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1. Welcoming Week: Q&A with Author Anne Sibley O’Brien

Welcoming Week_I'm New Here

Welcoming Week is a special time of year. Communities across the country will come together to celebrate and raise awareness of immigrants, refugees and new Americans of all kinds. Whether it’s an event at your local art gallery or showing support on social media, the goal is to let anyone new to America know just how much they are valued and welcomed during what is likely a big transition.

And the biggest transitions are happening for the littlest people.

A new country, a new home, maybe even a new language — that would be enough for any kid — but a new school, too? That subject is exactly what author Anne Sibley O’Brien addresses in her book I’m New Here, new to the First Book Marketplace.

Marissa Wasseluk and Roxana Barillas of the First Book team had the pleasure of speaking with Anne about I’m New Here, the experiences of kids new to America, and what kids can do to help create a welcoming atmosphere.

Marissa: So, and I am sure you get this question all the time, but I’m curious — what inspired or motivated you to create I’m New Here?

It’s funny, it’s such a, “where would you start?” kind of question, but I don’t remember if anyone has ever asked me that point blank because I don’t recall ever putting together this answer before. Over the years of working in schools — especially working with Margy Burns Knight with our nonfiction books: Talking Walls; Who Belongs Here and other multi-racial, multicultural, global nonfiction books — I had a lot of encounters, a lot of discussions, a lot of experiences with immigrant students and I was very aware of the kinds of cross-cultural challenges that children and teachers can experience. For instance, Cambodian children show respect by keeping their eyes down and not looking in the eyes of an adult, especially a teacher. In Cambodian culture adults don’t ever touch children’s heads. So you can immediately imagine how those kinds of things would be quite challenging when a Cambodian child comes into a U.S. classroom and suddenly two of those cultural markers are not only gone, but the opposite is what they need to learn.

Somebody might put their hand on your head — it being out of concern and wanting to make a connection — or they might say “I need you to look at me now” and not recognize that that’s cultural inappropriate for a Cambodian child. So growing that kind of awareness of the challenges that immigrant children face — that was the original impetus for the book. Just collecting some of those stories and raising awareness of how many obstacles immigrant children face. From climate to traditions in speaking and in body language, to food, to learning a new language. Not just learning a new language in terms of how you speak and read and write, but also how you interact with people, how social norms work — they just face such enormous challenges. And there were originally six characters so it was trying to cover everything.

Marissa: The characters that are in the book, they cover a child from Guatemala, a child from Korea, and a child from Somalia — did you work with these specific immigrant communities when you were creating this book?

I spoke to individual experts, such as several Somali interpreters and family liaison experts who work for the multi-lingual, multicultural office of the Portland, ME public schools. So I had that kind of expert advice to respond to what I was writing. But the original ideas mostly came from my observations, my interactions with Somali students in the classrooms that I visited. And then with Korean students I met many, many Korean students here in the US and I had my own background to draw on there.

Marissa: Can you tell me a little bit more about these classrooms that you’ve visited? We talk with a lot of educators who work with Title I schools and they often talk about how reserved the English as a second language students can be. There is a silent phase that a lot of kids go through. Have you observed that and have you shared your book with any of these first generation immigrants?

It’s certainly been shared with many. I actually just shared it with a group of students in a summer school program — about seventy students from third to fifth grade who were from East African countries and some Middle Eastern countries. Most of the group were immigrants and I read the book and then we had a discussion about being new and being welcoming. Of all the student groups that I’ve worked with, they were actually the most effusive and had the most to share in that discussion about what it feels like to be new and what you can do to welcome someone.

Marissa: What were some of the suggestions?

They had all kinds of ideas about what you could say and do to make somebody feel like they were at home. You could take them around, go through a list and say, “this is your classroom, this is your teacher, this is your playground, this is your classmate.”

Roxana: You’re taking me back – a few years back I came to the United States when I was twelve from El Salvador, speaking no English. It hits close to home in terms of the importance of the work you are doing, not just for kids who may not always feel like they belong, but also for the kids who can actually help that process be an easier one.

Welcoming Week_Anne Sibley O'BrienThat is wonderful to hear. I was just struck that they had more suggestions than any group I’d worked with, they could hardly be contained. They had so much they wanted to say and I think it’s very fresh in their minds what welcoming looks like and maybe what did or what didn’t happen for them. So the list that they wrote: welcome to my class, say hi, wave, smile, hello, say this is my classroom, these are my friends, do you want to become friends? these are my parents, this is my family, show them around, this is my chair, this is my house, this is your school, this is my teacher, can you read with me? how’s it going? I live here, where do you live? do you need help? welcome to my school.

It was the specificity of it that I just loved.

And they said what it felt like to be new. These kids went beyond with the details so they said: scared, nervous, confused, happy, sad, lonely, shy, surprised. Which is what I get with any group that I talk to — but then they wrote: don’t know how to write, don’t know everybody, don’t know what to do, don’t know what they’re saying, don’t know what to say, don’t think you fit in, embarrassed, don’t know how to read books, don’t know what to think, don’t know how to play games, don’t know how to respond, don’t know how to use the computer. So that is a really rich, concrete list.

Marissa: What about educators, how have educators responded to your book?

It’s been pretty phenomenal. The book is in its third printing and it’s just a year old. Actually, it went into its third print run in June. That is by far the fastest that any book of mine has taken off, so there seemed to really be a hunger. There are quite a number of books about an individual immigrant’s story, but I think what people are responding to, what they found useful, is that this book is different because it’s a concept book about the experience of being new and being welcoming, and in that way it works. A particular story can make a deep connection even if your experience is quite different, you recognize things that are similar. But to have one book that outlines what the experience is like, it is very good for discussions. I’ve done more teacher conferences and appearances, especially in the TESOL community, than I did before. Normally I do a lot of schools where I talk to students, but in the past year the majority of my appearances have been for teacher conferences.

Marissa: Have any of them come up to you and told you how it’s resonated with them? Have you met any educators who are immigrants themselves?

Yes, definitely! The TESOL community is full of people who have immigrant backgrounds. I shouldn’t say full, but there is quite a healthy percentage of the TESOL community who come from that background themselves. Partly because schools often recruit someone who’s bilingual, so you tend to get a lot of wonderful richness of people’s life experiences. They might be second generation or they might not have come as a child but they definitely make a strong connection to children who have that experience. I remember, in particular, some very moving statements that people made standing in line waiting to have a book signed. Talking about how it was “their story” or people talking about and being reminded of their own students. When I talked about the book they were in tears thinking about their own students.

Marissa: Ideally, how would you like to see your book being used in a classroom or a child’s home?

I think I see it in two ways. First, for a child who has just arrived and who is in a situation where things are strange; to be able to recognize themselves and see that their experience is reflected in something that makes them feel less lonely and that there is hope. Many, many people have gone through this experience and it can be so difficult but you can get through.

And to the children who are not recent immigrants, who have been part of a community for generations; that it would spark empathy for children,  for them to imagine what it would be like if they had that experience. Starting with that universal experience of somehow being new somewhere and to recognize, “oh, I remember what that felt like” and imagine if it was not only a new school, but a new country and a new language and a new culture and new food and new religions and on and on and on. Particularly for them to imagine what they could do, concretely, to examine what the new children are doing and to see how hard they are working, the effort that they are making. And also how their classmates are responding so that the outcome is the whole group building a community together.

To learn more about I’m New Here and Anne’s perspective, watch and listen as she discusses the book and her insights into the experiences of immigrant children.

The post Welcoming Week: Q&A with Author Anne Sibley O’Brien appeared first on First Book Blog.

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2. Q&A with Author Jason Reynolds

Author Jason Reynolds’ books start the conversations about the difficult issues facing kids today. His experiences, as told through the characters in his stories, are very much like those of the children we serve – which is why we feel it’s so important for them to hear Jason’s voice.

We had the opportunity to talk with Jason about his experiences, his journey to becoming an author, and how he’s seen his books affect young readers.


Q. Were you an avid reader as a child?

A. Absolutely not. I actually didn’t read much at all, though I had books all around me. Most of them were classics. Canonical literature. But to a kid growing up in the midst of the hip-hop generation, a time where most young people of color were exposed to the hardships of drugs and violence, I gravitated more toward the storytelling of rap music, than I did the dense and seemingly disconnected narrative arc of books (during that time).


Q. What stories or poetry did you connect with as a young person? Did you have trouble connecting with stories as a child?

A. I had a really hard time connecting with stories as a child, especially within the confines of a book. But I was introduced to poetry by reading the lyrics of Queen Latifah, Tupac, Slick Rick, and lots of other rappers. From there, I started to make connections between their lyrics and the poetry of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. But eventually I began reading more traditional narratives, the first being Black Boy, by Richard Wright. It changed my life.


Q. Are there books you’ve read today that you wish you’d been exposed to as a child or young adult?

A. All of Walter Dean Myers’s work. Also, I wish there would’ve been as much focus on graphic novels back then, as there is now. That would’ve been extremely valuable to me.


Q. We first met you as a writer through your poetry in My Name is Jason. Why did you make the transition into writing novels? And how is your process for writing poetry different than writing novels?

A. I never wanted to write novels, so you can blame Christopher Myers for that. He’s the one who challenged me to give it a shot. My plan was to be only a poet. But there was something in Walter Dean Myers’s stories — a permission to be myself on the page I hadn’t felt before. So I let myself be myself, let my language live freely on the page without the pretense and pressure of the academy or some phantom scholarship. And turns out, it worked! Now, the poetry was a big help mainly because as a poet I valued the importance of beginning and ending, which has lent itself to my work tremendously.


Q. You toured extensively with Brendan Kiely for All American Boys. Can you recount a few of the most powerful moments you had with students and/or with adults while on tour?

There were so many. One thing that was interesting was, everywhere we went we would ask the students the same two questions:all_american_boys
1.) How many of you know about police brutality? They’d all raise their hands. And,
2.) How many of you have spoken to your friends about it? Ninety percent of the hands went down.
We realized that kids knew about it but weren’t discussing it, but we also deduced that it wasn’t because they didn’t want to talk about it, but instead was because they didn’t have the framework or the safe space to do so. By the end of our presentation, everyone always had questions and comments, ready for the hard conversation. Some other interesting moments . . . We met a man in Cincinnati, a white man raising two black boys. He came over to us and explained that All American Boys had helped him understand what his sons might be facing outside of his home, and that he needed to be as open as possible and as emotionally and mentally equipped so that he could serve as not only their father, but as their ally. He even said reading the book helped him feel more whole. I also had a student come to me, a young black girl in Philly, who wanted to know if I ever wished I could change the color of my skin, just because she was afraid of the fear other people have of it. She was in the seventh grade, and in that moment I got to pour into her. Tell her that she was perfect the way she was. I have tons of these stories. Mexican kids in Texas who wondered what their role is. Wealthy white boys in Baltimore forming cultural sensitivity groups in their schools. Even recently watching a group of students perform the theatrical version of All American Boys in Brooklyn. Young people are ready to talk. And they’re ready to act. We (adults) just have to arm them.


Q. Do you see your teenage self in any of your novels? If so, which one(s) and in what ways?

A. I’m in all of them. Each and every one of them. I like to pull from actual stories from my teenage years, like Ali and the MoMo party in, When I Was The Greatest, or Matt Miller and his mother’s cancer in, The Boy in The Black Suit. I’m always the protagonist, at least parts of me. Writing is cathartic for me, and a way to process parts of my life that I’ve either worked hard to hold on to, or have desperately tried to forget.


Q. How important was it to have a co-author for Quinn’s voice in All American Boys?

A. It was paramount. The truth is, I might’ve been able to write a decent book, based around Rashad’s narrative, but what Brendan brings to the story with Quinn is, to me, the most important part of the story. It’s the part we don’t hear about, and the part most necessary to sit with and dissect when it comes to making change. It’s something I’m not sure I could’ve written with the same authenticity as Brendan, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on that project.


Q. Why do you feel it’s important for kids of varied backgrounds to read the stories you write?

A. You know, I think about this often, and I think ultimately what I hope is that they read my books and feel cared for. Feel less alone. There’s an impenetrable power to simple acknowledgement.


Q.Why is it important for kids, especially kids from low-income communities, to have access to brand-new books?

 A. It’s important for kids from low-income communities to have brand-new anything. But if it could be a book, let alone a book that speaks directly to their experiences, then it’s a double-win.


Watch the video below for more insights from Jason:

Thanks to the support of Jason Reynolds’ publisher, Simon & Schuster, 20,000 of Reynolds’ young adult and middle grade titles will be distributed to children in need through First Book.

The post Q&A with Author Jason Reynolds appeared first on First Book Blog.

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3. Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary!


March/April 2016 Horn Book MagazneApril 12, 2016 marks the one hundredth birthday of children’s literature icon Beverly Cleary. To celebrate, the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine includes a series of tributes to the author and her work written by children’s book authors, illustrators, editors, and librarians whose lives and work were touched by Ms. Cleary.

Beth McIntyre, Madison County (WI) Public librarian, shows off her Ramona Quimby Q tattoo.

Beth McIntyre, Madison County (WI) Public librarian, shows off her Ramona Quimby Q tattoo.

Each week leading to The Big Day we’ll post an article or two about Cleary’s life and work. To start things off, here is Julie Roach, from the Cambridge (MA) Public Library talking about “Ramona in the 21st-Century Library” — including bonus Ramona-inspired tattoo!

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

The post Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary! appeared first on The Horn Book.

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4. 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.


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]


“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…”


“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?


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.

The post Ramona in the 21st-Century Library appeared first on The Horn Book.

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5. Imagine A School Without A Library


Today’s guest blog post is by bestselling children’s author Megan McDonald, 2016 Spokesperson for the American Association of School Librarians National School Library Month.

Imagine a school without a library.

A few years back, I was honored to be a visiting author in elementary schools in the state of Florida. After school one day, I was signing books at a table outdoors, because the school did not have a library.

A grandmother waited patiently in line, kids tugging at her. When she reached the table where I was sitting, she held out a well-worn, much-loved copy of my very first book, Is This a House for Hermit Crab?

With tears in her eyes, she told me about the many children, and now grandchildren, she’d taught to read using my book—because it was the one, the only, book they owned at their house.

The school library gave me my start as a reader, and as a writer. It was through my school librarian that I first met Ramona and Homer Price, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Stuart Little, the Melendys and the All-of-a-Kind Family.

Without them, my characters Judy Moody and Stink would not exist.

I want all kids to experience the magic of libraries. I want them to build log cabins out of Popsicle sticks and start their own Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Clubs and save the world ala Judy Moody. I want them to grow up to become readers and writers, artists, thinkers, inventors.

But for this to happen, we have to connect kids with books. We have to change lives with books.

First Book is doing just that!

First Book supports educators working in low-income communities with new books and educational resources. By signing up with First Book, school librarians can access affordable, relevant, best-in-class books for all readers, including reluctant readers.

School libraries are the heartbeat of the school. They serve as a resource to all students and support both required and independent reading. They shape lives. Join me in celebrating school libraries and highlighting the important work that school librarians do to transform kids’ learning.

Head for the school library. Seek out a book from First Book.

Anyone working in the lives of kids in need can sign up with First Book at www.firstbook.org/join.

The post Imagine A School Without A Library appeared first on First Book Blog.

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6. Author Kate DiCamillo Finds Summer Fun at The Local Library

This summer, kids can access great books, go on adventures to faraway places and even win prizes – all at their local library.

Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and the recently released Raymie Nightingale, appreciates the importance of reading – especially during the summer.

As she visits schools throughout the country, answering questions about her new character Raymie and her journey to conquer remarkable things, she’s also letting kids know that all summer long their local libraries offer great opportunities for summer fun as the 2016 Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) National Summer Reading Champion.

We had the opportunity to talk to Kate about what inspired her to become a children’s author, the importance of books and imagination and which books she loved to read during summer break as a kid.

Your books are very imaginative. Why is important for kids to explore their imagination through books?

Because you find that anything is possible – and the feeling of possibility gets into your heart. That’s what books did for me.

As a kid, I was sick all the time and spent so much time alone. It was super beneficial to read because I was convinced that the things I didn’t think were possible actually were! That’s incredibly important for kids in need, but also for all of us.

DisplaypicYour stories are very relatable for children. Why is it important for kids to see parts their lives in the books they read?

I feel this as an adult reader too. Books give me an understanding not only of the world and other people’s hearts, but my own heart. When you see yourself in a story, it helps you understand yourself.

During my school visits, so many kids tell me stories of how they connect with my characters – Despereaux and Edward Tulane and Raymie. It’s so humbling to see that connection.

And when you see other people, it introduces you to a whole new world. I think of a story I read as a kid, which was actually just reissued, called All of a Kind Family. It’s about a Jewish family in turn-of-the-century New York. That couldn’t have been more foreign to me growing up in Central Florida but I loved every word of it.

Did you like to read during the summer as a kid?

Yes! I loved reading. I could spend all day reading. I’d go up into my tree house with books and sometimes didn’t come down until dusk.

If you gave me a book as a kid, I loved it. I read without discretion.  But I did have my favorites I’d come back to again and again: Beverly Cleary’s books, Stuart Little and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.

It’s so crazy to stand in front of groups of kids and tell them this. There’s always a murmur of “oh, yeah, yeah! I read that!” That’s the staying power of books.

How can kids access books and learning activities over the summer?

That is the beautiful thing about CSLP summer reading programs at public libraries: it makes it easy for parents, caretakers and kids themselves to access all kinds of materials and activities for free.   The 2016 summer reading theme is “On your mark, get set, READ!” and I think that’s an open invitation to readers of all ages to take advantage of everything their library offers.

Want more Kate DiCamillo? Listen to her talk about the fantastic summer fun you can find at your local library!

The post Author Kate DiCamillo Finds Summer Fun at The Local Library appeared first on First Book Blog.

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7. The Farmer and the Clown: Marla Frazee’s 2015 BGBH PB Award Speech

frazee_farmer and the clownThank you so much. Thank you to the judges — Barbara, Jessica, and Maeve. Thank you for placing me in the company of two of my very favorite picture book creators, Jon Agee and Oliver Jeffers.

By giving this award to The Farmer and the Clown, you have helped move the needle a little bit on issues of cultural diversity. Clowns have been marginalized for far too long. Hated even.

Farmers, too, for that matter.

If this award can help us embrace a world in which farmers and clowns can co-exist without everyone getting all riled up, then that is just incredible.

*   *   *

I have always loved the time between when I finish a book and when it gets the first review. I can relax into knowing that I made a book and I gave it everything I had. I get to clean my studio with a sense of accomplishment. The book exists outside of me, but it’s not yet public.

Then the reviews arrive, and they usher in a whole new phase. I learn a lot about what exactly I made from the reviews. Maybe the takeaway is different than what I thought it would be. Maybe a larger theme had escaped me. Maybe the dogs I drew actually look like cats.

Then the book goes out and lives its life. Booksellers, teachers, librarians, and parents find it — hopefully. Children, the intended audience, hopefully do, too. This is the point, after all, and it is always profound.

After going through this process with twenty-seven books, I’ve learned to manage the highs and lows pretty well. But with The Farmer and the Clown, I found there was a whole new phase to navigate. The book became fodder for some very bizarre discussions on social media. This wasn’t the usual zaniness of Amazon reviews gone off the rails, but respected names in our field giving voice to unsubstantiated opinions of others. No one took ownership.

A lot of what was said I won’t dignify. It was beneath us.

But some things that were said are important to talk about because they’re issues at the heart of our collective work. One is the opinion, often delivered as fact, that wordless books are harder for illustrators to do than books with words. I’m not sure where this idea began, but it seems to have taken root — so much so that discussions and reviews about wordless books often begin with the assumption that it was an extraordinary leap for the illustrator.

For me, finding the right balance between the words and pictures in Liz Garton Scanlon’s evocative — and not at all narrative — All the World text was every bit as challenging as this wordless book I made. After months of working on All the World, I had to start all over again and go all the way back to thumbnail sketches. Turned out that my picture-story was strong-arming the text by forcing narrative connections between the characters. I had eclipsed the larger theme of expansiveness.

Illustrating the folk song “Hush Little Baby” was challenging, too. I wanted the picture-story to have the same rollicking spirit as Pete Seeger’s banjo in his rendition of the lullaby, so I visualized the pictures as galloping alongside the words. Sometimes they were in tandem, sometimes they crossed paths, sometimes they veered far away from each other. Making sure words and pictures don’t stomp all over each other is maybe even harder than concentrating on one or the other by itself.

I also read that because The Farmer and the Clown was wordless, I ceded a greater degree of control over the narrative to the reader. I disagree. I didn’t surrender control. That gives the visual narrative no respect. And it assumes the words deliver the clearer story. But words can be equally misinterpreted.

For instance, my ex-husband’s Midwestern family uses the word squeeze as a euphemism for going to the bathroom. Imagine what he thought was happening in the story when he heard these words read to him as a child: “Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!”

Anyone can bring their own crap to words or pictures. That’s something authors and illustrators have little control over.

But a picture-story has an advantage over a word-story, and that is that children are experts at reading pictures. Because of this, a visual narrative actually surrenders less control over the narrative to the child. Children bring a clear-eyed, intense, lingering, unsentimental, and sophisticated focus to reading pictures. They can read them in a literal, metaphorical, or ironic sense, depending on what’s called for, and they can tell what’s called for. They are a highly discerning audience to draw pictures for. Because children are seeing clearly what meets their eye, they don’t assume (the way grownups might) that there is something beyond what they are seeing.

Contrast that with how most grownups experience the pictures. If they give even a passing glance to the pictures as something more than decoration, they often tend to read into them. Insert their own story or experience. Presume stuff that isn’t there. Gloss over what is.

Of course I’m not saying all grownups do this. Although I do think that when words and pictures are competing for the grownups’ attention, words tend to win. But children focus on the pictures because they can’t read words yet or can’t read them easily. And so they study those pictures for meaning in a way that adults don’t have to anymore.

*    *    *

Before I settle into my studio in the morning, I often hike in the mountains above Pasadena with my dog. There are rivers to cross (or there were before the drought). The way a child reads pictures in a picture book is the same way you get across the water. Rock to rock. If you are a child who can’t yet read, your eyes will land on the pictures the way your foot lands on a rock. One picture to the next to the next.

If illustrators don’t provide enough landings, if we don’t plan them out carefully, we will strand that child in the middle of the river. But if we do it well, we will bring the child all the way across. Some pictures are resting places; some are quick, light hops; some are tippy on purpose; some are functional bridges. Add the magical page-turn, the rhythm of the words, a lap or story circle, and we’ve got the picture book—a form that has stolen our hearts.

I have learned about this form from many teachers, beginning with The Horn Book Magazine. I’ve read (and saved) every issue since I graduated from Art Center College of Design in 1981. It’s been my master’s program. For thirty-four years. Thank god the tuition is reasonable — and a write-off.

My first editor, Linda Zuckerman, told me that my commercial illustration portfolio wasn’t narrative enough for children’s books. She explained this many times, in many ways, over many years. It took me so long to get it.

Allyn Johnston caught me up after Linda left the field and has hung in there with me the whole time since. Allyn’s intuition about picture books, how they must deliver emotion and crack the reader open in one way or another, has been the guiding principle of the many books we’ve made together.

My agent, Steve Malk, with his bookseller background and sharp eye for craft, has represented me for fifteen years. He was twenty-three when I first met him and already had much to teach me. I am really proud to be in the group of writers and illustrators he works with.

*    *    *

The idea for The Farmer and the Clown came to me around the same time that my marriage of thirty-one years was coming apart.

The book is about two characters who look a certain way on the outside but are actually a whole other way on the inside. As the idea developed and the book took form, my personal life went through a complete upheaval. Many of us will fall off our train at some point in our lives, and I fell off mine during the time I worked on this book. Hard landing, unforgiving landscape. One day I was tough as the farmer. The next, lost as the clown. Some days I benefited from the kindness of strangers so surprising in their tenderness. And every single day, in ways large and small, I was enveloped by the open arms of my family, a crazy clown troupe if there ever was one.

But while I was working on the book, I wasn’t making these connections at all. In fact, Allyn sent a text to me one day as I was putting the finishing touches on the last painting. It said: “Home. You know where it is when you’re there. But sometimes you get a bit separated from home, and you may need a little help finding your way back.

I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. Was she lost? Was I? It took me a long time to figure out she was proposing Farmer and the Clown flap copy. I had no idea that was what the book was about.

Then, after I cleaned my studio, and after the reviews, and after the social media circus, I started to hear from readers.

I got an email that said:

I read it with my four-year-old daughter, and the phone rang with an important call that I’d been expecting, so I handed the open book to her and told her I’d be right back. While I was gone, she finished reading it. When I hung up the phone, I turned around and there she was. “Mommy. The clown’s family came back.” “Is that so? And he went with them then?” “Yes, but first he gave the farmer a giant hug. A GIANT one. And then the farmer whispered ‘I love you’ into his ear. And you know the funniest thing? The farmer doesn’t even know that a monkey is following him home right this minute.”

And another:

I read the book to my three-year-old granddaughter. When we were finished reading, I asked her what she was thinking. “I’m thinking that the clown and the farmer will always remember each other.” I agreed that they would because of all the great moments they’d shared. Her comment started a conversation about the people in our lives who’ve left us something, tangible or intangible. My granddaughter has already lost several people that she loves and we had a chance to remember the things they’ve left behind so that we’re able to remember them.

This is truly an upside of online communication — people have shared many touching stories about The Farmer and the Clown with me. About how children, even as young as two, suddenly had a way to talk about love and loss and grief and saying goodbye and keeping remembrances of people they were missing who had meant a lot to them.

This is why I continue to have the utmost respect for children’s ability to read pictures in a way that far surpasses our own. I remember very well the feeling I had as a child that the illustrations were speaking directly to me in a secret, private language. No grownup needed to explain it. No grownup needed to interpret it. It was simply there for me, for the taking.

Thank you for honoring this book with this award.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB15.

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8. Once Upon an Alphabet: Oliver Jeffers’s 2015 BGHB PB Honor Speech

Once Upon an AlphabetIt was with surprise and gratitude that I heard about receiving a Boston Globe–Horn Book honor award. This book was a risk, in that it’s an alphabet book which is a bit over the heads of the people who are most likely to be reading an alphabet book. Instead it’s a book that’s just about the joy of using language and wordplay, with some of the randomness of the workings of my brain thrown in. (It’s also a book for those too embarrassed and too far gone to admit they never learned their ABCs…I know who you are!)

It was a risk to publish a 112-page picture book that was mostly black and white, effectively a collection of short stories that are convoluted and weird…but a risk that was worth it. It is a book I am deeply proud of. Thank you to the judges and to all of the people who were prepared to go down this strange road with me. Without you, we may never have had an Owl and Octopus Problem Solving Agency, a parsnip with identity issues, or the invention of a jelly door—and I for one believe the world is a better place with them in it. Somewhat…

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB15.

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9. It’s Only Stanley: Jon Agee’s 2015 BGHB PB Honor Speech

agee_it's only stanleyThank you to The Horn Book and the Boston Globe. And to Lauri Hornik and Lily Malcom, my wonderful publisher and art director. And congratulations to Marla and Oliver. (Great choices, judges.)

A few words about It’s Only Stanley:

This is a love story. There’s a lot of love in this book — blind, delusional, human love along with deep, primordial, canine passion.

It’s the story of the Wimbledon family — dog-owners — who, like many of us, treat their beloved Stanley as if he’s a human being. I’m guilty of this. I have a little, fluffy dog, and it rarely occurs to me that she’s actually descended from a wolf — until I try and take away her bully stick.

The Wimbledons, though — they’re exceptional. They have such boundless respect for their beagle that even when they’re jarred out of bed in the middle of the night, and find him stringing up wires, tubes, and pipes through the floors and ceilings, creating smoke and foul smells and general wreckage, they simply can’t believe he’s doing anything but routine repairs on the house.

And why is Stanley so busy? Well, he’s in love. And in order to fulfill this urge, he needs to fly to the moon using the Wimbledons’ conveniently-shaped house as a rocket ship.

It’s Only Stanley began as more of a mystery. In the early versions, the story simply ended with Stanley on his way to the moon. My editor lingered on that ending:

“Jon, could there be something on the moon that a dog might like?”

“A chew toy?”

“No, Jon. Something a dog might really be attracted to?”

Editors can be like psychologists, gently leading you to your own conclusions. Or, as on that day, they can blurt out:

“What if, on the moon, Stanley meets another dog?!”

Ah! It was the missing piece. This “other dog” became a pink, lunar poodle, and It’s Only Stanley became a genuine love story.

In fact, if the story had a message, it might be: “Love will find a way.” But it could also be: “Beagles who wear tool-belts should never be trusted.”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB15.

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10. Five questions for Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintockEach of author/illustrator Barbara McClintock’s picture books provides a glimpse into a jewel-box of a world, from bustling early-twentieth-century Paris (Adèle & Simon; Farrar, 4–7 years) to a cozy 1970s mouse-house (Where’s Mommy?, written by Beverly Donofrio; Schwartz & Wade, 4–7 years). Her latest, Emma and Julia Love Ballet (Scholastic, 4–7 years), does the same for the vibrant world of ballet, giving readers a look at the daily routines of two dancers: one a student just starting out, the other a professional in her prime. A dancer myself, I jumped at the chance to talk to Barbara about how she translates movement to the page.

1. How did you decide on this day-in-the-life, compare-and-contrast format for showcasing a dancer’s reality?

BM: I blame two of my favorite books for putting the idea in my head: The Borrowers by Mary Norton and The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Marc Simont. The parallel world of The Borrowers fascinated me as a child. And I fell in love — hard! — with the behind-the-scenes showering, sock-pulling-on, hair-combing, and beard-trimming preparations of orchestral musicians before their evening performance in The Philharmonic Gets Dressed.

My older sister Kathleen lived, breathed, ate, and slept ballet when she was little, and I’d wanted to make a book honoring her for a long time. She took me to my first professional dance performance, which proved to have a profound influence on my creative life. Her passion for dance inspired me to believe in myself as an artist.

2. Many of your books are set in bygone eras, with richly evoked historical settings full of texture and detail. How does your process differ when you’re portraying a contemporary setting rather than recreating a historical one?

BM: I tend to use slightly bolder, brushlike line work, little or no crosshatching, and brighter colors when working with a contemporary setting. Modern surfaces are shinier, glossier, brighter, harder. Metal and glass predominate. I find it’s easier to depict those hard, shiny surfaces with gradated watercolor washes. Textural ink crosshatching seems appropriate for older stone, wood, and plaster surfaces.

Modern forms call for fluid lines, less encumbered by lots of line work. There’s detail in contemporary buildings and clothing, but forms are more nuanced, freer, with open patterns and simplified shapes compared to historical structures and fashion.

Shapes of contemporary things that move — cars, airplanes, trains — are smooth and somewhat egg-shaped, reflecting aerodynamic design considerations. Carriages, carts, and buggies are boxy, with lots of angles, which makes for different compositional elements in pictures.

mcclintock_emma and julia love ballet23. The format of Emma and Julia Love Ballet is almost graphic novel–like, with the illustrations changing sizes and shapes to accelerate the pacing. How do you know what size illustration to use when?

BM: The size and shape of the illustrations is all about creating a sense of time, movement, emotion, and place.

Vignettes isolate characters to form a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character, like a spotlighted actor on stage. There can be a powerful emotional component to vignettes. Toward the end of the book as Emma prepares to go to the ballet performance, we see her in her fancy coat, with no background, nothing else in the image. Her facial expression alone tells us this is an important time for her. Anything else in the scene would impede the immediacy of her excitement.

Vignettes can also signify rapid movement and the passage of time. Several small vignettes on a page require only short amounts of time to look at. This visual device works well to depict Emma and Julia stretching, jumping, and spinning. Viewing several small images in quick succession can be like looking at a flip-book that gives the impression of fast, fluid motion.

Broad, dramatic scenes create a sense of mood and establish place; and fuller, detailed pictures slow the reader down at significant moments by creating an environment that invites investigation. That lingering pause can give majesty to a scene or narrative concept.

At the very end of the book, I wanted to go back to a vignette approach. We see Emma and Julia connected by their shared love of ballet. I wanted Emma and Julia to dominate and fill up the entire page with no external stuff to clutter up their emotional connection. This is their story, and they tell us absolutely and directly how they feel about ballet and each other.

4. You observed the Connecticut Concert Ballet as models for the illustrations, and took some ballet classes yourself for research. How did your perspective — or your illustrations — change after these experiences?

BM: I have a much better idea of just how hard a plié in fifth position is on your inner thighs!

Watching people in motion is a much different experience than simply studying photographs. Semi-realistic drawing has so much to do with gesture, and the best way to understand how an arm or leg really moves through space is to observe someone in the act of moving. As I draw the sweep of an arm, I get inside that motion. I’m not entirely sure how to express this, but I feel the movement in my head as a physical motion and visualize where that arm is going, then translate that motion as well as I can in a two-dimensional way on paper.

Ballet has its own regimented structure of movement. I just dipped into the surface of knowledge of ballet training, but hopefully enough to give some authenticity to the way the dancers in my book move.

Barbara loves ballet

Barbara in the ballet studio

5. The book is dedicated in part to the wonderful Judith Jamison, dancer and Artistic Director Emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Is there a particular role of Ms. Jamison’s that resonates most with you?

BM: In the early 1970s my sister took me to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Minneapolis. Judith Jamison was the featured soloist. This was the first professional dance performance I’d ever seen. I had no idea what to expect, and was almost afraid to go. Any hesitation vanished the moment Judith stepped on stage. She dominated space and time, creating vivid shapes and patterns.

Judith performed Cry, a sixteen-minute solo homage to black women, choreographed by Alvin Ailey for his mother with Judith in mind. Judith expressed grief, depression, loss, redemption, and joy as eloquently as any novelist. I loved dance from that evening on.

Judith’s presence, authority, and grace inspired me in my work. I admired her, and looked up to Judith as a role model — a woman who was in command of her talent and a force almost bigger than life.

From the January 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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11. Antoinette Portis on The Red Hat

AntoinettePortisIn our January/February 2016 issue, reviewer Sarah Ellis asked illustrator Antoinette Portis about that pesky (playful?) wind in The Red Hat. Read the full review of The Red Hat here.

Sarah Ellis: The “bad guy” here is the wind, but in your swirly, spiral line the wind comes across as more playful than malevolent. Was it hard to figure out how to make a 3-D character out of a no-D antagonist?

Antoinette Portis: Instead of personifying the wind as one of the puffy-cheeked Greek gods you see on antique maps or as an evil villain, I imagined it as an externalization of Billy’s resistance to venturing out into the world. When he’s impelled to risk forging a relationship, all his fears don’t suddenly evaporate. They manifest themselves as the wind, trying to drive him back to the safety and isolation of his tower.

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

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12. Audrey Vernick on The Kid from Diamond Street

vernick_kid from diamond streetIn our January/February 2016 issue, reviewer Dean Schneider talked with author Audrey Vernick about her clear love of America’s favorite pastime. Read the full review of The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton here.

Dean Schneider: You’ve written a few books about baseball. Have you always been a fan? Or did you become one after you started writing about the sport?

Audrey Vernick: One of my favorite things about being a grownup is no one can make me write about explorers. I write about baseball because I truly love it and have for decades. While I am a devoted fan of a team I’ll not mention by name in a Boston-based publication, I also love the game’s rich, textured history and the individual stories folded within it.

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

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13. 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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14. Peter Dickinson, 1927-2015

peter_dickinsonOne-of-a-kind British writer Peter Dickinson died in December at age eighty-eight. His work cannot be easily categorized: a prolific author, he wrote everything from adult detective novels to speculative YA science fiction to heart-stopping adventures to intriguing almost-fantasies. The protagonists in his work for children range from an American-missionary boy who finds himself trekking through Tibet during the Boxer Rebellion (Tulku) to a blind teen who finds himself swept up in a plot by environmental terrorists to hijack a North Sea oil rig (Annerton Pit) to a human girl who finds herself transplanted into a chimp’s body (Eva). His books were wholly original, brimming with ideas, often concerned with the nature of religion and/or what makes us human — and also unfailingly compelling and masterfully plotted. Yet he did not consider himself an artist, but a craftsman: “I have a function, like the village cobbler, and that is to tell stories.”

Peter Dickinson’s 1993 Horn Book Magazine article “Masks

Horn Book Magazine reviews of select titles by Peter Dickinson

“A Defense of Rubbish” by Peter Dickinson

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15. 2015 Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium timeline

Roger Sutton and the Horn Book at Simmons editors panel. Photo: Shoshana Flax.

Roger Sutton and the Horn Book at Simmons editors panel. Photo: Shoshana Flax.

On Saturday, October 3rd, we held our fifth annual Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, with the theme “Transformations.” Miss the fun? We’ve compiled a timeline of the day’s highlights based on tweets by our staff and other attendees. See Friday’s ceremony timeline here.

9:07 am: Good morning! We’re ready for a full day of great discussion about good children’s books!

9:10 am: Cathie Mercier: It’s easy to read what we know and like, but how do we push ourselves to read outside ourselves, read “otherways”?

9:14 am: @jescaron: @RogerReads and Cathie Mercier open #HBAS15 with words of wisdom and “grounding”

9:15 am: @RogerReads introducing keynote speaker Susan Cooper

9:19 am: Susan: Transformation in nature is generally cyclical. What about change in our minds? Imagination doesn’t follow any rules

9:20 am: @jescaron: Susan: “Change is an integral part of stories — it is called plot.”

9:21 am: Susan: Can words spark an unpredictable change in the mind?

9:22 am: @ShoshanaFlax: SC clearly read the May @HornBook carefully #swoon

9:24 am: Susan discussing different types of book transformations: retellings, adaptations from other media, making books more accessible

9:26 am: Susan: Fantasy is metaphor… It takes you through the imagination to truth

9:27 am: @jescaron: “People who write fantasy have chosen transformation…finding the magic from the real”

9:30 am: A tumultuous year in Susan’s personal life had profound effects on her writing. “As with writers, so with readers” — we seek escape in words

9:31 am: Susan: When reading, your imagination lives in the book. Reading is creating experience from imagination

9:32 am: Susan: This experience of living in a book can change you

9:33 am: Susan: Letters from readers say, “I read your book, and my world changed a little,” even if readers can’t articulate exactly how

9:35 am: Susan: “The imagination of a reader instinctively takes what it needs from a book and creates a kind of life belt”

9:38 am: Susan: You realize which books had a profound effect on your childhood imagination only by looking back

9:40 am: Susan: An imagination that delights in books as a child grows up and is able to nurture a hunger for books in the next generation

9:43 am: Which books were transformative for Susan in childhood? The Box of Delights and The Midnight Folk by John Masefield

9:44 am: Susan: Nonfiction can be transformative too: “a story is a story”

10:02 am: Nonfiction winner Candace Fleming and editor Anne Schwartz on “Bringing History to the Page”

10:03 am: Candace echoing Jacqueline Woodson’s metaphor of writing as childbirth: you forget how miserable it is and then you’re ready to do it again

10:04 am: Candace writes in longhand on loose-leaf paper — the smell of the ink is reassuring, reminds her of what she’s accomplishing

10:05 am: @jescaron: The Family Romanov went from a light and fluffy book to its final state — transformation!

10:06 am: Anne: As an editor it’s very difficult to ask an author to start over; both author and editor have already invested a lot of work

10:08 am: Fascinating to see original drafts, notes, and editorial letters for what became The Family Romanov

10:11 am: Anne liked the format of text snippets and sidebars, creating a narrative like a tapestry

10:15 am: Anne asked questions Candace “never saw coming,” which made her think about her research and narrative in different ways

10:18 am: Candace: “Anne is the best editor because she questions everything–and that makes me a much better writer”

10:21 am: Going to Russia helped Candace really understand the disparity between the Romanovs and the peasants whose “backs the palaces were built on”

10:23 am: Candace: Stories of peasant lives in Imperial Russia and the Russian Revolution are extremely difficult to find

10:28 am: Candace: Writing good nonfiction requires finding the “vital idea” you want to communicate, not just the facts

10:51 am: An Amazon reviewer called Candace a “vile socialist” for her portrayal of the Romanovs. She’s proud :)

11:06 am: Judge Maeve Visser Knoth in conversation with #bghb15 honoree Jon Agee about It’s Only Stanley in “How Do I Make You Laugh, Too?”

11:07 am: Stanley, like all of Jon’s books, started as a doodle in a notebook. If one of Jon’s doodles makes him laugh, he tries to follow that idea and flesh it out

11:10 am: Jon: Writing a picture book is “like fishing” — you start with an idea and “see if you can bring this fish in”

11:13 am: Jon says developing the plot of his picture books comes from a series of “what if” questions

11:14 am: Jon discussing how page-turns work with punchlines

11:18 am: Jon: “Sometimes when you’re working on a picture book, it’s like the story is already there” and you’re excavating it

11:27 am: Lear’s limericks made a big impression on Jon. They were about grown-ups, but grown-ups who were doing ridiculous things

1:08 pm: Great breakout sessions all around! Now @RogerReads is going to moderate editor panel “It’s a Manuscript Until I Say It’s a Book” #HBAS15

1:13 pm: Each editor is sharing a story of the “editorial magic” that helped turn the author’s manuscript into a #BGHB15-winning book

1:19 pm: Editor Liz Bicknell: “Editing is a backstage job. I wear black and sit in the curtains.”

1:20 pm: @maryj59: Liz: “Every writer demands different things of an editor.”

1:25 pm: Rosemary Brosnan: As an editor, “I like to feel that if I’ve done my job well, no one knows I exist”

1:39 pm: Nancy Paulsen: Editing is about “finding the writing that sings to you” as an individual reader — it might not be for everybody

1:34 pm: @jescaron: Editors muse on advice to younger selves — Don’t be so rash

1:36 pm: @jescaron: Editors muse on advice to younger selves — Try to get a good picture of the marketplace

1:38 pm: @jescaron: Editors muse on advice to younger selves — Have confidence that you will eventually figure it out

1:39 pm: @jescaron: Editors muse on advice to younger selves — Don’t stay out so late 😉

1:40 pm: @ShoshanaFlax: @nancyrosep & @lizbicknell1 both cite editor’s role to stand in for readers

1:52 pm: Nancy: “We all have the same goal…to make the best book possible.” Rosemary: “Sometimes we have to remind the author of that!”

1:44 pm: @maryj59: Rosemary: “An idea is just an idea. It’s the execution that matters.”

2:06 pm: Gregory Maguire in conversation with #BGHB15 judge Jessica Tackett MacDonald about Egg & Spoon in “Bringing Baba Yaga Home”

2:10 pm: Gregory: A story can have any number of inspirations. It’s not a one-to-one ratio

2:16 pm: Gregory discovered different roles for Baba Yaga in Russian folktales: the scary witch, the kindly crone… “That made her human”

2:17 pm: Gregory: “I had to get out of Baba Yaga’s way… It sometimes felt like channeling the devil”

2:20 pm: A theme of Egg & Spoon is “What can we little ones do” in the face of problems? What we older ones can do is give little ones courage

2:21 pm: Gregory: “I don’t write [specifically] for adults or for kids. I write for people who like to read Gregory Maguire books”

2:23 pm: Gregory quoting Katherine Paterson: “The consolation of the imagination is not imaginary consolation”

2:17 pm: @deirdrea: Gregory on why he loves Baba Yaga: “What we look like and what people think we are is NOT who we are.”

2:26 pm: Gregory showing us inspirational objects — including a tiny Baba Yaga house — he kept on his desk while writing Egg & Spoon

2:30 pm: @RogerReads asks, Are today’s readers well-versed enough in fairy tales & folklore to know the references Gregory is asking them to engage with?

2:32 pm: Gregory Maguire: Maybe Egg & Spoon is a reader’s first introduction to Baba Yaga, but he hopes it won’t be their last introduction

2:37 pm: @RogerReads has nothing to do with the BGHB judges’ choices, but “the happiest news I got this year was the announcement that The Farmer and the Clown won BGHB Picture Book Award”

2:40 pm: Marla Frazee & editor Allyn Johnston discussing The Farmer and the Clown in “Do I Need Words with That?”

2:41 pm: Love seeing Marla and Allyn’s work spaces — and the real-life boys (their sons!) — from A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever!

2:46 pm: A Couple of Boys… started as an illustrated thank-you note from Marla, James, and Eamon to Allyn’s parents for the boys’ nature camp trip

2:54 pm: Original title: “A Couple of Boys Go to Nature Camp (Sort Of)”

3:02 pm: Whoa, neither Marla nor Allyn had done a wordless book before The Farmer and the Clown!

3:07 pm: Marla: Part of The Farmer and the Clown illustration process was soaking the art in the bathtub between pencil and color!

3:19 pm: Really interesting backstory for Marla’s upcoming book with Victoria Chang, Is Mommy?

3:26 pm: #BGHB15 committee chair Barbara Scotto speaking with Neal and Brendan Shusterman about Challenger Deep in “When Life Provides the Story”

3:30 pm: Barbara: Did writing Challenger Deep change the meaning of the experience of facing mental illness for Neal and Brendan?

3:32 pm: Neal’s own tumultuous emotions — deep depression followed by euphoria — during a hospitalization for a blood disorder contributed to the novel as well

3:34 pm: Brendan: Mental illness is something we need to talk about. It’s easy to feel that you’re alone

3:37 pm: It was important to Neal to show Caden’s strength in facing and managing his illness, despite fact that it will never go away entirely

3:38 pm: Brendan’s original art is all in color; helped him to express what he was feeling during an episode. There’s a huge volume not included in Challenger Deep

3:39 pm: Much of the narrative of Challenger Deep was inspired by Neal’s interpretations of Brendan’s art

3:42 pm: Neal: the changes made to the manuscript in the editing process were small but extremely precise

3:46 pm: Neal: “When I submitted this manuscript, I was terrified…I had no idea if it even worked…As a writer you always need to be on that edge”

3:50 pm:@RogerReads asks, What was it was like for Neal when his fictional story started to diverge from Brendan’s real experience?

3:51 pm: Neal: it was easiest to write the pieces that did diverge, challenging to dovetail the 2 so readers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference

3:56 pm: Neal: “I look back at my body of work, and I feel that I everything I have written helped me to write this book”

4:01 pm: Cathie Mercier of @SimmonsCollege wisely and wittily recapping our day. How does she do that?!

4:03 pm: Cathie: “The writer lives two lives: the life lived, and the life unfolding on the page. The reader lives those dual lives too”

4:13 pm: Cathie: Who are the readers we leave behind? What are the topics we avoid due to discomfort? How can we transform literature itself?

4:14 pm: Cathie: Will we be able to transform ourselves to join young readers in the reading future?

4:15 pm: Thanks so much for a fantastic weekend at #BGHB15 and #HBAS15! See you next year!


More on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards and the following day’s Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers,” is coming soon! Follow us on Twitter for updates on all things Horn Book.

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16. Siân Has the Best Weekend Ever!

As many of you know, the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium: “Transformations” was this past Saturday. It was interesting, engaging, educational, and fun (it was also exhausting for those of us working it, and even more so for the amazing Katrina Hedeen, who planned the whole durn thing).

But what you don’t know is the most important thing that happened over our BGHB/HBAS weekend.

Was it the Shuster-men speaking eloquently about Challenger Deep and mental illness?

Was it the informative and funny editor panel?

How about getting to see Marla Frazee’s pre-book sketches (including the illustrated thank-you note that became A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever!)?


What was it?

Susan Cooper took a picture of my Dark Is Rising tattoo.


tattoo  Cooper autograph
For more on the 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards and the following day’s HBAS Colloquium: “Transformations,” click on the tag BGHB15.

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17. Vera B. Williams (1927–2015)

chair for my motherWe were saddened to hear about the death last week of legendary children’s book author and illustrator Vera B. Williams. It’s a loss to our field; she was, truly, unique. Her groundbreaking picture books celebrated children and family and communities — all kinds of children, all kinds of families, and all kinds of communities. Both A Chair for My Mother and “More More More,” Said the Baby were Caldecott honor books (in 1983 and 1991, respectively), and they stand out among their fellows for their contemporary, unglossy settings, their sense of inclusiveness, and the forefronting of the loving relationships they portray.

cherries-and-cherry-pitsWilliams was also a two-time Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner — for A Chair for My Mother in 1983 and Scooter in 1994 — and was a three-time BGHB Honor Award recipient (for Cherries and Cherry Pits in 1987; Stringbean’s Trip to the Shining Sea, written by Williams and co-illustrated with daughter Jennifer Williams in 1988; and Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart in 2002). Again — who can forget Bidemmi’s face shining out of the exuberantly colorful pages of Cherries and Cherry Pits; or the unforgettable sisters (unforgettable in both the poetry and the pictures) in Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart, one of the first children’s books to portray a family coping with the absence of a parent in prison.

williams_moremoremoreIn 2001 she wrote about “Childhood, Stories, and Politics” for The Horn Book Magazine. Here are a few salient quotes from that brief but important contribution: “I began to create my books just at a period when children’s books were becoming somewhat more open and more accurate about the range of family life in America, about color and class and ethnicity, about what girl characters could do and be.” And, “it is of solemn import to tell stories that involve us in the energies, talents, and great-heartedness of children and other not-so-powerful people.”

williams_coverIn 1992 she did a series of lovely covers for us. As with so much of her work it’s an image that looks reality right in the eye, messy laundry basket and breast-fed baby and all, and filled with love, closeness, and “not-so-powerful people.” Click here to read Horn Book Magazine reviews of select books by Williams.

And when it came time for Horn Bookers to talk about their favorites, Ms. Williams got even more love:

My favorite BGHB winner, reviewer edition: Robin Smith’s choice

The ones that got away: Leonard and I choose Vera B.

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18. Don Brown on Drowned City

brown_drowned cityIn our September/October issue, reviewer Betty Carter asked Don Brown, author/illustrator of nonfiction graphic novel Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans, about what we can learn from the events of Hurricane Katrina. Read the full starred review of Drowned City here.

Betty Carter: So many of your books cover a pivotal moment in American history. What do you believe is the most important takeaway from Hurricane Katrina for our country as a whole?

Don Brown: Hurricane Katrina presented America with two questions that have not yet been fully answered: Why did all levels of government fail the most vulnerable citizens of New Orleans, and what part did class and race play in that failure?

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. An Interview with Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from January 2014 to December 2015 and was this year’s National Summer Reading Champion. This past spring, Horn Book editors Elissa Gershowitz and Martha V. Parravano shared breakfast with the two-time Newbery Medalist (for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures and The Tale of Despereaux) and Jennifer Roberts, VP of publicity and executive director of marketing campaigns for Candlewick Press. Once we’d sorted who ordered the mixed-berry plate and who had the seasonal berries, we got down to business.

Elissa Gershowitz: The Ambassadorship. How has it gone?

Kate DiCamillo: My term is almost up. It has taken me a long time not to be afraid of it, because it’s all so official. I never want to be a role model, and so that intimidates me, but I don’t think that’s necessarily what it is. What I finally figured out, after about six months, was that I’m just doing what I’ve done my whole life, which is talking to people about books and making them read. It’s what I do in my friendships. “Here, you have to read this, you have to read this.” There’s so much talk about what kids need to do and what parents need to do, and I keep wanting to push the conversation back to “this is a privilege to get to do this.” That you can go anywhere in this country and get a book from a library is just the most amazing thing in the world. It’s not a duty; it’s a privilege and it’s a joy. That joy is doubled and tripled and quadrupled if you read with other people.

EG: As ambassador are you mostly talking to kids, or to grownups, or a combination?


Photos courtesy of Jennifer Roberts.

KD: A lot of it has been school groups, but when it’s the general public, I’d say half-and-half. Sometimes it’s all adults, and I’ll say to a roomful of adults: Go home and read to your adult. We forget how much we love to be read to. And as long as your kid is receptive to it, and almost all of them are, even the really gnarly ones when they get to be twelve and thirteen, that time to sit down and read together gives you as parents as much as it gives the kids. It deepens the relationship.

EG: How did the Summer Reading Championship come about?

KD: [Candlewick publicist] Tracy Miracle was talking to the Collaborative Summer Library people and found out the theme was “Every Hero Has a Story.” Tracy thought, what if I got behind that, because I’ve got some furry heroes. The fear and trepidation I had around the ambassadorship — maybe I’d finally gotten my sea legs, I don’t know. But by the time the summer reading opportunity came along, it was just like, yes. Let me. I’m a kid who grew up going to the summer reading program every year at the public library. I love talking to kids about that. It’s just been the most natural thing in the world for me to do while I’m out doing the ambassador stuff. In Seattle, in front of an auditorium full of kids, I asked, “How many of y’all know where your public library is?” And this incredible number of hands came up. It must have been eighty percent of them. I’m like, “Really? That is so great. Do you know that your local library has a summer reading program?”

EG: So you’ve been traveling a lot. Do you enjoy traveling?

KD: Well, let’s talk about bedbugs.

EG: Erm, we just got our food.

KD: No, I actually do like traveling. Here, Jennifer [Roberts] always wants me to modify my language.

EG: Not for us, you don’t need to.

KD: If I am just home and writing, I become very strange. So there’s this balance. I am really an introvert, and I need that time alone for a variety of reasons. I need to write, and I can’t write when I’m on the road. But going out and not only meeting the kids, but meeting the teachers and the librarians and seeing the world, fills me up. There have been a couple of times when we’ve gotten the balance wrong, and I’ve been out to the point where it takes me too long to get back in, but it has generally been good. Now I can’t remember what the question was…

EG: “Do you like traveling?”

KD: I started off with bedbugs, and then I politely veered off.

EG: Have there been any especially memorable places you’ve been, or people you’ve met?

KD: There have been a ton of memorable places. About six months ago Jennifer and I went to South Dakota, which is not that far away from where I am in Minneapolis, but I had never done an event there. It was for their book festival, and they managed to get every third grader in the state, at the end of the year, a copy of [The Miraculous Journey of] Edward Tulane. And then I went there in the fall and saw them as fourth graders. They bused in something like two thousand kids, and I talked to them in groups of a thousand. I thought, “This will never work, because I’m going to physically be too far away from them.” But they have this state-of-the-art theater with an incredible sound system. I was able to move, and get down right in the middle of those kids. It was massive, and yet it was really, really intimate. What made that happen despite the size of the theater was that the kids were responding. It was the stories connecting us, and it was deeply powerful. Jennifer cried. I cried. Librarians cried. Organizers cried.

Jennifer Roberts: Didn’t you feel, Kate, that this was one of those moments where the connection was between not just your books and you as a writer, but also you as a person? Because the kids were comfortable asking you such personal questions.

KD_Seattle_fullhouseKD: Yes. And because I’m short and loud — I’ve watched this happen with Jon Sciezska when I’ve seen him present. It’s miraculous. The kids know right away that they can trust him, that they can say anything. I’m not Jon. But I think because I’m short, and because I’m in jeans, which a lot of the kids noticed — she wears jeans, you know? — and right, they’re not skinny jeans…

JR: Once someone asked, “How old are you?” Because they’ll ask these questions.

KD: That was one of my favorite exchanges. I said, “I’m fifty.” And the girl said, “But how did that happen?” Same thing I keep wondering.

EG: I’m looking at you and wondering that too. Do they ask any questions you just don’t want to answer, or you sort of deflect?

KD: No, because I feel like that’s part of the reason that I’m there, to tell them the truth. I was just at the Library of Congress, and a couple of eight-year-old girls wanted to give me the business about Opal’s mother [in Because of Winn-Dixie], and how I really needed to write another book. They either knew what happened, or Opal knew what happened, or something had to give. I said, “I genuinely don’t know, and I would be lying if I made her come back.” And then we talked about how sad that was, and then I talked about the end of the book, where Opal is in that room with all of those people, and don’t they seem like family? And it’s that same kind of thing with talking to them about me and my life. It’s like, has it been ideal? No, but it has worked out in ways that have been incredible. Because I talk about being sick a lot as a kid, and I talk about my dad leaving. Those kids in South Dakota, it was electrifying that they put it all together, because the first big question was, “Do you think that you would have been a writer if you hadn’t been sick?” Yeah, no, so this bad thing that happened to me, this thing that seemed bad, actually gave me something. And then we moved to the next question: “What about your dad? If he had stayed, then maybe you wouldn’t have been a writer.” Yup.

EG: Many of your books are serious, but some of them are just kind of silly and fun.

KD: They are. Nobody ever learns anything.

dicamillo_francine poulet meets the ghost raccoonEG: I was just laughing out loud at your latest — that raccoon catcher [Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, Tales from Deckawoo Drive series]. Do you think of those as a break from the heavier pieces?

KD: I was talking to Tobin [M. T. Anderson] about this one, and he said it’s like sorbet in between courses.

EG: Cleansing your palate.

KD: Yes. And it is like that. But it’s also necessary. I feel like I need it, so it’s not just taking a break.

JR: Wait, can I ask you a question?

KD: I love it when you ask me questions.

JR: It’s not like you wrote Flora & Ulysses, which is very funny but more serious, and then completely go to the sillier chapter books. You’re juggling a little bit.

KD: I’m always juggling. I’ve got four Deckawoos done now, and I’ll hold steady at that for a while. But I’ve got a novel that I’m working on. I just finished a draft of that, and when I put it aside, then I’ve got a shorter thing that could be silly. And so I work on that, and I’ve got that in a first draft now. And then I’ll go to the second or third draft of a novel, and then after I’m done with that, then I’ll go back to the short thing and take that up for another draft.

JR: You see why we have to stop traveling her! She’ll never get any writing done.

EG: But it never feels like you’re churning your books out. Each one is fresh and interesting. Nothing feels like you are just phoning it in.

KD: God help me if I’m phoning it in. That would be terrible.

EG: Are you getting ideas on the road, so you’re really working at the same time?

KD: Yes, that’s the great thing about the road. Because no matter how hard you try to be present at home, you’re always doing the things that you have to do. It’s hard to see with fresh eyes, but you come out here and wham, wham, wham.

JR: Well, it’s like what you say to kids when they ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

KD: I eavesdrop. And this is like riding a city bus all over the country.

EG: Do you get recognized on the street? And if you do, are you recognized differently by children than by adults? There aren’t that many actual celebrities in this field, really, but you are one. How does that play into your life?

floraulyssesKD: I’ve been recognized in airports lots of places, but mostly getting recognized is at home. Minnesota has been so good to me and so pleased that I love Minnesota. This is the great thing about writing for kids. Adults might not do anything if they recognized me. But if they do see me, and they’re with a kid, they’ll tell the kid who I am. They think they should give that to the kid. So generally that sends the kid over. It happens at restaurants quite a bit. I don’t think about being a celebrity. I think, oh my god, kids are reading, and they care about a book enough to come over and talk to me about a book that they care about. If I think about it as being a celebrity, it would freak me out. But I just think, lucky me, that I get to be a part of this whole thing. Even when we go out on the road, and we do always go into areas where the kids are not seeing writers and they’re not getting books, and then we go to the other end where they have everything in the world. I still feel like it’s probably a rarefied chunk that I’m seeing, but what I see are kids who are totally engaged with books. It makes me so much a Pollyanna. Do you guys want to argue about that? What do you think? Do you think I’m just being hopeful?

JR: No, I think it’s books and stories. You talk about stories so much because stories come in so many different formats. They just love the stories. They want to know, like you said, Opal’s mom — what happened to her? You created her; it’s what you did. She exists somewhere, and you must know where.

winndixieKD: It’s real in their engagement, and it matters to them. There was a twenty-one-year-old guy at the Boston Public Library event the other day. He raised his hand and said, “I grew up in Boston, in an urban setting. I read Winn-Dixie when I was a kid, and that’s about a girl in a rural Southern town, and yet I really connected to that story. Do you have any other stories about unlikely connections like that?” And then he came through the signing line afterwards, he was at the very end. I asked, “So are you done with college?” He said, “I just finished.” I asked, “What’s your degree in?” and he said, “Psychology with a minor in art. Don’t ask me what I’m going to do. I’m hoping it will just come to me.” And then — I keep on thinking about this — he quoted verbatim the passage at the start of chapter seventeen, about Littmus W. Block coming home from the war and having seen so much sadness in the world, he wanted something sweet so he built the town a candy factory. This grownup quoting from the book!

EG: Do you think every kid is a reader, even if they don’t think that they are? And/or if they don’t think that they are, how do you reach them?

KD: I know people in the industry who are big, big readers, who are just nervous as all get-out about their kids. “He doesn’t like to read. She doesn’t like to read. What am I going to do?” Reading is my passion. I always think — and I don’t know that this makes me a lot of fans — I don’t think it’s going to be the thing for everybody. But I think for everybody it can be a solace, illumination, education. It might not be the way that the child engages with the world, but it should be something that they all learn how to do, and that they get to have for themselves, as opposed to somebody telling them what to do and how to do it. They’re not easy questions.

EG: In terms of this connection and what’s happening in people’s minds — every time I see the girl who played Opal in the Winn-Dixie movie [AnnaSophia Robb] acting in something else, I think, “I’m so glad that Opal’s doing okay for herself.”

KD: That’s hysterical. I like it.

EG: Do you think of the movie versions of your books [Because of Winn-Dixie in 2005 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2008] as yours? Or do you think of them as something different?

KD: I was saying this the other day at the library. The only control you have over a movie is whether or not you decide to sell the rights. It seems very small and mean to say, “This book is so precious and perfect that you can’t turn it into a movie.” To me the book is like having a kid. I have to let it go out in the world, and great things will happen. Maybe they won’t, but it has to keep on moving. So yes, I see that as part of mine, or something that I’m part of a cycle of.

Martha V. Parravano: I wanted to ask about the illustrations in your books. You’re so devoted to visuals. In almost all of your books there’s some visual element. Is that you? Is that the publisher?

KD: That’s a happy synergy between us. With Despereaux I said to Kara [LaReau, former Candlewick editor], “I can’t imagine this book not being illustrated, can you?” and she said, “Oh, no, it has to be.”

MVP: You were so ahead of your time. Now it’s going to be all about the synergy between words and pictures.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward TulaneKD: Right. I remember when I had, like, eight pages of Despereaux, and I was struggling with it. But I gave it to one of my good friends, who read it and said, “It makes me feel like a kid. It makes me feel like I’m reading a book that I read when I was a kid.” Everything when I was a kid was illustrated. Those color plates. And they weren’t always — sometimes they were in the wrong place. And why was her hair dark, you know? That kind of thing. But they were an integral part of it. Kara and I hadn’t really talked about it that much. We just knew that it had to be. And then enter Chris Paul [Candlewick creative director and associate publisher].

I’ve been so lucky. I wouldn’t have the career that I have if I had not been at Candlewick. No one has ever said to me, “What are you doing?” Instead they always say, “We’ll figure out a way to make this work.” If I go from turning in The Tiger Rising to turning in Despereaux, Kara would say, “More, please,” as opposed to, “What are you doing?” Or: “Don’t put that word in a book.” Like [author and reviewer] Sue Corbett listing out all the words in Flora & Ulysses and saying, “What are you trying to do? Prep them for the SAT?” I think if I’d been someplace else, I’m such a pleaser that if somebody had said “Take it out,” I would have. And I think if I’d been at another place I might have been pushed into a Winn-Dixie sequel.

It goes back to that thing about phoning it in, and what’s the point of doing it if I’m just going to phone it in, right? Or like with Mercy Watson. My agent, Holly [McGhee], said, “I don’t know what it is. But I like it.” And she sent it to Candlewick. And they’re like, “We have no idea what this is. But we love it.” And then they found a way to make it work.

JR: Booksellers and librarians at first didn’t know where to shelve it. A not-yet-tried genre, really.

MVP: And now there are so many imitators.

EG: And speaking of imitators — how many books are there now with introspective girls with pets? Thanks for that, lady.

KD: My obituary: her books about introspective girls with pets.

EG: Do you read your own reviews?

KD: I read whatever the publisher sends me. I don’t look for anything. I have been clean and sober for eight years. I have not Googled myself. I have not looked at myself on Amazon. It could drive you wild. What other questions are on your list?

EG: Mostly dumb ones, like how many pairs of rainbow socks have people given you?

dicamillo_bink & gollieKD: It’s funny, I’ve gotten many more toast socks than rainbow socks. Yeah, there are socks out there with toast on them. Yesterday I got a loaf of bread. That was a new one. It looked really good. It was from the cutest kid. He was maybe four, and his mom said, “Sometimes when he goes to sleep at night he’s saying something over and over to himself. It took me a while to figure out what it is. It’s from Bink & Gollie: ‘I long for speed. I long for speed.’”

EG: So are you straight-up Bink, or are there Gollie pieces in there too?

KD: I’m straight-up Bink. There’s that scene in the first Bink & Gollie book where Bink is on the bench trying to get her roller skates on. Tony [Fucile, illustrator] had never met me at that point, but that picture captured me to a T. That feeling of “Oh my god, I’m so frustrated, I just want to get these on and go.” (I said to him once, at the Geisel lunch, “How did you—?” And he’s like, “Well, there’s the internet.” And he didn’t say it like an asshole at all.)

EG: Did he know that the character was you when he was working on the project?

KD: Well, I didn’t really know that the character was me until he did the art. I mean, I knew that Alison [McGhee, co-author] is tall, I’m short, but it wasn’t that clear what was going on until Tony turned in the art. For a long time I would comfort myself by saying I need to summon my inner Bink. I always feel like that’s the best part of me, that kind of irrepressible person. And Tony gave that to me through that art.

JR: You’re not officially in the book, but it is pretty much what I think of as you.

EG: But it’s not forced, vanity, self-conscious.

KD: No, because I wasn’t really, truly aware of it.

JR: Also, vanity — Bink’s a bit of a mess.

KD: Verisimilitude, you know?

EG: Oh, I did have one last question: Do you have any words of wisdom for the next ambassador?

KD: I don’t know that I have any words of wisdom except that you’re going in as somebody who is supposed to give a message and instead you get paid back in ways that you do not anticipate. So you think, “Oh, I’m going to go out and do this,” but instead everybody gives to you. You know what I mean? You don’t realize what you’re going to get, and you can’t prepare yourself for it. It’s a gift.

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

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20. Five questions for Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim_Wynne-JonesAt the start of Tim Wynne-Jones’s The Emperor of Any Place (Candlewick, 14 years and up), Evan, reeling from the death of his single father, has no choice but to contact his paternal grandfather, Griff — whom Evan’s dad called a murderer. A gripping story-within-the-story unfolds about a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a haunted island. How Wynne-Jones weaves these strands together is elegant, surprising, and exhilarating.

1. How much did you know about WWII Japan and Japanese folklore before writing this book?

TWJ: Very little! I’ve had the good fortune to travel in Japan, and loved it, but I cannot claim any particular prior knowledge of Japanese culture or folklore. For years I had wanted to write a World War II book to honor my father, whose experience of the war in Europe scarred him. What we would call PTSD now, but which he did not acknowledge as more than “shell shock,” haunted him and had an effect on us, his children. War does that: spirals down the years and decades, affecting generations. Whenever I tried to write myself into the war, so to speak, I found it impossible, and only after a great deal of time did I come to the realization that the European war was my father’s war. Which left me with the “Other War,” in the Pacific Theater, the one I knew next to nothing about. That gave me the freedom to research deeply, to dig and imagine and finally find a corner of the war that I could inhabit, fictionally.

As I was getting to know Isamu Oshiro, I realized he would have grown up with the folklore of his people just as I have grown up with the folklore of mine. And as soon as I started reading up on that, I knew it would be an integral part of Kokoro-Jima. I have played with the idea of the jikininki, giving them a unique back-story. This is what Bram Stoker did with Dracula: take an existing folktale and breathe new life into it. It has happened down the ages and was one of my favorite parts of writing this book.

2. Did you write the different threads of the story one at a time or were you working on them all at once?

TWJ: Oh, the threads. The threads were a complete schmozzle! There were so many threads — far more than made the final cut. At one point I had thirteen point-of-view characters all clamoring to tell their stories. “Me, me!,” they shouted until my head hurt. What really came first was the story-within-the-story, that of Isamu’s adventures on the island of ghosts and monsters. Then there was the very lengthy task of finding out who else was going to make their way to that mysterious place and how it would all play out and how those people were related to the contemporary characters. I drew a whole lot of family trees!

wynne-jones_emperor of any place3. Did you make Griff up? Or is he based on someone you know?

TWJ: Griff grew out of my research and wide reading about the war, but with aspects of various people I’ve met, including my father. War shapes a man, whether he wants it to or not. A lifetime of fighting wars has shaped Griff. There was a whole novella-length part of the book that I eventually took out, about when Griff was a young man, Evan’s age, stationed in Iceland, before he was shipped over to the Pacific after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was, among other things, a love story. He alludes to that in the novel, but originally I had the whole story as part of this book. That was when the novel was over six hundred pages long and…well, something had to go. But I’m so glad I wrote his story. It really helped me to get to know him and see that he wasn’t always like he is now. Once he was young and in love, with his whole life before him.

4. This book is: realistic family story; fantasy; mystery; ghost story; historical fiction; war story; contemporary fiction; story-within-a-story; and more. How’d you make that all work?

TWJ: Phew! Put that way, I’m not sure! It took a long time, I’ll say that much. I usually spend a year or so writing a novel. This one took more than three and a half years. There were so many parts of the story I wanted to tell, and I juggled all that in such a way that there were many, many versions. Gradually, the stories that needed to be there stayed and the other parts fell away. Along with the Griff novella, there was another whole novella telling us Hisako’s story as she lived through the invasion of Sampei. I think it was only when Evan rose to the top as my central character that I knew what I could include and what had to go, no matter how interesting it was to me in and of itself. This is, in the end, Isamu’s and Evan’s book, and there is nothing in it now that doesn’t shore up their stories and, hopefully, weave them together: the Emperor of Kokoro-Jima and the Emperor of Any Place.

5. Do you believe in the afterlife? (Or the beforelife, in this case?)

TWJ: Do you want the long answer, the short answer, or the truth? The afterlife has been a part of human culture — the Human Mind — for so many millennia it’s not something one can simply dismiss. I don’t believe in heaven as a place, per se, so much as a deeply rooted concept, but I do believe that the idea operates on us and through us while we are alive. So in a way it does exist as we live in a world with this unanswered and persuasive question hanging over our heads. It was only after a long time of writing this novel that I came up with the idea of preincarnation, and I loved the poetry of it. I quickly learned that there are other definitions of this word out there, but my own definition and its appearance on Kokoko-Jima captivated my imagination. I love the idea that there was — is — this magical island in the largest of our oceans where the future waits in ethereal form and recognizes us for who we are, if we happen to wash up on the shore there. I suppose that even if heaven is only a metaphor, it’s a particularly powerful one. And I take metaphors very seriously. A metaphor is how we describe something we have no description for. Sounds like heaven to me!

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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21. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson on The Book Itch

Vaunda Micheaux NelsonIn our November/December issue, our editors asked Vaunda Micheaux Nelson about revisiting the source material of her BGHB Award–winning No Crystal Stair in new picture book The Book Itch. Read the full review of The Book Itch here.

Horn Book Editors: What compelled you to revisit the material from No Crystal Stair to create your picture book The Book Itch?

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: I was writing in Lewis Jr.’s voice in No Crystal Stair when I realized that his perspective might entice younger readers into Lewis Sr.’s world. Moved by Lewis Jr.’s story, I wanted to explore how his father and the bookstore influenced him in particular. You could say Lewis Jr. cut in line and stepped onto the speaker’s platform, making me pause the longer work.

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

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22. Barry Deutsch on Hereville

deutsch_hereville how mirka caught a fishIn our November/December issue, reviewer Shoshana Flax asked Barry Deutsch about the third entry in his graphic novel series about “11-year-old time-traveling Jewish Orthodox babysitter” Mirka. Read the full starred review of Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish here.

Shoshana Flax: We hear more about the modern world in this third installment. What do you think the neighbors think of Hereville?

Barry Deutsch: I can honestly say no one’s ever asked me that before! The people in the next town over are pretty suspicious of Hereville. There are a lot of weird rumors flying around, as you’d expect. (The Hereville folks tend to be pretty insular.) But in real life, one of my neighbors has become a big Hereville fan! We sometimes talk about it on the bus.

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

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23. The Family Romanov: Author Candace Fleming’s 2015 BGHB NF Award Speech

fleming_family romanovWhat a joy it is to celebrate with you, to laugh and talk, to make new friends and embrace old ones. Thank you to the Boston Globe–Horn Book judges for honoring this complicated, often dark tale from history. What a remarkable gift you have given me. As always, I am deeply grateful to my Random House family — Barbara Marcus, Lee Wade, Ann Kelley, Rachael Cole, Stephanie Pitts, Adrienne Waintraub, Laura Antonacci, Lisa Nadel, and last, but never least, the exceptionally wise, talented, and invincible Anne Schwartz. Thank you for your willingness to take risks on behalf of my obsessions. Thank you for always making me so much better.

Finally…I have to thank my mother. Back in 1967, the Book of the Month Club mailed her a copy of Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra. She didn’t want it, but she’d neglected to decline the title in advance. And so she crammed it — unread and unpaid for — onto our already groaning bookshelves.

Because of my mother’s carelessness, I am standing here tonight.

I found that ill-gotten book on our shelves just after my thirteenth birthday. I wasn’t interested in Russian history. I was simply bored, and at loose ends, and the book looked very adult, like it might have some racy parts in it. I tucked it under my arm and headed for my room.

“You’re not going to like that,” my mother called after me. “I’ve heard it’s pretty dense.”

She was right about one thing — at six hundred–plus pages, it was dense. But even though it didn’t have any naughty scenes, I loved it. I was swept away by the beautiful, ill-fated family, by the romance and splendor of that bygone era. Looking back, I think I must have skipped the parts about war and revolution; how everyday Russians suffered and died under Nicholas’s policies. Or maybe I chose not to believe them. For me, the Romanovs were, as Alexandra herself liked to say, “all roses and sweet kisses.”

They lived that way in my imagination — roses and kisses — for the next four decades. Then something happened. I began visiting middle schools where I talked about my passion for history, and how writing biography allows me to indulge my curiosity.

“Who from history piques your curiosity?” I asked at the end of each presentation. “Who do you long to know more about?”

Time and again, a student — usually a girl — raised her hand. “Anastasia,” she’d answer.

I wasn’t surprised. I, too, believed in the bittersweet magic of Anastasia’s story — the rich, spirited princess who should have lived happily-ever-after but who was unable to escape her fate. Doomed, her bloodline cursed, hers was a fairy tale turned to tragedy.

Hmm, I thought, this could make a wonderful small book.

And so I launched into creating a pleasant, breezy biography focused on Nicholas’s youngest daughter and propelled by luxurious palaces and endearing, little-known facts. What was Anastasia’s favorite toy? A one-armed, one-eyed doll named Vera. What was her favorite treat? Pickled reindeer tongue.

I stuck close to the main character, confining the story within an Imperial bubble. Just as Nicholas and Alexandra insulated their children from the larger world, I protected my readers from the darkness gathering on Russia’s horizon. I spared them the reasons for peasant and worker discontent; kept at bay the miseries of World War I. Like Anastasia, my readers only occasionally peeked through the distorted surface of that bubble. What they saw remained hazy and nebulous, mere hints at the events sweeping down on the family.

As for Anastasia’s tragic end…well, I decided to avoid the entire incident. Why distress my reader with the violent, messy truth? Instead, I ended my first draft this way: “Three hours later Anastasia and her family awoke to a nightmare.”

That’s it.

No gun smoke–filled cellar.

No bullets, or jewels hidden in camisoles.

No death.

I sent this first attempt to Anne Schwartz.

One of the things I admire most about Anne is her honesty. I can always rely on her to tell it like it is.

“Boring,” she said.

And when I thought about her comment — after I’d finished plotting her demise and pulling out my hair — I knew she was right.

The story I’d sent her was predigested. It lacked depth. It avoided controversy. Yes, every word was fact, but I hadn’t told the truth.

Facts simply are. They can’t be questioned or disputed, at least not reasonably. Anastasia was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. She was born in June. She did wear white lace dresses.

The truth is what we make of those facts; what they show us; what they teach us.

Stating facts is easy.

But telling the truth? It means piecing together the threads of humanity that join the past to the present, that make us one people even across centuries.

It means taking what is unfamiliar or difficult to grasp — like turn-of-the-twentieth-century Russia — and making it commonplace for twenty-first-century readers.

It means finding human themes in narratives, and writing stories — honest stories — from those themes: loss, grief, loneliness, joy, anger, love.

Above all, it means searching for something greater; telling a true story that not only connects with readers but also strives to say something about the way we live today.

What is Anastasia’s story about? I asked myself. Truthfully about.

It’s not merely the story of a pampered princess whose life comes to a bad end.

It’s about a princess’s way of life that comes to an end because something had gone terribly wrong. Something I’d chosen to ignore. What forces were at work? What personalities? And was there really nothing Nicholas or Alexandra could have done to change their fate?

I pawed through my research. I had six pages of facts about Fabergé eggs; twenty-six more devoted entirely to descriptions of the Winter Palace; twelve detailing Anastasia’s elaborate baptismal ceremony.

Karl Marx, on the other hand, didn’t rate a single note. Neither did the voices of Russian peasants or workers. Lenin got just three mentions. World War I got ten.

I had work to do.

I would have to go deep — deeper than facts about reindeer tongue or white-lace dresses. I would have to dig in the rubble of well-known history for stories that had gone untold, voices that had gone unheard. Peasants and factory workers. Shop girls and soldiers. Priests, office workers, and cleaning women. They were part of the truth, too. So were the Romanovs’ guards. So was their firing squad.

I didn’t figure all this out overnight, and I didn’t figure it out by myself. Rather, it was a process of thinking and rethinking, writing and rewriting, questioning and questioning and questioning again. Anastasia faded into the background. Other lives moved to the forefront. At times I was resistant to the material. Did I really have to delve into Nicholas’s anti-Semitism? Did I really have to explore Alexandra’s radical Orthodoxy? Did I really have to describe the deaths of those beautiful children?

I did.

In the end, The Family Romanov may not satisfy those middle-school students’ curiosity in the ways they’d anticipated. It’s not a royal fairy tale, and it certainly isn’t all “roses and sweet kisses.” There’s not even a single mention of Fabergé eggs. But it’s the truth, or at least what I made of it based on the facts and my interpretation of them. It answers my questions.

What is the Romanovs’ story truthfully about?

It’s about what happens when a government does not respond to the needs of its people, when faith supersedes fact and ninety percent of a country’s wealth is held by 1.5 percent of the population.

After the book was published, I heard from lots of people telling me they’d gained a new perspective from reading it. I also heard from people who did not like my version of the truth. “You ruined the Romanovs for me,” wrote one young woman.

I can commiserate. Writing The Family Romanov sort of ruined them for me, too. But it taught me that lives are always more complex, more tangled, than the myths and fairy tales that arise from what we want them to be. In the end, it taught me that there is a difference between fact and truth. And to write a credible and compelling story, you need both.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB15.

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24. Brown Girl Dreaming: Author Jacqueline Woodson’s 2015 BGHB NF Honor Speech

woodson_brown girl dreamingHey Everybody. I want to thank the committee for choosing Brown Girl Dreaming as a Boston Globe–Horn Book honor book. It wasn’t an easy book to write — I know no book is easy — but Brown Girl Dreaming took me on a writing journey like no other. And while I’m grateful for that journey, I am glad to have that book in print — and out of me.

Imagine a very long labor without any drugs. Then imagine the euphoria that follows. The book in the world and having its life is that euphoria — and winning this award is a part of that.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB15.

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25. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Author Phillip Hoose’s 2015 BGHB NF Honor Speech

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

In recent years I’ve endeavored to give young readers real-life protagonists their own age. I want my readers to ask themselves, “What would I have done?” I believe that teens experience sharper pangs of injustice than adults, and a greater determination to do something about it. Some, such as Claudette Colvin, have acted with amazing courage. As Dr. King said of the civil rights movement, “The blanket of fear was lifted by Negro youth.”

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is the story of a group of Danish middle-school students who were passionately ashamed of their government for bowing to the German forces that invaded their country on April 9, 1940. Rather than kneel to the enemy, these schoolboys vowed to “clean the mud off the Danish flag.” They formed a sabotage cell called the Churchill Club and taught themselves, on the job, how to trouble the German army. After a six-month spree during which their activities escalated from vandalism to the theft of high-powered weapons to the grenade bombing of German vehicles, they were captured. Word of their arrest raced through the country. There was great concern that the boys would be executed. Their courage shamed and inspired Danish citizenry to stand up against their occupiers.

After the arrest, the great Danish poet and playwright Kaj Munk expressed the national mood in a letter to the parents of ringleader Knud Pedersen and his brother Jens: “Of course what [the boys] have done is wrong; but it is not nearly so wrong as when the government gave the country away to the invading enemy…I pray to God to give them cheerfulness, endurance, and constancy in the good cause.”

I met Knud Pedersen in Copenhagen in 2012. He was eighty-six. In the previous seventy years there had been film nibbles and book offers to tell the story of the Churchill Club, but nothing had panned out. Knud knew that my interest probably represented his last chance to tell the story right, and he took full advantage of it. I interviewed him for a solid week, which led to hundreds of follow-up emails and, ultimately, the book you have honored here.

I think this story is especially important. The Churchill Club boys, some of whom had yet to shave, took on a hopelessly big Goliath. They had no military training and had not been desensitized to violence and killing, as are soldiers in basic training. In shrill voices the boys debated the ethics of taking lives. Was it ever right? When? Who decides?

As Anne Whaling, children’s book buyer at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley, California, has commented, “The book raises lots of thought-provoking questions, as the best books always do: When do you stand up, even fight, for what is right? How would you do it? How far would you go? And, in today’s world, where is the line drawn between political activist, vandal, and terrorist?”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB15.

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