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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?
The post Mini-trend: Grrrl power grrraphic novels appeared first on The Horn Book.
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.
The post Here come the Yankees appeared first on The Horn Book.
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.
The post B. J. Novak is not a celebrity author. (Oh, really?): An interview appeared first on The Horn Book.
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.
The post Endless Numbers app review appeared first on The Horn Book.
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.
The post Garth Nix on Clariel appeared first on The Horn Book.
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.
The post The Maze Runner movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.
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.
The post Lucky Day: An I Hunt Killers Prequel e-book review appeared first on The Horn Book.
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!
The post 2014 BGHB Fiction Day appeared first on The Horn Book.
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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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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It’s Banned Books Week! From The American Library Association’s website: “Each year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information.” Based on 307 challenges, here are the top ten most challenged books of 2013.
- Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
- A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
- Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence
Here’s how the Horn Book reviewed 2013′s most challenged children’s and young adult books.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants: An Epic Novel and sequels
by Dav Pilkey; illus. by the author
Intermediate Blue Sky 124 pp.
09/97 0-590-84627-2 $16.95
Best friends and fellow pranksters George and Harold create a comic book superhero, Captain Underpants, and hypnotize their school principal into assuming his identity. Clad in cape and jockey shorts, Principal Krupp foils bank robbers and a mad scientist until the boys “de-hypnotize” him. Written in a tongue-in-cheek style and illustrated with suitably cartoonish drawings, the story is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. PETER D. SIERUTA
reviewed in the Spring 1998 Horn Book Guide
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie; illus. by Ellen Forney
Middle School, High School Little 232 pp.
9/07 978-0-316-01368-0 $16.99 g
The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally — and hilariously and triumphantly — bent in this novel about coming of age on the rez. Urged on by a math teacher whose nose he has just broken, Junior, fourteen, decides to make the iffy commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to attend high school in Reardan, a small town twenty miles away. He’s tired of his impoverished circumstances (“Adam and Eve covered their privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny hands”), but while he hopes his new school will offer him a better education, he knows the odds aren’t exactly with him: “What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?” But he makes friends (most notably the class dork Gordy), gets a girlfriend, and even (though short, nearsighted, and slightly disabled from birth defects) lands a spot on the varsity basketball team, which inevitably leads to a showdown with his own home team, led by his former best friend Rowdy. Junior’s narration is intensely alive and rat-a-tat-tat with short paragraphs and one-liners (“If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs”). The dominant mode of the novel is comic, even though there’s plenty of sadness, as when Junior’s sister manages to shake off depression long enough to elope — only to die, passed out from drinking, in a fire. Junior’s spirit, though, is unquenchable, and his style inimitable, not least in the take-no-prisoners cartoons he draws (as expertly depicted by comics artist Forney) from his bicultural experience. ROGER SUTTON
reviewed in the September/October 2007 Horn Book Magazine
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Middle School, High School Scholastic 374 pp.
10/08 978-0-439-02348-1 $17.99
Survivor meets “The Lottery” as the author of the popular Underland Chronicles returns with what promises to be an even better series. The United States is no more, and the new Capitol, high in the Rocky Mountains, requires each district to send two teenagers, a boy and a girl, to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a reality show from which only one of the twenty-four participants will emerge victorious — and alive. When her younger sister is chosen by lottery to represent their district, Katniss volunteers to go in her stead, while Peeta, who secretly harbors a crush on Katniss, is the boy selected to join her. A fierce, resourceful competitor who wins the respect of the other participants and the viewing public, Katniss also displays great compassion and vulnerability through her first-person narration. The plot is front and center here — the twists and turns are addictive, particularly when the romantic subplot ups the ante — yet the Capitol’s oppression and exploitation of the districts always simmers just below the surface, waiting to be more fully explored in future volumes. Collins has written a compulsively readable blend of science fiction, survival story, unlikely romance, and social commentary. JONATHAN HUNT
reviewed in the September/October 2008 Horn Book Magazine
A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl
by Tanya Lee Stone
High School Lamb/Random 227 pp.
1/06 0-385-74702-0 $14.95 g
Library edition 0-385-90946-2 $16.99
“Stupid / humiliated / foolish / stung / heartbroken / pissed off / and a little / bit / wiser.” High school freshman Josie sums up how she feels after falling for an only-out-for-one-thing senior, and she isn’t alone. The three (very different) teen girl narrators in this candid free-verse novel form a chorus of varied perspectives on how a “bad boy” — the same boy for all three — causes them to lose control before they even realize what’s happening. Stone’s portrayal of the object of their (dis)affection is stereotyped, but the three girls are distinct characters, and she conveys the way the girls’ bodies and brains respond to the unnamed everyjerk in electrically charged (and sexually explicit) detail. Finally returning to her senses, Josie decides to post warnings about her ex in the back of the school library’s copy of Judy Blume’s Forever…because “every girl reads it eventually.” Others add their own caveats in a reassuring show of sisterhood. As this scribbled “support group” illustrates, even the most careful and self-aware among us sometimes gets bitten by the snake in the grass. CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMAN
reviewed in the January/February 2006 issue of The Horn Book Magazine
Looking for Alaska
by John Green
High School Dutton 237 pp.
3/05 0-525-47506-0 $15.99 g
A collector of famous last words, teenage Miles Halter uses Rabelais’s final quote (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”) to explain why he’s chosen to leave public high school for Culver Creek Preparatory School in rural Alabama. In his case, the Great Perhaps includes challenging classes, a hard-drinking roommate, elaborate school-wide pranks, and Alaska Young, the enigmatic girl rooming five doors down. Moody, sexy, and even a bit mean, Alaska draws Miles into her schemes, defends him when there’s trouble, and never stops flirting with the clearly love-struck narrator. A drunken make-out session ends with Alaska’s whispered “To be continued?” but within hours she’s killed in a car accident. In the following weeks, Miles and his friends investigate Alaska’s crash, question the possibility that it could have been suicide, and acknowledge their own survivor guilt. The narrative concludes with an essay Miles writes about this event for his religion class — an unusually heavy-handed note in an otherwise mature novel, peopled with intelligent characters who talk smart, yet don’t always behave that way, and are thus notably complex and realistically portrayed teenagers. PETER D. SIERUTA
reviewed in the March/April 2005 Horn Book Magazine
Bone: Out from Boneville and sequels
by Jeff Smith; illus. by Jeff Smith and Steve Hamaker
Intermediate Scholastic/Graphix 140 pp.
2/05 0-439-70623-8 $18.95
When greedy Phoney Bone is run out of town, his cousins, Fone and Smiley, join him. Fone makes friends with a country girl, her no-nonsense gran’ma, and a dragon; Phoney must contend with ferocious rat creatures who are led by a mysterious “hooded one” and who want Phoney’s soul. This graphic novel (originally published in comic-book form) is slow paced but nevertheless imaginative. MARK ADAM
reviewed in the Fall 2005 Horn Book Guide
Are you reading any banned books this week?
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During a recent weekend in New York City I had some time between brunch and a Broadway show. I was able to spend a leisurely few hours exploring The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter (curated by kidlit historian and frequent Horn Book contributor Leonard Marcus), an engaging exhibit at the New York Public Library.
The exhibit is a winding journey of children’s literature that follows its history from early readers such as Dick and Jane to the phenomenon of Harry Potter. As I wandered through the exhibit, the books on display led me down the memory lane of my childhood favorites. On one wall was Charlotte’s spider web, complete with her written words aptly describing Wilbur. An interactive component consisted of the author E.B. White reading aloud chapters from his classic novel, Charlotte’s Web. As I listened I was instantly transported back to my youth. Around the corner I found the original stuffed animals of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the Pooh looking very worn and loved in a glass case.
from left: the original Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, Piglet, and Pooh stuffed animals
Each turn I took throughout the exhibit brought me to another special book that had been meaningful in my childhood. I next encountered my all-time favorite character, Mary Poppins. It is well known that P.L. Travers was very protective of her beloved Mary Poppins and was less than thrilled with Disney’s musical version. While the magical nanny in the book is somewhat more bitter than in the “spoonful of sugar” movie, Julie Andrews will always be my vision of the character. P.L Travers’ own parrot head umbrella is on display next to a Mary Poppins doll. The interactive exhibit also includes video of a musical number from the movie.
A theme found throughout the exhibit is how the history of children’s books parallels the evolution of thinking on child development. As you go through the exhibit you find the works of such children’s literature icons as Margaret Wise Brown, Eric Carle, and Maurice Sendak.
the great green room of Goodnight, Moon
The books of these authors/illustrators speak to various aspects of children’s development. Society’s understanding of how children grow and learn is reflected in the stories created for them. “Behind every children’s book,” we read on the exhibit wall, “is a vision of childhood: a shared understanding of what growing up is all about.”
illustrations from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence
The books in the exhibit reflect not only childhood, but also the times in which the books were written. One fascinating fact that I was not aware of: the book The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf was considered by some as political propaganda when it was published in 1936. I have always thought of it as a sweet story of a bull that didn’t want to fight — I had no knowledge of the controversy that originally surrounded it. Of particular interest to me was the section of the exhibit dedicated to censored books throughout the years, ranging from such popular titles as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to Judy Blume’s Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. The topic of censorship remains crucial as current books such as Harry Potter as well as perennial titles continue to be questioned and censored.
The exhibit, which closed on September 7th, offered a thoughtful tour of both children’s literature and societal conceptions of childhood.
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So, I saw that movie based on a YA novel about teens in love who are faced with questions of life and death. No, not that one, at least not most recently. I’m talking about the New Line Cinema/MGM adaptation of Gayle Forman’s 2009 novel If I Stay, directed by R. J. Cutler and released August 22, 2014. (Warning: If you stay with this post, you’ll find some major spoilers.)
When I went looking for a viewing companion, the premise produced shudders from more than one friend. For the uninitiated, the title refers to seventeen-year-old Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz)’s wrenching decision to go on living — or not — as she observes her comatose body after a car accident that left her critically injured and the rest of her family even worse.
In case you haven’t noticed, YA movies are hot these days, and studios seem to get that the books are hot, too. Like The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and other recent movies based on YA novels, this one keeps its story very close to the original text. Mia’s cello playing is important in the book, and so it’s important in the movie, too, even though it’s not as “Hollywood” as her boyfriend Adam’s (Jamie Blackley) rock band.
If I Stay is a cinematically paced book, which helps. Forman alternates between scenes of Mia’s pre-accident life and the post-accident drama. This structure saves both the book and the movie from long strings of hospital scenes and breaks up the emotional intensity with happier moments that increase our emotional investment in these characters. Mia’s rocker parents, affably performed by Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard, and little brother Teddy, played by a sincere Jakob Davies, are simply fun and lovable characters; we want to spend time with them and understand why Mia does, too.
Though the movie mostly adopts the book’s pacing, it does make a few significant tweaks. In the book, Mia and the reader find out very quickly (and slightly more graphically) that both parents have died. The movie ratchets up tension by revealing her mother’s death later and having her father live long enough to arrive at the hospital. The change creates more reasons to keep watching the hospital scenes: Mia has hope for her family early on, and viewers who haven’t read the book (or, well, seen the trailer) might be on the edge of their seats. Teddy’s death comes later in both the book and the movie — but as movie-Mia stays in the same hospital instead of being helicoptered out, she finds out much more directly and it’s more of a defining moment.
If you thought Mia and Adam’s undying-unless-she-goes-to-Julliard love was a little cheesy in the book, you’ll find the same goops of cheddar in the movie. But neither book nor movie pretends their relationship is perfect, and the movie makes their conflict harsher but bases it on the same issues. Although the ending is essentially the same, Adam’s promises leading up to it manage to make the love story more sentimental. (These changes in Mia and Adam’s relationship also make it seem less likely that the studio plans to film the 2011 book sequel, Where She Went.)
Just like that other tear-jerking YA movie about love and mortality, this one emphasizes the choices its characters get to make. Even before Mia must decide whether to live, she’s deciding what to do with her life. Maybe that’s what so many teens like about these kinds of stories. Teens are at a time in their lives when even ordinary decisions start to have higher stakes. There’s something validating about stories that acknowledge that, in some cases, a teenage life is an entire life, and maybe something reassuring about seeing teens confronted with questions so big that choices about school and relationships seem lighter.
Yes, these tragic tales show that some things are beyond teens’ control, but they also make it clear that some things aren’t.
The post If I Stay movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.
Simple app Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (Sesame Workshop, December 2013), starring a blue, horned Sesame Street monster, models the “Breathe, Think, Do” problem-solving strategy for the very youngest (ages 2-5): “First…breathe to calm down after facing a challenge; next, think of plans to solve the problem; and then choose one of the plans.” (From the “About This App” note in the “For Parents” section; useful “Tips and Strategies” are also offered).
The opening screen shows the smiley monster looking up at five easy-to-identify icons (sneaker, backpack, block, slide, bed). The eager narration — in English or Spanish — urges: “Go ahead, tap on ones of these.” Each icon then takes us to a kid-centric scenario; selecting the backpack, for example, brings us to school. The narrator calls attention to visual cues about the monster’s state of mind: “Oh, no. The monster is frowning and it looks like he might cry. He feels sad because he’s not happy that it’s time to say goodbye to his mommy.” (The “sneaker” scenario models frustration at not being able to put on his own shoes; the “block” scenario models disappointment when the monster’s block tower topples over.)
Step 1: Breathe
The next screen shows the still-frowning monster against a red background. “Tap on the monster’s belly to help him put his hands on it. / Tap slowly on his belly.” The monster breathes in and out, and the background color lightens as the monster’s face relaxes (“Look! The monster is calming down. He needs to take another breath. Tap on his belly again”). After three slow breaths: “Yes! He looks much calmer.”
Step 2: Think
On the next screen we “help” the monster think of a plan. Bubbles appear over his head, and kids tap to pop them (the popping sound effects, along with monster-thinking noises, make this extra-fun) while the narrator says: “Think think think…Aha!” In the “Personalize This App” section (in the parents area) you an record your or your child’s voice to encourage the monster: “Think of a plan! Keep thinking! You’ve almost got a plan!”
The app then presents three problem-solving ideas; in the case of school: 1. find a friend to play with; 2. draw a picture of someone he loves to look at during the day; 3. ask a grownup, like his teacher, for a hug.
Kids pick one of the choices, which brings us to:
Step 3: Do
The monster successfully implements the chosen plan. The narrator does a quick recap (“remember: breathe, think, do; you can always ask a grownup for help”), then the monster celebrates with confetti (which kids can tap).
Learning life skills and having silly fun — this is a child-friendly, research-based app that could be very useful for a variety of settings.
Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and Android devices; free. Recommended for preschool and primary users.
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The brand-new story told in Dreamworks’ Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e-book (Dreamworks Press with Genera Interactive, July 2014) takes place between the 2010 How to Train Your Dragon film (based on Cressida Cowell’s intermediate novel of the same name) and the sequel released earlier this summer.
The user begins by creating a character profile and selecting one of three reading levels: “hatchling” (suggested for users five years and younger), “broad wing” (six to eight years), and “titan wing” (nine years and up). The user may easily edit his or her profile or select a different reading level; the engaging narration, music, and sound effects may be turned on or off at any time from the parent-locked settings menu. All three levels of the story have the same basic plot and address the user directly in present-tense, second-person narrative.
You come-to underwater, with amnesia and a mysterious dragon egg in tow, after an apparent shipwreck. Human boy and dragon pair Hiccup and Toothless — protagonists of both the books and films — rescue you from a hungry water dragon, then fly you to their island home, Berk, to help save the hatching egg. The new hatchling gets spooked and escapes, leading you, Hiccup, and Toothless on a merry chase around four island locations (the blacksmith’s shop, the dragon-training academy, the dragon hanger, and a quiet cove) while encountering the human and dragon inhabitants.
You finally track down your baby dragon and earn its trust. Navigating among the various locations — or returning to a favorite chapter — is easy with a map of the island.
Each of the five chapters (one for the shipwreck scene, plus each of the island destinations) is followed by a first-person “journal entry” in which your character ponders her or his forgotten past, describes emotional reactions to the story’s events, and offers some foreshadowing for future installments. Endearing watercolor-like illustrations accompany the entries. Though the main narrative is simplified in the hatchling and broad wing levels, the journal entries are identical across levels and no narration is offered — so younger users may need some help reading these sections.
The humorous text (most nuanced and funniest in titan wing mode) and high-quality animation are accompanied by upbeat music, sound effects, and a few simple interactive moments, including a game of “Returnwing” (think “boomerang”) fetch with Toothless. But the real draw for Dragon fans will be reuniting with these lovable characters.
Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $4.99. Next installment coming fall 2014; $.99. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.
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In honor of Shark Week, here’s a list of recent YA books featuring sharp-tongued narrators with biting wit. (Thanks to WE television network, home of Will & Grace reruns, for giving us this idea for “Snark Week.”)
Hattemer, Kate The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
Middle School, High School Knopf 327 pp.
4/14 978-0-385-75378-4 $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-75379-1 $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-385-75380-7 $10.99
A reality show competition for the title of “America’s Best Teen Artist” comes to Ethan’s bohemian high school, and his best friend Luke proposes a “folk uprising.” Ethan gets fired up by Luke’s idealism, so he feels profoundly betrayed when their scathing long poem (à la Ezra Pound) lands Luke a spot on For Art’s Sake…Luke’s apparent objective all along. Ethan’s voice — self-deprecating, witty, and full of both literary and pop-culture references — makes him an appealing narrator for the madcap comedy, and readers will cheer as he takes a leading role in his own life.
Howell, Simmone Girl Defective
High School Atheneum 303 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-9760-3 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9762-7 $10.99
From the roof of her father’s failing used record store, fifteen-year-old Sky and her glamorous older friend Nancy spy a poster of a beautiful but sad-looking girl whose image lingers in Sky’s dreams. When Sky learns that Mia, the girl in the picture, was found dead in nearby St. Kilda harbor — and that Mia’s brother now works in the record store — she wants to learn more. Part mystery, part romance, and part unconventional family story, the book introduces an intriguing cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own mystery or problem to solve. Sky’s first-person narrative is observant, questioning, and self-critical.
Maguire, Gregory Egg & Spoon
Middle School Candlewick 479 pp.
9/14 978-0-7636-7220-1 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7582-0 $17.99
An imprisoned man tells his story, Scheherazade-like, in letters to the tsar. He begins with Elena, a young girl in the impoverished Russian countryside, who meets well-to-do Ekaterina. Their lives collide and intertwine, sending the story in two directions: to a ball in St. Petersburg and deep into the forest to an unforgettable Baba Yaga — who is exactly the type of hardboiled, witty, snarky, and timeless a character as one could wish for from Maguire.
Portes, Andrea Anatomy of a Misfit
High School Harper/HarperCollins 330 pp.
9/14 978-0-06-231364-5 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-231366-9 $10.99
Anika Dragomir looks the part of the blond-haired, blue-eyed All-American girl-next-door, but “nobody knows that on the inside I am spider soup.” On the first day of school, “nerd-ball turned goth romance hero” Logan McDonough fixes his smoldering gaze on Anika, and they begin a secret courtship — that gets even more complicated when God’s-gift-to-Nebraska, Jared Kline, asks Anika’s mom for permission to take her daughter out on a date. Anika’s observations are razor-sharp, especially when she is describing other people (and especially when she’s ragging on her own family: “My dad is Romanian and looks like Count Chocula. Seriously. He looks like a vampire”).
Smith, Andrew 100 Sideways Miles
High School Simon 277 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-4495-9 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-4497-3 $10.99
Finn Easton has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar.
Willey, Margaret Beetle Boy
High School Carolrhoda Lab 200 pp.
9/14 978-1-4677-2639-9 $17.95
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-4626-7 $12.95
As Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel, Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks.
For Shark Week reading, click here.
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Well, after the glorious, gleeful exhaustion brought on by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, your intrepid intern still had a whole conference to attend.
For those of you who haven’t heard of LeakyCon, it originally started as a Harry Potter–themed fan conference in 2009, but has since morphed into an all-out geek-fest in which fan communities from all kinds of media platforms come together to celebrate the power of story and fandom. In fact, the conference has been renamed and will be known as GeekyCon from here on — opening up to the wide, wide world of geekdom!
It will not surprise any of you that I spent most of my time at the conference at the LeakyCon Lit panels. Organized by YA authors Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman, LeakyCon Lit brings together YA authors from all over to talk about writing, their books, and plenty of weird, awesome, totally unrelated things. This year’s speakers were Stephanie Perkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Holly Black, Gayle Forman, John Green, Varian Johnson, Kazu Kibuishi, Lauren Myracle, Rainbow Rowell, and Scott Westerfeld. With such a diverse group presenting, we got to hear about everything from designing love interests to killing off beloved characters, from graphic novels to world-building, from Stephanie Perkins’s morning jigsaw puzzle routine to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s near miss with quicksand.
The programming ranged widely between serious panels (such as “Diversity in YA” and the “War Against YA Lit”) to game shows (including Jeopardy and a variation on The Lying Game, an old British game show). Maureen Johnson interviewed John Green in a Between Two Ferns–eqsue style, providing a hilarious exposé of their friendship. Johnson also moderated the panel about killing off characters — which meant, unfortunately, that the audience didn’t get any new information about a certain beloved [spoiler] she killed off in [spoiler]. But we did have the opportunity to harangue some of the other authors, who discussed the tension between emotional attachment and resonance and deciding when a character’s death serves the story best.
The panel centered on diversity in YA was especially powerful. The panelists discussed YA literature’s erasure and misrepresentation of people with diverse gender identities and sexuality, people of color, and people with disabilities — as well as the kind of backlash faced by authors who create those characters. I found it provocative when the authors on the panel discussed a question they often get regarding their characters of color: “Why did you make that character a specific race if your story isn’t about racism…why bother?” The discussion which followed emphasized the importance of recognizing the bountiful diversity of experience in the world and the role literature plays in representing that diversity to its readership.
While most of the programming at LeakyCon Lit this year was phenomenal, a couple of the panels were better in conception than they were in execution. One panel called “I Made You, You’re Perfect” focused on romance in YA and how to construct romantic relationships and compatible characters. The panel, however, was comprised entirely of straight women; this lack of diversity was particularly apparent during a mishandled question on asexuality. The “War on YA” panel was concerned with the way that YA as a genre has been either denigrated by the media as too sweet and too small (especially for adult readers) or lambasted as the source of all evil for young people. Rather than exploring this phenomenon and its impact in depth, however, the speakers on the panel mostly reiterated what many of us had seen them write on Twitter and their blogs in recent months.
Overall, however, LeakyCon Lit was a perfect mix of whimsy, banter, and critical discussion. The authors are all knowledgeable and engaging, and their comments and discussions were accessible and enjoyable. I’ve been attending this track for the past four years and I can say with certainty that there is plenty to enjoy for both teens and adults.
The rest of the LeakyCon is not devoid of book-related fun for kids and grown-ups, of course. The subjects of the panels range from investigations into Harry Potter canon and characters to sing-alongs and debates. Each night there’s a concert by bands who get their material from Harry Potter (or The West Wing, or Doctor Who, or a whole host of other awesome platforms and stories). Pemberly Digital, a production company which creates modern adaptions of well-loved classics, premiered the first two episodes of Frankenstein, M.D., which follows Victoria Frankenstein, a young doctor determined to prove herself in a male-dominated field. Pemberly Digital is the same group who created the Emmy award–winning adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Which you should watch right now. Don’t worry. I’ll wait!
Seriously though, they are really good – as is Emma Approved (adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma), which is currently airing on Pemberly’s YouTube channel.
By the time we woke up on Sunday morning, we were about ready to lounge the day away by the pool. But we were in Orlando, and there is no such thing as a trip to Orlando without a visit to the Magic Kingdom. We did have to put down all our new books and our new geeky swag…but books are always there when you get back!
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2013 was an anniversary year for the live-action educational TV program Bill Nye the Science Guy. In honor of that occasion, developer Disney Education created the Bill Nye the Science Guy 20th Anniversary App.
Welcome to Nye Labs, where you’ll discover on the main screen (a.k.a. Bill’s retro-looking desk) an assortment of objects that when tapped lead you to different sections of the app, all narrated by Bill himself.
Learn about telling time with a sundial on Mars versus on Earth (Martian minutes are longer) or enter the “Whorl of Illusion!” to learn about different types of optical illusions. When you tap the Bill Nye bobblehead on the desk, he provides science trivia (e.g., “Humpback whales can go without eating for six months”). In the TV portion of the app, you can watch episodes of the show in which Bill teaches you about chemical reactions, the heart, the planets and sun, gravity, earthquakes, magnetism, friction, light optics, and mammals. NB: Each video costs an additional $1.99 in the app store. “The Book of Do-It-Yourself Experiments” provides instructions for hands-on projects, such as testing eggshell strength and cleaning pennies, to try at home.
Two games are included in the app. One is an “Archeology Dig of Science” with robot Diggity and his dog Rocky in the yard behind the lab. Complete three levels (crust, mantle, core) by having the robot dig down into the earth to discover artifacts worth points. You need to earn a certain number of points within the time limit to advance to the next level. In the other game you are looking for signs of life on the Plutoid Pluto — but you have to travel there from Earth in a rocket ship. Along the way you’ll pass other planets and learn facts about each one. You must figure out how to use each planet’s orbit to move you forward in space when you launch your rocket; timing is everything here. You also must complete missions along the way, such as photographing each planet and launching satellites. Engaging in missions will earn you “money,” which you need to continue playing the game (launching rockets is expensive!). But remember to save some missions for the end so you can drop a probe on Pluto and get back to Earth. And don’t get lost in space!
Both games were a bit tricky to master and certainly not designed for the youngest users, but with a little practice they were fairly enjoyable.
Inside the desk drawer on the main page, you’ll find a few little extras, including a step-by-step guide on “How to Tie a Bow Tie” — so you can wear one like Bill Nye — and a copy of the Periodic Table of Elements with facts about some of the elements. There’s no way turn off the sound effects or Bill’s narration in any of the sections, so they got repetitive after a while.
This app contains a random assortment of science facts and experiments… but it’s just that sort of variety that made the show so interesting to watch when it aired on PBS Kids in the 1990s and that makes the app, with its impressive and responsive graphics, an informative and entertaining e-introduction to Bill Nye’s approach for making basic science concepts accessible to kids.
Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); free with in-app purchases. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.
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Over the weekend my family visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. It was suggested as a things-to-do-with-kids-in-the-Berkshires activity because of Rockwell’s “accessibility” as an artist. (Be that as it may, the little boys were much more interested in climbing on the outdoor sculptures — allowed! — and running around on the lawn.) Amidst all the small-town folksy scenes and the smiling cheerleaders was Rockwell’s arresting The Problem We All Live With. Large and horizontal, among the mostly vertical and more contained (and restrained) pieces, the image commands attention and reminds viewers that Rockwell, though undoubtedly adept at capturing cozy Americana, had something more to say.
I then read in the news about the flap caused by illustrator Mary Engelbreit, best known for her sweet, cherubic children and bucolic scenes — from her website: “Mary Engelbreit is known throughout the world for her distinctive illustration style, imbued with spirited wit and nostalgic warmth.” The St. Louis native was inspired by events in Ferguson, Missouri. Who knew she had it in her? You go, Mary.
It’s an apt time to re-post last summer’s thoughtful, moving piece by Christopher Myers — “Young Dreamers” — about cultural diversity in children’s media, the state of race in America, and childhood cut short.
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As summer winds down and the new school year looms, we look back on the year that was. Here are our senior superlatives for characters in the class of 2013-2014. What superlative would you award your favorite character?
Wild-and-craziest: Mr. Tiger (from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown)
Slow-and-steadiest: Giantess George (from Galápagos George by Jean Craighead, illus. by Wendell Minor)
Bravest: Peggy (from Peggy: A Brave Chicken on a Big Adventure by Anna Walker), Chicken Little (from Brave Chicken Little by Robert Byrd)
Most chicken: Alvin Ho (Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace,
and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look, illus. by LeUyen Pham)
Most zen: Koo (from Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J Muth)
Most loyal: Santiago (from Santiago Stays by Angela Dominquez)
Class clowns: the Vole Brothers (from Splat! Starring the Vole Brothers by Roslyn Schwartz)
Miss Congeniality: Princess Ko (from The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty)
Mr. Congeniality: Jackson Greene (from The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson)
Cutest couple: Emily and Sam (from Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan), Amy and Matthew (from Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern), Devorah and Jaxon (from Like No Other by Una LaMarche), Mouse and Mole (from Mouse and Mole, Secret Valentine by Wong Herbert Yee)
Most complicated love triangle: Alix, Swanee, and Liana (from Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters)
Most likely to elope in Vegas: Holly and Dax (The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt)
BFFs: Rose and Windy (from This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki), Sophie and Bernice (from Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illus. by Wilsdorf), Pom and Pim (from Pom and Pim by Lena Landström, illus. by Olof Landström)
Best frenemies: Dog and Cat (from Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall)
Best dancer: Josephine (from Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illus. by Christian Robinson), Rupert (from Rupert Can Dance by Jules Feiffer)
Best artist: Emily (from Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, illus. by Lisa Brown), girl with red crayon (from Journey by Aaron Becker), prehistoric child (from The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein)
Best knitter: Needles (from When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds)
Best dresser: Rose (from The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee)
Best/worst babysitter: Octopus (from Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell), Baba Yaga (from Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire)
Best car: Mike and Tschick (from Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf)
Best facial hair: George E. Ohr (from The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan)
French: Mr. Hulot (from Hello, Mr. Hulot by David Merveille)
Chinese: Norman (from Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illus. by Qin Leng)
Sex ed: Sophie Blackall (author/illus. of The Baby Tree)
Best bus drivers: Joe (from My Bus by Byron Barton), Gus (Gus, the Dinosaur Bus by Julia Liu, illus. by Bei Lynn)
NBA-bound: Josh and Jordan (from The Crossover by Kwame Alexander)
Future mathlete: Annika (from Annika Riz, Math Whiz by Claudia Mills, illus. by Rob Shepperson)
Future gymnast: Jake (from Jake at Gymnastics by Rachel Isadora)
Most likely to be a vet: Lulu (from Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay, illus. by Priscilla Lamont)
Most likely to win an Oscar: Kate Walden (from Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens by Julie Mata)
Most eco-concious: Kate Sessions (from The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illus. by Jill McElmurry)
Most traveled: cat (from City Cat by Kate Banks, illus. by Lauren Castillo), dad (from Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Skottie Young)
Most likely to get abducted by aliens: Robbie and Marilee (from The Summer Experiment by Cathie Pelletier), Aidan, Dru, and Louis (from Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith, illus. by Andrew Arnold)
Cutest siblings: Gaston, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La/Antoinette, Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno (from Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson)
Weirdest siblings: Merciful and Gospel Truth (from Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee)
Most dysfunctional family: the Romanovs (from The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming)
Most well preserved (for her age): Lady Dai (from At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins, illus. by Sarah S. Brannen)
Poshest: Lord and Lady Bunny (from Lord and Lady Bunny — Almost Royalty!: By Mr. & Mrs. Bunny by Polly Horvath, illus. by Sophie Blackall)
Bathing beauties: Queen Victoria (from Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illus. by Nancy Carpenter), Elizabeth (from Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox, illus. by Brian Floca)
Night owls: Hannah (from Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai), Chengdu (from Chengdu Would Not, Could Not Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg), Tippy (from Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilli Carré)
For more Horn Book silliness about books we love, see the 2014 Mind the Gap Awards and our 2012-2013 yearbook superlatives.
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I just spent a week in New Orleans, a place I’ve wanted to visit since first reading Interview with the Vampire as a teen. The week held plenty of sights and experiences I’d been highly anticipating (a ghost tour, the Garden District, blues and jazz clubs, and — of course — beignets) and some I hadn’t expected (Mardi Gras beads hanging in many trees; the informative but emotionally intense National WWII Museum, which Cindy also visited last year; lots and lots and lots of rain).
One pleasant surprise during my trip to NOLA was an encounter with Pete the Cat, star of the series of picture books and early readers written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. During a leisurely stroll in the French Quarter, I spotted Pete’s familiar face in the window of Gallery Rinard. My parents are huge Pete fans (and I’m an unrepentant cat lady), so I dragged my boyfriend into the gallery to take a look at Dean’s original art.
While the gallery offered lots of original canvases, prints, and even puppets of the cartoony Pete his picture-book readers will know and love, many of Dean’s paintings are geared towards adults in content and humor (such as this “Most Interesting Man in the World” Dos Equis commercial parody). A series of re-creations of well-known photos and paintings — including The Mona Lisa, Klimt’s The Kiss, and Munch’s The Scream — features cameos by Pete.
And much of Dean’s work portrays his feline friend in a softer, more realistic manner, revealing the artist’s deep affection for the real-life Pete. After quite a bit of deliberation, I eventually chose one of these as a souvenir for my parents:
“Pete the Cat: Weather or Not” by James Dean
Like Cindy encountering a Dahl book at the WWII Museum, I didn’t expect for my kidlit life to come out to play while I was on vacation — but I’m glad it did!
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Apparently Katie’s not the only one with a matchy-matchy problem. Thanks to Lolly for noticing the similarities between the color palette of my dress (and for taking the picture)
and of Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (reviewed by, well, me, in the September/October 2009 Horn Book Magazine).
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Like me, my friend Marie (hi Marie!) is a huge fan of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen YA fantasy trilogy. And like me, she’s been patiently(ish) anticipating Clariel, the prequel publishing in October, for years.
A lot of them.
Unlike me, however, she doesn’t have an ARC…so I’m mailing her my reviewer copy. Here are some Abhorsen read-alikes — featuring badass heroines, restless dead, adventure, and a hint of romance, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide — in case you can’t wait until October either!
Every year, the Seeker, currently teen Ashyn, enters the Forest of the Dead to quiet damned spirits. The Keeper, Ashyn’s twin Moria, remains in the village as protector. But things go terribly awry, and the sisters are forced to travel across the Wastes to save their kingdom from the undead. Author Kelley Armstrong’s elaborate world is populated with complex characters in Age of Legends series-opener Sea of Shadows. (HarperCollins, 2014)
An electromagnetic pulse kills most of the country’s population instantly at the beginning of Ilsa J. Bick’s trilogy opener Ashes; many of those left become zombielike, “brain-zapped” cannibals. Survivor Alex teams up with eight-year-old Ellie and soldier Tom to search for other people. The trio’s deepening bond adds to the already high tension. This horror/survival story (with graphic violence) presents an intriguing take on zombie fiction. Look for sequels Shadows and Monsters. (Egmont, 2011)
After Otter’s mother, a binder of the dead, commits suicide rather than allow herself to be possessed by a ghostly White Hand, Otter and her friends venture beyond the bounds of their forest settlement to find the White Hands’ origin. The spirit-filled fantasy world of Erin Bow’s Sorrow’s Knot gives a hair-raising sensation of being surrounded by unknown dangers and evokes Native American cultures without caricaturing them. (Scholastic/Levine, 2013)
In Shadowcry, the first volume in the Secrets of Wintercraft series, fifteen-year-old Kate discovers she’s a Skilled, able to see and manipulate the “veil” between life and death. Moreover, she learns her ancestors wrote the coveted tome Wintercraft, which explains the veil’s secrets. Author Jenna Burtenshaw’s elegant, complex prose sweeps readers along to a dark world teeming with creepy underground passageways, abandoned buildings, and graveyards. Kate is a bright spot, facing each obstacle with defiance and determination. The series continues with Blackwatch and Winterveil. (Greenwillow, 2011)
Striving for normality in her magic-practicing family, Amy is happy for a summer of hard work at her aunt’s Texas ranch. But the deathly cold apparition in Amy’s bedroom pulls her into a dangerous mystery. Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Texas Gothic mixes suspense, humor, and lots of local flavor in this lively teen ghost story — with sex appeal — that’s one part Texas history and one part CSI. (Delacorte, 2011)
Running from an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae lands up at St. Mortain’s convent, discovers she has special gifts (and that her true father is Mortain, the god of Death), and trains to become an assassin — the true vocation of a daughter of Death. Robin LaFevers’s Grave Mercy is a romantic fantasy, set in an alternate, fictional, quasi-late medieval Brittany. The His Fair Assassin series continues with Dark Triumph; volume three, Mortal Heart, will be published this November.
Only a fence separates Mary’s village from the Unconsecrated — zombielike creatures that must be kept at bay in order for her primitive post-apocalyptic community, governed by a religious sisterhood, to survive. Carrie Ryan’s inventive horror story The Forest of Hands and Teeth combines mystery, romance, and suspense as it records Mary’s quest to search beyond the barrier for alternatives to the life she has always known. Also look for companion books The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places. (Delacorte, 2009)
In The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Mackenzie’s job is to return the wakeful dead to the Archive, a repository of all human memory. Persuading the dead to return to their rightful resting place often involves kick-ass combat, but this is no common policing-the-supernatural romantic thriller: Schwab writes of death, sorrow, and family love with a light, intelligent touch and inventive vigor. The story continues in sequel The Unbound. (Hyperion, 2013)
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On Friday Cindy and I went to see actor Jason Segel discuss his new middle-grade novel (cowritten with Kirsten Miller) Nightmares! The sold-out event was sponsored by the Harvard Book Store and the nonprofit writing organization 826 Boston (program coordinator Karen Sama led the conversation with Segel). Cindy loves How I Met Your Mother (even the ending!), I love Freaks & Geeks, and we both love The Muppets. Segel is also the guy you may have seen naked in the very funny Saving Sarah Marshall (which he also wrote), and he was one of the bromantic leads in I Love You, Man.
Photo: Cynthia K. Ritter
Nightmares! is his first children’s book, and he kicked off the event by asking everyone in the audience under age fourteen to raise their hands (there were a few). Later on he asked for kid volunteers to come up and read aloud from the book, instead of reading himself, which could have backfired but was awesome. “I’m like the Pied Piper,” Segel quipped as a girl named Tessa, two boys named Sam, and a cutie little one named Lucas came up onstage to read. Afterward he told them, appreciatively, “You’re so much braver than I would have been at that age.”
Photo: Cynthia K. Ritter
The audience participation didn’t stop there. He asked people to share their nightmares; his as a kid involved a witch nibbling his toes (“because I have delectable toes”) and being chased around Dracula’s castle (“it was more Rococo than I would have thought”) which happened so frequently that he discovered a secret room where he could hang out and play video games. (Side note, and there were a lot of those: as a kid, Segel wore a Superman cape under his clothes “just in case” and carried the MYST game book around with him. Also? He’s been 6’4” since age 12 and the other kids used to jump on his back and chant “Ride the oaf!”)
And then there was the singing. During the Q&A a woman nervously asked: “What’s your favorite show tune?” “It’s gotta be the confrontation from Les Miz. Do you know it?” “Um, yes (giggle giggle).” “Ok, do you want to do it? Which part are you going to sing?” She chose Javert, and Jason sang his heart out as Jean Valjean (here’s how he did it with Neil Patrick Harris). The evening ended on an amazing note for fans with Segel at the piano doing the Dracula song (“‘Die… die… die…’ ‘I cahhn’t'”).
Cindy in the signing line
If this guy isn’t the nicest, most genuine-seeming Everydude in Hollywood, well, he must be a truly great actor (slash-master-manipulator), because he seemed really thrilled (“This is so much fun! Seeing those kids read up there, that’s the coolest thing ever”) and humbled to be there — even after a two-hour-plus signing line that Cindy waited on. Any “grown man” (he was in his late twenties at the time) who “burst into tears” upon seeing Kermit the Frog “in person” and who also cried while sitting in “kind of a rough pub in London” after finishing Winnie-the-Pooh is a-ok in my book. I’ll even forgive his publicist for ignoring my Five Questions request *cough cough.* Jason Segel, we love you, man.
Nightmares! was originally a screenplay I wrote at age 21, after Freaks & Geeks ended and I was unemployed and thinking, “I’m going to have to live with my parents forever.”
When I was a kid, movies like Labyrinth and The Goonies and Roald Dahl’s books made me believe I might find buried treasure. There’s still magic out there. You can catch a kid at the right age to say: don’t forget there’s magic…Kids’ imaginations are so much better than what you can put onscreen.
My mentor Judd Apatow said to me, “You’re kind of a weird dude.” Also [after Segel played him the Dracula song] he said: “Don’t ever play that for anyone else ever again.”
I’m willing to sit through the fear of doing something badly to get to passable. I tell myself: “I’m bad at this… right now”…The only thing I’m afraid of is being unprepared.
Coraline really scared me, and I’m a grown man!
Audience question: Who was your favorite actor growing up? Answer: Kermit. When you’re a kid, Kermit is Tom Hanks, Jimmy Stewart.
I wrote The Muppets when I was in London. With all those double-decker buses and furry hats, it’s a very Muppet-y place…The Muppets are Monty Python to a kid.
I did a Muppets screening at the White House and got to meet Barack Obama. He shook my hand and said, “I love you, man,” and I said, “I love you too, Mr. President!” It gets worse. Then I said, “You should come to the screening. There will be free snacks,” and he said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m missing. Not being able to get free snacks.”
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The story below is one reason we love Marla Frazee. Find out many more by reading her Talks with Roger interview.
I was once a clown, in high school. A bunch of us were nominated to be on the homecoming court — twenty-five or thirty people — and I did not want to be one of those. Not interested in that at all. There was this assembly — we were supposed to appear before the entire student body — so I wore this head-to-toe clown costume. Full-on, with the ruffle and the big shoes and the red nose. I worked on the makeup for a really long time. I drove to school in my ’67 Mustang, smoking a cigarette, and then I had to hide before the assembly because we weren’t allowed to wear costumes to school. So the curtains opened and we were all there, introduced to the students, and then as I was walking off the stage in the dark, I felt this hand grip my upper arm. It was the girls’ vice principal, who hauled me outside, walking me to her office. I’m slapping in my clown shoes, you know. She’s saying to me, as we’re walking side by side, “How dare you disrespect the school this way? How dare you disrespect” the whole homecoming-whatever-it-was. And then she wheels me around and stares at me and goes, “Wipe that smile off your face.” I’m laughing behind this smile. It took me about forty years — I don’t know if there’s something in this book [The Farmer and the Clown] about that, the “Wipe that smile off your face” line, but it definitely has stayed with me my whole life.
Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.
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