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Results 1 - 25 of 107
1. She’ll be swell, she’ll be great!

Carla Hayden

Carla Hayden

I am over the moon about President Obama’s nomination of Carla D. Hayden to the position of Librarian of Congress. Carla and I were buddies back in Chicago–we met when she was YA coordinator at CPL and I interviewed her for a paper I was writing for library school, and later I worked for her as a storyteller when she ran the library at the Museum of Science and Industry. (I remember both of us being extremely annoyed that the Museum required children to pay extra to come to story hour.) And we are both proudly Zena’s kids.

There’s a lot of celebration about the facts that Carla will be the first female, first African American, and first actual librarian to become appointed to the post. But, aside from the most important point that she has been a smart, tested, and proven library advocate and leader for the past forty years, HOW GREAT IS IT that a YOUTH SERVICES LIBRARIAN will be running the place?

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2. Starred reviews, March/April 2016 Horn Book Magazine

thunderboyjr

The following books will receive starred reviews in the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie; illus. by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown)

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes; illus. by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow)

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex; illus. by Christian Robinson (Porter/Roaring Brook)

Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley; illus. by Lauren Castillo (Two Lions)

Booked by Kwame Alexander (Houghton)

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (Viking)

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (Candlewick)

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine/Scholastic)

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill; illus. by Francis Vallejo (Candlewick)

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3. Fairytale of New York

BrooklynIf I ruled the world, Brooklyn would be the teen movie of the season. It has the vicissitudes of young romance, a love triangle, a heroine who blossoms from being pleasant-looking to full-on Titanic-era Kate Winslet, right down to the hair blowing and glowing in the ocean sunrise. It’s probably too quiet for wide appeal, though, and the which-guy-will-she-pick is definitely secondary to to the story of a young woman making her way in a new world both actual and otherwise. But you should go–the cinematography is as gorgeous as the music, and the strong central performance of Saoirse Ronan as Eilis is matched by great supporting performances, especially by Jane Brennan as Eilis’s mother (and Don Draper’s second wife has finally found the job she was born to do). While other fans of Colm Toibin’s novel might not be happy with the less ambiguous ending of this film adaptation, I was just so darned happy for everyone I didn’t mind it a bit.

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4. Starred reviews, January/February Horn Book Magazine

From Dasha Tolstikova's A Year Without Mom

From Dasha Tolstikova’s A Year Without Mom

The following books will receive starred reviews in the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

 

I Hear a Pickle; (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!); written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora (Paulsen/Penguin)

Emma and Julia Love Ballet; written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic)

Unbecoming; by Jenny Downham (Fickling/Scholastic)

Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather; written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)

Anna and the Swallow Man; by Gavriel Savit (Knopf)

Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for a Sustainable Future; written and illustrated by Allan Drummond (Foster/Farrar)

A Year Without Mom; written and illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova (Groundwood)

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5. Lynne Reid Banks: right for the wrong reasons

The_Fox_and_the_GrapesI think we’ve all written letters like this one. Responding to the announcement that David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey had won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, author Lynne Reid Banks wrote to that publication:

“Buoyed up by David Almond’s beautiful description (21 November) of his inspiration for writing A Song for Ella Grey, which  has just won the Guardian children’s book prize, I went out and bought two copies for my 12-year-old grandchildren. I trusted him, and I trusted the Guardian – I would never buy a Carnegie medal winner without reading it first.

In the first five pages there is lesbian love, swearing, drinking, and enough other indications that, once again, this is not a book for children. Children are people up to the age of 12. They are not grownups of 17. The books are going straight back to Waterstones.

Woe to us who really do write for children! No prizes for us. Publishing is not a children’s world any more.”

So we all, as we do, jumped down her throat. She was stuffy, out of touch, censorious. I chimed in with a gotcha tweet linking to my review of her own sexy Melusine, published by Charlotte Zolotow at Harper twenty five years ago for ages 12 and up. But I don’t think Banks is so much bothered by Almond’s book (which she admitted she had not read) as she is by an award with “children” in its title going to a book for teens. Her statement that the winner is “once again” not for children as she defines them seems to indicate some simmering resentment on this point, albeit obliquely directed at the Carnegie medal rather than the Guardian award. But even here, her argument seems in bad faith. Almond’s “beautiful description” that impelled Banks to buy the book makes clear that it is for teenagers, and the Guardian award, as well as the Carnegie medal, has gone to YA books before. It is perhaps unkind but on point to say that Banks has never won either.

While Banks’ argument seems to be at heart self-serving, I think there are some valuable discussions yet to be had about the advisability of people as well as prizes lumping children’s and YA books together. And her calling seventeen-year-olds “grownups” has potentially revolutionary implications for our industry. If it is indeed true that most YA fiction is now bought by adults for their own reading pleasure, why not accede the publishing of those books to the adult trade divisions, and why not take them out of the running for children’s book awards?

 

 

 

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6. Whips AND chains

story-of-oI’d really like to ban the term “self-censorship” from discourse, given that we already have a spectrum of words–from “prudence” to “cowardice”–that say more precisely what we mean, and because it causes us to be confused about what censorship actually is.

As Megan Schliesman at Reading While White posted last week, the discussion about A Birthday Cake for George Washington is not about censorship. People talking about what’s wrong with the book are not censors; people saying it will damage children are not censors; Scholastic deciding to cease the book’s distribution is not censorship. Hell, somebody buying a copy of the book only in order to consign it to a bonfire is not censorship. (I think I told you guys I did this once, with a Sidney Sheldon book whose utter disregard for logical plot construction and consistent characterization caused me to pitch it into the fireplace by which I was reading. It felt naughty.)

Censorship happens when the government–and this includes public libraries–gets into the business of restricting access to information. As far as A Birthday Cake for George Washington is concerned, it would be censorship if a library that held a copy decided to restrict readership to adults, for example, or removed it from the collection on the basis of its being “offensive” or “harmful to children.” It is also censorship if a public library decided not to purchase the book on the grounds that it is offensive or harmful, or if the library thinks it will get into trouble with those who find it so. This is of course very tricky–libraries don’t purchase more books than they do, and it’s rarely one criterion that guides that decision. Here is where we have to trust in the librarian’s integrity and the library’s book selection policy and adherence to ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. I know I’ve told the story here before about the librarian I knew who didn’t purchase a sex ed book for children on the grounds that it didn’t have an index. Yes, it did not have an index–but that wasn’t the reason she didn’t buy it.

I bring all this up because of an interesting exchange I had on Twitter last week with YA novelist Daniel José Older. Reacting in a subtweet to my post about A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake, Older wrote “Ah here’s the Horn/Sutton tut tutting on why Scholastic should’ve let kids read that book,” with a screenshot of part of the post. I replied–or barged in, depending on your views about subtweeting–that I and the Horn believe kids should be allowed to read any book they wish. Then he asked me if I was cool with kids reading Little Black Sambo, Mein Kampf and The Story of O. (I think he dated us both with that last example.) Although I’m aware that this was intended as a sort of gotcha rhetorical question, it made me realize that Mr. Older is probably not familiar with the way librarians think. I said I was perfectly fine with kids reading any or all of those three books.

A bias toward believing that people, kids included, should be able to read whatever they want is so ingrained in librarianship that we can forget that it seems like a radical stance to civilians. And as discussions about children’s books have moved, via social media, beyond the usual suspects of teachers, librarians, and publishers, it would be good for all concerned to remember that our assumptions are not necessarily shared.

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7. Come early

Concert Crowd

Cambridge Public Library is telling me they expect to run out of room at Middle Grade Madness, tonight at the Main Library at 6:00PM; show up early to be guaranteed admission. Youth services director Julie Roach is legendary for the ease with which she firmly shuts the door on even the most well-connected mom trying to get her kids into a full story hour, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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8. Middle-Grade Madness recapped

Rebecca Stead and me.

Rebecca Stead and me.

Shoshana has written up an excellent recap of last night’s goings-on at the Cambridge Public Library. I’ll just add my thanks to the panelists, who were all engaged, enthusiastic, and nice to me and each other. (Jeanne Birdsall brought along a belt for me to use if things got out of hand, but luckily I did not need to employ it. Jeanne, what would Pére Penderwick say?) And the evening gave me a prompt for my November editorial, so I’m grateful for that.

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9. Wake me up when it’s all over

sleep-paralysis-1170x668I confess to feeling nonplussed when the publicist wrote to see if “Horn [ed note: AARGH] will review The Rabbit Who Wants to Go to Sleep,” the self-published bestseller that Random House picked up for a rumored seven-figure advance. I mean, yes, the Horn BOOK will review it in the Spring 2016 Horn Book Guide because that publication reviews non selectively, but, really, why are you asking me this? Is somebody making you do it? I felt one step away from a drunk Reese Witherspoon bellowing at a cop who didn’t know who she was.

But, okay, Rando, here’s what Horn thinks. The Rabbit Who Wants to Go to Sleep is a book designed to help parents get their kids to go to sleep. It has sold so many copies (already, I mean, but clearly RH thinks there are even more suckers out there) because it probably works as advertised. The text is long–really, really long– and droning and uneventful, and it will bore the brats right into dreamland. Authorial directives are everywhere, telling parents where to whisper, where to provide emphasis, where to yawn: “The name of the rabbit, Roger [ed note: fuck you], can be read as ‘Raaah-gerr’ with two yawns.” The combination of boredom plus suggestion will induce a hypnotic state in both parent and child and cause Chandler to walk around the apartment with a towel round his head like a girl make them very, very sleeeepy. (Despite what the Amazon reviews will tell you, this is not “magic.” Now, I would have thought that the kind of parent  susceptible to The Rabbit Who Wants to Go to Sleep might have been horrified at the prospect of hypnotizing their offspring because that is how demons get in, but anything for a good night’s sleep, I suppose.) Mission accomplished.

If the seven-figure-advance rumor is true, I’d love for someone to do the math for me. Can this book (or books; the author and publisher are threatening a series) earn that much money back? Won’t parents figure out that Goodnight Moon–cheaper, prettier, and a billion times classier–does the same thing?

 

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10. Starred reviews, November/December Horn Book Magazine

Funnybones

From FUNNY BONES, by Duncan Tonatiuh

The following books will receive starred reviews in the November/December issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Tiptoe Tapirs; written and illustrated by Hanmin Kim; trans. from the Korean by Sera Lee (Holiday)

I Used to Be Afraid; written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Porter/Roaring Brook)

Flop to the Top!; written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing (TOON)

Hereville:How Mirka Caught a Fish; written and illustrated by Barry Deutsch (Amulet/Abrams)

Calvin; by Martine Leavitt (Ferguson/Farrar)

Written and Drawn by Henrietta; written and drawn by Liniers (TOON)

All American Boys; by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

The Emperor of Any Place; by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)

My Seneca Village; by Marilyn Nelson (Namelos)

Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever; by Jim Murphy (Clarion)

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras; written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams)

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11. #BGHB15 #HBAS15

R&RBGHB

Roger and Richard; photo by Elissa Gershowitz.

The Horn Book gang–Sharks AND Jets–has been busy posting photos and Tweets and quotes and stuff from our very successful Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards/Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium events of last weekend. We will be publishing coverage in the January/February issue of the Magazine, and look for a fabulous cover by Marla Frazee, who gives us a little more of the Farmer and the Clown story. (And, yes, for those who asked, Susan Cooper’s inspiring speech will be in the issue.) Thank you to all who made the events a success–HB and Boston Globe and Simmons staff, our judges, our speakers, and our attendees, who kept the conversation lively. Cathie, Katrina, and I have already started planning next year’s program (if saying “let’s pick a date” counts as planning). The BGHB 2016 judges–Betsy Bird, Roxanne Hsu Feldman, and chair Joanna Rudge Long are already at it. 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the awards so we hope to make the weekend extra-special.

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12. Come fly with me

JupiterThis coming Saturday evening, I’ll be interviewing Gary Schmidt about his new novel, Orbiting Jupiter, at the Peabody School in Cambridge, sponsored by Porter Square Books. It’s a very different kind of book from this author, and I am eager to talk with him. I hope you can join us!

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13. Down, girl, down!

aidancarriejpgEven in my day having been one of Betsy Bird‘s Hot Men of Children’s Literature (BB: are those archived anywhere?) I was more than a little skeeved out by Meaghan O’Connell’s “The Children’s-Book Guy: An Ideal Crush Object,” published yesterday in New York Magazine but reading like something written by Carrie Bradshaw in 1999:

“If you think about it, the young male children’s-book author (or illustrator) is in many ways the perfect crush: artistic but in a productive, financially solvent way; imaginative, filled with empathy and quiet wisdom — like a dad, but not. Like a dad, but single. Children’s-book guy will wake up just before you, stepping over your rescue dog to start the Chemex and make you both pancakes (childlike wonder).”

Why is what was amusing then annoying now? (I know, ’twas ever thus and the number one reason I’ll never get a tattoo.) Part of it is tone: O’Connell aspires to an ironic distance from her own lubriciousness but who is she kidding? Another part is the gratuitous swipe she takes at female children’s-book creators: “These women are generally in their mid-50s, with great glasses, admirably draped Eileen Fisher duds, and expensive sandals.”  (She adds, “I want to be them” but, again, who believes that?)

But the sentiments O’Connell expresses are hardly unheard within our own realms of gold; indeed, she quotes a number of fellow droolers from among our ranks. There’s an odd kind of sexism at work in our work. I tried to talk about this when Daniel Handler put his foot in his mouth last year and perhaps it is foolhardy to try again, but here is another example. Some time ago I was casting about for children’s book people who do something else that is interesting (see these questions for Tom Barron and Deb Taylor) and wrote to about a dozen publishing friends–all women–for suggestions from among their stables. Every single name that came back was of a young, white, man. Where were the women?

They are of course everywhere, from writers and illustrators to agents and publishers to reviewers and librarians and teachers to readers. When it comes to books for young people, females are in the majorities of all those groups. Not to take anything away from Dr. Johnson (or Cynthia Ozick), but perhaps their minority renders men the dancing dogs of children’s literature, where “one marvels not at how well it is done, but that it is done at all.”

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14. Doctor, doctor, give me the news

Portrait of Vivien Thomas by Bob Gee

Portrait of Vivien Thomas by Bob Gee

After reading Jim Murphy’s Breakthrough! How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever, our current nonfiction review of the week, I mentioned it to my cousin Dr. Anne Murphy, a pediatric cardiologist at Johns Hopkins. It turns out she knew two of those three, which is both pretty neat and means that, yes, we are old. My pal Karen Walsh at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt kindly sent Anne a copy of no-relation-Murphy’s book, and here are her thoughts:

“I walk by Vivien Thomas’s portrait every day. As a self-professed Johns Hopkins Medicine ‘lifer’, the story of the Blalock-Taussig procedure is ingrained in my DNA, and  I was delighted to read the book Breakthrough which recounts this story.  Although Dr. Alfred Blalock died before I arrived at Johns Hopkins, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Helen Taussig and found her to be energetic and feisty.  I also heard at first hand from her former patients about her devotion to those in her care.  Mr. Vivien Thomas was still teaching medical students in my day. During our two-month rotation in surgery, we students spent an afternoon a week in the surgical labs, where Mr. Thomas was a distinguished, soft-spoken instructor who took a particular interest in my classmates who were skilled with their hands. It is tragic that he did not initially receive recognition for his crucial role in this remarkable advance that has saved many lives over the 70 years since it was first performed.  I am grateful that this book introduces this remarkable man to a new generation of readers.”

Anne also told me that Dr. Robert Gross, presented in Murphy’s book as a gifted surgeon but early discourager of Taussig, operated on my younger brother Rand when he was a baby. (Did you know that, Rand?) So he couldn’t have been all bad.

I spent much of my childhood in insomniac nights, immersed in my parent’s collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, each volume of which, it seemed, contained at least one gripping nonfiction account of one medical breakthrough or another. Ten-year-old me would have loved this book just as much as I do now.

 

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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. The race is on

IMG_4294Calling Caldecott, Heavy Medal, and Someday My Printz Will Come are all up and running, so it’s time to start thinking your woulds and coulds and shoulds about this year’s field of potential prizewinners. (And SLJ has posted its reviews of the National Book Award longlist, although I have to say I think it’s tacky to announce a longlist of ten that will shortly become a shortlist of five.)

The lists of potential winners referenced in the blogs above make me wonder how important publication date is to getting a gold sticker. It’s a complicated calculus because publishers generally release what they think are heavy-hitters in the fall, not with an eye to catching the committees’ attention (right?) but because people buy more books toward the end of the year. But has anyone ever looked at what percentage of prizewinners were published before September in a given year?

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23. MORE #stuffwhitepeoplelike

upOne of those stupid Facebook quizzes told me that I “tend to share thoughts that are not fully developed, using others as a sounding board for ideas and theories in a debate against themselves rather than as actual conversation partners.” RUDE. But also, true.

So for now I am going to refrain from comment about a new blog, because the last time I tried out some thoughts here about white (and male) privilege it didn’t go so well. But Reading While White is staffed by some of the people I respect most in this business and you should have a look.

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24. Not. So. Fast.

chickensThose of you who follow @rogerreads might have seen my occasional cranky #authoraskyourself (#editoraskyourself, #revieweraskyourself…) tweets in which I turn whatever crime against language and/or literature that has crossed my desk that day into a blind item for an anonymous public spanking. I keep them anonymous because a) I’m not that mean, b) they’re often examples of promiscuous horrors rather than being singularly egregious, and c) I don’t want to taint any official opinion that  the Horn Book might subsequently proffer in a review.

I have learned not to offer premature word on what the Horn Book might or might not say about a particular book. Years ago, a close friend published a novel that had been submitted for review. I stayed out of the discussion about whether to assign the book to a Magazine reviewer and which reviewer to send it to, but later when I heard that the reviewer and the editor loved it, I felt safe in telling my friend that the book would be recommended in an upcoming issue. Not. So. Fast. The reviewer had second thoughts and convinced the editor that the book should in fact not be reviewed. Ouch.

Wincing, I remembered this little learning experience when I saw that a Facebook acquaintance posted a sad lament that the review her new book had been “promised” by another publication several months ago had not yet appeared. While I have no way of knowing just what was promised by whom to whom, I’d advise concerned parties to neither offer nor expect a review until it’s ready to print. A Horn Book Magazine review goes through several editors and stages before we think it’s fit to print, and it changes all along the way. And sometimes it disappears–one or another of us will look askance at a book or its review, conveniently claim amnesia for the mistake of assigning it in the first place, and query our fellows as to whether to drop it from the Magazine (#Ijustdidthistoday). For a selective review source like the Magazine, the toughest decisions involve those books that are good but not great, and by those that our partners in crime at SLJ, etc., are raving about while we’re thinking, “this? THIS? Really?” The challenge posed by this latter kind is deciding whether to publicly demur or just keep quiet.

Don’t even get me started on stars.

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25. Middle Grade Madness

herding-cats

Next Monday, September 28th, I’ll be moderating a panel of five middle-grade Random House authors at the Cambridge Public Library at 6:00PM. Participating authors include:

–Jeanne Birdsall, talking about THE PENDERWICKS IN SPRING

–Bruce Coville, DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE

–Alice Hoffman, NIGHTBIRD

–R.J. Palacio, AUGIE & ME

–Rebecca Stead, GOODBYE STRANGER

Quite the lineup, no? We will have fun (I insist) and the authors will be autographing after the program, with books sold on site  by the wonderful Porter Square Books. The library is at 449 Broadway in Cambridge, and the event will be held in the auditorium downstairs. Hope to see you there!

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