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Here Comes the Easter Cat
by Deborah Underwood;
illus. by Claudia Rueda
Preschool Dial 80 pp.
1/14 978-0-8037-3939-0 $16.99 g
Cat discovers an advertisement for the Easter Bunny’s arrival on the front endpapers of this witty offering, and from the very first page he is unhappy about it. The text addresses Cat directly throughout the book, and he responds using placards, humorous expressions, and body language to convey his emotions to great effect. When asked what’s wrong, Cat explains that he doesn’t understand why everyone loves the Easter Bunny. To assuage Cat’s jealousy, the text suggests that he become the Easter Cat and “bring the children something nice too.” Intrigued, Cat plans his gift idea (chocolate bunnies with no heads), transportation method (a motorcycle faster than that hopping bunny), and a sparkly outfit (complete with top hat). But multiple naps are an important part of Cat’s daily routine. When he discovers that the Easter Bunny doesn’t take any naps while delivering all his eggs, a forlorn Cat devises an unselfish way he can instead assist the hard-working rabbit. Rueda expertly uses white space, movement, and page turns to focus attention on Cat and the repartee. The combination of Underwood’s knowledgeable authorial voice and Rueda’s loosely sketched, textured ink and colored-pencil illustrations make this an entertaining, well-paced tale for interactive story hours. And if he isn’t going to usurp the Easter Bunny, then clever Cat will just have to take over another ho-ho-holiday.
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Feral Curse [Feral]
by Cynthia Leitich Smith
High School Candlewick 259 pp.
2/14 978-0-7636-5910-3 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7040-5 $17.99
Secret werecat Kayla chooses Valentine’s Day to reveal her true nature to her boyfriend, Ben. He reacts badly, to put it mildly: he runs away from Kayla, is hit by lightning on the antique carousel in Town Park while staging a ritual to “cure” her, and dies. Her small town of Pine Ridge, Texas, decides to dismantle the carousel and sell off its wooden animal figures. Soon after, Yoshi, the hottie Cat from Feral Nights (rev. 3/13), touches the hand-carved cougar for sale in his Grams’s antiques store in Austin and is instantly transported to Pine Ridge. He’s not the only shifter to suddenly appear there. Darby, a Deer; Peter, a Coyote; and Evan, an Otter, show up within a few days—each having touched the carousel animal corresponding to his shifter form—and they’re all inexplicably drawn to Kayla. This second entry in the Feral series (a spin-off of Smith’s Tantalize quartet) features as kooky a cast of supernatural characters as ever (including a juvenile yeti in addition to the various werepeople and the occasional human), but they’re all relatable in various ways and easy to root for. Debut character Kayla — level-headed, religious, but also quietly proud of her shifter nature — holds her own, nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger, Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, and human Aimee’s resourcefulness. Witty banter peppered with pop-culture references keeps the tone light even as the stakes ramp up.
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He Has Shot the President!:
April 14, 1865: The Day John
Wilkes Booth Killed President
Lincoln [Actual Times]
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
Intermediate Roaring Brook 64 pp.
4/14 978-1-59643-224-6 $17.99 g
This fifth entry in Brown’s Actual Times series (including All Stations Distress, rev. 9/08) begins on April 14, 1865, the day Lincoln was assassinated. Brown introduces both major actors, Lincoln and Booth, and then begins the tricky task of chronologically following each man to his death. He does so successfully, switching back and forth between the actions of both men with impeccable transitions. The text is matter-of-fact and detailed. “At about 10:00 PM, Booth reentered Ford’s through the front entrance and made his way to the second floor and the president’s box.” The illustrations, in Brown’s slightly impressionistic style and rendered in somber shades of brown, blue, and gray, create drama. There’s the despair on Dr. Charles Leale’s face as he attends Lincoln and sadness in the posture of mourners watching Lincoln’s funeral train moving slowly through America’s farmlands toward its final destination. But there’s also menace in Lewis Powell as he attempts to kill Secretary of State William Seward and in the stance of a soldier questioning eleven-year-old Appolina Dean, an innocent boarder at Mary Surratt’s house. A bibliography completes this fine book.
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Where to begin with how important Harriet the Spy has been in my life? I guess I’ll have to start with my childhood. I was in fourth grade, at a school book fair. I’d forgotten to bring money that day, which was a problem because there was one book I was desperate to have. It had a bright orange cover with bold yellow type and a girl wearing glasses climbing all over it. And somehow I knew I was going to love it and I had to read it. AND IT WAS THE ONLY COPY AT THE FAIR. So I did what any right-thinking person would do under the circumstances: I hid it. Specifically, I put it at the bottom of a pile of very drippy-looking books (I’m guessing they were Winnie-the-Pooh; I detested Winnie-the-Pooh back then) and kept my fingers crossed that no one would find it and I could buy it the next day. Which I did. And Harriet has been a part of my life ever since.
It occurs to me now that this is probably the sort of thing Harriet herself would have done in a similar situation. And that in turn tells you why she’s a character who has endured for so long. She’s resourceful, quick, a little unscrupulous, and entirely recognizable. A real person, in other words. You might not like her (and I’m still not sure I do), but you know this girl.
That school book fair was the first time I remember Harriet being important to me. The second time came much later. I was a young assistant editor, starting out in children’s books. I’d been promoted and assigned a mass market series to edit. It was a steady-selling series for the publisher, and I was excited to be working on something so substantial. Needless to say, I took my responsibilities very seriously. This manuscript was going to be IN PRINT, after all. It was going to be a book! It had to be good! The future of the nation’s youth and the success of the series were resting on my shoulders alone! (I’m exaggerating just a bit, but I really did feel this way.) Unfortunately, the manuscript was about the worst thing I’d ever read. I couldn’t even articulate why it was so awful, but it was complete dreck, and I had to fix it. Or at least make it readable and enjoyable enough to sell ten thousand copies. And I had absolutely no idea how to do this.
Okay, I said to myself. Think about some other books, books you love. What makes them so great? That’s when I remembered Harriet. And I went back and read it — really read it, this time. I took it apart, technically. I began to understand how good it is. And even though the manuscript I was working on was a YA book and Harriet was a middle-grade novel, I learned things from Harriet about dialogue, structure, character, action, and pacing that I was able to apply, in a different way, to the problematic manuscript I had to edit. Harriet saved my bacon that time, and also made me think about books and reading and writing in a new way. It’s actually ironic that Harriet helped me edit a conventional YA romance, because Harriet is the complete opposite of that; it is in fact a wildly subversive novel. Which of course only makes me love it more.
What’s so revolutionary about it? Let’s start with the fact that Harriet is not a nice little girl. She does illegal things when she spies. If she doesn’t actually break into Mrs. Agatha K. Plumber’s house, for instance, she comes pretty close. She writes terrible things about people — not just the people she spies on, but also her best friends. The thing is, she’s not doing it because she’s mean (although she certainly has her mean moments). She’s doing it because she’s honest and because she’s compelled to do it. The note-taking is part of who she is, what she is training herself to be: a writer and observer. It’s work, and she takes it very seriously. And her friends accept this about her, even after she hurts them with her brutally honest observations. They know she can’t change. Even when she’s forced to apologize, she does it out of practical necessity, because she wants to keep her friends, not because she really means it. And then she goes back to doing exactly what she was doing before. She hasn’t changed one bit, and her friends know it.
Just think about all of this! It’s a giant raspberry to the school of thought that says, A-character-in-a-children’s-book-must-change-and-grow-throughout-the-course-of-the-story. Or to the school that says, A-character-must-be-essentially-good-and-lovable. In fact, any rules or precepts or cutesy-poo ideas you might have had about children’s books fly right out the window when you read Harriet the Spy. There is no great moral lesson to be learned, no transformative change that happens to the protagonist. Above all, there is no tidiness. Harriet is real life in all its messiness and ambiguity, populated by real people who are also messy and ambiguous.
There is yet another reason to love Harriet, and it’s another editorial story, this one about its origin. In the book Dear Genius, the great Ursula Nordstrom, the visionary editor at Harper & Row during its golden era, writes about how Harriet the Spy came to be published. It all started with a reader’s report from Charlotte Zolotow, who was then a senior editor, urging Ursula to read the manuscript. “You have to get this writer to come in and talk. This isn’t a book, but it could be,” she wrote enthusiastically. And on what did she base her enthusiasm? Pages of Louise Fitzhugh’s drawings and disconnected narrative, which seemed to consist mostly of Harriet’s spy entries. Somehow Charlotte was able to see past this jumble of words and envision a book. She and Ursula worked with the author and helped her find the characters and story that became Harriet.
In this age of acquiring manuscripts from debut authors that have to be perfect or nearly perfect to be signed on, I find this story to be an inspiration, and most of all a reminder: you have to keep an open mind about the creative process. It’s messy and unpredictable and risky. But the rewards of taking that leap of faith are boundless.
Just read Harriet again and see.
From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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by Blexbolex; trans. from the
French by Claudia Z. Bedrick;
illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate Enchanted Lion 280 pp.
11/13 978-1-59270-137-7 $22.95
The French illustrator (Seasons, rev. 7/10; People, rev. 9/11) is as provocative as ever in this graphic celebration — and parody — of the very idea of story. Like Dr. Seuss’s And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937), Ballad compounds the fantastical — literally, here: each chapter has twice the pages, less two, of its predecessor (4, 6, 10, 18…); at 130 pages, the seventh and last chapter is half the book — just one instance of Blexbolex’s intricate crafting. Meanwhile, the story expands from chapter one’s uneventful walk (“The school, the road, home”) to closer observation of the real world before entering an imagined world and its characters (“the stranger” — storyteller, musician, hero; “bandits” resembling Pinocchio’s Cat and Fox; “the witch”). Each chapter begins with a précis, but it is Blexbolex’s square illustrations, captioned with just a couple of nouns, that convey the action and accumulate references—a queen, a kidnapping, a dragon, a volcano, mountains, a waterfall, a castle, a captive elf, night, storm, rescue, escape. Ultimately, at dawn, the stranger and queen arrive “home.” Blexbolex’s simple forms range in colors from gentle blues and greens to the arresting yellow of the stranger’s raincoat and his trouser’s fluorescent pink; coarse grids of halftone dots add modeling and subtlety to the elegantly composed scenes. An intriguing book — one to unravel, decode, and ponder in successive re-readings.
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By: Roger Sutton
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The Children of the King
by Sonya Hartnett
Intermediate, Middle School Candlewick 266 pp.
3/14 978-0-7636-6735-1 $16.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7042-9 $16.99
Continuing her string of novels exploring the effects of war on innocents (The Silver Donkey, rev. 9/06; The Midnight Zoo, rev. 9/11), Hartnett’s latest book tackles the home front. In the early days of World War II, twelve-year-old Cecily Lockwood, her older brother Jeremy, and their mother flee London for the safety of Uncle Peregrine’s country manor. Jeremy chafes at being packed off to the country, since he desperately wants to contribute to the war effort, and tensions escalate between mother and son. Meanwhile, Cecily and an evacuee named May discover two boys dressed in fifteenth-century clothing hiding in the nearby ruins of Snow Castle, as Uncle Peregrine begins to recount the legend of Richard III and the young “Princes in the Tower.” As always, Hartnett’s gift for language deftly conveys both the sublime and the mundane in life. “[The sun’s] heatless light reached over miles of marsh…and finally crawled, with a daddy-longlegs’s fragility, up the walls of Heron Hall to Cecily’s window.” Hartnett grounds the relatively minor fantasy presence in the book with a heartfelt examination of the pain and hardships, endured by civilians in wartime. Cecily is a naive, spoiled, but well-intentioned heroine, effectively contrasted by the quietly independent and mature May and impetuous, brave Jeremy. Over the course of the story, Hartnett’s characters waver between feelings of helplessness, anger, and fear; ultimately, they find the necessary resolve to carry on.
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How American World War II
Nurses Survived Battle and
Prison Camp in the Pacific
by Mary Cronk Farrell
Middle School, High School Abrams 160 pp.
2/14 978-1-4197-1028-5 $24.95
There are many books written about young people enlisting in the military, being unprepared for the horrors of battle or tortures of capture, serving bravely, and coming home. But women? In direct fire? In POW camps? During World War II? Not so many, a void Farrell admirably fills with this account of the more than one hundred army and navy nurses who served in the Philippines during the bombing and evacuation of Manila, the Battle of Bataan, and the evacuation and surrender of Corregidor. During every battle and every retreat, and even within the walls of the POW camps (where many were incarcerated from 1942 to 1945), these nurses cared for the injured under the most primitive of conditions. Using information taken mainly from historical interviews and modern correspondence with the subjects’ relatives, Farrell directly confronts the horrors of war and the years of inhumane treatment in the POW camps. These women — malnourished, ill with diseases such as malaria, dysentery, and beriberi —
established multiple hospital sites and often shouldered doctors’ medical duties. Many returned home with disabilities and lifelong medical problems; though many suffered from PTSD, no mental health services were available to them. The book design is double-columned utilitarianism; archival photographs vary in effectiveness: many are posed group shots while others are (understandably) grainy, offering context over clarity. The account concludes with a timeline, glossary, list of nurses, documentation, bibliography, suggested websites, and an index.
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Sophie Sleeps Over
by Marisabina Russo;
illus. by the author
Primary Porter/Roaring Brook 32 pp.
3/14 978-1-59643-933-7 $16.99 g
Sophie and Olive are BBFFs (best bunny friends forever). When Olive announces a sleepover birthday party, Sophie is excited to go (“‘Sleepover parties are my favorite kind,’ said Sophie, even though she had never been to one”). She packs her overnight bag, puts on her tiara, and heads over to Olive’s. She gets a rude awakening, though, when she knocks on Olive’s front door and it’s opened by Penelope, who purports to be “‘Olive’s best friend.’ ‘No, I’m her best friend,’ said Sophie, but all of a sudden she wasn’t so sure.” During the party Penelope undercuts her at every turn (“You could just keep score,” Penelope suggests during ping-pong), and things come to a head over Sophie’s best-friend birthday gift to Olive. After lights-out, though, the competing bunny girls reach détente over their inability to sleep and missing their favorite dolls, paving the way for a new three-way best-friendship. Russo knows her way around drawing rabbit-children (The Bunnies Are Not in Their Beds; A Very Big Bunny, rev. 1/10), and in her tidy gouache illustrations these three bunnies, dressed in their birthday party best, display clear emotions that will be immediately recognizable to young readers and listeners. Friendship bliss, anticipation, hurt feelings, homesickness — all are familiar to (human) kids and are all conveyed with respect and sensitivity.
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By: Roger Sutton
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by Skila Brown
Middle School Candlewick 197 pp.
3/14 978-0-7636-6516-6 $15.99 g
“Forest sounds / all around / but on the ground / the sound / of Me / grew. Echoed. / I heard a path I could not see.” Exquisitely crafted poems are the basis of an unusually fine verse novel set in 1981, in the middle of the Guatemalan civil war. When the government helicopters appear in the air over the small village of Chopán, young Carlos obeys his mother when she tells him to go into the forest to hide. When all is quiet, he climbs down from his tree and soon comes across a group of four guerrilla rebel soldiers, lost in the forest. They confirm his greatest fears — that Chopán was burned to the ground, and that the people there were massacred by the government soldiers. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, Carlos begins to walk — caminar — on a mission to reach his grandmother’s village at the top of the mountain, to warn them about the helicopters. The poems, all written from Carlos’s point of view, are emotional, visceral, and lyrical. Layered and varied, some are shape poems; some can be read in more than one way, as if written from two perspectives; and all are accessible to young readers. When Carlos first encounters Paco, the rebel soldier his own age, their meeting is described in a poignant mirror poem. All combine to give us a chillingly memorable portrait of one child surviving violence and loss in a time of war.
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You Can’t Have
Too Many Friends!
by Mordicai Gerstein;
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Holiday 32 pp.
4/14 978-0-8234-2393-4 $16.95 g
e-book ed. 978-0-8234-3101-4 $16.95
This retold French folktale (“Drakestail”) stars a farmer duck who, in this absurdist version, is wealthy in the jelly beans he has grown. When the little-boy king “borrows” his jelly beans and doesn’t return them, Duck sets off on a quest to get them back. Along the way, he meets a large, friendly, shaggy green dog who “shrinks and hops into Duck’s pocket”; “Lady Ladder” who does the same; a burbling brook that Duck carries in his gullet; and some wasps transported in Duck’s ear. These new friends all come in handy when the king declines to give back the candy. Listening children will anticipate the role of each of Duck’s pals and will enjoy seeing the king’s nasty acts rightfully rewarded, especially when he’s chased naked out of his bathtub by the wasps. This is anything but a heavy-handed moral treatment, though — Gerstein’s pen-and-ink, acrylic, and colored-pencil illustrations employ a cheerful palette, with scribbly lines and dialogue bubbles. Each picture includes humorous details such as the web-footed claw bathtub and the queen’s fuzzy slippers. And in the end, the king makes reparations, sitting down to a jelly-bean feast with Duck and his odd group of friends.
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More of Monkey & Robot
by Peter Catalanotto; illus. by the author
Primary Jackson/Atheneum 58 pp.
3/14 978-1-4424-5251-0 $14.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-5253-4 $9.99
Monkey and Robot are back (Monkey & Robot, rev. 1/13) in four stories for new readers. Monkey continues to make a mess, and Robot patiently helps him fix things. First Monkey worries about what to be for Halloween. No one wants a repeat of last year when he went as a dentist and stuck his fingers into people’s mouths. He ends up putting a pot on his head, pretending to be Robot (he wants to dress up as “something that everybody likes”). In the second chapter, Monkey and Robot are at the beach, but Robot can’t go into the water, and Monkey won’t go swimming without his friend. In the third, the two figure out the best use for a tire Monkey finds in the front yard. In the final story, Monkey is confused by the clock and unsure whether it is morning or nighttime. Catalanotto weaves humor into each easy-to-read story, inviting the reader to help Monkey with his confusion…and to feel a little superior at the same time. It’s unusual to see such clear personalities in a book for the very young, but Catalanotto has created two distinct and likable characters — unlikely pals who understand each other. Black-and-white pencil illustrations that provide helpful visual cues and lots of easy-to-decode text fill each page, making this the perfect bridge to chapter books for new readers looking for the next book.
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Eye to Eye:
How Animals See the World
by Steve Jenkins; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate Houghton 32 pp.
4/14 978-0-547-95907-8 $17.99 g
The origins of the eye lie in the need for animals to detect light, as Jenkins explains in the opening to this excellent presentation of the structures animals use to see. After a brief description of the four major types of eyes that have evolved in animal species (eyespots, pinholes, compounds, and cameras), we get to the eyes themselves, prominently featured in well-designed layouts that serve both as study guide and display for the beautifully rendered and reproduced cut-paper artwork. Each page features a single organism in two images: a main close-up of the animal’s eye area(s), carefully framed to illustrate position and function relationships; and a smaller, full-body image of the animal itself. The juxtaposition is very useful — readers can use both images to make sense of the text, filled with fascinating information about eyes that are large (colossal squid), odd (stalk-eyed fly), all over the head (jumping spider), and extremely mobile (ghost crab). Additional field guide–like facts about the twenty-two featured animals are listed at the end of the book.
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Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics
by John Feinstein
Middle School, High School Knopf 314 pp.
5/12 978-0-375-86963-1 $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-96963-8 $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-375-98455-6 $10.99
Timed to coincide with the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Feinstein’s sixth sports mystery novel again features teen reporters Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson—except that this time Susan Carol is a world-class swimmer in the 200- meter butterfly and Stevie is now her boyfriend. Speedo, Nike, Under Armour, and the Disney Channel are all interested in her, and Susan Carol only has to win a gold medal or two to gain lucrative contracts. She didn’t train to be a celebrity or a “show pony for corporations,” but thanks to her father, who falls prey to the agents’ offers, Susan Carol does indeed become a “human billboard” and America’s latest athlete/sex symbol. She is only important to the agents as long as she wins, and Stevie wonders just how far a corporation would go to ensure victory for its client. It turns out that the answer is “too far”; hence the mystery for Stevie to solve—a little too quickly and neatly, perhaps, but Feinstein’s legions of fans will revel in the intrigue at the Olympics and the excitement of Susan Carol’s races.
- Philip Nel illuminates 1950s America in an adapted excerpt from his new book about Crockett Johnson, Ruth Krauss, and the FBI.
- Christine M. Heppermann on her experiences as a work-for-hire writer of series nonfiction.
- Susan C. Griffith calls for a reframing of discussion surrounding racism and The Cay.
- Susan Dove Lempke answers the question: “What Makes a Good Manners Book?
- Sight Reading: Leonard S. Marcus on picture-book fonts.
- Books in the Home: Andrea Fox finds parenting advice in The Secret Garden.
- Minjie Chen and Betsy Hearne discuss a growing new trend in China: private children’s libraries.
- From The Guide: Re-imagined Classics.
- Cadenza: Elizabeth Thomas spoofs court TV in “Judge Judy in Storybook Land.”
Why We Took the Car
by Wolfgang Herrndorf; trans. from the German by Tim Mohr
Middle School, High School Levine/Scholastic 250 pp.
1/14 978-0-545-48180-9 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-545-58636-8 $17.99
Two teens abandon their lackluster lives and hit the Autobahn in this audacious tragicomedy. Mike Klingenberg, boring and unpopular, lives a life of quiet desperation at his Berlin junior high. New kid Tschick comes to class drunk and might be in the Russian mafia; he’s not winning friends, but at least everyone’s paying attention. So when Tschick rolls up to Mike’s house in a hotwired car and proposes a road trip without a map, destination, or driver’s license, Mike says yes. Although the telling begins at its ignominious end, their story is, in many ways, a traditional road trip: the characters ponder their existence and gain independence while mastering the stick shift, evading local police, and encountering a collection of increasingly weird locals. Mike’s narration is an anxious stream of wry humor and linked anecdotes, but the moments when his façade slips are abrupt and startling windows into the pain of social exclusion and the aching loneliness of being fourteen. A sharp coming-of-age journey, hilarious and heartrending in equal measure.
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Table of Contents
|Leonard S. Marcus
||An Interview with Neal Porter
A renowned publisher shares his insight
into the current state of picture books.
|Jon Scieszka and Molly Leach
The classic Horn Book article — now in color.
||Just Enjoy the Pictures:
Hand-Crafted Versus Digital Art
“Mixed-media” in the twenty-first century.
||An Interview with Molly Bang
The perennially experimenting
artist turns to nonfiction.
||Do Great Work and the Rest Will Follow
On race and gender in
art school and beyond.
||Sidebar: My Life as an Art Student
Painting or Illustration?
Two schools of thought.
||Looking for Art Notes
A call for more illumination
on the copyright page.
As Pretty Does
Stretching the definition of
the picture book form.
Illustrators reveal their favorite art media.
Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Erin E. Stead
Philip C. Stead
Gene Luen Yang
|Human Mistakes and Trembling Lines
Gouache and I
The Common Thread
In Service of the Book
Push the Paint
Pen, Ink, Watercolor, Repeat
My Next Medium
Paint & Pixels
Gliding on Paper
For the Fear of Failure
What a Find!
A New Freedom
How to Draw Comics the Yang Way
||What Makes a Good…?
What Makes a Good Book Cover?
From The Guide
Wordless Picture Books
A selection of reviews from The Horn Book Guide.
|Robin L. Smith
Reading Picture Books 101
Just follow these simple steps.
|March/April Starred Books
Index to Advertisers
Index to Books Reviewed
||Cover: photo of her studio by Grace Lin.
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Back in 1998, the Horn Book Magazine published a special issue devoted to picture books. With articles about picture book history, reviewing and writing picture books, and a baker’s dozen of first-person “Studio Views,” it became a children’s lit classroom staple and is easily the most requested special issue we’ve produced.
We ran out of copies of the Picture Books issue many years ago, although I am happy to say we have now put it online. I am also very happy to present you with this year’s special issue, Illustration (which includes one of the original Picture Books issue articles, “Design Matters” by Jon Scieszka and Molly Leach — now in color!). Note the broadening of theme: just as picture books themselves expanded beyond their traditional preschool audience in the 1980s, so have illustrators gone on to stretch the very definition of the form. While the selection of the 500-some-paged Invention of Hugo Cabret for the 2008 Caldecott Medal will probably always be a controversial choice, there is no doubt that it, along with the entrance of comics and graphic novels into the realm of children’s book respectability, makes us all think more broadly about what we mean by a “picture book.” Not to mention the resurgence of illustrations in middle-grade fiction, from Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid and Lincoln Peirce’s Big Nate to the winners of this year’s Newbery Medal (Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses, illustrated by K. G. Campbell) and Scott O’Dell Award (Kirkpatrick Hill’s Bo at Ballard Creek, illustrated by LeUyen Pham). Illustrators are showing up everywhere in books for youth these days, and we’re delighted to bring you another thirteen Studio Views (also in color!) from members of the present generation.
The New York Times’s report that picture books were in trouble (“Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” 10/7/10) was being debunked as soon at it was printed. Publishing has always been a game of trending, tacking, and correcting course as interests change and populations shift. But perhaps the alarm did force us all to make a little bit more noise about a genre whose virtues were being out-shouted by blockbuster/doorstopper YAs. And noise was something we had all become very good at since 1998, when social media meant AOL. Defenses of the picture book flew through cyberspace, campaigns to tout their use were disseminated among blogs and Facebook and Twitter. Such dialogue (and surely it’s time for a better word when it comes to conversations that routinely involve thousands of people) continues, as you can see on our Calling Caldecott blog and all the other virtual spots where pixels dance in defense of paper. While technical advances in the creation of illustrations have (as Julie Danielson shows us) made mixed media a term even more mysterious than ever, to my mind the children’s book community, fostered by the internet, has had a far greater effect on picture books than have the latest advances in Photoshop.
Are we in a picture book boom? No, and I am glad about that, because the last picture book boom that ran from the 1980s into the 1990s wasn’t pretty. I must immediately correct myself to say that it was too pretty, with lots of big, beautiful, empty books whose pictures forgot they had a job to do. I woke this morning to Facebook scoldings about an Oregon Department of Education report that too many of the state’s kindergartners were not academically prepared for first grade, that is to say, they did not read well enough. To echo another social media meme, Leave the Kindergartners Alone! It’s our job to read to them; it’s their job to look at the pictures; it’s the pictures’ job to join the story with the imaginations of those who read it and those who hear it. As the many examples in this special issue demonstrate, that job continues to be performed admirably.
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In the March/April 2014 Horn Book Magazine, reviewer K. T. Horning asked author/illustrator Byron Barton about My Bus, his latest transportation celebration. Read the starred review here.
K. T. Horning: Joe from My Bus and Sam from My Car (Greenwillow, 2001) seem to lead parallel lives. And yet Joe’s passengers are animals and Sam’s are people. Do they reside in the same town, or even the same universe?
Byron Barton: Joe and Sam live in neighboring communities. They have different bus routes. The area has changed somewhat over time, but it is only by chance that, on one day, Joe had only cats and dogs for passengers. On another day and another bus route Joe or Sam could have chickens, pigs, or people on his bus. They all love to ride on buses, cars, trains, boats, and planes.
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by Byron Barton; illus. by the author
Preschool Greenwillow 40 pp.
4/14 978-0-06-228736-6 $16.99 g
In a companion volume to My Car (rev. 11/01), we ride along with Joe as he drives Bus #123 across a bold-hued landscape populated with feline and canine passengers. “At my first stop, one dog gets on my bus. / At my second stop, two cats get on my bus.” After four stops, he points out he has five dogs and five cats riding on his bus. And here’s where the real fun for toddler transportation enthusiasts begins: Joe drops off one dog and two cats at a boat (“They sail away”), two dogs and one cat at a train, and one dog and two cats at a plane; the last little dog (“My dog!”) goes home with Joe in his car. Beyond the initial excitement many young children will feel as they share Joe’s journey and see the departing animals through the windows of their various vehicles, there is so much here for repeated readings (and there will be repeated readings). Barton ingeniously introduces the basic concepts of cardinal and ordinal numbers, addition, subtraction, and sets, but he does it all so subtly that even parents may not realize they’re getting a math lesson. And yet it’s all there for little brains to absorb and work out on their own as they “sail, ride, and fly away” again and again. Illustrated in Barton’s signature style, with bold, flat colors and with only the most important visual details included, this is a welcome companion to My Car.
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Growing up in the heart of the South, I saw firsthand how people were excluded based on skin color. I was taught that the rules weren’t the same for blacks and whites, but I also witnessed game-changers such as John Lewis and Coretta Scott King, who rose in spite of that fact. I never thought that being black or a woman would preclude me from any opportunities in life. I graduated in the top ten percent of my high school class and got into every college to which I applied.
My mother, an educator and guidance counselor, took me on a tour of my top ten schools. We met with professors, financial aid officers, and other students so that I could make an informed decision. My mother had been discouraged from pursuing her own dreams of becoming a singer, and so she always nurtured my talent. Although she herself couldn’t draw a straight line, she knew that my success would depend on my choosing a strong art program. The great news was that schools wanted me. The bad news was that most scholarships went to science majors and athletes. Undeterred, I took out thousands of dollars in loans — money I wasn’t sure I’d ever make back as an artist.
Syracuse University was my first choice. Though not in New York City (my childhood dream), it was the picture I had in my head of what college looked like. I had terrible anxiety surrounding the cost of college and the stigma of being labeled a starving artist, so I enrolled in communications design, taking illustration and creative writing as minors. I was one of only two black students in my class — both female. There was one other black student in the class ahead of me who took me under his wing as a baby designer. He pleaded with me to stay in design because, as he put it, “We need more black women.”
After my first year of design, I missed drawing and painting, and so I switched to illustration. I was then the only black female in that program. I found freedom as an illustrator and saw growth in my work. But I didn’t see myself reflected in illustration’s history. Where were the black editorial illustrators, comic makers, and book illustrators? Norman Rockwell was great, but his town didn’t look anything like mine. Maxfield Parrish was wonderful, but his angels and elves didn’t look like the ones in my head. Though most celebrated illustrators didn’t look like me, they were my only models.
I spent a semester studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and then returned to Syracuse for my senior year. There, I found that one of my instructors was Yvonne Buchanan, a black female illustrator. I was really excited to see her published work, which primarily reflected African American history. I also remember being introduced to the art of Jerry Pinkney, which made me think, “If this is what illustration is, I have a long way to go!” But I’d found a spark. I began studying the field more on my own and developing projects that might move my career forward. I worked with a local author in Atlanta that summer and made my first picture book dummy.
Senior year ended, and my future was uncertain. I had sent out promotional postcards and gotten some nice feedback, but nothing loomed on my horizon. Still, I returned home to Atlanta optimistic. I had my degree and was confident in the knowledge and experience I had gained. After some time, I landed some small freelance illustration jobs — including an easy reader with Jen Frantz, a young editor at Lee & Low Books — made a few more failed attempts at getting picture book work, and painted some commissioned portraits. Eventually a full-time position for an art teacher with the Atlanta Public Schools opened up and I took it, promising myself I would apply to grad school once my three-year provisional was up. While reading to my students every morning, I finally found myself in the pages of books like Storm in the Night, C.L.O.U.D.S., and Dancing in the Wings. These stories were about kids whose experiences reflected my own. Seeing those books gave me permission to explore ideas that interested me. I was ready to move on to the next phase of my art journey.
During my third year of teaching, I was accepted into the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts (finally — New York City!). I worked alongside nineteen other talented artists, and four of us immediately made ourselves known as “the book illustrators.” My competitive nature was fully engaged as part of “the fabulous four.” For two years, we shared books, critiqued and encouraged one another, did group portfolio drop-offs, and met with publishers. When graduation came, two members of our group — Jonathan Bean and Taeeun Yoo — landed book deals immediately, then Lauren Castillo, but not me. I was talented. I worked hard. I had knowledge of the industry and had been published in the past. I hit the pavement with my portfolio, thinking surely someone would use me, but nothing happened.
My mother had taught me to exhaust every possibility before looking to another solution, so that’s what I did. My friends helped me stay positive in those dark months. I sought guidance from Pat Cummings, who was one of the only other working black women book illustrators I knew at the time. Pat gave me a lead on part-time work assisting illustrator Christopher Myers, and on a design job where I was the only black person working in the children’s art department. I showed my colleagues my own illustration work and was told it was nice, but no book contract followed. A few weeks later, I took in samples of two of my friends’ work, and they both got offers within the month. What a blow to my ego! I was frustrated, then sad, and then angry. I worked harder and stopped making images that I thought editors wanted to see. Instead I made images that I enjoyed.
Through a serendipitous encounter at the 2007 Original Art Show opening with editor Jen Fox, then at Lee & Low Books, I landed my first big manuscript, where I found an opportunity to use the ideas and visual language that I had been experimenting with all along. That opportunity launched my career. I won the 2009 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for Bird, written by Zetta Elliott.
It’s strange being black and a woman in a field that has historically celebrated white male contributions. Before I was published, I wondered if the only way in was to write and illustrate stories about slavery and black history. When all of my graduate school friends landed book contracts before me, at times I thought, “Is it because I paint black people?” I talked myself down from that ledge, but why was I up there to begin with?
After my books were out in the world, interviewers would ask questions like, “Why do you only paint black people?” To which I would reply: My choice of characters isn’t what defines my style; it’s how I paint them and the world around them. Would you ask a white male artist why he doesn’t paint black people?
My New York chapter closed after eight years. I went home to Atlanta, with plans to try living in Paris for a year. During that time, though, my mother lost two brothers and an aunt, and I was glad to be there to support my family. Paris would have to wait. Coincidentally, illustrator R. Gregory Christie, whom I had met in New York, had recently moved to Atlanta. One day over lunch he encouraged me to apply to a position at Maryland Institute College of Art, having already given the search committee my name. I applied, gathering up all of my stories, successes, and failures from the past. The next adventure was calling.
As a professor of illustration, I understand how important it is to be visible and accessible to other artists who are looking for guidance. I now have a range of books under my belt, and my attitude about the industry has certainly shifted. Looking to the future, in addition to collaborating with talented authors I know that I will be illustrating stories I write myself, and I will do my part in reflecting a more inclusive vision of our world. The industry still has a way to go in publishing stories that reflect our diversity. As an artist and illustrator of picture books, I look forward to being a model for those who are looking for themselves in their pages.
From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Illustration.
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The Impossible Knife of Memory
by Laurie Halse Anderson
High School Viking 371 pp.
1/14 978-0-670-01209-1 $18.99 g
Hayley Kincain has spent the last five years riding shotgun in her father’s rig, discussing fractions and evolution — an on-the-road version of home schooling. Constant movement has helped keep the past at bay for both Hayley and her dad, a recent veteran plagued by graphic flashbacks and screaming nightmares. When they settle down so Hayley can attend her hometown high school for senior year, the dangerous memories threaten to overtake them both. Hayley’s caustic observations about the “fully assimilated zombies” who swarm the halls and the oxymoronic “required volunteer community service” are trademark Anderson. Old friend Gracie shares childhood memories with Hayley, but her stories draw blanks. What Hayley does remember, and can’t forgive, is her father’s girlfriend Trish walking out on them. Now Trish has reappeared, and Hayley blames her for making Dad’s drunken rages and blackouts even worse. How can she possibly care about math? Sweet, “adorkable” Finn offers to tutor her; he is smart enough to take it slow, and as she falls for him he even coaxes her to dare to think about a future. As ever, Anderson has the inside track on the emotional lives of adolescents; she plays high school clichés for laughs but compassionately depicts Hayley’s suffering as well as the hurts of Finn and Gracie, whose families are struggling with their own demons. The novel’s theme is woven artfully throughout as both Hayley and her dad fight the flashes of memory that are sure to tear them apart unless they confront them once and for all.
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The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
by Lois Ehlert; illus. by the author
Primary Beach Lane/Simon 72 pp.
3/14 978-1-4424-3571-1 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-3572-8 $10.99
In a generously illustrated picture book memoir, Ehlert speaks directly to her audience, particularly readers who like collecting objects and making things. Aptly titled, the book is jam-packed with art from her books and photos from her life, beginning with pictures of her parents, the house she grew up in, and the small wooden table where she was encouraged to pursue her own art projects. Along the way, we see how autobiographical her books have been. There are her mother’s scissors and her father’s tools (used in Hands, rev. 9/97), and her sister’s cat (the star of Feathers for Lunch, rev. 11/90). The small,
square volume uses the same distinctive typeface seen in most of Ehlert’s books and serves as a reminder of her unique color sense and recurring subjects:
flowers, leaves, fruits and vegetables, cats and birds. In addition to the large text for children, she includes smaller hand-written notes to fill in details, much as her books use a smaller sans serif text to label birds, plants, etc. We are treated to a description of her creative process including reproductions of thumbnail illustrations and detailed sketches. In the final stage of building collages, she uses whatever is at hand and enjoys making messes. “I use old tools to create texture; I splash paint with a toothbrush or rub a crayon over my grater.” Ehlert emerges as a woman who lives a good life surrounded by the objects and colors that make her happy. She wants the same for her readers, ending the book with “I wish you a colorful life!”
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Cindy found this one, The Light at Tern Rock by Julia Sauer, a Newbery Honor Book in 1952–and originally published in the Horn Book Magazine in 1949. This would seem to break the award’s rule about “original work,” that the “text is presented here for the first time and has not been previously published elsewhere in this or any other form.” But maybe the rule was different then? Or perhaps here as so often, he says, drawing his emeralds warmly about him*, the Horn Book was above any such petty restrictions as criteria.
K.T. Horning, do you know?
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by Rosemary Wells;
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Candlewick 32 pp.
3/14 978-0-7636-1495-9 $15.99
Somewhere in the mountains, Stella the fox and her parents live in a mobile home by the side of the road. The Starliner meets all their needs. “Inside was a room for sleeping and a room for being awake. There was a kitchen and a radio and a sofa that turned into a bed.” Daddy comes home from work on the weekends, and there are pancakes on Sunday mornings and fishing on Sunday afternoons. During the week there are trips to the market and visits to the bookmobile. This peaceful life snags for Stella when a gang of weasels mock her home and call her “poor.” She tries to hide her hurt to protect Mama’s feelings, but her intuitive mother sees. Meanwhile something magical happens as the Starliner, hitched to Daddy’s truck, flies through the night sky toward palm trees, the ocean, and new bunny neighbors who see value in this “sterling silver” house. Packaged within silver starry-sky endpapers, the illustrations (in watercolor, gouache, pastel, ink, and colored pencil on sanded paper) vary in size from spot art to a striking double-page spread of the flying Starliner. Backgrounds are full of symbols that deepen the story, and words and images work effectively together to develop the setting and this loving family looking out for one another.
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Transgender Teens Speak Out
by Susan Kuklin
High School Candlewick 182 pp.
2/14 978-0-7636-5611-9 $22.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7035-1 $22.99
Rather than attempting to convey the spectrum of transgender experience through a multitude of voices, Kuklin tries something different here, focusing on just six young people whose gender identity is something other than what it was labeled at birth. All six take gender-altering hormones; four were birth-designated male and two female, but in all cases there is no confusion about who they are now. Christina, born Matthew, looks forward to a complete transition (“It would be so great if I could get an operation, if I could get my vagina”), while Cameron says, “I like to be recognized as not a boy and not a girl. I’m gender queer, gender fluid, and gender other.” In her edited transcriptions of the interviews, Kuklin lets her subjects speak wholly for themselves, and while their bravery is heartening, their bravado can be heartbreaking. But who expects teenagers to be tentative? Photographs (of most of the subjects) are candid and winning; and appended material, including Kuklin’s explanation of her interview process, a Q&A with the director of a clinic for transgendered teens, and a great resource list, is valuable.
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