Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sid Fleischman

Sid Fleischman, winner of the Newbery Medal (for The Whipping Boy) and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (for Humbug Mountain) died on March 17th at the age of ninety. To remember him, we've posted an article Sid wrote in 1976 for the Magazine.


Thursday, March 04, 2010


We're working on a feature for the May issue, "What Makes a Good Graduation Gift Book?" and it's causing me to think about how complicated gift-giving can be. As Betty Carter says in the article, any gift of a book comes with an agenda: here's what I like or think is important and/or here's what I think you like or should find important. In either case, here's what I think about you. I remember the time an acquaintance gave me a Madonna CD for my birthday, and my acerbic friend Ruth remarked, "that's the kind of present a straight girl gives a gay man . . . she doesn't know very well."

Me, I generally give a gift card rather than a book, a dodge that Anne Quirk rightly denounced as cowardice. Richard is braver and/or more thoughtful, and almost always comes up with gifts of books or music that reveal he keeps a close eye on my tastes as well as what I already own. But for my last birthday he gave me a copy of Arthur Phillips' The Song Is You. It was a good guess, all about love and music and iPods, sort of a higher-minded High Fidelity, but reading it was complete hell--the prose was simply way too rich for my taste. But I gamely soldiered on, a few pages here and there, always packing it in my bag for vacations but never getting much beyond page 75. You have to, right, when it's a present from someone who loves you?

He eventually noticed that it was languishing, however, and took it for his own enjoyment. (Perhaps this was his motive for buying it in the first place, the way I bought him Simon Mawer's The Glass Room, which, fortunately, he loved and I am loving.) But today, triumph! I just got an email from him quoting from the Phillips, "her breath a cumulus the size of a peach," adding, simply, "slows you down, doesn't it?" Uh huh.

Labels: , ,

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nikki Grimes said it best

Give Jerry Pinkney the damn medal, already!" and I have to say I was never so happy to not be surprised. We are working on the awards webpage, with a listing of all the winners and links to our reviews, right now; in the meantime you can read my interviews with Medalists Jerry Pinkney and Rebecca Stead.

Our "Five Questions for . . ." series at Midwinter on Saturday went really well, good answers and large audiences and (except for a glitch when I interviewed the most tech-savvy of all, Mitali Perkins, so embarrassing) a working sound system. I'll post pictures tomorrow after I figure out how to get 'em out of the camera.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Milton Meltzer, 94

"That damned Horn Book"--the first words Milton Meltzer ever said to me, upon our mutual introduction fifteen years ago. Meltzer was ever-watchful of how the review journals were treating nonfiction books, a crusade begun by him in our pages more than thirty years ago. We commemorate the passing, on September 19th, of this omnivorously curious and immensely prolific writer with a profile of him written by Wendy Saul upon the occasion of Meltzer receiving the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 2001.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reading aloud and alone

Twitter is atwitter with responses to Richard Peck's remark in Notes that
"over and over [kids are]telling me that the books I wrote for them to read are being read to them by their teachers. And hearing a story read doesn’t seem to expand their vocabularies. If a teacher is going to take limited classroom time in reading aloud (and even giving away the ending), the least she could do is hand out a list of vocabulary from the reading to be looked up and learned."
While I think Peck was complaining about classrooms where kids' only exposure to trade books was hearing them read aloud, some teachers have articulated thoughtful responses, among them Monica Edinger and Sarah, who blogs at The Reading Zone.

I'm just grateful that Peck is still doing so well in his dual roles, as a novelist both respected by critics and enjoyed by kids, and a provocative voice in the shaping of young people's literature and its importance for readers. Thirty-five years ago, in American Libraries, he wrote one of the most cogent responses I've seen to Cormier's newly published The Chocolate War. And, with the Grandma Dowdel books, I'm loving his renaissance of books for younger readers--remember Blossom Culp?

Also, I predict that this Twitter tempest will seem but teacup-sized once the p.c. police get wind of Mrs. Dowdel's charade, in A Season of Gifts, with the bones of the alleged Indian princess. Pass the popcorn.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

New Notes, September edition

An interview with Richard Peck leads off the latest issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 01, 2009

In the footsteps of giants

I'm going to New York next week to help select the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and I'm taking names. Here are the criteria:
Author or illustrator of fiction or nonfiction books
U.S. citizen, living in the U.S.
Excellent and facile communicator
Dynamic and engaging personality
Known ability to relate to children; communicates well and regularly with them
Someone who has made a substantial contribution to young people’s literature
Stature; someone who is revered by children and who has earned the respect and admiration of his or her peers
Most important, he or she will have to follow in the big clown-shoe footsteps of Jon Scieszka. Who do we like? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

[Update: Thank you for all the suggestions and discussion. An announcement of the new Ambassador will be forthcoming later in the year. Your comments were very helpful as the committee deliberated.]

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is It a Crime?

Drinks for anyone but Elizabeth who can identify the musical quoted in the title.

The Simmons program Crime and Misdemeanors is ending this morning with closing remarks from M.T. Anderson, and my responsibilities--save paper-grading--will be through. I've been twittering away from the back of the room, but it's difficult to convey the extravagant genius and delivery of a Jack Gantos in 140 words. (And something tells me that Mr. Tobin Big Words won't be any easier.) If you go to the HornBook feed (linked over there on the right) you can at least get a sense of who's been talking.

Yesterday I was on a panel with Vicky Smith (Kirkus) and Deborah Stevenson (BCCB) about reviewing; the best moment for me was when Deborah and I confessed to letting House in the Night slip by while Vicky quietly crowed that Kirkus had named it the best picture book of the year. What we neglected to get into is how incestuous this whole business is--I used to run BCCB, Vicky formerly reviewed for the Horn Book, Deborah taught the Simmons summer course the last time and has an article coming up in our November issue. It's a very small pond.

I'll try to get you some more moments from the Institute later this week but am off tomorrow for some kind of management retreat in Ohio. If they think I'm doing trust circles or paintball wars . . . .

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 17, 2009

Some enchanted evening . . .

"Once you have found him, never let him go. Once you have found him . . . "

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, May 15, 2009

My new secret boyfriend

Like Leila, I'm in something of a reading slump, or in my case listening, as none of the several audiobooks I read on my commute seem to be doing it for me. The new Anna Pigeon mystery reminds me of why I gave up on Nevada Barr years ago (lurid and incoherent); Elizabeth and Mary is repetitive and overfond of the first queen at the expense of the second; the new Dennis Lehane is too hairy-chested; and those New Yorkers pile up as readily on my iPod as they do on the bathroom scales.

Let's just say I've been in a mood. But what hand of Providence brought me to download At Home in Mitford, the first of Jan Karon's novels about the mild-mannered Episcopalian Father Tim and his flock in a cozy Blue Ridge Mountains hamlet? Oh my goodness (as F.T. might say) I am loving it. And the hero has already made me a better person. Last night I came home to see Richard folding the t-shirts I had left in the dryer last weekend. To cover my own embarrassment at falling down on the job, my left-handed Scorpio instinct was to say something caustic about it being high time someone got around to the laundry but I thought, what would Father Tim do?, and instead said "I'm sorry I left the t-shirts in the dryer."

The pleasure of the book is its comfortable, steady-paced, dullness--right now, Father Tim is trying to settle on the menu for a dinner party he wants to have for his friends. He's just gone jogging for the first time. His irrepressible (by Mitford standards) dog Barnabas will only sit when Father Tim orates Scripture. The village vet and his wife, in their middle age, are expecting a baby. I am completely engrossed. Martha says if I like this sort of thing I should try Miss Read's books, too.

I've been editing a lot of Guide and Magazine book reviews this week, and the contrast to my new reading crush could not be greater. Once you get above chapter book level, it seems like almost all new fiction for kids is (or wants to be) thrilling, exciting, harum-scarum, suspenseful, non-stop, etc. Don't kids ever read to relax?

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Craig Virden

I was sorry to hear of Craig Virden's death today. We first met when I was chair of the Margaret Edwards committee and he was Richard Peck's publisher at what is now Random House. Craig was more excited than winner Peck (who got the news while transiting the Panama Canal, so there's that). We weren't close friends but I always found Craig to be genuine and honest and contagiously engaged--enthusiastic. You can read his blog postings from the recent Bologna book fair to get a real sense of his voice.

Labels: , ,