V O L U M E 3 , N U M B E R 12 • D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 0
In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
Every year, the Horn Book editors look back through the five hundred or so books reviewed in the Magazine — almost all highly recommended to begin with — to select the best of the best, so to speak. Reflecting changing demographics, the economy, and public funding, children’s book publishing goes in cycles, and right now hardcover fiction for ten-year-olds and up claims the biggest piece of the pie — and this list. Still, though, I think this year’s Fanfare list has something for just about everybody, and I hope you find some useful suggestions for your holiday shopping. Books are so easy to wrap.With best wishes for this busy month,
The Village Garage written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Nini Lost and Found written and illustrated by Anita Lobel
Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes illustrated by Salley Mavor
Mirror written and illustrated by Jeannie Baker
Me and You written and illustrated by Anthony Browne
I Know Here written by Laurel Croza, illustrated by Matt James
April and Esme, Tooth Fairies written and illustrated by Bob Graham
Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley written by Stephanie Greene
Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! written and illustrated by Grace Lin
Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse written by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse
Forge written by Laurie Halse Anderson
Big Nate: In a Class by Himself written and illustrated by Lincoln Peirce
The Dreamer written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sís
One Crazy Summer written by Rita Williams-Garcia
The War to End All Wars: World War I written by Russell Freedman
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop
Incarceron written by Catherine Fisher
The Sky Is Everywhere written by Jandy Nelson
As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
Revolver written by Marcus Sedgwick
The White Horse Trick written by Kate Thompson
A Conspiracy of Kings written by Megan Whalen Turner
They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery written by Steve Sheinkin
Megan Whalen Turner’s first novel, The Thief, was published in 1996. A fantasy set in an invented classical world (somewhat reminiscent of ancient Greece), it features an enigmatic eponymous hero named Eugenides — and a tortuous journey in search of treasure. The Thief won a Newbery Honor and attracted a slew of devoted fans enthralled by the vivid world-building, the originality of the story, and the intricate plotting (including a breathtaking twist at the end). Since then Turner has written three more books in the series, the most recent of which, A Conspiracy of Kings, appears on our Fanfare list as one of our choices for the best books of 2010. (12 years and up)
1. Sophos, the main character in A Conspiracy of Kings, plays a supporting role in The Thief. Did you always know you would bring him back in a later title? Do you have a road map for the series, or does each new book present itself after the previous one is finished?
I knew what Sophos’s story was by the time I was working on The Queen of Attolia. What I didn’t realize then was that it would take an entire book to tell it. He changes so dramatically — from being something of a self-indulgent ninny to becoming a young man willing to own his flaws and persevere in spite of them — that I realized it would be a difficult alteration to believe in if it happened offstage, or occurred as the subplot of another book.
I didn’t have a road map. In fact, I wrote The Thief as a stand-alone, and it wasn’t until [librarian] Barbara Barstow asked me for a sequel that I considered where the story would go next. However, I did have all the characters and the circumstances for the stories, and I feel that what I’ve written since are just the consequences of those characters and those circumstances.
I knew, for example, that Eugenides would engage in more and more flamboyant exploits. I could have written several more books just about those, and I think they would have gotten steadily less appealing; the only really interesting change in his character would come when he got caught. It was inevitable that Gen, being Gen, he’d keep taking bigger risks until he took one too many, so in Queen of Attolia I decided to write about that part of his story.
2. Have you ever heard from a reader who guessed, say, Gen’s identity from the outset, or indeed saw through any of the misdirection you’re so famous for?
I’ve been astonished, not only that so many people were surprised, but that they kept, and still keep, their reviews spoiler free. Even reviewing journals like The Horn Book were quiet about Gen’s identity when The Thief first came out. It’s only recently that I’ve started to hear people say that they guessed, and I think that’s largely because they’ve had it drummed into them that there is a Major Twist coming and they should watch out for it. Just knowing that you should look is enough to make all the signposts pretty obvious.
The funniest side effect of people knowing there is a twist but not knowing exactly what it is: a number of readers have assumed Gen must be a girl in disguise right up until he strips down for a wash in the stable yard.
3. Your books yield even more riches on second readings. Do you consciously write for the re-reader?
It’s my hope that people who enjoy The Thief will have one experience the first time they read it and a whole new experience when they read it again. If people only read it once, I feel the book hasn’t succeeded on my terms. I always read my favorite books again and again, and most readers I know do that as well, so I wanted to write a book for that kind of reading.
4. Maps. Your books don’t have ’em. Why not?
Oh, maps are a painful question. I know that some readers want them and I understand why. But . . .
When I had the idea for The Thief, I knew that I wanted to set it in a world that looked nothing like Middle-earth. Given the ubiquity of Tolkien’s creation, that’s much more easily said than done. I eventually visited Greece and found there the landscape I was looking for. Now imagine that I drew a map of it, with little pointy chevrons to make the mountains, and bunches of circles to mark the forest, and a squiggly line for the river. That’s probably the best map I could produce (so entirely not an artist), and it would still look a lot like . . . Middle-earth. When I can come up with a better map, I’ll put one in.
Or then again, maybe I won’t. I used to want a map, but I am not sure that I do anymore. I am not convinced that a map makes a better reading experience. An easier experience but possibly not a better one. I’ll have to keep working on it, and see what turns up.
5. What do you say to critics who question your books’ appeal for child audiences?
Honestly, this question gets under my skin more and more. People with very little experience of children’s or YA books will sometimes write a review that praises the books in one line and denies that they are for children in the next. They usually have two reasons. The first is that they, as adults, have enjoyed the books, so obviously, they are not for children. More frustrating is that they, as adults, were confused on the first read, so obviously these books are not for children. Both judgments reflect a disturbing lack of respect for children. Sometimes, I think that children may be more willing to step up to a challenge than adults are.
And mea culpa, too. I wrote The Thief with my junior-high self in mind as a reader. I was a kid who read a lot, read fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, old books, new books, adult books. And that’s who I thought my audience was — confirmed readers. So I’ve been pleasantly taken aback by the letters from nonreaders who say that The Thief is the first book they ever finished and by the letters from ESL teachers who say that their kids have to work twice as hard to get through text, but they love the book.
— Martha V. Parravano
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