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1. Ramona in the 21st-Century Library

klickitat_street“‘Oh, did people write that in those days, too?’ Beezus was surprised, because she had thought this was something very new to write in an autograph album…” (Beezus and Ramona)

Sometimes a book becomes quickly dated, and sometimes it easily crosses decades or generations. Beezus finds this is also true for autograph albums, and she makes an important parallel discovery that brings her much hope for the future: her mother and beloved aunt grew up to be close, though they fought as children as intensely as she and Ramona do. (Aunt Beatrice ruined Mother’s autograph album by signing every page!) It is okay not to love one’s little sister all the time. These days, autograph albums may be out of fashion, but the theme of sibling rivalry never goes out of style.

cleary_beezus and ramona redBeverly Cleary published Beezus and Ramona sixty-one years ago. At the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts, where I manage youth services and oversee youth collection development, I checked in on Ramona in the twenty-first century.

The city of Cambridge has a diverse population that truly supports and uses its public libraries. The Children’s Room in particular is a fantastic community gathering space where kids from all backgrounds come alone or with friends or family to read and make discoveries. For the past decade, our Children’s Room book circulation has grown significantly every year, and almost fifty percent of the total number of items goes out every month. We strive to have something for each reader, with multiple copies of the books that “everyone” is reading. We want all children to find books with characters and situations they can relate to and recognize as well as books with characters and situations unlike those they know. As much as possible, we want readers to be able to find both the book they came in for (even if it is very popular) along with the one they did not know they wanted.

How does Ramona fare in such an environment?

cleary_beezus and ramonaEach of our six branches owns copies of Beverly Cleary’s books, and the Main Library owns extra copies of each — ten copies of the most popular titles — and audio editions and some versions in other languages. Beverly Cleary’s books all circulate multiple times a year, with Ramona’s titles going out more than the others. The Ramona audiobooks, engagingly performed by Stockard Channing, circulate even better than the printed books. Twenty-first-century characters who are often compared to Ramona — such as Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine, Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho, and Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody and Stink — are in high demand at our library, but over the past year the print versions of Ramona held ten to twenty percent higher circulation figures than those other series.

CPL_clearybooks

Cleary shelves at the Cambridge Public Library. Photo: Lolly Robinson.

Numbers can only tell so much, so I asked the parent/child book group I facilitate what they think. This group consists of about twenty people, ten kids between the ages of seven and ten and usually their ten grownups (although we can and do have kids who join solo). The group includes boys and girls from different schools and a wide range of backgrounds, and everyone — child and adult — reads and participates. Their varied takes on the books we read consistently blow my mind, and they are quite practiced at telling me how they really feel about what they are reading.

I let everyone know about the article I was writing and casually asked, “Have any of you ever read the Ramona books?”

All hands shot up and enthusiastic chatter erupted around the table.

When I asked if they remembered how they first discovered the Ramona books, I got an interesting assortment of answers. One girl’s mom read them to her. Another found out about them from a school friend.

cleary_beezus and ramona updateOne boy said, “My librarian at school gave me that book about Ralph. The mouse? And then I found the Ramona books next to it on the shelf. And I really liked those.”

While I was taking in this response, absorbing what insight it might offer about assumptions, shelf order, and readers’ advisory, another girl brought me back to the present in a pitying tone:

“There was the movie, you know…” [2010’s Ramona and Beezus]

Right.

“Well,” I told them, “Beverly Cleary, who wrote the Ramona books, is celebrating a big birthday this year. She’s going to be one hundred years old…”

Gasp.

“Is she still alive?!”

“Is she coming here!?!”

“Let’s have her come here!!!”

“She is very much alive! But she wrote the Ramona books a long time ago. I read them when I was your age. The first one was written in 1955…[dramatic pause] Do they seem old-fashioned to you?”

Silence and thinking and looking around at each other.

“Some things a little bit. But not the way she fights with her sister!” declared a boy, which inspired a lot of vocal solidarity from around the table.

ramona and beezus movie“Ramona is funny,” smiled another girl.

The mom who had read the books aloud to her daughter interjected an important point: “Some of the details in the first ones are a bit dated now. But they were written over such a long period of time…The last ones weren’t written all that long ago.”

Though Ramona only ages about six years in those eight books, the series itself spans forty-four years, from 1955 to 1999.

“Are we going to read Ramona next?” another boy wanted to know.

Inspired by their enthusiasm, I re-read the series myself. I have often revisited my old friend Ramona, whom I first met when I was in second grade, thanks to my own school librarian. The Quimby family taught me, an only child like Beverly Cleary, the nuances of a sibling dynamic better than a graduate-level psychology class could. Even now, I continue to make new connections and discoveries when reading these books.

Through all these years, nothing much has changed about being little and not having much control. The issues Cleary addresses in her books are ones our children still deal with, and they can be scary and isolating. What if my family is keeping a secret from me? What if my family doesn’t have enough money? What if my dad loses his job? What if I don’t like my sibling? What if there is a new baby coming? What if my parents get divorced? What if my teacher doesn’t understand me? What if I do something cruel? What if someone does something cruel to me?

Cleary_tattoo2

Beth McIntyre, former Cambridge Public librarian (now Madison County Poblic librarian, Wisconsin), shows off her Ramona Quimby Q tattoo. Photo: Beth McIntyre.

The plot points and details are honest and not sanitized for anyone’s benefit. Be it 1975 or 2016, sometimes a kid really does need to blow off steam by singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” in its entirety as loudly as possible for all the neighbors to hear.

When Cleary’s characters experience fear, love, jealousy, boredom, anger, or worry, we all recognize those emotions. She brings them sharply into focus. They are emotions we have felt and will keep feeling, but maybe up until that moment, we thought we were the only ones. What a relief to share the burden. What a relief to find that even if things don’t turn out as planned, there is hope and probably a really good laugh to be had as well.

Why, thought Beezus, Aunt Beatrice used to be every bit as awful as Ramona. And yet look how nice she is now. Beezus could scarcely believe it. And now Mother and Aunt Beatrice, who had quarreled when they were girls, loved each other and thought the things they had done were funny! They actually laughed about it. Well, maybe when she was grown-up she would think it was funny that Ramona had put eggshells in one birthday cake and baked her rubber doll with another. Maybe she wouldn’t think Ramona was so exasperating, after all. Maybe that was just the way things were with sisters. (Beezus and Ramona)

Maybe, Beezus. Maybe.

Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary! We love you in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You have brought us so much laughter and confidence — as we have grown both as readers and as humans. You have made our many troubles easier to bear. You have connected us, generation to generation, family to family, by showing us what we have in common as people.

We hope you have the best birthday cake — free of eggshells and baked-in rubber dolls.

We all want autograph albums.

We want you to sign every page.

From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary! For more, click the tag Beverly Cleary at 100.

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2. Review of Our Moon: New Discoveries About 
Earth’s Closest Companion

scott_our moonOur Moon: New Discoveries About Earth’s Closest Companion
by Elaine Scott
Intermediate   Clarion   72 pp.
2/16   978-0-547-48394-8   $18.99   g

This deep dive into the science of the moon includes explanations of its formation and composition, as well as details about the all-important Apollo missions (1963–1972) and the latest in lunar exploration. Scott begins with a history of human surmise on the moon’s appearance, including the maps of early astronomers. Subsequent chapters provide the latest scientific consensus (known as the “giant impact theory”) on the creation of the moon during the earliest days of the formation of our solar system, the formation of craters and maria, and on the geology of moon materials (the so-called “moon rocks”) that were collected during the Apollo missions. Most exciting is the final chapter, in which lunar missions from 2007 to 2014 — and the scientists who worked on them — are profiled. During this timeframe, scientists have confirmed the presence of water on the moon, examined its dust, atmosphere, and gravitational field, and are currently considering what it would take for humans to live on the moon. Color photos and additional text boxes found on nearly every page are as informative as the main narrative. Appended with an extensive glossary; a brief list of further resources, both online and in print; and an index.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Earth’s Closest Companion appeared first on The Horn Book.

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Earth’s Closest Companion as of 1/1/1900
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3. A Second Look: The Long Life of a Mockingbird

mockingbird1To make a Tequila Mockingbird, chill your martini glass and cocktail shaker in the freezer. After half an hour, remove the shaker,  throw in a handful of ice, one and a half ounces of tequila, three quarters of an ounce creme de menthe, and the juice of one lime. Shake vigorously, pour into a chilled glass, and garnish with a lime. Best enjoyed on an evening when it’s warm enough to linger on a veranda, but not so hot that ladies are reduced, as Alabama-born author Harper Lee so memorably described, to “soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”

To Kill a Mockingbird has inspired odder and greater things than the combination of creme de menthe and tequila. July 11, 2010, marked the fiftieth anniversary of Lee’s venerated, controversial, and unavoidable book. Celebrations were everywhere. Special readings and panel discussions took place in locales from Vermont to Alabama to Washington, the 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck in his Oscar-winning role was shown in numerous theaters and libraries across the country, and a bookstore in Santa Cruz, California, hosted a reenactment of the famous courtroom scene. Not even the satirical paper The Onion could resist Mockingbird mania with this spoof headline: “Senate Unable to Get Enough Republican Votes to Honor ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.'” Not everyone, however, was extolling Mockingbird‘s praises. In a June 24, 2010, Wall Street Journal article, “What ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Isn’t,” journalist Allen Barra kicked Harper Lee out of the canon of great Southern writers. He called Atticus a “repository of cracker-barrel epigrams” and the book as a whole “a sugar-coated myth of Alabama’s past that millions have come to accept.” Though Barra argued that Mockingbird’s “bloodless liberal humanism is sadly dated,” last summer’s celebrations showed how great a hold it has on readers’ memories and their hearts.

to-kill-a-mockingbird-movie-poster-1963-1020144082Now that the anniversary hoopla has subsided, will this classic that was never meant to be a blockbuster–or a children’s book, for that matter–be quietly retired? No. If anything, the fiftieth anniversary reminds us how this book has become so much more than a book. It has generated not just a cocktail but song lyrics, band names, and children’s and dogs’ names, and myriad young adult books have been inspired by its power. Mockingbird has become a part of the public subconscious, a literary and a cultural touchstone.

To attend high school in the United States is to be required to read Mockingbird. First published in 1960, this novel shocked its debut author and her publisher when it won the Pulitzer Prize and became a best seller. Since then, Mockingbird has sold nearly one million copies a year, and for the past five years has been the second-best-selling backlist title in the country. (Eat your hearts out, Stephenie Meyer and J. K. Rowling.) But how did Mockingbird become a book for youth? Is it because the narrator, Scout, is a young tomboy? Or is it because the novel is both a bildungsroman and a suspenseful courtroom drama? Or was Mockingbird eventually labeled a children’s book simply because Flannery O’Connor mused, “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book”? Given Mockingbird‘s cultural permeation and multigenerational readership, it appears to be a true example of a “book for all ages.”

Mockingbird‘s hold on grown-up minds is certainly evident in the many pop-culture allusions, both obvious and subtle, to Lee’s only book. Celebrity magazine readers are probably aware that Demi Moore and Bruce Willis named their daughter Scout after Lee’s precocious protagonist. Watchers of the television show Gilmore Girls probably caught the literary reference when Rory says that “every town needs as many Boo Radleys as they can get.” And Simpsons viewers young and old undoubtedly laughed when Homer complained about reading: “Books are useless! I only ever read one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds! Sure it taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin… but what good does that do me?”

Mockingbird has also entered the twitterverse via Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less by Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin. Aciman and Rensin have Scout narrate as @BooScout in a voice condensed to short, often snarky observations. Here’s @BooScout’s response to Atticus’s advice that to understand a person you must put yourself in his shoes: “Why does Dad say such LAME shit? I don’t want to walk a mile in ANYONE else’s shoes. Toe jam, nail fungus, athlete’s foot anybody? Gosh.” High literature Twitterature is not, but anyone who has studied Mockingbird with a long-winded lecturer will appreciate @BooScout’s humor and brevity: “Went to the trial. Tom seems innocent. Also, it occurs that our town is full of racists. Perhaps only the eyes of a child can see the truth.”

Beyond pop culture, Mockingbird has long provided the legal arena with both inspiration and fodder for discussion. Atticus’s courtroom defense of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, is the subject of law school classes and law review articles. Would Atticus’s argument that Tom physically couldn’t have harmed Mayella Ewell hold water in a contemporary courtroom? Does Atticus deserve our veneration? In his August 10, 2009, New Yorker article “The Courthouse Ring,” Malcolm Gladwell takes Atticus to task for his legal performance. Gladwell argues that instead of challenging the racist status quo, Atticus simply encourages jurors “to swap one of their prejudices for another.” He also finds Atticus’s decision to have Scout lie about what actually happened the night Bob Ewell attacked her and her brother Jem problematic: “Understand what? That her father and the Sheriff have decided to obstruct justice in the name of saving their beloved neighbor the burden of angel-food cake?” Whether Atticus is a brilliant attorney or a courtroom wimp, the fact that Gladwell and legal scholars are even debating his aptitude with the seriousness they might read Supreme Court decisions speaks of Mockingbird‘s clout.

ellsworth_mockingbirdLike its impact on pop culture, Mockingbird‘s presence in literature is a combination of overt tributes and almost subconscious allusions. In Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird (2010), author Mary McDonagh Murphy interviews writers, journalists, and artists from Oprah Winfrey to Tom Brokaw about how Mockingbird affected their lives. Her interviews with authors including James Patterson, Adriana Trigiani, and Lizzie Skurnick exemplify how this classic, though often read in childhood, can have a lasting hold on writers. Patterson loved it because he identified with Jem and “the suspense was unusual in terms of books that I had read at that point, books that … had really powerful drama which really did hook you. Obviously I try to do [that] with my books.” Skurnick, author of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, recalls Scout being more fascinating than the “grand themes of justice” in the second half of the book. Everyone interviewed, regardless of vocation, has a story about how Mockingbird touched him or her in a memorable way.

Young adult books such as Jan Marino’s 1997 novel Searching for Atticus and Loretta Ellsworth’s 2007 In Search of Mockingbird aremarino_searching unabashed love letters to Mockingbird and maybe even Harper Lee herself. Both books feature teenage girls who set out on quests of self-discovery with Mockingbird as their inspiration. In Atticus, Tessa Ramsey tries to reconnect with her surgeon father who has returned from the Vietnam War, while in In Search of Mockingbird Erin runs away from Minnesota to find the reclusive author of her favorite book. Also Known as Harper (2009) by Ann Haywood Leal, National Book Award winner Mockingbird (2010) by Kathryn Erskine, and The Mockingbirds (2010) by Daisy Whitney pay homage to Harper Lee, with varying degrees of genuflection and success.The impact of To Kill a Mockingbird on a text is not always apparent from the title. Sometimes the novel is used in a story as a character litmus test: if a protagonist is reading it and loves it, readers know he or she is a good person–extra points if the copy is dog-eared and not required homework reading. In a similar vein, though Atticus might not be named in a text, it is hard not to think of him in any middle-grade or young adult novel with a courtroom setting. (Monster by Walter Dean Myers and John Grisham’s foray into children’s books Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer come to mind.)

collins_mockingjayIt’s even harder, if not impossible, to see words closely resembling mockingbird on a page and not think of Lee’s work. Suzanne Collins, whether intentionally or not, recalls To Kill a Mockingbird with her mockingjay creature in the Hunger Games trilogy. In the final book of the series, Mockingjay, Collins’s protagonist Katniss describes a mockingjay, a combination of a (fictional) jabberjay and a mockingbird, as “the symbol of the revolution” and goes on to explain why she must represent the mockingjay herself and “become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution.” Katniss’s understanding of the emblematic importance of the mockingjay brings to mind Scout’s discussion with Miss Maudie Atkinson about why she should never shoot a mockingbird: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

To Kill a Mockingbird is perhaps our foremost example of the private reading experience writ larger by its communal–and now multigenerational–replication. Fans and the indifferent alike can remember when and where they were when they read the book, voluntarily or not, for the first time. Recollection of that memory of reading, perhaps even more than the book itself, is the reason To Kill a Mockingbird has become an enduring metaphor for justice, goodness, and the bittersweetness of growing up.

From the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. See also “From the Guide: More Mockingbird.”

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4. Review of Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!

falatko_snappsy the alligatorSnappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!
by Julie Falatko; illus. by Tim Miller
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-46945-8   $16.99   g

The omniscient narration begins normally enough: “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.” After a bit more in this vein, Snappsy turns to the reader: “This is terrible!…Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?” So proceeds this book-length sparring match between the exasperated protagonist (“You’re an awful narrator. You’re just describing what you see in the illustrations”) and an offstage storyteller-foil who criticizes Snappsy (“The story is really boring now”), ignores his pleas to scram, and saddles him with unwanted idiosyncrasies, including a predilection for foods that begin with the letter P. The story’s meta aspect, the alligator’s rib-tickling madder-by-the-minute agitation, and the simple primary-color-avoidant illustrations outlined in black may all owe a debt to Mo Willems — but it’s still a pretty terrific book. It’s distinguished by Falatko’s ability to sustain the tension at length; by Miller’s savory palette, largely in underripe greens and purples; and by the unvoiced suggestion that when fiction is working well, a character can take on a life of his or her own.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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5. Review of Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!

falatko_snappsy the alligatorSnappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!
by Julie Falatko; illus. by Tim Miller
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-46945-8   $16.99   g

The omniscient narration begins normally enough: “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.” After a bit more in this vein, Snappsy turns to the reader: “This is terrible!…Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?” So proceeds this book-length sparring match between the exasperated protagonist (“You’re an awful narrator. You’re just describing what you see in the illustrations”) and an offstage storyteller-foil who criticizes Snappsy (“The story is really boring now”), ignores his pleas to scram, and saddles him with unwanted idiosyncrasies, including a predilection for foods that begin with the letter P. The story’s meta aspect, the alligator’s rib-tickling madder-by-the-minute agitation, and the simple primary-color-avoidant illustrations outlined in black may all owe a debt to Mo Willems — but it’s still a pretty terrific book. It’s distinguished by Falatko’s ability to sustain the tension at length; by Miller’s savory palette, largely in underripe greens and purples; and by the unvoiced suggestion that when fiction is working well, a character can take on a life of his or her own.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Review of Maybe a Fox

appelt_maybe a foxMaybe a Fox
by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee
Intermediate, Middle School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   261 pp.
3/16   978-1-4424-8242-5   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-8244-9   $10.99

Eleven-year-old Jules, a budding geologist, and her twelve-year-old sister Sylvie, the fastest kid in school, live with their father in rural Vermont. Because the girls’ mother died when Jules was small, her memories, frustratingly, are dim. She does remember the awful sight of their mother collapsing onto the kitchen floor, and then six-year-old Sylvie sprinting as fast as she could to get help, but it was too late. And now Sylvie is the one who has disappeared: one morning before school she takes off running in the woods and never comes back; they think she tripped into the river and was swept away. At the same time, a fox kit, Senna, is born, with the instinctual desire to watch over and protect Jules. Because foxes are considered good luck, Jules’s occasional glimpses of Senna bring her some peace. A catamount, too, is rumored to be in the woods, along with a bear, and at book’s climax, the human, animal, and (most affectingly) spirit worlds collide and converge. This is a remarkably sad story that offers up measures of comfort through nature, family, community, and the interconnectedness among them. The sisters’ best friend, Sam, who is himself grieving for Sylvie and desperately longs to see that catamount, is happy to have his brother Elk home from Afghanistan, but Elk’s own best friend Zeke didn’t return, leaving Elk bereft; he and Jules mourn their losses in the woods. Zeke’s grandmother is the one to whom Sylvie ran when their mother collapsed and who now brings soup for Jules, and for her kind, stoic, heartbroken father. A good cry can be cathartic, and this book about nourishing one’s soul during times of great sadness does the trick.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. Review of Murphy in the City

provensen_murphy in the cityMurphy in the City
by Alice Provensen; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Simon   32 pp.
11/15   978-1-4424-1971-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-1832-4   $10.99

The small, busy, curious, noisy farm terrier from A Day in the Life of Murphy (rev. 7/03) is on his way to the big city with his family for a day of adventures (visits to a dog park and a doggie boutique) and misadventures (wandering off and a resultant brief stay at the animal shelter). Murphy’s unbounded energy is reflected in bustling city scenes that often include multiple images of Murphy; one particularly effective 
double-page spread contains three stacked horizontal panels in which a progression of Murphys explores a crowded and fascinating sidewalk — humans seen only from the knees down — after his accidental escape out the back door of the doggie boutique. This sense of motion and energy is 
reinforced in the all-caps typeface and in the endpapers — a riot of paw prints going every which way — not to mention Murphy’s own spiky fur, hyper-alert gazes, and many BARK BARK BARKs. The arc of the story, from early-morning enthusiasm to late-night exhaustion, will be both satisfying and familiar to children, who often follow that same arc in their own lives. After such a hectic and exciting day full of new sights, sounds, and experiences, everyone will be happy that Murphy ends up back home, curled up in the hay in the barn with his familiar toys: “Dear sock, good old bone, good old stick. / Sigh. / Good night.”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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8. Review of Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather

lin_ling and ting together in all weatherstar2 Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather
by Grace Lin; illus. by the author
Primary   Little, Brown   44 pp.
11/15   978-0-316-33549-2   $16.00

In this fourth book in the sweet and funny easy-reader series (Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same, rev. 7/10, and sequels), six brief chapters take the twins through the 
seasons, together. In the first story, a thunderstorm finds them hiding under a blanket: they are not scared, just 
“surprised.” On a hot summer day they sell all their 
lemonade — to each other. Raking leaves has to be done all over again, since first Ting’s red hat and then Ling’s might be at the bottom of the pile (later in the book, Ling’s hat turns up, at first mistaken for an unusual spring flower). In the winter, Ting claims to be sick so she can avoid shoveling snow; Ling’s recipe for some “old Chinese medicine” (a smelly simmering of onions, ginger, dirt, an old sock, etc.) drives a suddenly recovered Ting out of bed, snow shovel in hand. The final story finds the twins looking for a rainbow and finding two. “They are twin rainbows!” says Ting. “Just like us!…We are so lucky to be together!” As always, the girls’ personalities shine through in both text and illustrations (and Ting is still differentiated by her jagged bangs). Each chapter employs a different-color border around the bold gouache illustrations, giving the book a predictable and unifying visual structure. An artist’s note says, “The color palette was inspired by the sudden appearance of a bright rainbow on a gray, glum day.” That’s how the whole book feels.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Review of Amazing Places

hopkins_amazing placesAmazing Places
selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illus. by Chris Soentpiet and 
Christy Hale
Primary, Intermediate   Lee & Low   40 pp.
10/15   978-1-60060-653-3   $18.95

The amazing places mentioned in the title of this poetry collection are all in the United States, with their locations marked on a map on the endpapers. The specificity of the places is a real strength of this compilation, with each of the fourteen poems centering on one particular location and the experience of being there. The focus is as much on people as on scenery, with many of the poems written in the first person, as with Janet Wong’s “Campfire,” set in Denali National Park: “Just think— / when Mother was my age, / she could build a fire / with sparks from rocks.” The art shows the mountain range in sunset colors, with firelight creating a cozy spot for mother and daughter to connect. While some poems are set in nature (Prince Redcloud’s “Niagara”; Nikki Grimes’s “Tree Speaks,” about Grand Canyon National Park), others are about historical sites, like Joseph Bruchac’s poem set in a longhouse at the Oneida Nation Museum in Wisconsin. Soentpiet and Hale combine their talents to showcase the special elements of a place (size or majesty or vibrancy) as well as the response of people to it, conveying powerful emotion and interactions through facial expressions and body language. Hopkins has gathered together an impressively diverse and talented group of poets for this polished and inspiring collection, which concludes with additional information about the places in the poems and source notes.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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10. Review of The Red Hat

teague_red hatThe Red Hat
by David Teague; 
illus. by Antoinette Portis
Primary   Disney-Hyperion   40 pp.
12/15   978-1-4231-3411-4   $16.99

With a nod to Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon, and with much of its tenderness, this fable-like story tells of Billy Hightower, whose isolated life atop “the world’s tallest building” changes when another skyscraper is built alongside it and Billy catches a glimpse of “the girl in the red hat.” Billy longs to communicate with the girl, but his various attempts fail, repeatedly foiled by the wind. First the wind snatches away Billy’s words, then it derails his paper-airplane missive. Finally it pulls Billy himself (wrapped in a parachute-like red blanket) off his building and into the sky, and deposits the boy on a noisy, gritty, confusing city street. Undaunted, he finds his way to the girl’s tower and is united with her. The ever-present antagonist here is the wind, pictured as a glossy, lightly embossed, swirling pattern on each page, a turquoise line against the restrained palette of black, white, taupe, sky-blue, and crimson. Teague’s rhythmical and unadorned text is fleshed out by Portis’s graphically arresting compositions. The color red, for example, has its own character and plot: the temporary roadblock of a red light, the welcoming red carpet, the subtly recurring shape of a red heart. When this love story ends with the words “The Beginning,” we believe it.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Review of Dylan the Villain

campbell_dylan the villainDylan the Villain
by K. G. Campbell; illus. by the author
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-47642-5   $17.99   g

“‘Congratulations,’ said the doctor. ‘It’s a healthy little super-villain!’” Sweet, unsuspecting new parents Mr. and Mrs. Snivels are surprised by this development (and by the fact that they just “happened to have a baby”), but not disappointed. They tell their son Dylan, born wearing a purple mask and a fiendish expression, that he’s “the very best and cleverest super-villain in the whole wide world!” Dylan thinks so, too, until he goes to school and meets Addison Van Malice (sporting blue Princess Leia–style hair and a swashbuckling eye patch), who out-evils Dylan at every turn. Campbell’s soft-focus illustrations — rendered in watercolor and colored pencil on tea-stained paper — give all the characters personality, even those without speaking roles. The classroom of small villains is a hoot, and there are lots of dastardly details in the not-at-all-villainous art. The well-paced narrative’s comedic timing reinforces the absurdity of the premise. When a “most diabolical robot”–building contest is announced, Dylan seizes the chance to prove he’s more fiendish than Addison: “That hideous trophy…will be mine! All MINE!” And it is, after Dylan accidentally-on-purpose sends Addison and her menacing robot into space. And that’s that…or is it? In a satisfying twist, the final pages give Addison the last “MU-HA-HA-HA!!”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Preview March/April 2016 Horn Book Magazine

March/April 2016 Horn Book MagazneBeverly Cleary’s 100th birthday: To mark the occasion, publisher David Reuther; authors Elaine Scott, Varian Johnson, Kurtis Scaletta, Kate Messner, and Tony DiTerlizzi; and librarian Julie Roach reflect on Beverly Cleary’s work.

Ibi Zoboi on building a “Fine Bookshelf” of mirror books. Plus, her interview with authors Edwidge Danticat and Rita Williams-Garcia.

The Writer’s Page: Marc Aronson discusses writing narrative nonfiction (versus informational nonfiction) with his wife Marina Budhos.

Field Notes: Betty Carter wonders what new chapter-book readers miss from the picture-book section.

Spring 2016 Publishers’ Previews.

From The Guide: Narrative Nonfiction.

Audiobook reviews.

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13. Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem

viorst_what are you glad aboutWhat Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person Needs a Poem
by Judith Viorst; illus. by Lee White
Primary, Intermediate   Dlouhy/Atheneum   102 pp.
2/16   978-1-4814-2355-7   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-2355-1   $10.99

Viorst’s most famous book is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and this collection of over fifty poems expresses the same wry humor and sharp observation about the range of feelings children experience in their everyday lives. Viorst plays with school subjects such as reading, writing, and “arithmetrick” (in the “School Stuff” section), and there are poems about competition with friends (the “Friends and Other People” section), bossy moms (“About the Family”), and the mystery of time sometimes seeming fast and sometimes slow. But the strongest poems go to the heart of feelings, such as worrying: “I like the sun hot on my back. / If killer sharks did not attack, / I’d like beaches.” One especially poignant piece deals with breaking up with a best friend: “We’ve never had an argument, or even a small fuss, / But I’m not my best friend’s best friend anymore.” White’s illustrations bring zany humor to the poems, and even sometimes add their own little twist, as in “Whoops,” where a poem about trying to reach something high up is pictured with someone reaching for a treasure chest on the back of a dragon. From a riff on The Sound of Music (“My Least Favorite Things”) to a clever poem pondering the purpose of toes, this collection will delight kids and the adults who read it aloud, too.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem appeared first on The Horn Book.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
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14. Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem

viorst_what are you glad aboutWhat Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person Needs a Poem
by Judith Viorst; illus. by Lee White
Primary, Intermediate   Dlouhy/Atheneum   102 pp.
2/16   978-1-4814-2355-7   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-2355-1   $10.99

Viorst’s most famous book is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and this collection of over fifty poems expresses the same wry humor and sharp observation about the range of feelings children experience in their everyday lives. Viorst plays with school subjects such as reading, writing, and “arithmetrick” (in the “School Stuff” section), and there are poems about competition with friends (the “Friends and Other People” section), bossy moms (“About the Family”), and the mystery of time sometimes seeming fast and sometimes slow. But the strongest poems go to the heart of feelings, such as worrying: “I like the sun hot on my back. / If killer sharks did not attack, / I’d like beaches.” One especially poignant piece deals with breaking up with a best friend: “We’ve never had an argument, or even a small fuss, / But I’m not my best friend’s best friend anymore.” White’s illustrations bring zany humor to the poems, and even sometimes add their own little twist, as in “Whoops,” where a poem about trying to reach something high up is pictured with someone reaching for a treasure chest on the back of a dragon. From a riff on The Sound of Music (“My Least Favorite Things”) to a clever poem pondering the purpose of toes, this collection will delight kids and the adults who read it aloud, too.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem appeared first on The Horn Book.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem as of 1/1/1900
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15. Review of The Smell of Other People’s Houses

hitchcock_smell of other people's housesThe Smell of Other People’s Houses
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Middle School, High School   Lamb/Random   228 pp.
2/16   978-0-553-49778-6   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-49779-3   $20.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-553-49780-9   $10.99

Through sensory details that viscerally evoke the story’s physical and emotional landscapes, readers are transported to 1970s Birch Park, Alaska, where hunting and fishing are both livelihood and way of life for most families. As the book’s title suggests, richly described scents are pervasive. Sixteen-year-old Ruth associates the smell of freshly cut deer meat with her happy early-childhood home, in sharp contrast to the clinical, Lemon Pledge–clean of Gran’s house, where she and her sister have been raised in rigid austerity since their father’s death. A wealthy family’s lake house smells of cedar, while the heavily trafficked Goodwill “smells like everyone’s mud room in spring…moldy and sweaty.” Four distinct first-person narrative voices — no small feat — breathe life into the adolescent protagonists, whose engaging individual stories, thematically linked by loss and yearning throughout the seasons, are enriched by their intersections. Escaping her alcoholic father’s abuse and mother’s neglect, Dora finds a welcome haven in the bustling energy of Dumpling’s family’s fish camp. A few stolen nights with handsome Ray Stevens lands Ruth scared, alone, and pregnant on a bus to Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow, an abbey with unexpected ties to her family. While some character crossings strain credulity, all the story lines are grounded in emotional honesty.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Review of Here Comes Valentine Cat

underwood_here comes valentine catHere Comes Valentine Cat
by Deborah Underwood; 
illus. by Claudia Rueda
Preschool   Dial   88 pp.
12/16   978-0-525-42915-9   $16.99   g

Valentine’s Day has its haters, and Cat (Here Comes the Easter Cat, rev. 3/14, and sequels) is one of them. Cat can’t think of anyone to grace with a Valentine, and new neighbor Dog doesn’t seem a likely candidate, what with all the bones he annoyingly keeps lobbing over the fence. Using this series’ trademark format — offstage narrator addresses nonverbal Cat, who responds with humorous placards and body language — the book shows Cat’s escalating plans against Dog (starting, but not ending, with a few not-so-sweet Valentines), and then shows that Dog may not deserve such poor treatment. Rueda’s ink and colored-pencil illustrations, surrounded by white space, once again convey lots of information via Cat’s facial expressions and other simple cues. Young listeners should enjoy the simply delivered misunderstandings, as well as the opportunities to yell emphatically at the main character (“You can’t send Dog to the moon!”).

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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17. Review of The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton

vernick_kid from diamond streetThe Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton
by Audrey Vernick; 
illus. by Steven Salerno
Primary   Clarion   40 pp.
3/16   978-0-544-61163-4   $17.99   g

Edith Houghton was “magic on the field,” a baseball legend of the 1920s. Playing starting shortstop for the 
all-women’s professional team the Philadelphia Bobbies, she drew fans to the ballpark with her impressive offensive and defensive talent. Besides that, Edith was just ten years old; her uniform was too big, her pants kept falling down, and her too-long sleeves encumbered her play. But she was good, and the older players took “The Kid” under their wing. And that’s the real story here, told through Vernick’s conversational text. It’s not so much about the baseball action but the team — barnstorming through the Northwest U.S. playing against male teams; experiencing ship life aboard the President Jefferson on the way to Japan; playing baseball in Japan; and learning about Japanese culture. Salerno’s appealing charcoal, ink, and gouache illustrations evoke a bygone era of baseball with smudgy-looking uniforms, sepia tones, and double-page spreads for a touch of ballpark grandeur. An informative author’s note tells more of Houghton’s story — the other women’s teams she played for, her job as a major league scout for the Philadelphia Phillies, and being honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. An engaging story that reminds readers that “baseball isn’t just numbers and statistics, men and boys. Baseball is also ten-year-old girls, marching across a city to try out for a team intended for players twice their age.”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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

thunderboyjr

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

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

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

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

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

Booked by Kwame Alexander (Houghton)

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (Viking)

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (Candlewick)

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

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

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19. Review of Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game

coy_game changerGame Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game
by John Coy; illus. by Randy DuBurke
Primary, Intermediate   Carolrhoda   32 pp.
10/15   978-1-4677-2604-7   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-8810-6   $17.99

Based closely on a 1996 New York Times article by Scott Ellsworth, this picture book tells the dramatic story of an illegal college basketball game planned and played in secret in Jim Crow–era North Carolina. On a Sunday morning in 1944, while most Durham residents, including the police, were in church, the white members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team (considered “the best in the state”) slipped into the gym at the North Carolina College of Negroes to play the Eagles, a close-to-undefeated black team coached by future Hall of Famer John McClendon. What happened when “basketball of the present” (Duke’s three-man weaves and set shots) met “basketball of the future” (the Eagles’ pressure defense and fast breaks) is suspenseful, dramatic, and telling: the Eagles beat Duke 88–44. Afterward, pushing the boundaries even further, the players evened up the teams for a friendly game of shirts and skins. Coy’s succinct narrative is well paced, compelling, and multilayered, focusing on the remarkable game but also placing it in societal and historical context. DuBurke’s illustrations can be static at times but nicely capture the story’s atmosphere, from the tension of the Duke players’ covert arrival to the basketball action to the post-game geniality and then back to tension (since all parties, including several newspaper reporters, had to pledge to keep the day’s events secret to protect themselves and Coach McClendon). A fascinating story, with appeal far beyond sports- and history fans; appended with an author’s note, a timeline, and a brief bibliography.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Horn Book Magazine – January/February 2016

January/February 2016 Horn Book Magazine

Table of Contents


Features

Horn Book Fanfare by Horn Book editors
Our choices for the best books of 2015.

Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Gallery 2015
Celebrating the year’s winners and honorees.
Fiction
Nonfiction
Picture Book

“The World That Changes” by Susan Cooper
Horn Book at Simmons keynote address on the theme “Transformations.”

“Shelf Lives” by Abby McGanney Nolan
From Bookseller to Bestseller.


Columns

Editorial
“Climbing the Walls” by Roger Sutton
YA that trusts its readers.

The Writer’s Page
“On Writing the American Familia” by Meg Medina
Addressing the complexity of Latino identity in children’s literature.

Cadenza
“Storyland: You Don’t Know Jack” by Ron Koertge
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick! Jack’s a brand now. Make it stick!

From The Guide
“Spanish-Language and Bilingual Books”
A selection of reviews from The Horn Book Guide.


Reviews

Book Reviews


Departments

On the Web
January/February Starred Books
Impromptu
Index to Books Reviewed
Index to Advertisers


Cover © 2016 by Marla Frazee. Page 1 art from My Bike. Illustration © 2015 by Byron Barton.


Subscribe

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21. Editorial: Climbing the Walls

Last month, while reading and re-reading books for The Horn Book’s annual “Fanfare” discussion, I teased followers of the Read Roger blog with mention of a book that had me excited for YA publishing all over again: “Granted, the half-dozen books I have to get through before [the meeting] are themselves already separated from the herd, and granted that you can still find plenty of formula in YA publishing, but at this minute I am feeling very proud of all you YA writers and editors and publishers.”

The book — now it can be told — was Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, which is just one of several excellent YA novels to make our list of the best books of 2015, beginning in this issue on page 12. While I had known before reading it that the book was being passed around the Horn Book offices with fervent recommendations, I confess that overhearing the words ballet and horror had made me quietly resolve to ignore it if I possibly could. My mistake, and one fortunately rectified via professional obligation.

The Walls Around Us, along with A.S. King’s I Crawl Through It, Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, and Tim Wynne-Jones’s The Emperor of Any Place, all also on the Fanfare list, are recommended for high school readers. This is not to say that younger readers should be steered away from these titles, simply that the books’ complexities will probably be best and likeliest approached by sixteen-year-olds rather than the twelve-year-olds who, twenty-five years ago, were in the sweet spot of YA publishing. And by complexities I don’t mean sexual material; while contemporary YA does sometimes make me blush, none of the four books I mention is notably juicy in that regard. Rather, the challenges they present are narratorial, each of them employing shifts in point of view, register, and timeframe, along with an elastic sense of realism, to tell their stories. While these novels are very different from one another, they are united in the generous trust they have in their readers to navigate the unexpected: a helicopter you can only see on Tuesdays (I Crawl Through It)? An island where you’re haunted by your future descendants (The Emperor of Any Place)? Is he on a boat, or what (Challenger Deep)? Wait, who’s dead (The Walls Around Us)? These writers do not hold our hands through the strangenesses but instead encourage us, through confident prose, to stay with them because we don’t want to be left behind.

We have known for a while that many, maybe most, readers of contemporary YA are adults. Nothing wrong with that in itself, of course, and these four books are evidence that such readers are not necessarily looking for something easy. (I believe I have said in the past that they were and herein Take It Back.) But, except insofar as their dollars might allow YA publishing to take risks, I don’t care about adults reading YA, do you? And what I love best about our Fanfare YA choices is that none of them is an adult book in disguise; each one approaches young adulthood from the inside — even if it’s from the inside of an invisible helicopter.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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22. Review of I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, 
and Taste It, Too!)

isadora_i hear a pickle2I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!)
by Rachel Isadora; illus. by the author
Preschool   Paulsen/Penguin   32 pp.
1/16   978-0-399-16049-3   $16.99   g

Starting with a clever, attention-grabbing title, Isadora’s book about the five senses is aimed perfectly at another sense — kids’ sense of humor. Separate sections, beginning with sound and ending with taste, visit each sense in double-page spreads that contain small vignettes of children exploring their world, both indoors and out. Brief sentences describe what each child hears, smells, sees, touches, or tastes. Frequent statements about what the child doesn’t sense add levity: “I see the turtle’s shell but I don’t see the turtle”; “I don’t smell. I have a cold.” Interjections throughout, printed in italics, add read-aloud pleasure: “I touch my brother’s foot. Hee-hee. / I don’t touch my boo-boo. Ouch! / I don’t touch the plug. No-no!” Certain items are revisited in different sections: “I don’t hear the snow falling…I see the snow. I don’t see my mitten.” Delicate ink and watercolor illustrations on white backgrounds nicely elicit a young child’s point of view, such as when a girl peering over a counter can just barely see the pizza she smells. The final page wraps things up by going back to the titular pickle in all its sensory glory: “I taste the pickle. / It’s sour,” and so on until “I hear the pickle…CRUNCH!” Be sure to have a jar of baby dills on hand for this one.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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and Taste It, Too!) appeared first on The Horn Book.

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23. Review of Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow

rowell_carry onCarry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow
by Rainbow Rowell
High School   St. Martin’s Griffin   522 pp.
10/15   978-1-250-04955-1   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4668-5054-5   $9.99

In Fangirl (rev. 11/13), protagonist Cath wrote fanfiction for the fictitious “Simon Snow” fantasy series. Now Rowell has written a novel set in Simon Snow’s universe and using many conventions of fanfiction, most notably “slash” (in this case non-graphic), usually defined as a wish-fulfilling relationship between two characters of the same sex who, in the original work, are not a romantic couple. Simon, the most powerful mage in centuries, uncovers secrets during his final year at Watford School of Magicks that call into question his long-held beliefs about sharp lines between good and evil. He also begins to realize that his obsession with his probably-a-vampire roommate Baz may not be purely antagonistic. The novel is longer than it needs to be — just kiss already, Simon and Baz — and the many alternating narrators are a little dense when it comes to solving several related mysteries. But there’s plenty to enjoy along the way, including clever names for spells (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” makes oddities like dragon parts on a human unnoticeable) and plenty of wit. Reading Fangirl first isn’t strictly necessary — the brief author’s note covers the basics — and the metatextual concept is somewhere on the spectrum between confusing and fascinating, depending on one’s perspective. A working knowledge of the Harry Potter books and other popular fandoms isn’t absolutely essential either, but it makes this send-up a lot more fun.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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24. 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Speeches

While you’re gearing up for ALA Midwinter — in Boston! Home of The Horn Book! Come say hi at our booth! — you can enjoy the complete 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards speeches. Click on the tags BGHB15 and HBAS15 for timelines, pictures, and more. Photos, judges’ intros, and other information can be found in the January/February 2016 Horn Book Magazine. And as a bonus, we’re including Susan Cooper’s wonderful Horn Book at Simmons Keynote on the theme Transformations: “The World That Changes.

rundell_cartwheelingFiction Award Winner
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Fiction Honor Books

 

Nonfiction Award Winner
fleming_family-romanov_170x249The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

Nonfiction Honor Books

 

frazee_farmer-and-the-clown_17-x137Picture Book Award Winner
The Farmer and the Clown
by Marla Frazee

Picture Book Honor Books

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25. Review of A Year Without Mom

tolstikova_year without momstar2 A Year Without Mom
by Dasha Tolstikova; 
illus. by the author
Middle School   Groundwood   168 pp.
10/15   978-1-55498-692-7   $19.95
e-book ed. 978-155498-693-4   $16.95

Tolstikova’s illustrated memoir recounts the time when her mother relocated to America for graduate school and she, twelve years old, was left in the care of her grandparents in Moscow. Through present-tense narration, readers follow Dasha’s experiences chronologically as she navigates both specific and universal rites of passage, including uncertainty during the 1991 coup d’état attempt and distress when she learns that her crush, older boy Petya, has a girlfriend (who smokes cigarettes, no less!). Pencil and ink illustrations, in mostly whites and grays, emphasize the chilly setting. Color is used sparsely but to great emotional effect: bright reds on cheeks represent characters’ embarrassment; dark, smudgy grays dominate in moments of heartache. Most of the dialogue is in the same type as the main narrative but separated from it through thin speech bubbles drawn around characters’ statements. Hand-lettered text (sometimes incorporating Cyrillic) evokes mood as well, as seen when Dasha listens to her mother’s words (a letter left for her as a cassette recording) and they surround her, reflecting her longing. The author includes authentic details (including how the Russian grading system works) and, with personality and sincerity, 
creates an accessible, truthful, and relatable record for readers of a different generation.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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