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1. If you only had a brain

scarecrow-in-fieldFarah Mendlesohn called my attention to this bit of fuckwittery from The Guardian, in which their art critic Jonathan Jones opines that the late Terry Pratchett wrote “trash” while the equally late Günter Grass was a “true titan of the novel,” so why is everyone more sad about the passing of Sir Terry? The dumbness of this point–let’s start with the fact that more people love Pratchett’s books more than people love Grass’s–is exacerbated by the fact that Jones admits, nay, crows, that he’s never read a word of Pratchett and doesn’t intend to.

I have only read about half a dozen of Pratchett’s books and none of Grass’s, so I have no opinion of their comparative merits. (That didn’t stop Jones but I haven’t passed judgment on a book I haven’t read since that time I put Red Shift on a syllabus but never got around to reading it before the class began. I was younger then.) But his argument is straw-man specious–as far as I can tell, the only person comparing Pratchett to Grass is Jones.

He is right, though, that critical discourse is now both puffed-up and flattened. I blame the internet, although God knows even The Horn Book has tossed around words like “brilliant” and “ground-breaking” for books that are in hindsight “smart” and “different from those other books we’ve been seeing lately.” But not only has the internet brought together readers, critics, creators, fans, and publicists in what can be an orgy of self-serving hyperbole, it has leveled distinctions between high, middlebrow, and disposable culture, with TV episodes, for example, dissected with the same assiduousness as, well, the works of Pratchett or Grass. It makes me think of Anne Lamott writing in Bird by Bird about her brief but over-reaching career as a restaurant reviewer, where one of her friends had to remind her gently that “Annie, it’s just a bit of cake.”

It is a peculiarity of books for youth–along with speculative fiction and romance novels–that its devotees frequently feel burdened by the genre’s putatively second-class status of not being “real literature.” The defensiveness is certainly warranted–witness critics like Jonathan Jones!–but it can also lead to claims of greatness than only resound in the choir loft. If I were to write “Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books are awfully good children’s books” (talk about clickbait) I would inevitably be scolded for putting limits on their goodness. But can’t it be enough that something be an awfully good children’s book without claiming it stands among the titans of literature writ large?

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2. Friday roundup

Round-UPIn a week when everybody is supposed to be away at the beach, the Horn Book has been cranking out stuff for you to read. Beach reading, it’s maybe not, but nevertheless useful and even entertaining, we hope.

Lolly’s Classroom is talking about STEM books and inexpensive sources for classroom libraries.

–over on Out of the Box, Siân has a moving essay about seeing yourself in the books you read and also explains the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. WHO KNEW? Katie defends Beatrix Potter’s virtue and Shoshana talks about boogers.

–the Magazine has begun posting articles from our September issue, including Jack Gantos’s Zena Sutherland Lecture, which was just as peripatetic as he says it was.

Talks With Roger has been busy, with Lisa Graff interviewed last week and Lois Ehlert coming up next Wednesday. I’m also interviewing Eric Carle for the next issue of Notes from the Horn Book. You can sign up for all that here.

–a subscription to Notes (which is free) also brings you our latest newsletter, the quarterly What Makes a Good… ?, which debuted this week with “What Makes Good Narrative Nonfiction?” Have a look.

–And today I’m told is National Bow Tie Day, about which I have made my feelings known, in language not fit for a family website, over on Facebook.

–Finally, Katrina and Cathie Mercier and I are busy building this year’s Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Transformations,” which will feature a keynote address by the best friend the Horn Book ever had, Susan Cooper. Sign up now to get the early bird discount.

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3. Remember what the dormouse said

Here KittyDoing some reading for my upcoming interview with Bryan Collier tomorrow at the Simmons Institute, I got to spend a beautiful afternoon at the even more beautiful new children’s room at BPL. You should go see it. But if they ever legalize pot in this state there’s going to be a line out the door for the Pathway to Reading Sensory Wall.SensoryWallSensoryWall2More wall

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4. Starred reviews, September/October Horn Book

FireEngineThe following books will receive starred reviews in the September/October issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Fire Engine No. 9; written and illustrated by Mike Austin (Random)

The Nonsense Show; written and illustrated by Eric Carle (Philomel)

Waiting; written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow)

Two Mice; written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion)

Crenshaw; by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel)

Sunny Side Up; by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; illus. by Matthew Holm; color by Lark Pien (Graphix/Scholastic)

I Crawl Through It; by A. S. King (Little, Brown)

The Nest; by Kenneth Oppel; illus. by Jon Klassen (Simon)

The Hired Girl; by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)

Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event; written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond; illus. by the author (Ferguson/Farrar)

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans; written and illustrated by Don Brown (Houghton)

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear; by Lindsay Mattick; illus. by Sophie Blackall (Little, Brown)

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War; by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement; by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick)

 

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5. Oh look, another newsletter

WMAG_narrative_nonfiction_728x144Look for The Horn Book’s new quarterly newsletter, WHAT MAKES A GOOD…? debuting on August 26th with “What Makes Good Narrative Nonfiction?” The issue features Five Questions for Steve Sheinkin, an essay about how to select NNF by the Junior Library Guild’s Deborah Brittain Ford, and brief reviews of our choices for the best narrative nonfiction published for kids and teens in the last few years. If you are already a subscriber to any of our newsletters you will receive this one automagically; otherwise you can sign up here. It’s free!

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6. God forbid?

jesus_facepalmHe doesn’t really, but some incoming Duke University students are objecting to the pre-freshman year assignment of Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir of growing up gay (and the basis for the wonderful musical of the same name). If I were God–or Duke chancellor–I would immediately revoke these kids’ admission, given the evidence that they are too stupid to live, much less go to college, MUCH less face life as thinking Christians who had best be prepared to encounter people, situations, and ideas that conflict with their own views on what constitutes a righteous life. Jesus Christ, you guys, Jesus Christ.

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7. What ELSE do you do?: five questions for T. A. Barron

Author T. A. Barron instituted the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes in 2000. Named for the author’s mother, the Prize is given annually to fifteen young people “who have made a significant positive difference to people and/or our environment.” Each winner receives $5,000 toward his or her work or higher education.

Barron’s latest fantasy novel, Atlantis in Peril, will be published in May by Philomel Books, and look for his thoughts about his main man Merlin in the forthcoming May Horn Book Magazine, a special issue on the theme of Transformation. Nominations for the 2015 Barron Prize can be made through the website linked above, but the deadline is April 15th so burn rubber, jk.

This is the first in a series of interviews with children’s book people about what else they do with their time.

Author photo 2014 for Horn Book 1.  RS: Over the fifteen years the prize has been awarded, have you seen any shift in the kind or focus of activism from the nominees? 

TAB: The quality and diversity of these kids has always been extraordinary – they blow my mind every single year. But there have been dramatic shifts in what kinds of activism motivate them. For example, there’s been a big increase in young people helping other people and the environment at the same time – such as one recent winner who invented solar lanterns to replace dangerous and polluting kerosene or dung ones in developing countries. Another change is that nearly all our nominees these days have created their own activism websites and have a real social media presence, which definitely wasn’t the case when we started!

2.  RS: Where do you see the intersection between your work as a novelist and as a conservationist?

TAB: Both are about young people – their struggles, ideals, and surprising power to change the world. Every day, I’m worried about the terrible planetary mess we are handing to our children. Yet every day, I’m amazed by the honesty, freshness, energy, dreams, humor, and courage of young people. So in my writing, I try to authentically earn the idea that every kid, of any description, has a special magic down inside – magic that could change the world. Add to that “hero’s journey” core how much I like to weave ecological ideas into my books…and you have the two themes that flow through all my stories.

Similarly, in my conservation work, I try to share stories of real people who have made a difference to creating a more healthy environment – people like Jane Goodall (visionary), John Muir (activist), Rachel Carson (writer), and Johnny Appleseed (tree planter). We actually do have the power to give Mother Nature the space and flexibility she needs to survive – but we have to believe that before we can do it. The stories we tell young people – the seeds we plant metaphorically as well as physically – can help us get there.

3. RS: Could you describe one of the most surprising or inventive projects you’ve seen submitted for this prize?

TAB: I’m still waiting and hoping for the bright young kid out there who will invent a way for me to write books faster (as a community service, of course)! Alas, that isn’t going to happen. Some of my most favorite recent projects are: (1) Waste No Food, linking food donors with charities that feed the hungry, thus helping people and keeping food waste out of landfills. (2) Literacy for Little Ones, providing new books and early literacy information to nearly 10,000 families with newborn babies. (3) Project TGIF (Turn Grease Into Fuel), collecting waste cooking oil from residents and restaurants and refining it into biodiesel to help New England families with emergency heating needs.

4. RS: What do you think is the key to growing a lifelong idealist?

TAB: Here’s what I hope to convey to any kid from any background: See your life as a story – a story of which YOU are the author. So make it the very best story you can! Tell it with courage; tell it with passion. And also find a way to have a chapter or two where your dreams for how to make the world a better place are made real by the small, everyday things you do in your life – as well as the broader causes you support.

5. RS: If I told you I wanted to save the world, what would you give me to read first?

TAB: I’d give you three books: (1) Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (on the power of every person to make a difference). (2) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (on the power of love). And (3) The Hero’s Trail (the new 2015 edition) by T. A. Barron. (I know it’s shameless of me to include that last title…but this new edition is so packed with inspiring stories of real young people who have shown amazing courage and compassion that I just can’t resist.)

 

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8. Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Between the Osprey & the Gar

[As an experiment last fall, I invited self-publishers to submit their best new titles for review. About a dozen heeded the call, and I am reviewing their books in this space.]

ospreyBetween the Osprey & the Gar; written and illustrated by Trahern Cook. Studio Campfire Books, 2014. 32pp. Paper ed. ISBN 978-1500876265. $11.99

As Grandfather tells it, there’s a legend: deep at the bottom of the lake lies the “innocence purse,” said to bring youth to its finder.  So when Grandfather becomes too frail to escort the eleven cousins on their nightly cruise to watch the osprey feed, they decide to retrieve the purse and make the old man young again. This précis is rather easier to follow than the actual text of the picture book itself, which is overstuffed with tangents, flourishes, exclamation points, and cousins. (A few more commas, however, would not have gone amiss.) The acrylic illustrations employ a good range of rich tones in black outline to provide the spooky and magical aura aimed at by the overworked text. R.S.

 

[This review may be distributed freely and excerpted fairly; credit to “Read Roger, The Horn Book Inc., www.hbook.com.”]

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9. Jack and Hazel

Jack-the-lad

Jack-the-lad

WHY I have to go to Chicago to see Jack Gantos when he lives only a mile away from my office is a question I’ll happily ignore to hear his Zena Sutherland Lecture at the Chicago Public Library tomorrow night. Join us if you can; otherwise you can read Jack’s speech in the Horn Book this fall. I’m also looking forward to brunch with Hazel Rochman, or, as Milton Meltzer once referred to her, “that damned Hazel Rochman,” the lady having incurred his ire for insisting, in a far-reaching and lastingly influential Booklist editorial, that nonfiction writers for the young cite their sources. Now it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t!

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10. What book will you take to the beach?

OnTheBeachIn my fantasy world, as I say in my introduction to the Horn Book’s annual summer reading recommendations. kids (and grownups) could read whatever they like while on their break. Wouldn’t that be GREAT? While I remember exhortations from teachers to read over the summer (not like I or probably you needed any encouragement) there were no lists and certainly no required reading. Those were the days.

I don’t yet have anything planned for my beach reading this year. I am not at all sure I will even see a beach, but in case I do, can anyone offer a recommendation?

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11. Wait, what?

Everyone here is busy reading and re-reading the books of 2012 in preparation for our Fanfare choices for the best books of the year. (Last year’s list.) Any and all available copies get pulled into service, meaning one editor might have the finished book, another an ARC, another an ebook or audio version.

God knows I love me my gadgets, but is anybody else worried about the end of browsing? A character pops up you don’t quite remember reading about before, but checking back through what you’ve read in an ebook looks more efficient than it is: on my Kindle I have to call up the search box, enter a word

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12. Rural juror

The Morning News started its tournament of books yesterday with a match between Louise Erdrich’s The Round House and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I thought the critic, Edan Lepucki, did a great job of assessing each book’s strengths and shortcomings and coming up with a winner. Today, the match between Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son and Maria’ Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette is judged by a more milquetoasted Elliot Holt, but I found a useful link in the commentary. I seem to have missed Jacob Silverman’s “Against Enthusiasm” when it appeared in Slate last August, but I hope every member of the kidlitosphere reads it.

 

Our sis School Library Journal begins its Battle of the Books on Monday Tuesday and I’ll be over here critiquing the judges in brackets of two and allowing one to “move forward,” where, eventually (and if I’ve done the math right) one shall face the BoB’s Big Kahuna judge, Frank Cottrell Boyce. I’m not doing this to be mean–unless somebody drives me to it–but to test my frequent assertion that there’s too much diplomacy in children’s book discussion (again, see the Silverman essay linked above). I am also interested in exploring what kind of criticism these non-professionals will employ: will they argue from personal taste, moral significance, reader appeal, aesthetic value? Each or all of these can work; what matters most in this contest is that the judge is able to express a clear preference for one book over another and say why. The prize is two one-year subscriptions to the Horn Book Magazine, one to the winning judge and another to the library of his or her choice.I’ll be judge and jury (shades of SLJ’s Lillian Gerhardt: raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember her infamous Billy Budd Button and Huck Finn Pin!)

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13. Rural juror

The Morning News started its tournament of books yesterday with a match between Louise Erdrich’s The Round House and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I thought the critic, Edan Lepucki, did a great job of assessing each book’s strengths and shortcomings and coming up with a winner. Today, the match between Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son and Maria’ Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette is judged by a more milquetoasted Elliot Holt, but I found a useful link in the commentary. I seem to have missed Jacob Silverman’s “Against Enthusiasm” when it appeared in Slate last August, but I hope every member of the kidlitosphere reads it.

 

Our sis School Library Journal begins its Battle of the Books on Monday Tuesday and I’ll be over here critiquing the judges in brackets of two and allowing one to “move forward,” where, eventually (and if I’ve done the math right) one shall face the BoB’s Big Kahuna judge, Frank Cottrell Boyce. I’m not doing this to be mean–unless somebody drives me to it–but to test my frequent assertion that there’s too much diplomacy in children’s book discussion (again, see the Silverman essay linked above). I am also interested in exploring what kind of criticism these non-professionals will employ: will they argue from personal taste, moral significance, reader appeal, aesthetic value? Each or all of these can work; what matters most in this contest is that the judge is able to express a clear preference for one book over another and say why. The prize is two one-year subscriptions to the Horn Book Magazine, one to the winning judge and another to the library of his or her choice.I’ll be judge and jury (shades of SLJ’s Lillian Gerhardt: raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember her infamous Billy Budd Button and Huck Finn Pin!)

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14. Can’t buy me love

The Gawker debacle has been very entertaining. I read and respect the site too much to enjoy the clusterfuck in a schadenfreudey kind of way, but I am enjoying the intellectual stimulation provided by the whole host of journalism questions set bristling. What’s a public figure? Was the subject in question a public figure, or a behind-the-scenes media rival? Would Gawker have pursued the story had the hooker been a lady? Would the commentariat be as outraged had the hooker been a lady? Will Twitter ever let the “die on that hill” metaphor die on that hill, already?

My take briefly: The story should not have been pursued. The editors should have known better. The publisher should have been–previously–clearer that this kind of story was no longer acceptable, and he should have taken his objections directly to the editors, not to the directors. Taking the story down, however symbolic, was the right thing to do. Rather than resigning in a high-minded huff, the editors should have considered that perhaps all the people screaming at them might have had a point. The advertising director sounds like a dick.

RejectsI’ve been very lucky that in nearly twenty years at the Horn Book I’ve never had to have the kind of conversation that should have gone on at Gawker. Reduce expenses, increase circulation, get your monthly reports in the month they are actually due, Roger–I hear those things all the time. But none of the people who has served as Horn Book publisher has ever tried to quash content. And in cases where outraged subscribers or aggrieved advertisers have complained, the publisher has always backed me up. Thank you, gentlemen and lady.

But when I read that one concern of the Gawker publisher was that the post in question might have lost them advertising dough worth seven figures in one week, my first thought was that I wanted to be very clear with you all about the relationship between Horn Book content and the advertisers who support it. (Actually, my first first thought was SEVEN FIGURES IN ONE WEEK? GIMME SOME.) So here’s the lowdown. You can’t buy a review in the Horn Book. Advertising in the Horn Book Magazine pages doesn’t get you anything beyond exposure for whatever it is you are advertising. Not advertising in our pages has no effect on our decision whether or not to review your book. The decision to give a book a starred review is made by the editors in consultation with the reviewers. As far as articles go, we welcome suggestions and submissions from all comers, but you can’t buy one of those, either.

There are two venues in which Horn Book editorial and advertising intersect. One is our Talks With Roger series, in which a publisher will pay for me (not pay me)  to interview a given author or illustrator and disseminate said interview to our Notes from the Horn Book subscribers and on our website. These are friendly interviews–if I feel like I can’t be friendly to a given author or book, I turn the interview down. While we run the edited interview by the sponsor, it is only so they can offer factual corrections; they have no say over the content. The other advertorial product we create is the Fall and Spring Preview, a labelled supplement to the March/April and September/October issues of the Magazine. In these, a five-question interview of an author or illustrator of a new book faces a page of advertising from said book’s publisher, who pays for both pages. I write the questions but the publisher selects the book. Neither advertising in the Preview sections nor sponsoring a Talks With Roger gets you a review in the Magazine. (Reviews in the Horn Book Guide are essentially automatic, as the Guide is a nonselective  source reviewing all new hardback books for children from U.S. publishers listed in the current print edition of Literary Market Place.)

I hope this is all clear, or clear enough. (It isn’t always. More than one Talks With Roger subject has tried telling me how “honored” he or she is to have been “chosen” for an interview, and while I try to let them down gently, I do let them down.) Please leave any questions in the comments.

 

 

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15. Last call for Selfie Sweepstakes

selfiesubs Last call for Selfie SweepstakesA reminder that the due date for entries in the Selfie Sweepstakes is December 15, next Monday. Those who predicted I would be swamped with entries were wrong; right now there are about a dozen submissions. If the next week does not bring a deluge, I’ll be able to comment on each of the submissions here on the blog in the coming month. I have no idea if I will find a winner.

I think the relatively few submissions tell us something valuable about the intersection between old media and self-publishing. While it is true that some commenters said they wouldn’t submit because they thought the contest was rigged and obnoxious, more complained about the requirement of a 2015 publication date. They explained that self-published books don’t work on the same calendar as trade books do; that when a book is ready to go, it goes. Others insisted that the publication date was immaterial because good books are timeless, etc. But book reviewing is part of the news business, not simply artful critiques of whatever books we feel like writing about. I also worry that the lack of a pub date can mean a lack of other things as well–a distribution plan, for example. If the only way a book can be ordered is to mail a check to the author’s house, then it is too difficult for a library to order. To the self-publishers who complain that Baker and Taylor does not want their business, I ask, sincerely: why?

Someone recently pointed out in a comment on my original rant that it is unfair to characterize self-published children’s books as “mostly pretty terrible” when trade publishers routinely publish plenty of crap. Yes, they do. But the difference is that the trade publisher believes that any book they publish will have an audience. A self publisher is more inclined to believe that any book they publish should have an audience, which is a very different situation indeed.

See you all next week, and good luck!

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16. Goodbye, George

Paul Zelinsky, Roger Sutton, George Nicholson at Elizabeth Law's apartment; photo by Elizabeth Law

Roger Sutton, Paul Zelinsky, and George Nicholson at Elizabeth Law’s apartment; photo by Elizabeth Law

…to the sad news that George Nicholson, whom I had first met at an ALA, more than thirty years ago, has died. I first knew George when he was publisher at Dell; he later moved over to Harper and then to a successful second career as an agent, at Sterling Lord Literistic. He was a very kind man, scarily well-read, deceptively soft-spoken, and had great hair. Those Yearling and Laurel-Leaf paperbacks you grew up with? Thank George. Leonard Marcus interviewed him for us back in 2007; go take a look.

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17. Fools, rush in.

dudleybranch

Dudley Branch Library, Boston Public Library

This Saturday I will be speaking on a panel organized by Irene Smalls for people interested in writing books for children. At the Dudley Branch Library, 65 Warren Street in Roxbury, the panel, free and open to all comers, will run from 3:00 to 4:45, optionally followed by dinner (ten bucks) at Haley House. I hope to see you there!

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18. Some context for "Are we doing it white" at Read Roger

I participated in the "Are we doing it white?" conversation at Read Roger (Roger Sutton's blog at Horn Book; Sutton is the executive editor at Horn Book; The Horn Book is highly regarded in children's literature). His 'we' is white people and the 'it' is reviewing. He references a conversation he had with librarian Nina Lindsay in which she asked if it is time to "shake up our standards" in reviewing.

At one point in the 'Are we doing it white' conversation, Roger said he would love to have more reviewers at Horn Book that aren't white, and that he is "intensely devoted" to "getting out information about cultural diversity--who's out there, what's out there, and what's NOT out there" (see his comment at 12:28).  I reviewed for Horn Book in the 1990s.

I responded (at 1:56) with this:

Question for Roger:
Remember when you decided it was inappropriate for me to use the word stereotype to characterize a kid playing Indian? You decided to give the review to someone else. Later, in a review of a nonfiction book about California missions, I said the author was ignoring new research on the missions, and that review got reassigned, too.
Those were terse moments for me. I was furious. All the power was yours, and it dictated what I could or could not say as a HB reviewer. Because of those two experiences, it was not hard for me to decide to move on and focus on my dissertation. I think if you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have left.
Would it be different if I submitted those reviews today?

His reply (at 2:29):

Debbie, how could I forget? ;-) Actually, i *do* forget what happened with the book about the missions but remember the playing-Indian question very well. In this book, THE BIRTHDAY BEAR, two contemporary white children and their grandfather, among other activities, put on fake headdresses and pretend to be Indians.
In regard to your review of this book, nothing would be different today. You criticized it not for inaccuracy or stereotyping but because the characters in the book engaged in an activity you found objectionable. We can’t knock a book because we morally disapprove of its fictional characters’ actions. What I said then I’ll say now: I take the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights very seriously, and I believe “materials should not be proscribed because of doctrinal or partisan disapproval” with all my heart.

I haven't been able to find the review I submitted (it was written and submitted in the 1990s). I'll keep looking. Perhaps there is one in Horn Book's files. I probably gave it a 6 in my overall rating, which is "unacceptable in style, content, and/or illustration."

I wrote an article based on the rejection of that review. It includes some of the emails that were exchanged by me and Roger.

If you'd like to get a more in-depth look, I'm sharing the article as a pdf: Contesting Ideology in Children's Book Reviewing. It was published in 2000 in a Studies in American Indian Literatures, the journal of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures.

As readers of AICL know, I don't recommend books where kids are playing Indian. They invariably do that in a stereotypical way. During the time I was reviewing for Horn Book, they were sending me books with Native content because they believed I had the expertise to review those books. In the case of The Birthday Bear, Roger also felt that it should not have been sent to me because the kids playing Indian was "peripheral" to the story. It may have been to him, but it wasn't peripheral to me.

As the article and the on-going discussion at Read Roger show, neither Roger or myself have shifted in our views on this particular incident.

Roger titled his post "Are we doing it white?"

My answer to Roger?

Yes, you are. Indeed, you do it with glee, as evident in your reply to Sarah Park Dahlen (see his comment at 3:37) where you say that you "happily recommended" a book in which kids are playing Indian.

Please read the conversation at Are we doing it white. I appreciate the personal notes of support I've received, and I especially appreciate the work we're all doing to push back on the power structures that use that power to affirm the status quo. We're all doing it for young people who read. What they read matters.

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19. Buy the book

wnbalogoI’m a judge for this year’s Pannell Award for children’s bookselling and our slate of nominees has been announced. Anything you want to tell me?

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20. Inside and out

having-it-allNina Lindsay has a terrific article up at SLJ about this year’s ALA Award winners and What It All Might Mean.  And in my latest editorial, I write about the need to value art from outsiders as well as insiders. Can we have both? Can we HAVE IT ALL?

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21. Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Drawbridges Open and Close

DrawbridgesDrawbridges Open and Close; by Patrick T. McBriarty; illus. by Johanna H. Kim. Curly Press, 2014. 40pp. ISBN 978-1-941216-02-6. $15.95

Gr. K-3. I was glad I had read this book prior to my recent visit to Ft. Lauderdale, where everybody gets around by car, negotiating a host of drawbridges back and forth across the Intracoastal Waterway. Although the book opens (heh) confusingly with “Next to the drawbridge is a bridge house,” it then settles into a clear and nicely-patterned account of the six steps taken (by the Scarryesque Bridge Tender Todd, a fox) to open the bridge for passing boats and then the six to close it so that street traffic may resume. Coloring is vibrant without being over-lavish; the drawing of the all-animal cast is a little awkward but that of the bridge and boats and vehicles is neatly-lined, and the cutaway diagrams that show how the bridge works are excellently informative. One terrific spread shows the open bridge, the passing boats and the impatient cars from an amazing bird’s-eye-view. Perhaps the focus is a bit narrow, and it’s not said how generalizable the information is (do all drawbridges work this way?) but children with an eye for the way things work will be happy with this picture book. R.S.

 

[This review may be distributed freely and excerpted fairly; credit to “Read Roger, The Horn Book Inc., www.hbook.com.]

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22. I’ll show you WINTER.

minnie2,jpg

by Watie White, http://watiewhite.com

Seasonally enough, last night I attended Blizzard of Voices, an oratorio by Paul Moravec (husband to your friend and mine Wendy Lamb). While you might have thought the warm and woody Jordan Hall would have been an oasis in Boston’s horrible weather, Moravec’s commemoration of the 1888 Schoolhouse Blizzard was terrible–in the exactest sense–in its evocation of the wind and cold and terror and death that swept over the Great Plains and killed more than two hundred people.

Taken from Ted Kooser‘s book of the same name, the work’s texts were beautifully shared shared among a chorus and six soloists:

We finally had to dig
Down into a drift, wrapping
the blanket around us. Billy
died in the night. I thought he
was only asleep. At dawn,
I dug out, finding that we
Were in the sight of the homeplace.

And with the orchestra thundering–and more ominously, insinuating–away, it really felt like voices from a storm, meteorological and otherwise.

Am I the only person who thought this was, historically, the same storm the Ingalls family endured in The Long Winter? Nope–Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book covers events of eight years earlier. Debbie Reese and I got into it a bit  a couple of weeks ago about that book, and while I take her point about the objectionable stereotyping of American Indians therein, I’m not ready to give The Long Winter up. The way it turns winter-wonderland fantasy into nightmare is unparalleled and as keenly evoked as what I heard last night.

After the concert was over, I discovered that my bus, which is supposed to show up every ten minutes, wasn’t due to arrive for at least half an hour. I started to think that the Boston winter of 2015 was Just Like Back Then, but then I slapped myself hard.

 

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23. A Lovely Night

CINDERELLAWe saw the new Cinderella last night and you should see it too. What I loved most was that it was genuinely a children’s movie. While Cate Blanchette as the stepmother and Helena Bonham-Carter as the fairy godmother were on hand to provide some camp (and there was a PG-pushing plethora of men in tights), neither they nor the movie ever winked over the head of the intended audience. Cinderella herself was given just enough spirit (or “agency,” as our reviewers keep trying to say) to rescue her from stereotype without tipping into anachronism, and plot complications to the tale’s essentials were mercifully few. Rightfully, the high point of the movie was The Dress, first as HBC enchants it around Ella and then again when it whirls about the dance floor at the ball. Look for it on October trick-or-treaters–and maybe some June brides?

P.S. Stick around for the credits to hear Lily James (Cinderella) and HBC sing two of the classics from the original Disney film.

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24. Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Bandits Peak

[As an experiment last fall, I invited self-publishers to submit their best new titles for review. About a dozen heeded the call, and I am reviewing their books in this space.]

bandits_peak_500x800-210Bandits Peak; by Chris Eboch. Pig River Press, 2015. 173pp. ISBN 0-978-0692346006. Paper ed. $9.99

Jesse is out for a wander in the wilderness he loves near his small Washington State town when he comes across some strangers, two men and a pretty young woman. Fifteen-year-old Jesse’s insta-crush on the slightly-older Maria is believable and touching, and gives the subsequent boy-detective plot some emotional resonance. That the strangers are Up to No Good will be instantly apparent to readers, but an unrealistic degree of naivete on Jesse’s part, and the unrealistic lengths the story goes to in reinforcing that cluelessness, make the novel less credible than it needs to be. But what keeps it grounded–so to speak–are the wilderness-survival details (tracking, fire-making, fishing) that are Jesse’s best weapons for getting these varmints behind bars where they belong.   R.S.

 

[This review may be distributed freely and excerpted fairly; credit to “Read Roger, The Horn Book Inc., www.hbook.com.]

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25. 2015 Zena Sutherland Lecture by Jack Gantos

GantosSuttonPlease join us for the 2015 Zena Sutherland Lecture, “A Pair of Jacks to Open,” with Jack Gantos. Friday May 1, Harold Washington Library in Chicago, 7:30PM. The lecture is free but tickets are required.

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