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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. On crossing over: straight from the horses’ mouths

Why do some authors “cross over” from writing adult to children’s books or children’s to adult? To find out, we went straight to the source.

Shopaholic series author Sophie Kinsella (“The Queen of Romantic Comedy”), author of Finding Audrey — her first YA! — graciously submitted to our Five Questions treatment (sad to say she’s not a secret gamer).

We asked Patrick Ness and Ben Mezrich: What has writing adult books taught you about writing YA, or vice versa?

A Monster CallsPatrick Ness: That if you want either to be good, there can’t be any difference in emotional investment, personal investment, time investment, work investment. There’s only one danger in writing both and that’s snobbery to either. If a story needs to be for adults, I’m good with that. If it needs to be for teens, awesome, let’s go for it. And that’s the end of my thinking on the difference, really. After that, I’m just trying to write the best book I can, period.

mezrich_mouseBen Mezrich: After the movies 21 and The Social Network came out, I did a lot of events at high schools, and younger kids would come up to me asking if they could read my stuff. I really wanted to try and write a series for kids interested in the kinds of stories I write for adults. I always loved Encyclopedia Brown, and I want these books — about whiz kids beating the odds — to have that feel.

Also, now that I have kids (little ones, five and three years old), I can’t wait until they are old enough to read my books!

Here’s Gail Carriger‘s take, from an Out of the Box interview last fall.

Alice Hoffman talked about being influenced by Edward Eager, in The Horn Book Magazine.

Meg Wolitzer *hearts* libraries, and tells The Horn Book Magazine why.

Sherman Alexie’s Boston Globe-Horn Book speech for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is about autobiography and not autobiography.

Rainbow Rowell‘s Boston Globe-Horn Book speech for Eleanor & Park describes insecurities and incomplete ideas.

For more on crossovers, click here.

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2. Five questions for Sophie Kinsella: Crossover Week edition

Photo: John Swannell.

Photo: John Swannell.

Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series for adults, is known as “The Queen of Romantic Comedy.” Her new book, Finding Audrey, is her first foray into YA territory…and it’s a good one. Kinsella graciously submitted to The Horn Book’s Five Questions treatment during Crossover Week.

1. Your portrayal of anxiety disorders is so vivid and true. How did you do your research?

SK: I have always written what I see around me, and I see more and more young people struggling to deal with the pressures of the world and modern teendom. I particularly looked at CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), which I believe has a great role to play in helping people deal with anxiety issues.

2. We never find out exactly what Tasha, Freya, and Izzy did to Audrey — which, in some ways, makes it all the more terrifying. Did you have in mind what they did as you were writing, or did the specifics not matter?

kinsella_finding audreySK: In my first draft, I actually wrote a section that explained what happened to Audrey — but then I took it out. I feel it diminishes the story if the reader has a full explanation, because it distances the reader from Audrey. They might think, “That wasn’t so bad,” or they could be so traumatized that they’d focus on her experience rather than the recovery. This way, any readers who suffer or who have suffered from bullying or social anxiety can relate to Audrey’s journey.

3. There’s humor in this book, your YA debut, but it’s not nearly as light and frothy as your very entertaining Shopaholic books for adults. How did you strike the right balance, given the serious subject matter (bullying, anxiety, family problems, etc.)?

SK: I didn’t deliberately set out to write a more “serious” book. I find that when I write, the appropriate tone and scenes come to me as I’m planning. I knew that with a character like Audrey, it wouldn’t be right to have a lot of slapstick comedy — although I always like to see the comic relief of life, which is how Audrey’s family came to be as they are! I knew that Audrey would be a wry character who keeps her humor despite all her difficulties, but I also wanted to portray her plight in a realistic tone. She’s in a pretty bad place.

4. Is Land of Conquerors a real game? (And are you a secret gamer?)

SK: No, it isn’t — and no, I’m not a secret gamer, I’m afraid. I’m actually quite rubbish at computer games! But I have seen quite a lot of gameplay of DOTA 2. That’s what comes of having teenagers in the house…

5. What did writing adult novels teach you about writing YA, or vice versa?

SK: I didn’t really set out to write a YA book when I wrote Finding Audrey. The story just came to me, and I saw I had to tell it through Audrey’s eyes. So I haven’t approached YA in a very different way, as far as the writing goes. Having said that, when you’re writing a story about teenagers, you do feel a responsibility to treat their very difficult problems accurately. I consulted my own teens along the way, which I would never normally do. I think they were quite pleased to have me deferring to them!

For more on crossovers, click here.

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3. If you only had a brain

scarecrow-in-fieldFarah Mendlesohn called my attention to this bit of fuckwittery from The Guardian, in which their art critic Jonathan Jones opines that the late Terry Pratchett wrote “trash” while the equally late Günter Grass was a “true titan of the novel,” so why is everyone more sad about the passing of Sir Terry? The dumbness of this point–let’s start with the fact that more people love Pratchett’s books more than people love Grass’s–is exacerbated by the fact that Jones admits, nay, crows, that he’s never read a word of Pratchett and doesn’t intend to.

I have only read about half a dozen of Pratchett’s books and none of Grass’s, so I have no opinion of their comparative merits. (That didn’t stop Jones but I haven’t passed judgment on a book I haven’t read since that time I put Red Shift on a syllabus but never got around to reading it before the class began. I was younger then.) But his argument is straw-man specious–as far as I can tell, the only person comparing Pratchett to Grass is Jones.

He is right, though, that critical discourse is now both puffed-up and flattened. I blame the internet, although God knows even The Horn Book has tossed around words like “brilliant” and “ground-breaking” for books that are in hindsight “smart” and “different from those other books we’ve been seeing lately.” But not only has the internet brought together readers, critics, creators, fans, and publicists in what can be an orgy of self-serving hyperbole, it has leveled distinctions between high, middlebrow, and disposable culture, with TV episodes, for example, dissected with the same assiduousness as, well, the works of Pratchett or Grass. It makes me think of Anne Lamott writing in Bird by Bird about her brief but over-reaching career as a restaurant reviewer, where one of her friends had to remind her gently that “Annie, it’s just a bit of cake.”

It is a peculiarity of books for youth–along with speculative fiction and romance novels–that its devotees frequently feel burdened by the genre’s putatively second-class status of not being “real literature.” The defensiveness is certainly warranted–witness critics like Jonathan Jones!–but it can also lead to claims of greatness than only resound in the choir loft. If I were to write “Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books are awfully good children’s books” (talk about clickbait) I would inevitably be scolded for putting limits on their goodness. But can’t it be enough that something be an awfully good children’s book without claiming it stands among the titans of literature writ large?

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4. Six of one, half a dozen of the other

The line between adult literature and YA is definitely bendy and sometimes more a “smudge” than a “line” (and then there’s that whole New Adult thing — remember that?) Not only are there great numbers of books that have been published for one community of readers and then been adopted by the other, there are also books that straddle the border, publishing as one in the U.S., the other internationally. Like, what’s with that, Australia? (Okay, okay; there are some British/UK ones too.)

Some examples:

zusak_book thief australianzusak_book thief usThe Book Thief by Markus Zuzak was originally published as adult, in Australia, but then published as YA in the U.S. Author John Green writes in an NYT review that he suspects the ambitious and emotional novel was actually written with an an adult audience in mind. But regardless of teen or adult reader, Green feels it is “the kind of book that can be life-changing.”

Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels follows Liga’s journey as she escapes horrifying abuse and raises her daughters, Branza and Urdda, in a parallel world. It’s a lyrical, fantastical fairy-tale complete with romance, violence (some graphic), and love. The book won a Printz Honor in the U.S., although it was published as adult in Australia. It was then repackaged and sold as YA in Australia.

connolly_book of lost things usconnolly_book of lost things ukJohn Connolly writes books for children (The Gates and the other Samuel Johnson series books, for instance) and adults (including the Charlie Parker detective series — what’s with all the mystery/crime crossover authors?). But at least one of his books has been marketed to both: The Book of Lost Things was originally published for adults in Ireland, but was given a more kid-appealing cover makeover to accompany The Gates U.S. release.

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor by Boston Globe-Horn Book honoree Jaclyn Moriarty, is about the trials and tribulations of the somewhat-magical Zing family. The book is a sort-of revised version of Moriarty’s Aussie novel I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes, from a different point of view: “I rewrote Pancakes because my American editor was intrigued by the character of Listen Taylor…The result is a different story, and one that is aimed more at young adults…” According to Moriarty, many reviewers went out of their way to say it wasn’t a children’s book (though it was published in the U.S. by children’s publisher Scholastic). The Horn Book Magazine reviewed it. Then put it on our “Mind the Gap” list as: “Best adult book on a children’s list.”

There are also books that have switched affiliation from printing to printing here in the States: Neil Gaiman’s Stardust was originally published as adult but then repackaged as a teen read (The Graveyard Book went the other direction, from middle-grade to adult). Same story for Francisco Jimenez’s Boston Globe-Horn Book-winning memoir The Circuit; it was published by New Mexico Press for adult readers, but repackaged for children when Houghton Mifflin picked it up.

Any others to add to the list?

For more on crossovers, click here.

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5. Review of Tender Morsels

tender-morselsstar2Margo Lanagan Tender Morsels
435 pp. Knopf 10/08 isbn 978-0-375-84811-7 $16.99 g
Library edition isbn 978-0-375-94811-4 $19.99
(High School)

Raped repeatedly by her father and, after his death, brutally gang-raped by village youths, fifteen-year-old Liga determines to kill herself and her baby. Instead of dying, the two enter a parallel world; a place without aggression, fear, or pain. There Liga raises her two daughters, Branza and Urdda. As the girls grow, strangers visit Liga’s heaven—a “stumpety” little man intent on magical riches; two bear-men who have wandered in from Liga’s former village’s seasonal fertility festival. They pique young Urdda’s curiosity, and she finds her way back to the real world. Her discovery ruptures Liga’s safe but stagnant heaven forever but results in a fuller life for all three women. Lanagan’s poetic style and her masterful employment of mythic imagery give this story of transformation and healing extraordinary depth and beauty. The characters’ earthy folk dialect tethers Lanagan’s fantasy firmly to very real physical and psychic experience even as the lyrical narrative voice (“Morning came, sweet as new milk spilling up the sky, all dew and birdsong and bee-buzz”) intensifies its fairy-tale atmosphere. At the same time, Lanagan offers up difficult truths—and complicated, human characters—that are as sobering as they are triumphant.

From the September/October 2008 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Lisa Graff Talks with Roger

Lisa Graff 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.


graff_lost in the sunIn Lost in the Sun, a companion to Umbrella Summer, Lisa Graff explores the consequences of one boy’s death on the other boy who inadvertently caused it. How do you get over that? And how, I also wanted to know, does having once been a children’s book editor (Graff worked at Farrar, Straus and Giroux) affect the way one goes about writing for children?

Roger Sutton: Let’s dive in because I have a lot of questions about Lost in the Sun. It seems like such a risk to use an unreliable — well, is unreliable the right word? Unsympathetic, maybe — narrator. How did it occur to you to do that?

Lisa Graff: I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. Though now that you say that, I’m remembering that my graduate thesis at The New School was on unlikable protagonists in middle-grade literature, so obviously it’s something that’s interesting to me. A couple of my narrators have been unlikable. I’m fascinated by kid characters, especially, but by all characters who seem on the surface to be people we wouldn’t want to spend time with. How they got that way, what they’re thinking, and what’s going on behind them.

RS: How do you, as a writer, keep a reader invested in that person? I thought, “This guy Trent is so screwed up.” But I fell for him.

LG: It’s funny, because with all of my characters that are “unlikable,” I really love them. They’re usually my favorites, and it doesn’t occur to me at first that the reader might not love them. It’s a matter of finding what makes them do the things they do — the bad decisions — and what makes them tick. We can connect with whatever the emotions are, if not necessarily the actions themselves.

RS: One thing you do early on in the book is let us know why Trent is acting the way he is. So we don’t just think he’s an asshole.

LG: He still is, a little bit. But you know why.

RS: Right. Here we have this protagonist who’s been involved in something terrible. He really didn’t do anything wrong, but you can see why he feels like he did, and now he has to learn to come to terms with it. How do you stop that from turning into a problem novel? Or is it a problem novel? What do you think of that term?

LG: It makes me cringe, even though every book deals with issues and problems. If they didn’t, they’d be boring. But the term is kind of horrific.

RS: It has a lot of bad history.

LG: My early drafts were definitely problem novels. When I write my first several drafts, everything is really big and broad and cheesy, and there are huge moments and huge emotions. I usually overwrite so much at the beginning. My first draft of this novel was probably five hundred pages. It was enormous. And a mess.

RS: Multiple victims. Crawling on the ice.

LisaGraff_200wLG: And then I go through and pick up the moments that really feel truthful. Those tend to be the quiet moments. They’re the ones that if I were to outline — which I don’t often do but, but if I were to — probably wouldn’t even make it in the outline, because they’re not big events. But they’re the ones that really matter. I keep those, and I throw everything else out.

RS: That makes me wonder about outlining as a technique for putting a novel together. I wonder if people miss things, because they’ve got this list, dammit, and they’re going to stick to it. I guess it’s different for everybody.

LG: I think so. I’m not an outliner, because when I do — after I’ve spent all that time and hated every moment of it — I realize that my outlines are all about things that the characters understand and emotions they’re having. There’s no actual plot in the entire outline, and it doesn’t work.

RS: Oh, plot. Plot.

LG: My books are not particularly plot-y. That’s not the way I think. The plot is very secondary to me. I just can’t outline.

RS: But you do have things happen to your characters. I’ve read some books where it feels like the plot is just an excuse to move the characters from place to place so they can have another conversation.

LG: It’s all in the rewriting, the revision. Where can I put these characters, and what would best show us what’s happening to them?

RS: What has your previous career as a children’s book editor done for you as a novelist?

LG: That’s a great question. I sold my first two novels just about three months after I started at FSG, so I was really learning how to be an editor at the same time as I was learning how to be a writer. It was wonderful, though very difficult. Being an editor has probably helped me to just take my time. At first it was hard, because I was working with all these wonderful writers and wonderful books, and I would try to edit myself too much. But after a while of seeing the process so many amazing writers go through — how some projects start not as amazing as they end, and the very different ways that people go through drafting and writing books — I realized that it was okay to start from a really terrible place. What was important and necessary was to just work through the process the way you need to do it. So counter to what you might expect, being an editor has actually helped me take my time more.

RS: Do you feel like you’re nicer to yourself as an author, maybe?

LG: At the beginning of a book, yes. Then I’m brutal and cruel in the middle, which is also very important. There’s no greater satisfaction to me than slashing out entire pages of a draft. I get a sick pleasure out of it.

RS: Just sort of lacerating yourself with self-hatred — is that what you’re doing?

LG: I want the book to be as concise as possible, and since I know I’m someone who overwrites in drafts, I know that the cutting stage is part of my process. Often I’ll make myself some word count — I have to cut twenty-five words on every page in a draft, say. That’s actually fun for me, because I see what’s crucial to the story. Sometimes passages or paragraphs or even whole pages that were my favorite things to write can be unimportant to the story.

RS: That’s something I had to learn as an editor as well. Sometimes design dictates you can only use so many words and no more, and it becomes like a puzzle. How am I going to get all the words into the allotted space?

LG: Love that.

RS: It is kind of fun. And how far will you go with this before you share a manuscript with your editor?

LG: It depends on the project. Jill Santopolo has edited all my middle-grade books, and I like to show her my projects when I know they need work but I don’t know what else to do to them. That’s my ideal situation, though it doesn’t always happen that way because of time constraints. There have been a couple of times, too, when I’ve hit a spot where I have no idea what I’m doing, and it’s just a mess. I’ll show it to Jill, and she’s amazing because she can see through all that, and she’ll point me in a direction and say, “Okay, this is your story,” or “This is your main character,” and I can go back to square one with that little piece.

RS: Do you feel like it’s done when it’s done? I know writers who are never satisfied, even when the thing is published.

LG: When I was working on my first published book, The Thing About Georgie, I remember having this moment when I realized that I could just revise this thing until the end of time, and it would become a different book. There was something kind of wonderful and scary about that. But there does come a moment when it feels like it’s the story that I was trying to write, even if it’s not perfect in every regard. That’s the point where I want to stop. Usually what happens is after that draft where I think I’m done, and I go out for a nice dinner to celebrate, two days later Jill emails me another revision letter. This has happened with every single one of my books. She says, “Okay, just one more draft.” And then after that one I’m really done. She’s always right.

RS: Let’s talk about the end of this book. I loved it. But I noticed that even the Horn Book review has some questions about the ending. I don’t want to give anything away, because it is a great surprise of an ending, so let’s talk around it a little bit. What kinds of reactions have you had from readers?

LG: You mean the very, very end, right?

RS: The very, very end.

LG: There have been some people who were surprised and upset, but most of the responses are positive. I think most people felt it was the best, natural ending to the story. For me there was never a question. It seemed like the truest way to tell these characters’ stories. I’m trying to find the best way to talk around it.

RS: I know.

LG: I think it speaks to one of the central themes of the story, which is that it’s not the events in our lives that are important so much as how we respond to them. That’s what I really wanted to get across.

RS: That’s the theme of your novel all the way through. The big central propelling event of the story happens before the first page.

LG: Absolutely. In essence, it could have been anything that happened. It’s the way that Trent reacts. It’s not that event per se that shapes him, it’s what it did to him.

RS: Right. Had he been someone else, it would have been a completely different story. Because it’s about what happens to that character, not what happens to a person, when a tragedy like that occurs.

LG: Exactly. The idea for this book came from a book I wrote several years ago, Umbrella Summer, which is about a character, Annie, dealing with the tragedy of her brother dying. It occurred to me at the time that someone had to have hit the hockey puck that struck her brother. There was nowhere in the book to address it, so I just ignored that side of things. But the idea sat in my head, and it wasn’t until maybe five or six years later that I decided I wanted to write a book about the boy who’d hit the hockey puck. And then it wasn’t until the book was finished that I figured out why I wanted to focus on Trent’s character, who I hadn’t realized at the time was based on someone I had known, whom I was very close to. That was my jumping-off point.

RS: There’s this new book by Sophie Kinsella — she writes those Shopaholic novels. But she’s written her first YA, Finding Audrey. It’s about a girl who has become intensely agoraphobic. She even wears sunglasses so she doesn’t have to look at anybody. All we know is that something happened at school between her and this clique of girls, but we never learn what it is.

LG: Oh, interesting.

RS: Similarly, she’s dealing with the fallout and recovery from this event. The actual whatever happened happened before the book began. We never find out what that was, and it becomes all the more powerful because you don’t know. That’s kind of how I feel about what we’re trying not to discuss.

LG: I always feel funny about that, when kids ask me what happens to these characters after the book ends. I’m like, “Whatever you want. It’s fiction. It’s not real.” But yes, I do feel like I know what happened.

RS: I got so mad when J. K. Rowling told everyone that Dumbledore was gay. Not because I care that Dumbledore is gay. Be as gay as you want, Dumbledore. But it’s like she took that power that you’re talking about away from readers. She didn’t write that he was gay.

LG: I had that same reaction. It’s not on the page, so it’s not true. I feel like once you write a book it belongs to the reader. It doesn’t belong to you anymore, so it doesn’t matter what you think, or what your backstory is for those characters. It’s everyone else’s.

RS: You have done your part. And the reader has a job too. And if you don’t give readers the room to do that job, I suspect they’re not going to get invested in your story.

LG: It’s interesting to read people’s interpretations of my books, because there are times when I think, “That’s absolutely not why the character did that.” But that’s just my interpretation. Readers can think whatever they want. They have that freedom, and it’s great.

RS: But it must drive you crazy when people do actually misread what you have put on the page.

LG: Yeah, that’s annoying. It says it right there! But I remember being in a grad school workshop, and someone was giving me notes. I cut in, which we were never supposed to do; we were supposed to just remain silent while they gave us their comments. But I cut in and said, “That’s not what I meant.” My thesis adviser said, “Lisa, you can’t sit over everyone’s bed while they read your novel and tell them what you meant.” Which is really true.

RS: And kind of creepy.

LG: So I try to remember that.

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7. Friday roundup

Round-UPIn a week when everybody is supposed to be away at the beach, the Horn Book has been cranking out stuff for you to read. Beach reading, it’s maybe not, but nevertheless useful and even entertaining, we hope.

Lolly’s Classroom is talking about STEM books and inexpensive sources for classroom libraries.

–over on Out of the Box, Siân has a moving essay about seeing yourself in the books you read and also explains the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. WHO KNEW? Katie defends Beatrix Potter’s virtue and Shoshana talks about boogers.

–the Magazine has begun posting articles from our September issue, including Jack Gantos’s Zena Sutherland Lecture, which was just as peripatetic as he says it was.

Talks With Roger has been busy, with Lisa Graff interviewed last week and Lois Ehlert coming up next Wednesday. I’m also interviewing Eric Carle for the next issue of Notes from the Horn Book. You can sign up for all that here.

–a subscription to Notes (which is free) also brings you our latest newsletter, the quarterly What Makes a Good… ?, which debuted this week with “What Makes Good Narrative Nonfiction?” Have a look.

–And today I’m told is National Bow Tie Day, about which I have made my feelings known, in language not fit for a family website, over on Facebook.

–Finally, Katrina and Cathie Mercier and I are busy building this year’s Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Transformations,” which will feature a keynote address by the best friend the Horn Book ever had, Susan Cooper. Sign up now to get the early bird discount.

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8. Inspire interest in STEM with science biography picture books

With all of the push to get young children more interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics, many schools, libraries, and after school programs are integrating these topics into their activities. And, with so many great picture book biographies of scientists available, there is no reason that storytime activities and at-home reading time can’t also complement these activities and help to inspire young children to pursue their interest in STEM topics. Check out some of these books to bring out the inner scientist in your preschool through third grade students.

on a beam of lightOn a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
This book starts with Einstein’s childhood and introduces readers to a boy who didn’t talk, but did look with wonder at the world around him. As it progresses through to his later life, the book focuses on the way that Einstein thought and how this led to his contributions to science. The illustrations fit well with this focus as they have a decidedly dreamy quality to them. Perfect for younger readers.

LookUpLook Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Though Henrietta Leavitt may not be a name that is familiar to most, she made key contributions to the field of astronomy during her time at the Harvard College Observatory during the late 1800s. This biography brings her work to life through a combination of beautiful artwork and a compelling story. Leavitt’s story and the included information about astronomy will inspire young children to study the stars.

TheWatcherThe Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter
Jane Goodall remains one of the most famous primatologists ever and this book tells her life story starting during her childhood in England through to her time working among the chimpanzees in Tanzania with the scientist Louis Leakey. The book also includes Goodall’s important work as an advocate and activist for chimpanzees and, as such, will introduce children who love animals to the world of activism as well.

sisson_star stuffStar Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Another great book for children who are interested in stars and the field of astronomy, this book offers an insight into Carl Sagan’s life and inspiration. Starting with a trip to the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and his nights spent looking out his window to stare at the stars, this book follows Sagan throughout his life and career as a renowned astronomer who worked with NASA. This is a wonderful addition to any collection of science picture books.

ABoyAndAJaguarA Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by Catia Chien
The only book on this list written by its subject, this book tells the story of Alan Rabinowitz, a biologist and conservationist whose love of animals helped him to overcome his stuttering when he found that he could talk to animals without any problem. This winner of the 2015 Schneider Family Book Award will inspire all students to pursue their passions.

This list offers a few suggestions for great science biographies, but there are plenty more to choose from. Let me know in the comments if your favorites didn’t make my list. I also love learning about new science biography picture books!

 

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9. Jeremy Fisher, rock star

We recently received Peter Rabbit: Jeremy Fisher Rocks Out (Penguin/Warne, May 2015), part of a series of paperback picture books adapted from the Peter Rabbit TV show.

jeremy fisher rocks out

Jeremy might be rockin’ out, but I’d bet Beatrix is rolling over. (Not that she’s likely ever stopped rolling over.)

For more on Beatrix Potter, including her ties to The Horn Book, click here.

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10. Review of Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

sheinkin_most dangerousstar2Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret 
History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
Middle School, High School   Roaring Brook   361 pp.
9/15   978-1-59643-952-8   $19.99   g

Without a wasted word or scene, and with the timing and prowess of a writer of thrillers, Sheinkin takes on a spectacularly complex story—and makes it comprehensible to teen readers: how Daniel Ellsberg evolved from a committed “cold warrior” to an antiwar activist, and why and how he leaked the Pentagon Papers—“seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years”—which led to the Watergate Scandal, the fall of the Nixon administration, and, finally, the end of the Vietnam War. From the very beginning of his account, Sheinkin demonstrates the human drama unfolding behind the scenes; the secrecy surrounding White House and Pentagon decisions; the disconnect between the public and private statements of our nation’s leaders. Throughout, readers will find themselves confronted by large, timely questions, all of which emerge organically from the book’s events: Can we trust our government? How do we know? How much secrecy is too much? The enormous amount of incorporated primary-source documentation (from interviews with Daniel Ellsberg himself to White House recordings) means not only that readers know much more than ordinary U.S. citizens did at the time but that every conversation and re-enacted scene feels immediate and compelling. Sheinkin (Bomb, rev. 11/12; The Port Chicago 50, rev. 3/14) has an unparalleled gift for synthesizing story and bringing American history to life; here, he’s outdone even himself. Meticulous scholarship includes a full thirty-
six pages of bibliography and source notes; judiciously placed archival photographs add to the sense of time and place.

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

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11. Review of Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point/Roaring Brook)
While comprehensive in his synthesis of the political, historical, and scientific aspects of the creation of the first nuclear weapon, Sheinkin focuses his account with an extremely alluring angle: the spies. The book opens in 1950 with the confession of Harry Gold — but to what? And thus we flash back to Robert Oppenheimer in the dark 1930s, as he and readers are handed another question by the author: “But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” Oppenheimer’s realization that an atomic bomb could be created to use against Nazi Germany is coupled with the knowledge that the Germans must be working from the same premise, and the Soviets are close behind. We periodically return to Gold’s ever-deepening betrayals as well as other acts of espionage, most excitingly the two stealth attacks on occupied Norway’s Vemork power plant, where the Germans were manufacturing heavy water to use in their own nuclear program. As he did in the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner The Notorious Benedict Arnold (rev. 1/11), Sheinkin here maintains the pace of a thriller without betraying history (source notes and an annotated bibliography are exemplary) or skipping over the science; photo galleries introducing each section help readers organize the events and players. Writing with journalistic immediacy, the author eschews editorializing up through the chilling last lines: “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.” Index.

From the November/December 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Review of The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the 
Fight for Civil Rights

Port ChicagoThe Port Chicago 50:
Disaster, Mutiny, and the
Fight for Civil Rights

by Steve Sheinkin
Middle School    Roaring Brook    190 pp.
1/14    978-1-59643-796-8    $19.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-59643-983-2    $9.99

Sheinkin follows Bomb (rev. 11/12) with an account of another aspect of the Second World War, stemming from an incident that seems small in scope but whose ramifications would go on to profoundly change the armed forces and the freedom of African Americans to serve their country. The Port Chicago 50 was a group of navy recruits at Port Chicago in California doing one of the few service jobs available to black sailors at the beginning of the war: loading bombs and ammunition onto battleships. “All the officers standing on the pier and giving orders were white. All the sailors handling explosives were black.” When, as seems inevitable given the shoddy safety practices, there was an explosion that left more than three hundred dead, fifty men refused to go back to work, occasioning a trial for mutiny. Sheinkin focuses the events through the experience of Joe Small, who led the protest against the dangerous and unequal working conditions, but the narrative loses momentum as it tries to move between Small’s experience and its larger causes and effects. Still, this is an unusual entry point for the study of World War II and the nascent civil rights movement. Photographs are helpful, and documentation is thorough. Picture credits and index not seen.

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Fight for Civil Rights appeared first on The Horn Book.

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Fight for Civil Rights as of 1/1/1900
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13. Books mentioned in the August 2015 issue of WMAG?

Picture Books

Applegate, Katherine Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
40 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-25230-1
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas.

Bang, Molly and Chisholm, Penny Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
48 pp. Scholastic/Blue Sky 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-57785-4
Illustrated by Molly Bang.

Bryant, Jen The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
48 pp. Eerdmans 2014. ISBN 978-0-8028-5385-1
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

George, Jean Craighead Galápagos George
40 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-028793-1
Illustrated by Wendell Minor.

Heos, Bridget. I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are
40 pp. Holt 2015. ISBN 978-0-8050-9469-5
Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas.

Mattick, Lindsay Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
56 pp. Little, Brown 2015. ISBN 978-0-316-32490-8
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

Petričić, Dušan My Family Tree and Me
24 pp. Kids Can 2015. ISBN 978-1-77138-049-2

Tonatiuh, Duncan Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
40 pp. Abrams 2014. ISBN 978-1-4197-1054-4

 

Intermediate

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
230 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-31367-5

Berger, Lee R., and Aronson, Marc The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins
64 pp. National Geographic 2012. ISBN 978-1-4263-1010-2
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-1053-9

Brown, Don Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
96 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-15777-4

Freedman, Russell Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
81 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-547-90378-1
Chinese poems translated by Evans Chan.

Murphy, Jim and Blank, Alison Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure
149 pp. Clarion 2012. ISBN 978-0-618-53574-3

Nelson, Kadir Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
108 pp. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray 2011. ISBN 978-0-06-173074-0

Silvey, Anita Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall
96 pp. National Geographic 2015. ISBN 978-1-4263-1518-3
Foreword by Jane Goodall.

 

Young Adult

Bausum, Ann Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
120 pp. Viking 2015. ISBN 978-0-670-01679-2

Bowers, Rick Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate
160 pp. National Geographic 2012. ISBN 978-1-4263-0915-1
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-0916-8

Fleischman, Paul Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines
204 pp. Candlewick 2014. ISBN 978-0-7636-7102-0 PE ISBN 978-0-7636-7545-5
Ebook ISBN 978-0-7636-7407-6

Fleming, Candace The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
287 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2014. ISBN 978-0-375-86782-8
LE ISBN 978-0-375-96782-5 Ebook ISBN 978-0-375-89864-8

Hoose, Phillip The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
198 pp. Farrar 2015. ISBN 978-0-374-30022-7

McClafferty, Carla Killough Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment
96 pp. Carolrhoda 2013. ISBN 978-1-4677-1067-1

Mitchell, Don The Freedom Summer Murders
256 pp. Scholastic 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-47725-3 Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-63393-2

Pinkney, Andrea Davis Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound
166 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-973-3

Sheinkin, Steve Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
361 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-952-8

Stone, Tanya Lee Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers
148 pp. Candlewick 2013. ISBN 978-0-7636-5117-6

These titles were featured in the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?

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14. Seeing yourself in literature

mirror book

The Mirror Book by Ronald King & John Christie (Bookwork Guildford)

I can’t really remember if I looked for literature with kids like me as a child. Did I read books about quiet, geeky girls because I could relate? Or did I read books about quiet, geeky girls because that’s what was available? Did I search for a character with whom I could identify? Or could I identify with most characters because I am white? It doesn’t really matter — when you boil it down, I didn’t have to look for literature that represented me because literature already did. I was (and am) privileged.

Working in the field of children’s literature, it is very clear to me that we need diverse books — we need diverse books, authors, publishers, retailers, and readers. Everyone should be able to pick up a book and find a character with whom they can relate. But a problem I personally encounter is that my privilege (as privilege is wont to do) can keep me from truly understanding how important it is to see oneself in literature. I want more diverse books and greater diversity in the industry, but I can only say that from my white, cisgendered point of view. I can speak. But I don’t really understand.

Recently, though, I actually had the powerful experience of finding myself in media. I’m part of a seemingly very small community: as a thirty-one-year-old, sober female, I have never met another person just like myself. My recovery group is primarily white men over the age of 50, with a small number of women all over the age of 40. I am almost always the youngest in the room. And, more often than not, I am one of two or three women in a room packed with twenty-plus people. Now, I adore my SMART Recovery group and have made some wonderful friends. But they don’t know, really, what it’s like for me. I ask any 20- or 30-something, single female to try explaining the difficulties of contemporary dating without alcohol to a room full of older, married, white men. You do it. Tell me how it goes.

john mulaneyAnd then I discovered John Mulaney’s stand-up. Mulaney is thirty-two years old, successful, and sober. He’s sober! And young! And funny! I watched two of his shows, glorying in his few bits about sobriety, and immediately sought more (thank you, YouYube). I didn’t know I was looking for someone with whom I could identify — didn’t realize it was missing from my life at all — but once I found him I had this remarkable feeling. I felt seen. Noticed. I was reminded that I’m not alone. That there are others like me. Okay, okay, he’s not a woman. But let’s not get over-excited here. Knowing there was one person like me pushed me to look for others, to seek more connections.

And this is what finding oneself in literature can do for a child. It gives worth. It allows companionship. It creates hope. And it sparks a desire to find more — more books with characters like this, more forms of media that apply to the child, and other children like them to share this experience with.

I will never truly be able to understand how important it is for a young, Hispanic woman or a straight boy with two mothers to see themselves in literature. Not really. But I was given a brief glimpse of that experience. And it was wonderful.

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15. Recommended Narrative Nonfiction: Young Adult

bausum_stonewallBausum, Ann Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
120 pp. Viking 2015. ISBN 978-0-670-01679-2
Bausum begins with a detailed, nuanced exposition of the June 1969 Stonewall riots as a galvanizing moment for the gay rights movement, then traces the movement’s evolution (in a somewhat more cursory way) for the second half of the book. Bausum’s narrative integrity makes her conclusions about the persecution and resilience of the LGBTQ community all the more powerful. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Homosexuality; Activism

Superman Versus the Klu Klux KlanBowers, Rick Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate
160 pp. National Geographic 2012. ISBN 978-1-4263-0915-1
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-0916-8
In 1946, the producers of the Superman radio show deployed their character’s popularity in a campaign against bigotry. Bowers explains how he dug through myths, examined original archives, and reached tentative conclusions about what most likely happened and why. A complex history of organizations guided by both ideology and profit, people both well-meaning and flawed, and shifts in popular sentiment. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Visual Arts; Cartoons and comics; Ku Klux Klan; History, American; Heroes; Race relations; Prejudices; Radio

fleischman_eyes wide openFleischman, Paul Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines
204 pp. Candlewick 2014. ISBN 978-0-7636-7102-0
PE ISBN 978-0-7636-7545-5 Ebook ISBN 978-0-7636-7407-6
A wake-up call about the environmental crisis, the book homes in on five “key fronts” — population, consumption, energy, food, and climate — and explores historical and sociological contexts. Fleischman writes urgently, conversationally, and inspirationally, in a flow of ideas that can be dizzying. Yet none of the concepts is dumbed-down. A refreshingly opinionated approach to informed action. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Pollution and Conservation; Global warming

fleming_family-romanovFleming, Candace The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
287 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2014. ISBN 978-0-375-86782-8
LE ISBN 978-0-375-96782-5 Ebook ISBN 978-0-375-89864-8
Fleming has outdone herself with this riveting work of narrative nonfiction. Her focus here is not just the Romanovs, but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well. The epic, sweeping narrative seamlessly incorporates scholarly authority, primary sources, appropriate historical speculation, and a keen eye for the most telling details. Two sixteen-page inserts contain numerous captioned photographs. Map, genealogy, and source notes included. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Europe; Romanov, House of; Nicholas II; Soviet Union; Biographies; Russia; Kings, queens, and rulers; Russian Revolution

The Boys Who Challenged HitlerHoose, Phillip The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
   198 pp. Farrar 2015. ISBN 978-0-374-30022-7
When Hitler invaded Denmark, teenaged Knud Pedersen (with his brother and some mates) used civil disobedience to pester the Nazis, inspiring a larger-scale Danish revolt. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pedersen’s own words into the larger narrative of wartime Denmark, showing how the astonishing bravery of ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. An outstanding addition to the WWII canon. Bib., ind. Websites.
Subjects: World War II; Denmark; Righteous Gentiles; Activism; Nazism

mcclafferty_fourth down and inchesMcClafferty, Carla Killough Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment
96 pp. Carolrhoda 2013. ISBN 978-1-4677-1067-1
McClafferty’s informative and useful book focuses on football to discuss the serious but historically trivialized condition of concussion. Starting with football’s beginnings, McClafferty details the game’s early casualties; the controversy over its growing presence as a college sport; and how it became entrenched in American culture. She then goes on to cover the neuroscience behind head trauma and the increased awareness of the dangers. Reading list. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Sports; Sports—Football; Human body—Brain

mitchell_freedom summer murders_170x227Mitchell, Don The Freedom Summer Murders
256 pp. Scholastic 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-47725-3
Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-63393-2
The murders of three young civil rights workers — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner — are the focus of Mitchell’s absorbing book. He conducted interviews with friends and family members of the men, and provides a fascinating biographical sketch of each, along with a thorough account of the police investigation. This compelling book will grab you from its opening paragraphs and won’t let go. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Government, Economics, and Education; African Americans; Race relations; Civil rights; Murder; History, American; Activism

pinkney_rhythm ridePinkney, Andrea Davis Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound
166 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-973-3
As related by an irrepressible narrator called “the Groove,” this history of Motown smartly places the company and its hit records in the context of (mostly) 1960s America — and has a great time doing so. While the tone is generally peppy, the book gives due attention to the racism the company and its artists faced. An excellent discography and many photographs are included. Reading list, timeline. Ind.
Subjects: Music; African Americans; History—American

sheinkin_most dangerousSheinkin, Steve Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
361 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-952-8
With the timing and prowess of a writer of thrillers, Sheinkin takes on a spectacularly complex story — Daniel Ellsberg’s evolution from “cold warrior” to antiwar activist, and why and how he leaked the Pentagon Papers — and makes it comprehensible for teens. Sheinkin has an unparalleled gift for synthesizing story and bringing American history to life. Judiciously placed archival photographs appear throughout.
Subjects: History, Modern—Vietnam War; Crime; Government; Biographies; Ellsberg, Daniel

Courage Has No ColorStone, Tanya Lee Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers
148 pp. Candlewick 2013. ISBN 978-0-7636-5117-6
The World War II–era 555th Parachute Infantry Company, nicknamed the Triple Nickles, didn’t actually fight anywhere, as white soldiers didn’t want to fight alongside black soldiers. The book’s focus is wide: there are sections on segregation and stereotypes, Japanese American internment camps, Japanese balloon bombs, the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Firefly, brought to life with archival photographs and Stone’s always clear prose. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: North America; Race relations; African Americans; Armed forces; Flight; Soldiers; History, Modern—World War II

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?

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16. Recommended Narrative Nonfiction: Intermediate

bartoletti_terrible typhoid maryBartoletti, Susan Campbell Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
   230 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-31367-5
What was it like to be a servant, an immigrant, a woman in the early twentieth century? Bartoletti weaves the answers into the beginning of “Typhoid Mary” Mallon’s story — using Mary as a lens to view a wider swath of American society — then covers epidemiologist George Soper’s cat-and-mouse game of tracking Mary down. Excellent nonfiction with a novelistic trim size and narrative. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Medicine, Human Body, and Diseases; New York (State); Diseases—Typhoid fever

Skull in the RockBerger, Lee R., and Aronson, Marc The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins
   64 pp. National Geographic 2012. ISBN 978-1-4263-1010-2
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-1053-9
Paleontologist Berger and son Matthew’s recent find gave scientists a nearly intact skeleton from a new species, Australopithecus sediba. Detailed accounts of advances in the field and the supporting technology are intertwined with the story of Berger’s not-always-straightforward career path. The book is enhanced by illustrative material, including photographs and striking facial reconstructions of these ancient ancestors. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Science—Prehistoric Life; Paleontology; Archaeology; Evolution; South Africa; Fossils; Anthropology

brown_drowned cityBrown, Don Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
   96 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-15777-4
A comic-book format delivers the full force of Hurricane Katrina and its impact on New Orleans. When the storm hits the city, Brown hits readers with the consequences: flooding, fear, desperation, death, and frustration. Meticulously documented facts and quotes from victims caption the commanding art. If a book’s power were measured like a hurricane’s, this would be a category five. Bib.
Subjects: Natural disasters—Hurricanes; Disasters; New Orleans (LA); Graphic novels

freedman_angel islandFreedman, Russell Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
81 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-547-90378-1
Chinese poems translated by Evans Chan. Freedman’s slender volume on the history and importance of California’s Angel Island Immigration Station — the portal for Asian immigration to the U.S. — covers a lot of ground. He weaves a clear and straightforward narrative history with abundant quotations, excerpts from diaries and wall poems, and archival photographs. This is a clearly written account of a lesser-known side of American immigration history. Bib., ind.
Subjects: North America; Asian Americans; Angel Island (CA); Immigration; San Francisco (CA); Chinese Americans

Invincible MicrobesMurphy, Jim and Blank, Alison  Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure
149 pp. Clarion 2012. ISBN 978-0-618-53574-3
Tuberculosis has been a medical scourge through much of human history, and new drug-resistant strains keep the threat of a pandemic always on the horizon. This book brings young readers up to speed with a scientific explanation of the microbe as well as medical and social histories of the disease. Despite disparate elements, the information comes together cohesively for an engaging read. Illustrations and photographs are included. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Medicine, Human Body, and Disease; Diseases—Tuberculosis; Microbiology; Epidemics

Heart and SoulNelson, Kadir Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
   108 pp. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray 2011. ISBN 978-0-06-173074-0
The unnamed narrator of this graceful and personalized overview of African American history provides a sweeping account that covers history from the Colonial era to the present day. Each page of text is accompanied by a magnificent oil painting, forty-seven in all, including six dramatic double-page spreads. The illustrations, combined with the narrative, give a sense of intimacy. A tour de force. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: History—North America; African Americans; Slavery; History, American

silvey_untamedSilvey, Anita Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall
   96 pp. National Geographic 2015. ISBN 978-1-4263-1518-3
Foreword by Jane Goodall. This accessible account of Goodall’s life explores her nontraditional entry to scientific fieldwork; the attention from the National Geographic Society that made her famous; her work ethic and innovative scientific methods; her efforts to reform the use of chimpanzees in research laboratories; and current technological advances in primate research. Silvey accompanies her main narrative with informative text boxes and vivid photographs. Map, timeline. Bib., ind.
Goodall, Jane; Animals—Chimpanzees; Scientists; Women—Scientists; Women—Biographies; Animal behavior

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?

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17. Recommended Narrative Nonfiction: Picture Books

applegate_ivanApplegate, Katherine Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
40 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-25230-1
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Applegate introduces picture-book readers to the true story that inspired her Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan. In poetic prose she describes gorilla Ivan’s early life in Africa; his dramatic capture; his time on display in a shopping mall; and his transition to the Atlanta Zoo. Karas’s mixed-media illustrations — in his warm and unaffected style — are at once straightforward and provocative.
Subjects: Mammals; Animals—Gorillas; Zoos; Shopping malls

bang_buried-sunlight_170x209Bang, Molly and Chisholm, Penny Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
48 pp. Scholastic/Blue Sky 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-57785-4
Illustrated by Molly Bang. Bang and Chisholm explain the production and consumption of fossil fuels, along with the consequences of all that energy use: climate change. The sun serves as narrator describing the relationship between photosynthesis (plants) and respiration (animals) and energy; a slight imbalance produces fossil fuels. Bang’s illustrations brilliantly represent the chemistry: bright yellow dots of energy against a deep-blue background hover over their producers.
Subjects: Earth Science; Energy; Astronomy—Sun; Global warming; Fossil fuels

bryant_right-word_170x231Bryant, Jen The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
48 pp. Eerdmans 2014. ISBN 978-0-8028-5385-1
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Apt language and ingenious imagery combine to tell the life story of Peter Mark Roget, creator of the thesaurus. Bryant’s linear telling follows Peter closely, expressing his curiosity, sensitivity, and populist spirit in language both decorous and warm. Clever book design and visionary illustration add layers of meaning. Sweet embellishes her own gentle watercolors with all manner of clippings and realia. Reading list, timeline. Bib.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Language—Vocabulary; Great Britain; Roget, Peter Mark; Books and reading

george_ galápagos georgeGeorge, Jean Craighead Galápagos George
40 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-028793-1
Illustrated by Wendell Minor. The author asks readers to extrapolate from the life cycle of a single female Galápagos tortoise, Giantess George, to the development of the species as a whole. She and other tortoises are swept away to different islands in a storm; over thousands of years, they evolve into different subspecies. Minor’s painterly illustrations showcase the changing setting and the magnificence of the tortoises. Reading list, timeline, websites. Glos.
Subjects: Reptiles and Amphibians; Galápagos Islands; Animals—Tortoises; Evolution

heos_iflyHeos, Bridget. I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are
   40 pp. Holt 2015. ISBN 978-0-8050-9469-5
A fly argues why he should be the science-class representative for insect life cycles instead of the overexposed butterfly. A skeptical class grills him about unsavory habits (garbage-eating, disease-spreading). Eventually convinced that “Flies rule!,” they capture the fly for study, and he changes his tune. Cleverly skewering elements of the typical animal book, this take on insects is refreshing, amusing, and scientifically accurate. Bib., glos.
Subjects: Animals—Flies; Life cycles; Science—Insects and Invertebrates

mattick_finding winnieMattick, Lindsay Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
   56 pp. Little, Brown 2015. ISBN 978-0-316-32490-8
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. A boy’s mother tells him the story of his great-great-grandfather, owner of a baby bear named Winnie, and the circumstances that led to another boy, Christopher Robin Milne, befriending Winnie — inspiring that boy’s father to write some children’s tales. Mattick, the storytelling mother in this book, embellishes her family’s history with evocative, playful language, matched by the period warmth of Blackall’s carefully composed images.
Subjects: Animals—Bears; Milne, A. A.; Family—Mother and son; Toys; Authors; Biographies

petricic_my family tree and mePetričić, Dušan My Family Tree and Me
   24 pp. Kids Can 2015. ISBN 978-1-77138-049-2
Reading from front to middle, we meet the narrator’s paternal line through five generations. From back to middle are portraits of the maternal line. And in a glorious middle double-page spread we see the whole extended family and can trace and invent individual stories. Petričić’s gift for caricature is used joyfully in this celebration of ancestry, showing one family’s variations and particular beauty.
Subjects: Social Sciences—Families, Children, and Sexuality; Genealogy

Separate Is Never EqualTonatiuh, Duncan Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
40 pp. Abrams 2014. ISBN 978-1-4197-1054-4
In 1947 the Mendez family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Government, Economics, and Education; Schools; Hispanic Americans; Civil rights; Mendez, Sylvia

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?

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18. Five questions for Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin 2.13Steve Sheinkin’s young adult history books — including Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (a Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award finalist, and the winner of both the Sibert Award and the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults) and The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights (a 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner and also a National Book Award finalist) — are acclaimed for a reason. They are meticulously researched nonfiction books written with the pace, drama, and suspense of fictional thrillers. His latest, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War (Roaring Brook, 11–14 years), is no exception, as Sheinkin spellbindingly unfolds the entwined stories of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers — “seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years.”  

1. What originally drew you to Daniel Ellsberg’s particular story, within the larger narrative of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal?

SS: The very first thing that grabbed me was that a team of secret operatives, under direct supervision of the Nixon White House, actually broke into Ellsberg’s doctor’s office in search of information they could use to destroy him. I didn’t know the story well at that point, and wondered: what could this guy have possibly done to provoke such an incredible — and incredibly illegal — response from the president and his top advisors? Also, Ellsberg is one of those people who is considered a hero by some and a traitor by others, and that has always fascinated me.

2. President Johnson emerges as a particularly tragic figure, almost Shakespearean in his ego, in the cruel subversion of his ambitions (the War on Poverty, etc.), and in his inability to escape the quagmire that was the Vietnam War. I ended up feeling (conflictedly) sorry for him. Did you?

SS: Yes, very much so. You can really feel his agony as he makes these decisions, and the most unsettling part of all is that he seems to know all along that he’s heading for disaster. There’s a great line in his memoir about the presidency being too big for any one person to handle — there’s just no way to control events the way Americans seem to expect their leader to be able to do. But while I sympathize with him, I always end up getting angry at him, too, because I think, ultimately, his fear of political consequences was the main reason he escalated the war.

3. This story is a study in contrasts. On the one hand it’s loaded with farce. All the wigs and disguises; the botched burglaries (those conscientious employees re-locking doors!). But of course it’s a serious and important story of a defining era in our nation’s history. How did you hit upon the right tone?

SS: This story has a lot of you-can’t-make-this-up situations and characters, which makes for great material to work with in nonfiction. And I think the darkly comedic moments of bungling and farce are really essential to the overall story. It would probably just be too depressing without that stuff. It’s a matter of taste, but to me the best comedy is usually found in very serious stories — Breaking Bad did that brilliantly, to give one example. So I tried to keep the tone even, and hopefully the reader is pleasantly surprised by those comic moments.

sheinkin_most dangerous4. You make the point that Ellsberg’s legacy is as a First Amendment hero, while Edward Snowden, for example, has been lambasted by President Obama and Secretary Kerry. How do you think today’s political climate compares to that of the 1960s and 1970s?

SS: Maybe the most amazing photo I came across in my research was in a 1971 newspaper article showing Daniel Ellsberg shaking hands with a young anti-war veteran named John Kerry! And now, as you say, Kerry calls Snowden a traitor. In Kerry’s case, I think the main change is that he was an outsider then and he’s an insider now. Overall, while our country’s political discourse does seem to have gotten stupider, I’m not sure the political climate has changed that much. When the Pentagon Papers story first broke, the response was mainly along partisan lines — Ellsberg’s leak was praised by one side and blasted by the other, exactly like Snowden’s. I think it’s mainly time and distance that have tipped the scales in Ellsberg’s favor, in terms of public opinion. I suspect the same will eventually happen with Snowden, but we’ll see.

5. What do you hope readers will come away with after reading this book?

SS: I always start with the same goal: to tell a good story. So I hope teen readers are engaged with the drama and action and moral dilemmas in this one. Beyond that, I hope they come away thinking about how alive and current this story is, how much we’re still wrestling with the same kinds of questions. And of course the best result of all is for a reader to finish the book and be unsatisfied — that is, inspired to find out more.

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?

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19. Oh look, another newsletter

WMAG_narrative_nonfiction_728x144Look for The Horn Book’s new quarterly newsletter, WHAT MAKES A GOOD…? debuting on August 26th with “What Makes Good Narrative Nonfiction?” The issue features Five Questions for Steve Sheinkin, an essay about how to select NNF by the Junior Library Guild’s Deborah Brittain Ford, and brief reviews of our choices for the best narrative nonfiction published for kids and teens in the last few years. If you are already a subscriber to any of our newsletters you will receive this one automagically; otherwise you can sign up here. It’s free!

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20. 2014-2015 yearbook superlatives

grad cupcakeSummer is winding down (say it ain’t so!) and the new school year is approaching. Get into the back-to-school mood with our senior superlatives for characters in the class of 2014-2015. What superlative would you award your favorite character?

Best friends: Sam and Dave (Sam & Dave Dig a Hole); Pom and Pim (Where Is Pim?); Bear and Hare (Bear & Hare Go Fishing); Boom, Snot, and Twitty (Boom Snot Twitty: This Way That Way); Bridge, Tab, and Em (Goodbye Stranger); You and Me and Him (You and Me and Him)

Best unimaginary friends: Beekle (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend); Crenshaw (Crenshaw)

Best frenemies: Adam and Koala (I Don’t Like Koala); Love and Death (The Game of Love and Death); Violet and Orianna (The Walls Around Us); Won Ton and Chopstick (Won Ton and Chopstick)

Best sibling-frenemies: Rodeo Red and Sideswiping Slim (Rodeo Red); Dot and Wolfie (Wolfie the Bunny); Raina and Amara (Sisters)

Cutest couple: Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm (Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm); Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula (Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula); Carolina and Trevor (Forever for a Year: “A touching, relatable, and highly appealing coming-of-age romance à la Eleanor & Park but with lots of sex”); Greta and Da-Xia (The Scorpion Rules); Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter (The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage)

 

Most likely to aim high: Carl Sagan (Star Stuff)

Most intelligent: Octopus (The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk)

Out-of-the-box thinker: Red (Red: A Crayon’s Story)

 

Most likely to finish third grade: Clementine (Completely Clementine)

Least likely to finish first grade: Mommy-boy (First Grade Dropout)

Least likely to finish high school: Denton (Denton Little’s Deathdate)

 

Class activists: Glory O’Brien (Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future); Knud Pedersen (The Boys Who Challenged Hitler)

Class clown (tie): The Clown, The Farmer (The Farmer and the Clown)

Most likely to win a Tony: Tiny Cooper (Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story)

 

Best legs: Baba Yaga’s house (Egg & Spoon and Baba Yaga’s Assistant)

Best arm: Lizzie Murphy (Queen of the Diamond); Pedro Martinez (Growing Up Pedro)

Best wings: James (Nightbird)

Best eye: Gordon Parks (Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America)

Best nose for news: Normandy (The Truth Commission)

Best bowtie: Roger (Roger Is Reading a Book)

Best shades: Audrey (Finding Audrey)

Best retro style: Momo (My Cousin Momo), Jessica (Friends for Life)

 

Best sweet-talker: Victor Lustig (Tricky Vic); Will Shea and Andrea Dufresne (Con Academy)

Biggest potty mouth: Little Bird (Little Bird’s Bad Word); Maria from Sesame Street (who knew?! Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx)

Most likely to flip the bird: Nate (Read Between the Lines)

Most verbose: Noah Webster (Noah Webster: Man of Many Words)

 

World travelers: Gudrid (The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler); Jane Goodall (Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall)

Home-bodies: Ollie and Moritz (Because You’ll Never Meet Me)

Worst sense of direction: Pablo (Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure); A chicken (A Chicken Followed Me Home)

Best sense of direction: Osprey (The Call of the Osprey)

 

Varsity MVPs:

Football team: Arlo (Hit Count)

Swim team: goggles-wearing kids (Pool)

Baseball team: See “Best arm” above

Band: John, Paul, George, Ringo (Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles)

Dance squad: Chicken Little and company (The Sky Is Falling!); Anna Pavlova (Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova)

Bunny martial arts: Bunjitsu Bunny (Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny); Ninja Bunny (Ninja Bunny)

 

For more Horn Book silliness about books we love, see the 2015 Mind the Gap Awards and our yearbook superlatives for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.

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21. Week in Review, August 16th-21st

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Kwame Alexander’s excellent — and timely — CSK Author Honor Award acceptance speech, “A Thousand Winters”

2014-2015 Yearbook Superlatives: Cutest Couple, Class Clown…Biggest Potty Mouth?…and more accolades for some of our favorite characters

Ashley Bryan Talks with Roger

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: Oh look, another newsletter

Out of the Box: “What do you think of my labyrinth?” part 2

Lolly’s Classroom: Trimming down a classroom library

Events calendar

Summer Reading 2015

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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22. Review of Boom Snot Twitty: This Way That Way

cronin_boom snot twittyBoom Snot Twitty: This Way That Way
by Doreen Cronin; 
illus. by Renata Liwska
Preschool   Viking   40 pp.
6/15   978-0-670-78577-3   $16.99   g

On the opening endpapers of this gentle story, the unfortunately named Snot (a snail) is happily gathering blueberries and putting them in a basket. The title page shows Boom (a bear) and Twitty (a robin) each preparing for…something; Boom is packing a beach bag while Twitty readies her hiking boots. By the first page they are all set to go, but Boom wants to go one way, and Twitty the opposite direction. “‘Hmmm,’ said Snot.” Boom had his heart set on the beach, and Liwska softens the edges of her delicate-colored illustrations to show that Boom is imagining the sand and sun, just as on the next pages Twitty is imagining hiking up a hill. Each is determined to get his or her own way; Snot, meanwhile, sets off to find someplace that will satisfy all of them. Liwska’s drawings give each creature and object a fuzzy quality that adds to the feeling of coziness. Cronin’s usual rollicking humor is less in evidence here than is her way with spare, child-friendly text. This story of friends disagreeing but finding compromise, through the zen-like wisdom of Snot, will satisfy and perhaps enlighten readers, too.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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23. God forbid?

jesus_facepalmHe doesn’t really, but some incoming Duke University students are objecting to the pre-freshman year assignment of Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir of growing up gay (and the basis for the wonderful musical of the same name). If I were God–or Duke chancellor–I would immediately revoke these kids’ admission, given the evidence that they are too stupid to live, much less go to college, MUCH less face life as thinking Christians who had best be prepared to encounter people, situations, and ideas that conflict with their own views on what constitutes a righteous life. Jesus Christ, you guys, Jesus Christ.

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24. (Very Eventually) The Zena Sutherland Lecture

Gantos_tools53

Dear Readers,

This particular version of my Zena Sutherland Lecture is a fabrication or, at best, a fabulation. Either way it is entirely false. Yes, I did give the Zena Sutherland Lecture at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago on May 1, 2015, but it was not as properly cured and marbled as this updated edition. So, for the sake of the great Zena Sutherland, let’s pretend that every word you are reading is exactly every word I spoke on that lovely occasion. Thank you in advance for indulging me in this artifice.

But why this gussied-up version? Well, I am notorious for writing an entire speech on a Post-it note and then never even using that sticky scrap of paper as a guide while I extemporaneously rattle on, believing in some egomaniacal way that I’ll manage to connect the dots-of-thoughts and say something significant on the subject of children’s literature. One final statement: I have great respect for Zena Sutherland and her immense work (for years I taught my graduate students out of her Children and Books), and I do apologize if this effort has failed to properly honor her legacy.

(As you enter this portion of the speech you should brace yourself for some old-fashioned cursing. Very un-Piglet of me. Do forgive.)

Please engage your imagination to begin here, onstage with me in Chicago, where after a charming and generous introduction by Linda Ward-Callaghan, I took to the podium and thanked one and all. I had every intention of standing before the audience and delivering, in a proper professorial tenor, my thousand prepared words, but I got off on the wrong foot. To set the scene from my point of view, the podium surface before me was cluttered with an assortment of extraneous stuff: there was a backup hand-held mic, the jagged metal mount for an outdated stationary mic that had violently been kinked over to one side, a thumbnail volume of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a previous speech on the harmonics of the zither (which I declined to deliver), and a crushed paper cup, along with a tube of lipstick and a tissue with a lip print pressed on it that resembled the animated hand of Señor Wences. I held my mic in my left hand, and as soon as I placed my speech down on that uneven landscape of podium compost my few typed pages began to slide this way and that on the irregular surface. Right away I began fussing with the pages in an effort to stabilize them. From prior talks I knew this sliding speech would cause me to lose my place each time I lifted my eyes to address the audience and then I would look like a dunce as I constantly paused, standing like a bent-over question mark, to track down the next sentence as if I were sorting through a box of mismatched buttons. (I’m one of those who cringe while watching other people mime such an awkward, painfully self-conscious search for their next line — so there was no reason the audience should show me their mercy.) But worse, deep inside I honestly dislike giving a prepared speech because I prefer to look the audience in the eye and feel the crowd and surf their level of interest and their mood and then, like a drum major, I march around the stage while speaking off-the-cuff and riff on my PowerPoint images while trying to remain ever mindful of my theme and do my best to corral my thoughts and tie them all up neatly in the end. In this case my theme was based on “the self as double,” or how I take personal stories and facts and transform them into fictions so that I am both “Jack” the writer and “Jack” the character — the sort of chameleonic duality you might find in the art of Cindy Sherman/Frida Kahlo/Rembrandt van Rijn/Andy Warhol, which is intentionally self-absorbed for very resonant reasons.

norveltandjackslide

Both “Jack” the writer and “Jack” the character.

Anyway, The Horn Book was going to publish my speech so I had dutifully written a short one (to spare them), but the moment I set my speech on the podium it slid off to one side and sailed across the stage floor. Right then I was struck with the gut feeling that I despised my speech. I didn’t trust it one bit—it was neither smart enough nor clever enough, and it represented me poorly. It was an insult to Zena Sutherland. So I stepped on a page of it and said to the audience, “I don’t care to deliver this speech, but I do like speaking to audiences.” Now, having been in the audience plenty of times, I have seen dozens of people who should not venture off of their prepared speeches and go rogue but should just keep their heads down, read at a reasonable rate of speed, take a few questions at the end, and leave the stage with their dignity intact.

But not me. Right away, and without a moment of pre-thought, I launched into a story about Jerry Lewis — so here it is.

* * *

Mr. Lewis was receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Emerson College, and I was a professor at Emerson and chosen by the administration to be his handler for the occasion. I knew he wasn’t going to be easy because he showed evidence that he still had something of the Rat Pack in him: even though he was flying in from Los Angeles at around three in the morning, he had demanded that his hotel room at the Copley Plaza be supplied with eight cases of Heineken — just in case a wild party broke out. So the morning after he flew in I was in the back seat of a white limousine when we picked him up at the hotel. I hopped out and held the limousine door. He emerged from the hotel lobby, and the first thing I noticed was the color of his face — it was the earthy red color of a boiled beat. He looked as if he were going to have a stroke — an angry stroke. A tall man in casual dress got in the limousine as well. I noticed that the man was holding something in his hands that looked like a polished wooden shoebox.

“This is my man,” Jerry said loudly, and pointed toward him. The man nodded at me. I nodded back. I had not been told that Jerry would have a companion.

“See that box?” Jerry shouted. He pointed at it as if his finger were a dueling pistol.

“Yes,” I swiftly replied.

“Open the box!” Jerry snapped at the man. He was loud and impatient, and when his man didn’t move quickly enough, he snapped a second time, “Jerry said open the goddamned box!”

The man coolly removed the top and tilted the box toward me so I could see into it. A portable telephone, the size and heft of a brick, was held in place by a cushion of foam rubber.

“That’s my goddamned phone!” Jerry yelled in my ear. “And that’s my man whose only job is to carry my phone!”

I nodded. The man nodded. “Great,” I remarked in a small voice that I hoped would send Jerry a conversational volume clue.

I must have turned him down too low because he went mute and seemed to doze off for the short drive to the open stage door in the rear of the Wang Theater, where we exited the limousine and entered the green room.

I wasn’t sure how to start up a conversation with Jerry, but thought it was my job to do so. “The French think you are a genius” is all I could think to say, and knew I shouldn’t say. Just then Jerry bailed me out by hollering, “Would you like to see my heart-bypass scars?”

Before I could respond, he ripped his white shirt open like a superhero about to take flight. “Look!” he ordered. “Like fucking train tracks! Right?”

His chest looked as if it had been crudely sewn up after an autopsy.

“Right,” I confirmed in a whisper, then glanced over at Jerry’s man. Maybe he could give me some advice on managing Jerry because I sensed that Jerry was going to spin out and go to a bad place, and if he went bad then I’d be the target. But Jerry’s man showed no expression. He stood there as unmoving and quiet as one of those Easter Island statues — with the box, just in case Jerry got a call from some Rat-Packing party buddy.

Suddenly he shouted directly into my face, “I’m thirsty. Really fucking thirsty!”

“We have water,” I said delicately as I raised my arm like Vanna White and gestured toward the bottles of water on ice in a plastic punch bowl.

“That crap is only good for watering the lawn,” he replied loudly. “I want a beer! I have a fucking kink in my neck and I need a beer to unkink it.” He moved his neck around as if it were a universal joint between his head and his shoulders.

“It’s Sunday,” I meekly informed him. “Liquor stores are closed because of the blue laws.”

Blue balls!” he hollered back and tossed his head left and right while continuing to holler, “I said get Jerry a beer!”

I detected a little bit of the high-pitched, nasally voice from the Nutty Professor in his last demand. “Nothing is open,” I said calmly, wondering how he might respond.

Jerry swiveled to his right. “Man!” he cried out. “Open the door and kick this idiot professor out and only let him back in when he brings me a beer!”

His man opened the door and nodded toward the outside world.

I did as I was instructed and marched outside, where I found myself in a parking lot close to Kneeland Street, which borders Boston’s Chinatown. Right away I started running while putting together a crude plan. I was in a blue Armani suit, white shirt, and some kind of cat-scratch-looking Armani tie. In a moment my shirttail was flopping out and my tie was over my shoulder and my pant cuffs were catching on the toes of my wingtips and I could hear the seams ripping. I pulled my pants up and ran as if I were wading through a stream. I kept running. There was a cheap restaurant I ate at on Beach Street called The Golden Coin and a drunks’ bar across the street. The Golden Coin did not have a liquor license so I would stop at the drunks’ bar — buy a few beers and take them back with me.

But this was Sunday morning in Boston and the Puritan laws were still time-honored: no liquor sales on Sunday. I was panting when I arrived at the drunks’ bar door. It was propped open with a fetid mop head, and by the time I walked into the rank, yeasty darkness of that puke-palace I had my wallet out and cash in hand. The bartender was washing glasses and I yelled out, “I need a six-pack of beer for Mister Jerry Lewis.” I put forty dollars on the bar.

I left with the beer in one hand and reversed course and breezed like animated blue and white laundry across the road and parking lot. I know I was cursing worse than Jerry between gasping breaths. I was not a runner. I was rumpled. When I reached the back of the theater, to my surprise, there were three closed doors. I kicked them all. “Open up!” I shouted. “I’ve got the goods.”

Jerry’s man opened door number one, and looked me up and down as if I were a morals agent. Jerry stood in the back. His shirt was buttoned. His face was still boiled looking.

“I got it,” I said, still panting, and proudly held up the six-pack.

“Give my man a beer,” he ordered.

I did. The man twisted the cap, and the beer gave out its hissing death gasp. He handed it to Jerry. “I hate to drink alone,” Jerry announced. “Man, give him one too.”

“I can’t go onstage with beer on my breath,” I said. I was going up for tenure, and beer-breath was not a quality the tenure committee was searching for.

“Screw them!” he growled back. “I’m your boss now. So drink!” He nodded to his man and the man twisted a beer cap off.

“Cheers,” Jerry said. “To never drinking alone.”

I agreed with that and drank the beer straight down from being so thirsty and nervous. Jerry drank his back too.

“Tell me about yourself,” he asked in a voice that really was an order. “Go on. What do you do in this shit-hole school besides chase coeds?”

“I write books,” I replied. “Picture books.”

“Name one!” he shot back, as if I had been lying. His man handed us two more beers.

Rotten Ralph,” I replied, and before I could say another word, Jerry’s face went demonic, as if he was going to do a Linda Blair three-sixty.

“What kind of fucking shit is that!” he hollered. “Are you shitting me?”

“No,” I said, totally confused by his response. I looked at his man. He was back to his Easter Island pose. I was backed into a corner.

“Don’t you know I’m Ralph Rotten?” he shouted with beer spitting out of his mouth and sprinkling my glasses. “Did you steal my character? I swear if you did…” He swiveled his head as sharply as a hawk and hollered at his man. “Call my lawyer. I’m going to sue this bastard.”

The man opened the box and held the brick-sized phone to his ear.

I honestly didn’t know anything about his Ralph Rotten character. I’d never heard of it. I thought he was just pulling my leg in order to entertain himself and his man. But it was soon evident he was not faking it.

“Excuse me, Mr. Lewis,” his man said. “There is no signal.”

Jerry frowned. Then he stepped forward and poked me hard in the chest. He was like my angry doppelgänger come to life. “I’m Ralph Rotten! You got that?”

“Yeah,” I said, shaken, and stepped back.

“Did you make any money off your phony stolen book?” he questioned.

“No,” I replied. “Not really.” I had made seven hundred and fifty dollars from the advance and spent it all on rooming-house rent and pencils.

“Well, I’m going to crush you!” he said vengefully. He turned toward his man. “Two more beers,” he ordered.

I quickly finished my second and took the third as Jerry glared at me. His eyes pulsed with every beat of his laboring heart. How could I not know that Rotten Ralph was the double of Ralph Rotten? How was it possible that I wrote a book that was the mirror opposite of his character? Was I the Pauper to his Prince? The Jekyll to his Hyde? The saccharine Norman Bates to his evil Norman Bates? This serendipitous doppelgänger bond was all I could think about while Jerry snorted around in anger and I stood before him trapped in the vacuum of my own thoughts.

Then there was a rescuing knock on the door. “It’s show time,” announced the stage manager.

Jerry and I marched up a set of stairs and onto the stage, where we took our assigned seats. He turned to me and with an unexpected wistfulness whispered, “Dean Martin and I did this place decades ago. People were lined up around the block to get in. Those days of barnstorming a theater town are all gone,” he added sadly.

Right then I realized I knew nothing about how hard he had worked, traveling from theater to theater on a circuit as he built his reputation and his career. Even his Ralph Rotten television character must have been hard work, and through my embarrassing ignorance and arrogance I knew nothing about how he had become the growling, hollering, swollen-faced, unhappy Jerry. Maybe it was the beer working on my sympathies, but I now wanted to know him better. I kind of wanted to be his pal, and I figured he’d see the soulmate humor in me being Rotten Ralph to his Ralph Rotten.

In the meantime, administrators gave glib speeches. When it was our turn, Jerry and I stood up and solemnly walked to the podium. I said my lines, “By the power vested in me, I bestow this honorary degree upon you…” and I put the cheesy purple and yellow ribbon with the brass foil-over-plastic medal around his neck. We shook hands, then I returned to my seat. His man walked out and handed Jerry’s speech to Jerry, who set it on the podium. All he had to do was read it. But he got about three lines in and paused. He looked up from the page, made a few cracks about being a comedian in the golden age of comedy, and then looked back down at the speech as if it were a box of mismatched buttons he was sorting. He hesitated, and I knew right away he had lost his place on the page, and suddenly the great Jerry Lewis — France’s golden boy, my new friend, and the Ralph Rotten doppelgänger of Rotten Ralph — was adrift without a directorial cue. So he did what he probably always did and used his get-out-of-jail-free card. He threw his head back and popped his arms up into the air and let out that joyful, crazy Nutty Professor laugh. The crowd roared in recognition and approval and they stood and cheered and whistled and clapped, and he laughed some more, and then amidst the applause he waved goodbye and walked across the stage with his new Nutty Professor PhD toward a curtain that his man was holding aside. Then, just before he disappeared, he turned and pointed at me. He smiled and mouthed something. I couldn’t make it out, but I think he said, “I’m going to kick your rotten ass!”

I smiled back and tipped my flat cap to him, and then his curtain dropped. He went with his man out the back door of the stage to the white limousine and was gone. I never again heard from him, his lawyer, or his man, and I’m sorry I have not. As nutty as it sounds, I think I was destined to be his rotten double.

A year later I had James Earl Jones onstage for his honorary degree. He had a speech as thick as a sandwich and he started to give it. Then he lifted his eyes from the page and took off his reading glasses and went rogue. “Oh, no,” I thought as he went way off-road and into the deep woods and told some Hallmark anecdote about life lessons and then he looked down at his speech and there was that box of mismatched buttons before him. But did he panic? Nope. He raised his arms high and wide and sucked in a tremendous bellows of breath and roared with great resonance, “May the Force be with you!”

Everyone stood and cheered and whistled and he waved, walked off stage, and vanished into a white limousine. After the graduation ceremony I went to the podium and got the speech. It was some script his agent had sent him. Clearly, the entire “May the Force be with you” act was preplanned. That was the speech. Very clever, I thought. The Master was teaching me a lesson.

So, dear reader, I stood at the Zena Sutherland lecture telling these twin stories, and because I didn’t have a get-out-of-jail-free phrase I could holler to the rooftops (aside from “Can I get back to you on that?”), I had to get myself enthused to deliver what I knew was a dead fish of a speech.

“Well, let’s endure my prepared speech for a few moments,” I said reluctantly to the audience. I bent to pick it up off the stage floor. As I did so, I spied Roger Sutton in the front row, and he looked back at me with the Easter Island man gaze. I was dead in the water. The air had gone out of the room.

* * *

The (Real) Zena Sutherland Lecture
A Pair of Jacks to Open: Fact and Fiction

I will not talk tonight of what I don’t know, but of what I do know — which is me constantly talking about me, or all-me-all-the-time. As Thoreau said in his essay “Life Without Principle,” he is resolved to give the reader a good dose of himself. I find no argument in Thoreau’s insistence that he simply represent himself, and his own thoughts, and experience, instead of attempting in a lecture to tell people what they already know, and what they want the lecturer to confirm. Apparently, because he spoke his own mind, he was soon unpopular on the lecture circuit and took a handyman job for Ralph Waldo Emerson. Like Thoreau, as I continue to merely lecture on how I write what I’m thinking, and how I come to create books, I too may find myself spending more time weeding the garden.

There comes a time in a young person’s life when they look into a mirror and ask, “Who am I?” The moment that question is asked is when the young person pulls back a curtain and enters the stage where their life is played out…and the first attempt to define one’s character is to put on all the various costumes in your family, and after the family is exhausted, the costume shop radiates outward into infinity.

By this time in a young reader’s life, Pooh and Toad of Toad Hall and other characters that live in charming stories have begun to lose their influence on a young person who is suddenly aware that they are filled with self-inflicted complications and battles for independence that have to be sorted through. If the young person is optimistic, then they think there will be answers to the “who am I?” question. What they don’t realize yet is that the question of “who am I?” is only the reflective background chorus of life whose role is to constantly comment on the classic foibles and conflicts that appear as dramatic action in the foreground of life.

The “who am I?” question itself, confrontational as it may be, will always only be an echo to the dramatic action. Yet “who am I?” can be a solid citizen companion that helps us ponder and sort out our good actions from the bad, the moral from the immoral, and the gold from the lead. Good children’s literature is where a questioning young reader holds a sincere book in their trusting hands and reads with abandon in order to invent and define themselves, and to learn how to discover and reflect upon the infinite truths about themselves that they can trust and refine for the rest of their lives.

That said, the high bar of good literature makes my job as a writer for young, inquisitive readers a very demanding job — a challenge to be well considered — and for me it all begins with me: Jack on Jack. If I don’t read books that tunnel deeply into me to discover what is genuine, commanding, and emotive within myself, then I cannot write books that do the same for the best and most impressionable young readers. I often write about myself, or write invented variations of myself, using portions of myself as core characteristics from which I can then extrapolate. I attempt to write books that transform a piece of paper into some golem that comes to life. But first, I have to be the golem, and the tablet that brings me to life are the books I read. So here is a short list that over the years has contributed to transforming me from being an obdurate, unknowing creature to a human who asks the question, “who am I?”

(Everyone has their own list.)

Fahrenheit 451—Bradbury
The Catcher in the Rye—Salinger
Half a Life—Ciment
Stop-Time—Conroy
The Bell Jar—Plath
Ultramarine—Lowry
A Clockwork Orange—Burgess
Brave New World—Huxley
In Youth Is Pleasure—Welch
1984—Orwell
This Boy’s Life—Wolff
The Car Thief—Weesner
Sex and Death to the Age 14—Gray
Borrowed Finery and Desperate Characters—Fox
To Kill a Mockingbird—Lee
And, the bowsprit of American Literature, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale—Melville

And the list travels well beyond this very small sample.

It is said that you cannot serve two masters: the past self and the present self. It takes me a full day of reflection to understand an hour from the day before, and thus I fall behind each day, which is why I expect it will take a lifetime of effort to attempt to understand my own youth. It is difficult to live in the moment when so often I am either obsessing on the past, or drifting away on some reverie, or dreaming, or recalling and parsing something of great importance. It seems that life for me is structured in such a way that I only understand the punch line of a joke long after I’ve heard it.

A book is great if it strengthens the articulation of my inner life and is neither a mere accounting of facts nor a fantasy that appears like smoke and disappears like smoke. A great book, a book that adds to self-reflection and understanding, is different from an amusement: an amusement is meant to distract us from ourselves, where a great book is meant to open the honeyed cells of the inner life and freely nourish new thoughts.

Gantos_tools43

Jack’s actual “black book.”

I know that it is politically correct to say that all books exist for a reason, and to that I reply with reason that for me all books are not gratifying, or uplifting, or reverie-inspiring — or even amusing in the most base way. In writing so often about myself it is the “exploration” and “reflection” that result in the greatest knowledge to me. In Dead End in Norvelt there are yards of historical facts larded with details, but these are the crumbs of the story (nutritious as they may be), just as it is crumbs that mark the way for Hansel and Gretel to find their way home. We all know that only when the crumbs are removed does the real story begin, and it is the characters whom we fear for, and not the crumbs. The same with Dead End in Norvelt. The boy, Jack, is taken with a collection of historical facts, which is valuable knowledge, but it is the vast humanity behind the facts, his friendship with Miss Volker, and the heartbeat of his family, and the community values that fill him and float him just as hot air fills a balloon and the wind takes it away.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let us move on to all the Jack-on-Jack books, the double-shots and double-takes and doppelgängers, where I and my characters live as one.

My first pairing of Jacks was with the Jack Henry books. First, I never should have changed my last name to Henry for the five volumes of family short stories: Heads or Tails, Jack’s New Power, Jack on the Tracks, Jack Adrift, and Jack’s Black Book. But I was thinking of my family and friends who populate the books, along with my retooled action and invented dialogue (by this writer) that might offend them. So I shied away from using my own last name, and once Heads or Tails was released I regretted it immediately. What I like about the Jack books is that I can write as if I am the voice of the chorus — the “who am I?” — of the books. I have years of hindsight behind me, so Jack is teeming with articulate insights that I’ve allowed him to discover in the moment but that actually took the real Jack years to discover and refine. But both Jacks are me. Judge and Jury. Accused and Accuser. Captured and Released. The Action and the Reflection. I really enjoy my other Jack and turn to him whenever I feel a little dull. He always says or thinks something with a kind of insightful energy that reignites my own. When I write about my life in my journal, I’m always more interesting when I speak in his voice.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. I am not Joey Pigza. He is an invented character with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I’m merely ADD, or attention deficit disorder. I can sit still in a chair all day and sideways-think of nothing but random thoughts. Writing a book, for me, is like trying to decode the Enigma machine as I sort pages of random notes into properly sequenced sentences and paragraphs. If Joey only had ADD there would be no action to reflect upon, so I added the hyperactivity so he can bring action to the surface of the book, and reflection can remain the chorus that comments on the action — enough action for four more Joey volumes, ending with The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza.

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs. Nature vs. nurture is the theme of this book based on my twin uncles, Abner and Adolph Rumbaugh, who, I was told, preserved (taxidermed) their own mother after her death. I am not a twin to them, but they are the twin stars in this novel. It was my aim in writing this book to write a gothic novel with the purpose of asking the reader to reflect on the question: “What is more frightening: truth or fiction?” The nonfiction center of the book is about the American eugenics movement and basically how white supremacy was taught in schools across America as part of the science curriculum. The eugenics movement introduced laws in this country against immigrants, endorsed the sterilization of women (especially on Native American lands), and spread their corrosive eugenics white supremacist creed with such effectiveness that Hitler was impressed by their ideals. And we know how his belief in a pure white Germany terrified and damaged the world.

So the core canvas of the book is about academic and applied racism in America, and then around that core canvas I built a gilt gothic frame of a story — the story of my uncles taxiderming their mother — and so the question posed to the reader is: Which is more gothic? Which is more inhuman? Taxiderming your mother, or the state-sanctioned suppression and hatred of nonwhite races in America? As it turns out, taxiderming your mother is pretty tame compared to Hitler’s Final Solution.

Imagine my surprise when so many people of all ages come up to me and say, “I really admire how you invented that eugenics movement.” They have the book’s central point all backward, which breaks my heart. The gothic fiction is about the uncles, and the eugenics movement is the horrific history and fact of the matter, and if you don’t know your history you will be destined to repeat it. Time and again. (Later, this lesson is echoed by Miss Volker in Dead End in Norvelt.)

I have yet to write a twin to Love Curse.

Hole in My Life. What can I say about this book, which is just an older me looking into the mirror and reflecting on my both naive and arrogant young self as I spill my guts talking about my drug-smuggler-to-prison-convict past? There is plenty of action on the front stage of this book, but the emotional torque is in the chorus as I recall my weakest moments. This is the epitome of the Jack-on-Jack theme because it is the most unrelenting and honest.

JackGantos8thGrade

gantos_mugshotFrom The Trouble in Me to Hole in My Life.

The Trouble in Me. This is the most recent memoir-driven look-in-the-mirror book I’ve written about my young self (set in the summer before eighth grade). It has what I’d define as features of a gothic romance in that it is dripping with a primitive fixation on transforming the self by scrubbing away your true character in order to invent yourself afresh as another person — in my case I wanted to become my neighbor, Gary Pagoda, who was older, tougher, more romantic and commanding than I was. He was the model who, in both a comic and dramatically grotesque way, I became.

This story is me pointing a finger at myself and saying, “This is the beginning of the slippery slope that led to Hole in My Life. This is where I began to abandon my core morals, values, and ethics for a cheap thrill.” Only this story does not lead to prison, because it already takes place in a prison — the prison of my own skin — of who I was and who I wasn’t. I was imprisoned by my obsessive self-loathing, and the only escape was to become someone else.

One final remark: Please excuse the waterfront language in the first portion of this speech. It may be offensive to some, but when I rewrote it using more genteel dialogue, the entire incident fell flat without the grit of the curse words. Also, I admire Mister Jerry Lewis and think the French are correct in saying he is a comic genius. Get with it, America. The guy is brilliant!

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Adapted from the author’s 2015 Zena Sutherland Lecture. For more from Jack Gantos click here (if you dare).

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25. From the Editor—August 2015

What Makes a Good...?When I was walking around the ALA exhibits in San Francisco earlier this summer, I kept running into publishers eager to show me their “narrative nonfiction.” I knew this was a concept (see Elizabeth Partridge’s article “Narrative Nonfiction: Kicking Ass at Last” and more on narrative nonfiction from The Horn Book) but apparently it had become a Thing — a new genre, perhaps, but a new sales hook, definitely.

In hopes of helping you sort through the raft (and the hype!), The Horn Book brings you “What Makes Good Narrative Nonfiction?,” the debut issue of our new quarterly newsletter What Makes a Good?, based on a popular feature in the Horn Book Magazine. Each issue will provide brief reviews of recent exemplary titles in a genre, an interview with a noted author (here Steve Sheinkin, the much-awarded historian for young people), and tips on selection from Deborah B. Ford, director of library outreach for our sister company the Junior Library Guild.

While children have been reading narrative nonfiction since at least The Story of Mankind (the first Newbery winner…in 1922!), renewed attention to the genre has stemmed, prosaically, from the Common Core State Standards, and, more happily, from the success of adult books such as Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit. These books demonstrated a renewed enthusiasm for the terrific stories to be found amongst the real world, and it is heartening to see that the interests of young readers will be met as well. Kids have never been ashamed to declare their allegiance to good storytelling, and a true story — what a wonderful paradox of words, yes? — provides both the stimulus of narrative and bragging rights to the facts: I know something that really happened.

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Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?

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