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1. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials movie review

scorch trials posterMaze Runner sequel The Scorch Trials (Twentieth Century Fox, September 2015) reminded me of two very important Siân facts:

  1. I should never, ever drink anything before or during a movie.
  2. I am no hero.

If you’re looking to take a road trip in which you do not stop every 45 minutes for pee breaks, you probably don’t want to be traveling with me. Additionally, if you’re looking for someone to run toward the gun fight, carry you to safety as you slowly change into a zombie, or single-handedly storm a government-controlled facility of horror to save you, you definitely don’t want to be traveling with me.

A plane flew low over my apartment recently and my only panicked thought was, “THE END IS NIGH!”

No one can accuse me of excess courage.

Now that we’ve discussed my cowardice, let’s move on to how scared I was during the movie.

The Scorch Trials is thrilling. I have no idea how similar it is to the book (I’m guessing from the Wikipedia entry that the answer is “not at all”), but the movie was downright gripping. The Gladers, thinking they have been saved from the supposedly-good-but-actually-evil hold of WCKD, find themselves prisoners once again. Led by handsome, heroic, and utterly heedless Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), several boys and one girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), escape from the facility and go storming into The Scorch (which appears to be the once-lush, now-barren-desert San Francisco) with little aim beyond “escape.”

What followed was 132 minutes of me hiding behind my knees, desperately thinking, “nonononononono this suspense has to let up sometime, right? RIGHT?”

The band of teens race through wind-blown desert, vacant and neglected cities, and into the mountains hunted by the WCKD doctors Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and Janson (Aiden Gillen); attacked by horrifying zombie-like people infected with…something (the flare?); and harassed by healthy people who are just plain mean (like Alan Tudyk’s character, Blondie, who really should have had a cooler name than that).

James Dashner’s post-apocalyptic world is brought to terrifying life with some incredibly expansive and remarkably detailed settings whose stark monoliths are paralleled in a number of shots of the teens, standing backlit, brave, and alone. The special effects help highlight the sheer terror present in this world — awful thunderstorms, disgusting zombies — without pushing realism (too far) or diverting from the plot.

Clarkson and Gillen’s stoic adults are perfect bad guys: frighteningly calm and emotionally removed but motivated by red-hot moral righteousness. The boys are exactly the type of teen heroes we want to root for: O’Brien’s Thomas is all determined morality; Ki Hong Lee’s Minho is smart, sassy, and totally badass; Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Newt is just the right mix of skeptical observer and dedicated friend; and Dexter Darden’s Frypan brings gentle humor and kindness to the daring crew.The only character who doesn’t add anything to the ensemble is, unfortunately, Teresa, the only female in the group. Through no fault of her own, Scodelario’s character speaks little and does even less, seemingly a character whose sole purpose is bringing about the emotional growth of the male protagonist. I will also add that, ideologically, I am angry with the character of Brenda (Rosa Salazar), who seems to exist only to tempt the sainthood of Thomas and thus suffer karmic repercussions because can we PLEASE stop using female characters as tools for male character growth? But that would be a digression. And we all know the internet is not the place for digression or outrage.

Overall, The Scorch Trials made me, as a viewer and consumer, very happy. It was exciting, visually stimulating, and fast-paced; the actors were engaging and likable (or perfectly detestable, which is also great fun); and the cliffhanger was intense but not brutal.

Bring on the third one, folks! I’ll bring my blankie for more effective hiding.

The post Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.

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2. Siân Has the Best Weekend Ever!

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

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

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

Was it the informative and funny editor panel?

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


What was it?

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


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

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3. Toca Nature app review

toca nature title screenSiân ♥s Toca Band. While Toca Nature (Toca Boca, 2014) is more contemplative — no sunglasses-sporting emcee hollering “We rockin’ it!” here — it provides a similarly satisfying experience of experimental play.

As the app opens, you are presented with a square chunk of landscape, floating in pleasantly dreamy, starry space. A few trees and some shallow dips and low hills dot the landscape, but it’s your job to make this somewhat sterile bit of land into a thriving ecosystem. Create mountain ranges and bodies of water, and select from five kinds of trees to plant forests. Once these habitats are large enough, animals move in. One specific species is associated with each landmass or forest type: wolves in the mountains, beavers in the lakes, deer in the oak forests, etc. Mix and match, overlapping habitats, for a world that’s all your own.

toca nature start

toca nature lake

Tap the magnifying glass to zoom in and watch the animals up-close as they go about their days and nights, eating, sleeping (adorably, they snore), and interacting with their environment.

toca nature bear

As in the real world, different animals are active at different times. Gather food, such as berries and acorns, as you make your way around your mini-world and offer it to the critters; thought balloons with images of their preferred snack inside provide guidance. You can even take “photos” of the wildlife and save them to your iPad’s camera roll.

Modify your environment at any time by adding more mountains/lakes/trees, or by cutting down trees (although this may cause animals to vacate). Rotate your landscape for a different perspective by tapping a globe icon in the lower right corner. Unfortunately, there’s no way to save your current creation once you exit the session.

The cute animals and their habitats are rendered in geometric, origami-like shapes and in a palette primarily consisting of warm pastels. During daytime, tinkly instrumental music plays; nighttime features a quiet soundscape of crickets and the occasional bird sound.

I found exploring Toca Nature to be meditative, somewhat like having a mini Zen garden. But for its intended audience of preschool and primary users, I imagine it’s very exciting to build a world and then watch it in action — especially given that each new environment will have its own unique mix of inhabitants and nuances. A parents’ section offers some usage hints and suggestions for discussion.

Available for iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 5.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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4. Camp Sendak

Scotch Hill Farm. Map by Doug Salati.

Scotch Hill Farm. Map by Doug Salati.

When I was fourteen years old, I went away to Camp Tamarack near Hinckley, Minnesota. It was a beautiful place, set along the wooded banks of the St. Croix River. I loved it there.

Flash forward to this past July. I’m a man of fifty and I find myself on Scotch Hill Farm near Cambridge, New York, along with Richard Egielski, Marc McChesney, and Doug Salati, as part of the Sendak Fellowship. “What was it like?” you ask. Well, like Camp Tamarack.

Now, before my editors, my agent, and my wife throw a fit…let me explain. I didn’t spend the entire Fellowship month sack-racing, singing campfire songs, and weaving God’s Eyes. I was there as a serious artist. I stood outside for hours on end painting the verdant countryside in the tradition of Monet and Cézanne (though unfortunately without their results). I discussed books and art with illustrious guests (writer Gregory Maguire and author/illustrators Tomie dePaola and Barbara McClintock) over locally sourced gourmet dinners. And I researched the work of the Old Master himself, combing through piles of Sendak’s drafts and sketches.

About halfway into the fellowship, however, I started taking “studio breaks”: swimming in Battenkill Creek, hiking the hills of Merck Forest, picking blueberries at a nearby farm stand. It felt great to walk around in my bare feet, eat a sandwich with dirty hands, and just stare at puffy clouds in the sky. I felt like I was back at Camp Tamarack. And, yes, I did sing campfire songs. Camp counselors Lynn Caponera [President, Maurice Sendak Foundation] and Dona Ann MacAdams [Director, Sendak Fellowship] led the fellows in a sixties singalong one night after a cookout. (Who knew Egielski could play a mean mandolin?)

But it was the nights on Scotch Hill Farm that felt the most like camp. Around 11 p.m., I’d walk an old dirt road, heading home from the studios. The road was straight out of Maurice’s book Outside Over There — narrow and rutted with a row of old trees on either side of it. The first night of the Fellowship, the moon was barely a sliver in the sky and the road was pitch black. Doug Salati and I whipped out our iPhones and fumbled for the flashlight setting as we timidly ambled down the path. “What’s that?” Doug shrieked as he grabbed my arm. Ha! It was only a reflective road marker. We laughed the rest of the way home. As the month progressed, the moon got brighter and brighter (it was phasing into full-mode). By week 2, we didn’t need our phones. The walk had become a comforting nighttime ritual.

So, you see, folks, I did perform my fellowship duties admirably. But I also got the chance to roam free though the woods like a Wild Thing, like I did back at Camp Tamarack. And that’s something every picture book artist needs to do every once in a blue moon.

Slideshow photo captions:

1. L-R: Doug Salati, Richard Egielski, Dona Ann McAdams, Marc McChesney, Lynn Caponera, and Stephen Savage.
2. L-R: Lynn shows Maurice’s work to Doug, Richard, and Gregory Maguire.
3. L-R: Doug Salati, Lynn Caponera, Tomie dePaola, Richard Egielski, Dona Ann McAdams, Marc McChesney.
4. Barbara McClintock catches a rainbow.
5. Gregory Maguire holds court at the head of the table.
6. Men in hats. L-R: Marc, Doug, Richard, Stephen.
7. Richard Egielski takes a ride.
8. Things got a little wild.
9. Quieter times.
10. A group effort created “over burgers and beer” and using “the crayons they usually give to kids to keep them quiet until the food comes.”
11. Farm life.
12. Scotch Hill Farm. Map by Doug Salati.

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5. Countdown to BGHB festivities!

2015 BGHB announcement

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

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

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

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

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6. 2015 BGHB Fiction Day

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

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

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

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

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

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7. “What do you think of my labyrinth?” part 2

I don’t know anything about this book, but it came across my desk the other day and I had to point it out.


moulton_keepers of the labyrinth

You, dear cover, are not a labyrinth. You are a puzzle. Or a maze. You look neat. Really neat. But you’re still not a labyrinth.

The title page, however, has totally got this labyrinth thing down:

moulton_keepers of the labyrinth title page

The messages are a bit mixed, but that’s okay with me. Because The Universe is obviously trying to make contact with me via labyrinths.

It’s probably telling me to slow down, meditate, enjoy the world.

Or to eat more greens.

Who knows?


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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. Blowing the shofar, again, for fine books for boys and girls

List updated 9/15. Or should I say 5776?

To celebrate Rosh Hashanah, here are some recent picture books. Lesléa Newman’s beautiful Here Is the World, illustrated by Susan Gall, is a lyrical, kid-friendly survey of Jewish holidays throughout the seasons.The sweet and rollicking Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, begins (and ends, the following year) on Rosh Hashanah. You’ll never look at holiday sweaters the same way again.

newman_here is the world mcginty_rabbibenjamin
isayshehechiyanuRocklin, Joanne I Say Shehechiyanu
24 pp. Kar-Ben 2015. LE ISBN 978-1-4677-3467-7 PE ISBN 978-1-4677-3469-1 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-6203-8

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Monika Filipina. A little girl says Shehechiyanu (a Jewish “blessing for beginnings”) over the course of a year, including when she gets new shoes for Rosh Hashanah; lights the Hanukkah candles; asks the Four Questions at Passover; and welcomes a friend home from summer vacation. The gentle text and warm-toned illustrations convey the importance of appreciating life’s special moments and milestones.

More recommendations from past years, courtesy of The Horn Book Guide:

cohen_engineerariCohen, Deborah Bodin Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
32 pp. Kar-Ben 2008. ISBN 978-0-8225-8648-7

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Shahar Kober. In 1892, Ari is chosen to drive the first train from Jaffa to Jersusalem at Rosh Hashanah. In his excitement and pride, he ignores two friends, which he later regrets. Ari returns to Jaffa as soon as possible to do teshuvah, the annual New Year’s effort to do better. Cheerful illustrations accompany the pleasant but didactic text. With an author’s note. Glos.

greene_secretshofarGreene, Jacqueline Dembar The Secret Shofar of Barcelona
32 pp. Kar-Ben 2009. ISBN 978-0-8225-9915-9
PE ISBN 978-0-8225-9944-9

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Doug Chayka. Rafael and his orchestra conductor father live as conversos (Jews who practice their faith in secret) in sixteenth-century Barcelona. The text describes how Rafael manages to blow the shofar for Rosh Hashanah right under the city leaders’ noses. The story is intriguing, but the telling is a little stiff. Well-composed gold-hued paintings illustrate the tale. An author’s note gives more information.

heiligman_celebrate_rosh_largeHeiligman, Deborah Celebrate Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur
32 pp. National 2007. ISBN 978-1-4263-0076-9
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-0077-6

Gr. K-3 Holidays around the World series. Heiligman’s writing evokes respect for religious traditions while making them accessible to children. Her use of the inclusive “we” will encourage readers to embrace their own traditions or imagine themselves in less familiar ones. Festive photographs from around the world reinforce the unifying effect of the holidays. Additional facts, a recipe, a map, and a one-page essay about the holidays are appended. Reading list, websites. Glos.

jules_whatawayJules, Jacqueline What a Way to Start a New Year!: A Rosh Hashanah Story
24 pp. Kar-Ben 2013. ISBN 978-0-7613-8116-7
PE ISBN 978-0-7613-8117-4

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Judy Stead. A series of accidents prevents Dina and her family, who’ve just moved, from celebrating Rosh Hashanah with their former neighbors. Luckily, a new family invites them to dinner after services, making them feel welcome. The be-nice-to-your-neighbor message, reinforced by friendly illustrations, isn’t subtle; kids may enjoy reciting the book’s exasperated refrain (also the title). An explanation of the holiday is included.

perez_evenHigherKimmel, Eric A. Even Higher!: A Rosh Hashanah Story by I. L. Peretz
32 pp. Holiday 2009. ISBN 978-0-8234-2020-9

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Jill Weber. Where does the rabbi disappear to during the days before Rosh Hashanah? His congregants think he visits heaven to intercede for them with God. When a skeptic comes to town, he follows the rabbi and learns of his true (earthly) good deeds. Kimmel’s lively adaptation of the I. L. Peretz tale is well matched by Weber’s spirited, child-friendly mixed-media illustrations.

kropf.itsshofarKropf, Latifa Berry It’s Shofar Time!
24 pp. Kar-Ben 2006. LE ISBN 1-58013-158-1

PS Photographs by Tod Cohen. Clear color photos of preschoolers celebrating Rosh Hashanah are accompanied by simple, large-type descriptions of holiday essentials and related New Year fun. One caveat–any preschooler would find it almost impossible to blow the very long shofar pictured. This book is one of a series of photo-essays about Jewish holidays.

taliaandMarshall, Linda Elovtiz Talia and the Rude Vegetables
24 pp. Kar-Ben 2011. ISBN 978-0-7613-5217-4
PE ISBN 978-0-7613-5218-1

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli. Talia is confounded by her grandmother’s request for some “rude vegetables” (carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc.) for the Rosh Hashanah stew. While digging up an “ornery onion” and “garish garlic,” she thinks about her own behavior; all ends with holiday sweetness. The joke goes on a little long, but the end is rewarding. Autumnal colors and rounded shapes evoke comfortable family scenes.

olafansky_What-s-the-BuzzOfanansky, Allison What’s the Buzz?: Honey for a Sweet New Year
32 pp. Kar-Ben 2011. LE ISBN 978-0-7613-5640-0

Gr. K-3 Photographs by Eliyahu Alpern. A group of students visit an Israeli bee farm and learn about how honey is made, just in time for Rosh Hashanah. Sharp color photographs against autumn-hued backdrops show the children enjoying the day. The text, though bland, delivers copious facts about bees and honey, which may be interesting to Jewish children preparing for the holiday. “Fun Facts” are appended.

tashlichSchnur, Susan and Schnur-Fishman, Anna Tashlich at Turtle Rock
32 pp. Kar-Ben 2010. ISBN 978-0-7613-4509-1 PE ISBN 978-0-7613-4510-7

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Alex Steele-Morgan. Narrator Annie and her family observe Tashlich (performed during Rosh Hashanah) by spending time in nature. They throw bread into moving water to carry away the mistakes of the past year, exchanging stories of good and bad things and discussing their wishes for the new year. The idealized dialogue is unconvincing but heartfelt. Illustrations reflect the fall season.

silverman_whenchickensstrike-246x300Silverman, Erica When the Chickens Went on Strike: A Rosh Hashanah Tale
32 pp. Dutton 2003. ISBN 0-525-46862-5

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Matthew Trueman. Silverman adapts a tale by Sholom Aleichem, best known for his Tevye the Milkman stories. A young boy explains the custom of making Kapores — waving a chicken over one’s head to get rid of one’s sins — and recalls the year the chickens went on strike. Trueman’s comically angry chickens aptly reflect the humor of the tale. The rich, dark colors of his mixed-media paintings evoke the Old World setting.

appledaysSoffer, Allison Sarnoff Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story
32 pp. Kar-Ben 2014. LE ISBN 978-1-4677-1203-3 PE ISBN 978-1-4677-1204-0 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-1205-7

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Bob McMahon. Katy can’t wait for her annual mother-daughter Rosh Hashanah ritual of apple-picking and applesauce-making, but the new year brings a new baby cousin, whose early arrival alters the plans. Katy satisfyingly gets her applesauce (and readers get the recipe), though this is more a new-baby story than a Rosh Hashanah story. The overly cartoonish characters can best be described as apple-cheeked.

newyearatthepierWayland, April Halprin New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story
32 pp. Dial 2009. ISBN 978-0-8037-3279-7

Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch. Izzy loves Tashlich, a Rosh Hashanah ceremony during which people apologize to those they’ve wronged then throw bread into the water to symbolize cleansing. Izzy has four apologies to make and is pleased when others apologize to him. The story’s educational aspects are handled with a light touch, a style reinforced by the loosely drawn pen-and-ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations.

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14. JetBlue’s Soar with Reading program

soar with readingYou’re in a bustling airport in a new city, weighted down with souvenirs and the dozen books you had to bring. (Or is that just me?) Amid the sea of strangers’ faces, two familiar travelers greet you from a display at your gate.

It’s Jack and Annie.

I saw plenty of the stars of Mary Pope Osborne’s super-popular Magic Tree House series (Random House) in my years as a children’s bookseller, and they frequently come through the Horn Book office. But when I spotted them in a JetBlue terminal, I was intrigued enough to take one of the Soar with Reading passports and investigate.

The passport acts like a regular passport, but without the jet lag; readers can color in the places they “visit” with Jack and Annie as they read the Magic Tree House books and their nonfiction Fact Tracker companions. But they also come equipped with that travel necessity: something to do. There’s a shark personality quiz, a shark word search, and other activities related to Jack and Annie’s adventures in the latest Magic Tree House book (#53, but who’s counting?), Shadow of the Shark. Even more enticingly, the Soar with Reading program runs events throughout the summer to encourage kids to keep reading when school’s out.

But what really warmed my children’s lit–loving heart was this: Soar with Reading has installed three  vending machines full of children’s books around Washington, DC. The books are totally free and children are encouraged to take as many as they’d like. According to the Soar with Reading website, $1,250,000 worth of books has been donated to children in need over the program’s five years. Most recently, a contest ran through the end of August to pick the city where another 100,000 books will be donated next summer; see the results here! (In July, author and educator Zetta Elliott wrote “An Open Letter to JetBlue,” praising the program but suggesting that the books offered should include more diverse authors and characters. Here’s hoping next year’s list takes her advice into account.)

If I was excited to see the Magic Tree House travelers in the airport, just think how exciting it must be for new readers. And for kids whose families can’t easily buy books, much less plane tickets, a free Magic Tree House book — or any good book — in their hands might mean even more.

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15. Sailor Twain

Sailor Twain

Mark Siegel, editorial director and founder of Macmillan’s graphic novel–only imprint First Second Books

also author/illustrator of Moving House

illustrator of several picture books (Seadogs by Lisa Wheeler, Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant) and another graphic novel for children (Boogie Knights by Lisa Wheeler)

my first introduction to Siegel was To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel, his wife Siena Cherson Siegel’s memoir of her experiences as a preprofessional student in the School of American Ballet.

With Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid in the Hudson (First Second, October 2012), Seigel

surreal magical realism

hefty graphic novel

Captain Twain, captain of a steamboat on the Hudson River, rescues a harpooned mermaid and nurses her back to health.



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16. Shoo, fly

It seems that the insect-of-the-moment is… the fly (and I don’t know why; maybe butterflies were too pretty). Here are five recent books starring those pests, plus reviews of a few more favorites below. Could that Old Lady who swallowed one have been on to something?

doodler_superfly  edwards_fly  heos_ifly    jonsson_astrid
Super Fly: The World’s Smallest Superhero! by Todd H. Doodler (Bloomsbury, May 2015)
Fly! by Karl Newsom Edwards (Knopf, March 2015)
I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos; illus. by Jennifer Plecas (Holt, March 2015)
The Fly by Petr Horáček (Candlewick, May 2015)
Astrid the Fly by Maria Jönsson (Holiday, May 2015)

arnold_petArnold, Tedd A Pet for Fly Guy
32 pp. Scholastic/Orchard 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-31615-6

(3) K-3 In his first picture book outing, easy-reader star Fly Guy wants his own pet. He and (boy) Buzz are excited, then frustrated, then disappointed when each choice (dog, frog, worm) is unsuitable. The two realize that Fly Guy needs “a pet with a cool name.” Buzz? “YEZZ! BUZZ!” Arnold’s lively illustrations make the most of the characters’ special friendship; the final page is especially satisfying.

cronin_Diary of a fly book coverCronin, Doreen Diary of a Fly
40 pp. HarperCollins/Cotler 2007. ISBN 978-0-06-000156-8
Library binding ISBN 978-0-06-000157-5

(2) K-3 Illustrated by Harry Bliss. Like Diary of a Worm and Diary of a Spider, this book relays real-life information through Cronin’s impeccable comedic timing in a way that makes the facts memorable. Bliss’s illustrations, including additional pictures on the endpapers, incorporate many witty details. The short sentences and visual jokes make this a great selection for listeners and new readers alike.

gravel_flyGravel, Elise The Fly
32 pp. Tundra 2014. ISBN 978-1-77049-636-1
Ebook ISBN 978-1-77049-638-5

(3) K-3 Disgusting Critters series. This humorous, informative volume gives basic facts about the title creature. Cartoon illustrations and speech-bubble text play up the kid-friendly silliness: “The housefly is a member of the Muscidae family. Mom Muscidae, Dad Muscidae…Teenager Muscidae: ‘Yo!'” The familiar subject and friendly presentation give this book broad appeal.

howitt_flyHowitt, Mary The Spider and the Fly
40 pp. Simon 2010. ISBN 978-1-4424-1664-2

(3) K-3 Illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi. New ed., 2002. Inspired by Gorey, Addams, and film noir, DiTerlizzi spins his own stylish version of Howitt’s cautionary 1829 poem. As a debonair spider lures a doe-eyed fly to his lair, ghosts of the spider’s prey flit about. Black-and-white illustrations with a silvery sheen capture the dance with cinematic flair. This paper-over-board edition of the Caldecott Honor Book is notable for its bargain price.

mack_frog-and-flyMack, Jeff Frog and Fly: Six Slurpy Stories
40 pp. Philomel 2012. ISBN 978-0-399-25617-2

(3) PS It’s survival of the cleverest in these six short stories. Laid out in easy-to-read comic-book panels, the simple text focuses on several scenarios between a fly and the hungry frog that wants to slurp him up. Just when you think the fly is doomed every time, the frog gets his comeuppance in the final story and readers get a good laugh. Multi-media cartoons amusingly depict the conflicts.

reynolds_bighairydramaReynolds, Aaron Big Hairy Drama
128 pp. Holt 2010. ISBN 978-0-8050-8243-2
Paperback ISBN 978-0-8050-9110-6

(3) 1-3 Illustrated by Neil Numberman. Joey Fly, Private Eye series. In his second graphic novel, private investigator Joey Fly looks into another crime in the “bug city.” Butterfly actress Greta Divawing has disappeared on the eve of her opening-night performance of Bugliacci; the suspects are other members of the cast. Varied cartoon-panel illustrations feature details of bug life that add interest and humor to the mystery.

rosen_tinylittleflyRosen, Michael Tiny Little Fly
32 pp. Candlewick 2010. ISBN 978-0-7636-4681-3

(2) PS Illustrated by Kevin Waldron. “Tiny Little Fly / sees great big toes… / Tiny Little Fly / sits on Elephant’s nose.” Fly first bugs–then escapes from–Elephant, Hippo, and Tiger, even when they unite. In Waldron’s arresting digitally enhanced gouache and pencil illustrations, bold lines and a vivid palette command attention. With a pesky antihero and catchy repetitive verse, the story will captivate listeners.


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17. Sailor Twain

Sailor Twain

Mark Siegel, editorial director and founder of Macmillan’s graphic novel–only imprint First Second Books

also author/illustrator of Moving House

illustrator of several picture books (Seadogs by Lisa Wheeler, Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant) and another graphic novel for children (Boogie Knights by Lisa Wheeler)

my first introduction to Siegel was To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel, his wife Siena Cherson Siegel’s memoir of her experiences as a preprofessional student in the School of American Ballet.

With Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid in the Hudson (First Second, October 2012), Seigel

surreal magical realism

hefty graphic novel

Captain Twain, captain of a steamboat on the Hudson River, rescues a harpooned mermaid and nurses her back to health.



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18. “Classic tales to read, love and share”

storytime issue 4 We recently received two issues of Storytime Magazine (Luma Works), a monthly British children’s magazine which launched in September 2014 with the tagline “Classic tales to read, love and share.” Each issue is filled with retellings of fairy tales and folktales, plus distillations of classic children’s novels (such as E. Nesbit’s “Five Children and It” in Issue 4 and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” in Issue 5). The stories are accompanied by colorful, often full-page illustrations as well as interactive moments inviting the reader to color a rainbow, count beans, find a specific flower, etc. Even more thematic activities and downloads are available at Storytime‘s website.

The contents are organized by headings such as “Favourite Fairy Tales,” “Famous Fables,” “Storyteller’s Corner,” “Around the World Tales,” “Myths and Legends,” “Poems and Rhymes,” “Brilliant Books,” “Storytime Playbox,” and “Story Magic.” These categories seem to shift slightly from issue to issue, but each edition follows the same basic format, containing about six stories, a poem, and thematic activities and games.

storytime issue 5Storytime‘s retold short tales originate in a range of diverse cultures: Issue 4 features a Mayan quest story, an African tale about trickster Anansi, and a Cornish mermaid tale; Issue 5 includes an Aboriginal creation story, plus Greek mythology and an Aesop animal parable. The magazine format (complete with exciting cover blurbs: “Famous Fables! Four animals learn about friendship” and “Jungle Adventure! See how Mowgli escapes from Shere Khan”) gives the tales a fresh perspective, and the absence of advertisements keeps the focus on the stories themselves.

Overall, each issue feels like substantial reading material — either to be devoured straight through all at once, or savored slowly, story by story.


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19. The Cat in the Hat — Read & Learn digital book app review

catReadLearn_Screenshot1Spend a rainy afternoon with the mischievous Cat in the Hat in Oceanhouse Media‘s brand-new interactive digital book app The Cat in the Hat — Read & Learn (July 2015).

After you leave the home screen in “read to me” mode (there’s also a “read it myself” option for reading practice), the energetic narration begins the full text of Dr. Seuss’s classic book. “The sun did not shine. / It was too wet to play. / So we sat in the house / All that cold, cold, wet day…” As the narrator reads, the words are highlighted in the text. Touch any object in the illustration to hear the narrator state its name and see the word appear on the screen, while said object sways, bounces, spins, or makes a noise.

If you’re lucky, the object you’ve tapped will be one of thirty-one throughout the app that reveal hidden stars. Tap the star to access a brief, educational activity (spell “cat”; what starts with the buh sound?; which item would you need to go out in the rain?). Appropriate to the “read and learn” element of the app’s title, these activities are typically literacy-related: spelling, rhyming, and matching words to their associated images.


Some pages allow you to drag objects around — in my personal favorite of these, you can throw a ball against the sides of the screen to watch it bounce back and forth across the room — while other interactive moments invite you to physically tilt your device to make things move onscreen. In the scene where the Cat (who has been hopping up and down on a ball while holding up the fish, a fan, a rake, etc.) falls and “ALL the things fall” with him, the objects are flung across the screen; tap to toss them about one by one. Throughout, the color palette and animation choices remain true to Dr. Seuss’s original work.


“Picture words” (words that pop up to identify tapped objects), activities, sound effects, and update notifications may be turned on/off in the settings menu. A locked parents’ section offers some usage tips and provides stats on minutes read, pages read, and completed reads, allowing parents to track a child’s progress through the e-book.

The combination of classic story with the added interactive elements creates an enjoyable learning experience for an emerging reader.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch; $4.99. Recommended for preschool and early primary users.


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20. Go the BEEP to sleep!

TREND DETECTED! Insomniac robots are rolling off the assembly line.

Here they are blinking their way through bedtime in Todd Tarpley’s Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep! (Little, Brown, September 2015), illustrated by John Rocco.

tarpley_beep! beep! go to sleep

And here, one little robot takes its sweet time shutting off in Anna Staniszewski’s Power Down, Little Robot (Macmillan/Holt, March 2015), illustrated by Tim Zeltner.

staniszewski_power down little robot

Anna also recently introduced a BabyBot, so we can bet she can relate to her book’s tired Mom Unit. Here’s hoping, for her sake and the sake of Parental Units everywhere, that these bedtime books do the trick!


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21. Luna, Julia, and readers

kostecki-shaw_luna & meWe recently received Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (Holt/Ottaviano, May 2015). It’s sort of dual picture-book biography, telling the stories of a thousand-year-old redwood tree called Luna, which was slated to be logged; and of young activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in the tree for over two years to prevent it from being cut down.

hill_legacy of lunaWhen I was an undergrad attending Humboldt State University in northern (waaaaay northern) California, I read Hill’s 2000 memoir The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods (HarperOne) for a sociology class. Hill discusses the day-to-day experiences of living in the tree (she had a lot of help) and depicts the volatile — occasionally verging on violent — conflict between the activists and the Pacific Lumber Company. My class discussed The Legacy of Luna and Hill’s tree-sit as an exercise in local sociology: Luna is located about 40 miles from HSU, in the same county. We were reading the memoir only a year or two after its publication, and tensions between activists and loggers were still high. In fact, the year after the book came out, the tree was vandalized.

Though I tended to side with Hill and other activists trying to protect the old-growth forest, I soon realized (no doubt as the professor intended) that the situation was extremely complex. The logging industry had long been a major part of the region’s economy, but was starting to flag, and environmentalists were attempting to curtail it further. To make matters worse, there was an “us” and “them” mentality at work: activists tended to be young out-of-towners attracted to the area by the university or by liberal politics, while loggers were frequently locals whose families had lived there for generations. (The university’s mascot? The lumberjack.) Our professor mentioned that, due to its anti-logging stance, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax had caused some controversy when taught in local elementary schools.

In Luna & Me, Kostecki-Shaw is definitely on Hill’s (and Luna’s) side, emphasizing the activist’s courage and determination as well as the historical and ecological value of the ancient tree and others like it. Though she doesn’t demonize the loggers, Kostecki-Shaw doesn’t humanize them, either. (The tree Luna, on the other hand, is personified quite a bit.) There is no mention of loggers’ need to make their livelihood and feed their families. Perhaps that sort of sociological context is a tall order for a primary-level picture book. Kostecki-Shaw writes in her author’s note that she “chose to tell of Julia’s time in Luna in [her] own way — simplifying a very complex, intense, and political journey and depicting her as a girl” rather than as an adult.

Will Luna & Me be embraced by teachers, librarians, and parents in northern California? Or, like The Lorax, will it be viewed by some as problematic? I hope, either way, that it will provoke some thoughtful discussion.

Have you come across any children’s books that are divisive for your own community?


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22. Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland app review

alice app menu2She’s grown taller and shorter so many times that it’s hard to keep track, but Lewis Carroll’s Alice is 150 years old this year. The Morgan Library & Museum is celebrating with an exhibit of artifacts related to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In addition to an online version, the Morgan also offers an app with materials from the exhibit.

After a brief description with some historical background for Carroll’s novel, the app has two main sections: “Transcriptions of Letters and Manuscripts,” and “Tenniel’s Illustrations.” Within each, a book icon brings up the index so you can navigate into any artifact you want, or you can just swipe along in order.

alice app transcriptions2
alice app tenniel's illustrations
The “Transcriptions” section presents a wide range of artifacts related to Carroll’s life, work, and world. There’s an illustrated humorous poem, “A Tale of a Tail,” from the Useful and Instructive Poetry magazine that the thirteen-year-old author created for his siblings. There’s an 1863 letter from Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll’s Alice, to her father. There’s a list in Carroll’s hand of “Newspaper Notices of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” from 1866. In addition to descriptions of the items, all are accompanied by their transcripts, which are useful even though the images are clear — it’s a lot more efficient for a modern eye to read a typed version of a letter than to make sense of the flourishes in Carroll’s nineteenth-century handwriting. Nearly all of these items correspond to what’s on the web exhibit, though many are titled slightly differently. Like the website, this section of the app also has magic lantern slides with illustrations of various Alice scenes, alongside their (somewhat reworked) text.

The second section contains some of John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Most of the images are color proofs, but some are original black-and-white sketches or preparatory drawings. Here, the selection is less extensive than the more carefully curated and categorized offerings in the web exhibit.

alice app cheshire cat

This app is a useful way to view many pieces from the exhibit up close. (Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the manuscript Carroll wrote and illustrated for Alice Liddell, is unfortunately not part of the app.) It’s a useful resource for anyone interested in Alice’s history, and could also be helpful to students learning the concept of primary sources. But the interactivity begins and ends with navigation from one artifact to another, and the app has less to offer than the web version. For a deeper Alice rabbit hole — more illustrations and character design sketches, a playlist of music inspired by the books, and an “Alice on the Silver Screen” section featuring early film adaptations — head over to the Morgan’s digital exhibit.

Available for iPad and iPhone; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.


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23. You had us at artisanal pickles.

Urban inferiority complex be damned! We Bostonians enjoy artisanal pickles and ironic facial hair as much as the next folks. That’s why we’re pleased to present author/illustrator Stephen Savage’s article on the people in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Or, as we like to call it, “the new Somerville.”

We’re so psyched, in fact, that we’ve decided to devote an entire week to the Brooklynites. Tomorrow you can read Savage’s article “The People in My Neighborhood: One Author/Illustrator’s Rambles Around Brooklyn.” As the week goes on, you’ll fine more Horn Book material on that mighty borough and the people who call it home. Because there really are a lot of them.* And good at what they do? Fuggedaboudit.


*In fact, there are many, many, MANY more talented Brooklynites than we could possibly highlight in one article. So, please remind us about them in the comments.

For example, this bears repeating:

Christopher Myers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Wiliams-Garcia... in Brooklyn.

Christopher Myers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Williams-Garcia commune in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Jason Reynolds.


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24. 2015 Simmons Summer Institute: Homecoming

What an invigorating weekend here on the Simmons College campus, as current students, alums, authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, academics, booksellers, book lovers, etc., etc., etc., came together for the 2015 Summer Children’s Literature Institute: Homecoming. Some highlights are below, and in no particular order. We know. We tried to make it brief. But we just couldn’t. Sorry not sorry.


Though Michelle H. Martin, who’d taught the longer Symposium class, was unfortunately unable to attend the weekend Institute, Cathie Mercier, director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College, read a brief message from Michelle and then opened the floor to her students, who stepped up and opened the Institute with a glimpse into the work they’d done in her class. We heard astute comparisons between seemingly disparate books, and more about those books’ reflections of home. It was a reminder of the depth of analysis that’s common here at Simmons, and should have been required listening for anyone with any doubts that children’s literature is a serious field of study.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, Vicky Smith, children’s and teen editor at Kirkus Reviews, moderated a panel with illustrators Shadra Strickland, Hyewon Yum, and David Hyde Costello, citing images of home from each panelist’s work and asking about the thoughts behind the images. We learned that Shadra feels it’s important to show children of color in happy, whimsical settings; that Hyewon remembers leaving home to start school but now identifies more with the mother being left at home; and that David thought hardest about a minor character in Little Pig Joins the Band. All three illustrators’ work had enough images of home — some comforting and some unsettling — to drive home (ha!) the importance, especially in childhood, of having a familiar place to return to.

I attended several of the Master Seminars that were offered throughout the weekend. Lauren Rizzuto’s seminar examined the politics of sentiment in children’s literature, and the valuing of emotion both within texts and in response to texts. Amy Pattee borrowed Cathie’s impossible and totally unfair often-difficult exercise of asking those present to divide themselves into those who emphasize books and those who emphasize readers. From those perspectives, we examined some critically successful books and some that were popular in terms of sales, and discussed what each metric values. Jeannine Atkins shared some thoughts about what makes a verse novel work, offering specific, technical advice as well as larger observations. I left Lauren’s seminar feeling a bit more justified in my own feelings of affection toward literary characters; Amy’s with a greater understanding of how my bookselling past informs my thinking; and Jeannine’s with a few ideas of my own.

Joan Tieman, Susan Bloom, and Barbara Harrison.

Joan Tieman, Susan Bloom, and Barbara Harrison at the post-lecture reception.

On Friday night Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire turned the Mary Nagel Sweetser Lecture into a two-voice, three-act play about a subject dear to many of our hearts: the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College. Harrison, the Center’s founder, and Maguire, its first graduate, performed the story of how they got here and how the Center developed. That story, of course, included quotes from quite a few children’s books, words that many of us at Simmons have heard echoing in our ears. Between that and the photos of some familiar faces in bygone years, it was quite the multimedia presentation, and struck a chord with many in the audience.

On Saturday night Jack Gantos gave the most straightforward presentation I’d ever heard from him. It took us back to his childhood home; climbed stairs and trudged through snow to his writing home at the Boston Athenaeum; and scrawled its way through his writing process, but there were no leaps this time to, say, a hypothetical mausoleum. Instead, he connected his thoughts back to the idea of home so relentlessly, the repetition was almost as big a joke as the other actual jokes peppered throughout the speech. Jack Gantos can home in on one idea…who knew?

On Sunday morning M. T. Anderson recalled his adventurous travels abroad, featuring miscommunications that resulted from his learned-from-opera French and a fight with feral cats over a poorly prepared chicken. He realized it might be easier to instead write about places he’d never seen and extrapolate based on books and maps, an epiphany that resulted in the highly creative version of Delaware that appears in some of his books. We were even treated to his rendition of Delaware’s anthem.


Roger Sutton talks with Bryan Collier.

Roger Sutton talks with Bryan Collier.

Friday morning, Bryan Collier, in conversation with Roger — and both in snappy bow ties! — talked about his Maryland hometown (and the chicken farms that he knew were not a part of his future plans). Growing up he was an athlete but also an artist. He didn’t know any other artists, so he left home to find some. The prolific illustrator talked about the work ethic involved in creating art, and he compared creativity to a body of water: some people dip in a toe, some wade in, and others will “jump off a cliff, backwards.” “What do you do when you feel like you’re drowning?” asked Roger. “Trust it. Surrender,” he said. (And speaking of liquids: later I was sitting next to Bryan, in his slick beige suit, and terrified I’d spill my iced coffee on him. Didn’t happen. Phew!)

Kwame Alexander.

“Tall, dark, and handsome” Newbery winner Kwame Alexander.

Horn Book intern Alex introduced 2015 Newbery Award winner (for The Crossover, like I had to tell you that) Kwame Alexander to the crowd, forgetting the salient point — as the man himself was quick to point out — “Kwame Alexander is tall, dark, and handsome.” He is also an amazing speaker, as everyone who was at this year’s CSK Breakfast and Newbery-Caldecott Banquet already knows, both hypnotizing the audience with his confident flow of words and keeping them on their toes, with brains a-buzzing (there was some audience participation involved).

Rita Williams-Garcia.

Rita Williams-Garcia. And yes she is (see quote above).

And how do you follow a speech that is by turns hilarious, heart-breaking, thought-provoking, swoon-worthy (those ladies at church never had a chance), eye-opening, electric, improvisatory…etc. etc.? First, with a standing ovation. Then with a talk by Rita Williams-Garcia, who talked to…herself. Williams-Garcia played the parts of both present-day Rita and thirty-three-year-old (“the age of Jesus”) Rita, discussing her work, her views, her past, future, and in-between times. She talked about the effect The Horn Book’s words had on her — “Rita Williams-Gracia may well turn out to be among the most prominent African-American literary artists of the next generation” — and her evolving thoughts on book awards, who-can-write-for-whom?, and the n-word. It was moving. And deep. And we don’t even mind that Big Ma wasn’t based on a real person.


Editor Neal Porter and artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger (whose art was on display in Simmons’s Trustman Gallery all weekend) took us, step by step, through her creative process — with the added bonus that we also got an illuminating glimpse into their working relationship. They shared (mostly late-night) emails, the journals in which Laura loosely brainstorms ideas (but retroactively goes back and gives tables of contents — she’s a born organizer, apparently), and how three of her picture books came to be: Green; a new book coming out this September called I Used to Be Afraid; and a work in progress, a companion to Green called Blue. As usual, their affection and respect for each other permeated the presentation, whether Laura was demonstrating the challenges of using die-cuts or Neal was exhorting the value of the printed picture book. To paraphrase: No one has yet come up with a more efficient format for telling a story in words and pictures than a picture book you can hold in your hand. It’s all about the page turns, and swiping through an e-book doesn’t provide that. (And his analogy — something about slapping an iPad with a dead fish in order to “page” through a picture book? — is pretty hard to get out of your mind.)


Molly Idle.

Molly Idle, an artist from age three.

Molly Idle doesn’t write presentation notes, but she doesn’t need to — charming, high-energy, and insightful, she captivated the crowd. (One tweet read, “I think everyone here has a crush on Molly Idle right now. I know I do” to which Molly herself replied, “It’s a mutual admiration society. :)” How great is that?) She talked about her trajectory from animation to illustration, how becoming an illustrator felt like a kind of homecoming, and the logistics of sharing studio space with her family. I was lucky enough to get to pick her brain about how illustration is like dance — “If you could just say it, you wouldn’t need to draw it!” — at dinner afterwards.

Moving from commune to commune during her childhood, Emily Jenkins (a.k.a. E. Lockhart) found home in books and in shared reading experiences that represented stability in her otherwise uprooted life. As a result of her nomadic upbringing, she came to believe that home is not a nostalgic place to return to (i.e., your parents’ house) but rather something you make for yourself every day. She went on to examine some fascinating examples of literary independent children, such as Pippi Longstocking and the Boxcar Children, and how they create home for themselves. Emily closed with a moving passage from her book Toys Come Home:

“Why are we here?” asks Plastic.
“We are here,” says StingRay, “for each other.”
Of course we are.
Of course we are here for each other.

Elaine Dimopoulos, debut author of fashion-meets-dystopian novel Material Girls, is really super smart. (She’s also a grad school classmate and good friend of mine, so I am probably a little bit biased. But even Emily Jenkins says Elaine is “crazy smart.”) Elaine discussed the ways that the traditional narrative structures of home–away–home (for younger kids’ fiction) and home–away (for YA) are no longer realistic, and offered some solutions to help writers get grown-ups out of the picture and allow child/teen characters some breathing room. Elaine also told us the story of how, as a Simmons grad student, she introduced speaker M. T. Anderson at the 2005 Summer Institute (and how it changed her life), as well as a little about being a Writer in Residence at the BPL.

And that was it! You know, just all that. There was a wrap-up by Cathie and Megan Dowd Lambert, and everyone went *home* (or wherever), recharged, refreshed, rejuvenated. For a recap in verse (and in homage), check out Shoshana’s “Good Night, Paresky Room.”

See you in two years…


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25. Good Night, Paresky Room

With apologies to Margaret Wise Brown, a recap of Homecoming inspired by the homiest book of them all.

In the Paresky room,
Bird-Window-Chil-Institute.ashxthere were tweeting phones
and thought balloons
with pictures of
the places we’ve dwelt, and with whom.
There were dogs and bears,1 and familiar chairs,
and pulses2 that quicken at art, not at chickens.
Home, and publishing house,3
and a pig and his spouse,4
and a book-signing rush, and the impulse to gush,
and a dean in her teacher voice begging us, “Hush.”
Thank you room
with hallowed aura.
Thank you silent, dancing Flora.5
Thank you artists who fuss and fuss.6
Thank you authors who board the bus.7
Thank you Rita
and thank you Rita.8
Thank you fashion
and thank you passion.9
Thank you shelves
that locate selves.10
Thank you Jack, who kept to theme.11
Thank you Tobin’s Delaware dream.12
The stories of Simmons could fill quite a tome.13
We’re clicking our heels, for there’s no place like home.


1. and Laura Vaccaro Seeger
2. like Bryan Collier’s
3. such as Neal Porter Books
4. David Hyde Costello’s example of casual porcine diversity
5. created by the delightfully talkative Molly Idle
6. including but not limited to Hyewon Yum
7. led by Kwame Alexander
8. Rita Williams-Garcia, age 33, and Rita Williams-Garcia, age 58, who held an enlightening conversation
9. and thank you Elaine Dimopoulos, who has both
10. because, as Emily Jenkins put it, “Home is where you keep your books”
11. Jack Gantos brings home the record for use of the word “home.”
12. M. T. Anderson’s version of Delaware may have involved some imagination
13. Or a three-act play performed by Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire


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