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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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Thank you for the opportunity to respond to The Horn Book’s July/August 2014 editorial (“Don’t Speak!”) regarding the ALSC Policy for Service on Award Committees that was revised during the 2014 ALA Midwinter meeting.
In response to the ever-increasing number of requests regarding the appropriate use of social media from conscientious award committee members wishing to respect the code of confidentiality that has sustained the stature of these venerable awards well, the ALSC Board of Directors established a task force (TF) to examine the current policies and bring forth recommendations. The TF was intentionally designed to include a range of member and stakeholder thinking, and consisted of a representative from the publishing profession and four past or current award committee chairs; one of whom is a reviewer and blogger of national reputation, another of whom has served as consultant to the award committees for the past three years and has grappled with the queries and concerns from circumspect members and chairs. The issue of confidentiality within the changing landscape of electronic communication and social media was carefully considered. Many colleagues, including children’s librarians and publishers beyond those who actually served on the TF, were surveyed and consulted.
The TF and the ALSC Board absolutely acknowledge and respect the role that social media play in the professional responsibilities of librarians. We recognize their benefits and power in accessing, assessing, and promoting books and information to our colleagues and to our clientele. We value the dynamic discussion that they facilitate amongst passionate professionals. We appreciate the possibilities for enriching our service and our lives. However, we recognize that there are pitfalls as well. As former Horn Book editor Paul Heins observed in a School Library Journal letter to the editor from May 1972, “Twentieth Century life has become overorganized and overcomplex,” and that was over forty years and several eons ago.
Privacy is a price one may pay for public dissemination of information and opinion. As information professionals we have always worked to balance the public’s right to know with the individual’s right to privacy. ALSC award committee members value the confidentiality that guards the privacy of all committee discussion and fosters an environment of candor, honesty, and flexibility. Indeed, the preservation of this policy has kept the awards, as noted in your editorial, “admirably if boringly scandal-free.” Committee members are free to speak frankly, ask questions, and change their minds without worry that their comments will be repeated or even implied beyond that meeting room. If these confidences are compromised, and the effects compounded through global dissemination by electronic means, it could have a chilling result. This courtesy also extends to authors and illustrators whose work is under consideration. Many have heard Lauren Myracle speak of her public embarrassment when Shine was mistakenly announced as being on the short list for the National Book Award. When committee conjecture or inside information is released, it travels far and fast and can never be fully retrieved, much like the old folktale of gossip and feathers in the wind. Such a situation would undermine both the process and the perception of these prestigious awards. Committees of the present and future deserve the same protections and considerations as committees of the past.
A receptive atmosphere is also cultivated when members enter into the discussions with an open mind and without taking an official, public position on any title prior to discussion. Such a stance, whether endorsement or indictment, does have an influence on the ensuing deliberations, where every title should begin on level ground. While committee members are encouraged to discuss their opinions verbally (despite the title of the editorial), when commending or condemning an eligible title in writing via blog post, tweet, email, or signed review, a member is establishing a viewpoint from which the rest of the committee must then work. Readers of blogs and recipients of email are not under a confidentiality agreement and not constrained from forwarding on a committee member’s opinion, thus increasing the influence exponentially. As Miss Cary exhorts Benji in Christopher Paul Curtis’s novel The Madman of Piney Woods, “The written word is different. Once you commit something to print, you are, in effect, chained to it. It is always available to be looked at again and traced back to you.” That is true more than ever these days.
Despite the assertions of your editorial, librarians (and editors of review journals) who serve on award committees are still “able to promote good books” and fulfill their professional responsibilities (and pleasures) in many ways:
• Members of all committees may write and publish unsigned reviews of any book.
• Members of all committees (except the Batchelder) may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any book previously published in other countries, or by an author or illustrator who is not an American citizen or resident.
• The Batchelder committee members may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any book that has not been translated.
• Books with no illustration provide a wide field for members of the Caldecott committee.
• Books with no text are available for Newbery committee members (and seeing that all three Caldecott Honor Books qualified for that category this year, it would seem a rich field).
• The Belpré committee members are welcome to write signed reviews or discuss via social media any books by non-Latino authors and illustrators.
• Members of the Sibert committee may write signed reviews or discuss via social media all works of fiction.
• Geisel committee members may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any books beyond the scope of a beginning reader.
• The wide and wonderful world of YA literature is available to all of us who value and evaluate literature for older youth.
The editorial calls for “more fresh air” in the awards program. Luckily, there is a plethora of blogs and discussion lists offering ample opportunity to follow the thoughts and insights of well-read colleagues who are not serving on award committees and to engage in communal speculation and promotion of worthy titles — combining electronic communication and professional expertise for the best possible advantage and allowing us to participate vicariously without jeopardizing the purity of the process and dissipating the distinction of the awards, as with the editorial’s example of the Children’s Choice Book Award, where too many voices can crescendo into cacophony.
I confess that I am perplexed by the comment that impugns the integrity of members who contribute unsigned reviews “and remain free to revel in the attentions of publishers eager to wine and dine them.” The implication is that attending a publisher’s event without making a public declaration about a book is somehow unethical. I know of no member, reviewer, or editor of a review journal, whether penning an opinion or not, who would be influenced in such a manner. While some committees and individual committee members occasionally do decide to forego such invitations, that is their prerogative.
I am indebted to award committee members for their dedication to service and for requesting clarifications that have led to examination of the policy. I honor their concern and commitment to maintaining the ethical standards that underpin the eminence of these awards, and their understanding that awards of distinction (e.g., the National Book Award, The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books, etc.) carry a commitment to a certain level of comportment. They have our complete trust and confidence.
I am proud to be a member of this passionate profession and am grateful to all those who have added their voice to this discussion. Even when we may differ in opinion on process, I know that ultimately we all agree in principle — we want the very best for children. I invite any interested parties to peruse the official documents.
Roger Sutton responds:
I also encourage Horn Book readers to examine ALSC’s award guidelines and commentary at the link Starr provides, as well as to look at my editorial and the (sometimes heated!) comments it engendered.
From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
The post The Voice of Reason appeared first on The Horn Book.
by Aaron Becker; illus. by the author
Primary Candlewick 40 pp.
8/14 978-0-7636-6595-1 $15.99
Journey (rev. 9/13) introduced a girl with a magic red crayon who could draw her way into an adventure and back home. At the end of the book she met a boy with his own purple crayon. Quest — the second in a planned wordless trilogy — opens where we last saw the friends, in a present-day city. While sheltering under a bridge during the rain, they are surprised by the arrival of an old man who gives them an orange crayon, a colorful map, and a holster with six small chambers. After the man is seized by soldiers, the children follow them into the same land we saw in Journey. Reading their map, the kids go on various quests (each lasting two or three spreads) to collect different-color crayons that fit neatly into the holster. Along the way they use their own purple and red crayons to draw objects that help them escape baddies in steampunk dirigibles. They make their way back to the Journey city and save the old man with their now-full holster, creating a magic rainbow. Becker’s illustrations are satisfyingly lush and full of subtle clues that will reward multiple readings. Compared to Journey’s simple yet mysterious story line, however, Quest seems overly complicated and, after the first reading, predictable — particularly for those familiar with the Myst computer games. Nevertheless, fans of the first book will probably be happy to explore this fantastical world in more depth.
From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
The post Review of Quest appeared first on The Horn Book.
I’ve hit an academic dilemma at summer camp this year. For the past three years at this gifted students’ camp, my lead instructor has chosen to teach The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank). Yes, the book provides an entryway into a very difficult historical topic; yes, it’s pretty amazing to watch Anne’s growth; and yes, she is a role model and a hero for multiple reasons. But I’m so tired of reading and teaching Anne’s diary year after year. Though it’s new to my students every time, it’s become monotonous to me. I’m bored!
I encountered the same problem with another lead teacher during the school year, except she couldn’t stand Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. Having been raised in California, I read this book in elementary school because the narrative explained so much about Native American daily life in California. My lead teacher had used the text for over ten years, so it was understandable why she was simply sick of the book. As her assistant now given the task of teaching Island of the Blue Dolphins, I asked her why she didn’t switch Island of the Blue Dolphins out for another book. Her reasoning was that she saw the value in teaching it despite her feelings.
My solution so far is to find suitable replacements (Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, in case you were wondering) but recognize that this isn’t feasible for most teachers on a regular basis. To choose a replacement means taking the time to find a book that matches what you find value in the original (now boring) book, write a whole new curriculum, and figure out how to teach it. It’s much easier to pull out familiar curriculum.
So what to do about Anne Frank? I still haven’t decided if I want to say goodbye to her forever. But the question still stands: what do you do when you have a book of value and you don’t have the passion for teaching it anymore? Do you continue to teach it because of its merit, or shelve it?
The post Frankly, tired of reading Anne Frank appeared first on The Horn Book.
I’ve been reading soprano Barbara Hendricks‘s memoir, Lifting My Voice, and it’s led me not only to a rewarding reacquaintance with her singing but to some thinking about the relationship between the artist and the critic. Hendricks spills a suspicious amount of ink over how she doesn’t pay any attention to critics (whose opinions of her highly distinctive voice have long been divided), but even if the lady doth protest too much for me to exactly believe her, her essential argument–that critics aren’t helpful to artists–is a good one:
“A review of my performance is totally useless in teaching me about myself. Reviews reveal so much more about the reviewer than they do about the artists. Until her death Miss Tourel [Hendricks's teacher, Jennie Tourel] was my most demanding critic, and since then I have had to assume that task myself. I learned during my first year as a professional singer that a review was not the right criteria to determine how well I had done my work, whether I had done what I had set out to do. I know my repertoire and I know when I have done my best work.”
Hendricks goes on to recall contradictory reviews, mean reviews, and seeing a reviewer who had really gone after her: “He was slight, had thinning hair, wore very thick glasses, and did not look like a happy person.” But all this is to miss the point. It’s not a reviewer’s job to make a singer–or a writer–a better one. We aren’t here to help you; we’re here to help inform audiences and potential audiences. (Even Hendricks graciously if barely allows that she “imagines critics serve some purpose and I do not want to do away with them.” Big of you, thanks.)
If I were a novelist I hope I wouldn’t go near reviews of my own work. What have I to gain? Stars and pans, Kipling’s impostors alike. (I guess I would hope that my agent or editor were paying attention, though, so as to strain anything that might be useful to me through a filter of helpfulness.) Must be hard to resist, though, especially in an age when reviews go flying about through social media and a “we’re all in this together” ethos pervades the field.
The post Do you read your reviews? appeared first on The Horn Book.
2013 was an anniversary year for the live-action educational TV program Bill Nye the Science Guy. In honor of that occasion, developer Disney Education created the Bill Nye the Science Guy 20th Anniversary App.
Welcome to Nye Labs, where you’ll discover on the main screen (a.k.a. Bill’s retro-looking desk) an assortment of objects that when tapped lead you to different sections of the app, all narrated by Bill himself.
Learn about telling time with a sundial on Mars versus on Earth (Martian minutes are longer) or enter the “Whorl of Illusion!” to learn about different types of optical illusions. When you tap the Bill Nye bobblehead on the desk, he provides science trivia (e.g., “Humpback whales can go without eating for six months”). In the TV portion of the app, you can watch episodes of the show in which Bill teaches you about chemical reactions, the heart, the planets and sun, gravity, earthquakes, magnetism, friction, light optics, and mammals. NB: Each video costs an additional $1.99 in the app store. “The Book of Do-It-Yourself Experiments” provides instructions for hands-on projects, such as testing eggshell strength and cleaning pennies, to try at home.
Two games are included in the app. One is an “Archeology Dig of Science” with robot Diggity and his dog Rocky in the yard behind the lab. Complete three levels (crust, mantle, core) by having the robot dig down into the earth to discover artifacts worth points. You need to earn a certain number of points within the time limit to advance to the next level. In the other game you are looking for signs of life on the Plutoid Pluto — but you have to travel there from Earth in a rocket ship. Along the way you’ll pass other planets and learn facts about each one. You must figure out how to use each planet’s orbit to move you forward in space when you launch your rocket; timing is everything here. You also must complete missions along the way, such as photographing each planet and launching satellites. Engaging in missions will earn you “money,” which you need to continue playing the game (launching rockets is expensive!). But remember to save some missions for the end so you can drop a probe on Pluto and get back to Earth. And don’t get lost in space!
Both games were a bit tricky to master and certainly not designed for the youngest users, but with a little practice they were fairly enjoyable.
Inside the desk drawer on the main page, you’ll find a few little extras, including a step-by-step guide on “How to Tie a Bow Tie” — so you can wear one like Bill Nye — and a copy of the Periodic Table of Elements with facts about some of the elements. There’s no way turn off the sound effects or Bill’s narration in any of the sections, so they got repetitive after a while.
This app contains a random assortment of science facts and experiments… but it’s just that sort of variety that made the show so interesting to watch when it aired on PBS Kids in the 1990s and that makes the app, with its impressive and responsive graphics, an informative and entertaining e-introduction to Bill Nye’s approach for making basic science concepts accessible to kids.
Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); free with in-app purchases. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.
The post Bill Nye the Science Guy app review appeared first on The Horn Book.
I got a request this past year from my friends at Boston Green Academy (BGA) to help them consider their Humanities 4 curriculum, which focuses on philosophies, especially around happiness. This was a tough request for me, and certainly not one I had considered before. There aren’t any titles I can think of that say “Philosophy: Happiness” on their covers to pull me directly down this path.
But as I thought about it, I got more and more excited about how this topic is tackled in the YA world. The first set of books I considered were titles that dealt with “the meaning of life” in a variety of ways. Titles like Nothing by Janne Teller, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, and one of my personal favorites, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp give lots of food for thought about where we expend our energy and the wisdom of how we prioritize our attention in life.
This, of course, led to stories about facing challenges and finding happiness despite (or because) of the circumstances in our lives. So we pulled texts like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, which all deal with characters finding ways to deal with and even prosper alongside difficult circumstances.
Then we happened upon a set of titles that raise questions about whether you can be “happy” if you are or are not being yourself. We pulled segments of titles like Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Tina’s Mouth by Keshni Kashyap, American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Rapture Practice, which I’ve talked about here before.
And then there were a world of nonfiction possibilities, those written for young people and those not — picture books by Demi about various figures, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas about work and play, and any number of great series texts about philosophers and religions and such.
So I guess the (happy) moral of this story is that it was much easier than I thought to revisit old texts with these new eyes of philosophies of happiness. I left the work feeling as though every text is about this very important topic in one way or another, and I can’t wait to see how the BGA curriculum around it continues to evolve!
The post Happiness and high school humanities appeared first on The Horn Book.
Well, after the glorious, gleeful exhaustion brought on by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, your intrepid intern still had a whole conference to attend.
For those of you who haven’t heard of LeakyCon, it originally started as a Harry Potter–themed fan conference in 2009, but has since morphed into an all-out geek-fest in which fan communities from all kinds of media platforms come together to celebrate the power of story and fandom. In fact, the conference has been renamed and will be known as GeekyCon from here on — opening up to the wide, wide world of geekdom!
It will not surprise any of you that I spent most of my time at the conference at the LeakyCon Lit panels. Organized by YA authors Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman, LeakyCon Lit brings together YA authors from all over to talk about writing, their books, and plenty of weird, awesome, totally unrelated things. This year’s speakers were Stephanie Perkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Holly Black, Gayle Forman, John Green, Varian Johnson, Kazu Kibuishi, Lauren Myracle, Rainbow Rowell, and Scott Westerfeld. With such a diverse group presenting, we got to hear about everything from designing love interests to killing off beloved characters, from graphic novels to world-building, from Stephanie Perkins’s morning jigsaw puzzle routine to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s near miss with quicksand.
The programming ranged widely between serious panels (such as “Diversity in YA” and the “War Against YA Lit”) to game shows (including Jeopardy and a variation on The Lying Game, an old British game show). Maureen Johnson interviewed John Green in a Between Two Ferns–eqsue style, providing a hilarious exposé of their friendship. Johnson also moderated the panel about killing off characters — which meant, unfortunately, that the audience didn’t get any new information about a certain beloved [spoiler] she killed off in [spoiler]. But we did have the opportunity to harangue some of the other authors, who discussed the tension between emotional attachment and resonance and deciding when a character’s death serves the story best.
The panel centered on diversity in YA was especially powerful. The panelists discussed YA literature’s erasure and misrepresentation of people with diverse gender identities and sexuality, people of color, and people with disabilities — as well as the kind of backlash faced by authors who create those characters. I found it provocative when the authors on the panel discussed a question they often get regarding their characters of color: “Why did you make that character a specific race if your story isn’t about racism…why bother?” The discussion which followed emphasized the importance of recognizing the bountiful diversity of experience in the world and the role literature plays in representing that diversity to its readership.
While most of the programming at LeakyCon Lit this year was phenomenal, a couple of the panels were better in conception than they were in execution. One panel called “I Made You, You’re Perfect” focused on romance in YA and how to construct romantic relationships and compatible characters. The panel, however, was comprised entirely of straight women; this lack of diversity was particularly apparent during a mishandled question on asexuality. The “War on YA” panel was concerned with the way that YA as a genre has been either denigrated by the media as too sweet and too small (especially for adult readers) or lambasted as the source of all evil for young people. Rather than exploring this phenomenon and its impact in depth, however, the speakers on the panel mostly reiterated what many of us had seen them write on Twitter and their blogs in recent months.
Overall, however, LeakyCon Lit was a perfect mix of whimsy, banter, and critical discussion. The authors are all knowledgeable and engaging, and their comments and discussions were accessible and enjoyable. I’ve been attending this track for the past four years and I can say with certainty that there is plenty to enjoy for both teens and adults.
The rest of the LeakyCon is not devoid of book-related fun for kids and grown-ups, of course. The subjects of the panels range from investigations into Harry Potter canon and characters to sing-alongs and debates. Each night there’s a concert by bands who get their material from Harry Potter (or The West Wing, or Doctor Who, or a whole host of other awesome platforms and stories). Pemberly Digital, a production company which creates modern adaptions of well-loved classics, premiered the first two episodes of Frankenstein, M.D., which follows Victoria Frankenstein, a young doctor determined to prove herself in a male-dominated field. Pemberly Digital is the same group who created the Emmy award–winning adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Which you should watch right now. Don’t worry. I’ll wait!
Seriously though, they are really good – as is Emma Approved (adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma), which is currently airing on Pemberly’s YouTube channel.
By the time we woke up on Sunday morning, we were about ready to lounge the day away by the pool. But we were in Orlando, and there is no such thing as a trip to Orlando without a visit to the Magic Kingdom. We did have to put down all our new books and our new geeky swag…but books are always there when you get back!
The post Sometimes, reading the book just isn’t enough – LeakyCon Lit appeared first on The Horn Book.
At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui
by Christine Liu-Perkins;
illus. by Sarah S. Brannen
Intermediate, Middle School Charlesbridge 80 pp.
4/14 978-1-58089-370-1 $19.95
e-book ed. 978-1-60734-615-9 $9.99
Late in 1971, workers digging an air-raid shelter in Hunan Province found three tombs of a noble family from early in the Han dynasty. The oldest tomb,
of the Marquis of Dai (d. 186 BCE), was plundered long ago. His son’s
(d. 168 BCE) retained important artifacts, though it had been damaged during construction of the third tomb, which was virtually intact and of enormous archaeological significance. Here, buried in 158 BCE in a preservative so effective that autopsy was still possible, was the still-soft body of “Lady Dai,” the marquis’s wife, cocooned in twenty layers of silk within four nested coffins; and more than a thousand artifacts — treasures in painted silk, lacquer, brass, and wood. Liu-Perkins describes the discovery in fascinating detail, including the lady’s household appointments, diet, amusements, and death; brief imagined scenes supplement the evidence. Perhaps the most significant find was a “library” of books written on silk and bamboo, safe in a lacquer box in the son’s tomb: fifty texts and documents, many of them unique, concerning science, philosophy, history, and government. Illustrative materials include maps and well-captioned photos as well as Brannen’s watercolors of the imagined scenes. Sidebars, too, supplement and clarify information, as do timelines, a glossary, citations for quotes, an index, and a two-page bibliography. Lady Dai’s remains are of huge interest in their own right; as Liu-Perkins ably demonstrates, such a find not only extends our factual knowledge but also deepens our appreciation of the diversity of past civilizations.
From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace,
and Other Tourist Attractions
by Lenore Look; illus. by LeUyen Pham
Primary, Intermediate Schwartz & Wade/Random 163 pp.
8/14 978-0-385-36972-5 $15.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-36973-2 $18.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-449-81986-9 $7.99
Alvin Ho, who’s afraid even when safe at home, faces previously unknown fears when his family travels to China to introduce his new baby sister to relatives. Forget fear of flying (“small enclosed spaces filled with strangers, hurtling across the sky at 600 miles per hour”); Alvin’s afraid of his own passport photo — in which he looks like he “robbed a bank and got run over by the getaway car.” The hilarity (for readers, that is) begins at airport security, when Alvin’s ever-present Personal Disaster Kit is found to contain, among other things, forks and knives (he’s “allergic to chopsticks”) and a rope (“for climbing the Great Wall”). As usual, Pham’s many illustrations capture the “fun” being had in Look’s action-packed story, this time most especially by Alvin’s long-suffering dad — all while wearing a crying infant strapped to his chest. First, Dad’s hauled away by federal air marshals (Alvin’s panicked and repeated use of the call button), then he accompanies his son up and down thirty-two flights of stairs (no elevators for Alvin), and then he must hurl himself onto a toboggan when Alvin instantaneously decides that riding down the Speed Chute is less scary than standing around on the Great Wall. This series entry’s heartwarming moment involves Alvin’s idea to grant some Christmas wishes to a group of orphans, including someone’s wish for a friend. Alvin may be full of fear, but he’s also got loads of empathy.
From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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and Other Tourist Attractions appeared first on The Horn Book.
Today, August 19th, the U.S. is celebrating National Aviation Day. This day was first established by a presidential proclamation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate advances in aviation. The date was chosen to coincide with Orville Wright’s birthday to recognize his contribution, together with his brother Wilbur, to the field of aviation — but it is a holiday meant to recognize all aviators who have advanced the field through their efforts. While the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart come to mind as the premier pioneering pilots, there are many unsung aviators. The books below highlight the stories of some of the most famous early female aviators and are the perfect way to celebrate National Aviation Day!
Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor (K-3)
This book tells the story of Amelia Earhart’s historic crossing of the Atlantic on May 20, 1932, which made her the first woman to complete a solo flight across that ocean. The flight was a dramatic one, including both mechanical difficulties and fierce weather and both the prose and the paintings of this book capture the tension of the flight and the elation when Earhart touches down in Ireland. The book also includes a brief biography of Earhart, a list of additional sources on the subject and a fascinating collection of quotations from Earhart’s speeches and publications.
Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss with illustrations by Carl Angel (K-3)
Maggie Gee knew from a young age that she wanted to fly planes. It was a dream that stayed with her throughout her childhood and when World War II started, she leapt at the chance to serve her country by flying for the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs. Despite stiff competition for a limited number of spots amongst the WASPs, Maggie succeeded, becoming one of only two Chinese American pilots in the organization. This book traces her path from her childhood dreams to her work as a WASP. An author’s note at the end fills in more details about her life after World War II and includes pictures of Maggie and her family throughout the time covered in the book.
Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared Into America’s Heart by Julie Cummins with illustrations by Malene R. Laugesen (K-3)
While many know the story of Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic, fewer people know that Ruth Elder attempted to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic years earlier in 1927. Though her attempt was cut short by a malfunction over the ocean, she nevertheless became famous, not only for her attempt but also for her later aviation exploits. This book tells her life story, focusing primarily on her attempt to fly across the Atlantic and her participation in a cross-country air race in 1929. Ruth’s story will excite fans of planes and flying and the illustrations will transport readers back to the 1920’s through their vivid details. The book also includes further sources of information about Ruth’s life as well as a final illustration that highlights a number of other important female aviators.
Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger with illustrations by Teresa Flavin (4-6)
This book tells the story of Bessie Coleman, an African American woman who grew up in the south in the late 1800’s with a dream to get an education. When she moved to Chicago in 1915 for a chance at a better life, she discovered aviation and decided to head to France to pursue an opportunity to learn to fly. Once she had her license, Bessie returned to the U.S. where she flew in air shows and gave speeches encouraging others to follow her path. Though the book ends with the tragic tale of her death in a flying accident, the story is sure to inspire those interested in learning to fly.
Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka with illustrations by David Craig (4-6)
Illustrated with a combination of paintings and photographs from Amelia Earhart’s life, this book is an impressive biography of a woman who is arguably the most famous female aviator in American history. Starting in her childhood and continuing until her disappearance in 1937, it offers a look into Amelia’s entire life, including aspects that are often glossed over in other books, such as her time as a nurse’s aide in Toronto and her work with two early commercial airlines. Both the pictures and the illustrations bring Amelia to life for readers and a list of source notes and other resources at the end of the book provide lots of options for further reading.
The post Read about female pilots on National Aviation Day appeared first on The Horn Book.
My Teacher Is a Monster!
(No, I Am Not.)
by Peter Brown; illus. by the author
Primary Little, Brown 40 pp.
7/14 978-0-316-07029-4 $18.00
From the cover, it is clear that Bobby and his teacher do not agree: “My Teacher Is a MONSTER!” says Bobby in a giant word balloon; Ms. Kirby replies, “No, I Am Not.” It’s true that she is much taller than tiny Bobby, her skin is monstrously green, and she has claws and sharp teeth and giant nostrils. They clash in class when Bobby sends a paper airplane flying, but when later they meet unexpectedly at the park, they begin to see each other differently. In a multi-page sequence of panels, the pair sits awkwardly together on a park bench, and they converse in word bubbles: “Ms. Kirby, it’s REALLY strange seeing you outside of school.” “I agree.” After Bobby catches her blown-off hat for her, they find more things to do together, and gradually in each picture, Ms. Kirby looks decreasingly monstrous as her face becomes less green and animal-like. Bobby isn’t perfect at the end, and Ms. Kirby reverts to a little of her scariness when Bobby disobeys, but child readers will understand the subtle shift in their relationship. Using thick paper and watercolor/gouache/India ink illustrations, Brown uses a cartoon-type format with panels and speech bubbles, varying the pace with full-page art, in a story that students and teachers will enjoy equally.
From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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(No, I Am Not.) appeared first on The Horn Book.
This week on hbook.com…
August’s Notes from the Horn Book newsletter: five questions for Judith Viorst, back-to-school picture books, early chapter books, narrative nonfiction, and YA starring teen boys.
Reviews of the Week:
Out of the Box:
2014 Summer Reading
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In honor of Shark Week, here’s a list of recent YA books featuring sharp-tongued narrators with biting wit. (Thanks to WE television network, home of Will & Grace reruns, for giving us this idea for “Snark Week.”)
Hattemer, Kate The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
Middle School, High School Knopf 327 pp.
4/14 978-0-385-75378-4 $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-75379-1 $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-385-75380-7 $10.99
A reality show competition for the title of “America’s Best Teen Artist” comes to Ethan’s bohemian high school, and his best friend Luke proposes a “folk uprising.” Ethan gets fired up by Luke’s idealism, so he feels profoundly betrayed when their scathing long poem (à la Ezra Pound) lands Luke a spot on For Art’s Sake…Luke’s apparent objective all along. Ethan’s voice — self-deprecating, witty, and full of both literary and pop-culture references — makes him an appealing narrator for the madcap comedy, and readers will cheer as he takes a leading role in his own life.
Howell, Simmone Girl Defective
High School Atheneum 303 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-9760-3 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9762-7 $10.99
From the roof of her father’s failing used record store, fifteen-year-old Sky and her glamorous older friend Nancy spy a poster of a beautiful but sad-looking girl whose image lingers in Sky’s dreams. When Sky learns that Mia, the girl in the picture, was found dead in nearby St. Kilda harbor — and that Mia’s brother now works in the record store — she wants to learn more. Part mystery, part romance, and part unconventional family story, the book introduces an intriguing cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own mystery or problem to solve. Sky’s first-person narrative is observant, questioning, and self-critical.
Maguire, Gregory Egg & Spoon
Middle School Candlewick 479 pp.
9/14 978-0-7636-7220-1 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7582-0 $17.99
An imprisoned man tells his story, Scheherazade-like, in letters to the tsar. He begins with Elena, a young girl in the impoverished Russian countryside, who meets well-to-do Ekaterina. Their lives collide and intertwine, sending the story in two directions: to a ball in St. Petersburg and deep into the forest to an unforgettable Baba Yaga — who is exactly the type of hardboiled, witty, snarky, and timeless a character as one could wish for from Maguire.
Portes, Andrea Anatomy of a Misfit
High School Harper/HarperCollins 330 pp.
9/14 978-0-06-231364-5 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-231366-9 $10.99
Anika Dragomir looks the part of the blond-haired, blue-eyed All-American girl-next-door, but “nobody knows that on the inside I am spider soup.” On the first day of school, “nerd-ball turned goth romance hero” Logan McDonough fixes his smoldering gaze on Anika, and they begin a secret courtship — that gets even more complicated when God’s-gift-to-Nebraska, Jared Kline, asks Anika’s mom for permission to take her daughter out on a date. Anika’s observations are razor-sharp, especially when she is describing other people (and especially when she’s ragging on her own family: “My dad is Romanian and looks like Count Chocula. Seriously. He looks like a vampire”).
Smith, Andrew 100 Sideways Miles
High School Simon 277 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-4495-9 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-4497-3 $10.99
Finn Easton has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar.
Willey, Margaret Beetle Boy
High School Carolrhoda Lab 200 pp.
9/14 978-1-4677-2639-9 $17.95
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-4626-7 $12.95
As Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel, Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks.
For Shark Week reading, click here.
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I just finished David Shafer’s thriller Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which I read because of Dwight Garner’s NYT review. The book is everything Garner says it is–bright, popping, funny, suspenseful. And it has all the things I love: complicated heroes and heroines, smart riffs on contemporary memes, and–best of all–a global conspiracy that really is out to get the paranoiacs as well as the rest of us.
It’s just great, as far as it goes. WHICH IS NOT FAR ENOUGH. What Garner does not tell us, and as far as I’m concerned this is a cardinal sin of book reviewing, is that the book doesn’t have an ending. After about a hundred good pages of rising action, with the good guys and girl ready to take down the evil that now lurks in a container ship off the Oregon coast, everything just stops. Nothing on or in the book says “first in a series” or anything, but surely the reviewer could have said so. Unless he didn’t finish it.
Thank goodness Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before I got to the end of The Two Towers and “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”
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The brand-new story told in Dreamworks’ Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e-book (Dreamworks Press with Genera Interactive, July 2014) takes place between the 2010 How to Train Your Dragon film (based on Cressida Cowell’s intermediate novel of the same name) and the sequel released earlier this summer.
The user begins by creating a character profile and selecting one of three reading levels: “hatchling” (suggested for users five years and younger), “broad wing” (six to eight years), and “titan wing” (nine years and up). The user may easily edit his or her profile or select a different reading level; the engaging narration, music, and sound effects may be turned on or off at any time from the parent-locked settings menu. All three levels of the story have the same basic plot and address the user directly in present-tense, second-person narrative.
You come-to underwater, with amnesia and a mysterious dragon egg in tow, after an apparent shipwreck. Human boy and dragon pair Hiccup and Toothless — protagonists of both the books and films — rescue you from a hungry water dragon, then fly you to their island home, Berk, to help save the hatching egg. The new hatchling gets spooked and escapes, leading you, Hiccup, and Toothless on a merry chase around four island locations (the blacksmith’s shop, the dragon-training academy, the dragon hanger, and a quiet cove) while encountering the human and dragon inhabitants.
You finally track down your baby dragon and earn its trust. Navigating among the various locations — or returning to a favorite chapter — is easy with a map of the island.
Each of the five chapters (one for the shipwreck scene, plus each of the island destinations) is followed by a first-person “journal entry” in which your character ponders her or his forgotten past, describes emotional reactions to the story’s events, and offers some foreshadowing for future installments. Endearing watercolor-like illustrations accompany the entries. Though the main narrative is simplified in the hatchling and broad wing levels, the journal entries are identical across levels and no narration is offered — so younger users may need some help reading these sections.
The humorous text (most nuanced and funniest in titan wing mode) and high-quality animation are accompanied by upbeat music, sound effects, and a few simple interactive moments, including a game of “Returnwing” (think “boomerang”) fetch with Toothless. But the real draw for Dragon fans will be reuniting with these lovable characters.
Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $4.99. Next installment coming fall 2014; $.99. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.
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For the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of teaching an English course to a group of highly motivated high school students enrolled in the summer session of an Upward Bound program. This summer’s book selection — Feed by M. T. Anderson — has spurred a campus conversation that I keep catching snippets of while I wait in line in the cafeteria or when I walk down the halls in the dorm. (I’m serious — a large group of teenagers, in school in the summer, are really talking about a book in their free time!)
Feed never fails to generate intense feelings and is also one of those books that could be suited to almost any theme or purpose that a course might cover. It lends itself to discussions of identity, social class, gender roles and expectations, conformity, language, as well as the topics around which I organized my summer course: media and technology.
The overarching question my students and I have been grappling with over the course of the summer is “Does the media create or reflect reality?” Feed is the perfect title to use as a case study for exploring this question, as it presents a dystopian world where the majority of people have a device — the “feed” — implanted directly into their brains. The feed constantly bombards its users with advertisements that are responsive to their locations and emotional states and also offers seemingly unlimited access to information. Of course, it also leads the users to have tremendous blind spots in terms of their understanding of the world around them and is controlled by powerful corporations who may or may not have the best interests of their users at heart.
Feed is the perfect choice for a course focused on media literacy. The book itself articulates and reinforces the need for precisely the skills learned in media literacy exercises: how to think critically about the content present in media messages, how to actively engage with information rather than passively accepting it, and how to uncover who creates the media and what their agendas might be.
Over the course of the summer, I have watched my students develop an increasing awareness of the challenges and implications of growing up in a media-saturated world. In addition to reading Feed, we have analyzed videos, advertisements, and contemporary songs to see what is under the surface of the media messages that we too often accept without question — and with which we even find ourselves singing along! I can see my students’ blinders beginning to come off as they think more critically about the world around them and how media impacts their own lives.
While Feed projects a vision of a dystopian future and was published back in 2002, I am struck each time I reread the book by how close the world Anderson describes seems to our own. The media and technology are increasingly influential and already play a key role in shaping our reality. The time to think about the implications of a media feeding us constant messages that may or may not reflect the world we want to inhabit is now and Feed is a wonderful title to use to engage young people in these critical conservations.
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Brave Chicken Little
retold by Robert Byrd;
illus. by the reteller
Preschool, Primary Viking 40 pp.
8/14 978-0-670-78616-9 $17.99 g
The chick is not just a witless wonder in this expansion of the familiar folktale. Bopped on the head by an acorn, this Chicken Little does rush off to tell the king that “the sky is falling,” joined as usual by other barnyard fowl. However, the numbers are doubled here by the likes of Natty Ratty, Froggy Woggy, and Roly and Poly Moley. Once Foxy Loxy has locked the whole crowd in his cellar, our chick turns clever hero, rallying the other animals to help him escape so he can then free them. Then, realizing his initial misapprehension, he turns the tables: he drops apples on the fox, who runs off with his own foolish warning for the king. Thus Byrd upends both the classic tale’s conventions and its cautionary message; still, his revision works as an underdog-makes-good story, much abetted by his elegantly detailed illustrations. The lively action is undertaken by comical yet delicately limned creatures in fabulous ancien regime attire and a bucolic setting alive with animated trees and multitudes of insects and flora. With Chicken Little learning his lesson, this is an entertaining variant; it’s also one further from the earthy nature of the tale’s animal prototypes, a difference highlighted at the end when Mrs. Chicken Licken (like Peter Rabbit’s mother) tucks her weary and wiser son into his cozy, well-appointed bed.
From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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To celebrate World Elephant Day (August 12, 2014), here are some books about those larger-than-life creatures, with reviews from The Horn Book Guide Online.
Bunting, Eve Tweak Tweak
40 pp. Clarion 2011. ISBN 978-0-618-99851-7
(Preschool) Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. “‘Hold on to my tail, Little Elephant,’ Mama Elephant said. ‘…If you want to ask me a question, tweak twice.’” Tweak and ask she does: from the names of the animals they encounter to what each is doing. Can she, Little Elephant, do those things, too? The pairing of Bunting’s elegant text with Ruzzier’s offbeat art, including surreal, rather Seussian landscapes, is unexpectedly fabulous.
de Brunhoff, Jean and Brunhoff, Laurent de Babar’s Anniversary Album: Six Favorite Stories
144pp. pp. Random 1993. ISBN 0-394-84813-6
(Gr. K-3) Reissue, 1981. Introduction by Maurice Sendak. This compilation of six stories–three by Jean de Brunhoff, Babar’s creator, and three by Jean’s son Laurent–about the French elephant was originally published to commemorate Babar’s fiftieth birthday. The volume includes a photo-essay by Laurent de Brunhoff that includes family photographs and sketches and paintings by both Laurent and his father.
McKee, David Elmer’s Christmas
32 pp. Andersen 2011. ISBN 978-0-7613-8088-7
(Gr. K-3) After a day of Christmas preparation, patchwork elephant Elmer and seven young elephants spy on Papa Red (complete with Santa hat and whiskers). While watching him gather gifts from under their tree, Elmer explains, “this is the season for giving.” McKee’s story sends a friendly reminder about the importance of generosity during the holidays. Playful, vividly colored illustrations complement the cheery tone.
Willems, Mo Elephants Cannot Dance!
64 pp. Hyperion 2009. ISBN 978-1-4231-1410-9
(Gr. K-3) Elephant & Piggie Book series. Elephant Gerald intones, “Elephants cannot dance.” But as it turns out, elephants can try to dance. Even though Gerald can’t keep up with Piggie, he has a few (unwitting) moves of his own. Color-coded speech bubbles in this easy reader focus attention on the simple words and expressive illustrations. The easily understood story will provide instant reading success and lots of laughs.
Applegate, Katherine The One and Only Ivan
307 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4
(Gr. 4-6) Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. In short chapters that have the look and feel of prose poems, Applegate captures the voice of Ivan, a captive gorilla who lives at the “Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.” When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan realizes they deserve more than their restrictive environment. Ivan’s range of thoughts and emotions poses important questions about kinship and humanity. 2013 Newbery Medal winner.
DiCamillo, Kate The Magician’s Elephant
202 pp. Candlewick 2009. ISBN 978-0-7636-4410-9
(Gr. 4-6) Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. In a fictional Old World city, Peter searches for his sister, instructed by a fortuneteller to “follow the elephant.” The book’s theme is the triumph of hope over despair, as Peter’s idea that the “world is broken” gives way to a belief in possibility. DiCamillo’s prose is remarkable in this allegorical and surreal novel.
Fleischman, Sid The White Elephant
95 pp. Greenwillow 2006. ISBN 0-06-113136-9 LE ISBN 0-06-113137-7
(Gr. 1-3) When Run-Run’s elephant accidentally sprays water on a cranky prince, he and Run-Run get a gift they neither want nor can handle: Sahib, a sacred white elephant. Fleischman’s original tale tells a touching story of the enduring power of love. Short chapters, evocative pencil sketches, and a rich Siamese setting will hold the interest of readers and listeners alike.
Kelly, Lynne Chained
248 pp. Farrar/Ferguson 2012. ISBN 978-0-374-31237-4
(Gr. 4-6) Ten-year-old Hastin must endure the cruelty of his employer, a circus owner. Kelly crafts a layered, convincing tale of interspecies friendship as Hastin comes to understand his charge, Nandita, an elephant calf. A kind older man proves an ally in Hastin’s quest to protect Nandita, but it is the bond between boy and elephant that will stick in readers’ minds.
Lewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Balarama: A Royal Elephant
56 pp. Lee 2009. ISBN 978-1-60060-265-8
(Gr. K-3) In Mysore in southern India, elephants are featured in the annual Dasara festival procession. The Lewins describe Balarama’s triumphant first appearance as procession leader. Pageantry and noble beasts alike are vividly realized in Ted Lewin’s signature watercolors, while Betsy Lewin’s agile drawings add deft characterizations, lively action, and humor. It’s a gorgeous glimpse at a continuing custom. “Elephant Facts” are appended. Glos.
Lewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Elephant Quest
48 pp. HarperCollins 2000. ISBN 0-688-14111-0 LE ISBN 0-688-14112-9
(Gr. K-3) In search of African elephants in Botswana, the Lewins provide careful observations of animals in their habitats that lend insight into animal behaviors and survival tactics. Throughout, a cheerful tone combines with reverence for the beauty and variety of nature. Betsy Lewin’s humorous, emotive sketches and Ted Lewin’s full-page paintings illustrate their encounters.
O’Connell, Caitlin A Baby Elephant in the Wild
40 pp. Houghton 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-14944-1
(Gr. K-3) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. In text and numerous color photographs we follow a newborn female elephant through her first months in the Namibian scrub desert as she learns the behaviors that will enable her to survive. The account is straightforward and unsentimental yet filled with detailed and fascinating scientific information, including the lifelong ties among elephants that will resonate with readers’ own experience of family.
O’Connell, Caitlin and Jackson, Donna M. The Elephant Scientist
71 pp. Houghton 2011. ISBN 978-0-547-05344-8
(Gr. 4-6) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. Scientists in the Field series. Scientist O’Connell’s contributions to our understanding of elephant communication propel this account. O’Connell and Jackson describe the findings in a way that lets readers witness the unfolding of a research program, as hypotheses lead to new insights that beget even more questions. The many photographs, predominantly from Namibian field sites, capture the majestic elder elephants, their always-appealing offspring, and dusty, rugged landscapes. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind. 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book winner.
Schubert, Leda Ballet of the Elephants
32 pp. Roaring Brook/Brodie 2006. ISBN 1-59643-075-3
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Big, lumbering elephants performing a ballet? This event did happen–with fifty elephants (and fifty human ballerinas). Four individuals (John Ringling North, George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, and Vera Zorina) are artfully introduced through background material that connects each person to the whole. Parker’s loosely scrawled ink outlines contribute to the magical tone. A personal yet informative author’s note is appended. Further reading, websites.
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Five questions for Judith Viorst
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Ray Cruz, Atheneum, 4–7 years.
And Two Boys Booed written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Sophie Blackall, Farrarr/Ferguson, 4–7 years.
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea, Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years.
Dinosaur vs. School by Bob Shea, Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, Little, Brown, 3–5 years.
My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown, Little, Brown, 3–5 years.
Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t) written by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley, Knopf, 4–7 years.
Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome) written by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley, Knopf, 4–7 years.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 6–8 years.
Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family written by Jack Gantos, illus. by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, 5–8 years.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up written by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
Quinny & Hopper written by Adriana Brad Schanen, illus. by Greg Swearingen, Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Penguin/Paulsen, 11–14 years.
Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully, Clarion, 11–14 years.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming, Random/Schwartz & Wade, 13–16 years.
Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson, Dial, 13–16 years.
Go your own way
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith, Simon, 15–17 years.
Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey, Carolrhoda Lab, 15–17 years.
Schizo by Nic Scheff, Philomel, 13–15 years.
Skink — No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen, Knopf, 13–15 years.
These titles were featured in the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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With storytelling ease and pitch-perfect pacing, the following works of narrative nonfiction for older readers bring their subjects to brilliant life, elevating the sometimes-staid genre of biography to literary art form.
Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming is so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. Born in Ohio in 1963, Jackie moved with her family to Greenville, South Carolina, to live with her maternal grandparents. We see young Jackie grow up in historical context alongside the contexts of extended family, community (Greenville, later Brooklyn), and religion — and we trace her development as a nascent writer to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry sings in this extraordinary portrait of a writer as a young girl. (Penguin/Paulsen, 10–14 years)
Emily Arnold McCully creates a multilayered biography of a crusading early-twentieth-century journalist in Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! Readers meet young Ida growing up in Pennsylvania oil country. A curious child, Tarbell’s lessons learned from scientific inquiry led to her dogged determination to get to the bottom of an issue. McCully engagingly re-creates the era’s social context for women (famously, Tarbell didn’t believe in women’s suffrage) as well as the culture and importance of print media, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about Tarbell’s positions and her times. (Clarion, 10–14 years)
Candace Fleming’s riveting book The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia appeals to the imagination as much as the intellect. Her focus is not just the Romanovs (the last imperial family of Russia), but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well, showing how each group was the product of its circumstances and how they all moved inexorably toward the tragic yet fascinating conclusion. An epic, sweeping historical narrative. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 12–18 years)
Demonstrating warmth, ease, and a sense of humor about herself, Katherine Paterson relates tales from her life, and from her parents’ and grandparents’, too, in Stories of My Life. The author gently ambles from story to story, looping through her youthful experiences in China and Japan, her marriage and children, and her writing. Throughout all there is a strong connection to Paterson’s childhood: “By the time I was five I had been through war and evacuation, but nothing had prepared me for the American public school system.” (Dial, 12 years and up)
From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Photo: Milton Viorst
Judith Viorst, creator of Alexander (he of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), writes about another little boy who might just wish he could curl back up in bed. The young protagonist of And Two Boys Booed (Farrar/Ferguson, 4–7 years) is excited to perform in the school talent show… until it’s almost his turn. With equal parts realism, reassurance, gentle humor, and inventive wordplay, Viorst sets up a familiar stage-fright scenario and gives her main character an ingenious way to get himself out of it.
1. What was your inspiration for this multilayered book?
JV: My inspiration was my granddaughter Olivia, daughter of Alexander, who came over to my house one afternoon after a talent show at her summer day camp. When I asked how her portion of the talent show had gone, she replied, “Two boys booed.” To my shame I didn’t immediately offer her a hug and sympathy. Instead, my first response was, “Great book title!” I then had to figure out a story to go with the title.
2. Who thought of those terrific flaps?
JV: I believe it was Sophie Blackall, the amazing illustrator of the book, who came up with the brilliant idea of doing flaps. But her brilliance is evident in all kinds of other ways as well: in the richly detailed double-page spread of our narrator’s many, many varied activities during the course of which he practiced singing his song; in the delicious specificity of every child in the story; and in the depiction of our narrator shrinking deeper and deeper into his shirt as his stage fright mounts.
3. Those two boys: were they jealous? Mean-spirited? Or just acting like boys?
JV: The two boys were being rather unkind, booing a kid because he was too scared to do what he was supposed to do, and then continuing to boo even after he did it. I wish they had been more sympathetic, and I hope their teacher had a little talk with them after the talent show.
4. Would your Alexander be onstage with the narrator? Or in the peanut gallery with the boys? (Maybe it would depend on the day!)
JV: Alexander could be fierce, frustrated, grumpy, but I don’t think he’d be either scared to perform or unkind to those who were.
5. Do you get stage fright?
JV: I had terrible stage fright all the way through college. I remember being told I had to stand in front of one of my history classes and read a paper I had written and offering to write a second paper if I could just please hand them both in and not read them aloud. I now give talks to large audiences without the slightest flicker of stage fright, but don’t ask me how that happened.
From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Following your dreams and dealing with family: these topics get hilarious treatment for primary readers in the following early chapter books. An added bonus? Some familiar faces from popular series.
In Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel’s Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family, the titular kitty finds a family photo album and, nostalgic for his childhood, decides to visit his kin. His mother treats him well, but other relatives humiliate him — and poor Ralph realizes that he’s so rotten because his family was rotten to him! After a few Rotten Ralph picture books, the return to the longer early-chapter-book format leaves room for a more sophisticated story line to emerge. Never fear; Ralph’s rotten behavior, sure to bring a chuckle to fans old and new, is still front and center in Gantos’s freewheeling text and Rubel’s energetic illustrations. (Farrar, 5–8 years)
In Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Leroy (the “reformed thief” from Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen’s Mercy Watson books) makes ends meet serving popcorn at the drive-in, but dreams of being a cowboy. Sporting a cowboy hat, lasso, and boots, he watches raptly the Wednesday night Western double-feature but makes little progress otherwise. When he receives the advice that “Every cowboy needs a horse,” Leroy purchases “very exceptionally cheap” Maybelline and throws himself into horse-ownership — but acquiring a horse and keeping one turn out to be two different challenges. This entertaining tale balances comically exaggerated details and true heart. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)
Pigsticks Pig — star of Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey — comes from a long line of august ancestors. But a young pig has to make his own mark, and Pigsticks decides on an expedition to the Ends of the Earth. He engages anxious, cake-loving hamster Harold as an assistant, and, in three generously illustrated chapters, we follow the explorers as they survive swamps, deserts, rickety rope bridges, malevolent mountain goats, and more. Alex Milway’s tongue-in-cheek text and slapdash-goofy pictures provide much humor. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)
The eponymous brand-new next-door-neighbor kids in Quinny & Hopper couldn’t be more different: quiet, analytical loner Hopper is initially baffled (and a little appalled) by Quinny’s cutesiness and high volume. But in battling Hopper’s bullying brothers on his behalf, Quinny wins him over, and the two become friends — until snooty new girl Victoria barges her way between them. Debut author Adriana Brad Schanen nicely balances the alternating perspectives of Quinny and Hopper and paints a comically exaggerated but essentially truthful picture of life with siblings. Illustrator Greg Swearingen deftly captures each child’s emotions. (Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years)
From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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A Creature of Moonlight
by Rebecca Hahn
Middle School, High School Houghton 314 pp.
5/14 978-0-544-10935-3 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-544-11009-0 $17.99
Marni is the daughter of a princess and the powerful dragon who presides over the kingdom’s magicked woods. When she was a baby, her grandfather surrendered his throne to his son to save her life. Marni has grown up in relative obscurity with Gramps in a hut on the kingdom’s outskirts. Now she is almost seventeen, and the woods are encroaching on the kingdom — her dragon father’s attempt to call her to him. After tragedy strikes, Marni (the king’s only heir) leaves home to make a life for herself at court — and to seek vengeance on her uncle for her mother’s murder. But the king’s increased fear and hatred eventually drives Marni to seek out her father. While in the woods, she finally chooses who she will be and where home truly lies. Full of court intrigue, family secrets, marriage proposals (several by a beguiling and bewildering lord), fantastical creatures, legends, and magic, Hahn’s debut novel is first and foremost a journey of self-discovery. Marni, like Katsa in Graceling (rev. 11/08) and the eponymous Seraphina (rev. 7/12), is a strong, plainspoken protagonist who learns to embrace her uniqueness and power with newfound confidence and fierce independence. Hahn’s poetic style gives the narrative depth and beauty with vividly rendered settings and sophisticatedly complex characters. It’s an eloquent story about free will, the meaning of home, and love’s varied forms.
From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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Hipster teens rejoice! Here is your new poster child (though she would probably reject the title — which is, of course, the hipster thing to do).
With The Isobel Journal: Just a Girl from Where Nothing Really Happens (Switch Press, August 2014; first published in her native UK by Hot Key Press, 2013), nineteen-year-old art student Isobel Harrop shares her journal of quirky drawings accompanied by obvious, but often hilarious, observations about life. (Sometimes she likes to play “Pretend I am Beyoncé.” Don’t we all?) Imagine Amelia of Amelia’s Notebook growing up and going to the Rhode Island School of Design. If you love the grungy and odd, vintage clothes, championing music no one else has heard of, rhapsodizing about tea, and ironically listening to ’90s girl bands, meet your new best friend!
A few of my favorite entries:
I can empathize — I, too, fear of being “one of those people.”
Here’s a link to a soundtrack compiled by Isobel to listen to while perusing the book.
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So much trouble in this world could be avoided if we all simply shutted up when we did not know whereof we spoke but here I go. I have never read Alfred Ollivant’s Bob, Son of Battle, but Lydia Davis’s explanation of the changes she made for a new New York Review of Books edition makes me eager to read the original if only to defend its
In her afterword, Davis writes that “I did not want Ollivant’s powerful story to be forgotten simply because it was difficult to read.” (She said ominously.) Davis goes on to explain that she translated the Cumbrian dialect used heavily in the 1898 original and then thought oh, the hell with it, let’s fix this sucker:
“I decided that I would not only change the speech of the characters but also change the way the story was told, just enough so that almost everything could be understood without any problem, and there would be nothing to get in the way of the story.”
Trifles! I’m reminded of a letter Elizabeth once shared with me from a somewhat overconfident applicant for an editorial position who included with her letter Xeroxed pages of Steig and Lobel marked with her recommended word substitutions.
Here, for example, is the first sentence/paragraph of Ollivant’s (from the Gutenberg edition):
“The sun stared brazenly down on a gray farmhouse lying, long and low in the shadow of the Muir Pike; on the ruins of peel-tower and barmkyn, relics of the time of raids, it looked; on ranges of whitewashed outbuildings; on a goodly array of dark-thatched ricks.”
Here is Davis’s:
“The sun stared boldly down on a gray farmhouse lying long and low in the in the shadow of the sharp summit of Muir Pike; it shone on the ruins of a fortified tower and a rampart, left from the time of the Scottish raids; on rows of white-washed outbuildings; on a crowd of dark-thatched haystacks.”
Why bold for brazen, I wonder, but even more I wonder why Davis, clearly on a labor of love, doesn’t trust today’s children to read past the same difficulties she had with the book in her own childhood: “The odd thing is that because the story is so powerful, you can read right over these hard words and puzzling expressions and not mind, because you are so eager to know what happens next. That is what I did when I first read it.” Readers do this all the time. Feeling that a book knows something that you don’t is one of the prime pleasures of reading.
Neither Ollivant’s original nor Davis’s adaptation are about to start a new craze for old Bob (I do admire NYRB’s optimistic publishing program), but I suspect that if I were the kind of kid who was going to read it, I would also be the kind of kid who would want to read the original, which is just what Davis has inspired me to do.
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