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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. There are no picture book biographies of Donald Trump

A quick search of the Horn Book Guide Online shows three picture book biographies of Hillary Clinton, including these two new ones (both published in January 2016):

WINTER_Hillary  markel_Hillary 
And this one from 2008, revised in August 2015:

krull_hillary-book2

Then there’s this new YA biography:

blumenthal_hillary

Along with sixteen volumes of series nonfiction (here are two):

epstein_hillary  tieck_hillary
And here’s once place where she and Donald Trump overlap:

burlingame_HillaryPeople  wooten_trump
For now, there appear to be no Bernie books… but that may well change! Check back next year.

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2. Shortest month of the year #HBBlackHistoryMonth16

The Horn Book celebrates Black History Month

As our #HBBlackHistoryMonth16 coverage comes to a close, here is a reminder that these articles by and about African American children’s literature luminaries should be read by everyone, everywhere, everyday, not just during the shortest month of the year.

In the meantime, we’ll keep updating our Horn Book Talking About Race resource page. We’ve already gotten started compiling a set of new and archival Horn Book material for #HBBlackHistoryMonth17. Everyone keep talking and listening.

Click the tag HBBlackHistoryMonth16 for more articles in this series.

myers_anime

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3. Week in Review, February 22nd-26th: Black History Month Week 4

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Black History Month

For Black History Month, we’ve selected articles by and/or about African American children’s book luminaries — one a day throughout February, with a roundup on Fridays. This week’s selections:

Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary! We’re celebrating with a series of Cleary appreciations from the March/April 2016 Horn Book Magazine, beginning with

Remembering Peter Dickinson, 1927-2015

Resources on Harper Lee:

Board Book Roundup: Winter 2016 Edition

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: She’ll be swell, she’ll be great! On President Obama’s nomination of Carla D. Hayden to the position of Librarian of Congress

Out of the Box: 

Lolly’s Classroom: Illustrated books | Class #5, 2016: Two picture books and three graphic novels

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to keep up-to-date!

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4. Board Book Roundup: Winter 2016 Edition

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

carter_if you're a robot and you know itIf You’re a Robot and You Know It
by David A. Carter
Scholastic     14 pp.
9/15     978-0-545-81980-0     $16.99

Carter brings a futuristic twist to the familiar song. The text is entertaining enough (“If you’re a robot and you know it, / shoot laser beams out of your eyes”), but it’s the paper engineering that really sings. Pull the tabs to make the smiley, goofy-looking robots (one has a teakettle for a head) clap their hands, stomp their feet, etc., in such surprising, inventive ways that kids will definitely be happy — and they’ll know it.

carter_springSpring: A Pop-Up Book
by David A. Carter
Abrams Appleseed     12 pp.
2/16     978-1-4197-1912-7     $14.95

 

 

 

carter_winterWinter: A Pop-Up Book
by David A. Carter
Abrams Appleseed     12 pp.
10/15      978-1-4197-1823-6     $14.95

Prolific pop-up book creator Carter turns his attention to the seasons. Brief, sometimes lyrical texts (“Snowflakes fall from the sky, covering the sleepy earth in white”; “Who flits and flutters from flower to flower?”) are accompanied by fairly spare background illustrations that let the impressive central pop-ups shine. Captions help identify key flora and fauna.

franceschelli_dinoblockDinoblock
by Christopher Franceschelli; illus. by Peskimo
Abrams Appleseed     96 pp.
6/15     978-1-4197-1674-4     $16.95

Franceschelli follows Alphablock and Countablock with this dinosaur-themed entry. Chunky die-cut pages (which are cut to follow the outlines of the creatures) play a sort of guessing game with viewers: “I have a neck like a goose…” (page turn) “I am a coelophysis.” Useful pronunciation (“SEE-low-FYE-sis”) and clear illustrations of smiling dinos, along with two child guides, enhance the already great kid appeal.

My First Comics series

holm_i'm grumpyI’m Grumpy
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Random     20 pp.
1/16     978-0-553-53344-6     $7.99

 

 

 

holm_i'm sunnyI’m Sunny!
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Random     20 pp.
1/16     978-0-553-53346-0      $7.99

“Panels!” “Word Balloons!” “Sound Effects!” “Reading pictures is the first step toward reading words!” is this series’ motto. The Holm siblings (creators of the Babymouse series and others) introduce young children to comics in these books about a happy sun (Sunny!) and a grouchy cloud (Grumpy). The stories are very simple, entertaining, and easy to follow, with clear emotions nicely reinforced by the cartoony illustrations.

Hello, World! Series

mdonald_solar systemSolar System
by Jill McDonald
Doubleday      24 pp.
3/16     978-0-553-52103-0     $7.99

 

 

 

mcdonald_weatherWeather
by Jill McDonald
Doubleday     24 pp.
3/16      978-0-553-52101-6     $7.99

These early science volumes give very brief but engaging overviews of their topics. Solar System starts with the moon and sun, then talks about each planet (plus dwarf planet Pluto), with one main fact per planet and another detail in smaller font. Weather asks a simple leading question to help identify each season (“Is snow falling?”), then presents clothing and activities for each one. In both books, eye-pleasing collages in bright colors with simple shapes illustrate the concepts.

reich_hamsters on the goHamsters on the Go!
by Kass Reich
Orca   24 pp.
3/16   978-1-4598-1016-7   $9.95

 

 

 

reich_up hamster down hamsterUp Hamster Down Hamster
by Kass Reich
Orca     24 pp.
9/15     978-1-4598-1013-6     $9.95

Up Hamster takes a group of energetic hamsters through a day of opposites-learning in rhyme (“Fast hamster / Slow hamster / Yes hamster / No hamster”). On the Go finds the crew testing various modes of transportation (“Hamsters in a car / Hamsters on a boat / Hamsters on a Moon rover / Hamsters on a float”). The rectangular little critters are so funny and expressive, with just their dot-eyes and straight-lined or oblong mouths, it may make listeners start clambering for a cute-rodent pet.

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5. Stephen Colbert: kidlit after dark

The outside world doesn’t always get kidlit and YA lit. Children’s books are cute and easy and anyone with a vague sense that children are charming can write them, right? And anyone can write silly fluff for young adults. Especially anyone with a famous name.

That’s a common attitude, anyway. But there are celebrities who don’t think that way. Like Stephen Colbert.

colbert_i am a pole and so can youBack in 2012, Colbert interviewed the late, great Maurice Sendak on his old show Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report. Going in, I figured that interview would be amusing, but I also figured some of the amusement would stem from a celeb’s typical ignorance of everything that goes into creating a children’s book. Boy, was I wrong. The whole point of the two-part “Grim Colberty Tales” segment was to parody the very attitude I’d expected to see. It’s also a great interview, and it resulted in Colbert’s spoofy picture book, I Am a Pole (And So Can You!) (Grand Central Publishing, May 2012), which was coincidentally released with Sendak’s blurb (“The sad thing is, I like it!”) the same day that Sendak passed away. Highly recommended if you need a good laugh. Warning: Colbert Report-style silliness; Sendak-style crotchetiness; NSFW.

sendak on colbert

“Grim Colberty Tales” made another appearance or two with other authors before Colbert left the Report for CBS’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert. But the change in venue doesn’t mean Colbert’s become too cool for books for young people (or books in general, for that matter). On the contrary, his new show has a recurring segment firmly rooted in YA: the Hungry for Power Games. As candidates have dropped out of the presidential election, Colbert has bid each “tribute” farewell with his best Caesar Flickerman impression. (Warning: contains politics.)

stephen colbert caesar flickerman

And of course, the man is a certified Tolkien nerd. This, right here, is what it looks like when someone cares about a story. Not a bad thing to show on TV.

I still think Ellen would be a perfect interviewer for the Newbery and Caldecott winners. But if Stephen beats her to it (ALAYMA 2017, anyone?), that’d be pretty cool, too.

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6. Stephen Colbert: kidlit after dark

The outside world doesn’t always get kidlit and YA lit. Children’s books are cute and easy and anyone with a vague sense that children are charming can write them, right? And anyone can write silly fluff for young adults. Especially anyone with a famous name.

That’s a common attitude, anyway. But there are celebrities who don’t think that way. Like Stephen Colbert.

colbert_i am a pole and so can youBack in 2012, Colbert interviewed the late, great Maurice Sendak on his old show Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report. Going in, I figured that interview would be amusing, but I also figured some of the amusement would stem from a celeb’s typical ignorance of everything that goes into creating a children’s book. Boy, was I wrong. The whole point of the two-part “Grim Colberty Tales” segment was to parody the very attitude I’d expected to see. It’s also a great interview, and it resulted in Colbert’s spoofy picture book, I Am a Pole (And So Can You!) (Grand Central Publishing, May 2012), which was coincidentally released with Sendak’s blurb (“The sad thing is, I like it!”) the same day that Sendak passed away. Highly recommended if you need a good laugh. Warning: Colbert Report-style silliness; Sendak-style crotchetiness; NSFW.

sendak on colbert

“Grim Colberty Tales” made another appearance or two with other authors before Colbert left the Report for CBS’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert. But the change in venue doesn’t mean Colbert’s become too cool for books for young people (or books in general, for that matter). On the contrary, his new show has a recurring segment firmly rooted in YA: the Hungry for Power Games. As candidates have dropped out of the presidential election, Colbert has bid each “tribute” farewell with his best Caesar Flickerman impression. (Warning: contains politics.)

stephen colbert caesar flickerman

And of course, the man is a certified Tolkien nerd. This, right here, is what it looks like when someone cares about a story. Not a bad thing to show on TV.

I still think Ellen would be a perfect interviewer for the Newbery and Caldecott winners. But if Stephen beats her to it (ALAYMA 2017, anyone?), that’d be pretty cool, too.

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7. Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

klickitat_street

March/April 2016 Horn Book MagazneApril 12, 2016 marks the one hundredth birthday of children’s literature icon Beverly Cleary. To celebrate, the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine includes a series of tributes to the author and her work written by children’s book authors, illustrators, editors, and librarians whose lives and work were touched by Ms. Cleary.

Beth McIntyre, Madison County (WI) Public librarian, shows off her Ramona Quimby Q tattoo.

Beth McIntyre, Madison County (WI) Public librarian, shows off her Ramona Quimby Q tattoo.

Each week leading to The Big Day we’ll post an article or two about Cleary’s life and work. To start things off, here is Julie Roach, from the Cambridge (MA) Public Library talking about “Ramona in the 21st-Century Library” — including bonus Ramona-inspired tattoo!

Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary! For more, click the tag Beverly Cleary at 100 and read the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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8. Ramona in the 21st-Century Library

klickitat_street“‘Oh, did people write that in those days, too?’ Beezus was surprised, because she had thought this was something very new to write in an autograph album…” (Beezus and Ramona)

Sometimes a book becomes quickly dated, and sometimes it easily crosses decades or generations. Beezus finds this is also true for autograph albums, and she makes an important parallel discovery that brings her much hope for the future: her mother and beloved aunt grew up to be close, though they fought as children as intensely as she and Ramona do. (Aunt Beatrice ruined Mother’s autograph album by signing every page!) It is okay not to love one’s little sister all the time. These days, autograph albums may be out of fashion, but the theme of sibling rivalry never goes out of style.

cleary_beezus and ramona redBeverly Cleary published Beezus and Ramona sixty-one years ago. At the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts, where I manage youth services and oversee youth collection development, I checked in on Ramona in the twenty-first century.

The city of Cambridge has a diverse population that truly supports and uses its public libraries. The Children’s Room in particular is a fantastic community gathering space where kids from all backgrounds come alone or with friends or family to read and make discoveries. For the past decade, our Children’s Room book circulation has grown significantly every year, and almost fifty percent of the total number of items goes out every month. We strive to have something for each reader, with multiple copies of the books that “everyone” is reading. We want all children to find books with characters and situations they can relate to and recognize as well as books with characters and situations unlike those they know. As much as possible, we want readers to be able to find both the book they came in for (even if it is very popular) along with the one they did not know they wanted.

How does Ramona fare in such an environment?

cleary_beezus and ramonaEach of our six branches owns copies of Beverly Cleary’s books, and the Main Library owns extra copies of each — ten copies of the most popular titles — and audio editions and some versions in other languages. Beverly Cleary’s books all circulate multiple times a year, with Ramona’s titles going out more than the others. The Ramona audiobooks, engagingly performed by Stockard Channing, circulate even better than the printed books. Twenty-first-century characters who are often compared to Ramona — such as Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine, Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho, and Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody and Stink — are in high demand at our library, but over the past year the print versions of Ramona held ten to twenty percent higher circulation figures than those other series.

CPL_clearybooks

Cleary shelves at the Cambridge Public Library. Photo: Lolly Robinson.

Numbers can only tell so much, so I asked the parent/child book group I facilitate what they think. This group consists of about twenty people, ten kids between the ages of seven and ten and usually their ten grownups (although we can and do have kids who join solo). The group includes boys and girls from different schools and a wide range of backgrounds, and everyone — child and adult — reads and participates. Their varied takes on the books we read consistently blow my mind, and they are quite practiced at telling me how they really feel about what they are reading.

I let everyone know about the article I was writing and casually asked, “Have any of you ever read the Ramona books?”

All hands shot up and enthusiastic chatter erupted around the table.

When I asked if they remembered how they first discovered the Ramona books, I got an interesting assortment of answers. One girl’s mom read them to her. Another found out about them from a school friend.

cleary_beezus and ramona updateOne boy said, “My librarian at school gave me that book about Ralph. The mouse? And then I found the Ramona books next to it on the shelf. And I really liked those.”

While I was taking in this response, absorbing what insight it might offer about assumptions, shelf order, and readers’ advisory, another girl brought me back to the present in a pitying tone:

“There was the movie, you know…” [2010’s Ramona and Beezus]

Right.

“Well,” I told them, “Beverly Cleary, who wrote the Ramona books, is celebrating a big birthday this year. She’s going to be one hundred years old…”

Gasp.

“Is she still alive?!”

“Is she coming here!?!”

“Let’s have her come here!!!”

“She is very much alive! But she wrote the Ramona books a long time ago. I read them when I was your age. The first one was written in 1955…[dramatic pause] Do they seem old-fashioned to you?”

Silence and thinking and looking around at each other.

“Some things a little bit. But not the way she fights with her sister!” declared a boy, which inspired a lot of vocal solidarity from around the table.

ramona and beezus movie“Ramona is funny,” smiled another girl.

The mom who had read the books aloud to her daughter interjected an important point: “Some of the details in the first ones are a bit dated now. But they were written over such a long period of time…The last ones weren’t written all that long ago.”

Though Ramona only ages about six years in those eight books, the series itself spans forty-four years, from 1955 to 1999.

“Are we going to read Ramona next?” another boy wanted to know.

Inspired by their enthusiasm, I re-read the series myself. I have often revisited my old friend Ramona, whom I first met when I was in second grade, thanks to my own school librarian. The Quimby family taught me, an only child like Beverly Cleary, the nuances of a sibling dynamic better than a graduate-level psychology class could. Even now, I continue to make new connections and discoveries when reading these books.

Through all these years, nothing much has changed about being little and not having much control. The issues Cleary addresses in her books are ones our children still deal with, and they can be scary and isolating. What if my family is keeping a secret from me? What if my family doesn’t have enough money? What if my dad loses his job? What if I don’t like my sibling? What if there is a new baby coming? What if my parents get divorced? What if my teacher doesn’t understand me? What if I do something cruel? What if someone does something cruel to me?

Cleary_tattoo2

Beth McIntyre, former Cambridge Public librarian (now Madison County Poblic librarian, Wisconsin), shows off her Ramona Quimby Q tattoo. Photo: Beth McIntyre.

The plot points and details are honest and not sanitized for anyone’s benefit. Be it 1975 or 2016, sometimes a kid really does need to blow off steam by singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” in its entirety as loudly as possible for all the neighbors to hear.

When Cleary’s characters experience fear, love, jealousy, boredom, anger, or worry, we all recognize those emotions. She brings them sharply into focus. They are emotions we have felt and will keep feeling, but maybe up until that moment, we thought we were the only ones. What a relief to share the burden. What a relief to find that even if things don’t turn out as planned, there is hope and probably a really good laugh to be had as well.

Why, thought Beezus, Aunt Beatrice used to be every bit as awful as Ramona. And yet look how nice she is now. Beezus could scarcely believe it. And now Mother and Aunt Beatrice, who had quarreled when they were girls, loved each other and thought the things they had done were funny! They actually laughed about it. Well, maybe when she was grown-up she would think it was funny that Ramona had put eggshells in one birthday cake and baked her rubber doll with another. Maybe she wouldn’t think Ramona was so exasperating, after all. Maybe that was just the way things were with sisters. (Beezus and Ramona)

Maybe, Beezus. Maybe.

Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary! We love you in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You have brought us so much laughter and confidence — as we have grown both as readers and as humans. You have made our many troubles easier to bear. You have connected us, generation to generation, family to family, by showing us what we have in common as people.

We hope you have the best birthday cake — free of eggshells and baked-in rubber dolls.

We all want autograph albums.

We want you to sign every page.

From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary! For more, click the tag Beverly Cleary at 100.

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9. She’ll be swell, she’ll be great!

Carla Hayden

Carla Hayden

I am over the moon about President Obama’s nomination of Carla D. Hayden to the position of Librarian of Congress. Carla and I were buddies back in Chicago–we met when she was YA coordinator at CPL and I interviewed her for a paper I was writing for library school, and later I worked for her as a storyteller when she ran the library at the Museum of Science and Industry. (I remember both of us being extremely annoyed that the Museum required children to pay extra to come to story hour.) And we are both proudly Zena’s kids.

There’s a lot of celebration about the facts that Carla will be the first female, first African American, and first actual librarian to become appointed to the post. But, aside from the most important point that she has been a smart, tested, and proven library advocate and leader for the past forty years, HOW GREAT IS IT that a YOUTH SERVICES LIBRARIAN will be running the place?

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10. Peter Dickinson, 1927-2015

peter_dickinsonOne-of-a-kind British writer Peter Dickinson died in December at age eighty-eight. His work cannot be easily categorized: a prolific author, he wrote everything from adult detective novels to speculative YA science fiction to heart-stopping adventures to intriguing almost-fantasies. The protagonists in his work for children range from an American-missionary boy who finds himself trekking through Tibet during the Boxer Rebellion (Tulku) to a blind teen who finds himself swept up in a plot by environmental terrorists to hijack a North Sea oil rig (Annerton Pit) to a human girl who finds herself transplanted into a chimp’s body (Eva). His books were wholly original, brimming with ideas, often concerned with the nature of religion and/or what makes us human — and also unfailingly compelling and masterfully plotted. Yet he did not consider himself an artist, but a craftsman: “I have a function, like the village cobbler, and that is to tell stories.”

Peter Dickinson’s 1993 Horn Book Magazine article “Masks

Horn Book Magazine reviews of select titles by Peter Dickinson

“A Defense of Rubbish” by Peter Dickinson

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11. Review of Our Moon: New Discoveries About 
Earth’s Closest Companion

scott_our moonOur Moon: New Discoveries About Earth’s Closest Companion
by Elaine Scott
Intermediate   Clarion   72 pp.
2/16   978-0-547-48394-8   $18.99   g

This deep dive into the science of the moon includes explanations of its formation and composition, as well as details about the all-important Apollo missions (1963–1972) and the latest in lunar exploration. Scott begins with a history of human surmise on the moon’s appearance, including the maps of early astronomers. Subsequent chapters provide the latest scientific consensus (known as the “giant impact theory”) on the creation of the moon during the earliest days of the formation of our solar system, the formation of craters and maria, and on the geology of moon materials (the so-called “moon rocks”) that were collected during the Apollo missions. Most exciting is the final chapter, in which lunar missions from 2007 to 2014 — and the scientists who worked on them — are profiled. During this timeframe, scientists have confirmed the presence of water on the moon, examined its dust, atmosphere, and gravitational field, and are currently considering what it would take for humans to live on the moon. Color photos and additional text boxes found on nearly every page are as informative as the main narrative. Appended with an extensive glossary; a brief list of further resources, both online and in print; and an index.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Earth’s Closest Companion appeared first on The Horn Book.

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12. “Winners, Losers, and Something in Between” awards panel recap

cbb winners panel

moderator Roger Sutton with panelists Cathie Mercier, Nancy Werlin, and Charlotte Taylor

What makes a book award-worthy? Who decides, and how? These questions were the focus of “Winners, Losers, and Something in Between: An Inside Look at Book Awards,” a panel sponsored by Children’s Books Boston that met at Simmons College on Tuesday.

The panelists and moderator had years of experience choosing book award winners among them. The moderator, our own Roger Sutton, and panelist Cathie Mercier, Director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons, have both served on committees for a number of long-running book awards, including plenty of American Library Association Youth Media awards. Panelist and author Nancy Werlin has served as a judge for the National Book Award and the Edgar Awards, and has been a finalist for both those awards and a winner of the Edgar. Panelist Charlotte Taylor is a blogger and longtime judge of the Cybils Awards.

Committee composition was a hot topic, with various types of diversity coming up again and again — gender and ethnic diversity, but also diversity of professional experience. Are the judges librarians? Booksellers? Authors? Bloggers? Do they have opportunities to share books with kids? Do those kids come from different backgrounds? Do they have a variety of genre preferences, and can they get past their preferences? And how big is the committee? Will it be dominated by one or two strong personalities? (Or not-so-obviously-strong personalities — as Nancy put it, quiet committee members in the back of the room are just as capable of digging in their heels as anyone else.)

Another big question was how the books get into the committee members’ hands. In most cases, publishers submit books for consideration, sometimes with a submission fee, sometimes without. ALA award judges are expected to read beyond what’s sent to them; National Book Award committees can “call in” a book from a publisher (and if the publisher is a small one, the submission fee is waived). The Cybils, an award judged by book bloggers, has a completely different process: anyone can nominate a book for the first round of judging, in which one group chooses a shortlist that’s handed off to a second round of judges.

Clearly, there’s a lot of work involved in being on an award committee. Cathie emphasized the importance of preparation before meetings, since time is short and there are so many books to discuss. When she chaired the Sibert committee, she insisted that committee members write annotations of the books they were supporting. (I’ll bet she did, thought all the Simmons alums in the room.) “You have to be able to see what people are thinking,” she explained.

The perspectives of the panelists varied most widely on the question of what makes an award-worthy book, and how one decides. While ALSC awards use terms like “most distinguished” in their criteria, the Cybils emphasize “kid appeal,” a term Charlotte admitted is subjective, since the adult judges bring their own biases. Cathie expressed that she feels “really, really inept at determining what kid appeal is,” but Charlotte said that the Cybils rely on the experience of the judges, many of whom work with kids.

All in all, the discussion was lively as advertised. And if you enjoy lively CBB events, join us for the liveliest of the year: Wicked Boston Children’s Book Trivia Challenge, hosted by Jack Gantos, at M. J. O’Connor’s on June 13.

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13. A Second Look: The Long Life of a Mockingbird

mockingbird1To make a Tequila Mockingbird, chill your martini glass and cocktail shaker in the freezer. After half an hour, remove the shaker,  throw in a handful of ice, one and a half ounces of tequila, three quarters of an ounce creme de menthe, and the juice of one lime. Shake vigorously, pour into a chilled glass, and garnish with a lime. Best enjoyed on an evening when it’s warm enough to linger on a veranda, but not so hot that ladies are reduced, as Alabama-born author Harper Lee so memorably described, to “soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”

To Kill a Mockingbird has inspired odder and greater things than the combination of creme de menthe and tequila. July 11, 2010, marked the fiftieth anniversary of Lee’s venerated, controversial, and unavoidable book. Celebrations were everywhere. Special readings and panel discussions took place in locales from Vermont to Alabama to Washington, the 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck in his Oscar-winning role was shown in numerous theaters and libraries across the country, and a bookstore in Santa Cruz, California, hosted a reenactment of the famous courtroom scene. Not even the satirical paper The Onion could resist Mockingbird mania with this spoof headline: “Senate Unable to Get Enough Republican Votes to Honor ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.'” Not everyone, however, was extolling Mockingbird‘s praises. In a June 24, 2010, Wall Street Journal article, “What ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Isn’t,” journalist Allen Barra kicked Harper Lee out of the canon of great Southern writers. He called Atticus a “repository of cracker-barrel epigrams” and the book as a whole “a sugar-coated myth of Alabama’s past that millions have come to accept.” Though Barra argued that Mockingbird’s “bloodless liberal humanism is sadly dated,” last summer’s celebrations showed how great a hold it has on readers’ memories and their hearts.

to-kill-a-mockingbird-movie-poster-1963-1020144082Now that the anniversary hoopla has subsided, will this classic that was never meant to be a blockbuster–or a children’s book, for that matter–be quietly retired? No. If anything, the fiftieth anniversary reminds us how this book has become so much more than a book. It has generated not just a cocktail but song lyrics, band names, and children’s and dogs’ names, and myriad young adult books have been inspired by its power. Mockingbird has become a part of the public subconscious, a literary and a cultural touchstone.

To attend high school in the United States is to be required to read Mockingbird. First published in 1960, this novel shocked its debut author and her publisher when it won the Pulitzer Prize and became a best seller. Since then, Mockingbird has sold nearly one million copies a year, and for the past five years has been the second-best-selling backlist title in the country. (Eat your hearts out, Stephenie Meyer and J. K. Rowling.) But how did Mockingbird become a book for youth? Is it because the narrator, Scout, is a young tomboy? Or is it because the novel is both a bildungsroman and a suspenseful courtroom drama? Or was Mockingbird eventually labeled a children’s book simply because Flannery O’Connor mused, “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book”? Given Mockingbird‘s cultural permeation and multigenerational readership, it appears to be a true example of a “book for all ages.”

Mockingbird‘s hold on grown-up minds is certainly evident in the many pop-culture allusions, both obvious and subtle, to Lee’s only book. Celebrity magazine readers are probably aware that Demi Moore and Bruce Willis named their daughter Scout after Lee’s precocious protagonist. Watchers of the television show Gilmore Girls probably caught the literary reference when Rory says that “every town needs as many Boo Radleys as they can get.” And Simpsons viewers young and old undoubtedly laughed when Homer complained about reading: “Books are useless! I only ever read one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds! Sure it taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin… but what good does that do me?”

Mockingbird has also entered the twitterverse via Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less by Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin. Aciman and Rensin have Scout narrate as @BooScout in a voice condensed to short, often snarky observations. Here’s @BooScout’s response to Atticus’s advice that to understand a person you must put yourself in his shoes: “Why does Dad say such LAME shit? I don’t want to walk a mile in ANYONE else’s shoes. Toe jam, nail fungus, athlete’s foot anybody? Gosh.” High literature Twitterature is not, but anyone who has studied Mockingbird with a long-winded lecturer will appreciate @BooScout’s humor and brevity: “Went to the trial. Tom seems innocent. Also, it occurs that our town is full of racists. Perhaps only the eyes of a child can see the truth.”

Beyond pop culture, Mockingbird has long provided the legal arena with both inspiration and fodder for discussion. Atticus’s courtroom defense of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, is the subject of law school classes and law review articles. Would Atticus’s argument that Tom physically couldn’t have harmed Mayella Ewell hold water in a contemporary courtroom? Does Atticus deserve our veneration? In his August 10, 2009, New Yorker article “The Courthouse Ring,” Malcolm Gladwell takes Atticus to task for his legal performance. Gladwell argues that instead of challenging the racist status quo, Atticus simply encourages jurors “to swap one of their prejudices for another.” He also finds Atticus’s decision to have Scout lie about what actually happened the night Bob Ewell attacked her and her brother Jem problematic: “Understand what? That her father and the Sheriff have decided to obstruct justice in the name of saving their beloved neighbor the burden of angel-food cake?” Whether Atticus is a brilliant attorney or a courtroom wimp, the fact that Gladwell and legal scholars are even debating his aptitude with the seriousness they might read Supreme Court decisions speaks of Mockingbird‘s clout.

ellsworth_mockingbirdLike its impact on pop culture, Mockingbird‘s presence in literature is a combination of overt tributes and almost subconscious allusions. In Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird (2010), author Mary McDonagh Murphy interviews writers, journalists, and artists from Oprah Winfrey to Tom Brokaw about how Mockingbird affected their lives. Her interviews with authors including James Patterson, Adriana Trigiani, and Lizzie Skurnick exemplify how this classic, though often read in childhood, can have a lasting hold on writers. Patterson loved it because he identified with Jem and “the suspense was unusual in terms of books that I had read at that point, books that … had really powerful drama which really did hook you. Obviously I try to do [that] with my books.” Skurnick, author of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, recalls Scout being more fascinating than the “grand themes of justice” in the second half of the book. Everyone interviewed, regardless of vocation, has a story about how Mockingbird touched him or her in a memorable way.

Young adult books such as Jan Marino’s 1997 novel Searching for Atticus and Loretta Ellsworth’s 2007 In Search of Mockingbird aremarino_searching unabashed love letters to Mockingbird and maybe even Harper Lee herself. Both books feature teenage girls who set out on quests of self-discovery with Mockingbird as their inspiration. In Atticus, Tessa Ramsey tries to reconnect with her surgeon father who has returned from the Vietnam War, while in In Search of Mockingbird Erin runs away from Minnesota to find the reclusive author of her favorite book. Also Known as Harper (2009) by Ann Haywood Leal, National Book Award winner Mockingbird (2010) by Kathryn Erskine, and The Mockingbirds (2010) by Daisy Whitney pay homage to Harper Lee, with varying degrees of genuflection and success.The impact of To Kill a Mockingbird on a text is not always apparent from the title. Sometimes the novel is used in a story as a character litmus test: if a protagonist is reading it and loves it, readers know he or she is a good person–extra points if the copy is dog-eared and not required homework reading. In a similar vein, though Atticus might not be named in a text, it is hard not to think of him in any middle-grade or young adult novel with a courtroom setting. (Monster by Walter Dean Myers and John Grisham’s foray into children’s books Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer come to mind.)

collins_mockingjayIt’s even harder, if not impossible, to see words closely resembling mockingbird on a page and not think of Lee’s work. Suzanne Collins, whether intentionally or not, recalls To Kill a Mockingbird with her mockingjay creature in the Hunger Games trilogy. In the final book of the series, Mockingjay, Collins’s protagonist Katniss describes a mockingjay, a combination of a (fictional) jabberjay and a mockingbird, as “the symbol of the revolution” and goes on to explain why she must represent the mockingjay herself and “become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution.” Katniss’s understanding of the emblematic importance of the mockingjay brings to mind Scout’s discussion with Miss Maudie Atkinson about why she should never shoot a mockingbird: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

To Kill a Mockingbird is perhaps our foremost example of the private reading experience writ larger by its communal–and now multigenerational–replication. Fans and the indifferent alike can remember when and where they were when they read the book, voluntarily or not, for the first time. Recollection of that memory of reading, perhaps even more than the book itself, is the reason To Kill a Mockingbird has become an enduring metaphor for justice, goodness, and the bittersweetness of growing up.

From the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. See also “From the Guide: More Mockingbird.”

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14. Illustrated books | Class #5, 2016

class5books2016_500x497

This week’s class (March 1, 2016) focuses on visual literacy: pictures in young adult literature, in works of both fiction and nonfiction. The prompts below address the role of these books in the classroom; you might also respond to the interplay of text and pictures (or wordlessness), or to whatever engages you most about these books with pictures.

Two Picture Books

  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Scholastic, 2007)
  • The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís  (Farrar, 2007)

Three Graphic Novels

  • Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013)
  • The One Summer by Mariko Tamiki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second 2014)

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15. Two picture books | Class #5, 2016

 arrival    The Wall

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Scholastic, 2007)

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís  (Farrar, 2007)

Though not the typical purview of adolescents, sophisticated picture books such as these offer rich rewards for readers/viewers with an experienced eye. Consider prior knowledge older students can bring to these works and connections they might draw, as well as new information or perspectives to be gained through their exploration.

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16. Three graphic novels | Class #5, 2016

boxers & saints    tamaki_thisonesummer

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013)

The One Summer by Mariko Tamiki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second 2014)

While teens have been devouring graphic novels, or comics (as Gene Luen Yang calls all such works) for years, they are also enjoying a surge of interest and attention from critics and educators, winning awards and finding their way into high school classrooms.

How might students learn from these texts? Should they be paired with more traditional texts to be meaningful, or can a graphic novel study stand alone? Common Core Standards require students to be able to “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats, including visually” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7).  How important is visual literacy for our students?

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17. Review of Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants!

shea_ballet cat dance dance underpantsBallet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants!
by Bob Shea; illus. by the author
Primary   Disney-Hyperion   56 pp.
2/16   978-1-4847-1379-2   $9.99

Dance diva Ballet Cat returns for her second early-reader performance (Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, rev. 7/15), and once again she’s paired with a reluctant partner/friend. Butter Bear likes dancing but draws the line at leaping. Ballet Cat can’t imagine why: “Super-high leaps are the best part of ballet.” Ballet Cat gamely accommodates her pal’s concerns…at first. When Butter Bear resorts to tried-and-true stalling tactics — she’s hungry/thirsty/has to go to the bathroom “in the woods” — normally sunny Ballet Cat cracks. Shea knows how to get maximum expression out of thick black lines. His characters’ pas de deux is choreographed on solid-color backgrounds with a minimum of props, giving new readers a leg up on the energetic and funny speech-bubble text. An audience of “underpants peepers” is what has Butter Bear grounded; Ballet Cat’s perspective — “If you dance with all your heart, the only thing they will see is the beauty of ballet” — 
lifts everyone’s spirits. Underpants are on full display, but “ballet conquers all!” (Shorts under tutus would help, too.)

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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18. Review of Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!

falatko_snappsy the alligatorSnappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!
by Julie Falatko; illus. by Tim Miller
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-46945-8   $16.99   g

The omniscient narration begins normally enough: “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.” After a bit more in this vein, Snappsy turns to the reader: “This is terrible!…Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?” So proceeds this book-length sparring match between the exasperated protagonist (“You’re an awful narrator. You’re just describing what you see in the illustrations”) and an offstage storyteller-foil who criticizes Snappsy (“The story is really boring now”), ignores his pleas to scram, and saddles him with unwanted idiosyncrasies, including a predilection for foods that begin with the letter P. The story’s meta aspect, the alligator’s rib-tickling madder-by-the-minute agitation, and the simple primary-color-avoidant illustrations outlined in black may all owe a debt to Mo Willems — but it’s still a pretty terrific book. It’s distinguished by Falatko’s ability to sustain the tension at length; by Miller’s savory palette, largely in underripe greens and purples; and by the unvoiced suggestion that when fiction is working well, a character can take on a life of his or her own.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. Review of The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton

vernick_kid from diamond streetThe Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton
by Audrey Vernick; 
illus. by Steven Salerno
Primary   Clarion   40 pp.
3/16   978-0-544-61163-4   $17.99   g

Edith Houghton was “magic on the field,” a baseball legend of the 1920s. Playing starting shortstop for the 
all-women’s professional team the Philadelphia Bobbies, she drew fans to the ballpark with her impressive offensive and defensive talent. Besides that, Edith was just ten years old; her uniform was too big, her pants kept falling down, and her too-long sleeves encumbered her play. But she was good, and the older players took “The Kid” under their wing. And that’s the real story here, told through Vernick’s conversational text. It’s not so much about the baseball action but the team — barnstorming through the Northwest U.S. playing against male teams; experiencing ship life aboard the President Jefferson on the way to Japan; playing baseball in Japan; and learning about Japanese culture. Salerno’s appealing charcoal, ink, and gouache illustrations evoke a bygone era of baseball with smudgy-looking uniforms, sepia tones, and double-page spreads for a touch of ballpark grandeur. An informative author’s note tells more of Houghton’s story — the other women’s teams she played for, her job as a major league scout for the Philadelphia Phillies, and being honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. An engaging story that reminds readers that “baseball isn’t just numbers and statistics, men and boys. Baseball is also ten-year-old girls, marching across a city to try out for a team intended for players twice their age.”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Audrey Vernick on The Kid from Diamond Street

vernick_kid from diamond streetIn our January/February 2016 issue, reviewer Dean Schneider talked with author Audrey Vernick about her clear love of America’s favorite pastime. Read the full review of The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton here.

Dean Schneider: You’ve written a few books about baseball. Have you always been a fan? Or did you become one after you started writing about the sport?

Audrey Vernick: One of my favorite things about being a grownup is no one can make me write about explorers. I write about baseball because I truly love it and have for decades. While I am a devoted fan of a team I’ll not mention by name in a Boston-based publication, I also love the game’s rich, textured history and the individual stories folded within it.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. From the Editor – February 2016

Roger_EdBriant_191x300In honor of Black History Month, we are daily posting key articles from the Horn Book archives about the African American experience in children’s and young adult literature. Up today: Augusta Baker’s “The Changing Image of the Black in Children’s Literature,” a speech she gave in 1974 in honor of the Horn Book’s fiftieth anniversary, and an excellent summation of how far African American children’s literature had come since she compiled her first bibliography on the topic in 1938. I hope you enjoy Baker’s astute survey and all the valuable contributions website editors Elissa Gershowitz and Katie Bircher are uncovering, each tagged HBBlackHistoryMonth16.

roger_signature
Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

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22. Starred reviews, March/April 2016 Horn Book Magazine

thunderboyjr

The following books will receive starred reviews in the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie; illus. by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown)

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes; illus. by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow)

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex; illus. by Christian Robinson (Porter/Roaring Brook)

Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley; illus. by Lauren Castillo (Two Lions)

Booked by Kwame Alexander (Houghton)

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (Viking)

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (Candlewick)

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine/Scholastic)

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill; illus. by Francis Vallejo (Candlewick)

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23. Week in Review, February 8th-12th: Black History Month Week 2

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Black History Month

For Black History Month, we’ve selected articles by and/or about African American children’s book luminaries — one a day throughout February, with a roundup on Fridays. This week’s selections:

Starred reviews coming in the March/April 2016 Horn Book Magazine

February 2016 Notes from the Horn Book: 5Q for Tanita S. Davis, more YA about families facing serious situations, apps to take preschoolers through the day, nonfiction sports picture books, plucky fantasy protagonists

Reviews of the Week:

Out of the Box: 

Lolly’s Classroom: Fantasy and science fiction | Class #4, 2016: Feed and Far Far Away

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to keep up-to-date!

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24. Review of Maybe a Fox

appelt_maybe a foxMaybe a Fox
by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee
Intermediate, Middle School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   261 pp.
3/16   978-1-4424-8242-5   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-8244-9   $10.99

Eleven-year-old Jules, a budding geologist, and her twelve-year-old sister Sylvie, the fastest kid in school, live with their father in rural Vermont. Because the girls’ mother died when Jules was small, her memories, frustratingly, are dim. She does remember the awful sight of their mother collapsing onto the kitchen floor, and then six-year-old Sylvie sprinting as fast as she could to get help, but it was too late. And now Sylvie is the one who has disappeared: one morning before school she takes off running in the woods and never comes back; they think she tripped into the river and was swept away. At the same time, a fox kit, Senna, is born, with the instinctual desire to watch over and protect Jules. Because foxes are considered good luck, Jules’s occasional glimpses of Senna bring her some peace. A catamount, too, is rumored to be in the woods, along with a bear, and at book’s climax, the human, animal, and (most affectingly) spirit worlds collide and converge. This is a remarkably sad story that offers up measures of comfort through nature, family, community, and the interconnectedness among them. The sisters’ best friend, Sam, who is himself grieving for Sylvie and desperately longs to see that catamount, is happy to have his brother Elk home from Afghanistan, but Elk’s own best friend Zeke didn’t return, leaving Elk bereft; he and Jules mourn their losses in the woods. Zeke’s grandmother is the one to whom Sylvie ran when their mother collapsed and who now brings soup for Jules, and for her kind, stoic, heartbroken father. A good cry can be cathartic, and this book about nourishing one’s soul during times of great sadness does the trick.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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25. Review of Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!

falatko_snappsy the alligatorSnappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!
by Julie Falatko; illus. by Tim Miller
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-46945-8   $16.99   g

The omniscient narration begins normally enough: “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.” After a bit more in this vein, Snappsy turns to the reader: “This is terrible!…Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?” So proceeds this book-length sparring match between the exasperated protagonist (“You’re an awful narrator. You’re just describing what you see in the illustrations”) and an offstage storyteller-foil who criticizes Snappsy (“The story is really boring now”), ignores his pleas to scram, and saddles him with unwanted idiosyncrasies, including a predilection for foods that begin with the letter P. The story’s meta aspect, the alligator’s rib-tickling madder-by-the-minute agitation, and the simple primary-color-avoidant illustrations outlined in black may all owe a debt to Mo Willems — but it’s still a pretty terrific book. It’s distinguished by Falatko’s ability to sustain the tension at length; by Miller’s savory palette, largely in underripe greens and purples; and by the unvoiced suggestion that when fiction is working well, a character can take on a life of his or her own.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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