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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. The Grasshopper and the Ants

pinkney_grasshopper and the antsThe Grasshopper & the Ants adds another title to Jerry Pinkney’s growing set of books based on fables by Aesop and Andersen. Unlike his Caldecott-winning The Lion & the Mouse (2009), this title has text, except for an extended wordless sequence in the middle.

But the Caldecott committee will not be comparing this to Pinkney’s other fable books, because they’re only allowed to discuss titles published in 2015.

Here, Pinkney’s adaptation softens the harsher elements of Aesop’s version, allowing the ants to show compassion and portraying the grasshopper as a guy who is devoted to his art rather than just a lazy freeloader. The action starts in the spring and moves quickly through the seasons as the grasshopper implores the ants to stop working and join him fishing, dancing, singing, etc. The ants don’t stop their rushing around to gather food before the snow covers it all up. Pinkney depicts his characters realistically (every leg segment, abdomen, and antenna in place), but dresses the ants in acorn caps and the grasshopper in a natty straw hat and vest.

When winter comes, the grasshopper finds himself surrounded by lots and lots of snow. What follows is a five-spread wordless sequence that juxtaposes the busy ants and the lonely grasshopper. In one especially effective spread, we see the ants in their cozy underground tunnels full of stored food, while a flap folds up to show the grasshopper, hungry and shivering in the snow above them.

Pinkney’s art is as intricate as ever, and it’s clear how much research and thought he put into this book. The endpapers, the illustrative lettering on the title page, and the dual jacket and cover are all exquisite. But to my eye, the pages illustrating the actual story are a little too detailed. They are so full of shapes that it can be hard to figure out what’s happening. This style works better for the ants, with their many dark legs making an interesting repeated design. This style is less successful with the grasshopper. It takes me a second to figure out what position he is sitting in and what he’s doing with all those legs. I also think the wings are too prominent. When I was a kid I spent many hours in the summer hunting and catching grasshoppers and crickets. Their wings stay folded against the abdomen until they jump, so that seems like one aspect Pinkney could have changed to make the character look simpler. I don’t think I’m alone in perceiving this art as overly busy. The first time through, readers will probably struggle to parse the images, but the payoff will come on subsequent readings when they will see more and more as they look again and again.

I don’t want to sound like a downer here. I am a fan of Pinkney’s work and love the texts he chooses to illustrate. Whenever a new book of his comes into the office, I want to drop everything and look at it. But I do think that his style is working against him in this instance.

But that’s just my opinion. I am ready to be convinced otherwise — and I have no doubt the Real Committee will be taking a good, hard look at this book.

The post The Grasshopper and the Ants appeared first on The Horn Book.

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2. Starred reviews, November/December Horn Book Magazine


From FUNNY BONES, by Duncan Tonatiuh

The following books will receive starred reviews in the November/December issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Tiptoe Tapirs; written and illustrated by Hanmin Kim; trans. from the Korean by Sera Lee (Holiday)

I Used to Be Afraid; written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Porter/Roaring Brook)

Flop to the Top!; written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing (TOON)

Hereville:How Mirka Caught a Fish; written and illustrated by Barry Deutsch (Amulet/Abrams)

Calvin; by Martine Leavitt (Ferguson/Farrar)

Written and Drawn by Henrietta; written and drawn by Liniers (TOON)

All American Boys; by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

The Emperor of Any Place; by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)

My Seneca Village; by Marilyn Nelson (Namelos)

Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever; by Jim Murphy (Clarion)

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras; written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams)

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3. Review of Out of the Woods

Out of the Woodsstar2 Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event
by Rebecca Bond; illus. by the author
Primary   Ferguson/Farrar   40 pp.
7/15   978-0-374-38077-9   $17.99

Bond relates a story from 1914 Ontario, during her grandfather’s childhood, when he lived at a lakeside hotel run by his mother. Art and text describe young Antonio wandering the hotel, intrigued both by the “travelers” and “outdoor sportsmen” and by the loud, lively “men who worked in the forest” — trappers, lumberjacks, silver miners. Antonio also roams the woods, catching only disappointing half-glimpses of wild animals. One day, a forest fire breaks out, 
driving everyone toward the only safe place — the lake. As people stand in the water watching the fire rage, animals, too, make their way out of the woods and into the lake. It’s a dream come 
true for Antonio, who gets a close-up look at every forest creature imaginable as they slowly parade by. Like a woodland version of Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdom, “wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.” Bond vividly conveys the nearness and wonder by describing what Antonio experiences: he “smelled the steam 
rising off the animals’ wet fur, saw their chests lifting and falling in steady rhythm, and felt their hot animal breath.” As the fire subsides, all creatures leave the water — and “miraculously,” the hotel has escaped untouched. The endpapers feature realistic drawings of forest animals against a sepia background, the vintage-children’s-book vibe setting the tone for this historical tale. Throughout, Bond’s detailed sketches tinted with muted browns, greens, blues, and oranges create a dreamlike mood, a fine match for the mesmerizing story. An appended note includes a photo of the author’s grandfather as a child.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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4. Siân Has the Best Weekend Ever!

As many of you know, the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium: “Transformations” was this past Saturday. It was interesting, engaging, educational, and fun (it was also exhausting for those of us working it, and even more so for the amazing Katrina Hedeen, who planned the whole durn thing).

But what you don’t know is the most important thing that happened over our BGHB/HBAS weekend.

Was it the Shuster-men speaking eloquently about Challenger Deep and mental illness?

Was it the informative and funny editor panel?

How about getting to see Marla Frazee’s pre-book sketches (including the illustrated thank-you note that became A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever!)?


What was it?

Susan Cooper took a picture of my Dark Is Rising tattoo.


tattoo  Cooper autograph
For more on the 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards and the following day’s HBAS Colloquium: “Transformations,” click on the tag BGHB15.

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5. Wake me up when it’s all over

sleep-paralysis-1170x668I confess to feeling nonplussed when the publicist wrote to see if “Horn [ed note: AARGH] will review The Rabbit Who Wants to Go to Sleep,” the self-published bestseller that Random House picked up for a rumored seven-figure advance. I mean, yes, the Horn BOOK will review it in the Spring 2016 Horn Book Guide because that publication reviews non selectively, but, really, why are you asking me this? Is somebody making you do it? I felt one step away from a drunk Reese Witherspoon bellowing at a cop who didn’t know who she was.

But, okay, Rando, here’s what Horn thinks. The Rabbit Who Wants to Go to Sleep is a book designed to help parents get their kids to go to sleep. It has sold so many copies (already, I mean, but clearly RH thinks there are even more suckers out there) because it probably works as advertised. The text is long–really, really long– and droning and uneventful, and it will bore the brats right into dreamland. Authorial directives are everywhere, telling parents where to whisper, where to provide emphasis, where to yawn: “The name of the rabbit, Roger [ed note: fuck you], can be read as ‘Raaah-gerr’ with two yawns.” The combination of boredom plus suggestion will induce a hypnotic state in both parent and child and cause Chandler to walk around the apartment with a towel round his head like a girl make them very, very sleeeepy. (Despite what the Amazon reviews will tell you, this is not “magic.” Now, I would have thought that the kind of parent  susceptible to The Rabbit Who Wants to Go to Sleep might have been horrified at the prospect of hypnotizing their offspring because that is how demons get in, but anything for a good night’s sleep, I suppose.) Mission accomplished.

If the seven-figure-advance rumor is true, I’d love for someone to do the math for me. Can this book (or books; the author and publisher are threatening a series) earn that much money back? Won’t parents figure out that Goodnight Moon–cheaper, prettier, and a billion times classier–does the same thing?


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6. Review of Sunny Side Up

holm_sunny side upstar2 Sunny Side Up
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; 
illus. by Matthew Holm; color by Lark Pien
Intermediate   Graphix/Scholastic   218 pp.
9/15   978-0-545-74165-1   $23.99
Paper ed. 978-0-545-74166-8   $12.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-545-74167-5   $12.99

Set largely during the summer of 1976, this semiautobiographical graphic novel from the brother-and-sister team behind the Babymouse series includes an amiable grandfather, U.S. bicentennial festivities, and a trip to Disney World — but it is much more than a lighthearted nostalgia piece. Ten-year-old Sunshine “Sunny” Lewin had been looking forward to spending August at the shore as usual, but her parents have suddenly sent her to Florida to stay with “Gramps” instead. Her less-than-thrilling days at the retirement community, complete with early-bird specials and trips to the post office, improve after she befriends the groundskeeper’s son, comics-obsessed Buzz. The two spend their time doing odd jobs for spending money and mulling over age-old superhero dilemmas (“But they’re heroes. Why can’t they save the people they love?”). These discussions, and the series of flashbacks they often elicit, ultimately lead readers to the truth surrounding Sunny’s visit: back home in Pennsylvania, her teenage brother is struggling with substance abuse, and Sunny is convinced that she made the problem worse — a misconception Gramps lovingly corrects. Matthew Holm’s loose, less-is-more cartooning is easy to read and expressive, if occasionally unpolished. Straightforward dialogue, captions establishing time and setting, and extended wordless scenes swiftly propel the narrative and will be appreciated by Raina Telgemeier fans. An affirming author’s note delves further into the Holm siblings’ personal experience with familial substance abuse and encourages young readers sharing a similar struggle to reach out (as Sunny eventually does) to the responsible adults in their lives.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. 2015 Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium timeline

Roger Sutton and the Horn Book at Simmons editors panel. Photo: Shoshana Flax.

Roger Sutton and the Horn Book at Simmons editors panel. Photo: Shoshana Flax.

On Saturday, October 3rd, we held our fifth annual Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, with the theme “Transformations.” Miss the fun? We’ve compiled a timeline of the day’s highlights based on tweets by our staff and other attendees. See Friday’s ceremony timeline here.

9:07 am: Good morning! We’re ready for a full day of great discussion about good children’s books!

9:10 am: Cathie Mercier: It’s easy to read what we know and like, but how do we push ourselves to read outside ourselves, read “otherways”?

9:14 am: @jescaron: @RogerReads and Cathie Mercier open #HBAS15 with words of wisdom and “grounding”

9:15 am: @RogerReads introducing keynote speaker Susan Cooper

9:19 am: Susan: Transformation in nature is generally cyclical. What about change in our minds? Imagination doesn’t follow any rules

9:20 am: @jescaron: Susan: “Change is an integral part of stories — it is called plot.”

9:21 am: Susan: Can words spark an unpredictable change in the mind?

9:22 am: @ShoshanaFlax: SC clearly read the May @HornBook carefully #swoon

9:24 am: Susan discussing different types of book transformations: retellings, adaptations from other media, making books more accessible

9:26 am: Susan: Fantasy is metaphor… It takes you through the imagination to truth

9:27 am: @jescaron: “People who write fantasy have chosen transformation…finding the magic from the real”

9:30 am: A tumultuous year in Susan’s personal life had profound effects on her writing. “As with writers, so with readers” — we seek escape in words

9:31 am: Susan: When reading, your imagination lives in the book. Reading is creating experience from imagination

9:32 am: Susan: This experience of living in a book can change you

9:33 am: Susan: Letters from readers say, “I read your book, and my world changed a little,” even if readers can’t articulate exactly how

9:35 am: Susan: “The imagination of a reader instinctively takes what it needs from a book and creates a kind of life belt”

9:38 am: Susan: You realize which books had a profound effect on your childhood imagination only by looking back

9:40 am: Susan: An imagination that delights in books as a child grows up and is able to nurture a hunger for books in the next generation

9:43 am: Which books were transformative for Susan in childhood? The Box of Delights and The Midnight Folk by John Masefield

9:44 am: Susan: Nonfiction can be transformative too: “a story is a story”

10:02 am: Nonfiction winner Candace Fleming and editor Anne Schwartz on “Bringing History to the Page”

10:03 am: Candace echoing Jacqueline Woodson’s metaphor of writing as childbirth: you forget how miserable it is and then you’re ready to do it again

10:04 am: Candace writes in longhand on loose-leaf paper — the smell of the ink is reassuring, reminds her of what she’s accomplishing

10:05 am: @jescaron: The Family Romanov went from a light and fluffy book to its final state — transformation!

10:06 am: Anne: As an editor it’s very difficult to ask an author to start over; both author and editor have already invested a lot of work

10:08 am: Fascinating to see original drafts, notes, and editorial letters for what became The Family Romanov

10:11 am: Anne liked the format of text snippets and sidebars, creating a narrative like a tapestry

10:15 am: Anne asked questions Candace “never saw coming,” which made her think about her research and narrative in different ways

10:18 am: Candace: “Anne is the best editor because she questions everything–and that makes me a much better writer”

10:21 am: Going to Russia helped Candace really understand the disparity between the Romanovs and the peasants whose “backs the palaces were built on”

10:23 am: Candace: Stories of peasant lives in Imperial Russia and the Russian Revolution are extremely difficult to find

10:28 am: Candace: Writing good nonfiction requires finding the “vital idea” you want to communicate, not just the facts

10:51 am: An Amazon reviewer called Candace a “vile socialist” for her portrayal of the Romanovs. She’s proud :)

11:06 am: Judge Maeve Visser Knoth in conversation with #bghb15 honoree Jon Agee about It’s Only Stanley in “How Do I Make You Laugh, Too?”

11:07 am: Stanley, like all of Jon’s books, started as a doodle in a notebook. If one of Jon’s doodles makes him laugh, he tries to follow that idea and flesh it out

11:10 am: Jon: Writing a picture book is “like fishing” — you start with an idea and “see if you can bring this fish in”

11:13 am: Jon says developing the plot of his picture books comes from a series of “what if” questions

11:14 am: Jon discussing how page-turns work with punchlines

11:18 am: Jon: “Sometimes when you’re working on a picture book, it’s like the story is already there” and you’re excavating it

11:27 am: Lear’s limericks made a big impression on Jon. They were about grown-ups, but grown-ups who were doing ridiculous things

1:08 pm: Great breakout sessions all around! Now @RogerReads is going to moderate editor panel “It’s a Manuscript Until I Say It’s a Book” #HBAS15

1:13 pm: Each editor is sharing a story of the “editorial magic” that helped turn the author’s manuscript into a #BGHB15-winning book

1:19 pm: Editor Liz Bicknell: “Editing is a backstage job. I wear black and sit in the curtains.”

1:20 pm: @maryj59: Liz: “Every writer demands different things of an editor.”

1:25 pm: Rosemary Brosnan: As an editor, “I like to feel that if I’ve done my job well, no one knows I exist”

1:39 pm: Nancy Paulsen: Editing is about “finding the writing that sings to you” as an individual reader — it might not be for everybody

1:34 pm: @jescaron: Editors muse on advice to younger selves — Don’t be so rash

1:36 pm: @jescaron: Editors muse on advice to younger selves — Try to get a good picture of the marketplace

1:38 pm: @jescaron: Editors muse on advice to younger selves — Have confidence that you will eventually figure it out

1:39 pm: @jescaron: Editors muse on advice to younger selves — Don’t stay out so late 😉

1:40 pm: @ShoshanaFlax: @nancyrosep & @lizbicknell1 both cite editor’s role to stand in for readers

1:52 pm: Nancy: “We all have the same goal…to make the best book possible.” Rosemary: “Sometimes we have to remind the author of that!”

1:44 pm: @maryj59: Rosemary: “An idea is just an idea. It’s the execution that matters.”

2:06 pm: Gregory Maguire in conversation with #BGHB15 judge Jessica Tackett MacDonald about Egg & Spoon in “Bringing Baba Yaga Home”

2:10 pm: Gregory: A story can have any number of inspirations. It’s not a one-to-one ratio

2:16 pm: Gregory discovered different roles for Baba Yaga in Russian folktales: the scary witch, the kindly crone… “That made her human”

2:17 pm: Gregory: “I had to get out of Baba Yaga’s way… It sometimes felt like channeling the devil”

2:20 pm: A theme of Egg & Spoon is “What can we little ones do” in the face of problems? What we older ones can do is give little ones courage

2:21 pm: Gregory: “I don’t write [specifically] for adults or for kids. I write for people who like to read Gregory Maguire books”

2:23 pm: Gregory quoting Katherine Paterson: “The consolation of the imagination is not imaginary consolation”

2:17 pm: @deirdrea: Gregory on why he loves Baba Yaga: “What we look like and what people think we are is NOT who we are.”

2:26 pm: Gregory showing us inspirational objects — including a tiny Baba Yaga house — he kept on his desk while writing Egg & Spoon

2:30 pm: @RogerReads asks, Are today’s readers well-versed enough in fairy tales & folklore to know the references Gregory is asking them to engage with?

2:32 pm: Gregory Maguire: Maybe Egg & Spoon is a reader’s first introduction to Baba Yaga, but he hopes it won’t be their last introduction

2:37 pm: @RogerReads has nothing to do with the BGHB judges’ choices, but “the happiest news I got this year was the announcement that The Farmer and the Clown won BGHB Picture Book Award”

2:40 pm: Marla Frazee & editor Allyn Johnston discussing The Farmer and the Clown in “Do I Need Words with That?”

2:41 pm: Love seeing Marla and Allyn’s work spaces — and the real-life boys (their sons!) — from A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever!

2:46 pm: A Couple of Boys… started as an illustrated thank-you note from Marla, James, and Eamon to Allyn’s parents for the boys’ nature camp trip

2:54 pm: Original title: “A Couple of Boys Go to Nature Camp (Sort Of)”

3:02 pm: Whoa, neither Marla nor Allyn had done a wordless book before The Farmer and the Clown!

3:07 pm: Marla: Part of The Farmer and the Clown illustration process was soaking the art in the bathtub between pencil and color!

3:19 pm: Really interesting backstory for Marla’s upcoming book with Victoria Chang, Is Mommy?

3:26 pm: #BGHB15 committee chair Barbara Scotto speaking with Neal and Brendan Shusterman about Challenger Deep in “When Life Provides the Story”

3:30 pm: Barbara: Did writing Challenger Deep change the meaning of the experience of facing mental illness for Neal and Brendan?

3:32 pm: Neal’s own tumultuous emotions — deep depression followed by euphoria — during a hospitalization for a blood disorder contributed to the novel as well

3:34 pm: Brendan: Mental illness is something we need to talk about. It’s easy to feel that you’re alone

3:37 pm: It was important to Neal to show Caden’s strength in facing and managing his illness, despite fact that it will never go away entirely

3:38 pm: Brendan’s original art is all in color; helped him to express what he was feeling during an episode. There’s a huge volume not included in Challenger Deep

3:39 pm: Much of the narrative of Challenger Deep was inspired by Neal’s interpretations of Brendan’s art

3:42 pm: Neal: the changes made to the manuscript in the editing process were small but extremely precise

3:46 pm: Neal: “When I submitted this manuscript, I was terrified…I had no idea if it even worked…As a writer you always need to be on that edge”

3:50 pm:@RogerReads asks, What was it was like for Neal when his fictional story started to diverge from Brendan’s real experience?

3:51 pm: Neal: it was easiest to write the pieces that did diverge, challenging to dovetail the 2 so readers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference

3:56 pm: Neal: “I look back at my body of work, and I feel that I everything I have written helped me to write this book”

4:01 pm: Cathie Mercier of @SimmonsCollege wisely and wittily recapping our day. How does she do that?!

4:03 pm: Cathie: “The writer lives two lives: the life lived, and the life unfolding on the page. The reader lives those dual lives too”

4:13 pm: Cathie: Who are the readers we leave behind? What are the topics we avoid due to discomfort? How can we transform literature itself?

4:14 pm: Cathie: Will we be able to transform ourselves to join young readers in the reading future?

4:15 pm: Thanks so much for a fantastic weekend at #BGHB15 and #HBAS15! See you next year!


More on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards and the following day’s Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers,” is coming soon! Follow us on Twitter for updates on all things Horn Book.

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8. 2015 BGHB ceremony timeline

The winners and honorees. Photo: Aram Boghosian.

The winners and honorees. Photo: Aram Boghosian.

Did you miss the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards on Friday, October 2nd? Just want to relive the excitement of the ceremony? We’ve compiled a timeline of the evening’s highlights based on tweets by our staff and other attendees. See Saturday’s Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium timeline here.


5:43 pm: @jescaron: The crowd is gathering! Everyone ready for the ’15 @HornBook and @BostonGlobe Awards!

5:45 pm @Reflectlibrary: #HBAS15…I’m all a twitter!!

5:47 pm: Here we go… Cathie Mercier opening the #BGHB15 Awards ceremony!

5:51 pm: More opening remarks from the @BostonGlobe’s Linda Pizzuti Henry and @RogerReads of @HornBook. So much history with these three Boston institutions!

5:54 pm: @RogerReads: The BGHB Awards have only one central criterion: to honor excellence in books for children

5:56 pm: Chair Barbara Scotto will present the awards for fiction

5:58 pm: Gregory Maguire now accepting for Fiction Honor Book Egg & Spoon

6:00 pm: Gregory Maguire: “Baba Yaga c’est moi” — he most identifies with this madcap character

6:01 pm: @lauragmullen: Gregory Maguire accepts Boston Globe Horn Book Honor for Egg & Spoon and has room in stitches

6:02 pm: Gregory Maguire: We inherit a world of great beauty and great sorrow… We share both

6:03 pm: @SussingOutBooks: Gregory Maguire: “There are some things that are not diminished in being shared, but increased”

6:04 pm: Neal and Brendan Shusterman now accepting for Fiction Honor Book Challenger Deep

6:05 pm: Neal Shusterman: Challenger Deep began as just a title… What would “the deepest place on earth” mean in fiction?

6:06 pm: @ShoshanaFlax: Love that #BGHB15 award presentations include editors’ names #creditwhereit’sdue

6:07 pm: @lauragmullen: @NealShusterman “My editors taught me to write.” Delighted to learn from him at #BGHB15

6:08 pm: The Shusterman family’s experience with schizo-affective disorder provided a glimpse into that emotional “deepest place on earth”

6:09 pm: @jescaron: Challenger Deep — the story of a young adult struggling with mental illness and emerging from the deep

6:10 pm: @SussingOutBooks: “When I first turned in Challenger Deep, I had no idea how it would be received.” @NealShusterman, we are so glad you told THIS story

6:11 pm: Katherine Rundell’s editor David Gale accepting on her behalf for #BGHB15 Fiction Winner Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

6:12 pm: Katherine Rundell is often asked, “Why children’s books? Why not ‘proper’ adult books?” Because children are extraordinary readers

6:13 pm: @MrsVanDusen223: Katherine Rundell: When you write you build a house. When kids read they build a castle

6:14 pm: Katherine Rundell: “I come back to children’s books because children’s books were there for me when I needed them most”

6:16 pm: Katherine Rundell: Books “helped me up and led me home” when lost. Children’s books say, “hope counts…love will matter”

6:18 pm: Katherine Rundell: “I asked [ed.] David Gale to read this out. I am making him thank himself. Which is a particular pleasure because he is so brilliant and modest”

6:20 pm: @jescaron: “Children’s books are not an way back out but a way in… they were not a crutch, they were wings”

6:21 pm: Judge Jessica Tackett MacDonald presenting Nonfiction Awards

6:23 pm: Editor Wesley Adams accepting on behalf of Phillip Hoose for Nonfiction Honor Book The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

6:25 pm: Phillip Hoose: Knud Petersen knew this book was his last chance to tell the story of The Churchill Club right

6:28 pm: Editor Nancy Paulsen accepting on Jacqueline Woodson’s behalf for Nonfiction Honor Book Brown Girl Dreaming

6:29 pm: @lauragmullen: @nancyrosep accepts #BGHB15 award on behalf of @JackieWoodson. What a team!!

6:30 pm: “Brown Girl Dreaming was not an easy book to write. I am glad to have that book in print — and out of me. Imagine a very long labor with no drugs”

6:31 pm: @SussingOutBooks: There were 32 drafts of Brown Girl Dreaming… @JackieWoodson @nancyrosep SO WORTH IT. Thank you for sharing your world with us

6:32 pm: Jacqueline Woodson: The post-labor euphoria of writing is having the book in print with a life of its own

6:33 pm: Candace Fleming accepting for #BGHB15 Nonfiction Award winner The Family Romanov

6:34 pm: @lauragmullen: She makes history have a heartbeat. The amazing @candacemfleming accepts her award for The Family Romanov

6:35 pm: Candace Fleming: The adult book Nicholas & Alexandra was (unwanted) book club selection of her mother’s, Candace’s first introduction to the Romanovs

6:36 pm: @jescaron: The Romanovs “were all roses and sweet kisses,” at least in Fleming’s memory

6:37 pm: Candace Fleming: The first drafts focused on Anastasia’s glamorous life with few hints of the sweeping events overtaking Russia

6:38 pm: Initially Candace Fleming avoided any mention of the Romanovs’ tragic end. The draft was factual, but not the truth

6:41 pm: Candace Fleming realized “I had work to do” when looking at her copious notes on the Romanovs’ riches but few on the lives of peasants

6:42 pm: Candace Fleming: “There is a difference between fact and truth, and to write a credible story—a compelling story—you need both”

6:43 pm: Judge Maeve Visser Knoth presenting award and honors for Picture Books

6:44 pm: Jon Agee accepting #BGHB15 Picture Book Honor for It’s Only Stanley

6:45 pm: Jon Agee: “It’s Only Stanley is a love story. There’s a lot of love in this book” although much of it is delusional, irrational love

6:46 pm: Jon Agee: there’s the canine love and then there’s the Wimbledon family’s love and trust for Stanley

6:47 pm: @jescaron: A book with a pink lunar poodle? Count me in! #ItsOnlyStanley

6:49 pm: Carmela Iaria accepting on behalf of Oliver Jeffers for #BGHB15 Picture Book Honor for Once Upon an Alphabet

6:51 pm: Oliver Jeffers: It was a risk to publish this weird, 112-page alphabet book, but worth it. Thank you to those who came on this strange journey

6:53 pm: Marla Frazee accepting #BGHB15 PB Award for The Farmer and the Clown. She’s glad to be in company of two of her favorite PB creators, Jon Agee and Oliver Jeffers

6:55 pm: Marla Frazee was baffled and troubled by conversations on social media around The Farmer and the Clown

6:56 pm: Marla Frazee: “Making sure words and pictures don’t stomp all over each other is maybe harder than focusing on one or the other”

6:57 pm: @jescaron: “Words and pictures can be equally misinterpreted”

6:58 pm: Marla Frazee: Saying that wordless books cede control to the reader is saying that the visual narrative provides a less powerful story

6:59 pm: Marla Frazee: Children are better at reading visual narratives than grown-ups are

7:01 pm: Because young children can’t yet read or read well, they rely on the visual narrative to guide them from emotion to emotion in a picture book

7:02 pm: Marla Frazee: The @HornBook has been a master’s class in children’s books for her since she graduated art school… 33 years! ♥

7:04 pm: Marla Frazee has taken heart in readers’ responses to The Farmer and the Clown — particularly very small children’s responses

7:05 pm: Marla Frazee: wordless books speak directly, secretly to children — no adult mediator necessary

7:06 pm: @RogerReads turning us loose to mingle, get books signed, and ooh and ahh over the winners

7:07 pm: See you tomorrow for #HBAS15 — lots more to come!

7:11 pm: @EmilyProcknal: Congratulations to all the 2015 @BostonGlobe – @HornBook Award honorees and winners. What an incredible evening at @SimmonsCollege 📚

11:59 pm: @Wozleigh: Worth long drive for #HBAS15 tomorrow with @RogerReads, @NealShusterman, @candacemfleming, @nancyrosep, Liz Bicknell, Gregory Maguire, and SUSAN COOPER!

More coverage of the 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards and the following day’s Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Transformations,” is on the way! In the meantime, follow us on Twitter for updates on all things Horn Book.

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9. From the Guide: YA Horror

alameda_shutterThis year’s “Horn BOO!,” our annual roundup of Halloween-y books, will satisfy the spook-loving picture-book set. Teen readers — those with a more mature taste in fright, greater immunity to fear, and, in some cases, seriously strong stomachs — should check out these horror novels from the spring and fall 2015 issues of The Horn Book Guide.

—Katrina Hedeen
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Alameda, Courtney Shutter
373 pp.     Feiwel     2015     ISBN 978-1-250-04467-9

YA Micheline Helsing (of Van Helsing lineage), a tetrachromat, can see the undead, and with her Helsing Corps crew and camera, she exorcises them. But then a powerful ghost defeats the group and leaves them all cursed; they have seven days to break the curse or be damned. Alameda’s alternate–San Francisco setting is vivid, the horror gruesome, and the story action-packed.

Brooks, Kevin The Bunker Diary
260 pp.     Carolrhoda Lab     2015     ISBN 978-1-4677-5420-0
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-7646-2

YA In a fictitious diary, sixteen-year-old English runaway Linus tells of his kidnapping and imprisonment in an underground bunker, where he, along with five other captives that gradually fill the other cells, endures evil punishments. Gripping, terrifying, and full of abominable actions, this provocative contemporary-set Carnegie Medal–winner is not for the faint-hearted, but thrill-seekers and realistic-horror enthusiasts will find the sharply written narrative compelling.

Delaney, Joseph A New Darkness
344 pp.     Greenwillow     2014     ISBN 978-0-06-233453-4
Ebook ISBN 978-0-06-233455-8

YA The first in an unillustrated follow-up trilogy to the Last Apprentice series shows Tom taking over the late Spook’s work. The narration alternates between Tom’s voice and his would-be apprentice Jenny’s; Tom resists the idea of a female Spook. Last Apprentice fans will find the same creepy imagery and a few surprises, and the backstory is clear enough for those new to the series.

Garcia, Kami Unmarked
387 pp.     Little, Brown     2014     ISBN 978-0-316-21022-5
Ebook ISBN 978-0-316-21023-2

YA Legion series. In Unbreakable, Kennedy, love interest Jared, and their ghost-and-demon-fighting team, the Legion, accidentally released the powerful demon Andras. Now they must locate the final Legion member and the Vessel that will contain and bind Andras again — ASAP, because Andras has possessed Jared. With a tighter focus and a tension-heightening nonlinear structure, this second volume is even stronger than its predecessor.

Higson, Charlie The Fallen
535 pp.     Hyperion     2014     ISBN 978-1-4231-6566-8

YA Enemy series. Higson’s fifth zombie apocalypse series entry focuses on survivors quartered in London’s National History Museum. One group sets out to retrieve medical supplies; others struggle to trap a traitor working among them. Followers of this violent series about kids battling endless horrors will relish the moment-by-moment action and cameo appearances by characters featured in previous volumes (those still alive, that is).

Monahan, Hillary Mary: The Summoning
250 pp.     Hyperion     2014     ISBN 978-1-4231-8519-2

YA At the insistence of ringleader Jess, a group of friends attempts to summon urban legend Bloody Mary — and succeeds. The violent spirit attaches herself to narrator Shauna, who desperately seeks to rid herself of the ghost, discovering Mary’s tragic history, another haunting victim, and Jess’s secret motives along the way. Readers of supernatural horror are in for a gory, fast-paced thrill ride.

Pillsworth, Anne M. Summoned
320 pp.     Tor Teen     2014     ISBN 978-0-7653-3589-0

YA At an arcane bookstore in (fictional) Arkham, Massachusetts, Sean finds a clipping directing him to a reverend seeking an occult apprentice. But when Sean attempts the reverend’s test, he mistakenly summons a Lovecraftian monster that threatens Sean and his family. A deliberative pace keeps the action at a slow boil, but fans of Lovecraft and his grotesque chthonic horror will enjoy the dark atmosphere.

Stolarz, Laurie Faria Welcome to the Dark House
368 pp.     Hyperion     2014     ISBN 978-1-4231-8172-9

YA After submitting their darkest personal nightmares to a writing contest, Ivy and six other teens win a chance to meet famed horror movie director Justin Blake. Ivy hopes that dredging up those haunting memories will help her process a significant trauma. But the contest quickly turns deadly. Truly terrifying plot twists unfold at a breakneck pace, shifting quickly from character to character. Impressively fearsome.

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

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10. Rumpeta-ing through Reading: Picture Books for the Very Young

My daughter Emily has always been a reading omnivore: we have photos of her poring over books from the time she could first sit up. Everything was of interest: catalogs featuring photographs of children; books verging on toys, with flaps or holes or even wheels; concept books; story books. Gradually, certain authors and books became favorites, and through a curious alchemy of interactions — child and parent with the book, and child and parent with each other — they seemed only to get better and better over time.

We read books by Eve Rice, especially Sam Who Never Forgets and Benny Bakes a Cake. Rice’s world in these books is immensely reassuring, with small disasters (Did Sam the zookeeper really forget to feed Elephant? What will happen now that bad dog Ralph has eaten Benny’s birthday cake?) transformed into hugs, birthday parades, and other expressions of love. Rice’s books surprise when read out loud: her prose has a tendency to form itself into meter and rhyme, appropriate for these structured stories.

We read Anne Rockwell, one of the best at reflecting and celebrating a child’s own world. Her pictures are perfectly ordered, whether crammed full of detail (an entire town busy with seasonally appropriate activities, in First Comes Spring) or rivetingly simple (a close-up of a sled, in The First Snowfall). Rockwell is also spectacular on that other topic of perennial interest to toddlers, machines and vehicles. Big Wheels is a modern preschool classic.

And we read Shirley Hughes, a master at inhabiting the minds and emotions of small children. Particularly appropriate for the very young are her Alfie and Annie Rose books (Alfie’s Feet and Alfie Gets in First being our personal favorites), her small-format concept books Bathwater’s Hot, Noisy, and When We Went to the Park, and her “doing” books (Giving, Chatting, Bouncing, etc.). Hughes’s specific, urban British settings add to her books’ believability: her child characters are so rooted in their home places that the child reader feels at home as well.

But the two creators most consistently on Emily’s hit parade were Donald Crews and Byron Barton. Crews’s Freight Train is a spellbinder; it creates such a strong mood that the words — like the smoke of the train that’s “going, going, gone” — quite literally seem to hang in the air for a few minutes after you finish reading. Crews’s strong graphics are perhaps the most appealing aspect of his other books; in School Bus two-year-old Emily developed a ritual of pointing out all the vehicles of interest: school buses, city buses, taxis, and the particularly exciting garbage truck (and each time we found the cameo of the author-illustrator himself, on a street corner, portfolio tucked under his arm, Emily would croon, “Donald CROOOOZ!”).

Byron Barton is a guaranteed success with his direct, no-nonsense texts (“Hey, you guys! / Let’s get to work. / Knock down that building. / Bulldoze that tree”); his bold typefaces; his black-outlined, color-blocked pictures of machines, astronauts, construction workers, dinosaurs (hear any bells going off in your toddler-interest geiger counter?). There wasn’t a detail Emily wasn’t fascinated with, from counting how many construction workers were girls and how many boys in Machines at Work (quoted from above) to carefully tracing the Diplodocus’s “long, long neck” and “long, long tail” in Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs.

There were many other individual favorites, as well. In addition to high-interest subjects, these books shared three other characteristics. First, a pacing appropriate for the material and for the age group. Successful books take into account the young child’s attention span. The length of the text per se is not a guarantee of success. Some of our favorites had quite a lot of words; however, these books had zesty texts full of repeated phrases and a lot of broad action. Other books contained few words, but the field of action was limited, and the pictures carried much of the story.

Second, a use of repetition, whether in repeated words or in story structure. We saw this in almost every book we read and loved. Some of our favorites were the Provensens’ Old Mother Hubbard, with a page turn before the dog’s nonsensical reaction to each Mother Hubbard action is revealed; Blueberries for Sal, with its parallel stories of Little Sal and Little Bear and its chantable kerplink kerplank kerplunk sounds; and Sue Williams’s I Went Walking, similar to Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? but with a satisfying and child-pleasing story framework.

Third, a construction that allowed for (but did not demand) some kind of reader participation. Many of the best books for small children seem to be constructed with some room in them — space that lets the child and the adult expand the reading experience. For instance, one of the first things we all seem to teach our children are the sounds different animals make, and many books seem to tacitly encourage mooing and meowing simply by picturing cows and cats. (See Nancy Tafuri’s Early Morning in the Barn for an ingenious, overt animal-sounds book.) These books are complete in themselves, and work perfectly well when read aloud without embellishment. But they also seem to promote participation — whether it be points in the narrative art that call for comment; strategically placed wordless spreads that provide a chance to recap action or to prepare for what comes next; words or phrases in the text that call for gestures or actions; or situations that call for something as simple as added sound effects (like animal sounds). And some of them provide opportunities to carry over some of the delights of baby-play (such as “This little piggie” or “Trot, trot to Boston”) into the comparatively new experience of reading.

Nancy Tafuri’s minimalist The Ball Bounced was one of our earliest favorites — a perfect transition from board book to picture book. With its brief (33 words), verb-heavy text, its homey, familiar setting, and its satisfyingly circular plot full of surprise and action, it affords a short but complete reading experience, and mirrors the adventure small children find in the most mundane of activities. As a baby is being carried out the back door in Mother’s laundry basket, he jettisons his ball, and off it bounces. “The cat jumped. / The water splashed. / the dog ran / the door slammed,” etc., until the ball stops — right next to the baby. “And the baby laughed.” (The ball’s eventful and entertaining journey is baby’s to enjoy alone, by the way: Mother has her back turned, hanging out the laundry — a shared secret between book character and child reader.) Tafuri’s pictures are bold, in extreme close-up; they held Emily’s attention completely. But the active verbs encouraged me to add a kind of fingerplay to the already-satisfying experience of the book: I would walk my two fingers along the pages as the dog ran, flap my hand up in flight along with the bird (and land with a tickle), and “slam” the book with my arm in imitation of the door. She never failed to laugh at the end, along with the baby.

In John Steptoe’s Baby Says, the story is all in the two brothers’ faces. Baby — who, plump and cuddly in his molten-sunshine pajamas, is the epitome of babyhood, both nuisance and pure joy — wants out of the playpen, and pesters his big brother until that softy lets him out. Then, parroting brother’s words — “Okay. Uh, oh. No, no” — he heads straight for the irresistible tower of blocks brother has laboriously constructed, and knocks it down. Then follow two glorious spreads, one wordless, with brother glowering at mischievous baby, the next showing brother won over by baby’s spontaneous kiss. “Okay, baby. Okay.” By supplying just seven words in different combinations, the author forces the adult reader to pay close attention to this small home movie of a picture book. Intonation is everything. Knowledge of who is saying what is everything. But whether it was the emotion-filled pictures, the repeated words (with someone else being told “no”), or our own narration, Emily loved it. And since she called it “Uh-oh,” she could ask for it before she could talk.

A more recent beautifully-paced-for-toddlers book is Peggy Rathmann’s sweet and sly Good Night, Gorilla. What will your child like most about it? Following the progress of the released balloon? Eagerly awaiting that cartoon-like sequence of big and small goodnights followed by a pair of very surprised eyes popping open in the dark? It will probably vary from night to night, but there will always be something to keep a small child’s attention.

Two of our all-time favorite books raised the use of repetition to high art. Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs’s brilliant Elephant and the Bad Baby begins with a deceptive innocence: “Once upon a time there was an elephant.” We see a massive elephant standing still — though it soon will prove itself very light on its feet (and equally light-fingered) — dwarfing the airplanes buzzing about it like mosquitoes. The elephant meets up with a “bad baby,” and they soon become the Thelma and Louise of the picture-book set, rampaging through town lifting goodies from this shop and that. Though it looks like it has far too many words for young children, in fact it is the ideal two-year-old book: a romp so full of action and choice repetition and so perfectly paced that it is more like an exhilarating amusement-park ride than a picture book. Much controversy has arisen over the plot (we are talking rampant shoplifting here) and over calling the baby “bad” (though he does learn to say please); all that went right over the head of Emily-at-two. She loved the refrain, which virtually repeats as is on each page, with only the scenes of the crime changing: “Soon they met an ice cream man. And the Elephant said to the Bad Baby, ‘Would you like an ice cream?’ And the Bad Baby said yes. So the Elephant stretched out his trunk, and took an ice cream for himself and an ice cream for the Bad Baby. And they went rumpeta rumpeta rumpeta, all down the road, with the ice cream man running after.” She loved those galloping rumpetas, the contrast between the immense elephant and the small baby, the angry merchants going “bump into a heap,” and the reassuring ending to the wild adventure, as the elephant rumpetas off into the night, “but the bad baby went to bed.” Here is a perfect last sentence: the alliteration and the rhythm and the droning emphasis of those one-syllable words winding down the book like a worn-out baby.

John Burningham’s Mr. Gumpy’s Outing was practically Emily’s mantra as a small child (she used it, rather than the traditional blanket or stuffed animal, as her so-called “comfort object”). Here the repetition is in story structure, as two children and then a succession of animals, each larger than the last, politely ask to join Mr. Gumpy on his boat ride. “‘Can I come along, Mr. Gumpy?’ said the rabbit. ‘Yes, but don’t hop about.’” Never mind that the average one- and two-year-old doesn’t know enough animal behavior to be able to anticipate the inevitable disaster. The introduction of each personality-rich animal in close-up on the righthand page (as the left page shows the ever-more-crowded boat) and Mr. Gumpy’s unheeded warnings allow for the incorporation of a variety of sounds and actions (the most fun is the pig “mucking about” and chickens flapping: the mucking about calls for some creative interpretation, and the flapping calls for a lot of energetic exercise). The two double-page spreads — of the capsize and the tea party — provide plenty of time and space to locate and identify all the characters. (It was of particular interest to the pre-verbal Emily that the little girl’s hair flew straight up as she fell into the water; Emily would always make her own hair stand straight up as well.) The book’s pacing is impeccable, from the introduction of Mr. Gumpy and the build-up of the appealing animal cast, to the exciting, kersplashing climax, to the reassuring resolution. Again, the book has a remarkably satisfying last line: an open-ended, inclusive, circular “come for a ride another day.”

Two more recent examples of books using repetition with great success are Ashley Wolff’s Stella and Roy — a wonderful, toddler-empowering tortoise-and-the-hare variant, in which slow and steady wins the race for younger brother Roy on his little four-wheeler (“and Roy rolled right on by”) — and Minfong Ho’s Hush!: A Thai Lullaby, with its humorously overzealous mother trying to hush all the animals in the jungle in turn so that her baby can sleep.

These are just a few examples of what’s out there for the youngest reader. There is much more to recommend and share — whether you read books straight through or make them, when appropriate, into more participatory experiences. (Obviously, how much embellishment you add depends on the material, the situation, and the child. You wouldn’t add train sounds or quiz your child on color identification if you were reading Freight Train at bedtime to a sleepy toddler.) For us, the books in which we participated — the ones in which that curious alchemy took place — are the ones we both remember best. We’ve moved on now, to books for older picture-book readers — and Emily has long since outgrown the need for those transitional moos and bounces. But at age one, and at two, such participation helped make reading into something active, something she helped make happen. And that seems like the first step toward the more internal but just as participatory activity of independent reading — and toward a lifelong love of books.

From the March/April 1997 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Horn BOO! 2015

Don’t be frightened. The ten (not-so) terrifying tales reviewed by the Horn Book staff in our annual Halloween roundup are only make-believe. (Wait, what’s that behind you?)

horn boo_day_carl's halloweenCarl’s Halloween
by Alexandra Day; illus. by the author
Preschool   Ferguson/Farrar   32 pp.
8/15   978-0-374-31082-0   $14.99

When Mom blithely announces that she’s going over to Grandma’s for a while and that Rottweiler Carl and his girl (Good Dog, Carl and sequels) can hand out the candy to trick-or-treaters, well, you can see from the September/October Horn Book’s cover illustration that things don’t go exactly like that. Carl and the little girl take over the action in a series of wordless, sumptuous double-page spreads, donning the most minimal of costumes (a necklace for Carl; a hat for the girl) to join the Halloween festivities. Gratifyingly, Carl never looks anything but doglike, although his facial expressions belie his care for the girl as he gently guides — and eventually carries — her about the neighborhood. Per usual, the watercolor illustrations are gloriously hued, the red feather in the girl’s hat gorgeous against the October evening sky. ROGER SUTTON

horn boo_kimmelman_trick arr treatTrick Arrr Treat: A Pirate Halloween
by Leslie Kimmelman; 
illus. by Jorge Monlongo
Primary   Whitman   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-8075-8061-5   $16.99   g

Six young swashbucklers — including Toothless Tim, Rude Ranjeet, and “pirate chief” Charlotte Blue-Tongue — plunder their neighborhood for candy on Halloween. The digital palette of oranges and purples grows darker as the evening advances and the trick-or-treaters’ imaginations grow. The young pirates continue “a-romping” until a mysterious shadow that may or may not be a “big black monster, sly and cunning” gets “the frightened pirates running.” With its kid-friendly rhymes and abundance of pirate lingo (“TRICK ARRR TREAT!”), this appealing mash-up of Halloween and pirate themes captures the lighthearted fun of the holiday. Nothing can deter a band of pirates…as long as those pirates are home before dark. MOLLY GLOVER

horn boo_lester_tacky and the haunted iglooTacky and the Haunted Igloo
by Helen Lester; 
illus. by Lynn Munsinger
Primary   Houghton   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-544-33994-1   $16.99   g

Tacky the Penguin and pals (Happy Birdday, Tacky!, rev. 7/13, and others) get into the Halloween spirit by decorating their igloo and preparing trick-or-treat goodies. Actually, his penguin friends do all the work while “Snacky Tacky sampled the treats,” etc. On Halloween night, the haunted igloo is a spooky success, until three hunters dressed as ghosts arrive and demand “all yer yummy treats / Or we do something skearies.” Not a problem, if there were any treats left. But wait! Who’s this “skeary” hunter at the door? Is he the biggest hunter’s “twin brudder”? Tacky’s fans will recognize the odd-bird hero, but it’s enough to scare off the real hunters. The affectionate text and nonthreatening illustrations play up the absurdity of the situation. KITTY FLYNN

horn boo_long_fright clubFright Club
by Ethan Long; illus. by the author
Primary   Bloomsbury   32 pp.
8/15   978-1-61963-337-7   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-61963-418-3   $9.99

The first rule of Fright Club: don’t talk about Fright Club. The next rule? Only the truly scary can be members. Discrimination! cries a bunny, who wastes no time seeking representation, then organizing a demonstration. “HISS, MOAN, BOO! WE CAN SCARE TOO!” chant a butterfly, ladybug, turtle, and squirrel. And scare they do, disrupting the Fright Club meeting and proving their fearsome bona fides just in time for “Operation Kiddie Scare.” It’s a funny Halloween concept that delivers, through Long’s spry text — Ghost: “What are we going to do?!?” Vampire Vladimir: “NOTHING! If you ignore cute little critters, they eventually go away!” — and cartoony digitally colored (but very sparely, it’s mostly all shadowy grays) graphite-pencil illustrations. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

horn boo_masessa_scarecrow magicScarecrow Magic
by Ed Masessa; illus. by Matt Myers
Primary   Orchard/Scholastic   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-545-69109-3   $16.99   g

Stripping off his layers of straw and clothing, a skeleton finishes his workday as a scarecrow and meets up with “ghoulies and ghosties” to “dance under the moon.” A large cast of monsters (furry, scaly, two-headed, or giant) spend all night with the scarecrow, playing games (including hide-and-seek and jacks) and fighting mock battles until the sun starts to rise. Myers’s inventive “troublesome” creatures and ecstatically animated skeleton are depicted through strong black outlines and thick, bold strokes. The rhyming (though occasionally stumbling) text and playful illustrations make this a festive read-aloud. SIÂN GAETANO

horn boo_mcgee_peanut butter and brainsPeanut Butter and Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale
by Joe McGee; 
illus. by Charles Santoso
Primary   Abrams   32 pp.
8/15   978-1-4197-1247-0   $16.95

While the rest of the horde demands “BRAINSSSSS” for “breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” all zombie Reginald wants is a good ol’ PB&J. After striking out at the corner café, the school cafeteria, and the grocery store, Reginald lurches toward a little girl and her paper-bag lunch — sending the townspeople into a panic. But this humorous story ends happily for everyone once the other zombies get a taste of the classic sandwich. The illustrations’ rounded shapes and pastel watercolor washes portray zombies who are more cute than scary, and full of personality. Signs and balloons with images of brains inside cleverly communicate the zombies’ food preferences in a nonverbal way — after all, zombies aren’t very articulate. KATIE BIRCHER

horn boo_munsinger_happy halloween witch's catHappy Halloween, Witch’s Cat!
by Harriet Muncaster; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Harper/HarperCollins   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-06-222916-8   $15.99

In I Am a Witch’s Cat, readers first met the imaginative little girl who enthusiastically maintains, “My mom is a witch, and I am her special witch’s cat.” In this outing, Halloween approaches, and the mother-daughter team heads to the costume shop, where the girl gives an array of options a whirl: “Maybe a silver skeleton? / Too bony! How about a pink ballerina? / Too frilly!” Her final decision is a satisfying, gentle twist on the story’s premise. This book’s standout feature is Muncaster’s unique, endlessly perusable art: three-dimensional scenes combined with mixed-media flat illustrations and textured fabrics, photographed and digitized. KATRINA HEDEEN

horn boo_patricelli_booBoo!
by Leslie Patricelli; illus. by the author
Preschool   Candlewick   28 pp.
7/15   978-0-7636-6320-9   $6.99

In this board-book treat, Patricelli’s diapered baby picks a “just right” pumpkin, helps Daddy carve a familiar-looking jack-o’-lantern (a pumpkin selfie, if you will), and chooses a scary costume: “W-w-what’s that? Oh. It’s only me.” Trick-or-treating with Daddy is a bit spooky, too, until the little ghostie discovers there’s candy involved. The lively color-saturated illustrations play off the simple, direct text, adding humor and silliness to the mix. Two interactive double-page spreads — “How should we carve our jack-o’-lantern?” and “What should I be?” — involve young listeners in the fun and prep newbies for these holiday highlights. KITTY FLYNN

horn boo_stine_little shop of monstersThe Little Shop of Monsters
by R. L. Stine; 
illus. by Marc Brown
Primary   Little, Brown   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-316-36983-1   $17.00   g

Two children’s literature icons team up to create this funny-scary adventure. “If you think you’re brave enough, then come with me” to the Little Shop of Monsters. Two children — a boy, reluctant; and a younger girl, more daring — view the shop’s merchandise, from the Snacker (whose favorite treat is hands) to the Sleeper-Peeper (who hides under kids’ beds). The litany of introductions settles into a predictable pattern — until the clever twist at the end, which will have readers quickly turning the last page (“Phew! You just escaped!”). Stine’s direct-address text is pitched for delicious thrills and chills, while Brown’s cheery palette and over-the-top depictions of the monsters offset the terror just enough. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

horn boo_ward_there was an old mummy who swallowed a spiderThere Was an Old Mummy 
Who Swallowed a Spider
by Jennifer Ward; illus. by Steve Gray
Preschool, Primary   Two Lions   32 pp.
7/15   978-1-4778-2637-9   $16.99   g

“There was an old mummy… / who swallowed a spider. / I don’t know why he swallowed the spider. / Open wider!” Anyone familiar with the original folksong can guess what happens next in this twisted twist: the mummy’s belly (or what used to be his belly) is soon full of things that go bump in the night. The new rhymes have a few bumps, too, but this mummy tale is wrapped up perfectly. (Ironically, the macabre ending of the original would be redundant here.) Cartoonish digital illustrations use lots of wide, fearful eyes and luminous backgrounds to make the graveyard and haunted-castle settings glow with Halloween anticipation. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Boats for Papa

boats for papaThis is one gorgeous picture book. It’s perhaps even more remarkable, given that it’s by a debut artist. Since its publication last June, it has gotten lots of love. And even more love.

Most reviews refer to the way the story tugs at the heartstrings: “A weeper.” “Heart-breaking.” I have to say that the message I took away from the book was less Look How Much They Love Each Other and more Watch This Young Boy Become an Artist. By trying to make the best boat possible for his absent father, Buckley hones his craft: “And each time he made a new boat, it was even better than the last.” Little by little, through hard work and incentive and love and practice and more practice, we see his initial crude efforts — essentially just hunks of driftwood with sticks for masts — become sophisticated, complex, intricate, beautifully crafted works of art.

The ink and watercolor illustrations are simply stunning. The watercolor medium is of course an apt one for this edge-of-the-ocean tale, but that doesn’t begin to express how completely Bagley captures the look and feel of a driftwood- and seaweed-strewn shore. From the colors of water, sand, and sky at various times of day to the way she conveys that sometimes-undefinable edge between ocean and beach and between ocean and sky: it’s all spectacular. She also transitions organically from the shorescapes to the scenes set inside Buckley’s humble home. The use of line (and ink) in the indoor scenes make them tighter and more controlled, and yet the edges of the pictures always retain that watery feel, linking them to the outdoor scenes.

The endpapers are both thematically meaningful and glorious. I love how the driftwood scattered over the beach on the opening endpapers then morph into Buckley’s finished boats hanging on his display wall on the closing endpapers. The endpapers visually reflect the book’s theme of turning raw materials into art.

There are a few things that throw me off a bit:

  • Why are the characters beavers? It seems an odd choice for a book set not by a lake or pond but by the sea.
  • For a debut picture book creator, Bagley seems comfortable and in control. She allows the story to unfold at a very deliberate and leisurely pace. She has confidence in her ability to hold readers’ attention for what is really (outwardly, at least) a not-very-eventful story. Nevertheless, the pacing at the start is off, for me. The book opens with a series of double-page spreads of the shorescape, and they set the scene beautifully. But, if you count the opening endpapers, we get four of these scene-setting double-page spreads, and then the first time we get to the true meat of the book — Buckley making things with his hands — that happens in a teeny little vignette.
  • I can’t shake the feeling that the story has an adult sensibility. Everyone seems to agree that the book will generate strong emotions in readers, but I see more adults getting all choked up than children. However, this may not be of primary importance to the Caldecott committee, which is looking at the art first and the text/story only secondarily.

Over to you all! What are your thoughts about this very impressive picture book debut and its chances on the Caldecott table?


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13. Review of Waiting

henkes_waitingstar2 Waiting
by Kevin Henkes; illus. by the author
Preschool   Greenwillow   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-06-236843-0   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-06-236844-7   $18.99   g

Waiting is a huge part of every child’s life, and Henkes uses a light touch to address the topic. Five toys wait on a windowsill. An owl waits for the moon; a pig holding an umbrella waits for rain; a bear with a kite waits for wind; and a puppy on a sled waits for snow. The fifth toy, a rabbit head on a spring, “wasn’t waiting for anything in particular. He just liked to look out the window and wait.” Henkes’s five friends are drawn with confident brown outlines filled in with a muted palette of light greens, blues, and pinks in colored-pencil and watercolor. A straightforward text sets up predictable patterns, while the design is varied, with horizontal and oval vignettes and full pages showing the entire window — including an especially striking sequence of four wordless pages. Time passes slowly, day to night, through wind, rain, and seasons, while small changes in the characters’ body positions and eyes show a range of emotions, from dismay (at lightning) to curiosity (at small trinkets added to the sill). Near the end, a large, rounded toy cat joins the quintet and waits for — what? Suddenly, we see that she has four smaller nesting cats inside. The book ends as quietly as it began, with welcoming acceptance of the five new inhabitants on the now-crowded windowsill. Henkes provides no deep meanings and sends no messages; he’s just showing what waiting can be like. Perhaps listeners will find a model for making long waits seem less tiresome: be still and notice what’s around you.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. Jonathan Stroud Talks with Roger

Jonathan Stroud 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.

stroud_jonathan_300x439In The Hollow Boy, the third book in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series, Lockwood, Lucy, and George are still attacking the Problem: their alternate-world London is being stalked by ghosts that only young people can see — and defeat. I talked with Jonathan about world-building, series-continuing, and negotiating the needs of fans.

Roger Sutton: I’m curious about — in particular with the Lockwood series, but thinking about Bartimaeus as well — two things. You want Question One first or Question Two first?

Jonathan Stroud: Well…we can make it Question Two, right?

RS: Okay, Question Two is: When you have a world, as you do in the Lockwood & Co. books, that is like ours if not quite ours, how do you decide what the rules of that universe are going to be? Or is that something you work out as you go?

JS: It’s an organic process. I kind of work from the middle outward, I suppose. Both in Bartimaeus and in Lockwood, that middle-beginning comes with the key characters. I’ll start with the idea of a djinni as narrator who’s being controlled by dodgy human magicians. The first scene I wrote is the djinni meeting this kid who’s his master. At that point I knew nothing more about the world, really. I gradually pieced it together around that initial sequence. With Lockwood, I began with a boy and a girl walking up to a door in modern London, and they had swords at their belts, and they were going to deal with a ghost. I had them talking to each other, sort of bantering, but I knew nothing about the logic of the world. Why were children doing that? I had no clue.

RS: So you hadn’t even thought of “the Problem” at that time?

JS: Exactly. I wrote maybe three pages of the first chapter, just these two kids talking. And then I put it down, and I had to pause some while I was sitting there scratching my neck and wondering what reason it would be that they’re there without any adults, and what happens when they go inside. It took quite a long time to actually get them in the door, because I had to set some ground rules straightaway. You don’t get those all in one go. But clearly whatever rules I invent for the first book in a series, I have to make sure they remain fast.

RS: Right, and I think you do a good job of parceling them out. It’s not like we have to digest all the rules at the beginning.

JS: I’ve read books, and I’m sure you have too, where you just get hit between the eyes at the beginning with huge amounts of exposition about how everything hangs together. It’s unnecessary. The real world doesn’t work that way. We’re still discovering subtleties about how the world operates. You’re constantly fleshing it out. There’s no reason why an invented world should be any different.

RS: Have you read Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice? It’s a collection of short stories set in these completely unexplained worlds. And she just-sort-of-maybe drops in a rule about how that world works, and maybe she doesn’t. It’s almost as if they’re tales of straightforward realism set in very odd places.

JS: And you buy it, don’t you? If it’s done well.

RS: It’s very disorienting at the same time.

JS: Yes. It’s a fine balance, isn’t it? In fantasy, there’s nothing worse than feeling that the ground is shifting beneath your feet, where the rules suddenly change halfway through. The author has to play fair. But you’re right, part of the fun is throwing in the odd little detail and letting the ripples of it stretch out in the reader’s mind, even if you don’t necessarily ever refer to it again. It’s there, part of the furniture.

RS: I would think, too — and here is Question One — that the use of magic has to be handled very carefully, so that it doesn’t become a substitute for plot development.

JS: With Bartimaeus, one of the things I discovered — it wasn’t intentional — was that as a djinni he had all of these protean abilities, magical powers, but when he came to Earth he was immediately constrained by the binding that the kid had put upon him. So the whole energy and the frisson of the books is that he can’t do what he wants to do, and it becomes a problem for him and an amusement for us. If it were easy for him, it would quickly become very tiresome for readers.

RS: That’s why Superman needed kryptonite.

JS: Yeah. It’s why I think a lot of these superhero movies and comics ultimately get a bit tiresome. (I’m saying that as a big fan.)

RS: Oh, you’re in trouble now.

JS: There has to be an element of danger. Things get rebooted so often, and the characters get in all sorts of peril, but ultimately they always seem to dust themselves off and hitch up their britches and walk away.

RS: How does a writer deal with that? I think about this when I watch cop shows on TV, even — that you want to have your characters in the greatest peril, and you want the viewer, or the reader, to feel the terror along with that person, but you know the hero has to survive for the next episode. There was that one show Spooks [MI-5 in the U.S.], though, do you remember it? On BBC?

JS: Yeah.

RS: Spooks knocked off main characters left and right. But you can’t really do that in a book for kids. Or in a book for anybody, really.

JS: No. In Bartimaeus I did do it, ultimately, and unexpectedly. I think there always has to be a sense that you could do it, that you are prepared to do it, and if you don’t, the character is lucky, and the reader feels that luck. That gives you the sense that the peril is genuine, and the relief is genuine too.

RS: I also think you can, as you have in the Lockwood series, leave your characters with genuine scars, both psychic and physical, from encounters that they have with (in this case) the Problem.

JS: That’s right. In the world in which you and I live, a fatal disaster is not so common — heaven knows that’s not always the case — but for us it is more about the psychic scars, the minor battering that you get as you go through life. So you do want your characters to have bruises from the things they experience. That makes them more lovable and identifiable, I think, from the point of view of the reader.

stroud_hollow boyRS: I’m trying to figure out a way to phrase this question without giving away the ending of your book, because we don’t want to do that — but something very dramatically changes in the last sentence of The Hollow Boy

JS: Yes, true.

RS: —and how do you pick up from that in starting the next volume?

JS: Usually with a series — it was the same with Bartimaeus — I will have a vague idea of where I’m going, but it’s only vague, and it can be altered at any given moment. Funny enough, as you rang, I was just working away on the structure of the next book. I’d actually done a very, very early version of that a year ago, when I was thinking about book three. I already had in my mind a possible way of continuing the story. And yet you have to be ready to throw that away if necessary. Now I’m trying to firm it up. Part of the beauty of it, part of the challenge of a writer, is to try to keep that balance: forward planning with improvisation. The two have to coexist. If you have everything mapped out from the beginning, it becomes arid. Similarly, if you fly by the seat of your pants entirely, it’s a bit high-risk. So I’m constantly trying to think ahead, but at the same time, not paint myself into a corner. I need there to be varied options. That links back to the question about what happens to the characters. With the Lockwood books, I genuinely don’t yet know what’s going to happen to my characters at the end. That means there is a potential threat hanging over them like an ominous cloud. I treat it with respect and my reader with respect, but I do keep it open as I go.

RS: What do you think adding a fourth ghostbuster in this volume does to the dynamic among the characters?

JS: I was quite pleased with it as a way of shaking up the existing dynamic. You have a nice triangular relationship between Lockwood, who’s the dashing central character in a way — he’s the titular character — but in another way, the central character is Lucy, the narrator. It’s her emotions we primarily follow. And George, who’s the third guy. [Ed. note: Poor George.] The three of them have a very nice, close, interconnected dynamic. And bringing in a fourth, and indeed female, character, Holly, really destabilizes things from Lucy’s point of view. That’s really been fun. It allowed me to focus more closely on Lucy’s emotional state, foreground it, and make her that much more affecting.

RS: At what point did you know there was going to be a series of books, not just one?

JS: Fairly early on, it had that potential. I remember with Bartimaeus, all those years ago, I wrote about fifty or sixty pages of the first book before I realized that there was too much going on for it to be one book. This time, because I’m a bit older and grayer and more grizzled, I sat there thinking about the problem of the Problem, what the Problem was, and what the book was going to try and do. I figured out almost straightaway my plan would be to have a series of very traditional ghost-hunting narratives, but then surround that with this wider issue of why the ghosts are coming back, and the social implications of it. That was quite interesting, embedding traditional ghost narratives in a wider social context. That is something I couldn’t do in one book. It was going to have to be a series.

RS: I thought it was pretty brilliant to make one of the rules the fact that only children could really deal with these ghosts.

JS: It was the first rule that I had to figure out. Why were these kids there? Where were the grownups? There had to be some pretty basic reason. It’s not just the old Scooby-Doo type thing where you’re a bunch of kids having an adventure. There are real ghosts. They’re really dangerous. And the adults can’t see them. That immediately has implications for how the society functions. The adults are vulnerable, but also still control things. They try and remain safe, but send kids into the houses to deal with the phantoms and potentially get killed. The adults stay at home at night, and the kids go out after dark. It’s fun to play with that.

RS: Will we see in the fourth volume — I don’t want to say a resolution to the Problem, but will we get a bigger picture of it?

JS: We will. As I’m speaking now, I’m thinking that I may do five books, and the fifth one will be the one that has the ultimate resolution. But, yes, having focused quite closely on the emotional dynamics of my heroes in book three, I think book four will open out again a little bit more and give a few tentative answers.

RS: Do you have any demands from fans as to how certain things happen or don’t happen?

JS: Well, yes, actually. There’s definitely a large number of people who are quite keen, particularly, on there being an emotional resolution to the Lockwood and Lucy relationship. That’s of interest to a fair number of readers.

RS: Are you seeing fanfiction about the two of them?

JS: I know it exists, but I don’t read it. When I do a naughty Google search, I’ll find all sorts of excerpts about Lockwood and Lucy. There’s a lot of fan art kicking around, and quite often that’s fairly…well, Lockwood and Lucy in loving clinches. So I’m under no illusions about what people would like. I guess to a certain extent one has to detach oneself a little bit from that and try and follow the way you want to go.

RS: And it is kind of a nice problem to have. It wouldn’t happen if people weren’t so wrapped up in the story.

JS: No, it’s the best. It suggests that your characters are living, breathing creations outside the little bits of paper in your messy old study. I remember, back with Bartimaeus, that somebody sent me a letter with an alternative ending to the series. There’s quite an apocalyptic finish to the third Bartimaeus book, and a girl wrote me a lovely alternative ending where everything was resolved in a much more upbeat way. It really moved me. It was wrong from an aesthetic point of view—I didn’t think that as a story ending it was correct. But from the point of view of wish-fulfillment and wanting the best for my characters, it actually made me feel very moved.

RS: In the Talks with Roger interview I did with Lisa Graff, we talked about J. K. Rowling’s periodic announcements about this or that character after the books have been published. You know, like when she told us that Dumbledore was gay. How much ownership do you feel over these characters?

JS: The only character of mine who could almost exist independently of me is Bartimaeus. A djinni that’s been around for thousands of years — it almost feels natural that I can assert him as being present in a couple of different epochs. People ask me if I’m going to write another Bartimaeus book, and I think yeah, sure, I could. He’s out there somewhere having adventures, and I no doubt could tap into it. He does have that sort of life for me. Beyond that, you give it your best shot in the book. You have a certain number of pages; you put down what you can, and then you leave it to other people to extend it. I think it would be wrong to keep adding footnotes and explanations to something that should be a finished text.

RS: That people can take and do with what they will.

JS: Fanfiction, which is great and lovely. That’s what we all do. Every time you read a book, you see things in your own unique way. The way you read Harry Potter will be subtly different from the way that I read it, and we’ll get different things from it. There’s no right and wrong answer, and if we want to go off and have fantasies about Dumbledore or anyone else, that’s certainly correct.

RS: What about George and Lockwood, nudge-nudge-wink-wink?

JS: Well, yes. Old George, you see, he’s a bit unnoticed. Lockwood’s sort of swishing around with his long coat, and Lucy’s looking after him with her big eyes, and old George is there on the sidelines. Absolutely. What’s his take on it? I think a lot of people would probably identify with George. I think, in a way, I identify with George.

RS: Me too.

JS: Most people probably have a little bit of a soft spot for him.

RS: All right, I’ve got tons of material here, Jonathan, and I can let you go.

JS: Okay, that sounds brilliant. I look forward to the headline on top saying “Stroud Denigrates Superheroes.” Oh, dear.

More on Jonathan Stroud from The Horn Book

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15. Middle-Grade Madness recapped

Rebecca Stead and me.

Rebecca Stead and me.

Shoshana has written up an excellent recap of last night’s goings-on at the Cambridge Public Library. I’ll just add my thanks to the panelists, who were all engaged, enthusiastic, and nice to me and each other. (Jeanne Birdsall brought along a belt for me to use if things got out of hand, but luckily I did not need to employ it. Jeanne, what would Pére Penderwick say?) And the evening gave me a prompt for my November editorial, so I’m grateful for that.

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16. Come early

Concert Crowd

Cambridge Public Library is telling me they expect to run out of room at Middle Grade Madness, tonight at the Main Library at 6:00PM; show up early to be guaranteed admission. Youth services director Julie Roach is legendary for the ease with which she firmly shuts the door on even the most well-connected mom trying to get her kids into a full story hour, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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17. Week in Review, September 21st-25th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Remembering Dorothy Butler

We’re getting ready for next week’s Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards ceremony and Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium with BGHB Week:

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

Calling Caldecott:

Lolly’s Classroom: Off to a fresh start

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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18. Off to a fresh start

Hello dear education community. I’m back! Last year I was quite silent. This was due in part to the fact that I had moved to a new school. But mainly it was because I was simply at a loss for what to say.

My previous school was strictly disciplined to the point where students were basically only extrinsically motivated. This allowed me to help students attain high scores and cover vast areas of content (it was a self-contained classroom, so I taught all core subjects). Yet, to be frank, it was miserable. Although I did my best, I couldn’t deny that even after two years together, my kids never felt emotionally or psychologically safe in this school.

Furthermore, when I moved to a school that promoted restorative justice techniques, targeted interventions, and differentiation, I had glaring holes in my instruction. The posts I had written as a teacher at my previous school rang hollow because I realized that I had never had to struggle with motivating students without external systems and consequences in place. Also, my students were known to be particularly difficult due to various factors. Truly, my first semester was such a battle. By winter break, I ended up crying to my assistant principal about whether or not I could even finish the school year.

Fear not, friends; it does not end this way. Long story short, I learned to apply the growth mindset that I claimed to teach, and there were mentors and colleagues available to guide and commiserate with me along the way. And thankfully, my students grew to learn that I truly cared.

Now I’m blessed to be at a school that serves a tough population, engages the community, and freely trusts me to teach. Most of all, I’m blessed to be at a school that values reflection — the perfect balance to my tendency to freak out or quit a strategy too fast.

In a new spin of events, I am actually joining the math team this year. We’re piloting a blended, shared teaching style, and although I’m apprehensive, I’m also super excited. Looking back on my teaching journey thus far, there are definitely rueful moments. I now have a bajillion teaching credentials, and I feel like I’ve been regularly taking exams for the past three years. But, as I embark on my fifth year as a teacher (4th year in Oakland), I know there’s no stopping now!

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19. Week in Review, September 14th-18th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: “YA Meets the Real: Fiction and Nonfiction That Take On the World” by Marina Budhos

Camp Sendak: Stephen Savage’s love letter to the Sendak Fellowship program

Lois Ehlert Talks with Roger

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

Out of the Box:

Calling Caldecott:

Lolly’s Classroom: Intentions and He Said, She Said

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. Countdown to BGHB festivities!

2015 BGHB announcement

Rebecca Stead and Roger Sutton are all smiles as they make the 2015 BGHB awards announcement

Who’s excited for BGHB15 and HBAS15? You know we are! All this week we’ll be highlighting the winning books and their creators with extras from our archives — interviews, reviews, articles, and more — to help you prep for the ceremony and colloquium taking place October 2nd and 3rd.

Get started now with our reviews of the winners and honor books: picture book, fiction, and nonfiction.

The BGHB award ceremony and Horn Book at Simmons colloquium are coming up quickly — but it’s not too late to register! We hope to see you there.

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21. Last Stop on Market Street

de la pena_last stop on market streetAnd we’re off, with the first book discussion of the season. We are trying to present the books more generally in order of publication this year, in hopes that readers will have a better chance of knowing the books as they’re discussed. We’re starting with a book that was published early in the year, in fact in January, to much excitement and praise.

Last Stop on Market Street is a lovely, warm picture book, with strong and commendable themes of intergenerational friendship, building community, and finding beauty in unlikely places. And other messages as well: the value of helping the less fortunate, how to grow up to be a good person (as guided by your Nana). Matt de la Pena’s text is both sensory and colloquial, with believable-sounding dialogue, and an equally believable relationship between grandmother and grandson.

But we’re here to talk about Christian Robinson’s art. The Horn Book Magazine review basically said that the book was channeling Ezra Jack Keats, “in spirit and visual style,” and I think that pretty much captures the book’s feel and appeal. The acrylic paintings and collage are artfully simple, and like Peter in The Snowy Day, CJ is an everychild — and a brown everychild. The colors sing, with eye-catching blocks of color throughout, all in perfect accord with one another. One of my favorite double-page spreads shows Nana and CJ walking to the bus shelter in the rain, Nana holding her orange umbrella aloft and CJ, in his highly individual yellow shirt (with blue and orange stripes on the sleeves), closer to the puddled street, which reflects those oranges and yellows beautifully. (In that same spread, note the way the tree behind them is composed of a collaged white trunk and painted green leaves, giving the tree remarkable texture and beauty.) On another spread, rectangles rule: the dark blue bus stop contrasts with the white sidewalk and bus, which contrasts with the green car, etc. It’s such a simple composition, but with its shapes and colors so artfully arranged.

I think few would argue that the most sublime spread is the one in which the guitar music CJ hears on the bus lifts him out of mundane reality, out of the busy city, and into a world of nature, where butterflies ‘dance free’ and waves crash against a sunset sky. Robinson does a remarkable job of not translating the text literally but completely capturing the “feeling of magic” CJ experiences: all with minimal colors, simple shapes, the trademark yellow sweater, and CJ’s profile front and center, eyes closed in concentration and delight.

I do have a few quibbles. Some might be silly, but may also be details a child (or the Caldecott committee) might notice. Where does Nana’s knitting come from? She is shown throughout carrying the tiniest of purses. Why is she sitting in the handicapped seat on the bus? That does not seem like something thoughtful Nana would ever do. Why does the blind man on the bus carry a cane and have a guide dog? I have some knowledge of the blind community and I have never witnessed someone using both. It would be a very cumbersome arrangement! (Also, the dog on this bus wanders freely around the bus – again, not something an actual guide dog would ever do. It’s clearly meant to be a guide dog, not just a pal, because the dog is shown with a harness attached.) And just in terms of continuity – I think it might disappoint some child readers that once Nana and CJ get off the bus there’s so little relationship between the people they see on the street and the people in the soup kitchen. We recognize Bobo, the Sunglass Man, and Trixie (although it’s sure a long time from the page Nana mentions them to the page we finally see them, without any kind of refresher or reminder in the text), but why aren’t the people queuing up outside shown inside the soup kitchen on the last spread? It’s not like there is a long line inside that’s preventing them from going in. It would have been satisfying and given the book some additional closure to see them inside seated at a table or being served food.

It may bear repeating, for newcomers and old hands alike, that looking at a picture book for your own pleasure, or a child’s, is very different from scrutinizing it the way the Caldecott committee does. I didn’t notice any of my quibbles until I looked at the book as carefully and critically as a committee member would. Remember how Jon Klassen (humorously) characterized the committee in his 2013 Caldecott Acceptance speech: “They are a group of beings assembled entirely to notice things.” Of course,  just because someone sees flaws in a book does NOT necessarily knock it off the Caldecott table. The committee may take note of flaws and still decide that a book’s strengths are enough to disregard any minor problems.

So, what are your thoughts? Last Stop on Market Street received three star reviews and a ton of early buzz. Is it holding up to its promise? Do weigh in below.




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22. Not. So. Fast.

chickensThose of you who follow @rogerreads might have seen my occasional cranky #authoraskyourself (#editoraskyourself, #revieweraskyourself…) tweets in which I turn whatever crime against language and/or literature that has crossed my desk that day into a blind item for an anonymous public spanking. I keep them anonymous because a) I’m not that mean, b) they’re often examples of promiscuous horrors rather than being singularly egregious, and c) I don’t want to taint any official opinion that  the Horn Book might subsequently proffer in a review.

I have learned not to offer premature word on what the Horn Book might or might not say about a particular book. Years ago, a close friend published a novel that had been submitted for review. I stayed out of the discussion about whether to assign the book to a Magazine reviewer and which reviewer to send it to, but later when I heard that the reviewer and the editor loved it, I felt safe in telling my friend that the book would be recommended in an upcoming issue. Not. So. Fast. The reviewer had second thoughts and convinced the editor that the book should in fact not be reviewed. Ouch.

Wincing, I remembered this little learning experience when I saw that a Facebook acquaintance posted a sad lament that the review her new book had been “promised” by another publication several months ago had not yet appeared. While I have no way of knowing just what was promised by whom to whom, I’d advise concerned parties to neither offer nor expect a review until it’s ready to print. A Horn Book Magazine review goes through several editors and stages before we think it’s fit to print, and it changes all along the way. And sometimes it disappears–one or another of us will look askance at a book or its review, conveniently claim amnesia for the mistake of assigning it in the first place, and query our fellows as to whether to drop it from the Magazine (#Ijustdidthistoday). For a selective review source like the Magazine, the toughest decisions involve those books that are good but not great, and by those that our partners in crime at SLJ, etc., are raving about while we’re thinking, “this? THIS? Really?” The challenge posed by this latter kind is deciding whether to publicly demur or just keep quiet.

Don’t even get me started on stars.

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23. 2015 BGHB Fiction Day

Cartwheeling in ThunderstormsToday we’re honoring our BGHB Fiction Award winners! Read reviews of all of the 2015 fiction winners here; see below for more web extras to celebrate them. Join us on October 2–3, 2015, for the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium: Transformations, featuring several 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book award recipients.

The 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction Award winner is Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell (Simon and Schuster).

Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick) received a BGHB Fiction Honor.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman and illustrated by Brendan Shusterman (Harper/HarperTeen) received a BGHB Fiction Honor.

Stay tuned for web extras on our nonfiction winner and honorees tomorrow!

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24. Middle Grade Madness


Next Monday, September 28th, I’ll be moderating a panel of five middle-grade Random House authors at the Cambridge Public Library at 6:00PM. Participating authors include:

–Jeanne Birdsall, talking about THE PENDERWICKS IN SPRING


–Alice Hoffman, NIGHTBIRD

–R.J. Palacio, AUGIE & ME


Quite the lineup, no? We will have fun (I insist) and the authors will be autographing after the program, with books sold on site  by the wonderful Porter Square Books. The library is at 449 Broadway in Cambridge, and the event will be held in the auditorium downstairs. Hope to see you there!

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25. Review of Rhythm Ride

pinkney_rhythm rideRhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through 
the Motown Sound
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Middle School   Roaring Brook   166 pp.
9/15   978-1-59643-973-3   $19.99   g

As related by an irrepressible narrator Pinkney names “the Groove,” this history of Motown Records manages not only to smartly place the company and its hit records in the context of (mostly) 1960s America but to have a great time doing so: “Put your hand up like you’re halting traffic. Really flick your wrist, kid. Because stopping in the name of love needs to be strong.” Pinkney traces the success of Motown from founder Berry Gordy’s initial drive and doggedness through early success among African American audiences to the breakout worldwide fame of acts such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the Jackson 5. While the tone is generally peppy, the book gives due attention to the racism the company and its artists faced, and how Motown both reflected and contributed to — as in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” — the dramatic social changes of its heyday. “The Groove” (based, says Pinkney in an afterword, on the voice of a deejay cousin) is an energetic and amiable guide, but better at pumping enthusiasm than providing musical insight; there’s not much here on what made “the Motown sound” uniquely recognizable and distinct. That said, Pinkney provides an excellent discography that will lead young readers to the classic tracks, and, my goodness, they are many. Photographs throughout capture backstage moments as well as the full Motown glamour; appended material includes a timeline, thorough source notes and a reading list, and an index.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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