be.

Over the course of the summer, I have watched my students develop an increasing awareness of the challenges and implications of growing up in a media-saturated world. In addition to reading Feed, we have analyzed videos, advertisements, and contemporary songs to see what is under the surface of the media messages that we too often accept without question — and with which we even find ourselves singing along! I can see my students’ blinders beginning to come off as they think more critically about the world around them and how media impacts their own lives.

While Feed projects a vision of a dystopian future and was published back in 2002, I am struck each time I reread the book by how close the world Anderson describes seems to our own. The media and technology are increasingly influential and already play a key role in shaping our reality. The time to think about the implications of a media feeding us constant messages that may or may not reflect the world we want to inhabit is now and Feed is a wonderful title to use to engage young people in these critical conservations.

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23. Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e-book review

dragons title screen Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book reviewThe brand-new story told in Dreamworks’ Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e-book (Dreamworks Press with Genera Interactive, July 2014) takes place between the 2010 How to Train Your Dragon film (based on Cressida Cowell’s intermediate novel of the same name) and the sequel released earlier this summer.

The user begins by creating a character profile and selecting one of three reading levels: “hatchling” (suggested for users  five years and younger), “broad wing” (six to eight years), and “titan wing” (nine years and up). The user may easily edit his or her profile or select a different reading level; the engaging narration, music, and sound effects may be turned on or off at any time from the parent-locked settings menu. All three levels of the story have the same basic plot and address the user directly in present-tense, second-person narrative.

You come-to underwater, with amnesia and a mysterious dragon egg in tow, after an apparent shipwreck. Human boy and dragon pair Hiccup and Toothless — protagonists of both the books and films — rescue you from a hungry water dragon, then fly you to their island home, Berk, to help save the hatching egg. The new hatchling gets spooked and escapes, leading you, Hiccup, and Toothless on a merry chase around four island locations (the blacksmith’s shop, the dragon-training academy, the dragon hanger, and a quiet cove) while encountering the human and dragon inhabitants.

dragons cove Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book review

You finally track down your baby dragon and earn its trust. Navigating among the various locations — or returning to a favorite chapter — is easy with a map of the island.

dragons map Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book review

Each of the five chapters (one for the shipwreck scene, plus each of the island destinations) is followed by a first-person “journal entry” in which your character ponders her or his forgotten past, describes emotional reactions to the story’s events, and offers some foreshadowing for future installments. Endearing watercolor-like illustrations accompany the entries. Though the main narrative is simplified in the hatchling and broad wing levels, the journal entries are identical across levels and no narration is offered — so younger users may need some help reading these sections.

The humorous text (most nuanced and funniest in titan wing mode) and high-quality animation are accompanied by upbeat music, sound effects, and a few simple interactive moments, including a game of “Returnwing” (think “boomerang”) fetch with Toothless. But the real draw for Dragon fans will be reuniting with these lovable characters.

Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $4.99. Next installment coming fall 2014; $.99. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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24. Snark week

In honor of Shark Week, here’s a list of recent YA books featuring sharp-tongued narrators with biting wit. (Thanks to WE television network, home of Will & Grace reruns, for giving us this idea for “Snark Week.”)

hattemer vigilantepoets 200x300 Snark weekHattemer, Kate The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
Middle School, High School    Knopf    327 pp.
4/14 978-0-385-75378-4 $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-75379-1 $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-385-75380-7 $10.99
A reality show competition for the title of “America’s Best Teen Artist” comes to Ethan’s bohemian high school, and his best friend Luke proposes a “folk uprising.” Ethan gets fired up by Luke’s idealism, so he feels profoundly betrayed when their scathing long poem (à la Ezra Pound) lands Luke a spot on For Art’s Sake…Luke’s apparent objective all along. Ethan’s voice — self-deprecating, witty, and full of both literary and pop-culture references — makes him an appealing narrator for the madcap comedy, and readers will cheer as he takes a leading role in his own life.

Howell Girl Defective Snark weekHowell, Simmone Girl Defective
High School    Atheneum    303 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-9760-3 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9762-7 $10.99
From the roof of her father’s failing used record store, fifteen-year-old Sky and her glamorous older friend Nancy spy a poster of a beautiful but sad-looking girl whose image lingers in Sky’s dreams. When Sky learns that Mia, the girl in the picture, was found dead in nearby St. Kilda harbor — and that Mia’s brother now works in the record store — she wants to learn more. Part mystery, part romance, and part unconventional family story, the book introduces an intriguing cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own mystery or problem to solve. Sky’s first-person narrative is observant, questioning, and self-critical.

maguire egg and spoon Snark weekMaguire, Gregory Egg & Spoon
Middle School    Candlewick    479 pp.
9/14 978-0-7636-7220-1 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7582-0 $17.99
An imprisoned man tells his story, Scheherazade-like, in letters to the tsar. He begins with Elena, a young girl in the impoverished Russian countryside, who meets well-to-do Ekaterina. Their lives collide and intertwine, sending the story in two directions: to a ball in St. Petersburg and deep into the forest to an unforgettable Baba Yaga — who is exactly the type of hardboiled, witty, snarky, and timeless a character as one could wish for from Maguire.

portes anatomyofamisfit Snark weekPortes, Andrea Anatomy of a Misfit
High School    Harper/HarperCollins    330 pp.
9/14 978-0-06-231364-5 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-231366-9 $10.99
Anika Dragomir looks the part of the blond-haired, blue-eyed All-American girl-next-door, but “nobody knows that on the inside I am spider soup.” On the first day of school, “nerd-ball turned goth romance hero” Logan McDonough fixes his smoldering gaze on Anika, and they begin a secret courtship — that gets even more complicated when God’s-gift-to-Nebraska, Jared Kline, asks Anika’s mom for permission to take her daughter out on a date. Anika’s observations are razor-sharp, especially when she is describing other people (and especially when she’s ragging on her own family: “My dad is Romanian and looks like Count Chocula. Seriously. He looks like a vampire”).

smith 100 sideways miles Snark weekSmith, Andrew 100 Sideways Miles
High School    Simon    277 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-4495-9 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-4497-3 $10.99
Finn Easton has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar.

willey beetle boy Snark weekWilley, Margaret Beetle Boy
High School    Carolrhoda Lab    200 pp.
9/14 978-1-4677-2639-9 $17.95
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-4626-7 $12.95
As Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel, Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks.

For Shark Week reading, click here.

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25. Why The Face? I’ll tell you.

ending Why The Face? Ill tell you.I just finished David Shafer’s thriller Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which I read because of Dwight Garner’s NYT review. The book is everything Garner says it is–bright, popping, funny, suspenseful. And it has all the things I love: complicated heroes and heroines, smart riffs on contemporary memes, and–best of all–a global conspiracy that really is out to get the paranoiacs as well as the rest of us.

It’s just great, as far as it goes. WHICH IS NOT FAR ENOUGH. What Garner does not tell us, and as far as I’m concerned this is a cardinal sin of book reviewing, is that the book doesn’t have an ending. After about a hundred good pages of rising action, with the good guys and girl ready to take down the evil that now lurks in a container ship off the Oregon coast, everything just stops. Nothing on or in the book says “first in a series” or anything, but surely the reviewer could have said so. Unless he didn’t finish it.

Thank goodness Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before I got to the end of The Two Towers and “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”

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