Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Birds do it

and we're doing it too, migrating, from Read Roger's home on to some shady spot that Blogger has picked out for us. It's really more a forced march. When we get there, you should be automatically moved to join us. So they tell us. Everything should be a-okay by this evening, Lolly says.


Friday, March 05, 2010

A mystery solved

So now I know why she calls it Fuse #8. And how much money they're we're paying her. Good on you, Betsy!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Check for lint

Andrew sent me this op-ed re Kirkus and consumer reviewing whose sentiments I much appreciate, especially this gem: "Too often, the pretense of sharing advice devolves into oversharing the contours of one's navel."

Meghan Daum is here talking primarily about consumer boards like Yelp and Amazon reviews, and I noticed yesterday while looking something up on Yelp that what caught my attention were reviews and ratings that confirmed my opinions about stores and restaurants I had already patronized. I don't read children's book blogs the same way--the bloggers feel like peers; the Yelpers more like neighbors. I'm still working on what that difference means.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Too damned long

I see that PW has followed up on Betsy Bird's thoughts on the Amazon Vine program; their speculation that membership in Vine might be a perk for good customers is intriguing if not substantiated. What seems oddest to me is that this program--for which publishers and other producers pay for the privilege of having their products evaluated--is being criticized for eliciting cluelessly negative reviews, which does not seem to serve the purposes of either publishers or Amazon. It's not like the books don't otherwise get customer reviews, but perhaps the Vine reviews post early enough so that any early buzz they provide outweighs what they actually say?

Vine reviews, customer reviews, and, sorry, blog reviews--they are all too damned long. That's the problem I have with 'em. Just because the technology allows one to prattle on forever should by no means encourage one to do so. The one Amazon review I remember appreciating was a negative review of a recording I adore, Adam Guettel's musical Floyd Collins. It read, in its entirety, "Too much yodeling."

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

More Meta

In Betsy Bird's SLJ article "This Blog's for You" (and I thank her for including Read Roger in the list of "Ten Blogs You Can't Live Without"), she asks a bunch of swell questions:

Do kids' lit bloggers influence publishing decisions? Are library systems basing their purchasing decisions on our recommendations? Should they? And to what extent is a blog about literature for youth a reliable source of information?

My short answers to the first three are not a lot, ditto, and no. As to reliability: while I don't see a lot of misinformation on children's lit blogs and am in fact impressed by the care which with bloggers source their facts, we first need to ask what we mean by information--and it's the answer to this question that tells us why blogs are not, generally, as useful to librarians as Betsy's first three questions would have them be. The glory and the bane of book blogging is its variety. Glory because lots of talented people are saying lots of different things about different topics in different ways to different audiences. Bane because this same riotous abandon confounds any but the most limited usefulness. While an individual can pick up the odd book-buying tip from reading the blogs, a library can't--it needs more systematic information than the blogosphere provides. A library collection based upon blog recommendations would be a mess.

If somebody needs a master's thesis, I wish he or she would take a look at whether or not there is such a thing as a blog-friendly book. We've had lots of discussions about bloggers all pushing the same books at the same time (a phenomenon exacerbated by blog tours) but I wonder if this is less a result of publishers pushing certain titles than it is that some books more than others will appeal to people who like to blog about children's books. Many bloggers are emphatic about their desire to write about books they personally love (and again, if a youth services librarian built a collection on the basis of what he or she loved, the library would be useless to the actual kids allegedly being served). There's a whole sub-genre of children's literature that has found its best audience among the adults who serve children (The Wednesday Wars, for example); does the same thing go on among bloggers?

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Let's not forget that the gal had a good point, but

The discussion/flamewar over at Betsy's place about the Amazon Vine program reminds me yet again of the best way to get people to leave comments on a blog post: write something about blogging that implies in even the tiniest way that some practices might be better than others. People love to go all meta on that stuff.

In other words, as Betty Cavanna's Diane Graham (in A Date for Diane) recalls from a teen dating etiquette book she's optimistically memorized, "let a lad talk about himself."

Now, if someone would kindly leave a note in the comments accusing me of accusing Betsy of doing the same thing that I am doing right now, we can all watch the metaverse explode together.

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Friday, September 11, 2009


That is, What Would Miss Manners Do upon receipt of a blog tour "invitation" that opened "Pick a date in the month of November that you'd like to host us."

Hmm, let's see. "Gentle Reader: While Miss Manners was pleased to be in your thoughts she thinks you have your roles mixed up. It is the host who offers the invitation, not the guest. Miss Manners confesses she is quite agog with confusion over the prospect of a world in which a guest might phone one up and suggest dinner at one's domicile. She is further confounded by the notion that a host appreciates being offered a "menu of options" that the guest would find acceptable. Even if Miss Manners were running a restaurant--which she is not--she would settle upon the menu herself. She would also charge, which would rather change the position of the guest to that of a customer, no? But Miss Manners is as loathe to charge for her hospitality as she is likely to enjoy having you "stop by" on the "tour" you are proposing. Bon voyage!"

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Monday, June 29, 2009

When writers attack!

I wonder what you call the Twitter equivalent to drunk dialing?

And if you're going to whine about how you used to be reviewed (and how that must hurt) by Anne Tyler, it might be politic to spell her name right.

[Update 11:45 AM. It looks like Alice Hoffman wisely thought to retreat from the field and suspended or cancelled her account. But for those who missed it, Hoffman had taken issue, via several Twitter messages, with a review by Roberta Silman of her latest book in the Boston Globe. Along with publishing the reviewer's phone number and encouraging readers to call and give her hell, Hoffman complained, "Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?"]

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Publishers and bloggers

In a comment on a recent thread, Elizabeth posted a comment that I thought deserved its own discussion so I moved it here for your consideration:

Re. the question of anonymous posting, I seem to be the only person who holds the opinion that I would prefer to see people use their names, yet hold it I do. I may post my reasons why later, but for now I'd like to talk more about a question that publishers are debating re. the blogosphere, and which I don't think has been discussed on the thread below.

We are getting a lot of requests from YA bloggers, many of them teens themselves, who want galleys of one or another of our upcoming books. We are working at sorting out which of these bloggers have big enough followings to merit sending them a galley. Let's say it's roughly $8.50 to print and mail a galley, and our supply, and our time, is limited. How many of these bloggers might have enough readers to make it worth our while? Or, for that matter, write compelling enough entries that someone would want to read the book they are talking about? Interestingly, most bloggers, when asking for a galley, have not yet learned to say "I get 1000 unique readers a month" or whatever the appropriate lingo is. They just say they love YA literature, such and such book sounds good, and that they'd love to write about it on their blog. And as others have suggested, I think they'd also like to brag to their friends that they get a lot of galleys. But that's not a lot of use to us.

And as Roger and others *have* mentioned on this thread, while we have no idea what professional critics are going to write about our novels, we do expect most blog coverage to be positive. Maybe some of it will be really positive, maybe some of it will just mention our book in a long list of titles, but so far blog coverage, particularly of books seen in advance of the general public, has been pretty positive. When or if that changes, it will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe we'll keep a "naughty or nice" list!

10:51 PM, June 17, 2009


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blogs and buzz

Here and elsewhere, there have been some valuable discussions about children's book reviewing on blogs and an email I just got has me wondering about the distinction between book reviewing and book buzz. The email, of the multiple-recipients variety, was from Penguin: "Have you read FIRE yet? We want to know what you think! Please send me your thoughts, comments, quotes, etc. so we can get buzzing about the biggest young adult book of the year! Looking forward to hearing from you!"

I think those exclamation points will allow me to forgo another cup of coffee this morning. Fire is Kristin Cashore's sequel to Graceling (published by Harcourt, Awkward.) and will be released in October. The buzz-begging went, I presume, to people who had received ARCs, and I'm guessing that this group includes a fair number of bloggers, given how well Graceling did among that group last year.

I wonder if book-bloggers are going to have to choose between being creators (and subsequently beneficiaries) of buzz and reviewers of books. As I wrote in the comments on my last post, reviewing a book months in advance of its publication is not particularly useful if the audience for your review is the general public. (Advance reviewing of the kind Kirkus does is useful, because it's going to an audience--librarians--who routinely order books before publication date.) But months-in-advance is perfect for creating buzz, and blogging is a terrific medium for just that kind of publicity. Can a blogger provide buzz in advance and a review later? Does involving oneself in buzzing compromise any subsequent review? How cozy can a blog get with a publisher's marketing strategy? And if you DO have "thoughts, comments, quotes" on a book, are you going to give 'em to a publisher or save 'em for your blog?

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

"The fanboys can be merciless."

This Times article about the gypsies invading the castle of professional film criticism has a lot of import to the kidlitosphere as well, as amateur (I use the word in a strict sense) and independent critics join the established professional players in reviewing new books for children. I like what A. O. Scott has to say: “the paradox is that the Web has invigorated criticism as an activity while undermining it as a profession.” He means, I think, that as more people are embracing criticism as valuable, the notion that particular people can have expertise (worth paying for) becomes devalued: all opinions become equal.

Here's what worries me more. In the recent dustup about the BEA bloggers panel and subsequent debate about first- and second-generation bloggers, a-list and b-list bloggers, whether blog tours do any good and what constitutes pay and payola in the book-reviewing blog world, I kept thinking about my favorite Nora Ephron crack, which I will have to paraphrase as I can't find my copy of Crazy Salad. Writing about her experience with a 70s feminist consciousness-raising group, Ephron noted that in its waning days the conversation had devolved into a discussion about how each woman was going to stuff her turkey that Thanksgiving, and that none of the members was even particularly interested in hearing what the other women had to say, they were just impatient for their turn to talk. (Or as Fran Leibowitz put it, "conversation is not the art of listening. It is the art of waiting.") I worry that Internet 2.0 is turning us all into better talkers than listeners--that's what will kill criticism from wherever its source.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Blurring boundaries

Kelly Herold (of Big A, Little a) has a new blog with a very promising premise. Crossover "focuses on a rare breed of book--the adult book teens love, the teen book adults appreciate, and (very, very occasionally) that Middle Grade book adults read. I'm interested in reviewing books that transcend these age boundaries and understanding why these books are different." She kicks things off with a discussion of Twilight. Don't forget the Twi-moms, Kelly!

My new crossover favorite is Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim's The Eternal Smile, a collection of three thematically linked graphic stories (First Second/Roaring Brook). Yesterday I had an interesting talk with Lauren Wohl of Roaring Brook about the challenge graphic fiction presents to our traditional concept of grade level. I thought Eternal Smile was YA, or YA enough, to review in the Horn Book but SLJ apparently booted it over to their big brother Library Journal. Conversely, I thought the same publisher's Laika was clearly adult, but Lauren told me it had won a bunch of children's/YA awards. Graphic novels are just one development that promises to keep the reviewer's lot lively; when I think about self-publishing, print-on-demand and e-publishing, I just want it to stay Memorial Day weekend (which I intend to spend reading the new John Sandford and Tom Rob Smith thrillers) for the rest of my life.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

X hits the spot

Reviewer X has a good discussion going on blog reviewing. I confess I'm dying to try Twitter if only to see just WHO is:

comparing their "hit lists" for authors they plan to ask for ARCs, trading e-mail addresses and results, complaining about whether they're getting an ARC, and actually encouraging each other to send nasty mail to authors they "know" have ARCs, and just won't give them to them. As if they're entitled! (And YES, I have the transcripts. I was appalled.)

I don't do book reviewing here, so I hesitate to join the discussion. Oh, not really. I'm surprised to find out that some book-bloggers request ARCs from authors. Way tacky. But then, it must work often enough if it's being debated as a practice. The forum also has me wondering about just what effect YA book-blogging was having on sales and readership: if the audience for review blogs is mainly other review blogs, and if they are all scrambling for ARCs, do any books get sold as a result? And: Are these bloggers largely adults reading for their own enjoyment and essentially simply swapping recommendations (and tips on how to score free books) among themselves? But then I saw that the very smart X was fifteen and the world brightened a little.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Amazoning Out

JasonB's post at Galleycat about Thomas Nelson's new program of supplying free books to bloggers on the condition that they review the book and copy said review to an online vendor such as brings up lots of questions, and don't miss the link to the Guardian's essay on the subject, which includes an entertaining, increasingly hostile debate in the comments section.

My own question is about Amazon review overload. It looks to me like customer reviews at Amazon have become an increasingly insidery sport, fun for the reviewers themselves but too overwhelming, in numbers and attitude, for someone wanting to buy a book. There are some excellent reviewers there (hi, Fuse!) but also a lot of amateurism--in the pejorative sense--involving competition among the reviewers themselves to one-up each other. I wonder if and when Amazon will decide that this doesn't help them sell books. Or does it?

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Catching Up

Cruising through Bloglines to see what I've been missing over the past ten days, I was stopped by Colleen's post about blog tours wherein the author ponies up cash to a third party who then alerts its squad of bloggers to review the author's new book. Holy crap. I share the outrage but feel that this concept is going to thrive just about well as the just-announced Progressive Book Club, which will fail not because America has been taken over by benighted republicans but because book-of-the-month-type book clubs are an anachronism. The blog-squad concept will fail because buzz-generating reviewers won't join in and will make mock of those who do. Jeanne duPrau, pull out now.

Then there's Frank Cottrell Boyce's comments about YA publishing, but I think the worthy arguments advanced against them are missing the funnier semi-scandal of one Guardian children's fiction award longlister (Boyce) queering (albeit probably obliviously) the chances of another (Patrick Ness) by saying his really isn't a juvenile book at all!

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Comment spam?

Blogger seems to be having various problems today and won't let me post a couple of highly amusing pictures Lolly Robinson sent my way. What's posting without interruption, however, are spam comments. Does anyone have any recommendations for curbing this? Word verification doesn't seem to work anymore, and I hesitate to approve comments first because I think it would inhibit commenters (plus, I don't want the extra work). Any ideas?


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Something stinks

Bloggers criticizing perfume--what will those pesky scamps get up to next!

I can't believe the reporter left unchallenged and unexplored the claim that a "prominent blogger" was "threatened with a lawsuit by a perfume company because she had deemed its product 'only O.K.' and 'a little disappointing.'" The juiciest and most provocative statement in the whole article and there's no followup?

I'll be in New York for the next couple of days, hoping to come back to you with a podcast of some of my conversations. Here's hoping I remember which button does what.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Cybils Speak

The winners of the 2007 Cybil Awards have been announced. A group project of the children's-book blogosphere, the Cybils attend to both literary quality and child appeal. Losers I'm most interested in hearing the gossip on: Shaun Tan's The Visit [ed: OOPS, The Arrival] and Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I thought they'd be shoo-ins.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Why Can't a Woman?

On Saturday March 1st at 1:00PM, I'll be at the Eric Carle Museum, moderating a panel discussion inspired by our earlier conversation about why women don't win the Caldecott Medal as often as they might. The panelists for "Read Roger Live" will include illustrator Jane Dyer, children's-books sexpert Robie Harris, Viking publisher Regina Hayes, and critic Leonard Marcus. I know the discussion will be lively, and the museum is beautiful, so come on over.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

February Web Watch

Friday, November 09, 2007

New Podcast: Grace and Alvina

Our latest podcast is up.

In anticipation of the Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure snowflake auction, Lolly talks with author-illustrator Grace Lin and her friend, co-blogger, and editor at Little Brown, Alvina Ling.

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Monday, October 22, 2007


Barring funerals, pretty much the only time I hear from my now far-flung McNally relatives is when the Red Sox are doing well at whatever it is they do. Which, I guess, they've done. Honestly, I feel like I should trade houses with my California (or Delaware, Maryland . . .) cousins, because while I live a scant three miles from Fenway Park, the only reason I even check the game schedule is to find out if we're going to have trouble parking for the movies. I went to a game once, forty-five years ago with my Cub Scout troop (oops, I automatically spelled that troupe, how gay is that?) and all I remember is that we got popcorn in little cardboard megaphones. But I'm glad my family is happy.

I've got a three-way going on with Jules and Eisha, the gals of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, reviewing Perry Moore's Hero; check it out.

Going to New York for a few days to see Elizabeth and attend a memorial celebration for Lloyd Alexander; tonight I'll be dining with the Child_Lit crowd, bloggers Betsy, Cheryl and Monica among them. That should be particularly lively as the list is currently divided among* those who think J. K. Rowling is a hero for her recent revelation re Dumbledore, those who think she is a publicity-seeking fame whore, and those like myself who haven't read Book Seven and are just staying out of the whole thing.

* Joanna Rudge Long recently called me on following between with three things. Is it really wrong?

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bounced Back

As a few people have noted on last week's crankypants post, the SLJ site (and the unstoppable Fuse) are rid of the tawdry bijoux that decorated them. It's safe to go back.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"We Are All Winners"

opined Karen Hesse in her Newbery-Medal acceptance speech (yeah, I know, easy for her to say) but I am stoked, not to mention contractually obligated, to announce the winners of Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. The Most Books Read Prize goes to the Midwestern Lodestar blog, and the Most Time Spent Reading Prize to the blog Finding Wonderland.

Congratulations to you both. I remain unsure about why my mentioning these winners is supposed to be some kind of prize and have a sneaking suspicion MR is expecting me to make fun of their reading choices or something, but I would never do a thing like that where you could see me. Now shoo, earnest readers. Go outside and play.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Watch the ladies and learn

This GalleyCat story shares a very interesting case study of the relationship between blogging and book reviewing as viewed through the genteel lens of romance publishing. Good Lord. We are total pikers.

Has anyone read Elizabeth Peters' two mysteries about the romance-writers circuit, Die for Love, and Naked Once More? Hi-larious.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Horn Book 2.0

Just in time for May Day and in service to workers the world over, we're proud to introduce our newly designed and rejiggered website. What's newest is our Horn Book History section (make Laura Ingalls Wilder's gingerbread!), plus there is now a handy what's-new page, which updates additions and revisions to the blog and website. And for a hint of our glamorous environs, see this picture of the Horn Book Guide office. Lolly Robinson tells me that if you are a frequent visitor to our site you will need to refresh your web cache to see the new stuff. Many thanks to Lolly, our designer and webmistress, and Kitty Flynn, our newly anointed online content editor, for all their work. Please let them know of any problems or suggestions at info-at-hbook-dot-com.

Also appearing today are selections from the May/June issue of the Magazine, including links to my editorial ("Balls! says the Queen," was my preferred title, but I was overruled) our science reviewer Danielle Ford explaining what makes a good dinosaur book, and blogonatrix Betsy Bird, aka Fuse#8, on the why and wherefores of cyber-nattering and with a list of her favorite blogs. Yes! Go see if you are on it!

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