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Results 1 - 25 of 190
1. Review of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

farizan tell me again how a crush should feel Review of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should FeelTell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
by Sara Farizan
High School    Algonquin    296 pp.
10/14    978-1-61620-284-2    $16.95    g
e-book ed.  978-1-61620-435-8    $16.95

Sixteen-year-old Iranian American Leila Azadi is, in her own words, a “Persian scaredy-cat.” Afraid to tell her best friends and her conservative family that she is gay, Leila finds herself in a secret relationship with Saskia, a gorgeous, sophisticated new girl with a decidedly wicked side. As Saskia reveals herself to be a master manipulator, Leila turns to an unexpected ally, Lisa, an old friend who recently lost her brother in a car accident. When Lisa and Leila’s friendship turns romantic, a spurned Saskia threatens the couple as well as their friends, who rally in support of the girls. The humor and cleverness of Leila’s first-person narrative lightens what, in less capable hands, could be an angsty story, while well-drawn secondary characters balance the novel’s more extremely rendered villain. While Leila’s coming-out process provides narrative tension, this is not a problem novel. Instead, Farizan’s second book (If You Could Be Mine, rev. 11/13) is more of a David Levithan–style romance in which a character’s sexual identity is neither problematic nor in question, and coming out is just one of many obstacles affecting the course of true love.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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2. Horn Book Fanfare 2014

fanfarebanner 2014 500x95 Horn Book Fanfare 2014

Although we didn’t plan it this way, this year’s Fanfare, the Horn Book’s list of the best books for children and teens published in 2014, has something for just about everyone. From a picture book about a bus driver to another about a haunted dog to a historical novel about Baba Yaga to a contemporary novel about an Omani boy to nonfiction about sharks, Romanovs and growing up black in America, the twenty-nine choices offer plenty of scope in genre, subject, age level, and mood. There, your holiday shopping list is DONE.

roger signature Horn Book Fanfare 2014

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief


Picture Books

barnett samanddave Horn Book Fanfare 2014Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen; Candlewick
(Primary)

Sam and Dave dig a hole in hopes of finding something spectacular, but even though their dog notices the indeed-spectacular buried gems all around them, the boys pass obliviously by. Text and illustration are perfectly balanced; earthy tones work with understated wit to create a funny, smart, mind-blowingly open-ended work. Review 11/14.

barton my bus Horn Book Fanfare 2014My Bus
written and illustrated by Byron Barton; Greenwillow
(Preschool)

This companion to My Car (rev. 11/01) is pitched just as perfectly to its young audience. Along with a friendly bus driver, cat and dog passengers, and different vehicles (bus, boat, train, plane), Barton incorporates some math and counting concepts in this toddler joy-ride. Clear compositions, vibrant colors, and an engagingly simple text welcome listeners aboard. Review 3/14.

blackall baby tree Horn Book Fanfare 2014The Baby Tree
written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall; Paulsen/Penguin
(Preschool, Primary)

When a young boy asks various grownups where babies come from, he gets some confusing answers. Finally, Mom and Dad provide the boy — and young listeners — with an age-appropriate and reassuring explanation. Blackall’s fanciful illustrations bring the boy’s funny misinterpretations to life, and her graceful, respectful handling of “the facts” is about as good as it gets. Review 5/14.

colon draw Horn Book Fanfare 2014Draw!
written and illustrated by Raúl Colón; Wiseman/Simon
(Primary)

In this vividly imagined wordless story, a boy sits, confined to bed, with a book about Africa and lots of art supplies. As he sketches, he’s transported (along with sketchbook, easel, and pencils) to Africa — and adventure. Colón’s signature lush saturated colors and scratched-in textures depict a budding artist communing with his jungle-animal muses and reveal the power of art. Review 9/14.

dipucchio gaston Horn Book Fanfare 2014Gaston
written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson; Atheneum
(Preschool, Primary)

DiPucchio and Robinson play off the “one of these things is not like the other” trope in this lively tale of a rough-and-tumble bulldog in a refined poodle family. The story’s takeaway: it’s not your breed that makes you a family. Robinson’s illustrations are classic yet contemporary, bold and expressive; DiPucchio’s text begs to be read aloud. Review 5/14.

frazee farmer and the clown Horn Book Fanfare 2014The Farmer and the Clown
written and illustrated by Marla Frazee; Beach Lane/Simon
(Preschool, Primary)

What happens when a crotchety old farmer rescues a toddler clown who has fallen off a circus train? Rarely has posture been used so well in a picture book, here used to wordlessly portray the kindness of strangers thrown (literally!) together by happenstance but then changed forever. Review 11/14.

jeffers once upon an alphabet Horn Book Fanfare 2014Once Upon an Alphabet
written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel
(Primary, Intermediate)

Each letter gets a drily delivered four-page story in this intricately conceived picture book for advanced alphabet aficionados. Careful readers will spot connections between far-apart letters, often involving aspiring astronaut Edmund. Insouciant illustrations, in ink (with occasional digital spot colors added) on oversized pages, add to the abundant absurdity. Review 1/15.

morales VivaFrida 300x300 Horn Book Fanfare 2014Viva Frida
written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, with photos by Tim O’Meara; Porter/Roaring Brook
(Primary)

With the sparest of impressionistic texts in both Spanish and English (“busco / I search // Veo / I see… // Juego / I play”) and stunning digitally manipulated, three-dimensional art, Morales captures the essence of Frida Kahlo — and of an artist’s very soul. Ethereal, imagistic, and virtuosic. Review 9/14.

newgarden bow wows nightmare neighbors Horn Book Fanfare 2014Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors
written and illustrated by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash; Porter/Roaring Brook
(Preschool)

This wordless picture book with graphic novel–like paneling, brilliant colors, and a cinematic flair is supremely energetic, packed with movement, and populated by a cast of sassy (ghost) cats and one perplexed pup. Bow-Wow’s nightmare is surrealistic and goofy with a hint of the gothic, creating a multi-layered narrative that will have readers returning again and again. Review 9/14.


Fiction

curtis madman of piney woods Horn Book Fanfare 2014The Madman of Piney Woods
written by Christopher Paul Curtis; Scholastic
(Intermediate, Middle School)

An unlikely friendship develops, in Buxton, Ontario, 1901, between thirteen-year-old black Canadian boy Benji Alston and Irish Canadian boy Alvin “Red” Stockard. Both nature lovers, they encounter the (supposedly mythical) Madman of Piney Woods. Curtis’s poignant, often very funny companion to Elijah of Buxton (rev. 11/07) stands on its own, though familiarity with Elijah deepens emotional resonance. Review 9/14.

gantos key that swallowed joey pigza Horn Book Fanfare 2014The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza
written by Jack Gantos; Farrar
(Intermediate)

He’s still wired, but Joey Pigza is growing up, assuming the role of “man of the house” and caring for his baby brother — solo — until his friend Olivia (the “meanest blind girl in the world”) shows up. “Crummy parents,” “roachy row house,” and expired meds notwithstanding, Joey soldiers on in his inimitable, imperfect way, in a series-ender that lets readers know this kid will be okay. Review 11/14.

lagercrantz my heart is laughing Horn Book Fanfare 2014My Heart Is Laughing
written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated from the Swedish by Julia Marshall; Gecko
(Primary)

First-grader Dani (My Happy Life, rev. 7/13) is always happy…but not now: she misses her moved-away best friend Ella, and the class mean-girls are bullying her. The text is funny and full of fresh, convincing detail; profuse line drawings brilliantly capture emotions through facial expressions and body language. Sweet and salty — umami for the emerging reader. Review 11/14.

lockhart we were liars Horn Book Fanfare 2014We Were Liars
written by E. Lockhart; Delacorte
(High School)

This taut psychological mystery about a wealthy but broken family revolves around an unspecified accident that left eldest granddaughter Cadence with memory loss. Just as unforgettable as the book’s explosive ending is Lockhart’s unreliable narrator, Cady, whose arresting voice will stick with readers long after the shock wears off. Review 5/14.

maguire egg and spoon 170x242 Horn Book Fanfare 2014Egg & Spoon
written by Gregory Maguire; Candlewick
(Middle School)

Wealthy Ekaterina and destitute Elena accidentally exchange lives in 1907 Russia. In Maguire’s hands, what could have been a simple story of mistaken identity becomes a multilayered tale that draws from Russian folklore and features a wickedly funny Baba Yaga. Rich, consistently surprising prose propels readers through the complex but always intriguing story. Review 9/14.

martin reign rain Horn Book Fanfare 2014Rain Reign
written by Ann M. Martin; Feiwel
(Intermediate)

Rose (whose “official diagnosis is high-functioning autism”) loves homonyms, consistency, and her dog, Rain (“rein,” “reign”). When a superstorm upends Rose’s world, she must face many things that scare her — including losing Rain. Martin’s fully realized characters, and particularly Rose’s voice, make this an engaging read — or, as Rose would say, “read (reed).” Review 9/14.

nye turtle of oman Horn Book Fanfare 2014The Turtle of Oman
written by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Betsy Peterschmidt; Greenwillow
(Intermediate)

His family is packing up for a three-year stint in America, but Aref isn’t ready to leave his Oman home or his grandfather, Sidi. The bond between grandparent and child is a stalwart of children’s literature, and this novel quietly but surely evokes the classic theme against a sensuously rendered landscape that feels like home. Review 11/14.

preus west of the moon Horn Book Fanfare 2014West of the Moon
written by Margi Preus; Amulet/Abrams
(Intermediate, Middle School)

In nineteenth-century Norway, young teen Astri is determined to go to America, but first she must escape the brutish goat herder to whom her greedy relatives have sold her. Norwegian folklore and myth are seamlessly integrated into the lyrically narrated story, which features a protagonist as fearless as any fairy-tale hero. Review 5/14.

tamaki this one summer Horn Book Fanfare 2014
This One Summer

written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki; First Second/Roaring Brook
(Middle School, High School)

This graphic novel captures Rose’s summer on the cusp of adolescence, caught between her younger friend’s childish interests and the compelling (but confusing) adult world. Episodic vignettes, contextualizing flashbacks, and Rose’s own musings — all related in spare text and dynamically paced, indigo-hued illustrations — build to a poignant conclusion. Review 7/14.


Folklore

elya little roja riding hood Horn Book Fanfare 2014Little Roja Riding Hood
written by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Susan Guevara; Putnam
(Primary)

“There once was a niña who lived near the woods. / She liked to wear colorful capas with hoods.” This modern-day Little Red, along with her sassy-senior abuela, foils the wicked lobo“¡No problema!” Elya’s rhyming text, liberally sprinkled with Spanish words, never stumbles; Guevara’s sly illustrations wink at Western folklore and Hispanic culture. Review 7/14.


Poetry

janeczko firefly july2 Horn Book Fanfare 2014Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems
selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; Candlewick
(Preschool, Primary)

Thirty-six brief, memorable, mostly familiar poems thoughtfully arranged into seasons meet their match in Sweet’s glorious gouache, watercolor, and mixed-media illustrations. As arresting as the poems themselves, the accompanying art is expansive yet intimate, rendered in luminous colors on oversized pages. Review 3/14.

nelson how i discovered poetry Horn Book Fanfare 2014How I Discovered Poetry
written by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper; Dial
(Middle School)

Unrhymed sonnets tell the story of Nelson’s 1950s youth, spent mostly on air force bases and in predominantly white communities. A culminating scene — in which she must read aloud a poem containing racist language — leads to a realization of the power of words. Black-and-white photographs and spare, blue-tinted illustrations allow readers space to visualize Nelson’s detailed imagery. Review 1/14.


Nonfiction

bang buried Horn Book Fanfare 2014Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illustrated by Molly Bang; Blue Sky/Scholastic
(Primary, Intermediate)

The latest book in this series about energy on Earth tackles the concept of fossil fuels. The text (narrated by the Sun) explains large ideas with clarity, while the sumptuous art illuminates both the science and the dire situation brought on by our rapid consumption of a resource millions of years in the making. A breathtaking wake-up call for young environmentalists. Review 9/14.

eldeafo Horn Book Fanfare 2014El Deafo
written and illustrated by Cece Bell, color by David Lasky; Amulet/Abrams
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Bell’s graphic memoir about growing up deaf, fictionalized only in that the people look like large-eared rabbits, depicts a childhood involving friendships, insecurities, and a “Phonic Ear” that lets her hear her teacher from anywhere in the school. Bell clearly demonstrates, through plenty of relatable humor, that “our differences are our superpowers.” Review 11/14.

bryant right word Horn Book Fanfare 2014The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; Eerdmans
(Primary)

This picture-book biography traces Peter Mark Roget’s journey from a lonely and solitary child, coping with loss through a compulsive keeping of lists, to the adult creator of the Thesaurus. Sweet’s visionary illustrations add layers of meaning to Bryant’s clear, linear text; gentle watercolors are embellished with all manner of realia and, appropriately, hundreds of words (the tour-de-force closing endpapers alone contain a stunning one thousand). Review 11/14.

dillon story of buildings Horn Book Fanfare 2014The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond
written by Patrick Dillon, illustrated by Stephen Biesty; Candlewick
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Biesty’s talents have never been put to better use or subtler effect than in these endlessly perusable drawings of buildings from the past and present (complete with wow-factor fold-out pages). The fact that the book is a by-the-way history of humankind is a bonus. Review 7/14.

fleming romanov Horn Book Fanfare 2014The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
written by Candace Fleming; Schwartz & Wade/Random
(Middle School, High School)

This intimate portrait of Russia’s last imperial family seamlessly integrates telling details of the Romanovs’ daily lives with the sobering sociopolitical context of their reign, downfall, and eventual murders. Into this narrative, Fleming masterfully intersperses vignettes that illuminate Russian peasants’ experiences, resulting in a compelling and poignant narrative that humanizes the haves and the have-nots alike. Review 7/14.

powell josephine Horn Book Fanfare 2014Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson; Chronicle
(Intermediate, Middle School)

A dazzling book for a dazzling subject: Powell and Robinson depict, in words and pictures, the wit, the vivaciousness, the “razzmatazz,” of Josephine Baker. The text’s jazzy rhythm and the illustrations’ humor and theatricality allow Baker’s talent — along with her hustle, and her social consciousness — to shine. Review 5/14.

roy neigborhood sharks 170x217 Horn Book Fanfare 2014Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands
written and illustrated by Katherine Roy; Macaulay/Roaring Brook
(Primary, Intermediate)

Dramatic text and motion-filled illustrations in blues, grays, and blood-reds follow a great white shark as it hunts a seal off the coast of San Francisco. Along the way, sections organized by physical feature — accompanied by clear (and frequently witty) diagrams — explain the science of the great white’s predatory prowess. Informative, fascinating, and beautiful. Review 9/14.

woodson brown girl dreaming Horn Book Fanfare 2014Brown Girl Dreaming
written by Jacqueline Woodson; Paulsen/Penguin
(Intermediate, Middle School)

In Woodson’s eloquent, steeped-in-American-history verse memoir, we watch her childhood unfolding within the larger world (amidst the burgeoning civil rights movement; the deep South and urban Brooklyn) and her own particular one (of family, friends, and neighborhood). Most compelling, perhaps, is her development as a nascent writer, poised to make her mark: “My name is Jacqueline Woodson / and I am ready for the ride.” Review 9/14.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For previous years’ Fanfare lists, click on the tag Fanfare list.

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3. Liniers on What There Is Before There Is Anything There

liniers what there is before there is anything there Liniers on What There Is Before There Is Anything ThereIn the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, editor Martha Parravano asked Argentinian cartoonist Liniers about the inspiration for his “deeply unsettling” but “bravely existential” new picture book, What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story. Read the full review here.

Martha V. Parravano: What made you decide to make such a realistic — and thus dark — picture book on this topic for children?

Liniers: I don’t like children’s books that treat them as tiny ignorant human beings. 
They are smart, and as Mr. Sendak used to say, you can “tell them anything you want.” 
I remember enjoying being scared by movies and books when I was a child. Witches and vampires! Also, the story I decided to tell actually used to happen to me. I must have been three or four because I have a very vague memory of this. When my parents would turn out the lights I thought the ceiling disappeared, and I recall imagining — almost seeing — a tiger coming down in a spiral downfall. A very weird kid I was. Or not.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

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4. Review of What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story

liniers what there is before there is anything there Review of What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary StoryWhat There Is Before There Is Anything There:
A Scary Story

by Liniers; illus. by the author; trans. from the Spanish by Elisa Amado
Primary    Groundwood    24 pp.
9/14    978-1-55498-385-8    $18.95

Argentinian cartoonist Liniers’s (The Big Wet Balloon, rev. 9/13) bravely existential picture book eschews cute monsters in closets to capture the true reality of night terrors — the relentless, all-consuming, staring-into-the-void kind. “It’s the same every night”: a small boy’s parents tuck him into bed and turn off the light, and then “where there was a ceiling, now there is nothing…Now there’s only a black hole…black and infinite.” Down from that blackness floats a succession of bizarre creatures who perch at the bottom of the boy’s bed and stare at him. Finally — as happens every night the ceiling disappears — comes something dark and shapeless, “blacker than blackest darkness,” announcing, “I am what there is before there is anything there.” At this point the terrified boy hightails it to his parents’ room; they groan, “Not again,” but allow him to get into bed with them. A more conventional picture book would end here, but Liniers provides a more realistic if deeply unsettling conclusion: as the boy lies safely between his sleeping parents, another creature floats down from the ceiling. This is a scary story indeed — and the crosshatched ink and wash illustrations are as unflinching as the text, effectively interweaving the banal with the nightmarish — but for those kids who suffer through similar tortured bedtimes, it may provide validation. And though there is no happy ending, some young readers may find comfort in the mother’s reassurance — “It’s just your imagination…It’s good to be able to make things up” — suggesting they may grow up, like Liniers, to use their imaginative powers for good.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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5. Review of The Right Word

bryant right word Review of The Right Wordstar2 Review of The Right WordThe Right Word:
Roget and His Thesaurus

by Jen Bryant; illus. by Melissa Sweet
Primary    Eerdmans    48 pp.
9/14    978-0-8028-5385-1    $17.50

Apt language and ingenious imagery combine to tell the life story of Peter Mark Roget, creator of the thesaurus. A solitary, though not unhappy, child, Roget spends his time keeping lists and ordering the natural and cultural wonders he finds in abundance. He studies to become a doctor, teaches, joins academic societies, raises a family, and continues to capture and classify the universe, eventually publishing his Thesaurus, a catalog of concepts ordered by ideas, in 1852. Bryant’s linear telling follows Peter closely, expressing his curiosity, sensitivity, and populist spirit in language that is both decorous and warm. Clever book design and visionary illustration add layers of meaning, as images come together in careful sequence. On the cover a cacophony of iconographic ideas explodes from the pages of a book. The opening endpapers arrange these same concepts in a vertical collage that recalls spines on a bookshelf. The title spread features the letters of the alphabet as stacked blocks, as a child manages them, and from there the pages grow in complexity, as Roget himself grows up. Sweet embellishes her own gentle watercolors with all manner of clippings and realia, corralling the pictures into order according to concept, number, or color. A timeline and detailed author and illustrator notes follow the narrative, with suggested additional resources and a facsimile page of Roget’s first, handwritten book of lists. And the closing endpapers, with the comprehensive classification scheme of the first thesaurus, fully realize the opening organizational promise.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Review of Because They Marched

freeman because they marched Review of Because They MarchedBecause They Marched:
The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America

by Russell Freedman
Middle School    Holiday    83 pp.
8/14    978-0-8234-2921-9    $20.00
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3263-9    $20.00

With characteristically clear prose sprinkled liberally with primary source quotes and carefully selected photographs, Freedman documents the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that featured the horrific Bloody Sunday confrontation between the marchers and the Alabama state troopers. Captured on television footage by all the major networks, these events convinced the nation — and Congress — that something finally had to be done. That something turned out to be the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.” Freedman’s introduction is particularly effective because it focuses on the teachers’ march to the courthouse to register as a major trigger for the movement: “For the first time, a recognized professional group from Selma’s black community had carried out an organized protest.” If the book is not quite as visually striking as its notable predecessor, Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom (rev. 11/09), nor as invested in the youth participation, its later publication date allows the book to touch on the controversial 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. A timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. Review of The Farmer and the Clown

frazee farmer and the clown Review of The Farmer and the Clownstar2 Review of The Farmer and the Clown The Farmer and the Clown
by Marla Frazee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Beach Lane/Simon    32 pp.
10/14    978-1-4424-9744-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-9745-0    $10.99

Appearances can be deceiving in this superb wordless book from two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Frazee. At sunset, a grim-faced, pitchfork-wielding farmer comes to the rescue when a circus train hits a bump and ejects a jolly-looking toddler clown. The contrast is almost comical: a tall elderly man wearing a frown and a flat black hat holding hands with a miniature clown wearing a painted-on grin and a pointy red hat. At bedtime, the two wash their faces, and off comes the clown makeup, revealing a scared and vulnerable child and wiping away any hint of humor from our tale — for the moment. In Frazee’s pencil and gouache illustration the characters are arrestingly transformed: the child now clearly unhappy and the farmer’s softened features registering concern. The next morning, the farmer reveals a playful side as he essentially makes a clown of himself to get a real smile from his young guest. When the circus train returns later that day, the body language of the new friends expresses a powerful clash of emotions: the child’s ebullience brings both his feet off the ground, while the farmer, earthbound, stands stock-still and stoic. The two exchange hugs, wave goodbye, and…how the heck can Frazee break readers’ hearts like this? Never fear: as the farmer walks pensively away, viewers see that he’s being followed by a circus monkey, who gestures to us not to tell — surely a tip of the hat to Rathmann’s classic (and also wordless) Good Night, Gorilla (rev. 7/94). Using only pictures, Frazee’s book — both spare and astonishingly rich — offers a riveting narrative, characters to care deeply about, and an impressive range of emotion.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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8. Review of The Iridescence of Birds

 maclachlan iridescence of birds Review of The Iridescence of BirdsThe Iridescence of Birds:
A Book About Henri Matisse

by Patricia MacLachlan; 
illus. by Hadley Hooper
Primary    Porter/Roaring Brook    40 pp.
10/14    978-1-59643-948-1    $17.99

“If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived / in a dreary town…” Thus begins this speculative exploration of the painter’s early encounters with color, worded as a book-length query. It’s his mother who brightens Henri’s gray surroundings (“Painted plates to hang on the walls…she let you mix the colors”), brings him fruits and flowers to arrange, and swathes a room in red rugs. Most inspiring are the changeable colors of pigeons (given to Henri by his father). The brief text culminates with a second question: “Would it be a surprise that you became / A fine painter who painted / Light / and / Movement / And the iridescence of birds?” While MacLachlan addresses these mind-opening thoughts to the reader, Hooper visualizes what might have influenced the artist-to-be. Using relief prints and digital techniques with a decisive and economical rough-edged black line and colors that echo Matisse’s evolving palette, Hooper sets the happily involved small boy amongst images that become bolder and brighter as the book progresses while fluidly incorporating the painter’s own imagery. It’s a spacious and beautiful book, as much a lesson for adults on visual enrichment and nurturing a creative spirit as an introductory biography for children. Back matter comprises notes by both author and illustrator and a list of four biographies for children.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Review of Nuts to You

perkins nuts to you Review of <i />Nuts to You</b></em></p>star2 Review of <i />Nuts to YouNuts to You
by Lynne Rae Perkins; illus. by the author
Intermediate    Greenwillow    260 pp.
8/14    978-0-06-009275-7    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-226220-2    $8.99

Jed the squirrel’s odyssey begins dramatically when he is captured by a hawk and carried far away from his community. Using an “ancient squirrel defensive martial art,” he escapes and so begins his journey home. Meanwhile, his two best friends Chai and TsTs set off to find him. In the course of these two (eventually converging) adventures, our heroes meet some helpful hillbillyish red squirrels, a threatening owl, a hungry bobcat, and a group of humans who are cutting brush and trees for power-line clearance, thus threatening the squirrels’ habitat. The three make it safely home only to face their biggest challenge: convincing their conservative community to relocate before the humans destroy their homes. Part satire, part environmental fable, and all playful, energetic hilarity, this story takes us deep into squirrel culture: their names (“‘Brk’ is pronounced just as it’s spelled, except the r is rolled. It means ‘moustache’ in Croatian but in squirrel, it’s just a name”); their games (Splatwhistle); and their wisdom (“Live for the moment…but bury a lot of nuts”). Perkins uses language like the best toy ever. The storm “howled and pelted, whirled and whined; it spit and sprayed and showered. Its winds were fierce. Its wetness was inescapable.” The book begs to be read aloud, except that you’d miss the wacky digressions, the goofy footnotes, and the black-and-white illustrations with their built-in micro-plots. Another completely original and exceptional package from Perkins.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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10. Review of Flora and the Penguin

idle flora and the penguin Review of Flora and the PenguinFlora and the Penguin
by Molly Idle; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Chronicle    48 pp.
9/14    978-1-4521-2891-7    $16.99

Having mastered the art of the dahhnce in Flora and the Flamingo (rev. 7/13), the same little-girl protagonist takes up figure skating. While lacing up her skates, she spies an orange beak peeking out of a hole in the ice. It’s a penguin, and Flora reaches out her hand in friendship. At first there’s no friction; the two glide across the ice, Torvill and Dean–style, skating backwards and on one foot and performing synchronized leaps. When her partner plunges back down under the ice, though, Flora is disappointed and a little put out. The penguin produces a fish for her, but Flora, still feeling miffed, throws the fish back…then thinks of a creative way to make amends. Just as in the previous wordless book, dynamic flaps (this time they’re horizontal and two-sided) help set a graceful, rhythmic pace. The limited color palette, too, recalls Flamingo, though here — befitting the wintry scene — the pictures are all in pale blues, with yellow pops of color (Flora’s hat looks like her Flamingo bathing cap but with a puffball tassel on top), some pink (her peaches-and-cream complexion), and the white of the page. The main action is on land, but underwater there’s another playful story starring those sleek little fish. A gatefold near the end provides the tale’s acrobatic climax before the warm-hearted pair skates off the copyright page.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Preview January/February 2015 Horn Book Magazine

jan15cover 200x300 Preview January/February 2015 Horn Book MagazineHorn Book Fanfare: Our choices for the best books of 2014.

Coverage of the 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards: judges’ remarks, speeches, photos.

A Second Look: Barbara Bader examines The Planet of Junior Brown.

Elissa Gershowitz on “What Makes a Good Award Acceptance Speech?” The Horn Book‘s (unsolicited) advice.

Audrey M. Quinlan asks, “What Makes a Good Math Storybook?”

From The Guide: Math Picture Books.

 

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12. Holiday High Notes 2014

Joy to the world…it’s time for our annual selection 
of new holiday books, with reviews 
written by the Horn Book staff.

bemonster frankensteins fright before christmas Holiday High Notes 2014Frankenstein’s Fright Before Christmas
by Ludworst Bemonster; story by 
Rick Walton; illus. by Nathan Hale
Primary    Feiwel    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-312-55367-8    $16.99

The team behind Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody — a spoof of Madeline starring Frankenstein’s monster — here adds Clement Moore’s classic into the mix. Eleven of the twelve little monsters from the first book are “out of control.” And headless. But Christmas miracles do happen—even for badly behaved monsters and for “poor Miss Devel.” Frankenstein has an in with Santa’s Head Elf (get it? Head Elf?), and Santa delivers just what the monsters need. Hale’s green-tinted illustrations with seasonal red accents (plus four full-color spreads) extend the irreverent rhyming text with glee. KITTY FLYNN

brenner and then comes christmas Holiday High Notes 2014And Then Comes Christmas
by Tom Brenner; illus. by Jana Christy
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-7636-5342-2    $15.99

In Brenner’s inviting story chilly weather, holiday decorations, delicious baked goods, and all the other trappings of Christmas act as guideposts for a brother and sister as they eagerly await Christmas morning. “When frost glistens on pastures and fence posts and icy grass crunches underfoot…Then fill the windows with paper snowflakes and frame the house with colored lights.” Soft-focus digital illustrations in vibrant hues reflect the season’s coziness and industry. Those looking for an accessible book about secular celebration of Christmas will enjoy this warm-hearted offering. SARA DANVER

brett animals santa Holiday High Notes 2014The Animals’ Santa
by Jan Brett; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Putnam    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-399-25784-1    $17.99    g

The animals find presents from their own Santa every Christmas, but no one has ever seen him. When Little Snow, a young white rabbit, asks all the forest animals for clues as to Santa’s identity, everyone has a different theory. Decorations on the borders of each spread hint at the answer, (wordlessly) extending the story. Brett’s clean, precise watercolors show animals dressed in cozy Nordic vests walking upright in a snowy woodland setting. This Santa may be elusive, but he is definitely real, making Little Snow’s ultimate discovery truly satisfying. LOLLY ROBINSON

child over the river and through the wood Holiday High Notes 2014Over the River and Through the Wood:
A Thanksgiving Poem

by Lydia Maria Child; 
illus. by Christopher Manson
Primary    NorthSouth    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-7358-4191-8    $14.95    g

In this reissue (1994), Manson’s vibrant, textured illustrations capture the verve and enthusiasm of Child’s well-known holiday poem, feeling as old-fashioned as the original 1844 verse and yet timelessly festive. Thick, black-lined woodcuts painted with watercolor in shades of brown and blue, touches of green, and plenty of snowy white create a pleasing wintry rural setting. Each framed spread serves as a snapshot of daily nineteenth-century work and play that complements the six verses included here. A brief note about the poem’s origin is on the copyright page, and sheet music appears on the back endpapers. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

fearing great thanksgiving escape Holiday High Notes 2014The Great Thanksgiving Escape
by Mark Fearing; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-7636-6306-3    $15.99

“Sometimes you have to make your own fun,” says Gavin’s cousin Rhonda during Thanksgiving at Grandma’s. They ditch their drool-y baby cousins, then make their way outside past cheek-pinching aunts, “the Great Wall of Butts,” and a hoard of zombies (really video-game-playing teenagers) to the swing set…where Mother Nature throws them another curve. With their odd angles and unusual perspectives, the digital and pencil caricature illustrations (just this side of grotesque) capture the claustrophobia—and, 
for imaginative kids, the diverting 
possibilities—of a large family gathering. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

fischer latke the lucky dog Holiday High Notes 2014Latke, the Lucky Dog
by Ellen Fischer; 
illus. by Tiphanie Beeke
Preschool, Primary    Kar-Ben    24 pp.
9/14    978-0-7613-9038-1    $17.95Paper ed.  978-0-7613-9039-8    $7.95    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-4669-4    $7.95

On the first night of Hanukkah, a family adopts a little golden-brown dog and names it Latke. As the family celebrates the Festival of Lights, Latke joins in, thinking, “I am one lucky dog!” But he has a lot to learn about how to behave. This engaging romp follows Latke as he chews his way through the eight nights of Hanukkah. Told in Latke’s voice, the story highlights the holiday’s traditions as well as the love between the dog and his new family. Cheerful textured illustrations capture all of Latke’s mischief. JILL LEIBOWITZ

grun legend of saint nicholas Holiday High Notes 2014The Legend of Saint Nicholas
by Anselm Grün; illus. by 
Giuliano Ferri; trans. from the 
German by Laura Watkinson
Primary    Eerdmans    32 pp.
8/14    978-0-8028-5434-6    $16.99

This beautifully illustrated picture book, imported from Germany, tells of the kindness and generosity of the fourth-century Christian saint who became the model for the modern Santa Claus. The clear, engaging text highlights some of the better-known legends surrounding Nicholas of Myra—from throwing purses of gold through the window of a household whose daughters would otherwise have been sold into slavery to performing miracles in aid of sailors and starving people. Luminous paintings on full-bleed double-page spreads capture the saint’s humanity as well as the Greek-Turkish Mediterranean setting. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

guthrie honeyky hanukah Holiday High Notes 2014Honeyky Hanukah
by Woody Guthrie; 
illus. by Dave Horowitz
Preschool, Primary    Doubleday    24 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-37926-7    $17.99

Guthrie’s lively Hanukkah ditty exudes folksiness and warmth, and this jaunty picture-book treatment captures the homespun energy of the lyrics. Horowitz’s animated construction paper, charcoal, and colored-pencil art features a curly-haired, barefoot, guitar-playing boy who tells listeners about his loving family’s holiday traditions. “Latkes and goody things” in Bubbie’s kitchen, menorah candles, music- and merry-making, hugs and kisses, gifts — they’re all part of the celebration. An illustrator’s note offers insight into the genesis of Guthrie’s Jewish songs. The Klezmatics perform a rousing rendition of the song on the accompanying CD. Read the book, listen to the CD, and get into the Hanukkah mood. KITTY FLYNN

hendrix shooting at the stars Holiday High Notes 2014Shooting at the Stars:
The Christmas Truce of 1914

by John Hendrix; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    40 pp.
10/14    978-1-4197-1175-6    $18.95

Hendrix distills the now practically mythic story of the 1914 Christmas Truce into the fictional experience of one young English soldier writing to his mother from a trench in France. A brief introduction and an appended author’s note provide context, but the focus here is very much on young Charlie and his unlikely day of fellowship with his German adversaries: “Mother, it was such a beautiful day.” Hendrix’s Charlie is a ruddy-cheeked Everyboy who provides a sympathetic focus for the paintings of a desolate landscape of mud and barbed wire; while not shying away from war’s grim realities, the pictures go a long way toward conveying the hopeful light of Christmas, with trees twinkling in the night while the strains of “Stille Nacht” waft across No Man’s Land toward our homesick hero. ROGER SUTTON

hopkins manger Holiday High Notes 2014Manger
poems selected by Lee Bennett 
Hopkins; illus. by Helen Cann
Primary    Eerdmans    40 pp.
9/14    978-0-8028-5419-3    $16.00

Fourteen brief poems, each told from the perspective of an animal present at the birth of Jesus, are collected in this welcome anthology. From Jude Mandell’s cat (“What gifts have I / to give / this Child? // No gold, / no frankincense, / no myrrh, / only my quiet / soothing purr”) to X. J. Kennedy’s horse (“On Christmas Eve, the night unique, / they say we beasts find tongues to speak. // Yet at this crib I am so stirred / that, staring, I can say no word”), the poems convey both the majesty and intimacy of that night. Decorative mixed-media illustrations highlight each animal on its own double-page spread. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

houts winterfrost Holiday High Notes 2014Winterfrost
by Michelle Houts
Intermediate    Candlewick    261 pp.
9/14    978-0-7636-6565-4    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7424-3    $16.99

Bettina, mourning the loss of her beloved grandfather, is left in charge of the farm and her baby sister Pia when her parents are unexpectedly called away on Christmas Eve. When a mischievous nisse steals Pia (in retribution for the omission of his traditional bowl of rice pudding), Bettina must use all her courage, wit, and heart to get her sister back. In the process, her sadness over Farfar’s death is replaced by joy in their shared belief in the small folk. Although the novel’s outcome is never in doubt, readers will enjoy this benevolent Christmastime adventure inspired by Danish folklore. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

kimmel simon and the bear Holiday High Notes 2014Simon and the Bear:
A Hanukkah Tale

by Eric A. Kimmel; 
illus. by Matthew Trueman
Primary    Disney-Hyperion    40 pp.
9/14    978-1-4231-4355-0    $16.99

Young immigrant Simon travels to America on a ship whose fate mirrors that of the Titanic, but this ship sinks on Hanukkah, a holiday that encourages faith in miracles. Simon gives another passenger his spot on a lifeboat and camps out on an iceberg. Sharing his latkes with a polar bear pays off in body heat and fish, and soon his Hanukkah candles bring about his rescue by catching the attention of a passing ship. Illustrations with frequent images of light in darkness combine with the recurring theme of miracles to evoke the Hanukkah spirit. SHOSHANA FLAX

koopmans three wise men Holiday High Notes 2014The Three Wise Men
by Loek Koopmans; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Floris    32 pp.
10/14    978-1-78255-0135-0    $16.95

This picture-book retelling of the Three Wise Men’s journey imagines the three as enthusiastic astronomers (with telescopes, no less) who, seeing a new star, remember an “ancient story”: “a bright star would appear in the sky as a sign that a new king had been born.” Untroubled by any sign (or mention) of Herod, their journey takes them to a stable, where they give their gifts to the baby and hear “the distant sound of angels singing.” It’s all barely biblical, but the trajectory and tone are just right for the youngest audience, and the humble pictures, more sunny than starlit, depict the Magi as sweet old souls. ROGER SUTTON

krensky last christmas tree Holiday High Notes 2014The Last Christmas Tree
by Stephen Krensky, 
illus. by Pascal Campion
Preschool, Primary    Dial    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-8037-3757-0    $16.99    g

What had been an empty lot is now bursting with Christmas trees waiting to be bought by loving families. One tree — short, bowed over, scant on branches — doesn’t have the physical allure of its neighbors, and its unbridled enthusiasm isn’t enough to catch the attention of shoppers. Come Christmas Eve, the little guy is alone on the lot, its only ornament a sign reading “free.” Then comes a faint jingling sound…and before long the little tree finds a welcome home way up north. Campion’s bright digital illustrations imbue the skimpy tree with personality, while stark scenes of its isolation elicit empathy. Part underdog story, part affirmation of the true meaning of Christmas, this is a satisfying, hopeful holiday offering. KATRINA HEDEEN

mcghee star bright Holiday High Notes 2014Star Bright:
A Christmas Story

by Alison McGhee; 
illus. by Peter H. Reynolds
Preschool, Primary    Atheneum    40 pp.
9/14    978-1-4169-5858-1    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-7714-8    $10.99

The “newest angel” ponders what to give a soon-to-be-born baby. She finally strikes upon “the best gift of all” — she can provide a comforting “light in the darkness” by becoming a star (the Star of Bethlehem, in fact). McGhee conflates the Christmas and Epiphany stories, with the Magi already in attendance at Jesus’ birth. But those willing to overlook that detail will still take enjoyment from the sweet text and Reynolds’s endearing pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations, rendered in a soothing blue and violet palette with plentiful white space. KATIE BIRCHER

moore night before christmas Holiday High Notes 2014The Night Before Christmas
by Clement C. Moore; 
illus. by Roger Duvoisin
Preschool, Primary    Knopf    40 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-75459-0    $16.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-75460-6    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-0-385-75461-3    $10.99

First published in 1954, this is a wholly pleasing version of the classic Christmas poem, with all of Caldecott Medalist Duvoisin’s gifts for color and composition in evidence. The book’s tall, narrow shape makes it ideal for vertical-chimney, steep-rooftop, and reindeer-flight scenes. Full-color spreads alternate with one-color (red plus black and white) spreads, giving the book additional pacing and rhythm (and the red—for the chimney, the curtains, Santa’s suit and cheeks — adds an appropriate and welcome warmth). Everything here is exactly as it should be: jolly, homey, unpretentious, and full of good cheer. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

perkins my true love gave to me Holiday High Notes 2014My True Love Gave to Me:
Twelve Holiday Stories

edited by Stephanie Perkins
High School    St. Martin’s Griffin    323 pp.
10/14    978-1-250-05930-7    $18.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4668-6389-7    $9.99

Holiday romance is the connecting link for the twelve tales included in this highly enjoyable anthology by a dozen well-known young adult authors, including Rainbow Rowell, Matt de la Peña, David Levithan, Gayle Forman, Laini Taylor, and Stephanie Perkins. 
The short stories feature teen protagonists of different races, sexual identities, and ethnicities confronting various obstacles and insecurities in their pursuit of new love amidst celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, New Year’s, and even Krampuslauf. And in keeping with the spirit of the season, the eclectic collection of stories — some fantastical, some realistic — all end with hopeful, if not always happy, endings. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

pham twelve days of christmas Holiday High Notes 2014The Twelve Days of Christmas
illus. by LeUyen Pham
Preschool, Primary    Doubleday    40 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-37413-2    $17.99

What starts as a classic Victorian setting for this cumulative song ends by showing lots of diversity — the eight ladies dancing, for example, wear traditional dress from eight different cultures, including Japanese and Dutch, and the eleven pipers piping appear to be Scottish, Peruvian, and colonial American, among others. Pham’s watercolor and ink illustrations capture the burgeoning cast with grace and a bit of humor — watch those hens and turtledoves. The palette is Christmassy with lots of red, green, and gold. Music and an author’s note appear at the end of the book. LOLLY ROBINSON

pinkwater beautiful yettas hanukkah kitten Holiday High Notes 2014Beautiful Yetta’s Hanukkah Kitten
by Daniel Pinkwater; 
illus. by Jill Pinkwater
Preschool, Primary    Feiwel    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-312-62134-6    $17.99

In this sequel to Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken (rev. 7/10), the Brooklyn-based Jewish-mama hen and her Spanish-speaking parrot pals find a cold, lost kitten during Hanukkah. The parrots are trepidatious (“Can it fly up to our nest?”), but Yetta knows just what to do: “We will take her to the old grandmother!” Kitten and Bubbie find companionship — and the birds all benefit from some homemade potato latkes. The breezy speech-bubble text is in English and, depending on who’s talking, Spanish or Yiddish (including, for both foreign languages, phonetic pronunciation). Energetic marker, brush pen, and pen-and-ink illustrations in a limited palette — parrot green, hen white-and-red, kitten orange, and Hanukkah blue — fly off the pages. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

raczka santa clauses Holiday High Notes 2014Santa Clauses:
Short Poems from the North Pole

by Bob Raczka, 
illus. by Chuck Groenink
Primary    Carolrhoda    40 pp.
9/14    978-1-4677-1805-9    $16.95
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-4621-2    $17.32

Readers are offered a day-by-day “glimpse of life at the North Pole” in twenty-five festive haiku “penned” by Santa himself. The poems are rich with tender emotions (“Mrs. Claus making / an angel, becoming a / little girl again”) and crisp imagery (“Sprinkling sand on my / snow-covered steps, thinking of / nutmeg on eggnog”), all reflected affectionately and vividly in Groenink’s art: a smiling, rosy-cheeked, bundled-up missus makes snow angels while textured grains of sand are strewn over the icy cottage stairs beside her. A warm seasonal collection notable for its clever, gently comical visual details (note St. Nick’s adult beverage as he relaxes in an armchair on December 26th). KATRINA HEDEEN

stark yule tomte and the little rabbits Holiday High Notes 2014The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits
by Ulf Stark; illus. by Eva Eriksson; trans. from the Swedish by 
Susan Beard
Primary, Intermediate    Floris    101 pp.
10/14    978-1-78250-136-7    $24.95

“In Swedish tradition it is a tomte…who brings Christmas presents to children,” according to the brief note that begins this entertaining Advent book. Our tomte is named Grump, and the tidy, precise illustrations (some spot art, some full pages neatly contained within red frames) show a little gnomelike man with a white beard, a red hat, and a perma-scowl. First, Grump grudgingly saves a bumblebee from a spider web. Next, his hat blows away. Two little bunnies, Binny and Barty, find the hat, and with the help of their extended family and the woodland creatures, they try to entice the tomte to their burrow for Christmas. Brief chapters relate the rabbits’ efforts and the tomte’s gradual change of heart. It’s an old-fashioned type of illustrated story (with a picture-book trim size) that doesn’t feel the least bit dated or sentimental. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

thong twas nochebuena Holiday High Notes 2014’Twas Nochebuena
by Roseanne Greenfield Thong; 
illus. by Sara Palacios
Preschool, Primary    Viking    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-670-01634-1    $16.99    g

Peppered with Spanish words, this reimagining of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” relates the Christmas Eve celebrations of a young girl’s Latino family: making tamales, decorating 
their home with tree and crèche, caroling, swinging at a piñata, attending midnight Mass, and more. Thong’s humorous verse follows Clement Moore’s strong rhythm without 
faltering — despite the metrical challenges of working in two languages at once. Palacios’s warm, earth-toned illustrations of a happy multigenerational family invite readers into the festivities, whether these tradiciones are familiar or new to them. A glossary and author’s note are appended. KATIE BIRCHER

underwood here comes santa cat Holiday High Notes 2014Here Comes Santa Cat
by Deborah Underwood; 
illus. by Claudia Rueda
Preschool    Dial    88 pp.
10/14    978-0-8037-4100-3    $16.99    g

Cat was jealous of the Easter Bunny’s job in Here Comes the Easter Cat (rev. 3/14). Now the naughty feline figures that if he dresses up as Santa Claus, he can give himself a present. But he quickly abandons the idea when he realizes Santa’s job entails not only getting sooty but also delivering gifts to others. After a few failed last-ditch attempts at good deeds to get on the nice list, Cat discovers the true Christmas spirit just in time to receive a special present from Santa. Once again the humorous banter between an offstage narrator, who addresses Cat directly, and the silent-yet-expressive Cat, who lets his illustrated signs do the talking, will keep kids giggling. Underwood and Rueda’s spot-on use of comedic timing, page turns, white space, and layout creates another holiday winner. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

yacowitz i know an old lady who swallowed a dreidel Holiday High Notes 2014I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel
by Caryn Yacowitz; 
illus. by David Slonim
Primary    Levine/Scholastic    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-439-91530-4    $17.99

The American Gothic parody on the 
first wordless spread — showing Ma 
and Pa, a boy, a cat…and a menorah — previews this freewheeling volume, part warm family holiday story, part art appreciation book, and part cumulative rhyme. Yacowitz’s clever Hanukkah-themed text lists the items swallowed by the bubbie: latkes, gelt, candles, dreidel (“Perhaps it’s fatal” is the refrain). Slonim’s humorous cartoony illustrations — a well-designed mix of spreads and panels—tell their own story, courtesy of the old masters. Bubbie stands in for the Mona Lisa, the figure in The Scream, and Rodin’s Thinker; homages to Warhol, Rockwell, van Gogh, Wyeth, Hopper (“Mel’s All-Night Latkes” diner), and others make cameo appearances. An artist’s note is appended. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. Starred reviews, January/February 2015 Horn Book Magazine

SissonSagan Starred reviews, January/February 2015 Horn Book MagazineThe following books will receive starred reviews in the January/February 2015 issue of the Horn Book Magazine. Coming this Wednesday: Fanfare, our choices for the best books of 2014.

Once Upon an Alphabet; written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich; written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)

Supertruck; written and illustrated by Stephen Savage (Roaring Brook)

The War That Saved My Life; by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley  (Dial)

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny; written and illustrated  by John Himmelman (Holt)

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future; by A. S. King (Little, Brown)

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos; written and illustrated by  Stephanie Roth Sisson (Roaring Brook)

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14. Review of Gracefully Grayson

polonsky gracefully grayson Review of Gracefully GraysonGracefully Grayson
by Ami Polonsky
Intermediate, Middle School    Hyperion    247 pp.
11/14    978-1-4231-8527-7    $16.99

Grayson, a sixth grader at Porter Middle School, passes the time doodling and daydreaming about what it would be like to go through life as a girl, despite being seen by everyone else as male. Struggling with the total isolation that comes with harboring a secret, Grayson keeps people at a distance until Amelia moves to town. The two develop a friendship that awakens Grayson’s need for companionship and acceptance. When that friendship falls apart, Grayson tries out for (and lands) the female lead in the school play as a means of testing out a female persona. Facing abuse and derision from classmates and resistance from members of her adoptive family (both birth parents were killed years before), Grayson fights for the right to present her truest self to the people around her — both on and off the stage. Luckily, an invested teacher and several open-minded cast mates offer understanding and support as Grayson begins to sort out the complexities of her own identity. Polonsky captures the loneliness of a child resigned to disappear rather than be rejected, and then the courageous risk that child eventually takes to be seen for who she is. The first-person narration successfully positions readers to experience Grayson’s confusion, fear, pain, and triumphs as they happen, lending an immediate and intimate feel to the narrative.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. Fanfare!

The Horn Book Magazine‘s choices for the best books of 2014. Sign up now to receive  the fully annotated list in next week’s issue of Notes from the Horn Book:

Picture books:

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)

My Bus written and illustrated by Byron Barton (Greenwillow)

The Baby Tree written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Paulsen/Penguin)

Draw! written and illustrated by Raúl Colón (Wiseman/Simon)

Gaston written by Kelly DiPucchio; illustrated by Christian Robinson (Atheneum)

The Farmer and the Clown written and illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/Simon)

Once Upon an Alphabet  written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)

Viva Frida written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, with photos by Tim O’Meara (Porter/Roaring Brook)

Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors written and illustrated by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash (Porter/Roaring Brook)

 

Fiction:

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic)

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos (Farrar)

My Heart Is Laughing written by Rose Lagercrantz; illustrated by Eva Eriksson; translated from the Swedish by Julia Marshall (Gecko)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte)

Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick)

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel)

The Turtle of Oman written by Naomi Shihab Nye; illustrated by Betsy Peterschmidt (Greenwillow)

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (Amulet/Abrams)

This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki; illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (First Second/Roaring Brook)

 

Folklore:

Little Roja Riding Hood written by Susan Middleton Elya; illustrated by Susan Guevara (Putnam)

 

Poetry:

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko; illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Candlewick)

How I Discovered Poetry written by Marilyn Nelson; illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Dial)

 

Nonfiction:

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm; illustrated by Molly Bang (Blue Sky/Scholastic)

El Deafo written and illustrated by Cece Bell; color by David Lasky (Amulet/Abrams)

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus written by Jen Bryant; illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans)

The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond written by Patrick Dillon; illustrated by Stephen Biesty (Candlewick)

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade/Random)

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker written by Patricia Hruby Powell; illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle)

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands written and illustrated by Katherine Roy (Macaulay/Roaring Brook)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Paulsen/Penguin)

 

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16. Review of Ivan

applegate ivan Review of IvanIvan:
The Remarkable True Story
of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

by Katherine Applegate; 
illus. by G. Brian Karas
Primary, Intermediate    Clarion    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-544-25230-1    $17.99    g

Applegate introduces young readers to the true story that inspired her Newbery Medal–winning novel The One and Only Ivan (rev. 1/12). “In leafy calm, / in gentle arms, / a gorilla’s life began.” In poetic prose she describes Ivan’s early life in Africa, his dramatic capture by poachers, his confusing time on display as a domesticated shopping-mall gorilla in Tacoma, Washington, and his transition to the Atlanta Zoo, where his life “began / again.” Aptly, the insightful and precise text never anthropomorphizes Ivan, nor do Karas’s mixed-media images — at once straightforward and provocative — done in his warm and unaffected style. The spareness of both text and pictures invites readers to find their own meaning in the moving story. An appended spread of additional information “About Ivan” adds useful context, though it never mentions Applegate’s other Ivan book. That’s fine, as younger readers will likely come to this one first, and it gives them plenty to grow on, both as a read-aloud and as a compelling true story.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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17. Review of Circle, Square, Moose

bingham circle square moose Review of Circle, Square, MooseCircle, Square, Moose
by Kelly Bingham; 
illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky
Preschool, Primary    Greenwillow    48 pp.
10/14    978-0-06-229003-8    $17.99    g

Irrepressible Moose (Z Is for Moose, rev. 3/12) is up to his old tricks, trying to force his way into another concept book. This time the subject is shapes, and at first we seem to be reading an old-school shape book (“that sandwich you had for lunch? That is a…square”). The fun begins on the third page, when Moose appears and takes a bite of the sandwich. An offstage narrator addresses Moose directly — “Hey! Don’t eat that!” — in bold-type text. When Moose proves intransigent and ever more disruptive, his old friend Zebra comes to try to save the day. Things grow more and more chaotic until Zebra ends up tangled in the ribbons that illustrate curves; loyal Moose rescues him by turning the sun’s shadow (representing circles) into a hole that takes them clear out of the book. As in the first volume, Zelinsky expertly juxtaposes the expected orderliness of a book with the chaos caused by Moose’s interruption, but this time he steps up the meta elements. The ending is far from pat, but just as true to the characters as that of the first book. On the back endpapers, we see the same exchange that concluded their previous adventure, but the characters have switched places: “Can we do that again?” asks Zebra. “Yes, Zebra. We can do that again.” Adults should be prepared to share this book again and again, as well.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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18. Review of Rain Reign

martin reign rain Review of Rain Reignstar2 Review of Rain ReignRain Reign
by Ann M. Martin
Intermediate    Feiwel    226 pp.
10/14    978-0-312-64300-3    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-250-06423-3    $9.99

Eleven-year-old Rose’s “official diagnosis is high-functioning autism.” She lives with her single dad, who does not have the resources, material or emotional, to be a parent. At school she is laughed at by her classmates. Her life works, but just barely. Uncle Weldon has her back; she is soothed by her ongoing collection of homonyms; and, best of all, she has Rain, her dog. This fragile contentment is shattered by Hurricane Susan, during which Rain disappears. A bad dad, a missing dog — this could be a tearjerker. It isn’t. Rose is a character we root for every step of the way. She is resilient, honest, and, in her own odd way, very perceptive; a most reliable narrator. The plot here is uncontrived, the resolution completely earned, and the style whole-grain simple until it blossoms into a final sentence of homonymic joy: “I stand up, then squint my eyes shut for (fore/four) a moment, remembering the night (knight) with Uncle Weldon when music soared (sword) through (threw) the air (heir), and the notes and the sky and our (hour) hearts were one (won).”

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. Review of Tiny Creatures

davies tiny creatures Review of Tiny CreaturesTiny Creatures:
The World of Microbes

by Nicola Davies; 
illus. by Emily Sutton
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-7315-4    $15.99

Davies introduces a likely brand-new — and immediately intriguing — concept to young readers: that there are vast quantities of living things (microbes) that are smaller than the eye can see. She does it not with dull lists of Latin terms and classification charts but instead through creative, easy-to-relate-to 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, and there are ten or even a hundred times as many as that in your stomach”). An emphasis on scale, particularly size and quantity, helps children grasp the abstract concepts (a several-page sequence illustrating the rapid multiplication of E. coli is very effective). The tone is light and inquisitive yet also scientifically precise, covering topics such as the shape and variety of microbes, their function, and reproduction. The role of microbes in human illness is touched upon (“it takes only a few of the wrong kind of microbes — the kind we call germs — to get into your body to make you sick”), but balanced with discussion of the helpful things microbes do. Sutton’s colorful, friendly illustrations, which render micro-organisms’ shapes accurately (if stylized) somewhat, add depth to the presentation.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

barnett samanddave Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

star2 Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Jon Klassen
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-7636-6229-5    $16.99

This adventure starts innocently enough: “On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole.” The boys (indistinguishable save the color of their hats and Sam’s ever-present backpack) are fueled by chocolate milk, animal cookies, and a desire to find “something spectacular.” Alas, Sam and Dave unearth nothing, coming close to — but just missing — the precious gems that dot the subterranean landscape, and oblivious all the while. Eventually the chums stop for a rest, whereupon their canine companion, digging for a bone, inadvertently causes a rupture in the dirt floor underground that leaves the explorers falling “down, down, down,” only to land in what appears to be their own yard. But upon closer inspection, this house isn’t quite the same as before; a number of subtle differences go undetected by the hapless duo, but observant viewers will certainly take note. Barnett’s well-chosen words (“Sam and Dave ran out of chocolate milk. / But they kept digging. / They shared the last animal cookie. / But they kept digging”) and plentiful white space support readers. Klassen’s cross-section illustrations provide a mole’s-eye view of the underground proceedings, extending the spare text with visual humor. As in his previous books, Klassen shows an uncanny knack for conveying meaning with the subtlest of eye movements. How fitting that the wordless final spread features a knowing look between the dog and a cat familiar to Klassen fans; all that’s missing from the trippy conclusion is the theme music from The Twilight Zone. Mind-blowing in the best possible way.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. Review of Into the Grey

kiernan into the grey Review of Into the GreyInto the Grey
by Celine Kiernan
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    295 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-7061-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7409-0    $16.99

When their home burns down, twin teens Patrick and Dominick move with their family to the shabby seaside cottage where they usually spend summer holidays. Almost at once, Pat sees that Dom is being haunted by the ghost of a young boy, while Pat himself is visited by nightmares of a soldier drowning in the muddy trenches of World War I. Eventually Dom is utterly possessed by Francis, the ghost of a boy who died of diphtheria decades ago, and Pat is desperate to do what he can to retrieve his brother. Family and local history come together as the twisting plot makes its way toward resolution: another pair of twin brothers, a senile grandmother, Irish lads turned British soldiers, and a series of surreal dreams and psychic landscapes all fall into place. Sometimes Kiernan’s storytelling is fraught and overdrawn; at its best it is confident, pungent, and poetic. Family love, loyalty, and protectiveness are palpable in a well-drawn cast of characters, and the pace is frequently galvanized with energetic drama and dialogue pierced with Irish dialect.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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22. Review of Strike!

brimner strike Review of Strike!Strike!:
The Farm Workers’
Fight for Their Rights
by Larry Dane Brimner
Intermediate, Middle School    Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills    172 pp.
10/14    978-1-59078-997-1    $16.95

Brimner turns his attention from one part of the 1960s — the civil rights movement in the South (Black & White) — to another, a parallel movement among migrant farm workers in the Southwest for better wages and working conditions. This comprehensive history traces California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century, and the often-
forgotten early contribution of Filipino Americans to this particular labor movement, before transitioning to the more familiar story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers strike. Finally, Brimner ponders Chávez’s last years, death, and legacy — and the diminished role of the UFW today. It can be challenging to track all of the players in this drama, let alone the acronyms for various unions and such, but Brimner’s compelling narrative, complete with both textual and visual primary sources, is up to the task. The layout is inviting with swatches of green and purple to complement the dominant black-and-white color scheme and well-placed maps and photos, while brief Spanish translations of selected quotes, titles, and epigraphs are incorporated. An author’s note, a timeline, bibliography, source notes, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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23. Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World – The Zena Sutherland Lecture

When we look to the astonishing growth of children’s books — especially YA books — in the last twenty years, we like to credit individuals — J. K. Rowling, for instance. But while it’s a kind of national obligation in the United States to praise individuals over collectives, I want to argue tonight that making good books for teenagers is dependent upon a vast and fragile interconnected network that collectively functions as what I am going to call the YA genre. All of this is offered, by the way, with the caveat that I might be wrong. I am wrong all the time.

My colleagues at Booklist, where I worked from 2000–2005, will tell you two things about me: first, that I was just about the worst publishing assistant in the 110-year history of the magazine; and second, that I am a bit of a worrier. Like Wemberly in Kevin Henkes’s wonderful picture book Wemberly Worried, I worry about big things (like whether there is any meaning to human life), and I worry about little things (like which suit I should wear to the Zena Sutherland Lecture). More or less, any time people ask me, “How are you?” the true answer is not “fine” or “good” or “sad”; the true answer is: worried.

This suits me well as a writer, since a big part of the job is to think about all the things that might happen and try to choose the best one, which is very often the most worrisome one. It suits me somewhat less well as, like, a person living in the world, because there is so much to worry about that if you are going to be a seriously anxious person, you have to devote all your time to it. You have to become like Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk whose legs atrophied while he sat staring at a wall for nine years, except instead of meditating you have to worry. So tonight I’m going to share with you some of my worry, but I’m going to wait until toward the end in the hope that you’ll now have to spend the next thirty minutes worrying about why I’m so worried about the future of YA fiction.

Before that, I want to talk about what I think fiction does so well, and why I think it remains so relevant to the lives of children and teens.

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Ann Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club, a series of novels about enterprising girls who built a small business and also dealt with the everyday problems of being a kid and taking care of kids and dealing with adults and occasionally having boyfriends. I loved these books. I also loved Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books and many other books that were called “girl books,” and I think I loved them both because I saw myself in them — I worried like Anastasia; I felt socially uncomfortable like Ann Martin’s Claudia — but also because I could escape myself. This was the first big thing that fiction did for me as a kid: it allowed me to see myself but also to escape myself. For me, one of the big problems of being a person is that I am the only me I will ever get to be. I am not like the main character “A” in David Levithan’s Every Day; I wake up every day in this body, seeing the world out of these eyes, and because my consciousness is the only one whose reality and complexity I can directly attest to, the rest of you seem — pardon the unkindness here — sort of not real. Even the people I love the most I see in the context of me: my wife, my children. But Claudia in the Baby-Sitters Club is not my anything; she is Claudia, through whose eyes I can, in an admittedly limited way, see the world.

This phenomenon is often credited with leading to empathy: through escaping the prison of the self and being able to live inside fictional characters, we learn to imagine others more complexly. Through story, we can understand that others feel their own grief and joy and longing as intensely as we feel ours. And I think that’s probably true, but I also think it’s just nice to be outside yourself at times, so that you can pay attention to the world outside of you, which in the end is even more vast than the world inside of you.

Here’s the other thing: I think there is an omnipresent pain inside us, a constant and gnawing pain that we ceaselessly try to distract ourselves from feeling, a pain way down deep in what Robert Penn Warren called “the dark which is you.” For most people, almost all the time, we don’t even have to think about this pain, but then sometimes you’ll be sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room or riding on the train or eating a chicken caesar salad at your desk at work and the pain will come crawling out of the cave darkness inside of you and you’ll feel an awful echo of all the pain that has ever befallen you and glimpse all the horrors that might still befall you.

Maybe you don’t actually know this pain, but I do, and for me it is the pain of meaninglessness. I fear that our selves are without value, that our vast interior lives will die with us, and that our brief miraculous decades of consciousness will not have been for anything. For me there is a terrifying depravity to meaninglessness, because it calls into question not only why I should read or write or love but also why I should do anything, in fact whether I should do anything, and so grappling with that way-down-deep-in-the-darkness-which-is-you pain is not like some abstract philosophical exercise or whatever but a matter of actual existential importance.

The obvious thing to do about this deep-down pain is to try very hard to ignore it, because at least in my life, I find that it comes on mostly in undistracted and quiet moments. And, look, if you can distract yourself from pain, great. I don’t want to minimize the importance of pleasurable distraction, of what’s sometimes called “mere entertainment,” be it Flappy Bird or CSI. But we have plenty of it. To quote David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King,

Surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airports’ gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called “information society” is just about information.

It’s also, of course, about distraction. For some readers, books can still be read purely for distraction, but for contemporary children and teenagers, there are far more effective distractions. My four-year-old son does not ask for a book to relieve himself of the terror way down deep in the darkness. He asks for the iPad, so he can play Angry Birds.

For contemporary kids, who can find sufficient distractions in gaming and video, I think books must do something more than just divert attention in order to be successful. And this brings us to morality.

fanfare green Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World   The Zena Sutherland LectureOnce upon a time, I gave a speech at the ALA Annual convention in which I said that I believed in the old-fashioned idea that books should be moral. And afterwards, the publisher of Booklist, Bill Ott, a man I’ve always looked up to immensely, took me aside and said, “That was a good speech except for all that bullshit about morality.” Fair enough. It was, in retrospect, bullshit. Books are not in the business of imparting lessons. What I was trying to say, I think, was that books should be honest without being hopeless. It’s easy enough to write a hopeful story, one that proclaims that If you can dream it, you can do it, or that God has a plan, or that Everything happens for a reason. Be grateful for every day. I parodied these ideas a little in The Fault in Our Stars by having one of the characters’ houses plastered with such pithy sentiments: Without pain, how would we know joy, and so on. In the book they call them Encouragements.

But these Encouragements are unconvincing, at least to me. Sure, you can write a novel about how if you can dream it you can do it, but in actual nonfictional fact there are a bunch of things that you can dream that you cannot do. For instance, I recently had a dream in which I was a banana that had escaped the Earth’s orbit and was slowly floating farther and farther away from my home planet.

What we need, and what good stories provide, are better Encouragements. Encouragements that aren’t bullshit. This is not a question of books being moral; it’s a question of books being hopeful without being dishonest. This is what good YA novels do for teens that Angry Birds cannot: they offer light that can burn bright even in the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. I know this is an old-fashioned way of imagining the making of art, but I believe it. I believe that fiction can help, that made-up stories can matter by helping us to feel unalone, by connecting us to others, and by giving shape to the world as we find it — a world that is broken and unjust and horrifying and not without hope.

So that is why I think books matter. Now I want to turn to genre and talk a bit about why I think it matters. Whenever a properly good writer — Michael Chabon, say, or Joyce Carol Oates — writes a mystery or a romance or whatever, reviewers sometimes say that the author is upending the conventions of the genre. I don’t really find that to be the case — I think Chabon just wrote a really good mystery in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Most conventions of the genre turn out to be really useful, I think, which is how they got to be conventions of the genre. At Booklist we used to joke about that old cliché that novels only have two plots: a stranger comes to town, and our hero goes on a journey. But that doesn’t mean we only have two stories; we have countless stories, each of them building upon and relying upon others. We often imagine the best stories as having arisen sui generis from the mind of a great genius. But, really, every good story is dependent upon millions that came before it, that incalculably vast network of influences that stand behind every novel.

In 2006, Malcolm Gladwell made a stir when he argued that Kaavya Viswanathan’s plagiarism of Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings wasn’t really plagiarism, because, and I’m quoting here, “This is teen-literature. It’s genre fiction. These are novels based on novels based on novels, in which every convention of character and plot has been trotted out a thousand times before.” Now, this was a ridiculous defense of plagiarism, and Gladwell later apologized, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. My novels are novels based on novels based on novels. Almost all novels are. But they change in the retelling. Novels change to stay relevant, so that their hope might be less flimsy, so that they remain honest and relevant. It’s a slow process — millions of writers and readers working together across generations to make stories that can be a light in the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. Writing and reading are not about a singular mind emerging from isolation to create unprecedented art. It’s a massive collaboration spanning millennia.

Let me explain how this works, at least for me. In my first novel, Looking for Alaska — in which, by the way, a stranger comes to town and our hero goes on a journey — I wanted to write a boarding-school novel — you know, like A Separate Peace or The War of Jenkins’ Ear or The Catcher in the Rye — but I was also interested in boarding-school fantasies like Harry Potter and A Great and Terrible Beauty. I liked the pranks, and the freaks at war with the cool kids. I liked the sneaking around campus in the middle of the night and breaking the rules and the omnipresence of one’s peers.

But there were conventions of the genre that were really problematic for me, like the one in which the boy — for the sake of simplicity, let’s call him Holden — flutters around, essentializing women, and the only person who ever gets hurt by his total failure to see women as actual humans is Holden himself, when in fact this habit boys have of imagining the girls they admire as flawless goddesses whose problems cannot possibly be as real or as important as Boy Problems…that habit turns out to be bad for women as well as the Holdens of the world. So, okay. You try to show that in your boarding-school novel. This is not upending a genre. It’s trying to make an honest, human story that isn’t bullshit. But lots of people are making YA boarding-school novels at the same time, and in a way we’re all working together. I think E. Lockhart, for instance, gave the genre its best book in recent years with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, but she did it by writing a proper boarding-school novel that also happens to be a proper feminist novel and a proper postmodern novel and a proper romance.

Basically, I believe that genre is good. I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about being a genre writer. Like, you know how they always have those crazy concept cars at auto shows that look futuristic and exciting and entirely new, but then it turns out that this futuristic car seats 1.5 people and gets four miles to the gallon, and by the time the car actually gets to market…it looks like a car. That’s genre to me. It’s the thing that works. So, yeah, cars look different than they did fifty years ago. They’re safer and more efficient and cheaper to build. But we didn’t actually get there through radical change. We got there through incremental change, by drivers and engineers and designers all working together.

I was thinking a lot about genre while writing my most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a cancer book, but one that is very aware of cancer books. There’s a lot I like about cancer books, but here’s what bothers me: there is often a sick person who suffers nobly and bravely and in the process of dying so beautifully teaches the healthy people around him or her important lessons about how to be grateful for every day, or in the case of American literature’s most famous cancer novel, the lesson that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This is ridiculous, of course: love means constantly having to say you’re sorry.

Anyway, I’m troubled by this convention because it imagines that sick people exist and suffer so that healthy people can learn lessons. This essentializes the lives of the sick, just as teenage boys essentialize girls when they imagine them as larger-than-life, when in fact the meaning of any life is a complicated and messy business that is about more than learning lessons. I wanted to write a cancer story that was about the sick people, not the lessons the healthy learn from them, about people who are disabled and human, who experience love and sex and longing and hurt and everything that any human does. I didn’t invent this idea, though; it’s the plot of many love stories. A stranger comes to town, and love blossoms, but an obstacle appears. Sometimes the obstacle is a basilisk. Sometimes it’s a jealous ex-husband. Sometimes it’s one’s own body.

And this brings me at last to worry. For genre to work best, I think, you must have basilisk stories and jealous ex-husband stories and cancer stories. Genre is not about individual geniuses; it’s a conversation that benefits from many voices.

The great strength of our children’s and YA genres is that we’re broad — we publish thousands of books a year, whereas Hollywood makes a few dozen movies aimed at kids and teens. Coe Booth, M. T. Anderson, Stephenie Meyer, Sarah Dessen, and Ellen Hopkins share the shelf. We’ve got poetry and sci-fi and romance and so-called literary fiction; we’ve got standalones and series and graphic novels and every subgenre imaginable. This year’s Printz winners included a romance, a futuristic fantasy, a violent fairy tale, a boarding-school novel, and a dystopian thriller. Nothing against the Pulitzer Prize, but it rarely offers such diversity. But I think there’s mounting evidence that our breadth is at risk. Consider the recent study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison saying that of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just ninety-three were about black people. That’s better than Hollywood is doing, but not that much better. Okay, so here’s my worry: we’ll see the breadth and diversity of our literature — at least the stuff that gets read — continue to decline, because there will be less institutional support for non-blockbuster books. There will be fewer review journals, fewer school libraries (and those with ever-shrinking book-buying budgets), and far fewer bookstores.

Imagine a world — and I don’t think this is hard to do — where almost all physical books bought offline are purchased at big box stores like Walmart and Costco and Target, which carry a couple of hundred titles a year. Anything that gets published that doesn’t end up in one of those stores doesn’t really get published, at least not in the sense that we understand the word now, because it won’t be widely available: it will only be available at the vast, flat e-marketplaces of Amazon and iTunes, where readers will choose from among a vast and undifferentiated sea of texts. Ultimately publishers will only be able to “add value” to the two hundred or so books a year that are sold at Walmart and Costco and Target, which will kind of mean that Walmart and Costco and Target will choose — or at least have a lot of say in — what gets published. Every now and again, a book will rise up out of the sea of the Kindle store and become so 50 Shades of Grey–popular that it will transition the author from online distribution to physical distribution, but most books that find readers will be franchises. In short, publishing will split: traditional publishing ends up looking a bit like Hollywood, focusing all its resources on a few stories a year that might make a lot of money. And then everything else will live on Amazon.

Amazon’s position is that in the future everyone will be on a level playing field because all authors will have access to all readers and the publishing business will be entirely disintermediated and books will succeed or fail based on whether actual readers actually like them. But of course that’s not actually what happens, as we’re already seeing.

What actually happens is that the richest and most challenging fiction of any category, particularly if it won’t appeal to a mass readership, struggles to find an audience in a world without critics and institutional support. Toni Morrison’s Beloved became a huge bestseller forty years ago. It’s hard to imagine that happening today, barring Oprah’s endorsement or something, and harder still to imagine it happening in the future.

The problem of discovery is complicated by the terribleness of Amazon’s recommendation engine. It is terrible for bestsellers — right now, it implies that if you enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars you might also enjoy Gone Girl, which is just — I mean, that is not good readers’ advisory. And it’s also terrible for books that aren’t bestsellers. For instance, there is a great nonfiction adult book called Ballad of the Whiskey Robber about an alcoholic Transylvanian semi-professional hockey goalie who becomes a bank robber, and right now if you go to that book’s Amazon page, it will recommend that if you like that book, you might also like A. S. King’s wonderful YA novel Ask the Passengers. These two books have exactly two things in common: they both contain text, and about a year ago, I recommended them both in a vlogbrothers video.

So what will it mean to write YA in a future where your work might be recommended alongside nonfiction books about bank robbers or adult mysteries about a very, very bad marriage? Well, we’ll keep writing and sharing stories for children and teens, of course. And lots of people — including kids themselves but also adult supporters such as other authors and librarians and teachers — will continue to recommend them. The genre will go on. But YA was weaker and less broad before it got its own physical sections in libraries and bookstores, and I worry that we will find it difficult to grow stronger and broader in the future.

These days, my career is often held up as a model for how YA novels will get to the next generation of teen readers: authors will build communities online around their work, and those communities will read and share their books. We won’t need gatekeepers or institutions to help us share books; we have Twitter for that now. But there are some problems with this idea. For one thing, there’s a massive advantage to being white and male on the internet; you experience less harassment and many privileges. And there’s also a massive advantage to speaking English on the internet. Furthermore, many people who are good at writing novels are bad at Twitter. I realize this advantage has long been with us — Twain owed much of his success to his crazy hair and hilarious lectures — but it’s a strange and dangerous business to judge a novel by its author, and stranger and more dangerous still to judge a novel by its author’s tweets.

But most importantly, it just doesn’t work. My books didn’t become successful because I was famous on the internet; at least initially, I became famous on the internet because I’d written successful books. My first novel, Looking for Alaska, sold a couple of thousand copies — many of them to libraries — before it won the Printz, an award chosen by a committee of librarians. When my brother Hank and I began our video blog series in January 2007, the few hundred people who watched us and helped to found the nerdfighter community were almost entirely fans of my books — including many YA librarians. Without institutional support, without librarians and teachers and critics and the rest of the human infrastructure of YA literature, my books would not have an audience. And neither would my video blog.

All of us together are making up what YA means as we go along. We are all creating the genre, by choosing what we read and write and lift up, by pushing ourselves and one another to think more complexly about teenagers as readers and as characters so that we might welcome them in to the great old conversations. This is no small thing. We are not in the widgets business, my friends. We are in the story business, the business of bringing light to the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. And in that sense, at least, business is good, because that darkness ain’t going anywhere. Our need to turn scratches on a page into ideas that can live inside of our minds ain’t going anywhere. We’re not at risk of people losing interest in strangers coming to town or heroes going on journeys, and we will always need ways to escape the prison of consciousness and learn to imagine the Other complexly. And this is why, despite my ceaseless worry, I remain quite hopeful. We need to grow the breadth and diversity of YA literature. We need to get more books to more kids so that publishing doesn’t become a business driven entirely by blockbusters. And we need to preserve the roles — critics, librarians, professors, teachers — that contribute so much to the continual growth and change in our genre. None of this will be easy, of course, and it’s all intensely worrying.

But I also know that story will go on. That’s the great thing about genre, about novels based on novels based on novels. The stories go on. They find a way through budget cuts and new technologies, winding their way through the flawed vessels who write and review and share them, flowing past history and memory, a process that has been going on so long that our stories, and our readings of them, are shaped by ancient stories we will never know. Somehow, improbably, even long after they are forgotten, the stories endure. And through them, so do we.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Adapted from the author’s 2014 Zena Sutherland Lecture.

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24. Review of Bow-Wow’s Nightmare 
Neighbors

newgarden bow wows nightmare neighbors Review of Bow Wow’s Nightmare 
Neighborsstar2 Review of Bow Wow’s Nightmare 
Neighbors Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors
by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash; illus. by the authors
Preschool    Porter/Roaring Brook    64 pp.
9/14    978-1-59643-640-4    $17.99    g

Bow-Wow is back in this fanciful wordless follow-up to Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (rev. 7/07). This time, the stalwart canine sets out to retrieve his stolen doggy bed from the ornery ghost cats and kittens who live across the street in a haunted mansion — complete with loose floorboards, secret passageways, and moving-eye portraits. Around every corner, it seems as though the pup may have found his purloined cushion at last, but each time, he’s mistaken. With beady-eyed specters peering out from various nooks and crannies ready to nip the tip of his tail, Bow-Wow finally makes his way through the house — only to come face-to-face with the mother of all ghost cats in an absurdly funny (and cuddly) denouement. In a strange house with the lights out, the predominantly grayscale palette captures the eerie confusion of eyes playing tricks with the shadows, while carefully placed flourishes of color amp up the humor at just the right moments. Through expert use of comic-book panels, Newgarden and Cash play with perspective and timing, giving a sense of immediacy and light suspense to each increasingly silly scene. A fresh look at things that go bump in the night.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Neighbors

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Neighbors appeared first on The Horn Book.

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Neighbors as of 1/1/1900
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25. Review of The Cabinet of Curiosities

bachmann cabinet of curiosities Review of The Cabinet of CuriositiesThe Cabinet of Curiosities:
36 Tales Brief & Sinister

by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, 
and Emma Trevayne;
illus. by Alexander Jansson
Middle School    Greenwillow    488 pp.
6/14    978-0-06-233105-2    $16.99

Four “curators” — Bachmann, Catmull, Legrand, and Trevayne — travel to lands peregrine and outré to fill their Cabinet of Curiosities museum, sending back grotesqueries and objects of wonder as well as the tales behind them — tales that often bend to the tenebrous and unearthly. The table of contents lists the Cabinet’s “rooms” and “drawers,” each with a theme (cake, luck, tricks, flowers) and four or five tales to explore. In “The Cake Made Out of Teeth” (“collected by” Legrand) a spoiled-rotten boy must finish an entire cake made in his image, despite the sensation of teeth chewing him up with every bite. “Lucky, Lucky Girl” (Catmull) stars a young woman whose good luck seems to depend on the very bad luck of the people around her. In “Plum Boy and the Dead Man” (Bachmann), a rich and opinionated lad has a conversation with a corpse hanging from a tree…and ends up unwillingly changing places with the victim. “The Book of Bones” (Trevayne) features Eleanor Entwhistle, a plucky girl whose courage halts the work of a grave-robbing sorcerer. 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, provide a unifying sense of dread. The framing device — the curators send letters from the field introducing their latest discoveries — adds depths of mystery, danger, and idiosyncrasy to a book already swimming in each.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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