Notes from the Horn Book

V O L U M E  4 ,   N U M B E R  6   •  J U N E   2 0 1 1
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.

Five questions for Jeanne Birdsall

Jeanne BirdsallThe first book about the feisty Penderwick sisters, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, won the National Book Award in 2005. Since then, the family has expanded in soul-satisfying ways — as has fans’ love for the series. The third volume, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, finds Rosalind summering in New Jersey while the three younger girls, plus Aunt Claire, spend two weeks in picturesque Point Mouette, Maine. Author Jeanne Birdsall talks about her inspiration and gives some tantalizing hints about future outings.

1. Possible spoiler alert: At what point in the series did you think up this book's Big Reveal (re: Jeffrey)?

Jeanne Birdsall: And how do I answer that without giving anything away? Here goes. While I was writing the first book I knew this would happen in a future book, but it wasn't until I was writing the second book that I knew it would happen in this particular book, the third.

2. Is love in the cards for Aunt Claire? Or did I read too much into her friendship with Turron?

JB: No, you didn't read too much into that friendship. Thanks for noticing. Was it the jigsaw puzzles of romantic places?

By the time Turron leaves Point Mouette he's determined to see Aunt Claire again, and she's hoping he'll follow through. I can't tell you any more than that. All will be revealed in the next book.

3. Your pastoral settings — in this case coastal Maine — are always so vividly described. How much is real and how much invented?

The Penderwicks at Point MouetteJB: My settings are a hodgepodge of real, imaginary, and (sometimes) places I've read about. (Arundel, the setting for the first book, borrowed a little of E. Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle.) Point Mouette started out as a real place called Ocean Point, near Boothbay Harbor in Maine. I found it through dumb luck, seized on the little private beach and the long dock, then began to add and subtract. The golf course was an invention, and the pinewood came from ancient memories of my Girl Scout camp in Pennsylvania. I was forced to subtract a flying blue bug that I just couldn't work into the story and a beautiful stone chapel I was dying to use. But I couldn't have Dominic skateboarding on hallowed ground.

4. Is there one Penderwick sister to whom you feel the greatest connection? Has that changed as the books have progressed?

JB: I go back and forth between Skye and Batty, depending on which of them is struggling the most. (I connect with struggle.) Batty had a relatively easy time of it at Point Mouette, but Skye…didn't. So right now I'm still feeling pretty Skye-ish. As I get deeper into the fourth book I'll reconnect with Batty, who has lots to work out in that one.

5. Each of the books is a satisfying stand-alone while also being very much part of a whole. Can you share clues about further Penderwick adventures?

JB: The fourth, which I'm working on now, will take place five-and-a-half years after the end of the third book, which means that the three older sisters will be teenagers. However, to keep the book middle grade, everything that happens will be seen through the eyes of Batty and Ben, who will be eleven and eight respectively. Thus, two writing challenges: to portray the life of teenagers without getting inside their minds and to channel an eight-year-old boy, which I certainly never was. Challenges aside, it's going to be fun to write about Rosalind, Skye, and Jane as teenagers. Jane will finally get her hands on all the books she hasn't been allowed to read all these years, including Proust, which she's reading (slowly) in the original French.

—Elissa Gershowitz

Middle-grade fiction you’ve been waiting for

Historical fiction, contemporary fiction, fantasy, and a collection of sophisticated picture books — there's something for everyone in these welcome sequels and new editions.

The Trouble with May AmeliaJennifer L. Holm’s The Trouble with May Amelia is the highly satisfying sequel to her 2000 Newbery Honor book Our Only May Amelia. When Pappa loses the farm after falling for a scam, he blames twelve-year-old May Amelia, who acted as his translator. Amidst the story’s heartbreak are humorous, life-affirming moments that keep readers afloat and showcase the fortitude of this Finnish immigrant family. Shorter than the first, this book stands alone just fine, but readers who missed the first book will want to track it down. (8–12 years)

How Tia Lola Saved the SummerFans of Julia Alvarez’s previous two Tía Lola books will be eager to see what Miguel’s great-aunt from the Dominican Republic has up her sleeve this time in How Tía Lola Saved the Summer. Victor Espada (the lawyer who helped Tía Lola stay in the States) is coming to Vermont with his three daughters to visit Miguel’s family, and Tía Lola knows just how to make this female invasion fun for all. Victor and Miguel’s Mami have grown close, and this funny and uplifting story portrays widower Victor and Miguel’s divorced parents working to lovingly and respectfully reconfigure their families. (8–12 years)  

Fly TrapWith prodigious talent and fertile imagination, Frances Hardinge returns to the world of her first novel, Fly by Night, for a gratifying sequel in Fly Trap. With con-man companion Eponymous Clent now in debtor’s prison, young Mosca Mye tries to finagle his release. The labyrinthine plotting includes a couple of old villains, several new ones, no less than four kidnappings, a handful of double crosses, and numerous reversals of fortune, which all add up to hours of sustained pleasure reading. (8–12 years)

Lost & Found: Three by Shaun TanLost & Found: Three by Shaun Tan is a treat for fans who only know Tan’s last two books, The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia. Three previously published but hard-to-find picture books are contained here: “The Red Tree,” “The Lost Thing,” and “The Rabbits” (with a text by John Marsden). Tan’s superb artwork — quirky, surreal, paradoxically inviting and alienating — is tailored to each story without any loss of his inimitable style. (8–12 years)

—Jennifer M. Brabander

Summer picture books

Three new picture books reflect on the great outdoors by getting lost in nature, learning about the wonders of the ocean, and bringing a bit of island life to the city. A nonfiction picture book for older readers looks back on one memorable summer in baseball history.

In the MeadowYukiko Kato’s In the Meadow communicates immersion in the natural world through a quiet first-person text and soft, expressionistic illustrations. A young child follows an orange butterfly into the meadow. As Yu ventures further into the tall grass, she loses sight of the butterfly and realizes that she is lost. She closes her eyes (“Where am I?”) and opens them to find her mother smiling at her. Yu is a relatable, believable preschooler; illustrator Komako Sakai eloquently captures the facial expressions and posture of the very young. (2–5 years) 

Wow! Ocean!Just in time for summer vacation, Robert Neubecker takes kids on another awe-inspiring trip (see, for example, Wow! City!), this time to the beach. In Wow! Ocean!, energetic double-page spreads feature different topics (“Wow! Shells!”; “Wow! Tide Pool!”; “Wow! Fish!”). Wondrous it all is, alive with brightly colored marvels, appearing in heavy black-lined boxes and bordered with cheerful camouflage prints, indicating that amazing creatures may be hidden, but they’re there. (3–5 years)  

Tia Isa Wants a CarThe child narrator of Meg Medina’s Tía Isa Wants a Car lives in America with her Tía Isa and her Tío Andrés, who are trying to save enough money so the rest of the family can join them. But Tía Isa wants something else: a car that is “the same shiny green as the ocean” outside her former island home. Spanish words are naturally incorporated into the text, and Claudio Muñoz’s watercolor illustrations help readers follow the narrative. The yearning for family and a precious possession are themes that transcend culture. (5–8 years)

The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of '41Two baseball records, both set in the 1941 season, have yet to be broken: Joe DiMaggio hit safely in fifty-six consecutive games, and Ted Williams hit for a .406 average, considered by some to be the greatest of all achievements in baseball. Phil Bildner dramatically recounts this story in The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of ’41. S. D. Schindler’s ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations are perfect for this light and affectionate glimpse of baseball history. (6–10 years)  

—Kitty Flynn

Middle school biographies

The best biographies offer readers something unique — whether in format or approach. These four exceptional books bring pioneers of literature, business, music, and art to life in brand new ways.

Jane Austen: A LIfe RevealedWhile relatively little is known for sure about Jane Austen, Catherine Reef’s Jane Austen: A Life Revealed combines firsthand accounts of Austen written by relatives and friends, historical information about late-eighteenth-century Britain, widely known facts, as well as Austen’s novels and surviving letters. For devout Janeites it’s fascinating to see all this information combined, and for others it’s a worthwhile introduction to the writer’s life. (12 years and up)  

Mr. Sam: How Sam Walton Built Wal-mart and Became America's Richest ManKaren Blumenthal splendidly introduces legendary businessman Sam Walton — and makes his story relevant and timely to a young audience — in Mr. Sam: How Sam Walton Built Wal-Mart and Became America’s Richest Man. She chronicles his youth, college years, and early career days, tracing the qualities of hard work, determination, and ambition that served him well in life and in business. The positive is balanced with the negative, however, as Walton’s personal shortcomings, as well as criticisms of his company, are also explored. (8–12 years)

Music Was IT: Young Leonard BernsteinLeonard Bernstein pursued a career in music against the wishes of his traditional Russian father. But with encouragement from various mentors, a lot of perseverance, and a little bit of luck, Bernstein made his conducting debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic at age twenty-five. Susan Goldman Rubin’s Music Was IT: Young Leonard Bernstein successfully focuses on the youth and early adulthood of its subject without forgoing the crucial point of a biography — the eventual fame and accomplishments that drive our interest. (8–12 years)

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O'KeeffeSusan Goldman Rubin presents another well-executed biography in Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe. At a young age, O’Keeffe boldly proclaimed that she would “live a different life” from her female peers; that she would “give up everything for her art.” Rubin describes her subject’s formal arts education before her career-changing show at future husband Arthur Stieglitz’s New York City gallery. Photographs provide an intimate glimpse into their lives, and magnificent reproductions of O’Keeffe’s artwork (from student sketches to her later iconic flora paintings) are central. (8–12 years)  

—Katrina Hedeen

YA trilogy enders

Three trilogies for older readers come to wholly satisfying conclusions.

The Limping ManThe second and third volumes in Maurice Gee’s Salt trilogy each focus on a new generation of characters while recalling favorites from the previous volume. The Limping Man concerns Ben (grandson of Hari and Pearl from Salt and Gool) and Hana. Together they fight the Limping Man, a destructive force bent on world domination, in a seemingly hopeless quest to save their world. The straightforward prose and vivid characterization make the narrative accessible; readers will be engaged by underlying messages about greed and living in harmony with the environment. (12 years and up)

The Demon's SurrenderThe Demon’s Surrender brings Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon trilogy to an end. The Goblin Market’s heiress, Sin, is a beautiful, graceful dancer, but her leadership of the Market is threatened. She falls for brilliant scholar Alan Ryves, and she must prepare for a final, climactic battle between the Market and its dark enemies. Demon brother Nick Ryves and brother and sister duo Mae and Jamie also return in this last installment. Taut plotting and sensual description lead readers to an unexpected climax. (14 years and up)

EverfoundEverfound is the final book in Neal Shusterman’s Skinjacker trilogy about Everlost, a limbo land for dead children. Everfound picks up where the second book (Everwild) shockingly ended: with Allie the Outcast tied to the front of a train carrying the (sleeping) body of Mary Hightower, the evil, self-proclaimed leader of Everlost. Mikey McGill and Nick the “Chocolate Ogre” mount a rescue for Allie before confronting Mary’s army, which has taken up her mission to bring more souls into Everlost. This is a thoroughly absorbing conclusion to an engrossing series. (12 years and up)  

—Cindy Ritter

From the Editor

Once again, our “Five Questions for . . .” feature will go live at ALA, this year in New Orleans. On June 25th, 26th, and 27th, I will be at the Horn Book booth (#939) with five questions for many of our (and we hope your) favorite authors and illustrators. Here is the schedule:

Saturday, June 25th: 
10:00 a.m. Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and Kane Family Chronicle books
11:00 a.m. Clare Vanderpool, winner of the Newbery Medal for Moon over Manifest
2:00 p.m. Erin and Philip Stead, illustrator and author of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, winner of the Caldecott Medal

Sunday, June 26th:
10:00 a.m.
 Tomie dePaola, winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal
11:00 a.m. Brian Collier, winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and Caldecott Honor for Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill
1:00 p.m. Rita Williams-Garcia, winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award, Newbery Honor, and Scott O’Dell Award for One Crazy Summer
2:00 p.m. Brian Selznick, author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck
3:00 p.m. Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop, winners of the Sibert Medal for Kakapo Rescue

Monday, June 27th:
11:00 a.m.
Paolo Bacigalupi, winner of the Printz Medal for Shipbreaker

Each interview will run about fifteen minutes. If you will be attending the conference, please stop by for any or all.

In addition, our parent company Media Source, along with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and the Macmillan Children’s Book Group, is sponsoring, on Saturday night, a showing of the children’s book documentary Library of the Early Mind. Please join me for this free screening and discussion with director Edward Delaney and participants Grace Lin and Jack Gantos. A reception will follow the film.  

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

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Notes from the Horn Book, Volume 4, Number 6.
© 2011 by The Horn Book, Inc. A Media Source Company.



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