Friday, January 28, 2011

Can you Beliebe this?

Justin Bieber is stalking me.

First he was in my email (in a new Peta2 ad) and home snail mail (on the cover of Vanity Fair; my roommate exclaimed in dismay, "This is the last issue of my subscription?"). Then he was in the HB office with his memoir First Step 2 Forever -- "includes free poster!"

The final straw? The biographical graphic novel Fame: Justin Bieber by Blue Water Comics, which arrived as a PDF preview in my HB inbox. As a non-"Belieber," I can't help but feel it's a bit wasted on me. Now that I'm past my teenybopper heyday, here's what I want to know: where was Fame: Leonardo DiCaprio when I needed it?

(There's plenty more where that came from. The Fame series also includes bios of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and the casts of Glee and Twilight.)

-- Katie Bircher

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rip out and read

Amulet/Abrams' Laura Mihalick gave me a neat book at Midwinter: Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets: 100 Poems to Rip Out & Read, compiled by Bruno Navasky, and due out this March. While the book has a sturdy hardcover, its apparent aim is to gradually self-destruct, as the poems within are printed on a scratchpad glued along the top, each page/poem easily removed to "carry with you all day to read, be inspired by, share with others--or keep to yourself." The selections are mainly twentieth century American and free verse; for today, I almost went with Steve Crow's "Revival" (" . . . one wonders / if snow is a wing's / long memory across winter") but settled upon, and ripped out to put in my pocket, Naomi Shihab Nye's "Dog":

[. . . ]
If there were people who loved him,
he remembers them equally,
the one who smelled like smoke,
the one who brought bones from the restaurant.
It is the long fence
of their hoping he would stay
that he has jumped.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I'm feeling verklempt.

We saw a critic's pros and cons regarding children's apps; yesterday's Boston Globe presented those of parents.

Here's your topic: are children's apps educational and entertaining, or mind-numbing and soul-sucking? All of the above? None of the above? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I can't wait for The Story of Mankind in 90 seconds.

Author Jamie James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and the New York Public Library are hosting a 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Kids up to 18 can choose any Newbery Medal or Newbery Honor book, adapt it into a 90-second (or shorter) video, and submit it to Mr. Kennedy by September 15 for a chance to have their film screened at the NYPL's film festival this fall.

There's a hilarious adaptation of Wrinkle in Time ("I'm Calvin O'Keefe. I'm popular -- but sensitive.") on the festival's main page to show you how it's done.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Yesterday's mail brought a letter promoting Henry P. Gravelle's The Fort Providence Watch. Being a big fan of all things morbid, I'm intrigued by the synopsis:
London surgeon Dr. Paul Barnet's career is shattered by a botched surgery and brazen attack that nearly takes his life. Because of his downfall from society, loss of skills and the love of his fiancee, Dr. Barnet attempts to regain his lost career, and surgical abilities, through an alter ego -- Jack the Ripper.
Jack the Ripper occasionally shows up in children's fiction, playing a major role in Claudio Apone's Italian import My Grandfather Jack the Ripper, reincarnated in Ian Beck's Pastworld, and making a cameo in Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist. But I don't think we'll be reviewing The Fort Providence Watch (or the publisher's other stuff), as it seems unlikely that a press called "Damnation Books" publishes many kids' books.

-- Katie Bircher

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ruminations on Room

A while back Little, Brown sent us a copy of Emma Donoghue's grown-up novel Room, with a note saying they're hoping to increase the novel's readership. An international bestseller since its publication in August, Room's readers are already millions strong -- what LB is looking for with a Horn Book review is not a larger audience so much as a younger one.

Room is narrated by five-year-old Jack, whose perspective naturally lingers on five-year-old concerns, e.g. what happens to poo when you flush the toilet, where Dora the Explorer goes when she's not in TV, and how soon he can open his birthday presents. What quickly becomes apparent is how Jack's perspective differs from his mother's. He sees Room: a world containing cozy Bed and Rug, toys he and Ma have made themselves, a mysterious visitor who sometimes arrives in the night while Jack hides in Wardrobe (but who, more importantly, delivers the much-anticipated weekly Sundaytreat).

Ma sees the eleven-foot square garden shed where a kidnapper/rapist has held her captive for seven years.

While things do change radically partway through the novel, Jack and Ma's lives are still far from hunky-dory -- and yet this is ultimately a heartbreakingly hopeful novel about love and the resilience of childhood.

Room received an Alex award on Monday, marking it as a book "written for adults that [has] special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18." Despite LB's note, the award, and my own enjoyment of the novel, I have my reservations about encouraging teens to read it. Readers at the younger end of the Alex age range may not be able to read between the lines of Jack's narrative, in which case the story loses much of its power. Those who do see through Jack's perspective to Ma's may be disturbed by what's really happening: kidnapping, rape, imprisonment, physical and emotional abuse, crippling depression, media exploitation. The reader's task of bridging the disconnect between Jack's reality and Ma's is itself emotionally difficult. It forces the reader to give up a sort of innocence in gaining the understanding that Jack's world is different, darker, than it appears through his eyes.

Then again, Room is not a book for every adult reader, either; perhaps teens who can stomach the brutality of Tender Morsels or Beloved for the beauty in those novels will be drawn to Room as well.

What do you think -- have you read Room? What age readers would you recommend it to?

-- Katie Bircher

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A proud day for Amos McGee

Over at The Horn Book website, you'll find yesterday's ALA award winners, plus our reviews of winning titles. Congratulations to all the winners!

Also, January's Notes from the Horn Book (including five questions for Jeannie Baker, armchair-traveling novels for middle graders, "Read it again!"-worthy toddler books, nonfiction picture books, and "out-of-this-world" YA) is in your inbox now -- unless you're not a subscriber, in which sad case you can view it online here and sign up here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Newbery shocker!

What?? Glee: The Beginning isn't even an honor book? I know! Shocking. And I wouldn't have even brought it up (mostly because a novel based on a TV show that's successful due to the fabulous musical numbers doesn't have much to offer -- even if it does include a "Gleetastic Poster Inside"), but when we received ALA's spring 2011 graphics catalog in the office, and I saw this:

I remembered that I'd promised Katie I'd write something about the damn book. The trouble is, as much as I love the show (or loved the show -- I think it's lost its way) and the characters, I can't get past the first few pages of the novel. Exhibit A:
"Rachel Berry paused outside the door to Principal Figgin's office just long enough to straighten her kneesocks and smooth down the sides of her corduroy skirt. Her bright white button-down and pink-and-green argyle sweater-vest seemed to scream overachiever..."
I rest my case.

-- Kitty Flynn

Friday, January 7, 2011

The drama of the page-scroll

I have to admit to having some trepidation in reviewing children's apps. It's clear that book-related apps for kids are a different animal from kids' books -- but how different are they? Is what makes a good app the same as what makes a good book? Can I still talk about "the drama of the page-turn" when there aren't any pages to turn? I was relieved to see that Betsy Bird shares her criteria for reviewing children's apps (plus several apps she finds up to snuff) in the latest issue of SLJ.

I'm oohing and ahhing over apps she recommends, like Winged Chariot's The Red Apple and Loud Crow's PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit. And, new-found review criteria in hand, I'm looking forward to exploring them myself.

--Katie Bircher

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Read Send me another story, please!

I just got a send-a-story of Susan Meyers's and Marla Frazee's Everywhere Babies from thoughtful Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publicity Director -- and Horn Book alum -- Karen Walsh. (How did she know I love Marla Frazee?) These genius greeting card/book hybrids allow you to mail an entire picture book to a loved one for less than five bucks and a little extra postage.

In addition to Everywhere Babies, send-a-stories are available for Joanne Ryder and Melissa Sweet's Won't You Be My Kissaroo?, Debi Gliori's No Matter What, and my perennial Valentine's favorite, Sandol Stoddard Warburg and Jacqueline Chwast's endearingly bizarre I Like You. Sure beats a boring drugstore Mother's Day or new baby card!

I never manage to get it together in time to send Christmas cards, but maybe I can get I Like You in the mail to friends by Valentine's Day -- if I start now.

-- Katie Bircher

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bells and whistles and steam, oh my!

Donald Crews's Caldecott Honor book Freight Train, beloved by train-crazed toddlers for decades, will win even more fans with the new app available from HarperCollins/Curious Puppy.

With the app's interactive elements, even kids who can recite the book backwards and forwards will find surprises. As each component of the train, from red caboose to black engine, is introduced, it latches onto the car before with a satisfying clunk. Exploring the the many-hued cars uncovers windows and doors that slide open to reveal staff and stock, freight that can be unloaded and reloaded, billowing smoke and pouring water. Once the train is ready to go, it whizzes past cityscapes and countryside, through tunnels, and out of sight to the strains of a randomly-selected train-themed folk song like "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain" or "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

The simple, logical presentation of concepts that makes Freight Train so enduring works just as brilliantly here -- with the added bonus of ringing bells and blowing whistles.

Like the book, the app is also available in a Spanish-language version, Tren de carga.

-- Katie Bircher