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This week Roger talked with living-comics-legend Stan Lee about his new book Zodiac. That made us think of Roger as a superhero: his bow tie doubles as a boomerang! to chase down bad-guys! and retrieve books off high library shelves! It also made us think of Roger in tights and Spandex, which just made us giggle. [Ed. note: You laugh NOW…]
We ask: do you know any superhero librarians? Either librarians who could be existing superheroes (So. Many. Catwoman. Jokes.) or those who could helm their very own, all-new Marvel franchises. Admittedly, Bow-Tie Man isn’t the most scintillating. What are some other ideas?
I’ve always thought K. T. Horning must be able to fly, for example. And Julie Roach is always smiling. But I’m not saying she’s The Joker (though, like Heath Ledger, may he rest in peace, she is cute as a button).
You can also share your thoughts here, by letting us know how you library.
Also, is Stephen Savage’s Supertruck the cutest superhero around or what?
The post Look! Up in the sky! It’s…Super Roger! appeared first on The Horn Book.
A horror movie about an evil children’s book is, understandably, not everyone’s thing. But given that I’m both a horror fan and a big kidlit nerd, I’ve been waiting for Australian indie film The Babadook to hit US theaters since I first saw the trailer online several months ago. Despite its cleaning up at Sundance, the movie’s US release is so limited — only two local cinemas are showing it, one in a theater the size of a living room — that the screening my boyfriend and I attempted to see over the weekend was sold out. We wound up watching it at home on demand…which was probably for the best, since it minimized the number of people I bothered with my shrieking.
The Babadook was partially based upon director Jennifer Kent’s short film Monster, about a child who’s afraid of his plush monster toy and his mother who’s exasperated by his fear — only to come face-to-face with the real monster. The Babadook expands upon and complicates this plot. Its protagonists are young widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Sam (Noah Wiseman). Sam has both an active imagination and serious behavioral problems: he builds weapons, in preparation for “when the monster comes,” and takes them everywhere; has nightmares that prevent him from sleeping through the night; and is ostracized by other children for both his monster obsession and his dead father. With Sam’s seventh birthday (also the anniversary of his father’s accidental death) approaching, money tight, and Sam out of school due to his weapons-smuggling, Amelia is nearing her breaking point.
Then Sam chooses Mister Babadook, a book that mysteriously appears on his book shelf, for a bedtime story.
The book is a bit crudely written and illustrated, but creepy nonetheless. Direct-address text accompanied by black-and-white pop-up illustrations inform the reader that supernatural creature Mister Babdook will come out of the darkness of your closet, ceiling corner, etc., to watch you, and “you can’t get rid” of him once you’ve seen him. (It’s actually not unlike the story line of Liniers’s What There Is Before There Is Anything There.) Reading Mister Babadook exacerbates Sam’s intense fears about monsters and disturbs Amelia, who responds by first hiding, then tearing apart and trashing the book. When it reappears on their doorstep — pieced back together and with even darker content, this time depicting a Babadook-possessed Amelia harming Sam and their pet dog in pop-ups that seem to move on their own — Amelia suspects she and Sam are being stalked. Of course, the truth is much worse.
The movie’s supernatural element is legitimately frightening. The Babadook’s inhuman sounds and movement give me the serious heebie-jeebies, and the idea that underneath his already-scary-as-hell gaping-maw-and-claws exterior lies something that will make you “wish you were dead” doesn’t help. As promised by the book, Amelia and Sam can’t get away from the creature — or each other — and are trapped in their own home, cut off from any real help. The limited setting (mostly the house’s interior plus a bit of their small town) and cast contribute to the film’s claustrophobic feel.
But what’s especially effective is the way the supernatural horror works with the more insidious horror of a parent fast approaching a psychological break. Sam is a very difficult child; Amelia is grief-stricken, sleep deprived, financially strapped, isolated, and emotionally unsupported — in a word, desperate. It’s not hard to imagine Amelia harming Sam, herself, or someone else in a rage or in a fugue state, with or without any malevolent supernatural influence.
Other horror films (perhaps most famously The Shining) also depict a stressed parent manipulated by otherworldly forces towards hurting his or her family, but I can’t think of one whose parent-off-the-deep-end is as convincing or sympathetic as Davis’s Amelia. Her vulnerability makes her moments of Babadook-fueled (or just unhinged?) violence that much more disturbing. As Sam, Wiseman is both frustrating and genuinely endearing, an impressive feat given his very young age.
Is the Babadook real, and has monster-fighter Sam been right all along? Or is it a delusion shared by mother and child? You’ll have to watch the movie and decide for yourself. And if it reaches its crowdfunding goals, Mister Babadook may soon be available as an actual pop-up book — eek!
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Last week’s edition of Nonfiction Notes offered several recommended books about medicine and the human body (plus books on social change, how things work, indigenous cultures, and geography/cartography). Another resource, TinyBop’s The Human Body app, introduces the human body and its systems through exploratory play.
Begin by selecting from four child avatars. The app’s main page then shows your avatar in silhouette; a pull-out toolbar along the left side offers icon representing the body’s systems: nervous, skeletal, respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and muscular. Tap on a single icon to see an individual system in place in the child’s body, or select multiple icons to see systems working in tandem. Clear diagrams and sound-effect-enhanced animations present the systems in an approachable (often humorous) way.
the nervous, skeletal, respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems
Tapping a system icon brings up several sub-icons (e.g., the nervous system menu offers brain, eye, nose, and ear options), allowing you to zoom in on its specific features. Select the brain icon to see its structure in more detail, then tap on the labeled lobes to see representations of their functions (for example, tapping on the cerebral cortex prompts a math equation to pop up). Move a slider bar to view the surfaces of systems’ organs, their cross-sections, or a combination of the two.
the brain’s surface (left) and cross-section (right), with the cerebral cortex highlighted
The app also models cause and effect in relation to body systems. Tap an icon of legs at the bottom right and the child avatar goes from standing to a run, illustrating various organs’ response to exertion. “Tickle” the child with a feather to see neurological pathways in action, “feed” him or her a variety of foods to witness digestion (including burps and farts), play sounds and watch how the ear drum vibrates, or use the device’s camera function to simulate vision — and those are just a few of the many interactive opportunities to try.
the digestive system — and a selection of foods to “digest”
Since the app is available in a huge range of languages, body part labels are the only text — download the free accompanying Human Body Handbook PDF for information about the systems of the body as well as tips for using the app. A settings icon in the sidebar allows you to turn labels and sound effects on/off and to change the language.
Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $2.99. Immune system and urogenital system add-ons must be purchased individually ($0.99 each).
The post The Human Body app review appeared first on The Horn Book.
We just received this lovely advent calendar — “Christmas in the Square” by Eve Tharlet — in the mail from publisher NorthSouth. What a nice surprise (and a good way to combat my case of the bah-humbugs). Thank you, NorthSouth!
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In the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, editor Martha Parravano asked Argentinian cartoonist Liniers about the inspiration for his “deeply unsettling” but “bravely existential” new picture book, What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story. Read the full review here.
Martha V. Parravano: What made you decide to make such a realistic — and thus dark — picture book on this topic for children?
Liniers: I don’t like children’s books that treat them as tiny ignorant human beings.
They are smart, and as Mr. Sendak used to say, you can “tell them anything you want.”
I remember enjoying being scared by movies and books when I was a child. Witches and vampires! Also, the story I decided to tell actually used to happen to me. I must have been three or four because I have a very vague memory of this. When my parents would turn out the lights I thought the ceiling disappeared, and I recall imagining — almost seeing — a tiger coming down in a spiral downfall. A very weird kid I was. Or not.
From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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Da-da-da-daaaaaa! It’s here: the Fanfare special edition of Notes is arriving in subscribers’ inboxes right now.
We began with a long longlist, then fought it ou— er, cordially discussed the options until we whittled it down to twenty-nine favorites of 2014. With picture books, fiction, folklore, poetry, and nonfiction, there’s something — probably several things — for everyone.
Notes (and its occasional supplements Nonfiction Notes and Talks With Roger) will be back to regularly scheduled programming in January.
Read the issue online or subscribe to receive the monthly Notes from the Horn Book newsletter. For more recommended books plus author and illustrator interviews, check out the newsletter archives.
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Halloween is here — and so are Halloween books! Here are some recent recommended titles for you to share (perhaps through All Hallow’s Read?) with your little goblins.
Horn BOO! 2014
Baby Horn BOO! 2014: Halloween-y board books
Halloween-themed Notes from the Horn Book: 5Q for Julie Berry, eerie places, off-the-wall picture books, atmospheric audiobooks, and YA supernatural baddies
Millie’s Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app
Click on the tag Halloween books for previous years’ recommendations.
The post Halloween boooOOOoooks roundup appeared first on The Horn Book.
In “Horn BOO!” we recommend our favorite new Halloween titles for big(ger) kids; here are some new festive board books for the littlest trick-or-treaters. For more Halloween board books, check out last year’s “Baby Horn BOO!” — and for more great board books to share all year round, see our our fall board book roundup.
Author Anne Rockwell and illustrator Lizzy Rockwell’s seasonal classic Apples and Pumpkins (1989) follows a pigtailed, rosy-cheeked little girl and her parents on a visit to a local farm, where they pick apples from the orchard and a pumpkin from the patch. On Halloween night, the family puts out their newly carved jack-o’-lantern, the girl’s mother hands out the shiny red apples, and the girl trick-or-treats on their street. As in the original picture book, this new board-book edition showcases the spare text and autumn-hued illustrations with plenty of breathing room. (Little Simon)
Anna Dewney’s Llama Llama Trick or Treat is one in a series of six board-book adventures starring the beloved little guy. Here Llama Llama, on a shopping excursion with his llama mama, excitedly scopes out Halloween decorations and other kids’ ensembles. He test-drives costumes (“An astronaut? A bumblebee?”) and picks out the perfect pumpkin. Back at home, he and his friends carve their jack-o’-lanterns and prepare candy to hand out. Llama Llama then goes trick-or-treating in vampire garb and with parents in tow. Dewdney’s brief rhyming text and textured paintings — full of her familiar anthropomorphized animal characters — make for a toddler-friendly introduction to Halloween festivities. (Viking)
In The Itsy Bitsy Pumpkin written by Sonali Fry and illustrated by Sanja Rescek, the titular jack-o’-lantern accidentally rolls away from home. A little-girl witch on her broomstick stops to give the pumpkin a ride back to his patch, where the warm-toned illustrations show him reunited with his smiling jack-o’-lantern family and several friendly critters in Halloween attire. The “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”–based verse may be a bit twee for parents, but toddlers will catch on quickly and sing along. (Little Simon)
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Author/illustrator Susan Bonners and friends will read from Bonners’s books in a special storytime this Saturday, November 8th, from 10 am to noon. As Ms. Bonners is a Roslindale resident, the event will take place in the Community Room of the Roslindale Public Library.
Ms. Bonners’s many books include A Penguin Year (1982 National Book Award: Nonfiction Children’s Book winner), The Silver Balloon (1997 Christopher Award winner), Edwina Victorious, Making Music, The Wooden Doll, and Why Does the Cat Do That?
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By: Roger Sutton
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Tea time! Photo: Elissa Gershowitz
Gail Carriger introduced readers to her alternate Victorian London — chock-full of steampunk technology and supernatural characters — in 2009 with Soulless, the first volume of her five-book adult series The Parasol Protectorate. The Finishing School series, a YA prequel series set in the same world, soon followed, beginning with Curtsies & Conspiracies. Espionage lessons, a dirigible boarding school, a girl inventor, vampires and werewolves, witty banter: what more could a steampunk fantasy fan ask for? Gail is currently working on another companion YA series, The Custard Protocol, which will kick off with Prudence in spring 2015.
You’re invited… Photo: Elissa Gershowitz
My beloved local Brookline Public Library (hi Robin!) hosted Gail on November 10th for a lovely evening tea party — cucumber sandwiches and all! — and Q&A event to celebrate the release of Waistcoats & Weaponry, the third book in the Finishing School series. I spoke with her over tea just before the event. In addition to being a prolific and (ahem) fantastic author, Gail is also an archaeologist by training, Elissa’s college roomie (Oberlin represent!), and a very stylish lady — she told me she had a different Waistcoats & Weaponry–cover coordinated ensemble for each stop on the book tour.
The Parasol Protectorate books are adult books and The Finishing School series is YA — although there’s been a lot of crossover, with the YA books being read by adults and the adult books being read by teens. Have you found that there are things you can do in adult books that you can’t do in YA, or vice versa?
For me, YA has to be — and this is what I like about it — it has to be very clean and sharp. As a writer, it requires me to do a lot more editing because it needs to be very sparse. You don’t sacrifice details, but you sacrifice a certain amount of waffling. In adult books you’re allowed to put in extra little bits and distract the readers with pretty description for a while. In young adult, you just can’t do that. You have to be very structured and paced. Pacing is always really important to me, but I think in YA it’s even more important. That’s one of the biggest differences. And I allow myself to be a little more racy when I’m writing the adult stuff.
Your Finishing School protagonist Sophoronia Temminnick has quite the name. Do you have other favorite Victorian-era names that you’ve come across in your research (or that you’ve come up with yourself)?
I tend to use them if I come across them. I love the name “Euphrenia”; I don’t know if I’ve leaked it into the books yet, but it’s one of my favorite ultra-Victorian names. I really like first names that are traditionally Victorian but are not used anymore. That’s one of the reasons I chose “Sophronia.” It’s still a pretty name, and sort of like “Sophia,” but just old-fashioned enough for you to know immediately, the minute that you read her name, that she’s not of our time. “Dimity” was another actual name from the time period. Alexia [from the Parasol Protectorate books] only got named “Alexia” because she was one of those characters that announced herself as being named that. Sometimes characters just enter your head and they’re like, “This is my name!” “Soap” is one of those as well. “Pillover” is another one — it’s not a real name; I just made that one up completely. But “Sophronia” and “Dimity” I picked.
Is there a mythological creature that you’ve been wanting to introduce into this world that you haven’t gotten to yet?
I’m pretty strict with myself with world-building. I’m sticking to motifs of vampires, shape-shifters, and ghosts, probably because almost every ancient culture has some version of them, like the kitsune in Japan. But I excavated in Peru for a while and there is a legend in the Peruvian highlands of a creature called a pishtaco (which is fantastically ridiculous-sounding, first of all). It’s essentially a fat-sucking vampire rather than a blood-sucking vampire — which is comedy gold. I’m dying to get [Custard Protocol protagonist] Prudence to the New World at some point so that she can meet one of these creatures and I can write all about them.
Ensemble #1 at the Brookline Public Library. Photo: Elissa Gershowitz
Are we going to see more mechanimals like Bumbersnoot in the Finishing School books? (Or do you say “mech-animals”?)
I say “mechanimals,” like “mechanicals” but with an “animal” at the end. You will see more of them, but you’re not going to see a named little friend like Bumbersnoot. There’s quite a few in the last book but that’s all I’m going to say.
If you were going to have a mechanimal pet yourself, what kind of animal would you pick?
Probably something like a hedgehog. I would like a round, roly-poly, friendly sort of critter. I have a very demanding cat who’s svelte and overdramatic, so I think I’d like a calm, rodentia-style, chubby little creature. Something in the porcupine, hedgehog arena. The cat would probably be very upset with it.
What would your dream teatime guest list and menu look like?
Oh, goodness. Do I get to pick fantastic characters? Or historical people?
Sure. Living, dead, fictional — anyone you want.
There’s part of me that has to be true to my archaeological roots and pick Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, Boadicea… I’m attracted to super-powerful female historical figures, the queens and mistresses, so I’d probably concoct a party that was all these fantastic women from history. The problem, of course, would be interpretation, but it’s my fantasy so everyone would speak English. I’m an adventurous eater, and I’d like to cater to the guests, so I’d have foods from all of the different places and times they came from. One of my favorite things is cooking ancient food, sourcing the ingredients and re-creating it myself. I think if you can taste the flavor of the past, you can get a better impression of it. I’d try to do that so everybody got to try everybody else’s dishes.
What’s your specialty, your pet era as an archaeologist?
I’m not an area specialist; I’m a materials specialist. My focus was on ceramics. To this day I have a propensity to pick up a piece of pottery and flip it over to look at the back side — which can be terribly embarrassing if I’ve forgotten that there’s food on the front side — to look for the maker’s mark.
Are there other historical eras that you’d like to write about?
The series I’m writing now [The Custard Protocol] is set in the 1890s, which is basically the dawn of female emancipation. Mostly because of trousers — women gained a great deal of autonomy due to education and to the bicycle. The two combined started the New Woman movement, these educated young ladies with self-motivation and autonomy. I’m excited to move closer to the turn of the twentieth century and to have a bit more realism behind my super-strong female characters, because they’re not quite realistic to their time. There’s certainly other time periods I’d love to write in. I’d love to set an ancient story in some of the places I’ve visited.
What would be the most useful gadget for a Finishing School student to have on her person in the case of an espionage emergency? (This is a very difficultly worded question!)
It sounds like something I’ve written! The voice-acting talent [for my audiobooks] is always calling and complaining because I love tongue-twisters. I don’t even realize I’ve written them until somebody’s like, “Why did you write that?!” “I didn’t think about you guys reading it out loud.”
“Handiest gadget?” is the short version!
I love Sophronia’s fan, but I think it’s really handy for her. She becomes comfortable with it and adapts to it, but it’s not necessarily something that would be useful for everybody. In the final book, the chatelaine really comes to the fore. The girls keep going to balls, and they keep having to have chatelaines on them. A chatelaine is like the base for a Swiss Army Knife; it hangs off your belt and there’s a bunch of little chains and clips so you can hang multiple little things off it. Customarily you’d have a bit of perfume and a dance card, maybe keys or a little sewing kit. But of course Geraldine’s girls have a whole different set of things dangling! I love the idea that you could just attach something that has everything useful hanging off of it. Why can’t we still do that?
More fabulous photos at the Brookline Public Library Teen Room Tumblr.
The post Steampunk queen: an interview with Gail Carriger appeared first on The Horn Book.
New educational app Jump See Farm (JUMPSEEWOW, October 2014) introduces preschool and primary-age kids to life on several independent rural farms as well as an urban apiary (Best Bees, right here in Boston!).
From the main menu, tap on an icon to explore one of six subjects: pig, sheep, dairy cow, chicken, tractor, and bees. Each subject has its own “landing page” featuring a friendly, naive-style illustration with a couple of interactive animations.
Tap on select objects or animals in the illustration to access brief documentary videos (up to four on each subject, for a total of more than 30 minutes), narrated by a mix of farm-working adults, kids, and teen 4-H members. These videos detail the animals’ jobs on the farm, their care and feeding, attributes of the specific breeds being raised, and how milk, cheese, honey, etc., are produced, all with cheery bluegrass music (composed for the app by Tomas Murmis) in the background.
The videos also highlight the different species’ personalities. According to one teen girl, Tamworth pigs (a “heritage” breed) “act like dogs. My pig last year would come up to me and she would sleep on me. I just like them because they’re really social and they’re really loving.” Dairy cows, apparently, are curious but “mellow creatures.”
While it’s obvious that these are working animals valuable for their usefulness, their human caretakers clearly do feel plenty of affection for them. One young girl says, “I have a lot of favorite things about chickens, but one of my favorite things is when they take dirt baths.” A teen gives her pig a pat and tells him she loves him. Occasionally the narration gets a little cutesy — as when a beekeeper points out a brand-new bee emerging from her cell in the honeycomb and exclaims, “It’s her birthday!… How special is this?” But kids likely won’t mind, and the information communicated with this warmth and enthusiasm will intrigue them. A list of recommended resources on farm animals and farm living is available at JUMPSEEWOW’s website.
Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and for the Kindle Fire; $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.
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Here are two new YA books about the Rapture, starring teen girls.
“It’s the end of the world as we know it / And Vivian Apple and Abigail feel fiiiine.”
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Over the weekend, the Obamas did some shopping at the DC indie bookstore Politics and Prose to support Small Business Saturday. Here’s what they bought. And here’s what The Horn Book thought of their selections when they were originally published. Reviews are from The Horn Book Guide Online and The Horn Book Magazine.
Cronin, Doreen A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More
120 pp. Atheneum (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing) 2010. ISBN 978-1-4424-1263-7
(3) K–3 Illustrated by Betsy Lewin. This volume commemorates the tenth anniversary of the publication of modern classic Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. In addition to that story, this compendium includes Giggle, Giggle, Quack (2002) and Dooby Dooby Moo (2006), both starring the same crafty critters as in Click. A removable sticker sheet is appended.
Jacques, Brian Redwall
351 pp. Philomel 1987. ISBN 0-399-21424-0
(2) 4–6 Illustrated by Gary Chalk. The decline in the American taste for blockbuster fantasies, no matter how good, seems to have discouraged American authors. Such lengthy but acclaimed works as Watership Down (Macmillan) or Hounds of the Morrigan (Holiday) are by British authors; American authors tend to break up long works into volumes — Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, for example. We have in Redwall another long, beautifully written, exciting British fantasy. The hero is the mouse Matthias, a novice in the handsome Redwall Abbey, a haven of bounty, kindliness, and peace. The inhabitants of the Abbey are noted for their charity toward all their neighbors of Mossflower Woods. But the tranquil life of Redwall Abbey and the surrounding countryside is threatened by the advent of Cluny the Scourge, a rat of insane ferocity, and his horde of villainous fighters. Cluny has never been defeated and expects no trouble from Redwall. But Matthias, emboldened by his admiration for the legendary Martin, a notable warrior hero, mobilizes the defense of Redwall. Matthias also begins the search for Martin’s burial place and weapons, which he instinctively feels are the key to defeating Cluny. Matthias’s adventures alternate with Cluny’s, as the attacks on Redwall are fended off and the battle intensifies. The scenes of combat are quite fascinating, with the strategy and counter strategy cleverly and clearly worked out. The book offers an immense cast of distinctive characters, including the redoubtable Constance the badger, extremely strong and utterly fearless; Basil Stag Hare, a satirical replica of the regimental British officer; the sparrows, notably Warbeak, who speak a butter language reminiscent of that of the seagulls in Watership Down; and Abbot Mortimer, the epitome of goodness and gentleness. The flaw in the book, if there is one, is that the lines drawn between good and evil are never ambiguous, not allowing for that shiver of doubt and wonder about the outcome. But the book is splendid, with a delightful hero and a smooth, charming style.
Jacques, Brian and Chalk, Gary Mossflower [Book 2]
431 pp. Philomel 1988. ISBN 0-399-21741-X
(2) 4–6 series. Illustrated by Gary Chalk. In Mossflower, the prequel to Redwall (Philomel), we are introduced to the mouse, Martin the Warrior, the role model for Matthias in the later novel. Martin has come upon the Mossflower community just as their oppression by the evil wildcat, Tsarmina, has become too much to bear. As an experienced fighter, he takes control of the defense of the animals who live in Mossflower, aided by his new friends, Gonff, the Prince of Mousethieves; the strong, brave badger, Bella; the squirrel archers, led by Lady Amber; and the industrious moles; clever otters; and other small woodland creatures. Their chances against Tsarmina and her hordes appear small, but the woodlanders brace themselves to learn military ways and win several minor skirmishes; they even rescue some of their unfortunate comrades from the dungeons of Tsarmina’s stronghold. Martin realizes that further help is needed, and he undertakes a perilous journey to the fabled Salamandastron, in company with Gonff and other friends, to enlist the aid of Lord Boar the badger. The help is forthcoming, although not in the way that Martin expects, and Tsarmina is finally overthrown. The story is very long and contains what seems like a cast of thousands. The characterizatino is remarkably individual, sometimes funny and often even satirical, with many notable characters. There is, however, extended use of dialect, at times hard to follow; the moles make such remarks as “‘Goo boil yurr’eads, sloibeasts.’” The nonstop action suffers from too frequent transitions from one site of battle or intrigue to another. There is much talk of the delectable-sounding food — candied chestnuts, honeyed toffee pears, maple tree cordial — which, with the emphasis on cozy homes and devoted families, is reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows. Although lengthy and quite British, the book will provide excitement, fascinating characters, and an ultimately satisfactory conclusion.
Jacques, Brian and Chalk, Gary Mattimeo [Book 3]
446 pp. Philomel 1990. ISBN 0-399-21741-X
(4) 4–6 series. Illustrated by Gary Chalk. The final volume of the Redwall trilogy is a reprise of the other two books. Cruel villains, indomitable heroes, hearty adventures, and endless cozy talk of food do not quite compensate for the fact that it is far too long. For Redwall enthusiasts only.
Park, Barbara and Brunkus, Denise Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus [Book 1]
70 pp. Random (Random House Children’s Books) 1992.
Library binding ISBN 0-679-82642-4
Paperback ISBN 0-679-92642-9
(4) 1–3 First Stepping Stone series. Junie B. Jones is a likable character whose comic mishaps on her first day of school will elicit laughs from young readers. But the first-person narration by a kindergartner quickly becomes tedious, and the net result is more annoying than amusing.
Park, Barbara and Brunkus, Denise Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business [Book 2]
46 pp. Random (Random House Children’s Books) 1993. LE ISBN 0-679-83886-4 PE ISBN 0-679-93886-9
(4) 1–3 First Stepping Stone series. Junie brags at school that her new brother is a ‘real, alive baby monkey.’ The principal uses her misunderstanding to talk with Junie’s first-grade class about expressions that are not to be taken literally. The cutesy tone makes Junie sound babyish and bratty but is finally dropped for a satisfying ending.
Perkins, Lynne Rae Nuts to You
260 pp. Greenwillow 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-009275-7
(1) 4–6 Jed the squirrel’s odyssey begins dramatically when he is captured by a hawk and carried far away from his community. Using an “ancient squirrel defensive martial art,” he escapes and so begins his journey home. Meanwhile, his two best friends Chai and TsTs set off to find him. In the course of these two (eventually converging) adventures, our heroes meet some helpful hillbillyish red squirrels, a threatening owl, a hungry bobcat, and a group of humans who are cutting brush and trees for power-line clearance, thus threatening the squirrels’ habitat. The three make it safely home only to face their biggest challenge: convincing their conservative community to relocate before the humans destroy their homes. Part satire, part environmental fable, and all playful, energetic hilarity, this story takes us deep into squirrel culture: their names (“‘Brk’ is pronounced just as it’s spelled, except the r is rolled. It means ‘moustache’ in Croatian but in squirrel, it’s just a name”); their games (Splatwhistle); and their wisdom (“Live for the moment…but bury a lot of nuts”). Perkins uses language like the best toy ever. The storm “howled and pelted, whirled and whined; it spit and sprayed and showered. Its winds were fierce. Its wetness was inescapable.” The book begs to be read aloud, except that you’d miss the wacky digressions, the goofy footnotes, and the black-and-white illustrations with their built-in micro-plots.
Rundell, Katherine Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms
248 pp. Simon 2014. ISBN 978-1-4424-9061-1 $16.99
(2) 4–6 Will (short for Wilhelmina), the only daughter of William Silver, white foreman of the Two Tree Hill Farm in Zimbabwe, leads a “wildcat” life with her Shona best friend Simon, filled with good rich mud, lemons pulled from the tree with her teeth, harebrained stunts on horseback, and baby hyraxes in the barn. This idyll ends abruptly and tragically with her father’s death from malaria. The farm’s European owner, gentle Captain Browne, becomes Will’s guardian, but the captain has recently married the scheming Miss Vincy, whose ambition is to sell the farm and ship Will off to boarding school in England. This she does despite Will’s concerted opposition. Will’s arrival at school is a bumpy one — the other girls at Leewood insist she’s a “stinking savage” and a “filthy tramp” — and their continual harassment causes Will to finally run away. The protagonist’s passionate engagement with the world around her, her high moral standards (but not moralism), and her unconquerable search for joy will win readers to her side from the start, while Rundell’s finely drawn etchings of the people in Will’s sphere and rich descriptions of African colonial farm life sprawl across the page in sensual largesse. Only when Will has been reduced to almost complete destitution does Rundell allow a glimmer of hope into her life, but the ending, with its promise of relief from loneliness and despair, is that much sweeter for the wait.
Woodson, Jacqueline Brown Girl Dreaming
328 pp. Paulsen/Penguin 2014. ISBN 978-0-399-25251-8 (g)
(1) 4–6 Here is a memoir-in-verse so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. It starts out somewhat slowly, with Woodson relying on others’ memories to relate her (1963) birth and infancy in Ohio, but that just serves to underscore the vividness of the material once she begins to share her own memories; once her family arrives in Greenville, South Carolina, where they live with her maternal grandparents. Woodson describes a South where the whites-only signs may have been removed but where her grandmother still can’t get waited on in Woolworth’s, where young people are sitting at lunch counters and standing up for civil rights; and Woodson expertly weaves that history into her own. However, we see young Jackie grow up not just in historical context but also — and equally — in the context of extended family, community (Greenville and, later, Brooklyn), and religion (she was raised Jehovah’s Witness). Most notably of all, perhaps, we trace her development as a nascent writer, from her early, overarching love of stories through her struggles to learn to read through the thrill of her first blank composition book to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry here sings: specific, lyrical, and full of imagery: “So the first time my mother goes to New York City / we don’t know to be sad, the weight / of our grandparents’ love like a blanket / with us beneath it, / safe and warm.” An extraordinary — indeed brilliant — portrait of a writer as a young girl.
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With new friend Echo. Do I have to give her back?
It seems as though all of my friends have new kittens and want to torture me by constantly posting pictures, resulting in a serious case of kitten envy. For various reasons (#1 being my neurotic adult cat), introducing a kitten to my life is not the best plan at the moment, so I’m contenting myself — for now — with a few kitty-centric books.
On the cute-overload side…
I Knead My Mommy and Other Poems by Kittens by Francesco Marciuliano (Chronicle, August 2014)
The latest in Marciuliano’s series of pet-perspective poetry books (I Could Chew on This, I Could Pee on This) features a kitten’s-eye view of the world. Although the brief poems admittedly aren’t great literature, they are frequently funny or touching; one of my favorites is “Not Goodbye”:
I still smell the older cat
On his favorite chair
On his favorite blanket
On his favorite toy
I still smell the older cat
But I can’t find him anywhere
And now his dish is gone
And now his bed is gone
And now you are crying
But I still smell the older cat
So tomorrow I will look again
The poems are accompanied by many super-cute (stock) photos of kittens in all their fuzzy, bobble-headed glory. A good gift book for the crazy cat person on your list.
The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee: The Ultimate Guide to All Things Kitten by Laurie Cinotto (Roaring Brook, March 2014)
Part photo album, part how-to book, this paperback inspired by “kitten wrangler” Cinotto’s blog of the same name introduces several dozen of her previous foster cats as well as basic kitten care and the responsibilities kitten-fostering entails. Instructions for DIY kitten accoutrements, an advice column “written by” adult cat Charlene, comics created with photos and speech bubbles, kid-oriented tips on keeping kittens happy and healthy, and suggestions for helping shelter cats round out this offering. The kitty pics are definitely the main attraction, though; just try not to squee at this one.
On the bizarre-but-kinda-awesome end of the spectrum…
Downton Tabby: A Parody by Chris Kelly (Simon & Schuster, December 2013)
Cats make a weirdly appropriate (re)cast for the Edwardian-era BBC drama about an entitled family and their servants: “A Code of Conduct for Cats and Gentlefolk” offers advice such as “Never do anything for yourself that someone else can do for you,” “Communicate disapproval [and affection] with a withering glare,” and “Loaf in a decorative and highly charming manner.” This is a strange and not entirely successful little volume, but the well-dressed hairless cat as the acerbic “Dowager Catness” is pretty spot-on. (Another gem: a diagram of a formal place setting indicating the “mouse fork,” “vole fork,” etc.)
Pre-Raphaelite Cats by Susan Herbert (Thames & Hudson, May 2014)
Possibly even stranger (/cooler) is this collection of cat-ified Pre-Raphaelite portraits. Thirty works by Pre-Raphaelite founders Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais and their followers are reimagined with a variety of anthropomorphized kitty subjects. Some highlights: homages to Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix, John William Waterhouse’s Ophelia, and Edward Burne-Jones‘s The Golden Stairs. Each painting on the recto is accompanied by a few lines of contextual information or a short quotation on the verso; about half the versos include spot line-art of the featured felines. Black-and-white thumbnail reproductions of the original art are appended.
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September Nonfiction Notes comes out today, and in this issue we’re highlighting our 2014 BGHB Nonfiction Award winner and honor books. You can read it online or sign up if you’re not already subscribed. Read reviews of all of the 2014 nonfiction winners here; see below for a lot more web extras to celebrate them.
The 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Award winner is Steve Sheinkin’s The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights (Roaring Book).
Steve Jenkins received a BGHB Nonfiction Honor for The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth (Houghton).
Author Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrator Christian Robinson received a BGHB Nonfiction Honor for their biography Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle).
For more on children’s nonfiction, check out these articles from The Horn Book:
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I’ve been reading a lot of Jewish-themed books lately (thank you, Sydney Taylor Book Award committee ). I just finished Donna Jo Napoli’s very-alternate Noah’s Ark novel Storm about a teenage stowaway who’s saved by two bonobos. Strange and lovely.
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.
More recommendations from past years, courtesy of The Horn Book Guide
Cohen, 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, 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, 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, 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.
Kimmel, 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, 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.
Marshall, 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.
Ofanansky, 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.
Silverman, 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.
Wayland, 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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Yesterday we gave you web extras on our BGHB Nonfiction Award winners — today we’re honoring the Fiction Award winner and Honorees. Read reviews of all of the 2014 fiction winners here; see below for more web extras to celebrate them.
The 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction Award winner is Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle (Dutton/Penguin).
Author/illustrator Gene Luen Yang received a BGHB Fiction Honor for Boxers & Saints (First Second/Roaring Brook).
Elizabeth Wein received a BGHB Fiction Honor for Rose Under Fire (Hyperion/Disney).
Stay tuned for picture book web extras tomorrow!
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I’ve been reviewing Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers trilogy (I Hunt Killers, Game) for the Magazine and am about to start reading the just-released final volume, Blood of My Blood. So I was very excited to get my hands on Lucky Day: An I Hunt Killers Prequel by Barry Lyga (Little, Brown, April 2014), one of several digital-only novella prequels to the series.
Lucky Day follows Sheriff G. William Tanner (a mentor and father figure to the novels’ protagonist Jasper “Jazz” Dent, who makes a very brief appearance here) as he investigates two cases in the last weeks before a county election. One girl has been abducted and is presumed murdered, and another is found raped and killed not long after — brutal violence the likes of which small-town Lobo’s Nod and its surrounding county have not seen since pioneer days.
As the cases go colder and the community’s fears grow, G. William’s chances of re-election to sheriff’s office dwindle. But then he makes a connection between the cases, follows an uncomfortable hunch about an upstanding community member, and finds himself face to face with the killer.
Appropriately, given its adult protagonist, the tone of this prequel is very different from the novels’. Instead of Jazz’s teenage first-person narrative, here a partially omniscient third-person narrator relates G. William’s (very mature) concerns and experiences. His guilt about the cases potentially going unsolved, coupled with grief over his wife’s recent death, sends him into a near-suicidal depression. Perhaps this novella is better suited to adult readers of gritty hardboiled detective/jaded cop novels (I’m thinking fans of Jo Nesbø or Tana French) rather than the teen audience the trilogy is aimed at. That said, as a fan of those types of books myself, I enjoyed this suspenseful look at G. William’s — and the infamous Hand-in-Glove killer’s — earlier career.
Available for various e-readers; $1.99. Recommended for young adult and older users.
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I’m a sucker for a good secret. The Maze Runner is all about secrets.
If you’ve read James Dashner’s novel, seeing the Twentieth Century Fox movie (released September 19, 2014) is a completely different experience than it would be if you were new to the story. Instead of wondering how a gaggle of teenaged boys ended up trapped in a clearing surrounded by a constantly changing maze with their memories wiped, you wonder how director Wes Ball will handle all the information that the book gradually reveals.
The movie keeps the essence of the book as well as many of its details; the sense of confusion at the beginning is particularly well-rendered. Most of the significant changes are to elements that worked well in the book but would have been difficult to execute onscreen. Unsurprisingly, since the characters’ minds have been altered, much of the novel takes place on a mental level. Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) communicate through telepathy, which doesn’t happen in the movie. In the book, code-breaking plays a bigger role, which might’ve felt dull on film.
But the biggest change is in how the story’s secrets are filtered through Thomas’s mind. Neither the book nor the movie is the sort of post-apocalyptic story whose characters think everything is as it should be because they’ve never seen a better way, though some residents of the Glade are satisfied that the order they’ve established is the only safe option. These characters know that someone is deliberately sending them to the Glade one by one. They just don’t know who or why. If you encounter the story first through the book, you’re likely to spend much of it feeling like questions are being dangled in front of you. Book Thomas has an overwhelming sense that the Glade is familiar and hides this feeling from the other Gladers, which leads to suspicion between them and him. Though the movie Gladers suspect that Thomas holds an important role in their situation, all we hear from Thomas is what he tells them — the secrets he’s keeping from them are not revealed verbally. (The movie forgoes voiceovers and similar devices.) Instead, we see flashes of memory as Thomas sees them, first very briefly and then in more depth when he takes risks to pursue more information. Although these flashes don’t give many details, they do show the setting of Thomas’s memories very early on, giving a major clue as to how everyone arrived in the Glade. Instead of dangling questions, the movie dangles bits of the answers.
A few plot points are eliminated for the sake of pacing, and the ending is structured a little differently, but the general story arc is preserved. So are the important characters’ personalities, with a couple of notable exceptions. First, hardened-but-ultimately-loveable leader Alby (Aml Ameen) is a softie throughout the movie. More importantly, what happened to Teresa? The novel’s only girl in the Glade comes in with useful information and figures out quite a bit, as befits the super-intelligent character she’s meant to be. Movie Teresa still shows up with a note in her hand declaring her to be the last arrival and still remembers Thomas’s name, but most discoveries that are hers in the book come instead from Thomas in the film. As the first Glader to show enough curiosity to bend the rules, Thomas has agency coming out of his ears. The movie could easily have let Teresa keep her more useful lines and still let its main character come off as the hero.
O’Brien and Scodelario play Thomas and Teresa with an appropriate sense of determination, and though some of the Gladers deliver exposition more smoothly than others, the movie is well-cast overall. Blake Cooper is perfect as guileless Chuck.
For a movie whose characters keep saying, “Everything is going to change,” The Maze Runner keeps most of the important things the same.
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In the September/October 2014 Horn Book Magazine, reviewer Katie Bircher asked Garth Nix about Clariel, the long-awaited prequel to his high fantasy trilogy Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. Read the review here.
Katie Bircher: Do you think the walker chooses the path, or the path the walker? Which is it in Clariel’s case?
Garth Nix: This is one of those questions that doesn’t have an answer, or the answer changes all the time. In Clariel’s case, she chooses her own path, but there are definitely forces at work that both influence her choice and limit her selection of paths. Neither predestination nor entirely free will, but a mixture of both…
From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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Regular readers of this blog will recognize the name Originator — I’m a big fan of the developer’s Endless Alphabet and Endless Reader apps. Endless Numbers (Originator, March 2014) continues this great series of concept-learning apps.
The app opens with an image of a Ferris wheel, full of the now-familiar cute monster characters. Each number-labeled Ferris wheel car shows a thumbnail preview image for that number’s page; touch any car to skip to that specific number, or proceed chronologically from 1.
Each brightly colored, monster-featured numeral is introduced on a graph-paper-printed background as a pleasant narrator gives its name; then the monsters knock the numeral askew. Users drag the numeral into its correct place (first in counting chronology, then in a simple addition problem) marked with a faint outline.
Finally, the monsters star in a brief animation offering a humorous contextual scenario for its numerical value. The animation for “1,” for example, shows a monster wobbling along on a unicycle; the narrator explains, “It is hard for Little Blue to ride a unicycle because it only has 1 wheel.”
The numeric concepts are subtly reinforced in a variety of ways throughout the app. Each monster-fied numeral has the corresponding amount of eyes and other appendages; many other elements of the animations (e.g., four monster babies with four arms each in a four-wheeled stroller) also relate to the featured number. Tap the screen during the animations for a fireworks-like shower of the correct numeral.
This is a painless and entertaining way to introduce basic number value and counting concepts. And — a smart choice — the app requires no reading, making it suitable for very young users (and not overwhelming those who are learning to read with too much information at once).
Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 5.0 or later). The free preview offers numbers 1 through 5; download the 6-20 pack for $5.99 or the 6-100 pack for $11.99. Recommended for preschool and early primary users.
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On October 2, the Harvard Book Store hosted B. J. Novak (from TV’s The Office, Saving Mr. Banks, and many others; also a Harvard University grad, thank you very much) reading his new picture book — The Book with No Pictures — at the Brattle Theatre. He invited kids on to the stage for a rollicking reading of his hilarious book. At least I thought that was rollicking, until I saw him read again the next day in front of about two hundred first-through-third-graders at a nearby elementary school. Pure kid bliss, complete with Q&A at the end (Kid: “Did you write books when you were little?” BJN: “Yes! Spooky books for Halloween, stories about the beach when it was summertime…”) and an invitation to send him story ideas (um… Uncle Shelby, anyone?! If you don’t get that reference, read on). We spoke afterward about standup comedy, childhood rebellion, and metafiction.
(BTW, as @RogerReads asked: “Is @bjnovak ‘s THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES still technically a picture book? I hope it makes the Caldecott committee squirm.”)
EG: How involved were you in designing The Book with No Pictures?
BJN: I was extremely hands on — I think I drove everyone crazy.
EG: Who were the editor and designer on this project?
BJN: I worked with two designers: Lily Malcom at Penguin and Kate Harmer, an independent designer I’ve worked with before, with Hum Creative in Seattle. The editor was Lauri Hornik. My approach is always to ask a million people for advice.
B.J. Novak at the Brattle Theatre.
EG: Were kids involved in that part?
BJN: Not knowingly, not wittingly. I would observe kids as they were read to, not just by me. I would ask parents to read so I could watch what they would naturally do. My original draft of what we call the “mayhem spread,” with all those crazy syllables, was very intimidating for a parent to read, I found. I mean, kids loved it. I showed my original black-and-white version to a two-year-old, and he started cracking up as soon as he saw the page. It had a lot of Hs in it, a lot of silent letters — I wanted it to look complicated. And while kids were delighted, I thought a parent would give up. So I simplified a lot of those syllables. That was a combined design/editorial decision.
EG: Who reined this book in? Because for all of its wackiness, it is very controlled and subtle. It could have gone crazy…
His head is made of blueberry pizza.
BJN: Yeah, controlled rebellion. That was my approach. I looked at the original copy I made — I bought an 8 ½ x 12 moleskin journal and printed out pages and paper-clipped them in, with the font the size that I pictured and typewriter font. I glue-sticked a cover onto the journal so that a little kid would think it was a real book, so I could get a real reaction. It took like fifteen minutes per book, so you can’t just give them away, but I would carry them around places. And when I looked at that original paper-clipped version recently, it is almost identical to the finished book. So when I first had the idea, the tone of it was part of the idea. It was something that’s very rebellious for a three-year-old but actually not that edgy. “I am a monkey who taught myself to read” is very unedgy. “BooBoo Butt” is about as borderline as we get. A kindergartner once asked if he could whisper something in my ear so the grownups couldn’t hear, and he whispered, “I liked when you said BooBoo Butt.” He thought it was extremely rebellious and transgressive that I had said that. Controlled rebellion is the key to enjoyment because it makes a kid feel safe. And I’ve noticed that since I was a kid, trying to make other kids laugh, which I did, that younger kids — and especially, I’ve found, younger girls — can be scared of a book that is too wild. And a way to combat that is to keep assuring a kid that this is silly. This is ridiculous, what’s going on here. So the book repeats many times, “This is so silly,” which is partly to make a kid feel safe. Nothing too crazy is going to happen.
EG: It’s not Sendak.
The mayhem spread, mid badoongy-face.
BJN: Yeah, who I loved, but whose work can be a little scary — you don’t know where it’s going. So with this book I wanted kids to feel safe in this rebelliously experimental environment.
EG: Was “preposterous” in your original draft?
BJN: No, “preposterous” I added later because I had said “silly” and “ridiculous” too many times. I was working on the movie Saving Mr. Banks, which was about the making of Mary Poppins, and I was enamored of the way kids learned certain words aspirationally. And I thought it’d be nice to have one word in this book that kids don’t recognize, that sounds funny, and it would be nice if they went around saying “preposterous” because they knew it from the book. So that was the one word I added to give a little… aspirational vocabulary.
EG: The Horn Book’s winter company outing last year was to see Saving Mr. Banks.
BJN: Well, I definitely identified with P. L. Travers, because I had written this book that I had intended to cause nothing but easy joy, and here I was being pretty much a monster the way P. L. Travers was. “No, no, that color is all wrong. This font is ridiculous. You can’t have pictures in the book.” I said no picture of me on the flap jacket. I even asked, at one point, if we could take off the little penguin logo on the spine of the book.
EG: They said no?
BJN: Well, I actually changed my mind on that. I think the brand is so wonderful and inviting that I decided technically the jacket isn’t the book, the jacket is the cover. But I was really a monster in the P. L. Travers mold.
EG: Had you read Mary Poppins?
BJN: I hadn’t, but then I read it when we started making the movie. What I was struck by is that the book is so sweet and clever, that I can only imagine how stunned the Sherman brothers must’ve been to meet this sour, negative person. You’d expect it to be a breeze. It’s not like she wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
EG: Or Where the Wild Things Are. Were you a reader as a kid?
BJN: Yes. My very favorite was Matt Christopher who wrote sort of wish-fulfillment sports books. The Kid Who Only Hit Homers I loved. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen.
EG: Do you know the story about how librarians used to pencil in little diapers on the kid?
BJN: I think they had a point! Reading it again recently I thought, “This is insane.” But at the time I thought it was spooky and exciting. I loved Amelia Bedelia, Harriet the Spy. I was caught under my covers reading Harriet the Spy with a flashlight. My mom was very angry because I had promised I’d go to bed. Danny, the Champion of the World. Roald Dahl in general but especially that. And Shel Silverstein I really liked. As I write both for kids and adults, he’s someone who comes up, for me, as a role model. Even the way he maintained his aesthetic, so deliberately, with black and white and a certain font.
EG: Do you read those books differently now than when you were a kid?
BJN: Actually, I probably read them the same. I flip through the Silverstein poems, I never read them in order. My book for adults, One More Thing, is influenced by that, too, the different lengths and playfulness, the black-and-white cover.
EG: The slightly transgressive nature… or more than slightly.
BJN: The important thing for me about The Book with No Pictures, and Shel Silverstein embodied it well, and Dr. Seuss embodied it extremely well too, is that it does encourage kids who will inevitably be rebellious to think of books as their allies. I was very lucky to grow up thinking that every time I was sort of angry and ambitious and didn’t fit in and wanted to do something cooler, I thought of books as the place where you’d find that. As a teenager it would be Jack Kerouac and Bukowski. And as a little kid it might be Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss was never on the side of your parent or the authority. He seemed completely anti-authority. And even though he’s so rightly accoladed for his educational books now, when you’re a kid you think: this is the opposite of learning. You think: this is freedom. And that, to me, is an extremely important decision that gets made in a kid’s mind, whether books are the ally or the enemy when they are feeling certain feelings. And I think that what excites me about something like The Book with No Pictures is making kids feel words are on their side, not their parents’ side. Words are this incredible code that can make people do things that they want them to do.
EG: It’s really a performance, reading this book, in a way that some picture books are not. You really have to, as a grownup, embody all of it.
BJN: On the one hand you do, on the other hand you don’t. Performers really take to this book, and I’ve especially found it to be good as a dad book. Dads often want to be a little more wild and rowdy with sons, and a lot of picture books are very gentle, so this is a rowdy book. But I’ve also found people who are not performers, who are shy about picking it up, get wonderful reactions, too. A shy or more quiet parent saying these things, even in a flat, straightforward voice, can be especially funny to a kid, because they’re not the type of parent who would normally say, “My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named BooBoo Butt.”
EG: Is the experience different reading to groups rather than one on one?
BJN: Well, I love groups because of all the years I spent as a standup comedian. You just want an audience. It’s a universal truth that comedy’s better with an audience. When I was growing up watching Seinfeld with my family we would all laugh, and now when people tell me they watch The Office on their laptop or on Netflix it’s a little sad. I think that’s why there’s so much activity on Twitter and Facebook about TV shows because you want to be watching this with everybody.
EG: You’ve really thought about all this.
EG: It seems like many projects you’re involved in have this sort of meta quality to them.
BJN: Yes! Nice observation. What else?
EG: Well, even Punk’d is kind of meta. The Office goes without saying. Saving Mr. Banks — a movie about a book about the making of a movie. It’s just that you’re really smart, right?
BJN: I think it’s taste. My friend Mindy Kaling, equally smart, has no patience for meta.
EG: Some of it is really poorly done.
BJN: There seems to be a really sort of clever-teenage-boy drive toward the meta. I loved Mr. Show because it was meta. I loved early Simpsons. And when I was a teenager I loved Borges for being meta. So, yes, that’s always been my taste. The Book with No Pictures — even that title is meta. It’s commenting on itself, its own existence as a funny idea. So I’m always drawn to that. The conceptual, the meta.
EG: Could you write an article for us on gender and meta?
BJN: Interesting. Well, it’s a very small sample set, but I’ve tended to find that equally smart, equally literate people of opposite genders — meta is a dividing line, often. That and Bob Dylan.
EG: You are not a typical celebrity author.
BJN: I think the crazy thing is that I’m a celebrity, not that I’m an author. I’m an author by nature. My father is an author. I went to Harvard and studied literature. I was an ambitious and successful television writer. And then I started doing stand-up and acting, and for years I think the quiet nudge from my friends was, “Are you sure about this acting thing? You’re so clearly meant to be a writer.” And so now I actually take it as a compliment when people are skeptical about celebrity books. I’m like, “Really? You think I’m a celebrity? Wow! No one ever thought I could do it.” No one ever doubted I could be an author growing up, they doubted that I could be a celebrity.
EG: Do you have both these introvert and extrovert sides to you?
BJN: I’m very much both, in the way that very many comedy performers are, famously. And really this is my ideal career. Most of the time I love being alone, writing, in my own mind, no one bothering me, dreaming up things, like a teenage boy in his basement laboratory. Plotting about how the world is going to crazy with excitement about what he’s writing.
EG: Sounds like your next middle-grade novel.
BJN: And then I want to go out and show it to the world and see people’s faces. So I really feel that what my real goal is, and always has been, is to be a public author. There was an era in which Mark Twain was America’s author. Everyone knew he was a writer. Dickens, too, performed live. All these guys performed their writing live and were public personas as writers. And in Europe there’s still something of a public persona as a writer. But it’s not really the case in America. You’re an author or a celebrity.
EG: Although now with Twitter, John Green and people like that…
BJN: Yes! I think it’s changing somewhat. And I would like to be that. What John Green is for his audience and his genre, I would like to be for mine. Which is meta comedy, I suppose. I would like to be the representative of it. Someone who is a hero of mine that I also want to be like is Rod Serling. He presented his writing, looked like his writing, embodied his writing. He wasn’t an actor, he was a public writer. So that’s what I want to be.
EG: So, picture book is your niche? Or are you going to come out with a YA — what was that toilet zombie book the kid suggested during the Q&A?
BJN: My first book, the short story book, is very personal expression. And this book is an expression of what I want to write for kids. Yeah, I would like to write YA as well, and middle-grade…
EG: See, you know what the words “middle-grade” mean. That’s great.
BJN: Well, again, I’m not a celebrity. That’s our secret.
Liz (the school’s hip librarian; cameo appearance): HA!
EG: He knows “middle-grade.” He used it in conversation! Oh, Shel Silverstein… Liz sending you all the kids’ story ideas… it makes me think of Silverstein’s ABZ book.
BJN: Yes! I loved it as a kid.
EG: As a kid you read it?
BJN: My father gently introduced me to it with the explanation that this is a fake kids’ book. I got the joke, I loved it…
EG: “L is for lye…”
BJN: I remember: “Steal your parents’ money and mail it to Uncle Shelby.”
EG: So there weren’t any books that you weren’t allowed to read as a kid? Was everything up for grabs?
BJN: Everything was up for grabs, in fact probably more than for most kids because my father had a library at home of all the books he would do for research. He had written a book on marijuana use. There were books on heroine in our house. There were books on Iran-Contra. Books on all kinds of things. And he never stopped me from reading any of that. I think he was secretly quite happy. Again, if your rebellion comes… look, rebellion’s going to come, for every kid. And if it comes in the form of literature, you’re much better off than if it comes in opposition to it.
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It’s not easy being a Yankees fan in Boston. Just ask my husband. Or Ben Affleck. (It’s ok, son. Let it out. We won’t judge. #dothprotesttoomuch)
Here are three new children’s books that will have Yankees fans cheering. And not the Bronx cheer, either.
Derek Jeter hung up his cleats earlier this year, and now he’s starting his own imprint. The Contract (written with Paul Mantell) is about a boy, named Derek Jeter, who chases his dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. According to an author’s note, it’s “based on some of my experiences growing up and playing baseball,” and the “theme” of the book is: “Set Your Goals High.” Third-grade Derek (the character) is remarkably — and unrealistically — self-possessed and self-aware. No matter; Jeter fans will get a kick out of this kid-version of their hero.
The Closer by Mariano Rivera (with Sue Corbett and Wayne Coffee) is an adaptation for young readers of Mo’s memoir about growing up in a fishing village in Panama. (The attention-grabbing first line: “You don’t mess around with machetes. I learn that as a little kid…”) He works hard, gains the attention of a baseball scout, and blossoms into a baseball superstar while remaining an all-around nice guy. Didactic “Notes from Mo” inspirational-message anecdotes are interspersed. With an eight-page color-photo insert.
Pinstripe Pride: The Inside Story of the New York Yankees is a young readers’ version of the adult book Pinstripe Empire written by Marty Appel, former Yankees PR director. It’s a history of the Yankees juggernaut — the team’s highs and lows — with a little social history thrown in as well. Those Bostonians who don’t root for the home team will be happy to have this resource (though maybe throw on a paper-bag book cover if you’re going outside).
The World Series starts tonight. Needless to say, the Yanks won’t win it (neither will the Sox; it’s the Giants v. Royals), but kids can relive the memories with these Bronx Bombers books.
Bonus: here are a couple more baseball booklists.
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We’ve noticed a welcome trend lately: excellent graphic novel memoirs (or fiction that feels an awful lot like) written by women about their adolescence. Here are a few to enjoy. (Thanks, Marjane Satrapi, for breaking ground with Persepolis, and to the Tamaki cousins for Skim and This One Summer! Also Katie’s girl-crush Lucy Knisley, who has a new book out — An Age of License — described by the publisher as “an Eat, Pray, Love for the alternative comics fan.”
The November/December 2014 Horn Book Magazine
includes three graphic novel memoirs by women. At the age of four, in 1975, author Cece Bell contracted meningitis, leaving her severely to profoundly deaf. The wonderful El Deafo
is a characterful, vivid, often amusing graphic novel memoir that recaptures the experiences of her childhood — adapting to deafness, to others’ attitudes toward it, and to the technology of the Phonic Ear, a cumbersome assistive device. At the heart of her story is an experience relevant to most children: the finding of the “True Friend,” a falling out, and a reunion. Bell combines great humor and charm (her characters are all anthropomorphic bunnies) with emotional complexity and seriousness.
Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s 2010 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book Smile will be smiling all the way through this companion book — Sisters — an often bittersweet but amusingly told story about Raina’s relationship with her younger sister, Amara. The summer before Raina starts high school, she and Amara, their younger brother, and their mom take a road trip from California to Colorado for a family reunion. As in Smile, sepia-toned pages mark the frequent flashbacks, which fill readers in on the evolution of this battle of the sisters. The story ends with a solidly believable truce between the warring siblings, who, one suspects, will continue to both annoy and support each other.
I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached (companion to her 2012 book A Game for Swallows, is the author’s memories of the Lebanese civil war, in a loosely connected series of sobering vignettes and impressions, each beginning with the phrase “I remember.” Black-and-white geometric illustrations capture both the enormous scale of the war (with motifs of falling bombs, helicopters, and stranded cars) and its personal repercussions.
Two new ones that recently came into the office:
Tomboy by Liz Prince: “A memoir about friendship, gender, bullies, growth, punk rock, and the power of the perfect outfit” [from flap copy].
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (roller derby name “Winnie the Pow”), a graphic novel (fiction) about a teen derby grrl.
Have you noticed a trend? Do you have other books to recommend?
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Intrepid adventurer dog Millie is back in Halloween-themed offering Millie’s Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 (Millie Was Here series; Megapops, 2012).
Knock on each of ten front doors in Millie’s neighborhood to spin a game show–style wheel and receive either a video “trick” (e.g., “Millie Performs an Amazing Yo-Yo Trick,” “Millie Teleports All Over the Place”) or “treat” (spooky-fied bacon treats such as “Frankenbacon”). Judging from the not-too-scary decorations, it seems Millie’s neighborhood includes friendly families of werewolves, mad scientists, aliens, and vampires. A theremin-and-harpsichord waltz continues the Halloween-y mood. Every screen also offers a scratch-off picture of Millie modeling a different costume and a hidden sticker of a creepy-cute creature. Collect badges by finding all of the stickers and reading through the entire app. Each read-through offers slightly different content as the app cycles through a wide range of trick and treat videos and costumed Millie snapshots.
a trick: “Millie Knits You a Nice, Warm Sweater”
As in previous Millie Was Here apps, the humor lies in the juxtaposition of the off-screen narrator’s bombastic voice-over and the equally over-the-top title cards with Millie’s mundane doggy activities and interests. In the trick “Millie Turns into a Vicious Werewolf,” for instance, the small, snuggly dog looks up at a projected moon while a horror-movie-worthy wolf howl plays. Many of the videos show hands of human assistants offering treats and helping Millie perform her various tricks; the intentionally low-tech effects are part of the series’ considerable charm.
The navigation is straightforward — just forward and back buttons — and the app requires no reading. Music, narration, text highlighting, touch hints, and sticker hints may be turned on or off and volume may be adjusted (some of these settings are accessible from the navigation bar at the bottom of each screen, others in a parent-locked info section). A “bedtime mode” dims the screen slightly and disables the sticker hunt for a more soothing experience. Tips for keeping pets happy and safe on “Howl-o-ween” are appended.
Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $0.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.
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