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ALSC Past-President Starr LaTronica responds to my July editorial. Incidentally, we’re publishing a terrific piece in the November issue by Thom Barthelmess (former ALSC prez and BGHB chair) about how to conduct oneself in a professional book discussion. Thom is far more temperate about these things than am I.
The post The Empire Strikes Back appeared first on The Horn Book.
I’ve been reading soprano Barbara Hendricks‘s memoir, Lifting My Voice, and it’s led me not only to a rewarding reacquaintance with her singing but to some thinking about the relationship between the artist and the critic. Hendricks spills a suspicious amount of ink over how she doesn’t pay any attention to critics (whose opinions of her highly distinctive voice have long been divided), but even if the lady doth protest too much for me to exactly believe her, her essential argument–that critics aren’t helpful to artists–is a good one:
“A review of my performance is totally useless in teaching me about myself. Reviews reveal so much more about the reviewer than they do about the artists. Until her death Miss Tourel [Hendricks's teacher, Jennie Tourel] was my most demanding critic, and since then I have had to assume that task myself. I learned during my first year as a professional singer that a review was not the right criteria to determine how well I had done my work, whether I had done what I had set out to do. I know my repertoire and I know when I have done my best work.”
Hendricks goes on to recall contradictory reviews, mean reviews, and seeing a reviewer who had really gone after her: “He was slight, had thinning hair, wore very thick glasses, and did not look like a happy person.” But all this is to miss the point. It’s not a reviewer’s job to make a singer–or a writer–a better one. We aren’t here to help you; we’re here to help inform audiences and potential audiences. (Even Hendricks graciously if barely allows that she “imagines critics serve some purpose and I do not want to do away with them.” Big of you, thanks.)
If I were a novelist I hope I wouldn’t go near reviews of my own work. What have I to gain? Stars and pans, Kipling’s impostors alike. (I guess I would hope that my agent or editor were paying attention, though, so as to strain anything that might be useful to me through a filter of helpfulness.) Must be hard to resist, though, especially in an age when reviews go flying about through social media and a “we’re all in this together” ethos pervades the field.
The post Do you read your reviews? appeared first on The Horn Book.
If you aren’t completely burned out on dystopian fiction, do go see* Snowpiercer, a big, violent, gorgeous, baroque movie about the end of civilization, its last remnant perpetually traveling the ice-covered globe in a nonstop great big train. There is NO love triangle, with eros limited to a couple of crypto-gay warrior-bonding types, and plenty to thrill your (mine, anyway) inner ten-year-old, like an exciting shootout between cars as the train curves around an enormous bend. There’s high camp, too, supplied by Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill as the banality of evil and a gun-toting schoolteacher, respectively. (Wait, did I just repeat myself?) And Ed Harris is on hand, playing–spoiler alert–the very same part he played in The Truman Show.
But best of all is the look of the thing, from the icy landscapes and ruined, empty cities the train charges through to the train itself, from the squalid cars at the back where the slave labor lives to the sleek sushi bar, spa, and disco for the more privileged passengers at the front. One of the more subversive elements of the film is the way it gets you to think “why, yes, I could totally enjoy watching from the dome car as the world freezes to death. Waiter!”
The ending–spoiler alert again–is beautifully and starkly ambiguous. Life or death. I understand that the French graphic novel on which the movie is based has a sequel, but truly: none needed.
*In a movie theater, if you can. While the film is available on TV as an on-demand feature, you really want the big screen and sound for this one.
The post A winter’s tale appeared first on The Horn Book.
We’re off tomorrow to spend a few days with the Sendak Fellows, Nora Krug and Harry Bliss, at a farm Maurice owned in upstate New York. (Why did he need a farm? Did he need a place to get away from it all from his place to get away from it all in the wilds of rural Connecticut?). The management tells me my job there is to “be Maurice,” but someone and his pal Wolfie are up in heaven laughing themselves sick at that suggestion. Instead, I imagine myself poking my head around easels, saying “perhaps a little more green there, Nora” or “Harry, you know, Brownie here would make an excellent companion to Bailey, yes?”
I guess the one thing I can tell them about is what Maurice loved and hated–and it was generally one or the other, whether it came to his taste in pictures, movies, TV, books, music or food. “I love it!” “I hate it!” The tricky thing with him, though, is that even though you coulda sworn he’d said he loved something, catch him ten minutes later and his passion had reversed. What I wish I had was Maurice’s talent for contagious enthusiasm: he could make you love what he loved, even if, years later, you finally–secretly and hoping he doesn’t overhear–admit you really don’t find Christa Wolf all that enjoyable.
I’m sure I’ll think of something to say. And we’re going to Tanglewood to meet Lizzie Borden; we’ll show Brownie the land of his birth (he was found wandering in the Berkshire woods); and I’m to be given the opportunity to milk goats. I hope I can see them run!
The post Chicks ‘n ducks ‘n geese appeared first on The Horn Book.
So much trouble in this world could be avoided if we all simply shutted up when we did not know whereof we spoke but here I go. I have never read Alfred Ollivant’s Bob, Son of Battle, but Lydia Davis’s explanation of the changes she made for a new New York Review of Books edition makes me eager to read the original if only to defend its
In her afterword, Davis writes that “I did not want Ollivant’s powerful story to be forgotten simply because it was difficult to read.” (She said ominously.) Davis goes on to explain that she translated the Cumbrian dialect used heavily in the 1898 original and then thought oh, the hell with it, let’s fix this sucker:
“I decided that I would not only change the speech of the characters but also change the way the story was told, just enough so that almost everything could be understood without any problem, and there would be nothing to get in the way of the story.”
Trifles! I’m reminded of a letter Elizabeth once shared with me from a somewhat overconfident applicant for an editorial position who included with her letter Xeroxed pages of Steig and Lobel marked with her recommended word substitutions.
Here, for example, is the first sentence/paragraph of Ollivant’s (from the Gutenberg edition):
“The sun stared brazenly down on a gray farmhouse lying, long and low in the shadow of the Muir Pike; on the ruins of peel-tower and barmkyn, relics of the time of raids, it looked; on ranges of whitewashed outbuildings; on a goodly array of dark-thatched ricks.”
Here is Davis’s:
“The sun stared boldly down on a gray farmhouse lying long and low in the in the shadow of the sharp summit of Muir Pike; it shone on the ruins of a fortified tower and a rampart, left from the time of the Scottish raids; on rows of white-washed outbuildings; on a crowd of dark-thatched haystacks.”
Why bold for brazen, I wonder, but even more I wonder why Davis, clearly on a labor of love, doesn’t trust today’s children to read past the same difficulties she had with the book in her own childhood: “The odd thing is that because the story is so powerful, you can read right over these hard words and puzzling expressions and not mind, because you are so eager to know what happens next. That is what I did when I first read it.” Readers do this all the time. Feeling that a book knows something that you don’t is one of the prime pleasures of reading.
Neither Ollivant’s original nor Davis’s adaptation are about to start a new craze for old Bob (I do admire NYRB’s optimistic publishing program), but I suspect that if I were the kind of kid who was going to read it, I would also be the kind of kid who would want to read the original, which is just what Davis has inspired me to do.
The post There’s bold but then there’s brazen. appeared first on The Horn Book.
I just finished David Shafer’s thriller Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which I read because of Dwight Garner’s NYT review. The book is everything Garner says it is–bright, popping, funny, suspenseful. And it has all the things I love: complicated heroes and heroines, smart riffs on contemporary memes, and–best of all–a global conspiracy that really is out to get the paranoiacs as well as the rest of us.
It’s just great, as far as it goes. WHICH IS NOT FAR ENOUGH. What Garner does not tell us, and as far as I’m concerned this is a cardinal sin of book reviewing, is that the book doesn’t have an ending. After about a hundred good pages of rising action, with the good guys and girl ready to take down the evil that now lurks in a container ship off the Oregon coast, everything just stops. Nothing on or in the book says “first in a series” or anything, but surely the reviewer could have said so. Unless he didn’t finish it.
Thank goodness Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before I got to the end of The Two Towers and “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”
The post Why The Face? I’ll tell you. appeared first on The Horn Book.
I was jawing on the radio yesterday about Common Sense Media’s latest report on the woeful state of young people reading for pleasure. I dunno–kids have been reported to be reading less than they used at least ever since I got into this business thirty-five years ago. If this were in fact true, you’d think we wouldn’t have any readers at all left by now and yet we do. (In fact, one of the most enlightening things about the Common Sense report is that way down at the bottom they point out how much reading surveys contradict each other, becoming, like a fourth-grader’s report about Uruguay, “a study in contrasts.”)
The post I see you’re still reading appeared first on The Horn Book.
I can’t decide if the p.r. disaster that was the Children’s Choice Awards last night is exacerbated or ameliorated by the fact that the Children’s Book Council website is down this morning (and, according to Facebook) has been offline since the announcements last night.(Edit 11.45AM:It’s back up.) I do know that the CBCBook Twitter account went silent for what were supposed to be the big announcements of the night: Author of the Year (Rush Limbaugh) and Illustrator of the Year (Grace, uh, Lee).
Predictably, there’s a lot of social media outrage about Rush’s win–accusations of inaccuracy in his book, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims; accusations of stacking the deck and/or ballot fraud–but really, it’s just people being mad that Rush Limbaugh won. Any inaccuracies are beside the point, because the winner of this award is determined by popular vote. It really is a popularity contest. And if Rush had his Dittoheads auto-voting through the wee hours–well, welcome to the Internet. In the case of the Illustrator prize (for Sofia the First: The Floating Island, a Disney TV-tie-in product), I’m guessing that little kids presented with the webpage of the nominees (all chosen by virtue of being bestsellers) pointed their little fingers at Sofia, screeching “Da one wid da pwincess, Daddy! DA ONE WID DA PWINCESS!!” (I really am guessing here, as the marketing departments for Simon & Schuster (Rush Revere) and Disney chose not to send these books to us for review.)
The Author and Illustrator of the Year Awards were piled on top of the IRA-CBC Children’s Choice Awards some years back because those winners weren’t usually very sexy and did not attract sponsorship money or media attention. Now they have a glam, pricey event and lots of attention. These awards worked exactly the way they were supposed to. But I bet they won’t work this way next year.
The post The elephant was in the room appeared first on The Horn Book.
The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award judges will be meeting in Boston this weekend to make their decisions. Anyone have any inside dirt? I’ll be announcing the winners on Saturday, May 31st at BEA, 1:00PM in the Librarians’ Lounge at Javits.
The post They ARE judging you appeared first on The Horn Book.
Off to New York tomorrow for a little 70s nostalgia (Richard is such a good sport), some modern dance (I am such a good sport), love and murder, and, oh yes, the announcement of the 2014 winners of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. I’ll be revealing the fated few at 1:00PM on Saturday at a press conference in the Librarians’ Lounge at BEA in the Javits Center, booth #663. You are all cordially invited but for those who can’t make it, Katrina will be tweeting @HornBook as we go, and the whole shebang will be up on the website Saturday afternoon.
The post Not so far away appeared first on The Horn Book.
from the English National Opera production of The Death of Klinghoffer
The Metropolitan Opera’s cancellation of the announced HD broadcast of The Death of Klinghoffer is galling for a number of reasons. The Met’s decision to stage the opera (albeit with a note in the program by Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters, who have condemned the work as anti-Semitic) but not broadcast it will please nobody. It is also alarming to see Met General Manager Peter Gelb cave so easily, especially in light of his reaction to those who, because of Russia’s anti-gay antics, protested the Met’s opening night performance last year of Eugene Onegin, featuring Putin supporters Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev:
We stand against the significant human rights abuses that take place every day in many countries. But as an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world.
He was right then and therefore he’s wrong now. But if you are still with me and not wondering when this blog turned into Parterre Box, the cynical and specious reasoning Gelb gives for the cancellation of the broadcast is exactly what libraries hear every damn time somebody challenges a book:
I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic,” said the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb. “But I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.
Censors are almost never worried about the dangers poised by a book to themselves, or to their own invariably brilliant children. They worry about other children. Even leaving aside Gelb’s attempt to grease himself out of the argument and blame it on the Jews, the idea that somehow unthinking anti-Semitic hordes were going to attend an HD broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera across Europe and then–well, and then what, exactly? Censors are also never very clear about just what they expect to happen to people upon reading or viewing an objectionable work. But apparently Americans with enough cash to attend a live Met performance of this opera will be fine; it’s those Other People we have to worry about. It’s ALWAYS the Other People they’re worried about.
The post This is not just about opera appeared first on The Horn Book.
My old Chicago pal Ilene Cooper and I are interviewed by my other old Chicago pal Elizabeth Law at Elizabeth’s new blog, Into the Words.
The post Small world, isn’t it? appeared first on The Horn Book.
See some of you in Las Vegas, I hope. My friend Ruth is taking me to see Nature and the Hoover Dam on Friday but I’ll be bouncing around the exhibit hall on Saturday and Sunday, with periodic stops at the Horn Book booth, #829. Martha P. will be there too, so do say hello if you see one of us.
(I see that Danny Ocean over there needs a little help with his Newbery-Caldecott Banquet bow tie, so if you’ll excuse me . . . .)
The post ALAs Vegas appeared first on The Horn Book.
I was very sorry to read that Nancy Garden died on Monday. While she wrote in just about every children’s-book genre there is, it’s Annie on My Mind that made her immortal, and led to her parallel, equally admirable, career as a defender of intellectual freedom in libraries and communities across the nation.
The first starred review I ever wrote was for Annie, for SLJ back in 1982. I revisited the book twenty-five years later for the Horn Book.
The post Thanks for Annie, Nancy. appeared first on The Horn Book.
A good writer and a good friend, taken too soon.
The post Moving moment No. 5 appeared first on The Horn Book.
SLJ’s Battle of the Books is underway, and let me just say how glad I am that the judges are being (relatively) tough.
The post BoB appeared first on The Horn Book.
Ooh, who remembers this one? In 1982, the library systems of Chicago, Milwaukee, and San Francisco banned Margot Zemach’s Jake and Honeybunch Go to Heaven from their collections (Chicago, from where I followed the whole story avidly, did include it in its two regional research libraries). Unlike the headlines, still popular today, that too-loosely use the term “censorship” to describe any effort to remove a book from a library (it ain’t censorship unless the effort succeeds), this was the real thing: local governments, through their libraries, actively refusing to stock a book because of “partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” This was the book that made me realize that librarians could be their own worst enemies: I recall one librarian interviewed in an NPR story about the flap who actually said, “when WE do it, it’s selection, not censorship.” That is exactly backwards.
The post Moving moment No. 6 appeared first on The Horn Book.
One of the best friends the Horn Book has.
The post Moving moment No. 7 appeared first on The Horn Book.
A literary genius–I do not use the word lightly–a gifted painter, and she had PERFECT PENMANSHIP.
The post Moving moment No. 8 appeared first on The Horn Book.
Block that metaphor!
The post Moving moment No. 9 appeared first on The Horn Book.
Elf on the shelf. Her nephew told me I was making Bertha laugh in Heaven, so that’s something.
The post Moving moment No. 12 appeared first on The Horn Book.
I hope you jumped on those Sutherland Lecture tickets yesterday because they are gone baby gone–I understand that even the waiting list is full. A big fan of John Green’s books, I am nevertheless nervous about being in an auditorium filled with John Green Girls, beautiful, complicated and ka-razy creatures that they are. Or do I infer too much? Come say hello–I’ll be the flustered chaperone in the corner.
In the meantime I am off to White Plains today to visit Brian Kenney’s library and speak to the Youth Services Section of NYLA tomorrow morning. Then a weekend with our lovely Dutch friends in Rye, taking the adorable Julia, Mads, and Lizze to see Matilda on Broadway, for what else are fee peetvaders for?
The post A true Dutch treat appeared first on The Horn Book.
I feel like the Fisherman’s Wife here–now that I have a window in my office, I want sunshine.
But we are getting accustomed to our new quarters, scary warnings in the cafeteria about noroviruses notwithstanding. We even managed a star meeting! The following books will receive starred reviews in the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine:
The Baby Tree; written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Paulsen/Penguin)
Gaston; by Kelly DiPucchio; illus. by Christian Robinson (Atheneum)
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom; by Angela Johnson; illus. by E. B. Lewis (Simon)
The Last Forever; by Deb Caletti (Simon Pulse)
We Were Liars; by E. Lockhart (Delacorte)
West of the Moon; by Margi Preus (Amulet/Abrams)
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker; by Patricia Hruby Powell; illus. by Christian Robinson (Chronicle)
The post May/June Horn Book Magazine starred books appeared first on The Horn Book.
Twice in the past week I’ve been asked to opine publicly about the future of books and libraries for children, first at the NYLA conference in White Plains and then at the investiture of Eileen Abels as the new dean of the Simmons GSLIS. I had far fewer answers than questions, which I present to you for possible mastication:
Whenever I worry about the future of publishing and, in particular, the demand for professional book reviews in an increasingly Amazoned world, I think, “well, I could always go back to being a librarian again.” I’m twenty-five years out from the Chicago Public Library but I still hold my union card in the form of an MA from Chicago’s Graduate Library School (itself gone for almost a quarter century as well).
But then I think, could I? My library school curriculum included no courses in electronic reference, never mind the web, which did not yet exist. In Don Swanson’s required computer class, we learned assembly language and how to program IBM punch cards. As a children’s librarian in the early 80s, I worked at a branch that boasted the first public-access microcomputer in a public library, the brain child of branch manager Patrick Dewey. Adults used it to access BBS networks; kids used it to play Pong-like games and use very elementary, black-and-white, educational programs. For story hours, our idea of high-tech was a filmstrip projector.
Still I tell myself that the basics of library work with children remain the same as when I was working in the 80s and in fact when Anne Carroll Moore and Alice Jordan, cheered on by the Horn Book’s Bertha Mahony Miller, were establishing children’s librarianship as a profession a century ago: Library service based in book collections and storytelling, presided over by librarians with deep knowledge of literature and methods of bringing children and books together. Last week I was at the White Plains Public Library in New York and while the place was so high-tech that I expected lasers to shoot from the ceiling, books—regular old print books—were everywhere.
How long will this remain true? As reading becomes increasingly at one with the ether, will librarians have a place? As even reader’s advisory becomes more automated and egalitarian, to whom do we give advice? If there is no physical collection of books to maintain and promote, what do our jobs become? I would like to believe that there are 21st century Alice Jordans ready to colonize and civilize the brave new digital world, and I hope that our library schools are getting these pioneers packed and ready.
The post What’s a children’s librarian to do? appeared first on The Horn Book.
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So the Rialto, CA, school district has decided that maybe it’s NOT a good idea to have eighth-graders debate the existence of the Holocaust. I’m of two minds (Opposing Viewpoints: In My Head). While I see the chance for much mischief in such an assignment and believe middle school is too early for the kind of fact- and viewpoint-evaluation the topic requires, I also think this is a great focus for teaching high school students how to navigate truth, history, and propaganda. It could provide what the Common Core–at its best–asks students to do: “to use cogent reasoning and evidence collection skills that are essential for success in college, career, and life.”
Just so we’re clear: I’m not asking schools to “teach the controversy,” allowing students to decide for themselves in an all-viewpoints-are-respected-here kind of way about the historical reality of the Nazi genocide. What this lesson should instead teach them is how to distinguish facts from the ravings of racist whackjobs. The Anti-Defamation League’s L.A. office called the assignment dangerous, citing “the large volume of misinformation” on the internet, but doesn’t that volume also mean that people need to learn how to recognize pernicious claptrap when it’s presented to them?
The post P.S. Evolution is real appeared first on The Horn Book.