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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Notes from the Horn Book, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. The first Notes of the year

In January’s issue of Notes from the Horn Book, Jennifer Brabander asks Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future author A. S. King about that bat and lots more. You’ll also find:

  • more fierce female YA protagonists
  • snowy-day picture books
  • intermediate series
  • graphic-novel memoirs

notes jan 2015

Read the issue online or subscribe to receive the monthly Notes from the Horn Book newsletter — and its supplement Nonfiction Notes — in your inbox. For more recommended books and interviews, check out the newsletter archives.


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2. Fanfare 2014 Notes

Da-da-da-daaaaaa! It’s here: the Fanfare special edition of Notes is arriving in subscribers’ inboxes right now.

We began with a long longlist, then fought it ou— er, cordially discussed the options until we whittled it down to twenty-nine favorites of 2014. With picture books, fiction, folklore, poetry, and nonfiction, there’s something — probably several things — for everyone.

Notes (and its occasional supplements Nonfiction Notes and Talks With Roger) will be back to regularly scheduled programming in January.

fanfare notes 14 Fanfare 2014 Notes

Read the issue online or subscribe to receive the monthly Notes from the Horn Book newsletter. For more recommended books plus author and illustrator interviews, check out the newsletter archives.

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3. Books mentioned in the December 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

Picture books
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
My Bus written and illus. by Byron Barton, Greenwillow, 2–4 years.
The Baby Tree written and illus. by Sophie Blackall, Penguin/Paulsen, 3–7 years.
Draw! written and illus. by Raúl Colón, Simon/Wiseman, 5–8 years.
Gaston written by Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson, Atheneum, 3–7 years.
The Farmer and the Clown written and illus. by Marla Frazee, Simon/Beach Lane, 3–7 years.
Once Upon an Alphabet  written and illus. by Oliver Jeffers, Philomel, 6–9 years.
Viva Frida written and illus. by Yuyi Morales, with photos by Tim O’Meara, Roaring Brook/Porter, 5–8 years.
Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors written and illus. by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash, Roaring Brook/Porter, 2–4 years.

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis, Scholastic, 9–13 years.
The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos, Farrar, 8–11 years.
My Heart Is Laughing written by Rose Lagercrantz, illus. by Eva Eriksson, translated from the Swedish by Julia Marshall, Gecko, 5–8 years.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Delacorte, 13 years and up.
Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire, Candlewick, 12–14 years.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, Feiwel, 8–11 years.
The Turtle of Oman written by Naomi Shihab Nye, illus. by Betsy Peterschmidt, Greenwillow, 8–11 years.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus, Abrams/Amulet, 9–13 years.
This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki, Roaring Brook/First Second, 12–16 years.

Little Roja Riding Hood written by Susan Middleton Elya, illus. by Susan Guevara, Putnam, 5–8 years.

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illus. by Melissa Sweet, Candlewick, 3–7 years.
How I Discovered Poetry written by Marilyn Nelson, illus. by Hadley Hooper, Dial, 12–14 years.

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illus. by Molly Bang, Scholastic/Blue Sky, 8–11 years.
El Deafo written and illus. by Cece Bell, color by David Lasky, Abrams/Amulet, 9–13 years.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus written by Jen Bryant, illus. by Melissa Sweet, Eerdmans, 5–8 years.
The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond written by Patrick Dillon, illus. by Stephen Biesty, Candlewick, 12–14 years.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming, Random/Schwartz & Wade, 12–16 years.
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illus. by Christian Robinson, Chronicle, 9–13 years.
Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands written and illus. by Katherine Roy, Roaring Brook/Macaulay, 8–11 years.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Penguin/Paulsen, 9–13 years.

These titles were featured in the December 2014 special Fanfare issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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4. From the Editor – November 2014

Roger EdBriant 191x300 From the Editor   November 2014Please permit me to highlight two of the titles reviewed in this issue of Notes from the Horn Book, alike only in their consideration of the friendship possible between the old and the young, and — refreshingly — their resistance of current splashy publishing trends. That The Farmer and the Clown is wordless is the only on-trend thing about Marla Frazee’s latest picture book, and unlike so many of that ilk it is not about solving a puzzle or decrypting a mind-bending meta-plot. It is instead about caring and connection between human beings, with powerful emotions evoked, through posture and gesture alone, on every page. In contrast, Naomi Shihab Nye’s The Turtle of Oman could, I suppose, be called wordful, and like Nye’s wonderful poetry, this novel sneaks up on you. Its story and characters are soft-spoken, and there’s no grand galloping plot, just the unconditional friendship between a boy and his grandfather as they prepare to say goodbye for a while. As with The Farmer and Clown, you finish the book knowing that even when the characters part, each will keep the other in his heart — and you won’t forget them, either.

roger signature From the Editor   November 2014

Roger Sutton,
Editor in Chief

From the November 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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5. Middle-grade BFFs

The friends you make in childhood can be the best ones of your life. The following books highlight unlikely friendships that are made to last.

curtis madman of piney woods Middle grade BFFs   Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods (companion to Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton) takes place in 1901, with the American Civil War a not-so-distant memory for Buxton’s elders. For thirteen-year-old black Canadian Benji Alston, though, daily life involves coping with two irritatingly gifted younger siblings and dreaming of becoming a newspaper reporter. Benji befriends Alvin “Red” Stockard, an Irish Canadian boy who lives in nearby Chatham, and the two uncover the mystery and tragedy surrounding the supposedly mythical Madman of Piney Woods. A profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel about family, friendship, community, and the power of words. (Scholastic, 9–13 years)

hahn where i belong Middle grade BFFs“How come some kids are lucky and others aren’t?” asks Brendan, the (unlucky) protagonist of Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn. Abandoned at birth by his mother and now, on the verge of failing sixth grade, living with an apparently unloving foster mom, Brendan finds refuge in a secret tree house he builds in the woods, and in tentative friendships with a girl named Shea and with an old man in the woods, whom Brendan initially believes is the “Green Man.” This is quintessential middle-grade realistic fiction, with an unvarnished depiction of the miseries that can be visited upon a quiet sixth grader and the succor that can be found in the hard-won friendship of peers and the attention of understanding elders. (Clarion, 8–11 years)

french my cousins keeper Middle grade BFFsWhen his cousin Bon comes to live at his house, eleven-year-old Kieran is mad: Bon is “weird.” He has a long braid and tattered clothing; smells of sweat and pee; and talks in an unnaturally precise manner, all of which make Bon a target of the cool-kid bullies at school (and ruining Kieran’s chance of hanging out with the cool kids himself). Bon’s only friend is another newcomer, Julia, and Kieran is jealous of their friendship: he wants to be friends with Julia. Bon keeps a notebook filled with fantastical drawings and tales of Bon the Crusader, Kieran the Brave, and Julia the Fair; as the protagonists grow into Bon’s roles for them, My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French becomes a story of kids who dare to imagine worlds and become who they need to be. (Candlewick, 8–11 years)

turner circa now Middle grade BFFsIn Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner, main character Circa’s father is killed by a tornado while delivering an old photo he’s restored. Then Miles shows up on her family’s doorstep, a boy with amnesia whose only clue to his past is the photograph he’s holding — the very one Circa’s father was delivering when he died. As Circa and her mother care for Miles they uncover a strange series of coincidences, and Circa begins to think the digital changes she and her father made to photographs have come to exist in real life. Does this mean she can bring her father back? Gentle quirkiness and light humor appear throughout Turner’s tale of grief, healing, and friendship. (Disney-Hyperion, 9–13 years)

From the September 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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6. Nature lovers

Back-to-school blues? Give kids these engaging science books — which introduce primary readers to intriguing animals, habitats, natural processes, and conservation causes — to pique scientific curiosity and fuel imagination.

roy neigborhood sharks Nature loversKatherine Roy’s Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands examines the sometimes chilling, always fascinating details of what makes the great white shark an effective predator. The dramatic main narrative describes a shark swimming and hunting; well-integrated, information-rich sections tell more about the biology and ecology of these sharks and about the scientists who study their role in the Farallon Island ecosystem. The explanations are thorough and even, incorporating excellent analogies (in both text and images) to elucidate such topics as sharks’ streamlined bodies and visual acuity. Roy’s illustrations masterfully employ perspective and color: blood-reds flow through the ocean’s blues and grays. (Roaring Brook/Macaulay, 5–8 years)

bang buried Nature loversMolly Bang and Penny Chisholm have previously coauthored two excellent books (Living Sunlight, Ocean Sunlight) on the role of the sun’s energy in powering life processes on Earth. In Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth, Bang and Chisholm explore the production and consumption of fossil fuels, as well as the sobering evidence for the consequences of all that energy use: climate change. The sun itself narrates the “Cycle of Life” — the relationship among photosynthesis (plants), respiration (animals), and energy that results in the fossil fuels so dear to modern civilization. Bang’s illustrations brilliantly represent the chemistry with bright yellow dots of energy and tiny black-and-white molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide. (Scholastic/Blue Sky, 5–8 years)

davies tiny creatures Nature loversIn Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes, author Nicola Davies introduces an intriguing concept: that there are vast quantities of living things (microbes) that are smaller than the eye can see. She does it through creative, relatable analogies and itchy-but-cool facts about the microbes that live on and in us (“Right now there are more microbes living on your skin than there are people on Earth”). The tone is light and inquisitive yet also scientifically precise, covering topics such as the shape and variety of microbes, their function, and their reproduction. Emily Sutton’s colorful, friendly illustrations accurately render the microorganisms’ shapes. (Candlewick, 4–7 years)

duke in the rainforest Nature loversKate Duke’s In the Rainforest, a Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series entry, welcomes readers to a unique habitat as two youngsters pack for, travel to, and walk through a tropical rainforest. The main text and the children’s tour guide (in conversational speech balloons) cover the rainforest’s physical features and its abundant diversity of plants and animals. Cheerful mixed-media illustrations show the children enjoying climbing trees, journaling, and learning. When leaving, the visitors encounter a vast wasteland where trees and wildlife have been destroyed, which prompts a matter-of-fact discussion of the repercussions of such destruction. Rather than end on a negative note, however, the guide and the children return to the rainforest — as the guide says, there’s “lots more to show you.” (HarperCollins/Harper, 4–7 years)

From the September 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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7. Books mentioned in the October 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

Five questions for Julie Berry
All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Viking, 14 years and up.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry, Roaring Brook, 11–14 years.

Eerie places
Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf, trans. by John Nieuwenhuizen, Enchanted Lion, 9–12 years.
Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illus. by Jaime Zollars, Clarion, 9–12 years.
Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, trans. by Lucia Graves, Little, Brown, 10–14 years.
The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief and Sinister by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Clarie Legrand, and Emma Trevayne, illus. by Alexander Jansson, Greenwillow, 10–14 years.

Off-the-wall picture books
Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, illus. by the author, Roaring Brook/Porter, 3–6 years.
Ninja! by Aree Chung, illus. by the author, Holt, 3–6 years.
What There Is Before There Is Anything There by Liniers, illus. by the author, trans. by Elisa Amato, Groundwood, 3–6 years.
What If? by Anthony Browne, illus. by the author, Candlewick, 3–6 years.

YA supernatural baddies
Jackaby by William Ritter, Algonquin, 12–16 years.
The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters, Abrams/Amulet, 12–16 years.
Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan, Candlewick, 12–16 years.
Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen, Candlewick, 14 years and up.

Atmospheric audiobooks
Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, read by Miranda Raison, Listening Library, 10–14 years.
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, read by Julian Rhind-Tutt, Listening Library, 12–16 years.
The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, read by Olivia Mackenzie-Smith, Listening Library, 14 years and up.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, read by Ariadne Meyers, Listening Library, 14 years and up.

These titles were featured in the October 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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8. Eerie places

A creepy space can go a long way in creating the tone for a scary story. These novels all transport readers to places that are likely to give them the willies.

lindelauf nine open arms Eerie placesA building is the main character in Benny Lindelauf’s Dutch import Nine Open Arms. A family of nine moves into the titular rundown brick house in 1930s Holland and tries to figure out its mysteries, including the tombstone in the cellar, a forbidden room, and the homeless man who moves into the hedge. Halfway through, the tale travels back to a doomed 1860s love story and starts to reveal the origins of the steeped-in-sadness Nine Open Arms. In a return to the main narrative, kindness, courage, and truth-telling partly redeem the house’s tragic past. This is a strange, somber, and oddly compelling narrative. (Enchanted Lion, 9–12 years)

milford greenglass house Eerie placesIn Kate Milford’s Greenglass House, protagonist Milo expects a quiet winter holiday week with his adoptive parents at the “smugglers’ hotel” they run. But then strange visitors begin to arrive, and a mysterious document Milo finds is stolen before he and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, can figure out what it means. Smugglers, folktales, stolen objects, adopted children, and ghosts each play a part in this eerie (but not scary) tale. Milford cunningly sets up clues and gradually reveals their importance, bringing readers to higher and higher levels of mystery. (Clarion, 9–12 years)

zafon marina Eerie placesIn Spanish import Marina, Carlos Ruiz Zafón takes readers to the outskirts of late-1970s Barcelona, where fifteen-year-old Oscar investigates what he thinks is an abandoned home and finds himself entangled — with its inhabitant Marina — in a series of events set in motion at the turn of the twentieth century. The quickly paced adventure involves an eccentric scientist and his quest to unravel the mystery of mortality through the reanimation of dead tissue, his doomed romance with a famous but damaged actress, and ultimately his descent into madness. Zafón weaves a twisted tapestry of gothic horror with frequent allusions to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (Little, 10–14 years)

bachmann cabinet of curiosities Eerie placesFour “curators” — authors Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, and Emma Trevayne — travel to bizarre lands and send back objects of wonder and the often unearthly tales behind them in The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister. The table of contents lists the “rooms” and “drawers” of the Cabinet of Curiosities museum, each with a theme (cake, luck, tricks, flowers) and four or five tales to explore. The stories are remarkable both for their uniformly high quality and for their distinctness from one another; the abundant atmospherics, including occasional stark black-and-white illustrations by Alexander Jansson, provide a unifying sense of dread. (Greenwillow, 10–14 years)

From the October 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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9. Five questions for Julie Berry

JulieBerry 500pxTall 242x300 by Bruce Lucier Five questions for Julie Berry

Photo: Bruce Lucier

Julie Berry’s 2013 book All the Truth That’s In Me (Viking, 14 years and up) is a dark, claustrophobic — and beautiful — novel set seemingly out of time and narrated (in her own head) by a young woman whose tongue was cut out by a captor she escaped. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Roaring Brook, 11–14 years) could not be more different in tone or content. A Victorian-set, girls’-school, murder-mystery farce with seven distinct young-lady main characters (with names such as Dour Elinor, Stout Alice, and Smooth Kitty), the book is light as air (well, except for all that murder).

1. This book is so different from All the Truth That’s In Me. Where did it come from?

JB: In some sense, from a lifelong love of Agatha Christie mysteries and a deep infatuation with farcical plays and films such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Arsenic and Old Lace. The real catalyst, though, was an audio lecture by Professor John Sutherland, who contrasted the regiments of soldiers in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with the large number of unmarried young ladies in the novel. He called them a “regiment of maidens.” It was a light-bulb moment for me. I knew I needed to write about a regiment of innocent maidens who were, perhaps, not so innocent. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place was the almost immediate result.

2. How did you keep all the voices straight? Did the girls “talk” to you as you were writing?

JB: It is a handful of voices to keep track of, to be sure, but they were very distinct in my mind. I grew up in a family of seven children so, to borrow from the title of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s beautiful book, I was well accustomed to “counting by sevens.” My five sisters and one brother and I are very different people, with lots of practice living, teasing, eating, working, squabbling, and angling for the last molasses cookie, all in one space. It felt natural to me to let my seven pupils talk to one another, and to me. Their conversations took more playful, naughty, and intriguing directions than I could have planned for them if I were in charge.

berry scandalous sisterhood of prickwillow place Five questions for Julie Berry3. Which came first: the characters’ names or their descriptors? (My favorite is “Disgraceful Mary Jane.”)

JB: Me too! She is always stealing the scene. She was tons of fun to write.

Both the girls’ names and their monikers appeared hand in hand from the very first page of writing. That same day when I had my “regiment of maidens” light-bulb moment, I sat down and wrote the first scene. When Disgraceful Mary Jane first appeared, she was just that: Disgraceful Mary Jane. It was not a device I had ever used before, but it felt right, so I ran with it. As I explored it more, it felt Victorian to me, and fitting for my little farce, since farces are all about exaggerating, and thus challenging, stereotypes.

4. Did you do a lot of research about the time period?

JB: Oh, for a Tardis! What I could do with a time machine.

I did a great deal of research into the Victorian era, and this was one of the chief pleasures of the project. Fortunately, the Victorian era is extremely well documented. We have access to volumes upon volumes of books, journals, magazines, fiction, art, photographs, and moving pictures of this vibrant window of history. The project offered me a delicious cocktail of inquiries: fashion, cosmetics, manners, teacakes, candies, and girls’ schools, alongside poison, murder, police procedure, burial, and grave-robbing. Fun stuff.

Part of my research included a visit to Ely, Cambridgeshire, the setting of the novel. Incidentally, Prickwillow Road is a real place. I did not make it up. I spent a week in the UK, both in Ely, touring the small city and its rambling country roads, and in visits to several marvelous London museums to learn more about travel, banking, schooling, dress, food, crime, and home life during the late nineteenth century. It was great fun, and I can’t wait to go back and do it again.

5. Is a strawberry social a real thing?

JB: Indeed it is. In Jane Austen’s Emma, most of the characters gather on a sunny day to enjoy an outdoor strawberry-picking party and picnic. Closer to home, in my childhood haunts in upstate New York, a church strawberry social is a regular fixture of small-town life. Mounds of biscuits, great tubs of berries, troughs of whipped cream, and plenty of neighborly gossip — I highly recommend them.

From the October 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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10. From the Editor – October 2014

roger right2 From the Editor – October 2014When it comes to spooky stories, it’s always hard to know just how scared any given person wants to be. Maurice Sendak always said that children sent him drawings of Wild Things that terrified him; I, one the other hand, once drove a little girl screaming from a story hour with “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” We hope everyone will find just the right amount of fear factor in one of the choices reviewed above or in our annual Halloween list — “Horn BOO!” — being sent to you next week.

Richard and I are having the pleasure this year of escorting our grandchildren on their October 31st rounds, which brings up the scariest question of all: What will I wear?

halloween 2013 From the Editor – October 2014

Halloween 2013. Appearances are deceiving.

roger signature From the Editor – October 2014

Roger Sutton,
Editor in Chief

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11. Around the world

Reading can take children on journeys outside of their everyday realms. The following stories — some humorous, some tender — allow independent readers to spend time with characters from all over the globe.

nye turtle of oman Around the worldWhen Naomi Shihab Nye’s The Turtle of Oman opens, Aref and his mother are preparing to leave their home in Muscat, Oman, to join his father in Michigan, where they’ll live temporarily while Aref’s parents attend graduate school. Though unhappy about the move, Aref is thrilled to spend his last few days in Oman going on adventures with Sidi, his grandfather. The setting is so affectionately portrayed, with descriptions of colorful sights, mouth-watering tastes, and friendly interactions with fellow countrymen, that even when Aref is ready to say goodbye, readers may not be. Nye’s story, with spot art by Betsy Peterschmidt, is both quiet and exhilarating. (Greenwillow, 7–10 years)

tak mikis and the donkey Around the worldPhilip Hopman’s illustrations set the stage on the island of Corfu in Bibi Dumon Tak’s Mikis and the Donkey (translated from the Dutch). Mikis befriends Tsaki, his grandfather’s new donkey, and advocates successfully for Tsaki’s welfare. There’s a lovely simplicity to this affecting portrait of a close-knit Greek community, where a teacher’s boyfriend can give her class motorbike rides to general contentment. The generous number of loosely drawn illustrations capture windswept landscapes and village life with equal aplomb. (Eerdmans, 6–8 years)

lagercrantz my heart is laughing Around the worldFirst grader Dani, of My Happy Life, returns in Rose Lagercrantz’s My Heart is Laughing (translated from the Swedish). Classmates Mickey and Vicky both like the same boy, Cushion, and they ostracize Dani because Cushion likes her. When they start sneakily pinching Dani’s arm at the lunch table, she fights back, inadvertently causing a food fight and getting herself into trouble. Eva Eriksson’s line drawings brilliantly portray facial expressions and body language — Cushion’s tentative approach to Dani; her teacher’s big, solid, comforting hand enclosing her shoulder. Salty and sweet, this is umami for the emerging reader. (Gecko, 6–8 years)

lloyd murilla gorilla and the hammock problem Around the worldThe titular primate in Jennifer Lloyd’s Murilla Gorilla and the Hammock Problem lives in the rainforest of an unnamed African country. Okapi (an indigenous central African mammal) hires Murilla to figure out who put a hole in the hammock she’s selling. This accessible book is easy to read without looking babyish, and the mystery is easy to solve without being too obvious. Jacqui Lee draws with muted tones, highlighting Murilla’s pink cheeks and prehensile feet and Okapi’s gray-striped legs and arms. (Simply Read, 6–8 years)

From the November 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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12. Five questions for Sharon G. Flake

Flake Sharon © Richard Kelly Photography Five questions for Sharon G. Flake

Photo: Richard Kelly

Is Mr. Davenport a vampire, as Octobia May insists? The answer is not so cut-and-dried in Sharon G. Flake’s Unstoppable Octobia May, a historical-fiction-cum-mystery-novel with more than a dash of social commentary (Scholastic, 9–12 years). From the 1950s boarding house setting to the vivid characters — some plucky, some humorous, some downright sinister — the story is thoroughly, enthrallingly unique.

1. Were you a mystery reader as a kid?

SGF: Oh my goodness, no. When I was young, I was afraid of my own shadow. I preferred stories with few surprises, where nothing out of the ordinary happened. Since childhood, however, I’ve become more emboldened. I like to tour graveyards, for instance, something my protagonist Octobia May also enjoys. I imagine who the people buried there were, how they may have lived, and what might have caused their deaths. It’s a hobby that gives some people the creeps, I know.

2. Why did you decide to set the book in 1953?

SGF: I’ve always wanted to write a book set in the fifties. It was, I think, the best of times and, simultaneously, the worst of times for many African Americans. As a nation we were feeling optimistic about a lot of things, and our music, dances, modes of dress, and outlooks often reflected that. Blacks were no different from whites in that respect. Yet so much injustice still plagued the nation — much of it around race, gender, equity, and access to power.

I wanted to capture both the optimism of the times as well as the complex nature of race relations in our country — along with the promise, and challenge, America still held for both African Americans and women. A tall order, but one I believe I’ve accomplished.

flake unstoppable octobia may Five questions for Sharon G. Flake3. What kind of historical research did you do?

SGF: I spent months at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh (where I live) poring through newspapers, the Courier especially. The black press played a critical role in dismantling Jim Crow; galvanizing the black vote; exposing the inequity of segregated schools; reporting on the valiant role black soldiers played during War World II; and pushing America to end segregation in the military. Because of the black press, America is a better nation — I never understood that more fully than I did while researching this book.

Next I came across an exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History (in Philadelphia) about Jewish professors who taught at historically black colleges during and after WWII. I created the character of Mrs. Loewenthal’s husband, who fled Germany and became a professor at Lincoln University. An expert in the field of Jewish studies helped ensure the accuracy of what I’d written — from Mrs. Loewenthal’s name, to what she ate, to her experiences in Germany.

Finally there was my family. My parents often recalled the fifties with both fondness and frustration. From what people wore, to the jobs African Americans could and couldn’t get, they remembered it all and shared eagerly. My mom has since passed, and the time I spent talking to her, my sister, and my dad about this era means even more to me.

4. Aunt Shuma is such a great character. Is she based on someone you know?

SGF: No, she isn’t. But as I was writing Unstoppable Octobia May, what became clear to me was how determined Aunt Shuma was to be her own woman, and to raise a girl with similar values. It’s the fifties, so women were expected to be polite, have children, obey their husbands, and take care of the home. Aunt Shuma makes it clear that this sort of life is not for her. When she tells her entrepreneurial dreams to women who hold more traditional values, she is met with opposition and dismay. Nonetheless, she is bent on changing the face of acceptable womanhood by enhancing the opportunities for her niece, Octobia May. It was a radical idea for many women in 1953.

5. Just how unstoppable is Octobia May? Will there more be books about her?

SGF: I am already hearing from readers who love Octobia and are very excited about reading more of her adventures. I have also come up with Aunt Shuma’s rules for raising unstoppable girls (of any age) and will share them with folks who message me at my website, sharongflake.com.

From the November 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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13. Graphic novels for middle schoolers

From poignant historical fiction to introspective coming-of-age tale, hilarious space caper to action-packed superhero story, four new graphic novels for middle-schoolers showcase the range of the graphic novel format.

faulkner gaijin Graphic novels for middle schoolersIn Gaijin: American Prisoner of War, thirteen-year-old Koji Miyamoto is living in San Francisco with his (white) mother when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Despite being only half-Japanese, Koji is forced to relocate to the Alameda Downs Assembly Center across the bay. There he wrestles not only with his father’s temporary absence from the family but also with a gang of boys in the camp who constantly bully him — for being a gaijin, a foreigner. Through astute choices of medium, color, and composition, author/illustrator Matt Faulkner creates a vivid and compelling internment-camp drama for young readers. (Disney-Hyperion, 11–14 years)

tamaki this one summer Graphic novels for middle schoolersEvery summer Rose Wallace and her parents go to their cottage on Awago Beach. But this year Rose starts to feel too old for the activities she used to love — and, at times, even for her younger (and more childish) friend Windy. Meanwhile, Rose is caught up in the tension between her parents and fascinated by adult behaviors the local teens are trying on. In This One Summer, author-and-illustrator cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki examine the mix of uncertainty and hope that a girl experiences on the verge of adolescence. Dramatic purple-blue ink illustrations capture the raw emotional core of this story set at the beginning of the end of childhood. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 11–14 years)

maihack cleopatra in space Graphic novels for middle schoolersYanked from first-century B.C. Egypt to the Nile galaxy thousands of years in the future, Cleopatra (quick with both a quip and a ray gun) is hailed as a messiah destined to crush the evil Xerx. Author/illustrator Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice portrays a time-warped Egypt in crisp line art, muted jewel tones, and striking perspectives that create riveting panels featuring futuristic pyramids and a flying-sphinx motorbike. After Cleo single-handedly vanquishes mummy robots and tosses out another one-liner (“Let’s wrap this up”) readers will be clamoring for more of Maihack’s dynamic illustrations, campy humor, and, of course, more Cleo. (Scholastic/Graphix, 11–14 years)

yang shadow hero Graphic novels for middle schoolersWorld War II–era cartoonist Chu Hing reportedly wanted his comic superhero the Green Turtle to be Chinese; not surprisingly for the time, his publishers balked. Now seventy years later, author Gene Luen Yang and illustrator Sonny Liew vindicate Hing in The Shadow Hero, which imagines the Green Turtle as “the first Asian American superhero.” Hank wants to lead a quiet existence in the Chinatown of noir-ish (fictional) San Incendio. But his mother has higher aspirations for Hank: she wants her son to be a superhero. Humor, strong characters, and cracking good action — plus a nuanced portrayal of Chinese American culture — keep the requisite trials and tribulations of the superhero-in-training fresh. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 11–14 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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14. From the Editor — June 2014

sutton roger 170x304 From the Editor — June 2014On May 31st, I announced the winners of the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards at the BookExpo convention in New York. The awards will be bestowed at a ceremony on October 10th at Simmons College; the next day brings the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers.” The colloquium will feature BGHB honorees and others in a day’s discussion of what’s missing or scarce in contemporary books for young people, and how some of these gaps might be closed. We will tell you more about our plans for the day as they develop, but early-bird registration for HBAS (with a complimentary ticket to the BGHB awards the night before) is now available.

roger signature From the Editor — June 2014

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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15. To infinity and beyond!

Inquisitive intermediate readers travel into the great unknown with these four new sci-fi offerings (two of which are series openers) involving space exploration, inventions gone berserk, and UFOs.

mass space taxi To infinity and beyond!In Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer’s Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight, eight-year-old Archie learns, on “Take Your Kid to Work Day,” that his plain old dad is in fact an interstellar taxi driver. Archie also discovers his destiny: he has the rare power to be a space taxi copilot. The entertaining plot moves right along, and Elise Gravel’s occasional black-and-white cartoon illustrations add to the fun. This is just the first adventure for Archie — here’s to more to come! (Little, Brown, 6–10 years)

smith little green men at the mercury inn To infinity and beyond!Aidan’s parents own the Mercury Inn, which boasts an ideal vantage point for space launches from the Kennedy Space Center on the Florida coast. During one such launch, a blackout interrupts the countdown, and a large, unusual aircraft glows and hovers above the motel. To figure out what’s going on, Aidan, his UFO-obsessed friend Louis, and odd young motel guest Dru Tanaka band together, staying one step ahead of the media, tourists, government agents, and UFO fanatics that swarm the Mercury. The twisty plot and engaging setting of Greg Leitich Smith’s Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn, along with Andrew Arnold’s retro cartoon spot art, work well with the wacky characters and situations. (Roaring Brook, 6–10 years)

shusterman teslas attic To infinity and beyond!In Tesla’s Attic, the first book in Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman’s Accelerati Trilogy, fourteen-year-old Nick holds a garage sale of the attic junk in his new house, only to discover that Nicola Tesla himself made the items. Each one has a mysterious power; when a magnetic baseball glove begins yanking meteorites out of orbit, including one big enough to destroy the Earth, Nick and his friends must race to save humanity while avoiding a (nefarious) collection of self-proclaimed scientists called the Accelerati. Nick is a likable protagonist, and his strong narrative voice propels this humorous, well-paced action/adventure full of secret-society intrigue and quirky gadgetry. (Disney-Hyperion, 8–11 years)

pelletier summer experiment To infinity and beyond!The Summer Experiment by Cathie Pelletier takes place in rural Allagash, Maine, notorious (in real life, too) for its UFO sightings and alleged alien abductions. Eleven-year-old Roberta (Robbie) McKinnon and her best friend Marilee camp out on Frog Hill to investigate the weird goings-on for their school science project. Though much of the story is about the family dramas and school rivalries of ordinary small-town life, Pelletier keeps readers guessing throughout: is the town overrun by UFOs? Robbie’s sassy, humorous voice and wild schemes, along with the well-drawn secondary characters and vivid setting, keep things humming. (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 8–11 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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16. To sleep, perchance to dream

A lyrical bedtime reverie; an open-only-at-night library run by a little librarian; a toddler’s pre-dawn escapades; and a kooky bedtime cruise: four new picture books help smooth the way from daytime activity to bedtime quiet.

zoboli big book of slumber To sleep, perchance to dreamSimona Mulazzani’s lush folk art in cozy nighttime colors lends a magical, drowsy atmosphere to Giovanna Zoboli’s The Big Book of Slumber, a large-format ode to the joys of dreamland. Translated from the Italian, soothing rhyming couplets are full of rhythm and repetition: “Mouse ate her apple and read her nice book. / Who else is sleeping? Just take a good look.” Appealingly drawn sleeping arrangements include some captivatingly out of the ordinary: Hippo sleeps on a sofa, giraffes in sleeping bags, and seals in armchairs propped up in the trees. (Eerdmans, 2–5 years)

kohara midnight library To sleep, perchance to dreamWelcome to The Midnight Library, written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara, a friendly spot for animals from “all over the town” to “find a perfect book.” A little-girl librarian and her three owl assistants cheerfully bustle around the packed bookshelves, where small dramas are happily resolved alongside library business-as-usual. This dream of a library is designed with lots of reading nooks, comfy chairs, lanterns, and trees. The gentle story and vibrant compositions have an old-fashioned sensibility and simplicity that capture the enchantment of the middle-of-the-night goings on. (Roaring Brook, 2–5 years)

sakai hannahs night To sleep, perchance to dreamHannah’s Night by Komako Sakai begins enticingly: “One day when Hannah woke up, she was surprised to find that it was still dark.” Hannah’s day holds all sorts of surprises — because it’s still the middle of the night. Everyone else is asleep, so she eats cherries from the refrigerator; then, emboldened, Hannah gleefully borrows all her sound-asleep sister’s best stuff and takes it back to her own bed to play with. Sakai is a master at capturing toddlers’ body language and expressions, and her brief text clearly telegraphs the freedom Hannah feels on this toddler-sized adventure. (Gecko, 2–5 years)

farrell thank you octopus To sleep, perchance to dreamFor those who’d rather embark on silly bedtime adventures, Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell is a hilarious nautical comedy of errors. “Bedtime, ahoy,” Octopus declares. His young shipmate isn’t thrilled. Doting Octopus knows that a warm bath, jammies, and a favorite story can help make the transition easier, and he’s prepared — in theory. He talks the bedtime talk, but his best intentions wildly miss their mark. A “nice warm bath” sounds lovely (“Thank you, Octopus”), but a page-turn shows Octopus and boy headed into a huge vat of egg salad. “Gross! No thank you, Octopus.” Farrell’s detailed cartoon illustrations cleverly foreshadow the antics. (Dial, 3–6 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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17. Freedom Summer and Black History

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, a touchstone in the civil rights movement. The following nonfiction books highlight important turning points in African American history. And for more on Freedom Summer, read Kathleen T. Horning’s Five Questions interview with Don Mitchell (author of the new The Freedom Summer Murders, Scholastic, 14–17 years) along with Deborah Wiles’s picture book Freedom Summer (illus. by Jerome Lagarrigue, Atheneum, 5–8 years) and her novel Revolution (follow-up to Countdown, both Scholastic, 10–14 years).

rubin freedom summer Freedom Summer and Black HistoryFreedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin provides a useful and informative look at the event’s organizers, the volunteers, the voter registration drives, etc. Rubin conducted many interviews, in person, by telephone, and by e-mail, with people who were directly involved, and their firsthand accounts—along with copious archival black-and-white photographs — bring the events to life. (Holiday, 11–15 years)

sheinkin port chicago 50 Freedom Summer and Black HistoryThe Port Chicago 50 was a group of navy recruits at Port Chicago in California doing one of the few service jobs available to black sailors at the beginning of the Second World War: loading bombs and ammunition onto battleships. When there was an explosion that left more than three hundred dead, fifty men refused to go back to work, occasioning a trial for mutiny. Steve Sheinkin’s 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Award winner The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights focuses the events through the experience of Joe Small, who led the protest against the dangerous and unequal working conditions. This is an unusual entry point for the study of World War II and the nascent civil rights movement. (Roaring Brook, 11–15 years)

marrin volcano beneath the snow Freedom Summer and Black HistoryAccording to Albert Marrin’s A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery, Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry helped “set the stage for the Civil War.” The book begins with a chapter on Brown’s life, then takes a broader look at the history of slavery. The final chapter, “Legacy,” offers a brief commentary on Brown’s influence on the militant arm of the American civil rights movement. His violent actions raise an issue that still resonates today: to what extremes may a person go to change an unjust law? (Knopf, 11–15 years)

walker boundaries Freedom Summer and Black HistoryThe Mason-Dixon Line dates from colonial times: while the Calverts and Penns left England to found religiously tolerant colonies (Maryland and Pennsylvania, respectively), they feuded about the border’s exact location. The surveying team of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon was hired in 1763 to solve the problem once and for all. In Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud & Divided a Nation, Sally Walker provides meticulous detail about surveying and about colonial-era sociopolitics. She ends with a discussion of the cultural relevance of the Mason-Dixon Line to the North and the South, and modern-day interest in the preservation of its history. (Candlewick, 11–15 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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18. Books mentioned in the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

Five questions for Judith Viorst
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Ray Cruz, Atheneum, 4–7 years.
And Two Boys Booed written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Sophie Blackall, Farrarr/Ferguson, 4–7 years.

Back-to-school basics
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea, Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years.
Dinosaur vs. School by Bob Shea, Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, Little, Brown, 3–5 years.
My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown, Little, Brown, 3–5 years.
Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t) written by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley, Knopf, 4–7 years.
Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome) written by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley, Knopf, 4–7 years.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 6–8 years.

Not-rotten readers
Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family written by Jack Gantos, illus. by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, 5–8 years.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up written by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
Quinny & Hopper written by Adriana Brad Schanen, illus. by Greg Swearingen, Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years.

Beyond biographies
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Penguin/Paulsen, 11–14 years.
Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully, Clarion, 11–14 years.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming, Random/Schwartz & Wade, 13–16 years.
Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson, Dial, 13–16 years.

Go your own way
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith, Simon, 15–17 years.
Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey, Carolrhoda Lab, 15–17 years.
Schizo by Nic Scheff, Philomel, 13–15 years.
Skink — No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen, Knopf, 13–15 years.

These titles were featured in the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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19. Beyond biography

With storytelling ease and pitch-perfect pacing, the following works of narrative nonfiction for older readers bring their subjects to brilliant life, elevating the sometimes-staid genre of biography to literary art form.

woodson brown girl dreaming Beyond biographyJacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming is so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. Born in Ohio in 1963, Jackie moved with her family to Greenville, South Carolina, to live with her maternal grandparents. We see young Jackie grow up in historical context alongside the contexts of extended family, community (Greenville, later Brooklyn), and religion — and we trace her development as a nascent writer to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry sings in this extraordinary portrait of a writer as a young girl. (Penguin/Paulsen, 10–14 years)

mccully ida m tarbell Beyond biographyEmily Arnold McCully creates a multilayered biography of a crusading early-twentieth-century journalist in Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! Readers meet young Ida growing up in Pennsylvania oil country. A curious child, Tarbell’s lessons learned from scientific inquiry led to her dogged determination to get to the bottom of an issue. McCully engagingly re-creates the era’s social context for women (famously, Tarbell didn’t believe in women’s suffrage) as well as the culture and importance of print media, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about Tarbell’s positions and her times. (Clarion, 10–14 years)

fleming romanov Beyond biographyCandace Fleming’s riveting book The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia appeals to the imagination as much as the intellect. Her focus is not just the Romanovs (the last imperial family of Russia), but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well, showing how each group was the product of its circumstances and how they all moved inexorably toward the tragic yet fascinating conclusion. An epic, sweeping historical narrative. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 12–18 years)

paterson stories of my life Beyond biographyDemonstrating warmth, ease, and a sense of humor about herself, Katherine Paterson relates tales from her life, and from her parents’ and grandparents’, too, in Stories of My Life. The author gently ambles from story to story, looping through her youthful experiences in China and Japan, her marriage and children, and her writing. Throughout all there is a strong connection to Paterson’s childhood: “By the time I was five I had been through war and evacuation, but nothing had prepared me for the American public school system.” (Dial, 12 years and up)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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20. Go your own way

Teen boys go on journeys both physical (road trip!) and psychological in these affecting YA novels.

smith 100 sideways miles Go your own wayFinn Easton, protagonist of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles, has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar. (Simon, 14 years and up)

willey beetle boy Go your own wayAs Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel Beetle Boy, author Margaret Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks. (Carolrhoda Lab, 14 years and up)

sheff schizo Go your own wayTwo years ago a family outing to the beach ended in trauma when fourteen-year-old Miles experienced a psychotic break. While recovering in the psych ward, Miles received a life-changing diagnosis of schizophrenia along with some devastating news: during the commotion of his episode, Miles’s little brother went missing and is presumed drowned. Miles begins a risky investigation into his brother’s disappearance shortly after ditching his cocktail of medications. Some readers will guess the twist ending of Nic Sheff’s Schizo, but will nevertheless hope for Miles to find peace with his life and with his illness. (Philomel, 12 years and up)

hiaasen skink no surrender Go your own wayAs Carl Hiaasen’s farcical Skink — No Surrender opens, teen narrator Richard’s cousin, Malley, runs away from home, and Richard is certain that she’s with a chat-room acquaintance almost twice her age. He tells Clint Tyree, a.k.a. Skink (the unkempt and unwavering former Florida governor who stars in several of Hiaasen’s adult novels), and the pair immediately takes off on an event-filled road trip to rescue Malley. Hiaasen smoothly integrates Skink’s vulnerabilities with his larger-than-life behaviors — including eating roadkill and wrestling an alligator — and Richard’s naiveté plays nicely against Skink’s extremism. (Knopf, 12–15 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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21. From the Editor – August 2014

sutton roger 170x304 From the Editor   August 2014I hope you can join Horn Book Executive Editor Martha V. Parravano and me at Fostering Lifelong Learners, a one-day conference the Horn Book, along with School Library Journal and the Cuyahoga County Public Library, is sponsoring on September 19th at the Parma-Snow branch of the CCPL in Parma, Ohio. Martha and I will be discussing great new books for preschoolers; other speakers include Dr. Robert Needlman of Reach Out and Read, and Kevin Henkes, hero of preschoolers everywhere. The conference is free but preregistration is required.

And do not forget the annual Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, held this year on October 11th at Simmons College. “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers” is the theme, and featured speakers include our three Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners as well as a keynote address by librarian and author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, winner of the 2012 BGHB Award and the SLJ Battle of the Books Award for No Crystal Stair. More information about HBAS can be found at www.hbook.com/bghb-hbas/.

roger signature From the Editor   August 2014

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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22. Back-to-school basics

Kids going back to school — or just starting out there? Here are a variety of picture books, from imaginative and funny to historical and serious, to help ease the transition from the lazy days of summer.

shea dinosaur vs school Back to school basics“Roar! Roar! Roar!” The diminutive red dinosaur from Bob Shea’s Dinosaur vs. Bedtime faces its newest foe in Dinosaur vs. School. The new kindergartner romps and stomps its way through the day, making new friends, playing dress-up, and creating “monkey snacks.” In each case, “Dinosaur wins!” The fun comes to a halt at clean-up time: “OH, NO! It’s too much for one dinosaur!” But there’s a valuable little-kid lesson to be learned: “When everyone helps… EVERYONE WINS!” The mixed-media illustrations contain lots of color and motion, with real-life objects incorporated humorously into the digital collage. (Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years)

brown my teacher is a monster Back to school basicsFrom the author-illustrator of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild comes another funny and perceptive picture book, My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.). To young Bobby, his rule-enforcing teacher Ms. Kirby looks like a monster, with green skin and sharp claws and teeth. But when the two meet unexpectedly outside of school one day, he begins to see her as more human, and gradually Ms. Kirby begins to look decreasingly monstrous. In watercolor, gouache, and India ink illustrations on thick paper, Peter Brown employs a cartoon-type format (with panels and speech bubbles) to tell a story that students and teachers will enjoy equally. (Little, Brown, 3–5 years)

bottner miss brooks story nook Back to school basicsSince we last saw her in Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t), narrator Missy has developed a newfound appreciation for books. Now, in Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome), she eagerly anticipates being read to each morning, though a neighborhood bully makes it hard to get to school on time. Then the power goes off, and the class must tell stories rather than read them. Missy makes up a story about an ogre, which helps her solve her bully problem. Michael Emberley’s pleasingly detailed pencil-and-wash illustrations give the characters distinctive personalities. (Knopf, 4–7 years)

tonatiuh separate is never equal Back to school basicsSeparate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to tell the remarkable story of how, seven years before the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, a Mexican American child and her family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Illustrations reminiscent of the Mixtec codex, but collaged with paper, wood, cloth, and brick, accompany the straightforward narrative. This story deserves to be more widely known, and now, thanks to this book, it will be. (Abrams, 6–9 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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23. Five questions for Judith Viorst

judith viorst by milton viorst Five questions for Judith Viorst

Photo: Milton Viorst

Judith Viorst, creator of Alexander (he of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), writes about another little boy who might just wish he could curl back up in bed. The young protagonist of And Two Boys Booed (Farrar/Ferguson, 4–7 years) is excited to perform in the school talent show… until it’s almost his turn. With equal parts realism, reassurance, gentle humor, and inventive wordplay, Viorst sets up a familiar stage-fright scenario and gives her main character an ingenious way to get himself out of it.

1. What was your inspiration for this multilayered book?

JV: My inspiration was my granddaughter Olivia, daughter of Alexander, who came over to my house one afternoon after a talent show at her summer day camp. When I asked how her portion of the talent show had gone, she replied, “Two boys booed.” To my shame I didn’t immediately offer her a hug and sympathy. Instead, my first response was, “Great book title!” I then had to figure out a story to go with the title.

2. Who thought of those terrific flaps?

viorst and two boys booed Five questions for Judith ViorstJV: I believe it was Sophie Blackall, the amazing illustrator of the book, who came up with the brilliant idea of doing flaps. But her brilliance is evident in all kinds of other ways as well: in the richly detailed double-page spread of our narrator’s many, many varied activities during the course of which he practiced singing his song; in the delicious specificity of every child in the story; and in the depiction of our narrator shrinking deeper and deeper into his shirt as his stage fright mounts.

3. Those two boys: were they jealous? Mean-spirited? Or just acting like boys?

JV: The two boys were being rather unkind, booing a kid because he was too scared to do what he was supposed to do, and then continuing to boo even after he did it. I wish they had been more sympathetic, and I hope their teacher had a little talk with them after the talent show.

4. Would your Alexander be onstage with the narrator? Or in the peanut gallery with the boys? (Maybe it would depend on the day!)

JV: Alexander could be fierce, frustrated, grumpy, but I don’t think he’d be either scared to perform or unkind to those who were.

5. Do you get stage fright?

JV: I had terrible stage fright all the way through college. I remember being told I had to stand in front of one of my history classes and read a paper I had written and offering to write a second paper if I could just please hand them both in and not read them aloud. I now give talks to large audiences without the slightest flicker of stage fright, but don’t ask me how that happened.

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

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24. For not-rotten readers

Following your dreams and dealing with family: these topics get hilarious treatment for primary readers in the following early chapter books. An added bonus? Some familiar faces from popular series.

gantos rotten ralphs rotten family For not rotten readersIn Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel’s Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family, the titular kitty finds a family photo album and, nostalgic for his childhood, decides to visit his kin. His mother treats him well, but other relatives humiliate him — and poor Ralph realizes that he’s so rotten because his family was rotten to him! After a few Rotten Ralph picture books, the return to the longer early-chapter-book format leaves room for a more sophisticated story line to emerge. Never fear; Ralph’s rotten behavior, sure to bring a chuckle to fans old and new, is still front and center in Gantos’s freewheeling text and Rubel’s energetic illustrations. (Farrar, 5–8 years)

dicamillo leroy niker saddles up For not rotten readersIn Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Leroy (the “reformed thief” from Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen’s Mercy Watson books) makes ends meet serving popcorn at the drive-in, but dreams of being a cowboy. Sporting a cowboy hat, lasso, and boots, he watches raptly the Wednesday night Western double-feature but makes little progress otherwise. When he receives the advice that “Every cowboy needs a horse,” Leroy purchases “very exceptionally cheap” Maybelline and throws himself into horse-ownership — but acquiring a horse and keeping one turn out to be two different challenges. This entertaining tale balances comically exaggerated details and true heart. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

milway pigsticks and harold For not rotten readersPigsticks Pig — star of Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey — comes from a long line of august ancestors. But a young pig has to make his own mark, and Pigsticks decides on an expedition to the Ends of the Earth. He engages anxious, cake-loving hamster Harold as an assistant, and, in three generously illustrated chapters, we follow the explorers as they survive swamps, deserts, rickety rope bridges, malevolent mountain goats, and more. Alex Milway’s tongue-in-cheek text and slapdash-goofy pictures provide much humor. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

schanen quinny and hopper For not rotten readersThe eponymous brand-new next-door-neighbor kids in Quinny & Hopper couldn’t be more different: quiet, analytical loner Hopper is initially baffled (and a little appalled) by Quinny’s cutesiness and high volume. But in battling Hopper’s bullying brothers on his behalf, Quinny wins him over, and the two become friends — until snooty new girl Victoria barges her way between them. Debut author Adriana Brad Schanen nicely balances the alternating perspectives of Quinny and Hopper and paints a comically exaggerated but essentially truthful picture of life with siblings. Illustrator Greg Swearingen deftly captures each child’s emotions. (Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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25. From the Editor – September 2014

roger right2 From the Editor   September 2014I hope you will join us for the fifth annual Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Mind the Gaps,” on October 11th at Simmons College in Boston. This year’s program will examine the various diversity gaps in children’s book publishing, whether they be underrepresentation of nonwhite perspectives or the decreasing proportion of nonfiction titles. The colloquium takes place the day after the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards (for which a ticket will be provided to all HBAS attendees), and speakers will include all three winners as well as librarian and 2012 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, who will give the keynote address. For more information about the colloquium and to register, please visit http://www.hbook.com/bghb-hbas/.

roger signature From the Editor   September 2014

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

From the September 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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