Thursday, June 30, 2011

July/August 2011 special issue: Awards

The July/August Horn Book Magazine is out, and selected articles are on our website, including profiles of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Wilder medalists and the CSK author and illustrator award recipients. And don't miss K.T. Horning's eye-opening "Secrecy and the Newbery Medal" which much history is related and several secrets revealed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The one, the only

Eric Carle will appear at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA the weekend of July 15th and 16th.

On Saturday, July 15th, at 5 p.m., Mr. Carle will host a ceremony to honor his mentor Leo Lionni and unveil Mr. Lionni's bronze sculpture Imaginary Garden. A reception with Mr. Carle will follow.  Tickets for the ceremony and reception are $25 for the public, $15 for members.

The following morning at 10 a.m., Mr. Carle will meet fans and sign books. This event is free with admission.  More details for both appearances are available here, and a specific FAQ for the "Meet Eric Carle" signing is here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bummer of a summer movie

After posting last week about Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer movie tie-in books, I went to see how Judy translated to the big screen. I had already read some less-than-stellar reviews of the movie, and the novelization based on the screenplay didn’t live up to the original nine books. Even these warnings did not prepare me for how bad a film it actually was. Judy Moody should have stayed in her books, as this was one bummer summer film.

The story line focuses on Judy’s efforts to avoid a boring summer by creating a contest with her friends: the “Judy Moody Mega-Rare NOT-BUMMER-Summer Dare.” Obsessed with earning “thrill points,” Judy misses opportunities to have fun and focuses instead on the negative: her best friends’ going out of town, her parents’ leaving her home with little brother Stink and Aunt Opal (a.k.a.“Aunt Awful”), and all of her dares going awry. While Judy’s mishaps are entertaining, a sub-plot involving Stink hunting Bigfoot seems a bit random, although it does play a crucial role in the movie’s chaotic, action-driven ending.

The director focuses too much on capturing outrageous reactions of the characters—or should I say caricatures? The overacting in this film verged on nauseating. Parris Mosteller’s portrayal of Judy’s younger brother, Stink, was particularly grating. Stink may be the little brother, but author Megan McDonald never makes him unlikeable in her books. In fact, McDonald started a separate series about him. But Mosteller’s almost nonexistent acting skills combined with his babyish speech (inconsistent with his character’s age) made me want to walk out of the theater.

Big-name draw Heather Graham is probably most believable (and that’s not saying much) in her role as the fun but irresponsible Aunt Opal. Exaggeration worked with her character, although at times it still came across as overacting. Steve Urkel—I mean, Jaleel White—was forgettable as teacher Mr. Todd. Jordana Beatty as Judy, while fairly spot-on in capturing the beloved character’s quirky nature, was actually hampered by the Judy Moody lingo. On paper, “mega-rare” and “TOADally” work well, but when you hear them spoken aloud, the lines are just groan-worthy.

Even though Megan McDonald was one of the screenwriters, this film did a poor job of representing what I love about the Judy Moody books: Judy’s a self-involved but relatively normal kid who says and does believable things. Kids relate to her. When the kids in my theater audience were not laughing during the film, I knew something was wrong. I quickly realized the film’s biggest problem: it talks down to its primary audience with characters so corny, overdrawn, and unrealistic that kids don’t find them funny. Moral of the story: don’t condescend to your audience. Judy Moody deserves more respect and so do her devoted fans. Roar!

—Cindy Ritter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mr. Popper goes to the movies

Last Friday, Mr. Popper’s Penguins opened in movie theaters. It is very loosely based on the beloved 1938 novel by Richard and Florence Atwater, which focuses on an absent-minded house painter who longs to travel to the Poles. The novel’s Mr. Popper receives a gift of twelve penguins from Admiral Drake in response to a letter Mr. Popper sent him about the explorer’s last expedition. Throughout the book, Mr. Popper’s quiet, caring, and thoughtful personality never waivers.

The film’s “Popper” (played by Jim Carrey) is significantly different. A cold-hearted, self-centered man, Carrey’s Popper is too focused on his career to appreciate his two children. However, his heart begins to thaw after the surprise arrival of six Gentoo penguins sent by his recently deceased father (a frequently absent explorer). Jim Carrey’s performance feels forced and inconsistent, with his character waffling between business shark, clueless dad, and Jim Carrey Being Jim Carrey. I often found it difficult to feel sympathy for Popper (although the authors of the screenplay should take at least partial blame for this), and subplots that had the potential to make his character easier to relate to (his feelings about his neglectful father, for example) were abruptly dropped and only sporadically picked back up. The film lacks the sweet gentleness that makes the book so special, and while the CGI-enhanced penguins provide plenty of slapstick and potty humor, the movie generally falls flat and is at best passably amusing. If you need to escape the heat, it’s an adequate summer diversion—but definitely nothing more.

—Kazia Berkley-Cramer

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer reading

To help usher in warmer weather—which has finally arrived in the northeast—here are two new books by veteran author-illustrators: Geisel Medal–winner Mo Willems’s Should I Share My Ice Cream? and, for older readers, Postcards from Camp by Simms Taback, recipient of the 2000 Caldecott Medal.

Elephant Gerald has a delicious moral dilemma in this latest Elephant & Piggie easy reader (Disney-Hyperion, June). To share or not to share. . .that is his question. Gerald carefully and thoughtfully weighs the pros and cons of splitting his “awesome, yummy, sweet, super, great, tasty, nice, cool ice cream” with best friend Piggie, but as he’s lost in deliberations, the cool ice cream is steadily melting. By the time Gerald works through his angst, the ice cream is gone and so are Gerald’s hopes of making his friend happy. Luckily, Piggie knows how to cheer Gerald up: “Would you like some of my ice cream?” A familiar problem, a satisfying resolution, and Willems’s friendly illustrations and book design are just what new readers crave.

Simms Taback’s epistolary Postcards from Camp (Penguin/Paulsen, June) is something of a Jolly Postman for middle-grade kids. Called a “postal story” on the title page, the book features the correspondence between reluctant camper Michael Stevens and his relentlessly upbeat dad, Harry. The actual story is less compelling than Taback’s detailed collage illustrations, which mostly feature the fronts and backs of postcards purportedly handmade by Michael and Harry (there are also four envelopes with letters to pull out and read). Whether they’re homesick and need a diversion or completely enmeshed in their camp experience, kids will enjoy Taback’s story of one (eventually) happy camper.
—Kitty Flynn

Friday, June 17, 2011

5+ questions for David Carter

Pop-up whiz David A. Carter recently collaborated with Ruckus Media on Spot the Dot, a concept-learning app where users search for colored dots in increasingly complex settings. The kaleidoscopic screens of brightly colored shapes roaming around black backgrounds are exciting just to look at, but even better is the way the app engages users in interactive play. Much of the fun lies in seeking (rather than finding) the dots. Users move a flashlight-beam–like circle to illuminate a black screen and locate the orange dot, while the green dot—alongside shapes of all colors—swells and “pops” before reappearing. David was kind enough to tell us a little about the process of making Spot the Dot.

How is creating an app like creating a movable book?
Creating the app was similar to creating a movable book in the sense that both are interactive; I try to integrate the interactivity into the concept. I try to avoid using the interactivity in a book or an app simply for show. You will also notice that my concepts take advantage of the hands-on nature of the medium, whether by asking a child to lift a flap to find an answer to a question or to touch the screen to move the app forward. In both cases the reader must be actively involved and use their fine motor skills.

What particular challenges come with the app format as opposed to working in print?
The greatest challenge in creating the app was understanding the capabilities of the device and the programming, and then figuring out how to apply the concept. With paper books, through many years of experience, I have a deep understanding of how to use paper engineering and the printing and assembly process to convey and integrate my ideas.

Do apps have elements analogous to the pop-ups of a movable book?
I like the fact that with pop-up books and apps, the reader is actively involved by touching the art. In both mediums we ask the reader to not only read the words and view the images but to touch and interact with the art.

How does your past life as an advertising illustrator inform your current work?
As an artist and illustrator I think in and communicate with images and color. In the past few years I have been using simple shapes and colors in a non-representative way, like modern art, to express my concepts. I like these non-representative images because they allow the reader to interpret the idea through their own mind. Kids will say that a pop-up looks like an ice cream sundae or a roller coaster. That's the viewer filtering the non-representative art through their own experience.

Which of the puzzles/screens are you most excited about?
My favorite playspace changes from time to time, but I really like playspace nine, the black dot, because it is a bit magical. The images are invisible until you touch the screen in the right place. I also love the fact that as you touch the images you hear various musical sounds—you can play these sounds like a keyboard. I often go to this playspace just to play music.

That’s my favorite, too! What would your younger self think of Spot the Dot?
With the app as with my books I do exactly that: go back in my mind to little David Carter and run that test. That is what I call my “gut feeling” when decisions need to be made. I can tell you that little David Carter likes this app, especially the bright colors, surprises and the sounds, and that little David Carter can't wait to see what's next.

Any plans for a How Many Bugs–inspired app?
I am thinking about how to adapt all of my titles and ideas, including the Bug series, but most of all I'm thinking about new concepts specifically for apps that use the technology in clever and entertaining ways. I hope my art tickles your mind and as always, please touch the art.

Spot the Dot is $3.99 in the App Store (or try it out with the free “lite” version).

—Katie Bircher

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Get out your pink boa and sunglasses!

This past Friday the movie Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer, based on the bestselling book series by author Megan McDonald and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds, opened in theaters. Whether or not you had a chance to see it in the theaters this past weekend, here are some tie-ins to get you in a Judy Moody mood.

In late May, Candlewick Press published an original novel by Megan McDonald based on the screenplay she co-wrote with Kathy Waugh. This movie novelization allows devout fans to relive all their favorite moments from the film, and includes eight pages of full-color stills from the movie. After reading this new Judy Moody adventure (which stays true to the series despite lacking Reynolds’ recognizable illustrations), I’m looking forward to seeing the movie myself. I also hear that McDonald and Reynolds are putting the finishing touches on a “classic” version of Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer that will be a forthcoming tenth book in the series.

Additional tie-ins for the movie, all from Candlewick Press:
- an audiobook version of the movie novelization (from Candlewick on Brilliance Audio) performed by Barbara Rosenblat
- a hardcover edition of the Bigfoot Society of America’s official guide So You Want to Catch Bigfoot like the one Aunt Opal gives to Stink in the film
- a hardcover edition of Judy Moody Goes to Hollywood, with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie and on-set photographs
- two easy reader books (Judy Moody and the Thrill Points Race and Judy Moody and the Poop Picnic) featuring vignettes and stills from the film

I gave these books to my sister's niece over Memorial Day weekend, and she was devouring them in the car right afterward. Check them out for the Judy Moody lover in your life—I guarantee he or she will think they are totally rare!

—Cindy Ritter

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Author Jay Asher in EW

Jay Asher and his YA bestseller Thirteen Reasons Why are featured in the new Entertainment Weekly, just in time for the novel's paperback release today. I read Thirteen Reasons Why shortly after it came out in 2007 and found it powerful; I'm not surprised that it has gained such a strong following. (I do have to wonder whether EW came up with article's title—"How This Guy's Mystery Novel is Saving Teen Lives"—before or after the recent "YA is too dark" vs."YA saves" brouhaha, though.)

In addition to discussing the inspiration for Thirteen Reasons Why, its impact on readers, and the upcoming film version, the article touches on Jay's latest project: a collaboration with Carolyn Mackler. Titled The Future of Us, the novel is about two teens in 1996 who somehow access the Facebook profiles they will have 15 years in the future. The book won't be out until November, but the movie adaptation rights to The Future of Us were recently acquired by Warner Bros.

While I have a hard time feeling any nostalgia for the dial-up internet of the '90s, I'm intrigued by the premise of The Future of Us. Social media profiles are pretty skewed representations of ourselves—it'll be interesting to see how accurately they predict the future for these characters.

—Katie Bircher

Monday, June 13, 2011

Drumroll, please!

The 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award recipients are:

Winner: Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)
Honor: Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial)
Honor: Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke (Kane Miller)

Winner: The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point/Roaring Brook)
Honor: Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross, illustrated by Stephen Biesty (Candlewick)
Honor: Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White (Candlewick)

Picture Book
Winner: Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Salley Mavor (Houghton)
Honor: Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by
Rick Allen (Houghton)
Honor: Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Putnam)

This year's winners were selected by chair Jennifer Brabander, Robin Brenner, and Dean Schneider. The BGHB Awards ceremony will be held on September 30th at Simmons College. Join us the next day for The Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, featuring this year's winners in presentations, conversations, and workshops. Register now!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wild rumpus

I can’t draw. You wouldn’t want me on your Pictionary team. I also have a fifteen-month-old, so tushy humor is big right now. For these reasons, Brian Snyder and Alexis Moniello’s Everything Butt Art at the Zoo (Madbrook, May) caught my eye. “What can you draw with a butt? Everything!” Starting with a flattened-looking W (i.e., bum shape), the authors demonstrate, step by step, how to sketch fifteen different zoo animals, from a simple-ish six-step snake to a more involved twelve-step lion. A lot of the fun is seeing where the butt shape will take you; for almost all of the animals, the starting-point wiggly line doesn’t end up forming the rear. Sometimes it’s paws, sometimes cheeks (on the face, that is), sometimes a big, wide grin.

There’s no way kids won’t think this is funny, and it does get them thinking, between giggles, about shapes and forms. The fun continues on the website, and it looks like an app is on the way. Visual art is taken out of the museum and plopped right into the zoo—just where kiddos might want to find it.

—Elissa Gershowitz

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June Notes on the way

June's Notes from the Horn Book will appear in your inbox this afternoon.  This time we've got
- five questions for Jeanne Birdsall
- long-anticipated middle-grade novels
- summer themed picture books
- biographies for middle schoolers
- YA trilogy enders

Sign up here if you're not subscribed yet!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Guide Online update

Get a sneak peek at the Fall 2011 Horn Book Guide! We've just added 210 reviews to the Guide Online—check out the brand-new titles, authors, and illustrators.

Subscribe to the print Guide and Guide Online here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Big Four

I just read Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler (HMH, April), a follow-up to October’s Hunger. In each book, a troubled girl on the brink of killing herself (intentionally or through miscalculated self-injury) is offered a second chance by Death: take on the role of a Horseman of the Apocalypse. Anorexic, over-exercising Lisa becomes the avatar of Famine, and outcast cutter Missy assumes the mantle of War. Their new identities give the teens a sense of purpose, and the power to inflict—or choose not to inflict—tragedy on others inspires Missy and Lisa to confront their personal demons.

There’s an implication in the novels that a “bigger picture” perspective can reverse these extremely complex psychological problems. I doubt that global awareness alone would be enough to change an anorexic's or self-injurer's self-destructive patterns, but it’s refreshing to see protagonists dealing with these issues in plots that go beyond a problem novel set-up. Partial proceeds from the books are donated to the National Eating Disorder Association and self-injury prevention organization To Write Love on Her Arms, two causes I wholeheartedly support.

So far, the Horsemen protagonists have been Horsewomen, with psychological issues primarily (but certainly not only) afflicting teenage girls, but both secondary characters Death and Pestilence have male incarnations. I’m curious about their back stories—particularly that of the enigmatic Pale Rider, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a long-dead icon of the grunge era (complete with a tendency to break into “Come as You Are”)—and interested to see how the change of protagonist gender may influence the narratives. Loss, starring Pestilence, will be out next year; it looks like I’ll have to wait even longer to get the whole scoop on Death.

In the meantime, Kessler’s “characters strike back” in an interview with the author by Missy and Lisa. And Death himself chats about life, “little-d death,” and rock ‘n’ roll with other protagonists of YA novels at the “call-in radio show”–style blog Post Mortem.

—Katie Bircher

ETA: See Jackie Morse Kessler's response to The Wall Street Journal's "Darkness Too Visible" article here

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

July/August starred reviews

The following titles will receive starred reviews in the July/August issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

- Naamah and the Ark at Night written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Holly Meade (Candlewick)
- Bone Dog written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Roaring Brook)
- Press Here written and illustrated by Herve Tullet (Handprint/Chronicle)
- Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator! written and illustrated by Mo Willems (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)
- Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks (Farrar)
- Anya’s Ghost written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol (First Second/Roaring Brook)
- Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard (Delacorte)
- This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel (Simon)
- I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Little, Brown)
- When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean written by Jan Andrews; illustrated by Dusan Petricic (Groundwood)