Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March Notes

In the new issue of Notes from the Horn Book, we recommend some springtime picture books, middle-grade adventure novels, new YA for girls, and a few good science books. And I interview the sizzle behind the Frizzle, Joanna Cole.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Infer this.

Magazine reviewer Jonathan Hunt offers his picks for the five best YA works of fiction this year over at NPR. I will nitpick that one of the choices is not fiction and another not YA but all five are good books. Three of them appear on our Fanfare list, which will be whizzing its way to your inbox in just one week.

To link this morning's post with yesterday's, Jonathan and Debbie Reese are arguing over at Heavy Medal about Albert Marrin.

And apropos of nothing but still burned in my mind is this sentence from Amy Sohn's Prospect Park West, which I heard this morning on my iPod and which caused me to wonder if, when they came, they first came for the copyeditors: "Not once had Rebecca heard a mother infer even obliquely that she was hard up [for sexual gratification]." (I'm listening to this because PW gave it a starred review while over at all the Prospect Park parents are leaving bitter comments about how bad it makes them look.)

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

"What do YOU do when your favorite author turns out to be a puppy-kicker?"

That's a great question, asked by an Anon on the Richard Peck post, and it's the third time in as many days that I've seen it pop up. First, poet Marilyn Nelson had a question over at her Facebook page: "how do we measure the value of the art made by an artist who is also a monster, who is known to have done monstrous things?" Then I saw at Judith Ridge's Misrule a discussion about A.S. Byatt's contention that writers for children have a greater than average propensity to be terrible parents, a hypothesis that neatly dovetails with the case, discussed on Marilyn's page, of Anne Sexton, a sometime-children's poet who sexually abused her daughter.

First, I don't think it takes a monster to do monstrous things--Anne Sexton was a deeply disturbed woman, not a monster--but I wonder what it might take to cause me to boycott an author, or to use an assessment of his or her life in qualitatively judging his or her work. One thing is for sure: "by their fruits ye shall know them" does not apply to writers!

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Would you trust these people with your kid?

Well, of course, not you, but I'm thinking that even parents who haven't cracked a book in years would think twice about sending their children to a pricey private school without any books in the library. They need to realize, at the least, that college admissions Deciders have a vested interest in validating their own expensive educations and are thus likely to look dimly at applicants who have been told they don't need books.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Speaking as one old fart to another

Somebody asked on the previous post (and I STILL need your questions) what I thought about Nicholas Kristof's recommendations for summer reading. Not much--any list of the Thirteen Best Books is pretty random and thus useless and I have to wonder whether, in including the Hardy Boys, he means the ones he read as a lad (nostalgia time) or the ones currently published (out-and-out lame). I also wonder about his assertion that IQs dip during a summer not spent reading. Does IQ work that way?

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't call me "Baby."

Elizabeth Bluemle has a great lament up about not trusting--and feeding--children's imaginations. The saddest line: "It used to be that naming your new stuffed animal was practically a sacred rite of passage in plush parenting; now, if the tag on the creature doesn't provide a pre-fab name, we're seeing kids at a loss, calling their new dog 'Puppy' and their new cat 'Kitty.'"

(Of course, my little brother did call his blankie "Tag," cause that's where he clutched it.)

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Monday, March 02, 2009

March/April 2009 Horn Book Magazine

The Horn Book has a snow day today but our latest issue is out and, partly, up. We've posted an intelligently bristling argument from Farah Mendlesohn what's wrong with contemporary YA SF as well as veteran Joanna Rudge Long's thoughts on what to look for in a "Three Little Pigs." The print Magazine also includes Susan Fletcher's moving account of her epistolary friendship with Elvand, an Iranian writer and translator and we solicited stories of similar friendships from a handful of other authors for children. Catherine Murdock weighs in on the absence of mothers in children's books--it's A Good Thing--and Elizabeth Wein looks back in time. In better bookstores, bathrooms, and libraries now (or soon).

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Isn't this why they brought us blue M&Ms?

The New York Times has an article about parents making kids afraid of Oreos, but one nutritionist offers sensible advice:

All an 8-year-old kid should know is that he or she should eat a variety of colors, and don’t supersize anything but your water jug.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February Notes

Books for Black History Month, love stories for Valentine's Day, baby animals, presidents hither and yon and a chat with Betty Carter--it's all in the February issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Still, it's not like a book can give you polio.

From the would-be author who insists to his would-be editor that "my grandkids love this story" to the award committee member who says "my ten-year-old thought this book was boooorrrring," the children's book world is replete with those who use their own children as test subjects. Expanding the notion of "my kids" to those children with whom we have professional contact (as teachers or librarians) gives us an even bigger pool of lab rats even while the scientific validity of the test population remains questionable.

I'm all for writers, award committee members, reviewers, teachers, and librarians "trying out" books with kids, but I think we need to be watchful of what they tell us. My colleague Anne Quirk talks about the "Steve and Daphne Show" she witnessed one year at a Best Books for Young Adults committee, where, as dutifully supplied by a committee member, opinions from these two teens from a single high school library seemed to be providing the pivotal swing vote. I myself like to use the fact that the two-year-old from downstairs loves to scream "ROAR ROAR ROAR" as evidence that Bob Shea's Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime should win the Caldecott Medal.

But talk about experimenter effect! Zena Sutherland used to quote Ursula Nordstrom as saying that kids will enjoy the telephone book if it means they're getting their mother's attention, just as politicians know not to say that Harold Robbins is their favorite writer. Everybody wants to make somebody happy. And just because your kids like or don't like something doesn't mean that other kids will feel the same way. Proximity does not an expert witness make.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Notes from the Horn Book

The latest issue of Notes celebrates the new year with a look at firsts: first novels, first chapters, pioneering thinkers, and that chicken-and-the-egg conundrum. We've also got an interview with first-time novelist Sally Nicholls.

Also, Claire inaugurates her monthly booklists with American Presidents.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mice at the Movies

Claire reviews The Tale of Despereaux movie.

I still crack up thinking about my librarian friend who, when Despereaux won the Newbery, was besieged by culturally anxious helicopter parents who wanted a copy of "The Tale of Day-pair-EUH."

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Notes from the Horn Book--Fanfare Edition

The latest issue of Notes features our Fanfare list with parent-friendly annotations, so pass it along. Also: Martha Parravano talks to picture book hero Kevin Henkes.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Take my kid--please.

I keep imagining how different writers might approach making a story out of the unintended consequences of Nebraska's "safe haven" law. The idea that your parents could give you up--or give up on you--so capriciously (and lawfully) is like a Maurice Sendak Nyquil nightmare. In The Grounding of Group Six Julian F. Thompson found a good deal of black humor in the premise, but in the right hands--Nancy Werlin, I'm looking at you--it could be terrifying.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Check your in-box

for the latest issue of Notes from the Horn Book, and please pass along to your colleagues, customers, family and friends. This issue stars our favorite teachers, Dean Schneider and Robin Smith!

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But enough about you. Or me.

As we did late last year, Child_Lit has been discussing the U.K.'s age-banding proposal with some ferocity the past few days. While I am firmly in the camp of those who oppose the scheme, a speech Philip Pullman gave on the subject is working my nerves. It's very much a speech to the choir (which it was, being delivered at a conference of the Society of Authors), and at the beginning quotes from the research report that allegedly boosts the proposal: "A recent trade survey has shown a general preference to move to age ranging, although with some strongly held contrary views, but now what’s needed is a piece of research that delivers some definitive answers from the people who matter most – book customers and readers."

Pullman then clutches his rhetorical pearls for this response:

The people who matter most?

Whoever wrote that – whoever read that and believed it – needs to be reminded that without us, without our work, our talent, our willingness to put up with almost anything in the way of reduced royalties, humiliating treatment over jacket design, endless travels to this bookshop, that school, that library, anything to help our books reach the readers – without us there would be no editors, no designers, no marketing teams, no publicity people, no secretaries, no helpful personal assistants, no senior executives, no expense account lunches, no pension schemes, no company cars, no sales conferences in attractive places, no publishing industry whatsoever. Any of the people who do those other things could be replaced with very little difference. Take us away, and you’ve lost everything. The people who matter most? Authors and illustrators are the people who matter most, and no publisher with any sense of what’s right and true would have allowed that sentence, and that attitude, to stand.

While I agree it would have been both politic and useful to ask writers what they thought of the idea of printing suggested reading levels on book covers, jeez, Philip, get over your bad self. I ask, with similarly high-camp drama but equal sincerity, isn't anyone thinking about the children? They are the people who matter most in this question. They are the ones who will have to suffer walking around with a book they want to read but are officially too mature for; they are the ones who will be told "you aren't ready" for a book deemed Too Hard. The problem with the age-banding proposal is not that it ignores authors, it's that it ignores young readers.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

If the substitution is that simple, there's something wrong with the sentence.

Another one from the Guardian, about a little furor surrounding Jacqueline Wilson's latest, My Sister Jodie:

"The word 'twat' was used in context. It was meant to be a nasty word on purpose, because this is a nasty character," said a spokesperson for Random House. "However, Jacqueline doesn't want to offend her readers or her readers' parents, so when the book comes to be reprinted the word will be replaced with twit."

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Voice of the People

I love Marla Frazee's A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (a BGHB honor book this year) but wondered about the audience. Lily Feldman clears that up for me.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Notes from the Horn Book . . .

debuted today. You can sign up for your free subscription here. It's designed as an outreach (as we used to say in the '70s) effort to parents, teachers, and others, so pass the details along to anyone who might not wander these particular climes.

And Claire has prepared a new recommended reading list of survival stories. Grrrr.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Notes from the Horn Book

Be the first on your block to sign up! Each free and non-spam-generating issue of our new monthly newsletter, debuting the first week of March, highlights a small stack of new children's books of particular interest to parents and other adults who just need a little Horn Book help at the library or bookstore. In the March issue I interview Jon Scieszka, review some books about nature, spot some sequels, and answer some totally made-up questions in the advice column. Pass it on.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007


So Baby Einstein is actually bad for babies? While this study will probably only provoke more rounds of the coffee-hurts-you-coffee-helps-you kinds of further studies, I'd love to let the Freakonomics guys loose on this one. There are so many other correlations: if the Baby Einstein videos don't do what they promise, it could be because the parents don't use them as instructed (be warned, that link plays plastic classical music over and over again, trying to make you as smart as El Divo) or because dumb parents who think TV is good for babies pass their dumb genes on to their children (harsh, but that's Freakonomics for ya). Always nice to see Disney get a little grief, though.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

It was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny . . .

Galleycat reports on the news that Boyds Mills Press has backed out of negotiations to publish a picture book series by German artist Rotraut Susanne Berner after the author refused to change two pictures that displayed nudity, both small representations of artwork displayed in a museum. Oh, the horror, oh, the censorship, oh these self-righteous blog posts that write themselves.

But if I were running Boyds Mills Press, I would have made the exact same call, although I might have spared myself the embarrassment of expressing interest in the first place. Selling picture books is difficult, selling foreign-born picture books is almost impossible, add some boobs and a little dick to the mix and you might as well just climb up to the roof and throw your money over the side. It's not censorship, as there is no private obligation to publish. It's stupid parents. Again.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Dutch Trick or Treat

Editing an article for an upcoming issue of the Magazine, I needed to find some information about Lucy Fitch Perkins' The Dutch Twins, and found via Google a digital library which contained it. The Baldwin Project is a real time-sucker of a place--that's a compliment--and after reading about the Twins and their ever-informative mother ( "I shall have milk enough to make butter and cheese," said Vrouw Vedder. "There are no cows like our Dutch cows in all the world, I believe") I found myself wandering around the place, which is apparently intended primarily as a resource for home-schoolers of a certain ilk, such ilk being those parents who believe anything worth reading was published before their own grandparents were born.

While I understand that the Baldwin Project necessarily only collects works that have gone out of copyright, and that we have much to learn from the past, I sure hope that no parent thinks these books will constitute an education. Along with digital editions of the books themselves, the site includes outlines for two curricula, Waldorf and Ambleside (based on the ideas of English educator Charlotte Mason) apparently in some repute among homeschoolers. But surely Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner and Charlotte Mason would take issue with the assumption that the world would not move on without them. Could they truly endorse the idea espoused in Ian D. Colvin's South Africa, published in 1910, that, in considering the rival claims of the Boers and the English settlers of that country, that:

The British ideal has been in the long run a better one. We need labour for mines, and railways, docks, farms, and plantations. Therefore we give the native peace and justice, and a share of the land which is surely big enough for all. But at the same time we must be master of the black people. No good British Governor or British settler has ever preached equality: that has been left to the old ladies at home.

This is only an egregious extreme of a collection that is for the most part middlebrow and harmless (and valuable for those interested in an archive of what has been thought appropriate for the young) but do parents really teach from it? The world must look exceedingly strange to them, and let's hope their kids get some unsupervised time at the public library.

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