Monday, November 09, 2009

Interesting Bits From The Horn Book

Though I haven't read any of its articles, I have whipped through the new Horn Book's reviews. Two things jumped out at me.

1. I had never even heard of the Cathars until a couple of months ago when I read the second book in The Youngest Templar serial. Then I stumbled upon them again while doing some quick research on the historical figures in a book by Geoffrey Trease. Well, the Horn Book's review of White Heat by K.M.Grant tipped me off that the Cathars are back in another novel. White Heat is the second part of a Cathar story. K. M.Grant wrote one of my favorite recent historical novels, How the Hangman Lost His Heart.

2. In all the angst this past summer over the cover of Justine Larbalestier's new book, Liar, I totally missed that it's a...Oh, wait. Larbalestier makes a big deal at her website about not giving away any spoilers, and perhaps this is a big one. So I won't repeat what The Horn Book reviewer let slip. (Assuming she let anything slip, because the book is called Liar.) But, still, somehow I got the impression earlier this year that the book was just a teenage problem novel. I am much more likely to read it now that I know that it's


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Some Horn Book Highlights

The kidlitosphere is full of reports on trips to BEA. I didn't go to BEA. I read the new issue of The Horn Book.

THB carried a big feature by Linda Sue Park called Still Hot: Great Food Moments in Children's Literature. There were a number of short pieces by other authors on reading and food. My favorite was the one by Peter Sis in which he talks about eating in a park with friends while reading The Three Musketeers out loud. I was taken with it because it was so totally alien to my own teenage experience. It's only a modest exaggeration to say that most of the people I knew when I was a teenager thought The Three Musketeers was a candy bar. (One I used to really like.) So reading Sis's food memoir was like reading about something that happened in a foreign country. Wait! It was something that happened in a foreign country!

Debby Dahl Edwardson's article Reading Under the Midnight Sun: Implications of Worldview had nothing to do with food, but was terrific nonetheless.

Okay, reviews. There were a number that caught my eye.

Jacqueline Davies' book Tricking the Tallyman is set in Tunbridge, Vermont in 1790. I've never been to Tunbridge, but when I was a young'un the place was famous for its World's Fair, which had a reputation for being a lot of fun. Tricking the Tallyman isn't about the fair, but I did notice it. And now you won't forget it, either, will you?

I've never read anything by Caroline B. Cooney, but her If the Witness Lied sounds interesting. Could it have a little Jon and Kate thing going?

I don't think of Norwegians as being particularly funny (not like those Danes!), but Klaus Hagerup's Markus and the Girls could be entertaining.

Brian James's The Heights is supposed to be a reworking of Wuthering Heights.

Starclimber! Kenneth Oppel!

Tamora Pierce has another Beka Cooper book out.

I still haven't read Kate Thompson's The New Policeman, and now I see she has a new book out, Creature of the Night, which THB reviewer calls a "gritty crime thriller." Gritty. I like gritty.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Child Readers Of Science Fiction

Farah Mendlesohn has a terrific article in the March/April Horn Book called The Campaign for Shiny Futures. Oh, and look! You can read it. (Sheila, you want to read this.)

So many seriously thought-provoking things here that I don't know where to start. I will just say that I'm going to be thinking about didactic books quite differently from now on. At least, I will if they're didactic science fiction.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For Every Reader Who Ever Went, "What?"

The Horn Book has some neat essays in this issue, all under the heading The Confounded Critic. Five reviewers write of their reactions to books they've reviewed in the past that left them wondering what, exactly, they had stumbled upon.

Sarah Ellis discusses When the Wind Blows. The book was published in 1982, but I'd never heard of it until last fall. And now the title has turned up again. And still I haven't read it.


Friday, November 07, 2008

The Horn Book Got Me Into Trouble Today

I had to take today off to go recreational shopping with two relatives. Four hours of shopping (plus quite a lousy lunch) and one and a half hours of drive time. Each way. So on the way there, I very graciously offer to sit in the back seat where I can inconspicously read from the magazines I stashed in the enormous bag I was carrying.

Unfortunately, one of the first things I read was Questions for Li'l Readers in the new issue of The Horn Book Magazine. In this learned article, author Miriam Glassman speculates about discussion question for picture books on a par with those she's seen in middle-grade and YA fiction marketed to parent-child book groups.

I was reading her first few questions for Green Eggs and Ham--"The main character in this book is named Sam, yet he's always referred to as 'Sam-I-am.' What's with that? Do you think the narrator has that reading problem where all the words get mixed up?"--when I started laughing.

You know how when one person laughs, other people start laughing? Well, that's not what happened here. Someone in the front seat started yelling at me for reading when I ought to be talking with them.

You know what they were talking about? Whether or not one of them should buy an electric fireplace for her living room. I had to stop reading to discuss whether those things throw any heat. Like I know.

Then I suggested I read them other funny bits from the article, so we could all share in the experience. I figured it would be as if I were talking to them, but different. I read them a couple of Glassman's questions for Curious George. "Do you sometimes wish your dad was like the man with the yellow hat? Has your dad ever let you smoke a pipe? How was it?"

They didn't get it. I don't think they knew who Curious George is.

On the way home I snuck out The Horn Book again (it's a very convenient size for this sort of thing) and just read reviews. They didn't catch me that time.

By the way, this month's issue includes an article on e-book readers called Better Than a Suitcase by Sheila Ruth.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Little Professional Reading

I haven't finished reading the September/October issue of The Horn Book yet--I'm not even close to getting to the reviews--but I did find An Interview with Pat Scales interesting. Scales is President of ALA's Association for Library Service to Children and has a long history in library science. In addition to discussing programs she's conducted in school libraries, she talks about Accelerated Reader and the impact she thinks it's having on reading.


Monday, April 07, 2008

All About Editors

The March/April issue of The Horn Book does a lot on editors with an article on Ursula Nordstrom and some shorter pieces by contemporary authors on their relationships with their editors.

I have to admit, if it were not for The Horn Book, I wouldn't know who Ursula Nordstrom was. Nonetheless, I believe I've read every word they've ever published about the woman, and I read every word of this issue's The UN Tapes by Leonard Marcus. The UN Tapes is a collection of first person recollections of Nordstrom put together from interviews Marcus did with people who knew her when he was working on the book Dear Genius. I was left with two reactions:

1. The Ursula portrayed in these accounts and I probably would have had nothing to do with each other, and thus would have gotten along very well.

2. As I read along, I felt poor Ursula (I should call her Ms Nordstrom) was being violated a good twenty years after her death and even longer after she was a mover and shaker in publishing. As a general rule, I'm not at all bothered by the exposure of historical figures' warts. I like humanity in history. But while I understand why Nordstrom is a giant in our field, I question whether she is a big enough figure in the overall scheme of things to justify exposing so very much of her vulnerability. The tone I heard in this article was often, "The queen is dead. Now's my chance to voice a little simmering resentment in as nonjudgmental a manner as I can muster."

Or maybe I just like Ursula more than I think I do.

Other articles in the magazine discuss authors' personal relationships with their editors. Those pieces filled me with anxiety because I barely have a personal relationship with my editors. Kathy and I used to talk about The X-files a bit when we first knew each other, and Susan and I went to the same university. But she doesn't get the alumni magazine anymore, and I don't think either one of us gives a damn about collegiate sports, so once the work's done we don't have much to talk about other than whether or not we had a good time over the holidays. (We always do.) Years ago, people at Readerville used to talk about buying their editors Christmas presents. I thought, Come on, who does that? Now I'm wondering if maybe everyone does, and I didn't get the memo.

Susan went to Bologna and has been out of the office for a couple of weeks. Perhaps I should run out and get her a welcome home gift? Maybe I should haul my heinie into New York and make her go out to lunch with me?

Won't she think I'm stalking her?

By the way, Kathleen Krull has the final word on editors in The Horn Book's Cadenza feature. It's called How a Children's Book Manuscript Gets Bought (or Not): The Inside Story, and it's hysterical.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Travel Reading, Part II

The Horn Book was particularly juicy this month. In addition to the acceptance speeches I gave you rundowns on yesterday, two other articles stand out in my mind.

Fueling the Dream Spirit by Elizabeth Partridge. In trying to describe how writers get their ideas, Partridge, a doctor of Oriental medicine and children's author, writes about concepts from Chinese medicine--Hun (dream spirit) and Po (animal spirit). I think she was saying that the Hun is the concept and the Po is the physical medium (word processor, musical instrument, crayon) used to interpret the concept. The fact that I'm vague about this doesn't lessen the fact this was a good article. My favorite line: "We've just trained ourselves to pay attention to what the Hun is whispering to us." I think that's very true. The more you work with ideas, the more come to you. Or perhaps the more you listen to the Hun, the more it will talk to you.

Finally, Why Gossip Girl Matters by Philip Charles Crawford is a plea to respect all student reading, not just that done by AP students. (I think you could carry this a step further and ask for respect for all reading, period.) One very interesting point: Crawford talks about a "low-level reader" who was a manga fan. According to one of his teachers, the boy's reading scores improved as a result of his librarian respecting his interest and helping him feed it.

You don't have to be reading the unabridged War and Peace to improve your life with books.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Travel Reading, Part I

I returned home yesterday from my frolic/read/eat retreat. I noticed on the ride home that I was feeling very relaxed. I remembered feeling the same way when I got home from this thing last January. By February I'd forgotten what feeling relaxed felt like, and by December I didn't know anything remotely like relaxation existed.

I hope this mellowing out thing lasts more than a few weeks this year.

In the car yesterday I read a taekwondo magazine and the new issue of The Horn Book. I've read better taekwondo material, but there was some good stuff in The Horn Book.

First off, the issue included the acceptance speeches for the 2007 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. I particularly liked Nicolas Debon's speech for The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr. (Which I haven't read.) I know author talks about how I got my idea, how I did my research, how I decided to approach the work the way I did have been done before, but I love this stuff. Maybe it's because it's what I do.

M. T. Anderson's speech for Octavian Nothing was about Anderson's world view and, I think, why he writes historical fiction. It was elegant and beautiful, like Octavian Nothing (which I have read), but it seemed to me to have a tinge of nostalgia, of romanticizing the past, two attitudes I'm not particularly fond of. And, yet, I love Anderson's work.

I fond that a little disturbing. Fortunately, I think it's good to be disturbed.


Monday, November 05, 2007

And In This Corner...

Back in October, Roger Sutton over at Read Roger posted a link to what he called a "legendary battle" between Camille Paglia and Julie Burchill. One of his commenters asked, "What are the great literary feuds of our field?"

Well, I don't know if this is legendary, or even great, but thirty-five years ago, long before Roger had probably even heard of The Horn Book, a juicy mud-slinging match took place within the covers of that hallowed publication. As I mentioned yesterday, Eleanor Cameron wrote an article for The Horn Book back in 1972. It was a three-part article, actually, called McLuhan, Youth, and Literature Parts I, II, and III. In it, Cameron shreds McLuhan, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the YA lit of her day.

This woman wasn't crazy for Marshall McLuhan, and she felt writers for youth, seemed "to be incapable of complexity of characterization and meaning, but of subtlety and wit and individuality of style as well." But what she really, really didn't like was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

An Eleanor Cameron vs. Roald Dahl slugfest followed, complete with commentary from the audience, including a letter from Cameron supporter Ursula K. Le Guin. What with the publication of the first portion of the article and all the letters to the editor this went on for a year.

Back in the day they knew how to get down and ugly. It all makes what goes on in kidlit blogs now look tame.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mom Was Cool With It

My offspring have made it clear that as far as my work is concerned, they're not interested in anything less than a book. I find it very awkward telling my nonwriter friends (who outnumber my writer friends by quite a bit) that I've had something new published because they seem to feel the line between wanting to spread the joy and just plain bragging is very fine. The spouse, of course, doesn't count.

So I made a copy of my essay for the new issue of The Horn Book and gave it to my mother because who else is left? I was a little worried about how she would take it. I was afraid she'd think that I'd portrayed us as hillbillies or that she'd be offended by the news that I desperately wanted to leave town when I was a teenager.

As it turned out, she thought the piece was true to life. Perhaps the part about my wanting to leave home came as no surprise; I may not have been very subtle about it. At any rate, her question was "Who gets this magazine?" She was hoping a woman she'd known back in the hilltown would get a chance to see it.

I found this a little odd because I was under the impression they'd had a falling out thirty to thirty-five years ago and don't speak.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I Will Miss Patty

I just began reading the new The Horn Book yesterday and managed to get through Roger Sutton's editorial where I learned that Patty Campbell won't be writing her "Sand in the Oyster" column any more.

How much have I liked Campbell's columns? Quite a bit. I liked one in April, 2003 and another in September of that same year. Then she wrote a column in October, 2004 that must have been really good because I seem to have agreed with pretty much everything she said. In February, 2006 I was so taken with one of her columns that I started taking notes. In fact, I liked it so much that I mentioned it again three days later.

I haven't read Campbell's last column because it's at the back of the magazine, and I read The Horn Book in a very linear way. There's a very real possibility that I'll be mentioning it here at some point.

Wow. Campbell's leaving The Horn Book is kind of a personal loss for me. I'm feeling kind of shaken.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

More Great Reading I Just Have To Talk About

I knocked off the March/April Horn Book today. My favorite article was An Interview with George M. Nicholson by Leonard S. Marcus. I had never heard of George M. Nicholson, and the interview was all about the history of children's paperback book publishing. Doesn't sound riveting, does it? Well, it was.

Redefining the Young Adult Novel by Jonathan Hunt (a name Adbook listserv members will certainly recognize) was also interesting. He has a lot to say about crossover novels. He places The Book Thief and Octavian Nothing in that category, though I thought a book had to be published as an adult novel (as Book Thief was in Australia) in order to "cross over" to YA.

A few of this issue's interesting reviews:

Margo Rabb's Cures for Heartbreak.

Penni Russon's follow-up to Undine, Breathe.

Cynthia Leitch Smith's Tantalize.

Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness, which was published a couple of years ago in England and shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Prize and the Carnegie Medal. I was particularly interested in this title because McCaughrean wrote Peter Pan in Scarlet, which I loved. And, I just learned, she also wrote A Pack of Lies, a book I liked very much except for the ending. Perhaps I'm becoming a McCaughrean fan.


Monday, September 29, 2003

Professional Reading

As part of my general self-improvement plan, I've been a little more conscientious about keeping up with my professional reading. Thus, I have finished the July/August issue of The Horn Book. It included a very interesting article by Patty Campbell on the Printz Award. The Printz Award is given for excellence in YA fiction. Campbell's article discussed the question of quality vs. popularity--awards being given for good quality writing that no one reads.

Which is not what I'm going to discuss today. I just wanted to let you know where I got the following quote. Campbell says:

It seems to me that for a book to be considered YA, the protagonist must be a teenager; there must be no extended introspective passages from an adult or child point of view; the book must be plot-driven with a minimum of description; it must give priority to immediacy and brevity; and the point of view must have the limitations of an adolescent perspective.....If a book violates even one of these rules, it is outside the parameters of the genre.

I found this very interesting since I think there is a lot of confusion about what YA is. I did find the business about the books being plot-driven instead of character driven a little disturbing, though, because I was under the impression that in adult literature plot-driven books are usually considered of a little lesser quality. Thus, if YA books must be plot-driven rather than character-driven, aren't they, by definition, of lesser quality? Aren't they forced to be of lesser quality in order to be considered YA?

Which seems self-defeating.

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Friday, April 25, 2003

The History of YA Literature

I have actually read the latest issue of The Horn Book. It includes an interesting article entitled The Outsiders, Fat Freddy, and Me by Patty Campbell, a former YA librarian who speaks on YA literature. Her article describes how the YA field took off in the 1970s and the sense people working in YA lit at that time felt of being on the cutting edge, of doing something subversive and dangerous. At that time YA lit was not kids' stuff. They were definitely talking about readers in their later teens.

I found this fascinating because so many adults--at least the ones I know--feel just the opposite about YA fiction. They view it as a lame genre, written by second-rate people who aren't capable of writing for adults. In my experience the people who feel this way haven't actually read much YA lit, if they've read any at all. In fact, I feel pretty safe saying that most adults don't have a clue about YA maturity of content or sophistication of writing styles.

Campbell's article is worth looking up if you want to know more about the YA field.

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