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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. Review of March: Book Two

lewis_march bk 2star2 March: Book Two
by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell
Middle School, High School   Top Shelf Productions   192 pp.
1/15   978-1-60309-400-9   $19.95   g

Lewis and Aydin begin this second volume of the graphic memoir trilogy in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2009 (President Obama’s first inauguration), then they move back in time to 1960 to pick up where March: Book One (rev. 1/14) left off. Dramatic descriptions and vivid black-and-white illustrations of SNCC’s direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater) are followed by accounts of the Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and on through the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. (Back matter includes the original draft of Lewis’s speech, a more fiery, radical version of the speech he delivered, a debate about which took place up to the moment he stepped onstage.) Since this is Lewis’s personal story, the account has the authority of a passionate participant, and the pacing ramps up tension and historical import. Events and personalities aren’t romanticized in the text or the illustrations, which themselves don’t flinch from violence; in addition to exploring the dream that drove the civil rights movement, the story also portrays its divisions. Flash-forwards to Barack Obama’s inauguration appear judiciously throughout, an effective reminder to readers about the effects of the movement. Among the many excellent volumes available on the subject of civil rights this is a standout, the graphic format a perfect vehicle for delivering the one-two punch of powerful words and images.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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2. What book will you take to the beach?

OnTheBeachIn my fantasy world, as I say in my introduction to the Horn Book’s annual summer reading recommendations. kids (and grownups) could read whatever they like while on their break. Wouldn’t that be GREAT? While I remember exhortations from teachers to read over the summer (not like I or probably you needed any encouragement) there were no lists and certainly no required reading. Those were the days.

I don’t yet have anything planned for my beach reading this year. I am not at all sure I will even see a beach, but in case I do, can anyone offer a recommendation?

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3. Best book bracketology

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. A fresh, clean bracket has names neatly penciled into open slots, representing optimism and promise for excitement. Meanwhile, the sweetness of the beginning is quickly thrown into tumult, as surprises abound and unpredicted losses become the talk of Twitter. The competition is fierce, and the stakes are high. Naturally, I’m talking about March Picture Book Madness!

I was scouring through my daily dose of teacher blogs (a heavily addicting recreational activity, though I highly recommend it) when I came across an article in one of my absolute favorites. The Nerdy Book Club (yes, that’s its real name) was advocating for countrywide participation in a March Madness book battle. Over 700 schools across the US were putting in their picks for top-seeded picture books, middle grade novels, or young adult fiction. The website would then generate a bracket, with classrooms everywhere participating in the “madness!” My class just had to get in on all the fun — what an exciting excuse to indulge into picture books, and providing a fun incentive for read-aloud time!

Worried that your school may not have the funds to take on this challenge? Have no fear! Our grade level team didn’t enter the actual pool. We decided to use the list of books selected on the website as guide, and see which ones we could find in our school library. For ones that we could not find, we simply supplemented with other incredible picture books that we found! I put on my artistic hat and created my own bracket out of a large piece of card stock.

Just as the March Madness basketball brackets stem from different regions, the picture book bracket had two distinct categories: books written prior to 2014, and books written throughout the 2014-2015 season. This created a wonderful opportunity for all of us to explore the latest in children’s literature, as well as revisiting some old favorites. Check out the picture below for our classroom picks (click to see it larger). I know we’re past March now, but the fervor is still in the air as we come to our top pick. I hope you’ll consider an activity like this next year as it really isn’t that maddening to organize!

 marchmadness_500x368

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4. Carol Weston Talks with Roger

carol weston talks with roger

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


carol westonIn Ava and Taco Cat, Carol Weston’s second book about sisters Ava and Pip, fifth-grader Ava negotiates some of tweendom’s most essential relationships: with your sister, your best friend, and your parents. Put a much-longed-for cat into the mix and you’ve got middle-grade drama at its most appealing.

Roger Sutton: How are you, Carol?

Carol Weston: I’m well, thank you. How are you?

RS: Just fine.

CW: I’m glad you’re calling me on pub day.

RS: What’s that like, pub day?

CW: This is not the first time I’ve had a book come out, but I think for first-time authors, you expect it to be Christmas morning or something, and sometimes it’s quiet. The book is in the stores, but it doesn’t mean that everybody has just finished reading it.

RS: Did you ever read Anne Lamott’s essay in Bird by Bird about book publication day? Where she talks about getting up in the morning and thinking it’s going to be great, and how she practices aw-shucks stubbing her toe in the dirt, preparing to receive all the compliments, and of course no one pays any attention whatsoever.

CW: I loved Bird by Bird. I’ve actually had forty letters published in the New York Times. It’s always exciting, and people do see them, but it’s not as though your phone rings in the morning. A week later people will say, “Oh, I saw you had a letter in the Times.” So I guess it’s good that I planned today to wake up, read the paper, go to the gym.

RS: I think it can be hard these days, with social media, because there can be such quick response to things, and when you don’t get it…

CW: Oh, it is such a noisy world. It’s amazing any of us gets any attention. I’m probably better taking it in stride and having realistic expectations. That said, if I’m having a book event I work pretty hard to let people know. I don’t just hope that the bookstore will fill up all by itself. Bookstores appreciate it when authors know that they have to do their part. If you have a book event in your hometown, or a place where you have friends, and you let your friends know, then you’re probably good to go. But if you have a book event in Indianapolis and you don’t know anybody, then even famous authors have to hope for the best.

RS: What do you find are the special challenges, both artistically and in terms of promoting the second book in a series?

CW: You know, it’s funny. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and I, together, have decided that we’re not necessarily calling this a series, maybe because of those challenges. For instance, the New York Times gave the first book, Ava and Pip, a lovely review, but they may or may not mention a second book in a series.

RS: Right.

CW: Unless it’s Harry Potter. On the other hand, as we were just saying, it’s hard to get noticed at all, so if you can get your first book in the series to be noticed, to land, then it’s nice. Kids love series books. If they like the first one, they’ll gobble them up. Child and parent are both happy to see another one in the bookstore. I’m already very far along in the third book, which will be called Ava XOX. Each book needs to work as a standalone, but I love that I created this whole world, Ava’s town of Misty Oaks. I hope to keep writing brand-new books, but I also like finding my way back into the same characters, the same family.

RS: Do you find you have to do any particular kind of extra work, because there are going to be some readers who read the first book and some who haven’t? How do you balance the expectations of those two groups?

CW: Pretty carefully. I will have a few lines that are there to amuse the fans, but I have to be sure never to confuse the new readers. So I’ll say something like “My big sister Pip, who used to be so, so shy…” To somebody who’s read the first book, that’s practically the entire plot of it. You know, I met Sue Grafton before she became Sue Grafton.

RS: What letter is she up to?

CW: I think she’s up to — X has not come out. W Is for Wasted I definitely read, and I think X has not come out. We became friends back in Columbus, Ohio, and we’re still very good friends. I read A Is for Alibi in manuscript form, and now she’s up to W, so I have watched her deftly reintroduce Kinsey Millhone in each book. I’ve been able to learn at the hands of a master.

RS: She has it tough, too, because she’s got to finish the alphabet. She must have realized by about F or G that she was in it for the long haul, whereas you can keep going with Ava or not.

CW: That’s true. And even my editor — I love my editor; his name is Steve Geck — he and I both are thinking, well, maybe we’ll keep going, or maybe not, but I love that he’s given me the open invitation. I am under contract to write one more Ava book, and also one non-Ava book, but I said to him, “I love hanging out in Misty Oaks.” I love that he wants me to be taken seriously as a literary writer, so he doesn’t want me to get pigeonholed, but neither of us is going to leave Ava and Pip hanging if we’re both still enjoying working with them. I appreciate that it’s not set in stone.

weston_ava and pipRS: I think it’s very interesting the way you have these very standard, child-appealing motifs, like getting a new pet, dealing with your sister, and what happens when your best friend gets a new best friend. But those are all complicated in interesting ways in this book. Like the fact that the sisters are only two years apart. Often you’ll see more of an age difference in that kind of a story, so that one is clearly a teenager and one is clearly not. Here we see the way the sisters’ interests blend and diverge throughout the book. It goes back and forth. I thought that was neat.

CW: Thank you. Well, as you may know, I’m also the Dear Carol advice columnist for Girls’ Life magazine. I’ve been doing that for twenty-one years. And I’m the mother of two daughters (now grown up), so I happen to be acutely aware of what it means to be an eleven-year-old girl versus a thirteen-year-old girl versus a fifteen-year-old girl. If I were writing about boys, I’d probably struggle with that a little bit more. But with girls, I know every little step along the way. I like the idea of the girls who are in between, who aren’t kids, but they’re not teens. Ava’s sister Pip is still pretty darn young, but, yeah, she’s got herself a boyfriend. It’s pretty innocent, but it’s important.

RS: About the pet adoption — I wanted to thank you for showing how difficult the period of adjustment is. We got a dog a couple years ago — rescue dog — and he was very shy and scared in the shelter, and they said, “Oh, you get him home and he’ll warm right up.” Well, it took two years.

CW: Wow.

RS: Six months living in the closet. We’d go for walks and then come in and he’d march to his little closet and sit there and look at us. So I love that you show that it’s not going to be this wonderful bonding as soon as you get them in the door, which I think some kids expect.

CW: It does take a while. Everything’s gradual. Everything’s baby steps.

RS: The other thing I wanted to ask you, both in terms of this book and your position as an advice columnist for girls, is why do you think we see so many middle-grade dramas for girls mining these stories of three-way friendships? I’m a guy. It didn’t really work for us like that as boys. But for girls, it’s huge.

CW: Do you mean why in real life, or why there are so many books about that?

RS: I guess both.

CW: It is so hard for girls. That first friendship: “We’re best friends.” It’s almost like being a couple. So when all of a sudden there’s somebody else, you’re kind of like, “Huh?” Most adults know how to navigate friendships, and if our friend makes another friend, well, that’s certainly fine. But when you’re a child, and your best friend makes another friend at camp or school, it feels like an earthquake. It shouldn’t be devastating, and eventually kids learn that you don’t have to like all of your friend’s friends. You and your friend just have to like each other. But that’s a lesson you have to learn. I get so many letters about it. When I write my fiction I don’t want it to be all laden with takeaway messages, but I know what kids think about because of the advice column, and I can’t help wanting to help them.

RS: So how do you keep on this side of the line, so that you’re not preaching or being didactic about how a person should be with her friends?

CW: You create realistic characters and add humor. In my advice column, I really can’t be very funny. I think adult advice columnists can be, but eleven-year-olds do not want humor about bras or boyfriends or anything like that. I’ve learned to just make it very sincere and earnest. But in fiction I can be funny, and that’s helpful.

RS: Why do you think that is? I think you’re right, but why do you think that kids can accept it in fiction, whereas they couldn’t in straight-on advice?

CW: With an advice person, they want somebody very safe, where they can say, “My right breast is smaller than my left breast” or “I like my best friend’s boyfriend. I’m a terrible person.” They don’t want to know whether the advice columnist has a sense of humor. It’s just too important. A kid finally admitting something — they just want you to give them the equivalent of a big hug and a bunch of wisdom, to tell them that it’s okay, and they’re not the only one, and here are some ideas.

With fiction, kids want to laugh. They want to learn, but they also want to laugh. They want to just turn the pages and have fun. It’s a different animal. As far as not preaching, I’m also lucky—and it’s a luck that I’ve worked for—in that I have a group of friends of all ages, kids and grownups, who read my work. If I’m getting a little heavy-handed about anything, they’ll say so. And this includes my husband and my kids. They will give me very honest feedback

RS: Do you find that these readers have pointed out something consistently to you so that you think, “Oh, yeah, I really need to work on this?”

CW: Yes. In the old days, because I’m an advice columnist, I would get my characters in trouble and then quickly help them out. By now I’ve learned that when I’m writing fiction, you get your characters in trouble, and you keep them in trouble for a long time. You throw more obstacles at them, and make them suffer. I hate making an eleven-year-old girl suffer. I try to help her out as much as I can. I surround her with lifesavers.

RS: That’s interesting, because that’s almost the same thing as what you’re saying about humor. That in real life, of course you want to help a child as quickly as you can, but in fiction, kids want to see other kids get in trouble, just as they want to be able to laugh at the characters they read about. Because there’s a distance between them and the character in the book. It’s not them.

Do you see a lot of yourself in Ava?

CW: I really wasn’t a big reader in fifth grade. I admired kids who were, and my best friend was a bookworm, but I was just a kid with a diary for the longest time. I would read the schoolbooks, but pleasure reading wasn’t something that I really did. I did read Aesop’s Fables, but they’re really short. There is a lot of me in Ava. I’m certainly a cat person. It’s funny: it’s my fourteenth book, but this is the first time I’ve written about a fifth-grade girl with a diary and a cat. You’d think I would have written that one already.

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5. Publisher Anita Eerdmans on Roger Is Reading a Book

roger is reading a bookIn our May/June 2015 issue, we asked publisher Anita Eerdmans about the bespectacled, bowtied — and strangely familiar-looking — protagonist of Roger Is Reading a Book. Read the review here.

Horn Book Editors: We’d like to know: Is that Roger our Roger?

Anita Eerdmans: Yes and no. In the original Dutch, the main character is called simply Neighbor (Buurman). One of our acquisitions team members objected to the impersonal nature of it and suggested we give Neighbor a name — maybe something alliterative with the title. Something like… “Roger.” Those of us who know Roger Sutton were immediately struck by the character’s uncanny likeness (bowtie and all). And so to our great delight, “Neighbor” became “Roger” (with thanks to the Belgian publisher, De Eenhoorn, who allowed the change).

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Review of Roger Is Reading a Book

van biesen_roger is reading a bookRoger Is Reading a Book
by Koen Van Biesen; illus. by the author; trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Primary   Eerdmans   40 pp.
3/15   978-0-8028-5442-1   $16.00

The rainy-night endpapers of this 
Belgian import draw readers into the cozy lamplight of Roger’s apartment. “Shhhh! Quiet. Roger is reading. Roger is reading a book.” The page turn reveals that peacefulness can be fleeting. A disturbing “BOING BOING” emanates from the other side of the wall, cleverly defined by the book’s gutter, as next-door-neighbor-girl Emily bounces her ball. Roger retaliates by banging on the wall, and noise amps up while neighborliness dissipates. Showcased on white or off-white backgrounds, the illustrations feature small bursts of patchy color and abstract linework that artistically depict sound. When Emily bangs her drum, thin colored lines show a slow-motion time lapse of Roger startling — shoe, hat, 
book, and glasses flying. In the end Roger gives Emily her own book to read. His peace offering brings quiet until his ignored dog’s hints to go out finally erupt into a cacophony of “WOOF WOOF”s sending everyone into the rain for a walk. Visually stimulating, this well-designed package of noises, books, and human nature is like an offbeat piece of chamber music. Any resemblance to The Horn Book’s editor in chief is entirely coincidental (or not).

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. May Notes

The May edition of Notes from the Horn Book is on its way! An interview with Last Stop on Market Street illustrator Christian Robinson kicks it off, followed by

  • more picture books celebrating grandmas
  • picture-book musician biographies
  • intermediate fantasy with a hint of creepiness
  • historical fiction for teens

may 2015 notes

Read the issue online or subscribe to receive the monthly Notes from the Horn Book newsletter — along with Nonfiction Notes and Talks with Roger — in your inbox. For more recommended books and interviews, check out the newsletter archives.

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8. Book & Me | Comic #7

Book & Me #7 by Charise Mericle Harper

Previous | Next (May 14)

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9. Everybody wants to be Press Here

When Hervé Tullet‘s Press Here came out in 2011, reviewer Lolly Robinson wrote that its ingenious interactivity “gives the iPad a licking.” Following a similar no-screen-needed interactive model is this lovely pair of books:

matheson_tap the magic tree    matheson_touch the brightest star
Susan Dove Lempke wrote of Tap the Magic Tree in the January/February 2014 Horn Book Magazine, “Perhaps inspired by the very popular Press Here, this is winsome in its own right and stylishly designed.” Its more bedtime-oriented companion book, Touch the Brightest Star, is reviewed in our May/June issue.

Here are a few brand-new arrivals with Press Here–like directions to tap, shake, rub, and blow on the pages:

yoon_tap to play

glass_do you want to build a snowman

bird_there's a mouse hiding in this book
What’s that saying about “the sincerest form of flattery?” 😉

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10. Review of Tricky Vic

pizzoli_tricky vicTricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
by Greg Pizzoli; illus. by the author
Intermediate   Viking   48 pp.
3/15   978-0-670-01652-5   $17.99

Amidst the current plethora of picture-book biography role models, it’s nice to see a book about a con artist. “Ah, yes. But an artist all the same.” “Count Victor Lustig” (born Robert Miller) fleeced his way as a card shark back and forth across the Atlantic until WWI put an end to that; after obtaining the blessing of Al Capone, Lustig went into a “money box” counterfeit-counterfeiting scam in Chicago before returning to Europe and his greatest trick of all — convincing a Parisian businessman that the Eiffel Tower was about to be dismantled and taking his cash bid for the salvage. Lustig’s exploits did not end there, but they did end eventually, with the apparently nine-lived (and forty-five-pseudonymed) con man finishing his days on Alcatraz Island. With a sophisticated, genially sinister design incorporating cartoons and photographs into a low-toned red and mustard palette, the book signals the right kind of reader: one for whom venality is no obstacle to a good time. There’s no moral here, except perhaps for the one that closes the excellent author’s note: “Stay sharp.” Sidebars throughout provide historical context, and a glossary and thorough source list will give young crooks cover for school reports.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Marcia Brown

by Janet A. Loranger

Thirty-seven years ago, Marcia Brown published her first picture book for children: The Little Carousel.* On June 28, 1983, she received her third Caldecott Medal for Shadow. Those years from 1946 to 1983 have encompassed one of the most distinguished careers in American children’s books. That her latest book has received such a signal honor and that she is the first illustrator to be awarded the medal three times are evidences of the undiminished vitality and richness of her contribution to the field. It is an uncommon achievement.

The nourishment of such a gift and such an achievement comes from many sources. Marcia grew up in several small towns in upstate New York, one of three daughters in a minister’s family. Everyone in the household loved music and reading, and her father also passed along to her, especially, his joy in using his hands. From childhood Marcia was allowed to use his tools and learned to respect and care for them. And from her own workbench and tools, in later years, have come the wood blocks and linoleum cuts that illustrate such handsome books as Once a Mouse… (1961), How, Hippo! (1969), All Butterflies (1974), and Backbone of the King (1966). Marcia feels that the most important legacy her parents gave her was a deep pleasure in using her eyes — for seeing, rather than merely for looking. Her keen delight in the details of nature and her acute observation of them are evident in all her books — most dramatically, perhaps, in the beautiful photographic nature books Walk with Your Eyes, Listen to a Shape, and Touch Will Tell (all Watts, 1979).

As a college student, Marcia was interested in botany, biology, art, and literature. During summer vacations she worked in Woodstock, New York, at a resort hotel and studied painting with Judson Smith, whose criticism and inspiration have remained an important influence in her life and art. After graduation she taught high school English, directed dramatic productions for a few years, and worked in summer stock. Some years later, she became a puppeteer in New York City and also taught puppetry for the extra-mural department of the University of the West Indies.

When Marcia moved to New York City, her interest in children’s book illustration drew her to work in the Central Children’s Room of The New York Public Library, where she gained invaluable experience in storytelling and an exposure to the library’s large international and historical collections. Here, too, she received encouragement from such outstanding children’s librarians as Anne Carroll Moore, Helen A. Masten, and Maria Cimino.

Marcia’s particular interest in folklore and fairy tales is apparent to anyone familiar with her books. Marcia believes strongly that the classic tales give children images and insights that will stay with them all their lives. To each of these stories she has brought her own special vision, her integrity, and a vitality that speaks powerfully and directly to children.

A very important influence in her life and in her books has been the stimulus of travel — that mind- and eye-stretching jolt out of the usual. Marcia has traveled widely in Europe, Great Britain, Russia, East Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East, including China. If she has a “home away from home,” it is Italy, the country with which she has felt most profoundly in tune. She lived in Italy, off and on, for four years, spending much of her time painting. Felice (1958) and Tamarindo! (1960) are books that grew out of her love for that country and her friendships with Italians. Marcia still writes to friends there, in Italian, and is able to converse with them in the language when she calls them on special occasions. France, too, has a special place in her life, and she spent over a year there; while living in Paris, she studied the flute with a member of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra. On a speaking trip to Hawaii she was so overwhelmed by the incredible beauty of the islands that she returned to spend many months and to do the research that was the basis for one of her most powerful books, Backbone of the King, a retelling of a great Hawaiian hero legend.

In the late 1960s Marcia gave up her long-time residence in New York City and moved to a small town in southeastern Connecticut. For the first time she was able to design and build a studio to fit her needs. It is a large room with a balcony at one end, a high ceiling with two skylights, and areas for doing painting, woodcuts, drawing, photography, sewing, and flute playing. The house is surrounded by hemlocks, and the woods nearby are filled with possums, raccoons, deer, squirrels, and birds. Not far from her property is the small river that provided the inspiration and the evocative winter photographs for her only filmstrip, The Crystal Cavern, published by Lyceum Productions in 1974. The plants, trees, wildflowers, and animals — and the changing seasons — are a constant source of stimulus and delight. Her greatest problem is finding time for all the interests she wants to pursue at home and also for going to New York to attend operas, ballets, concerts, and museums — and for traveling.

Most days, Marcia gets up early and spends some time reading while she has her breakfast. Just now, she is interested in the recently published book about a journey through the byways of America, Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon (Atlantic-Little). She finds many of the conversations the author had with residents of small, out-of-the-way villages the stuff of living folklore. Later, she might go to her studio and practice Chinese brush painting, a technique which first interested her in 1977 and which she began to study seriously, with a teacher, two years ago. Her paintings of lotuses, bamboo, plum blossoms, birds, and dramatic landscapes fill the walls of her living room and studio. She has begun to exhibit, along with other artists practicing the technique, and has sold several paintings.

If she has a sewing project, as she often does, Marcia will spend time on the studio balcony, where she has set up a sewing area. And each day, she faithfully practices her flute. She feels very fortunate to be studying with John Solum, a much-esteemed concert flutist, who lives in a nearby town. When she sews or paints, or works on illustrations, there is always music — as necessary to her as food. Her love of music and the dance and her deep understanding of them perhaps account, in part, for the grace, rhythm, and strength of her writing and illustration. Most certainly they are profound influences. Because her work requires solitude and long stretches of concentration, she often does not see as much of her friends as she would like to, but she accepts this fact as a price that must be paid.

Marcia Brown’s books have unquestionably stood the test of time. Nearly all of them are still in print — a certain proof of their enduring hold on generations of children. Never has Marcia been interested in passing fashions in children’s book illustration. She has worked in many media but not for the sake of variety; rather, she has always let the story and her feeling for it determine the medium and the style. Her particular vision and her uncompromising integrity have been rewarded in the past: two Caldecott Medals (for Cinderella in 1955 and for Once a Mouse… in 1962), six Caldecott Honor books, two nominations for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature, and the Regina Medal. Now, after so many years of creating memorable children’s books, Marcia stands in a unique position — one abundantly deserved. It is gratifying that the children’s librarians of America, the dedicated people who bring children and books together, have honored her in so special a way.


 

*Except where another publisher is indicated, all books mentioned are published by Scribner.

From the August 1983 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Book & Me | Comic #4

Book & Me #4 by Charise Mericle Harper

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13. Marcia Brown, 1918-2015

brown_stonesoupWe were saddened to hear about the death of author-illustrator Marcia Brown this week at the age of ninety-six. The winner of three Caldecott Medals — for Cinderella in 1955, Once a Mouse in 1962, and Shadow in 1983 — she was also recognized with a whopping six Caldecott Honors (including her indelible Stone Soup in 1948). She was awarded the Regina Medal in 1977 and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1992.

Writings by and about Brown frequently appeared in The Horn Book Magazine. Here is a sampling:

“Distinction in Picture Books” by Marcia Brown (1949)

1955 Caldecott Medal Acceptance by Marcia Brown

“My Goals as an Illustrator” by Marcia Brown (1967)

Letter, with illustration, from Marcia Brown to Bertha Mahony Miller (undated)

“Marcia Brown and Her Books” by Alice Dalgliesh (1955 Caldecott Medal profile)

“From Caldecott to Caldecott” by Helen Adams Masten (1962 Caldecott Medal profile)

“Marcia Brown” by Janet A. Loranger (1983 Caldecott Medal profile)

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14. Book & Me | Comic #3

bm3

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15. Book & Me | Comic #2

Book & Me #2 by Charise Mericle Harper

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16. Review of It’s Only Stanley

agee_it's only stanleystar2 It’s Only Stanley
by Jon Agee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Dial   32 pp.
3/15   978-0-8037-3907-9   $17.99

The Wimbledon family can’t sleep due to one noise (“HOWOOO!”) after another (“CLANK CLANK CLANK”). In each case, it’s the fault of their dog Stanley, whose onomatopoeic disturbances interrupt — hilariously — not just the sleep but the perfectly cadenced rhyming account of the increasingly bothered Wimbledons: “The Wimbledons were sleeping. / It was late beyond belief, / When Wylie heard a splashy sound / That made him say: ‘Good grief!’” As the night wears on, more and more family members are awakened, and Stanley shows himself to be one clever beagle (and over-the-moon in love). The thick lines and subdued colors in the illustrations bring out the story’s considerable humor and focus readers’ attention on the ever-more-fantastical situations. Agee understands the drama of the page turn better than anyone, with vignettes of the increasingly crowded Wimbledon family bed giving way to full-bleed double-page spreads of Stanley’s machinations until it all comes together (“KAPOW!”) to make everybody jump. Make sure your listeners have their seatbelts fastened.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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17. Solve the Outbreak app review

solve the outbreak menuWork your way up the Center for Disease Control’s ranks from trainee to master “disease detective” by uncovering the causes of disease outbreaks in Solve the Outbreak (CDC, 2013).

Every chapter presents background on a fictionalized outbreak and five clues, each followed by a multiple choice question to narrow down the outbreak’s source. The clues are supplemented with patient profiles and charts of data, notes on the diseases’ characteristics, tips for avoiding the featured disease, maps and stock photos, and clear definitions of unfamiliar terminology. After each chapter’s fifth Q&A, receive the “results” with your points and achievement badges — and hopefully a promotion! There’s also an opportunity to read about the real case(s) that inspired that chapter’s outbreak mystery.

As you investigate the cases, you’ll learn about specific diseases — culprits include E. coli, lead poisoning, West Nile Virus, Legionnaire’s disease, and norovirus — and their transmission as well as methods for tracking and containing outbreaks. The tone is light and engaging (e.g., snappy CSI-worthy chapter titles such as “Up Sick Creek” and “Connect the Spots”) without minimizing the dangers of disease epidemics or the importance of preventative measures.

solve the outbreak spring break

Earn a perfect score solving the twelve outbreak cases in level 1 (don’t worry; you can do-over as much as needed) to access the four cases in recently added level 2 and earn specialist honors.

A few of the Q&As are gimmes; here’s an example from “Midterm Revenge,” the case of college students with a stomach bug:

“What should you do now?

  • Tell the sick students to stop partying so hard and go to class
  • Keep the sick students in the same area until their symptoms are gone
  • Find out if others are sick as well”

But overall, the information is solid, the mysteries are satisfying, and the format promotes both critical thinking and understanding of the scientific method. An “About the CDC” section and interspersed links to the CDC’s website provide additional health tips and contextual information on the CDC’s mission and programs.

If (like me) you liked American Museum of Natural History’s The Power of Poison app, give this one a try. Solving the cases will have you feeling like legendary disease detective George Soper — or possibly just feeling a little more germophobic than before.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 6.0 or later), for Android devices, and on the web; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.

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18. Jack and Hazel

Jack-the-lad

Jack-the-lad

WHY I have to go to Chicago to see Jack Gantos when he lives only a mile away from my office is a question I’ll happily ignore to hear his Zena Sutherland Lecture at the Chicago Public Library tomorrow night. Join us if you can; otherwise you can read Jack’s speech in the Horn Book this fall. I’m also looking forward to brunch with Hazel Rochman, or, as Milton Meltzer once referred to her, “that damned Hazel Rochman,” the lady having incurred his ire for insisting, in a far-reaching and lastingly influential Booklist editorial, that nonfiction writers for the young cite their sources. Now it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t!

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19. Week in Review, April 20th-24th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

From the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine: “Apples to Elephants: Artists in Animation” by Betsy Bird (aka Fuse #8)

Children’s Books Boston is now on Facebook — come say hi!

Over at YouTube, Roger talks about attending the ALSC/CBC Day of Diversity

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Between the Osprey & the Gar

Out of the Box:

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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20. The Writer’s Page: In the Time of Daily Magic

eager_halfmagic_coverI have come to believe that the books that influence us most are the ones we read at the impressionable ages of eight to twelve, the time when readers are most open to imagination and possibilities. It’s 
the time, too, when our worldview is being formed, not only by experience but also by our readings. Who you become as a reader deeply affects who you become as a person and, for some, as a writer. My first introduction to literary magic was through the work of Edward Eager, which I was lucky enough to find when my life was falling apart in the real world as my parents divorced. I stumbled upon Half Magic stored on a dusty shelf at the Malverne Public Library one summer day when I still had all the time in the world. Was I looking for a way out of the sorrow that surrounded me? Absolutely. But I was looking for more. I was looking for instructions on how to live one’s life, something that was especially unclear to me at the time. Back then, no one recommended books to a child-reader, at least not to me, and finding a book that spoke to you all on your own, turning those first few pages and entering into another world, was pure magic.

Eager, who was a lyricist and dramatist, is a dry, witty, adult sort of writer who fell into children’s books accidentally (isn’t that how all good magic stories begin?) when he discovered E. Nesbit’s work while searching for books to share with his son, Fritz. His droll, self-effacing essay “Daily Magic,” published in The Horn Book Magazine in October 1958, celebrated both E. Nesbit and Eager’s own delight in finding magic. He wrote for children through his own adult sensibility in the time 
of real-life Mad Men, cocktails and trains home to Connecticut, but he was an adult who remembered what children loved most. At the same time, he never spoke down to his readers, something I very much appreciated and had previously found only in fairy tales. Eager predicted the flowering of magical realism, suggesting that the core of a good magic book was the dailiness of its magic: “So that after you finish reading…you feel it could happen to you, any day now, round any corner.” It’s the very ordinariness of both setting and characters that makes the magic all the more believable. It’s a lesson learned from fairy tales, wherein an ordinary girl can sleep for a hundred years and a perfectly normal brother and sister discover a witch’s house in the woods and beat her at her own game. The best magic, after all, is always woven into the facts of our everyday lives.

Eager insisted that his own books could not have existed without E. Nesbit’s influence. He thought of himself as a more accessible and lesser author, and referred to himself as “second-rate E. Nesbit.” But for American readers his magical worlds may be more relatable than Nesbit’s magical books, which can seem old-fashioned and stuffy to modern children. Eager’s books maintain a timelessness that allows current child readers to be as enchanted as I was when I discovered his books in the sixties. Because Eager is a lover of puns and jokes, his books are both entertaining and adventurous. But behind the fun there is more: the sense that an adult is telling important facts about issues of family loyalty and love, and of course Eager always includes a lesson concerning the love of reading and books. Behind the adventure there is the wise reminder that, even while growing up, it’s still possible to see the world as a place of enchantment and to not lose what we had as children: the power of imagination.

Eager’s theory of magic is that it can and will thwart you whenever possible. For children, well aware that the adult world often thwarts childhood itself, the contrary rules of magic come as no surprise. At last, someone is telling the truth: the world around us often doesn’t make sense, and we have to do our best to figure it out. Magic is playful and unreliable, and that’s half the fun of it, especially when it’s doled out in halves or discovered in a lake on a summer vacation. The participants have to figure out the rules as they go along, as they would a puzzle or a game with rules that may shift and change. They make mistakes — some amusing, some dangerous — and in many instances they have to tame the magic and take control of it lest it take control of them. Is this not the deepest fear and wish of every child? That he or she will manage to take charge of a world that is chaotic and unfathomable? As every child reader knows, especially those with unhappy childhoods, the first exit out of the dreariness and difficulties of one’s real life is through reading. All books make for a good escape route, although novels are always preferable, and, as one of the characters in Edward Eager’s bookish and wonderful Seven-Day Magic asserts, “the best kind of book…is a magic book.”

* * *

Eager’s magic series totaled only seven in number due to his untimely death at the age of fifty-three. Still, seven is the most magical of numbers, just enough books to last through a summer. One of the best summers I remember with my own son was the summer of Edward Eager, a glorious time when we read all of the books in the series aloud, often in a hammock, beside a pond that some people said was enchanted. Half Magic begins the series, with a troublemaking talisman found on the sidewalk that grants only half wishes, including a cat that can half-talk in a hilarious half-language. O, unpredictable magic, wise enough to make certain that the adults in the picture remain unaware of its powers! Children can see what adults cannot, in life and in Eager’s book. The novels that follow — Knight’s Castle, Magic by the Lake, The Time Garden, Magic or Not?, and The Well-Wishers — lead up to the final book, the brilliant Seven-Day Magic, which gets to the heart of Eager’s enchantments. Here, a library book that can be checked out only for seven days creates literary enchantment. When I read it I couldn’t help but think: how does Mr. Edward Eager know this is what happened to me in my library, on my summer vacation, when I first discovered Half Magic on the shelf? And then I understood what the best novels do: they know how you feel before you do.

hoffman_practical magicMy own work for children has been influenced by Eager and his creation of what I call suburban magic, and my aptly titled Practical Magic is a book for adults who can still remember what magic was all about. No enchanted woods, no brothers who turn into swans, no vine-covered cottages, but rather small towns where nothing unusual ever happens — until one day, it suddenly does. The suburbs would seem the least likely place in the world to find magic, and yet such places turn out to be rife with enchantment. Here every bit of enchantment matters, and each firefly counts. My own magical books for children occur in small towns and suburbs, often in the summer, often involving the characters who most need magic in their lives: the lonely, the unloved, the secret-keeper, the fearful, the outsider that most of us were at some point in childhood.

Here is the best thing about magic: you never know if it’s real or imagined. But as Eager suggested, “The next best thing to having it actually happen to you is to read about it…” As a child I found solace in books in a way I couldn’t in the real world. I understood, in some deep, immutable way, that even the powerless have power through imagination. That is the gift of magic and of Edward Eager’s books. All you have to do is walk out the door on a July afternoon and turn the corner, and magic will be waiting for you. All you have to do is read.

From the May/June 2015 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Transformations.

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21. Review of Meet the Dullards

pennypacker_meet the dullardsstar2 Meet the Dullards
by Sara Pennypacker; illus. by Daniel Salmieri
Primary   Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins   32 pp.
3/15   978-0-06-219856-3   $17.99

The tradition of Bottner’s The Scaredy Cats (rev. 3/03) and Allard’s Stupids books (The Stupids Die, rev. 8/81) lives on with the Dullards, a family of five engulfed in ennui. The Dullard parents are horrified when they catch their children Blanda, Borely, and Little Dud reading books, asking to go to school, and even trying to play outdoors. Though the parents try to nip this revolt in the bud by moving to an even more boring house, they are challenged when a welcoming neighbor brings over a cake made with chunky applesauce (“so unpredictable”) and speaks enthusiastically (“‘Please don’t use exclamation marks in front of our children,’ said Mrs. Dullard”). And so it goes until, while watching paint dry (a mix of beige and gray labeled “Custom Dull”), the children finally escape out a window and make their own fun. Close readers will no doubt notice that the books the children were reading in the first pages of the story inspire both their imaginative play and the final circus scene. Pennypacker’s droll, deadpan text is matched by Salmieri’s flat and hilarious illustrations; the characters, with their elongated limbs and prominent eyes, might remind readers of Gru in the movie Despicable Me. The big, wide world is painted in bright reds and blues, while the Dullard parents stick to their predictable oatmeal-colored world, “secure in the knowledge that their children were perfect bores.” Not.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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22. Spring has sprung (at last!)

In Boston we’re still having as many chilly days as nice ones, but spring is indisputably (finally) here… and the the winter of our public transit discontent is a distant-ish memory. (The MBTA kindly gave free rides all day Friday to thank passengers for their patience during the winter. For more on that mess, see Shoshana’s hilarious Bostonian dystopia, “Diverted.”)

Two more signs of spring spotted near our office:

geese

geese (and the ubiquitous goose poop) in the Simmons quad

sailboats on the charles

sailboats on the Charles River

Here are all of our “signs of springtime” posts (with recommended books):

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23. Review of The Boy in the Black Suit

reynolds_boy-in-the-black-suitThe Boy in the Black Suit
by Jason Reynolds
Middle School, High School   Atheneum   257 pp.
1/15   978-1-4424-5950-2   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-5952-6   $10.99

High-school senior Matt wears a black suit because he has a job at Mr. Ray’s funeral home (setting up chairs and food for services), but also — metaphorically — because he himself is in mourning, for the mother who died just before the book begins and the long-on-the-wagon father who has returned to drink. Although his work responsibilities end when the funerals begin, Matt finds himself sticking around to find “the person hurting the most,” hoping that his or her expression of grief will perhaps help him deal with his own. While all this sounds like heavy problem-novel territory, it isn’t. Matt is a good kid with a good best friend, Chris; their Bed-Stuy neighborhood is gritty but also a place of true community. There’s even a sweet romance between Matt and a girl he meets at her grandmother’s funeral. With When I Was the Greatest (rev. 1/14) and now this book, Reynolds writes about urban African American kids in a way, warm and empathetic, that the late Walter Dean Myers would have applauded.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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24. Not-so-new New Yorkers

I know this is not news, but, boy, there are a lot of New Yorker covers lately that were done by people (men) who are also illustrators. (Because my husband never throws them away, we’ve got a lot lying around.) Here’s an array.

(Top) Kadir Nelson and Harry Bliss; (Bottom) Christoph Niemann and Liniers.

(Top) Kadir Nelson and Harry Bliss; (Bottom) Christoph Niemann and Liniers.

Three covers by Barry Blitt.

Three covers by Barry Blitt.

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25. Signs of springtime: construction

A late addition to our “signs of springtime” list: ’tis the season for construction!

construction

This is right near our office on The Fenway, but cranes are popping up like crocuses all over Boston.

Here are some recent construction books for preschool- and early primary-aged kids (particularly vehicle-obsessed ones!), recommended by The Horn Book Magazine.

building our houseJonathan Bean draws on his childhood memories to demonstrate the process of one family building its own house in his 2013 BGHB Picture Book Award–winning Building Our House. A little girl narrates the engaging and warm account; the steps are broken down into captions for half-page panels, while moments of greater import, such as setting the corners for the foundation, receive full- and double-page spreads. Family and friends make not just a house but a cozy home. (Farrar, 2013)

dotlich_what can a crane pick upWhat can a crane pick up? According to Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s What Can a Crane Pick Up?, anything and everything. Dotlich’s energetic, smoothly rhyming text is well matched with Lowery’s childlike mixed-media illustrations. The images of happy, friendly-looking machines (and animals, planets, and underpants) are irresistible; the playful hand-lettered verse is full of silly surprises. Mike Lowery’s subdued palette balances the wacky scenes of smiley cranes taking on the challenges. (Knopf, 2012)

fleming_bulldozer's big dayOn his “big day,” Bulldozer practically flies across the construction site; he can’t wait to invite all his friends to his party. He starts with Digger: “Guess what today is!” But everyone appears too preoccupied with work to guess the answer to Bulldozer’s question. Poor Bulldozer: “‘No games.’ He sniffed. ‘No friends. No party.’” Of course, there is a party; everyone has secretly been working on constructing a giant birthday cake, which Crane hoists up, candles blazing. Birthday surprises, cake, and construction vehicles — little bulldozers will lift their blades up high for Candace Fleming and and Eric Rohmann’s Bulldozer’s Big Day. (Atheneum, 2015)

harper_go go go stopCharise Mericle Harper’s quirky Go! Go! Go! Stop! stars two traffic lights and a fleet of construction vehicles. Little Green shouts “GO!”, and Bulldozer, Dump Truck, Mixer, and friends get to work. But without a way to not go, things threaten to spiral out of control. Then a red “stranger” rolls onto the site, and disaster is averted — eventually. Harper’s action-packed illustrations feature cheerful trucks in colorful cartoonlike scenes. Lively dialogue adds to the storytime fun. (Knopf, 3–6 years)

low_machines go to workIn Machines Go to Work by William Low, each of six small vignettes introduces one or two machines (e.g., TV news helicopter); pose a question (“Is there an accident ahead?”); and, through foldout flaps, offers a (reassuring) answer (“No, a family of ducks is crossing the road”). This design, along with terrific sound effects, encourages listeners to join in. Digital art brightly colors each page with slightly impressionistic tones. (Holt, 2009)

machines go to work in the cityMachinery-loving preschoolers are first introduced to a particular situation involving vehicles, from a garbage truck to a tower crane to an airplane in companion Machines Go to Work in the City. What happens next? Lift a flap (which provides an extended scene of the problem at hand) and find out. Just as they did in Machines Go to Work, Low’s painterly illustrations display the drama and excitement of a bustling cityscape.

meshon_tools ruleA diligent T-square rallies its fellow tools to get to work building a shed in Aaron Meshon’s Tools Rule! One helpful illustration shows the tools, strewn about the lawn, but with captionlike arrows to identify what’s what. Meshon’s lively text is full of tool-centric wordplay; a detailed note describes his process for creating the digitally colored mixed-media illustrations of smiley tools with a can-do attitude. (Atheneum, 2014)

demolitionIn Sally Sutton’s Demolition, a demolition crew tears down an old building, sorts scraps of material, and hauls the debris off to make room for a new construction project, revealed at the end to be a playground. The rhyming text, full of onomatopoeia and muscular action words, captures the excitement and energy of big trucks hard at work. Brian Lovelock’s meticulous illustrations give the job site a suitably dusty patina. (Candlewick, 2012)

sutton_constructionSutton and Lovelock offer a builder’s-eye view of a construction project with Demolition companion Construction. The rhyming text’s onomatopoeia and action verbs capture the site’s sounds; cleanly rendered illustrations feature heavy machinery, tools, and men and women hard at work. Listeners will enjoy guessing what the new building will be before the reveal: “The library’s here for everyone. / Ready… / STEADY… / READ!” (Candlewick, 2014)

 

sturges_construction kitties_300x300Four indisputably cute overall-clad kitties don hard hats and hop into colorful earthmovers to dig, move, push, and smooth dirt at a construction site in Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges’s Construction Kitties. Shari Halpern’s irresistible gouache illustrations do the heavy lifting here, channeling Byron Barton’s style (strong black lines, rich hues) but with more subtlety of color. With its bold images and straightforward text, this book would make a good storytime choice.

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