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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. Happiness and high school humanities

I got a request this past year from my friends at Boston Green Academy (BGA) to help them consider their Humanities 4 curriculum, which focuses on philosophies, especially around happiness. This was a tough request for me, and certainly not one I had considered before. There aren’t any titles I can think of that say “Philosophy: Happiness” on their covers to pull me directly down this path.

But as I thought about it, I got more and more excited about how this topic is tackled in the YA world. The first set of books I considered were titles that dealt with “the meaning of life” in a variety of ways. Titles like Nothing by Janne Teller, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, and one of my personal favorites, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp give lots of food for thought about where we expend our energy and the wisdom of how we prioritize our attention in life.

 teller nothing 213x300 Happiness and high school humanities    maas jeremyfink 201x300 Happiness and high school humanities    tharp spectacularnow 199x300 Happiness and high school humanities

This, of course, led to stories about facing challenges and finding happiness despite (or because) of the circumstances in our lives.  So we pulled texts like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, which all deal with characters finding ways to deal with and even prosper alongside difficult circumstances.

green faultinourstars Happiness and high school humanities     vizzini kindofFunnyStory 204x300 Happiness and high school humanities     stork marcelo 195x300 Happiness and high school humanities

Then we happened upon a set of titles that raise questions about whether you can be “happy” if you are or are not being yourself. We pulled segments of titles like Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Tina’s Mouth by Keshni Kashyap, American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Rapture Practice, which I’ve talked about here before.

openly straight Happiness and high school humanities     saenz aristotleanddante 199x300 Happiness and high school humanities     keshni tinasmouth 234x300 Happiness and high school humanities     hartzler rapturepractice 203x300 Happiness and high school humanities

And then there were a world of nonfiction possibilities, those written for young people and those not — picture books by Demi about various figures, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas about work and play, and any number of great series texts about philosophers and religions and such.

So I guess the (happy) moral of this story is that it was much easier than I thought to revisit old texts with these new eyes of philosophies of happiness. I left the work feeling as though every text is about this very important topic in one way or another, and I can’t wait to see how the BGA curriculum around it continues to evolve!

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2. Sometimes, reading the book just isn’t enough – LeakyCon Lit

leakycon Sometimes, reading the book just isn’t enough – LeakyCon LitWell, after the glorious, gleeful exhaustion brought on by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, your intrepid intern still had a whole conference to attend.

For those of you who haven’t heard of LeakyCon, it originally started as a Harry Potter–themed fan conference in 2009, but has since morphed into an all-out geek-fest in which fan communities from all kinds of media platforms come together to celebrate the power of story and fandom. In fact, the conference has been renamed and will be known as GeekyCon from here on — opening up to the wide, wide world of geekdom!

It will not surprise any of you that I spent most of my time at the conference at the LeakyCon Lit panels. Organized by YA authors Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman, LeakyCon Lit brings together YA authors from all over to talk about writing, their books, and plenty of weird, awesome, totally unrelated things. This year’s speakers were Stephanie Perkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Holly Black, Gayle Forman, John Green, Varian Johnson, Kazu Kibuishi, Lauren Myracle, Rainbow Rowell, and Scott Westerfeld. With such a diverse group presenting, we got to hear about everything from designing love interests to killing off beloved characters, from graphic novels to world-building, from Stephanie Perkins’s morning jigsaw puzzle routine to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s near miss with quicksand.

The programming ranged widely between serious panels (such as “Diversity in YA” and the “War Against YA Lit”) to game shows (including Jeopardy and a variation on The Lying Game, an old British game show). Maureen Johnson interviewed John Green in a Between Two Ferns–eqsue style, providing a hilarious exposé of their friendship. Johnson also moderated the panel about killing off characters — which meant, unfortunately, that the audience didn’t get any new information about a certain beloved [spoiler] she killed off in [spoiler]. But we did have the opportunity to harangue some of the other authors, who discussed the tension between emotional attachment and resonance and deciding when a character’s death serves the story best.

The panel centered on diversity in YA was especially powerful. The panelists discussed YA literature’s erasure and misrepresentation of people with diverse gender identities and sexuality, people of color, and people with disabilities — as well as the kind of backlash faced by authors who create those characters. I found it provocative when the authors on the panel discussed a question they often get regarding their characters of color: “Why did you make that character a specific race if your story isn’t about racism…why bother?”  The discussion which followed emphasized the importance of recognizing the bountiful diversity of experience in the world and the role literature plays in representing that diversity to its readership.

While most of the programming at LeakyCon Lit this year was phenomenal, a couple of the panels were better in conception than they were in execution. One panel called “I Made You, You’re Perfect” focused on romance in YA and how to construct romantic relationships and compatible characters. The panel, however, was comprised entirely of straight women; this lack of diversity was particularly apparent during a mishandled question on asexuality. The “War on YA” panel was concerned with the way that YA as a genre has been either denigrated by the media as too sweet and too small (especially for adult readers) or lambasted as the source of all evil for young people. Rather than exploring this phenomenon and its impact in depth, however, the speakers on the panel mostly reiterated what many of us had seen them write on Twitter and their blogs in recent months.

Overall, however, LeakyCon Lit was a perfect mix of whimsy, banter, and critical discussion. The authors are all knowledgeable and engaging, and their comments and discussions were accessible and enjoyable. I’ve been attending this track for the past four years and I can say with certainty that there is plenty to enjoy for both teens and adults.

The rest of the LeakyCon is not devoid of book-related fun for kids and grown-ups, of course. The subjects of the panels range from investigations into Harry Potter canon and characters to sing-alongs and debates. Each night there’s a concert by bands who get their material from Harry Potter (or The West Wing, or Doctor Who, or a whole host of other awesome platforms and stories). Pemberly Digital, a production company which creates modern adaptions of well-loved classics, premiered the first two episodes of Frankenstein, M.D., which follows Victoria Frankenstein, a young doctor determined to prove herself in a male-dominated field. Pemberly Digital is the same group who created the Emmy award–winning adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Which you should watch right now. Don’t worry. I’ll wait!

Seriously though, they are really good – as is Emma Approved (adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma), which is currently airing on Pemberly’s YouTube channel.

By the time we woke up on Sunday morning, we were about ready to lounge the day away by the pool. But we were in Orlando, and there is no such thing as a trip to Orlando without a visit to the Magic Kingdom. We did have to put down all our new books and our new geeky swag…but books are always there when you get back!

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3. Review of At Home in Her Tomb

liu perkins at home in her tomb Review of At Home in Her TombAt Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui
by Christine Liu-Perkins; 
illus. by Sarah S. Brannen
Intermediate, Middle School    Charlesbridge    80 pp.
4/14    978-1-58089-370-1    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-60734-615-9    $9.99

Late in 1971, workers digging an air-raid shelter in Hunan Province found three tombs of a noble family from early in the Han dynasty. The oldest tomb, 
of the Marquis of Dai (d. 186 BCE), was plundered long ago. His son’s 
(d. 168 BCE) retained important artifacts, though it had been damaged during construction of the third tomb, which was virtually intact and of enormous archaeological significance. Here, buried in 158 BCE in a preservative so effective that autopsy was still possible, was the still-soft body of “Lady Dai,” the marquis’s wife, cocooned in twenty layers of silk within four nested coffins; and more than a thousand artifacts — treasures in painted silk, lacquer, brass, and wood. Liu-Perkins describes the discovery in fascinating detail, including the lady’s household appointments, diet, amusements, and death; brief imagined scenes supplement the evidence. Perhaps the most significant find was a “library” of books written on silk and bamboo, safe in a lacquer box in the son’s tomb: fifty texts and documents, many of them unique, concerning science, philosophy, history, and government. Illustrative materials include maps and well-captioned photos as well as Brannen’s watercolors of the imagined scenes. Sidebars, too, supplement and clarify information, as do timelines, a glossary, citations for quotes, an index, and a two-page bibliography. Lady Dai’s remains are of huge interest in their own right; as Liu-Perkins ably demonstrates, such a find not only extends our factual knowledge but also deepens our appreciation of the diversity of past civilizations.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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4. Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist Attractions

look alvin ho great wall Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist AttractionsAlvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions
by Lenore Look; illus. by LeUyen Pham
Primary, Intermediate    Schwartz & Wade/Random    163 pp.
8/14    978-0-385-36972-5    $15.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-36973-2    $18.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-449-81986-9    $7.99

Alvin Ho, who’s afraid even when safe at home, faces previously unknown fears when his family travels to China to introduce his new baby sister to relatives. Forget fear of flying (“small enclosed spaces filled with strangers, hurtling across the sky at 600 miles per hour”); Alvin’s afraid of his own passport photo — in which he looks like he “robbed a bank and got run over by the getaway car.” The hilarity (for readers, that is) begins at airport security, when Alvin’s ever-present Personal Disaster Kit is found to contain, among other things, forks and knives (he’s “allergic to chopsticks”) and a rope (“for climbing the Great Wall”). As usual, Pham’s many illustrations capture the “fun” being had in Look’s action-packed story, this time most especially by Alvin’s long-suffering dad — all while wearing a crying infant strapped to his chest. First, Dad’s hauled away by federal air marshals (Alvin’s panicked and repeated use of the call button), then he accompanies his son up and down thirty-two flights of stairs (no elevators for Alvin), and then he must hurl himself onto a toboggan when Alvin instantaneously decides that riding down the Speed Chute is less scary than standing around on the Great Wall. This series entry’s heartwarming moment involves Alvin’s idea to grant some Christmas wishes to a group of orphans, including someone’s wish for a friend. Alvin may be full of fear, but he’s also got loads of empathy.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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5. Read about female pilots on National Aviation Day

Today, August 19th, the U.S. is celebrating National Aviation Day. This day was first established by a presidential proclamation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate advances in aviation. The date was chosen to coincide with Orville Wright’s birthday to recognize his contribution, together with his brother Wilbur, to the field of aviation — but it is a holiday meant to recognize all aviators who have advanced the field through their efforts. While the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart come to mind as the premier pioneering pilots, there are many unsung aviators. The books below highlight the stories of some of the most famous early female aviators and are the perfect way to celebrate National Aviation Day!

Burleigh NightFlight 300x300 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayNight Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor (K-3)
This book tells the story of Amelia Earhart’s historic crossing of the Atlantic on May 20, 1932, which made her the first woman to complete a solo flight across that ocean. The flight was a dramatic one, including both mechanical difficulties and fierce weather and both the prose and the paintings of this book capture the tension of the flight and the elation when Earhart touches down in Ireland. The book also includes a brief biography of Earhart, a list of additional sources on the subject and a fascinating collection of quotations from Earhart’s speeches and publications.

Moss SkyHigh 300x272 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DaySky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss with illustrations by Carl Angel (K-3)
Maggie Gee knew from a young age that she wanted to fly planes. It was a dream that stayed with her throughout her childhood and when World War II started, she leapt at the chance to serve her country by flying for the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs. Despite stiff competition for a limited number of spots amongst the WASPs, Maggie succeeded, becoming one of only two Chinese American pilots in the organization. This book traces her path from her childhood dreams to her work as a WASP. An author’s note at the end fills in more details about her life after World War II and includes pictures of Maggie and her family throughout the time covered in the book.

Cummins FlyingSolo300x294 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayFlying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared Into America’s Heart by Julie Cummins with illustrations by Malene R. Laugesen (K-3)
While many know the story of Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic, fewer people know that Ruth Elder attempted to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic years earlier in 1927. Though her attempt was cut short by a malfunction over the ocean, she nevertheless became famous, not only for her attempt but also for her later aviation exploits. This book tells her life story, focusing primarily on her attempt to fly across the Atlantic and her participation in a cross-country air race in 1929. Ruth’s story will excite fans of planes and flying and the illustrations will transport readers back to the 1920’s through their vivid details. The book also includes further sources of information about Ruth’s life as well as a final illustration that highlights a number of other important female aviators.

Borden FlyHigh 238x300 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayFly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger with illustrations by Teresa Flavin (4-6)
This book tells the story of Bessie Coleman, an African American woman who grew up in the south in the late 1800’s with a dream to get an education. When she moved to Chicago in 1915 for a chance at a better life, she discovered aviation and decided to head to France to pursue an opportunity to learn to fly. Once she had her license, Bessie returned to the U.S. where she flew in air shows and gave speeches encouraging others to follow her path. Though the book ends with the tragic tale of her death in a flying accident, the story is sure to inspire those interested in learning to fly.

Tanaka AmeliaEarhart 300x298 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayAmelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka with illustrations by David Craig (4-6)
Illustrated with a combination of paintings and photographs from Amelia Earhart’s life, this book is an impressive biography of a woman who is arguably the most famous female aviator in American history. Starting in her childhood and continuing until her disappearance in 1937, it offers a look into Amelia’s entire life, including aspects that are often glossed over in other books, such as her time as a nurse’s aide in Toronto and her work with two early commercial airlines. Both the pictures and the illustrations bring Amelia to life for readers and a list of source notes and other resources at the end of the book provide lots of options for further reading.

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6. Review of My Teacher Is a Monster! 
(No, I Am Not.)

brown my teacher is a monster Review of My Teacher Is a Monster! 
(No, I Am Not.)My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)
by Peter Brown; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.
7/14    978-0-316-07029-4    $18.00

From the cover, it is clear that Bobby and his teacher do not agree: “My Teacher Is a MONSTER!” says Bobby in a giant word balloon; Ms. Kirby replies, “No, I Am Not.” It’s true that she is much taller than tiny Bobby, her skin is monstrously green, and she has claws and sharp teeth and giant nostrils. They clash in class when Bobby sends a paper airplane flying, but when later they meet unexpectedly at the park, they begin to see each other differently. In a multi-page sequence of panels, the pair sits awkwardly together on a park bench, and they converse in word bubbles: “Ms. Kirby, it’s REALLY strange seeing you outside of school.” “I agree.” After Bobby catches her blown-off hat for her, they find more things to do together, and gradually in each picture, Ms. Kirby looks decreasingly monstrous as her face becomes less green and animal-like. Bobby isn’t perfect at the end, and Ms. Kirby reverts to a little of her scariness when Bobby disobeys, but child readers will understand the subtle shift in their relationship. Using thick paper and watercolor/gouache/India ink illustrations, Brown uses a cartoon-type format with panels and speech bubbles, varying the pace with full-page art, in a story that students and teachers will enjoy equally.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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(No, I Am Not.)

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(No, I Am Not.) appeared first on The Horn Book.

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(No, I Am Not.) as of 1/1/1900
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7. Week in Review, August 11th-August 15th

banner weekinreview 550x100 Week in Review, August 11th August 15th

This week on hbook.com…

August’s Notes from the Horn Book newsletter: five questions for Judith Viorst, back-to-school picture books, early chapter books, narrative nonfiction, and YA starring teen boys.

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

Out of the Box:

Lolly’s Classroom:

2014 Summer Reading

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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8. Snark week

In honor of Shark Week, here’s a list of recent YA books featuring sharp-tongued narrators with biting wit. (Thanks to WE television network, home of Will & Grace reruns, for giving us this idea for “Snark Week.”)

hattemer vigilantepoets 200x300 Snark weekHattemer, Kate The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
Middle School, High School    Knopf    327 pp.
4/14 978-0-385-75378-4 $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-75379-1 $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-385-75380-7 $10.99
A reality show competition for the title of “America’s Best Teen Artist” comes to Ethan’s bohemian high school, and his best friend Luke proposes a “folk uprising.” Ethan gets fired up by Luke’s idealism, so he feels profoundly betrayed when their scathing long poem (à la Ezra Pound) lands Luke a spot on For Art’s Sake…Luke’s apparent objective all along. Ethan’s voice — self-deprecating, witty, and full of both literary and pop-culture references — makes him an appealing narrator for the madcap comedy, and readers will cheer as he takes a leading role in his own life.

Howell Girl Defective Snark weekHowell, Simmone Girl Defective
High School    Atheneum    303 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-9760-3 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9762-7 $10.99
From the roof of her father’s failing used record store, fifteen-year-old Sky and her glamorous older friend Nancy spy a poster of a beautiful but sad-looking girl whose image lingers in Sky’s dreams. When Sky learns that Mia, the girl in the picture, was found dead in nearby St. Kilda harbor — and that Mia’s brother now works in the record store — she wants to learn more. Part mystery, part romance, and part unconventional family story, the book introduces an intriguing cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own mystery or problem to solve. Sky’s first-person narrative is observant, questioning, and self-critical.

maguire egg and spoon Snark weekMaguire, Gregory Egg & Spoon
Middle School    Candlewick    479 pp.
9/14 978-0-7636-7220-1 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7582-0 $17.99
An imprisoned man tells his story, Scheherazade-like, in letters to the tsar. He begins with Elena, a young girl in the impoverished Russian countryside, who meets well-to-do Ekaterina. Their lives collide and intertwine, sending the story in two directions: to a ball in St. Petersburg and deep into the forest to an unforgettable Baba Yaga — who is exactly the type of hardboiled, witty, snarky, and timeless a character as one could wish for from Maguire.

portes anatomyofamisfit Snark weekPortes, Andrea Anatomy of a Misfit
High School    Harper/HarperCollins    330 pp.
9/14 978-0-06-231364-5 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-231366-9 $10.99
Anika Dragomir looks the part of the blond-haired, blue-eyed All-American girl-next-door, but “nobody knows that on the inside I am spider soup.” On the first day of school, “nerd-ball turned goth romance hero” Logan McDonough fixes his smoldering gaze on Anika, and they begin a secret courtship — that gets even more complicated when God’s-gift-to-Nebraska, Jared Kline, asks Anika’s mom for permission to take her daughter out on a date. Anika’s observations are razor-sharp, especially when she is describing other people (and especially when she’s ragging on her own family: “My dad is Romanian and looks like Count Chocula. Seriously. He looks like a vampire”).

smith 100 sideways miles Snark weekSmith, Andrew 100 Sideways Miles
High School    Simon    277 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-4495-9 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-4497-3 $10.99
Finn Easton has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar.

willey beetle boy Snark weekWilley, Margaret Beetle Boy
High School    Carolrhoda Lab    200 pp.
9/14 978-1-4677-2639-9 $17.95
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-4626-7 $12.95
As Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel, Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks.

For Shark Week reading, click here.

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9. Why The Face? I’ll tell you.

ending Why The Face? Ill tell you.I just finished David Shafer’s thriller Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which I read because of Dwight Garner’s NYT review. The book is everything Garner says it is–bright, popping, funny, suspenseful. And it has all the things I love: complicated heroes and heroines, smart riffs on contemporary memes, and–best of all–a global conspiracy that really is out to get the paranoiacs as well as the rest of us.

It’s just great, as far as it goes. WHICH IS NOT FAR ENOUGH. What Garner does not tell us, and as far as I’m concerned this is a cardinal sin of book reviewing, is that the book doesn’t have an ending. After about a hundred good pages of rising action, with the good guys and girl ready to take down the evil that now lurks in a container ship off the Oregon coast, everything just stops. Nothing on or in the book says “first in a series” or anything, but surely the reviewer could have said so. Unless he didn’t finish it.

Thank goodness Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before I got to the end of The Two Towers and “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”

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10. Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e-book review

dragons title screen Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book reviewThe brand-new story told in Dreamworks’ Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e-book (Dreamworks Press with Genera Interactive, July 2014) takes place between the 2010 How to Train Your Dragon film (based on Cressida Cowell’s intermediate novel of the same name) and the sequel released earlier this summer.

The user begins by creating a character profile and selecting one of three reading levels: “hatchling” (suggested for users  five years and younger), “broad wing” (six to eight years), and “titan wing” (nine years and up). The user may easily edit his or her profile or select a different reading level; the engaging narration, music, and sound effects may be turned on or off at any time from the parent-locked settings menu. All three levels of the story have the same basic plot and address the user directly in present-tense, second-person narrative.

You come-to underwater, with amnesia and a mysterious dragon egg in tow, after an apparent shipwreck. Human boy and dragon pair Hiccup and Toothless — protagonists of both the books and films — rescue you from a hungry water dragon, then fly you to their island home, Berk, to help save the hatching egg. The new hatchling gets spooked and escapes, leading you, Hiccup, and Toothless on a merry chase around four island locations (the blacksmith’s shop, the dragon-training academy, the dragon hanger, and a quiet cove) while encountering the human and dragon inhabitants.

dragons cove Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book review

You finally track down your baby dragon and earn its trust. Navigating among the various locations — or returning to a favorite chapter — is easy with a map of the island.

dragons map Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book review

Each of the five chapters (one for the shipwreck scene, plus each of the island destinations) is followed by a first-person “journal entry” in which your character ponders her or his forgotten past, describes emotional reactions to the story’s events, and offers some foreshadowing for future installments. Endearing watercolor-like illustrations accompany the entries. Though the main narrative is simplified in the hatchling and broad wing levels, the journal entries are identical across levels and no narration is offered — so younger users may need some help reading these sections.

The humorous text (most nuanced and funniest in titan wing mode) and high-quality animation are accompanied by upbeat music, sound effects, and a few simple interactive moments, including a game of “Returnwing” (think “boomerang”) fetch with Toothless. But the real draw for Dragon fans will be reuniting with these lovable characters.

Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $4.99. Next installment coming fall 2014; $.99. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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11. What’s the media Feeding us?

feed Whats the media Feeding us?For the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of teaching an English course to a group of highly motivated high school students enrolled in the summer session of an Upward Bound program. This summer’s book selection — Feed by M. T. Anderson — has spurred a campus conversation that I keep catching snippets of while I wait in line in the cafeteria or when I walk down the halls in the dorm. (I’m serious — a large group of teenagers, in school in the summer, are really talking about a book in their free time!)

Feed never fails to generate intense feelings and is also one of those books that could be suited to almost any theme or purpose that a course might cover. It lends itself to discussions of identity, social class, gender roles and expectations, conformity, language, as well as the topics around which I organized my summer course: media and technology.

The overarching question my students and I have been grappling with over the course of the summer is “Does the media create or reflect reality?” Feed is the perfect title to use as a case study for exploring this question, as it presents a dystopian world where the majority of people have a device — the “feed” — implanted directly into their brains. The feed constantly bombards its users with advertisements that are responsive to their locations and emotional states and also offers seemingly unlimited access to information. Of course, it also leads the users to have tremendous blind spots in terms of their understanding of the world around them and is controlled by powerful corporations who may or may not have the best interests of their users at heart.

Feed is the perfect choice for a course focused on media literacy. The book itself articulates and reinforces the need for precisely the skills learned in media literacy exercises: how to think critically about the content present in media messages, how to actively engage with information rather than passively accepting it, and how to uncover who creates the media and what their agendas might be.

Over the course of the summer, I have watched my students develop an increasing awareness of the challenges and implications of growing up in a media-saturated world. In addition to reading Feed, we have analyzed videos, advertisements, and contemporary songs to see what is under the surface of the media messages that we too often accept without question — and with which we even find ourselves singing along! I can see my students’ blinders beginning to come off as they think more critically about the world around them and how media impacts their own lives.

While Feed projects a vision of a dystopian future and was published back in 2002, I am struck each time I reread the book by how close the world Anderson describes seems to our own. The media and technology are increasingly influential and already play a key role in shaping our reality. The time to think about the implications of a media feeding us constant messages that may or may not reflect the world we want to inhabit is now and Feed is a wonderful title to use to engage young people in these critical conservations.

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12. Review of Brave Chicken Little

byrd brave chicken little Review of Brave Chicken LittleBrave Chicken Little
retold by Robert Byrd; 
illus. by the reteller
Preschool, Primary    Viking    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-670-78616-9    $17.99    g

The chick is not just a witless wonder in this expansion of the familiar folktale. Bopped on the head by an acorn, this Chicken Little does rush off to tell the king that “the sky is falling,” joined as usual by other barnyard fowl. However, the numbers are doubled here by the likes of Natty Ratty, Froggy Woggy, and Roly and Poly Moley. Once Foxy Loxy has locked the whole crowd in his cellar, our chick turns clever hero, rallying the other animals to help him escape so he can then free them. Then, realizing his initial misapprehension, he turns the tables: he drops apples on the fox, who runs off with his own foolish warning for the king. Thus Byrd upends both the classic tale’s conventions and its cautionary message; still, his revision works as an underdog-makes-good story, much abetted by his elegantly detailed illustrations. The lively action is undertaken by comical yet delicately limned creatures in fabulous ancien regime attire and a bucolic setting alive with animated trees and multitudes of insects and flora. With Chicken Little learning his lesson, this is an entertaining variant; it’s also one further from the earthy nature of the tale’s animal prototypes, a difference highlighted at the end when Mrs. Chicken Licken (like Peter Rabbit’s mother) tucks her weary and wiser son into his cozy, well-appointed bed.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. World Elephant Day 2014

To celebrate World Elephant Day (August 12, 2014), here are some books about those larger-than-life creatures, with reviews from The Horn Book Guide Online.

Picture Books

tweak World Elephant Day 2014Bunting, Eve Tweak Tweak
40 pp. Clarion 2011. ISBN 978-0-618-99851-7
(Preschool) Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. “‘Hold on to my tail, Little Elephant,’ Mama Elephant said. ‘…If you want to ask me a question, tweak twice.’” Tweak and ask she does: from the names of the animals they encounter to what each is doing. Can she, Little Elephant, do those things, too? The pairing of Bunting’s elegant text with Ruzzier’s offbeat art, including surreal, rather Seussian landscapes, is unexpectedly fabulous.

debrunhoff babar World Elephant Day 2014de Brunhoff, Jean and Brunhoff, Laurent de Babar’s Anniversary Album: Six Favorite Stories
144pp. pp. Random 1993. ISBN 0-394-84813-6
(Gr. K-3) Reissue, 1981. Introduction by Maurice Sendak. This compilation of six stories–three by Jean de Brunhoff, Babar’s creator, and three by Jean’s son Laurent–about the French elephant was originally published to commemorate Babar’s fiftieth birthday. The volume includes a photo-essay by Laurent de Brunhoff that includes family photographs and sketches and paintings by both Laurent and his father.

mckee elmersxmas World Elephant Day 2014McKee, David Elmer’s Christmas
32 pp. Andersen 2011. ISBN 978-0-7613-8088-7
(Gr. K-3) After a day of Christmas preparation, patchwork elephant Elmer and seven young elephants spy on Papa Red (complete with Santa hat and whiskers). While watching him gather gifts from under their tree, Elmer explains, “this is the season for giving.” McKee’s story sends a friendly reminder about the importance of generosity during the holidays. Playful, vividly colored illustrations complement the cheery tone.

willems elephants cant dance World Elephant Day 2014Willems, Mo Elephants Cannot Dance!
64 pp. Hyperion 2009. ISBN 978-1-4231-1410-9
(Gr. K-3) Elephant & Piggie Book series. Elephant Gerald intones, “Elephants cannot dance.” But as it turns out, elephants can try to dance. Even though Gerald can’t keep up with Piggie, he has a few (unwitting) moves of his own. Color-coded speech bubbles in this easy reader focus attention on the simple words and expressive illustrations. The easily understood story will provide instant reading success and lots of laughs.

 Fiction

One and Only Ivan World Elephant Day 2014Applegate, Katherine The One and Only Ivan
307 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4
(Gr. 4-6) Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. In short chapters that have the look and feel of prose poems, Applegate captures the voice of Ivan, a captive gorilla who lives at the “Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.” When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan realizes they deserve more than their restrictive environment. Ivan’s range of thoughts and emotions poses important questions about kinship and humanity. 2013 Newbery Medal winner.

dicamillo magicianselephant World Elephant Day 2014DiCamillo, Kate The Magician’s Elephant
202 pp. Candlewick 2009. ISBN 978-0-7636-4410-9
(Gr. 4-6) Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. In a fictional Old World city, Peter searches for his sister, instructed by a fortuneteller to “follow the elephant.” The book’s theme is the triumph of hope over despair, as Peter’s idea that the “world is broken” gives way to a belief in possibility. DiCamillo’s prose is remarkable in this allegorical and surreal novel.

fleischman the white elephant World Elephant Day 2014Fleischman, Sid The White Elephant
95 pp. Greenwillow 2006. ISBN 0-06-113136-9 LE ISBN 0-06-113137-7
(Gr. 1-3) When Run-Run’s elephant accidentally sprays water on a cranky prince, he and Run-Run get a gift they neither want nor can handle: Sahib, a sacred white elephant. Fleischman’s original tale tells a touching story of the enduring power of love. Short chapters, evocative pencil sketches, and a rich Siamese setting will hold the interest of readers and listeners alike.

kelly chained World Elephant Day 2014Kelly, Lynne Chained
248 pp. Farrar/Ferguson 2012. ISBN 978-0-374-31237-4
(Gr. 4-6) Ten-year-old Hastin must endure the cruelty of his employer, a circus owner. Kelly crafts a layered, convincing tale of interspecies friendship as Hastin comes to understand his charge, Nandita, an elephant calf. A kind older man proves an ally in Hastin’s quest to protect Nandita, but it is the bond between boy and elephant that will stick in readers’ minds.

Nonfiction

lewin balarama World Elephant Day 2014Lewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Balarama: A Royal Elephant
56 pp. Lee 2009. ISBN 978-1-60060-265-8
(Gr. K-3) In Mysore in southern India, elephants are featured in the annual Dasara festival procession. The Lewins describe Balarama’s triumphant first appearance as procession leader. Pageantry and noble beasts alike are vividly realized in Ted Lewin’s signature watercolors, while Betsy Lewin’s agile drawings add deft characterizations, lively action, and humor. It’s a gorgeous glimpse at a continuing custom. “Elephant Facts” are appended. Glos.

lewin Elephant Quest World Elephant Day 2014Lewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Elephant Quest
48 pp. HarperCollins 2000. ISBN 0-688-14111-0 LE ISBN 0-688-14112-9
(Gr. K-3) In search of African elephants in Botswana, the Lewins provide careful observations of animals in their habitats that lend insight into animal behaviors and survival tactics. Throughout, a cheerful tone combines with reverence for the beauty and variety of nature. Betsy Lewin’s humorous, emotive sketches and Ted Lewin’s full-page paintings illustrate their encounters.

oconnell a baby elephant in the wild World Elephant Day 2014O’Connell, Caitlin A Baby Elephant in the Wild
40 pp. Houghton 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-14944-1
(Gr. K-3) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. In text and numerous color photographs we follow a newborn female elephant through her first months in the Namibian scrub desert as she learns the behaviors that will enable her to survive. The account is straightforward and unsentimental yet filled with detailed and fascinating scientific information, including the lifelong ties among elephants that will resonate with readers’ own experience of family.

OConnell Elephant 300x246 World Elephant Day 2014O’Connell, Caitlin and Jackson, Donna M. The Elephant Scientist
71 pp. Houghton 2011. ISBN 978-0-547-05344-8
(Gr. 4-6) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. Scientists in the Field series. Scientist O’Connell’s contributions to our understanding of elephant communication propel this account. O’Connell and Jackson describe the findings in a way that lets readers witness the unfolding of a research program, as hypotheses lead to new insights that beget even more questions. The many photographs, predominantly from Namibian field sites, capture the majestic elder elephants, their always-appealing offspring, and dusty, rugged landscapes. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind. 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book winner.

schubert ballet World Elephant Day 2014Schubert, Leda Ballet of the Elephants
32 pp. Roaring Brook/Brodie 2006. ISBN 1-59643-075-3
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Big, lumbering elephants performing a ballet? This event did happen–with fifty elephants (and fifty human ballerinas). Four individuals (John Ringling North, George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, and Vera Zorina) are artfully introduced through background material that connects each person to the whole. Parker’s loosely scrawled ink outlines contribute to the magical tone. A personal yet informative author’s note is appended. Further reading, websites.

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14. Just a girl from where nothing really happens

isobel journal Just a girl from where nothing really happensHipster teens rejoice! Here is your new poster child (though she would probably reject the title — which is, of course, the hipster thing to do).

With The Isobel Journal: Just a Girl from Where Nothing Really Happens (Switch Press, August 2014; first published in her native UK by Hot Key Press, 2013), nineteen-year-old art student Isobel Harrop shares her journal of quirky drawings accompanied by obvious, but often hilarious, observations about life. (Sometimes she likes to play “Pretend I am Beyoncé.” Don’t we all?) Imagine Amelia of Amelia’s Notebook growing up and going to the Rhode Island School of Design. If you love the grungy and odd, vintage clothes, championing music no one else has heard of, rhapsodizing about tea, and ironically listening to ’90s girl bands, meet your new best friend!

A few of my favorite entries:

isobel tea Just a girl from where nothing really happens

I can empathize — I, too, fear of being “one of those people.”

isobel smile Just a girl from where nothing really happens

isobel bathroom floor Just a girl from where nothing really happens

Here’s a link to a soundtrack compiled by Isobel to listen to while perusing the book.

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15. There’s bold but then there’s brazen.

BurnedBoldAndBrazen72lg Theres bold but then theres <i />brazen</p>.So much trouble in this world could be avoided if we all simply shutted up when we did not know whereof we spoke but here I go. I have never read Alfred Ollivant’s Bob, Son of Battle, but Lydia Davis’s explanation of the changes she made for a new New York Review of Books edition makes me eager to read the original if only to defend its honour honor.

In her afterword, Davis writes that “I did not want Ollivant’s powerful story to be forgotten simply because it was difficult to read.” (She said ominously.) Davis goes on to explain that she translated the Cumbrian dialect used heavily in the 1898 original and then thought oh, the hell with it, let’s fix this sucker:

“I decided that I would not only change the speech of the characters but also change the way the story was told, just enough so that almost everything could be understood without any problem, and there would be nothing to get in the way of the story.”

Trifles! I’m reminded of a letter Elizabeth once shared with me from a somewhat overconfident applicant for an editorial position who included with her letter Xeroxed pages of Steig and Lobel marked with her recommended word substitutions.

Here, for example, is the first sentence/paragraph of Ollivant’s (from the Gutenberg edition):

“The sun stared brazenly down on a gray farmhouse lying, long and low in the shadow of the Muir Pike; on the ruins of peel-tower and barmkyn, relics of the time of raids, it looked; on ranges of whitewashed outbuildings; on a goodly array of dark-thatched ricks.”

Here is Davis’s:

“The sun stared boldly down on a gray farmhouse lying long and low in the in the shadow of the sharp summit of Muir Pike; it shone on the ruins of a fortified tower and a rampart, left from the time of the Scottish raids; on rows of white-washed outbuildings; on a crowd of dark-thatched haystacks.”

Why bold for brazen, I wonder, but even more I wonder why Davis, clearly on a labor of love, doesn’t trust  today’s children to read past the same difficulties she had with the book in her own childhood: “The odd thing is that because the story is so powerful, you can read right over these hard words and puzzling expressions and not mind, because you are so eager to know what happens next. That is what I did when I first read it.” Readers do this all the time. Feeling that a book knows something that you don’t is one of the prime pleasures of reading.

Neither Ollivant’s original nor Davis’s adaptation are about to start a new craze for old Bob (I do admire NYRB’s optimistic publishing program), but I suspect that if I were the kind of kid who was going to read it, I would also be the kind of kid who would want to read the original, which is just what Davis has inspired me to do.

 

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16. Five questions for Judith Viorst

judith viorst by milton viorst Five questions for Judith Viorst

Photo: Milton Viorst

Judith Viorst, creator of Alexander (he of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), writes about another little boy who might just wish he could curl back up in bed. The young protagonist of And Two Boys Booed (Farrar/Ferguson, 4–7 years) is excited to perform in the school talent show… until it’s almost his turn. With equal parts realism, reassurance, gentle humor, and inventive wordplay, Viorst sets up a familiar stage-fright scenario and gives her main character an ingenious way to get himself out of it.

1. What was your inspiration for this multilayered book?

JV: My inspiration was my granddaughter Olivia, daughter of Alexander, who came over to my house one afternoon after a talent show at her summer day camp. When I asked how her portion of the talent show had gone, she replied, “Two boys booed.” To my shame I didn’t immediately offer her a hug and sympathy. Instead, my first response was, “Great book title!” I then had to figure out a story to go with the title.

2. Who thought of those terrific flaps?

viorst and two boys booed Five questions for Judith ViorstJV: I believe it was Sophie Blackall, the amazing illustrator of the book, who came up with the brilliant idea of doing flaps. But her brilliance is evident in all kinds of other ways as well: in the richly detailed double-page spread of our narrator’s many, many varied activities during the course of which he practiced singing his song; in the delicious specificity of every child in the story; and in the depiction of our narrator shrinking deeper and deeper into his shirt as his stage fright mounts.

3. Those two boys: were they jealous? Mean-spirited? Or just acting like boys?

JV: The two boys were being rather unkind, booing a kid because he was too scared to do what he was supposed to do, and then continuing to boo even after he did it. I wish they had been more sympathetic, and I hope their teacher had a little talk with them after the talent show.

4. Would your Alexander be onstage with the narrator? Or in the peanut gallery with the boys? (Maybe it would depend on the day!)

JV: Alexander could be fierce, frustrated, grumpy, but I don’t think he’d be either scared to perform or unkind to those who were.

5. Do you get stage fright?

JV: I had terrible stage fright all the way through college. I remember being told I had to stand in front of one of my history classes and read a paper I had written and offering to write a second paper if I could just please hand them both in and not read them aloud. I now give talks to large audiences without the slightest flicker of stage fright, but don’t ask me how that happened.

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

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17. For not-rotten readers

Following your dreams and dealing with family: these topics get hilarious treatment for primary readers in the following early chapter books. An added bonus? Some familiar faces from popular series.

gantos rotten ralphs rotten family For not rotten readersIn Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel’s Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family, the titular kitty finds a family photo album and, nostalgic for his childhood, decides to visit his kin. His mother treats him well, but other relatives humiliate him — and poor Ralph realizes that he’s so rotten because his family was rotten to him! After a few Rotten Ralph picture books, the return to the longer early-chapter-book format leaves room for a more sophisticated story line to emerge. Never fear; Ralph’s rotten behavior, sure to bring a chuckle to fans old and new, is still front and center in Gantos’s freewheeling text and Rubel’s energetic illustrations. (Farrar, 5–8 years)

dicamillo leroy niker saddles up For not rotten readersIn Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Leroy (the “reformed thief” from Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen’s Mercy Watson books) makes ends meet serving popcorn at the drive-in, but dreams of being a cowboy. Sporting a cowboy hat, lasso, and boots, he watches raptly the Wednesday night Western double-feature but makes little progress otherwise. When he receives the advice that “Every cowboy needs a horse,” Leroy purchases “very exceptionally cheap” Maybelline and throws himself into horse-ownership — but acquiring a horse and keeping one turn out to be two different challenges. This entertaining tale balances comically exaggerated details and true heart. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

milway pigsticks and harold For not rotten readersPigsticks Pig — star of Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey — comes from a long line of august ancestors. But a young pig has to make his own mark, and Pigsticks decides on an expedition to the Ends of the Earth. He engages anxious, cake-loving hamster Harold as an assistant, and, in three generously illustrated chapters, we follow the explorers as they survive swamps, deserts, rickety rope bridges, malevolent mountain goats, and more. Alex Milway’s tongue-in-cheek text and slapdash-goofy pictures provide much humor. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

schanen quinny and hopper For not rotten readersThe eponymous brand-new next-door-neighbor kids in Quinny & Hopper couldn’t be more different: quiet, analytical loner Hopper is initially baffled (and a little appalled) by Quinny’s cutesiness and high volume. But in battling Hopper’s bullying brothers on his behalf, Quinny wins him over, and the two become friends — until snooty new girl Victoria barges her way between them. Debut author Adriana Brad Schanen nicely balances the alternating perspectives of Quinny and Hopper and paints a comically exaggerated but essentially truthful picture of life with siblings. Illustrator Greg Swearingen deftly captures each child’s emotions. (Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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18. Review of A Creature of Moonlight

hahn creature of moonlight Review of A Creature of MoonlightA Creature of Moonlight
by Rebecca Hahn
Middle School, High School    Houghton    314 pp.
5/14    978-0-544-10935-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-544-11009-0    $17.99

Marni is the daughter of a princess and the powerful dragon who presides over the kingdom’s magicked woods. When she was a baby, her grandfather surrendered his throne to his son to save her life. Marni has grown up in relative obscurity with Gramps in a hut on the kingdom’s outskirts. Now she is almost seventeen, and the woods are encroaching on the kingdom — her dragon father’s attempt to call her to him. After tragedy strikes, Marni (the king’s only heir) leaves home to make a life for herself at court — and to seek vengeance on her uncle for her mother’s murder. But the king’s increased fear and hatred eventually drives Marni to seek out her father. While in the woods, she finally chooses who she will be and where home truly lies. Full of court intrigue, family secrets, marriage proposals (several by a beguiling and bewildering lord), fantastical creatures, legends, and magic, Hahn’s debut novel is first and foremost a journey of self-discovery. Marni, like Katsa in Graceling (rev. 11/08) and the eponymous Seraphina (rev. 7/12), is a strong, plainspoken protagonist who learns to embrace her uniqueness and power with newfound confidence and fierce independence. Hahn’s poetic style gives the narrative depth and beauty with vividly rendered settings and sophisticatedly complex characters. It’s an eloquent story about free will, the meaning of home, and love’s varied forms.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. Who’s doing the thinking?

Over the summer, I’ve been doing some literacy work with an educational consulting group here in Boston — we’re taking some of their existing professional development (PD) and classroom tools and modifying them to better address the Common Core. Last week, I went with some other members of the team to a PD session for high school teachers titled “Who’s Doing the Thinking?” In light of the Common Core, this workshop was designed to help teachers accurately assess the thinking demands in their classroom, and to make informed decisions around when we should guide students in diving into complex texts, and when we should let them do it on their own.

As part of this workshop, we watched a video of a high-performing 9th grade ELA classroom. The students were seated in a modified semi-circle having a whole-class discussion around themes in the latest chapter of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — a literary nonfiction text they were reading together. As the teacher facilitated the discussion, she skillfully asked probing questions like “What makes you say that?” “Where in the text can you find evidence to support that?” “Why do you think that?”  Her questions enabled students to really ground their thinking in textual evidence — a key piece of Common Core reading.

However, I couldn’t help but notice another teacher move that happened often. After each student finished giving evidence and making a statement, the teacher almost always offered a “summary plus.” That is, she concisely restated the student’s point and added some of her own thinking to the student’s comment. I likely noticed this because I do it all the time: taking a student comment and adding more detail. Now, I think this is sometimes wholly appropriate, but after watching about ten minutes of this video and reflecting on my own practice, I wondered, Shouldn’t we be trying to get students to do these “summary pluses”? In a perfect world, wouldn’t we be nearly absent from the conversation?

The video clip I watched happened towards the beginning of a unit, and I have no doubt that the discussion was more “teacher heavy” than later discussions would be. But the video still got me thinking. In addition to simply probing students to give evidence, what can we as teachers say and do to encourage students to give those mini-summaries? One thing I’ve decided I’d like to try in my classroom this fall is to be very explicit about my “summary pluses.” During early discussions of text, I will tell my students exactly what I’m doing when I rephrase and add my own thinking, and then I’ll slowly try to release the responsibility to them.

Giving up control of the thinking in a classroom is so much harder than it looks, but as I delve into the Common Core this summer, I’m realizing more and more how necessary it is. I’m excited to really practice what I preach this fall, and I’m looking forward to hearing from other educators on how you navigate the thinking balance in your classrooms!

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20. Books mentioned in the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

Five questions for Judith Viorst
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Ray Cruz, Atheneum, 4–7 years.
And Two Boys Booed written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Sophie Blackall, Farrarr/Ferguson, 4–7 years.

Back-to-school basics
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea, Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years.
Dinosaur vs. School by Bob Shea, Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, Little, Brown, 3–5 years.
My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown, Little, Brown, 3–5 years.
Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t) written by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley, Knopf, 4–7 years.
Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome) written by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley, Knopf, 4–7 years.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 6–8 years.

Not-rotten readers
Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family written by Jack Gantos, illus. by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, 5–8 years.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up written by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
Quinny & Hopper written by Adriana Brad Schanen, illus. by Greg Swearingen, Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years.

Beyond biographies
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Penguin/Paulsen, 11–14 years.
Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully, Clarion, 11–14 years.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming, Random/Schwartz & Wade, 13–16 years.
Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson, Dial, 13–16 years.

Go your own way
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith, Simon, 15–17 years.
Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey, Carolrhoda Lab, 15–17 years.
Schizo by Nic Scheff, Philomel, 13–15 years.
Skink — No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen, Knopf, 13–15 years.

These titles were featured in the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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21. Beyond biography

With storytelling ease and pitch-perfect pacing, the following works of narrative nonfiction for older readers bring their subjects to brilliant life, elevating the sometimes-staid genre of biography to literary art form.

woodson brown girl dreaming Beyond biographyJacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming is so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. Born in Ohio in 1963, Jackie moved with her family to Greenville, South Carolina, to live with her maternal grandparents. We see young Jackie grow up in historical context alongside the contexts of extended family, community (Greenville, later Brooklyn), and religion — and we trace her development as a nascent writer to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry sings in this extraordinary portrait of a writer as a young girl. (Penguin/Paulsen, 10–14 years)

mccully ida m tarbell Beyond biographyEmily Arnold McCully creates a multilayered biography of a crusading early-twentieth-century journalist in Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! Readers meet young Ida growing up in Pennsylvania oil country. A curious child, Tarbell’s lessons learned from scientific inquiry led to her dogged determination to get to the bottom of an issue. McCully engagingly re-creates the era’s social context for women (famously, Tarbell didn’t believe in women’s suffrage) as well as the culture and importance of print media, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about Tarbell’s positions and her times. (Clarion, 10–14 years)

fleming romanov Beyond biographyCandace Fleming’s riveting book The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia appeals to the imagination as much as the intellect. Her focus is not just the Romanovs (the last imperial family of Russia), but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well, showing how each group was the product of its circumstances and how they all moved inexorably toward the tragic yet fascinating conclusion. An epic, sweeping historical narrative. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 12–18 years)

paterson stories of my life Beyond biographyDemonstrating warmth, ease, and a sense of humor about herself, Katherine Paterson relates tales from her life, and from her parents’ and grandparents’, too, in Stories of My Life. The author gently ambles from story to story, looping through her youthful experiences in China and Japan, her marriage and children, and her writing. Throughout all there is a strong connection to Paterson’s childhood: “By the time I was five I had been through war and evacuation, but nothing had prepared me for the American public school system.” (Dial, 12 years and up)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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22. Go your own way

Teen boys go on journeys both physical (road trip!) and psychological in these affecting YA novels.

smith 100 sideways miles Go your own wayFinn Easton, protagonist of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles, has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar. (Simon, 14 years and up)

willey beetle boy Go your own wayAs Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel Beetle Boy, author Margaret Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks. (Carolrhoda Lab, 14 years and up)

sheff schizo Go your own wayTwo years ago a family outing to the beach ended in trauma when fourteen-year-old Miles experienced a psychotic break. While recovering in the psych ward, Miles received a life-changing diagnosis of schizophrenia along with some devastating news: during the commotion of his episode, Miles’s little brother went missing and is presumed drowned. Miles begins a risky investigation into his brother’s disappearance shortly after ditching his cocktail of medications. Some readers will guess the twist ending of Nic Sheff’s Schizo, but will nevertheless hope for Miles to find peace with his life and with his illness. (Philomel, 12 years and up)

hiaasen skink no surrender Go your own wayAs Carl Hiaasen’s farcical Skink — No Surrender opens, teen narrator Richard’s cousin, Malley, runs away from home, and Richard is certain that she’s with a chat-room acquaintance almost twice her age. He tells Clint Tyree, a.k.a. Skink (the unkempt and unwavering former Florida governor who stars in several of Hiaasen’s adult novels), and the pair immediately takes off on an event-filled road trip to rescue Malley. Hiaasen smoothly integrates Skink’s vulnerabilities with his larger-than-life behaviors — including eating roadkill and wrestling an alligator — and Richard’s naiveté plays nicely against Skink’s extremism. (Knopf, 12–15 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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23. From the Editor – August 2014

sutton roger 170x304 From the Editor   August 2014I hope you can join Horn Book Executive Editor Martha V. Parravano and me at Fostering Lifelong Learners, a one-day conference the Horn Book, along with School Library Journal and the Cuyahoga County Public Library, is sponsoring on September 19th at the Parma-Snow branch of the CCPL in Parma, Ohio. Martha and I will be discussing great new books for preschoolers; other speakers include Dr. Robert Needlman of Reach Out and Read, and Kevin Henkes, hero of preschoolers everywhere. The conference is free but preregistration is required.

And do not forget the annual Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, held this year on October 11th at Simmons College. “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers” is the theme, and featured speakers include our three Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners as well as a keynote address by librarian and author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, winner of the 2012 BGHB Award and the SLJ Battle of the Books Award for No Crystal Stair. More information about HBAS can be found at www.hbook.com/bghb-hbas/.

roger signature From the Editor   August 2014

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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24. Back-to-school basics

Kids going back to school — or just starting out there? Here are a variety of picture books, from imaginative and funny to historical and serious, to help ease the transition from the lazy days of summer.

shea dinosaur vs school Back to school basics“Roar! Roar! Roar!” The diminutive red dinosaur from Bob Shea’s Dinosaur vs. Bedtime faces its newest foe in Dinosaur vs. School. The new kindergartner romps and stomps its way through the day, making new friends, playing dress-up, and creating “monkey snacks.” In each case, “Dinosaur wins!” The fun comes to a halt at clean-up time: “OH, NO! It’s too much for one dinosaur!” But there’s a valuable little-kid lesson to be learned: “When everyone helps… EVERYONE WINS!” The mixed-media illustrations contain lots of color and motion, with real-life objects incorporated humorously into the digital collage. (Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years)

brown my teacher is a monster Back to school basicsFrom the author-illustrator of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild comes another funny and perceptive picture book, My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.). To young Bobby, his rule-enforcing teacher Ms. Kirby looks like a monster, with green skin and sharp claws and teeth. But when the two meet unexpectedly outside of school one day, he begins to see her as more human, and gradually Ms. Kirby begins to look decreasingly monstrous. In watercolor, gouache, and India ink illustrations on thick paper, Peter Brown employs a cartoon-type format (with panels and speech bubbles) to tell a story that students and teachers will enjoy equally. (Little, Brown, 3–5 years)

bottner miss brooks story nook Back to school basicsSince we last saw her in Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t), narrator Missy has developed a newfound appreciation for books. Now, in Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome), she eagerly anticipates being read to each morning, though a neighborhood bully makes it hard to get to school on time. Then the power goes off, and the class must tell stories rather than read them. Missy makes up a story about an ogre, which helps her solve her bully problem. Michael Emberley’s pleasingly detailed pencil-and-wash illustrations give the characters distinctive personalities. (Knopf, 4–7 years)

tonatiuh separate is never equal Back to school basicsSeparate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to tell the remarkable story of how, seven years before the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, a Mexican American child and her family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Illustrations reminiscent of the Mixtec codex, but collaged with paper, wood, cloth, and brick, accompany the straightforward narrative. This story deserves to be more widely known, and now, thanks to this book, it will be. (Abrams, 6–9 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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25. Review of The Twins’ Little Sister

yum twins little sister Review of The Twins Little SisterThe Twins’ Little Sister
by Hyewon Yum; illus. by the author
Preschool    Foster/Farrar    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-374-37973-5    $17.99

Those strong-willed sisters from The Twins’ Blanket (rev. 9/11) are back, having successfully transitioned from one shared bed and blanket to two beds and two blankets (one yellow and one pink, reflecting each twin’s decided color preference). Ever competitive, however, they are now fighting over Mom’s attention: “When we take a nap in the big grown-up bed, I want Mom to look at me.” “No, look at me. She’s my Mom!” It’s a problem. And the situation just gets worse when, despite their objections, Mom brings home a new baby sister: “Now Mom’s grown-up bed doesn’t have room for either of us.” Yum is one of our least sentimental picture book creators: her twins are believably childlike in their directness (“The baby is red and ugly”; “She looks like the bread in a paper bag”) and their unshakable belief that the world revolves around them (“Mom has only two arms. Who’s going to hold the baby’s hand?”). Each step forward in accepting the baby has its source in a self-interested motive, but accept her they finally do — and the twist at the end is both funny and fitting. As in The Twins’ Blanket, the picture book format is used inventively, with the yellow-loving twin mostly on left-hand pages and the pink one on the right. The collage elements (Mom’s patterned dress, for instance, and baby’s pink-and-yellow blankie) add texture and interest to the gouache illustrations. This is a fresh take on both the sibling-rivalry and new-baby themes; the unremarked-upon absence of another parent makes this a refreshingly nonpointed single-parent story as well.

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