Thursday, February 24, 2011

Celebrating Virginia Hamilton

I recently read and reviewed The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith, a book about the ways slavery and the Underground Railroad still haunt us (both metaphorically and literally). It had me wanting to reread The House of Dies Drear and wishing my copy were with me in Boston rather than in California at my parents' place.

Luckily for me and other Virginia Hamilton fans, Open Road Integrated Media has just put up seven new ebooks by the Newbery and Coretta Scott King award (and three-time Boston Globe–Horn Book award) winner. The ebook versions of Dies Drear and novels M.C. Higgins, the Great, Cousins, Anthony Burns, Zeely, Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush, and The Planet of Junior Brown feature new covers and biographical info. Open Road has a great mini-documentary about Hamilton on their website. Be sure to also check out author Pam Muñoz Ryan's touching "Letter to Virginia Hamilton," written for Ryan's Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Multicultural Literature acceptance speech last spring. While the release of these new ebooks is timely for Black History Month, I hope that recognition of black history -- and the incredible legacy of Virginia Hamilton -- is a year-round celebration.

-- Katie Bircher

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Squeak by growl

I have to say I laughed when the audiobook edition of Jerry Pinkney's famously wordless The Lion and the Mouse came into the office. But the production is from Weston Woods and I should have known better. While faithfully and realistically reproducing the sound effects that constitute the only printed text in the book, the CD is also awash with atmospheric African vocal music (by Sazi Dlamini, although more info about the music would have been welcome) and unobtrusive background noises that bring the sounds of the Serengeti to a viewing of the book. The CD includes both a version with page turn signals and one without, and I am still trying to wrap my head around just how you might proceed with that second one. An additional track features Jerry Pinkney talking about his life and work.

--Roger Sutton

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fortune's cookies

It’s your lucky day if you find yourself in possession of Fortune Cookies by Albert Bitterman (Beach Lane). In a concisely told, carefully conceived story, a girl receives a box of seven fortune cookies. Her first fortune says, "Today you will lose something you don’t need." And, voila, she loses her tooth, which she puts under her pillow. The next day her fortune reads, "Money is like the wind." So she buys a kite with her tooth-fairy money. As the week and fortunes go on, she enjoys good fortune and weathers bad, in the end getting to keep the good: seven kittens. Chris Raschka’s translucent yet vibrant watercolors loom large on the expansive white pages, and the fortunes are printed on tabs that readers pull from inside each cookie. The tabs are exceptionally sturdy -- something you’d expect from a bookseller-author. Bitterman, whose real name is Pete Cowdin, is the owner of the Reading Reptile bookstore in Kansas City. "A. Bitterman" is the pseudonym Cowdin uses on his bookstore blog. Be sure to check out “Ten Seconds: Running the Hurdles with Harry Potter,” a hilarious, heartbreaking description of his thought process when a customer turns down Jenny and the Cat Club for her six-year-old granddaughter, who’s already “reading Harry Potter. All by herself.” No fortune cookies for that poor girl -- or her grandma.

-- Jennifer M. Brabander

Thursday, February 17, 2011

For your little mensch

Laurel Snyder, probably best known for her middle-grade novels Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, or, The Search for a Suitable Princess, Any Which Wall, and Penny Dreadful, presents a Judaism-themed board book that’s preschooler-perfect.

Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: BabYiddish
records a day in the life of one young tot (could be either gender; one of the outfits makes me think girl, but maybe he’s just wearing an oversized shirt). There’s lots of humor in the kid-friendly text, which includes at least one Yiddish word per page, printed in all-caps for easy identification. My favorite line: “If you want to start a ruckus, / wave your arms and shake your TUCHES!” Tiphanie Beeke’s accompanying pastel-hued illustrations show a tousle-haired, rosy-cheeked protagonist toting around a stuffed froggy. (Why a frog? So Snyder could rhyme ribbits with KIBITZ.) A glossary might have been helpful, but almost all of the unfamiliar vocabulary is figure-out-able in context.

-- Elissa Gershowitz

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Guide Online reviews

The Spring 2011 Horn Book Guide, covering books published from July to December 2010, will be out in April. Get a sneak peek over at our website, where we've added 349 reviews to the Guide Online.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be my Valentine, Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman, love of my literary life, has posted a free mp3 of his story "Harlequin Valentine" on his blog.

You may want to listen before overindulging in Valentine's chocolate, though, as the story brings new meaning to the phrase "eat your heart out."

-- Katie Bircher

Puppy love

At this time of year, one can't help but notice the heart-emblazoned kids' books cramming the shelves in our local chain stores. Pawing through bags of candy hearts and other commercial love-related products, I decided to look at two board books pubbing just in time for Valentine's Day.

Dog food, frisbees, bubbles from a jar... what do these have in common? If you ask Tucker, a small blue-collared dog from Leslie McGuirk’s latest board book, Tucker’s Valentine, he will tell you that this short list comprises just some of what he loves most in the world. Tucker’s simple tastes are challenged by a spotted, quiver-wielding Cupid with grander plans for his fellow four-legged friend, resulting in an exhaustive chase to impress some Valentine’s Day spirit on the young pup. With very simple artwork and text, this easy read presents a straightforward case for life and love in one’s own way. Apart from gender-role stereotypes displayed by female character Cupcake (her love is motivated by the idea of procreating with Tucker), this book makes a sweet addition to the Valentine’s Day market.

Monica Sheehan’s Love is You and Me expresses “What Love is” between a dog and a mouse. I can’t help but feel this picture book is geared more toward the rom-com audience of love-struck adults celebrating Valentine’s Day, rather than young children. Considering the situations in which our characters find themselves -- beach vacations alone, car rides, long distance telephone conversations -- I find myself picturing grown-up female readers holding a box of chocolates, with a ratty copy of Eat, Pray, Love by their bedsides. (My suspicion is only reinforced with an “Eat, Play, Love” reference in the illustrations.) In spite of its mixed-audience approach, one (young or old) can’t help but feel a Valentine's tug of endearment for Sheehan’s characters as they demonstrate their many definitions of love for the reader.

-- Andrea L. Curtis

Thursday, February 10, 2011

They don't call 'em "graphic novels" for nothing.

Publisher BOOM! Studios usually sends review copies of their entire frontlist -- kids' and grown-ups' comics alike -- which means we get everything from Wall-E and Cars to Pale Horse and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Cindy snatched up The Muppet Show, a series she remembers fondly from childhood, but as a zombie fan I'm excited for the adult-geared 28 Days Later: The Hot Zone. (Who hunts zombies in a Catholic schoolgirl skirt? I'm just sayin'.)

What I'm really looking forward to is the Samuel L. Jackson–authored Cold Space. Starring Samuel L. Jackson Mulberry, "a wisecracking, butt-kicking, on-the-run-outlaw [who] crash lands on a hostile planet," looks like it'll be either awful or awesome. Knowing Samuel L. Jackson (of Snakes on a Plane fame/infamy), it'll likely be a bit of both.

-- Katie Bircher

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New newsletter and next issue's stars

The ALA awards edition of Notes from the Horn Book arrives this afternoon -- if you're not subscribed, visit our website to view it online and sign up.

If that's not quite enough to tide you over until the next issue, here are the books receiving starred reviews in the March/April Magazine:

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage (Scholastic)
Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial)
Recovery Road by Blake Nelson (Scholastic)
The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (Levine/Scholastic)
Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt; illus. by Louise Yates (Knopf)
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade/Random)
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown)
Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski (Farrar)

Monday, February 7, 2011

In the What Were They Thinking? department…

Jean McElroy's Let's Count 123! (Simon and Schuster, May), a pleasant new board book that counts ten of the celebratory objects at a child’s birthday party (“1 cake / 2 candles / 3 party hats”), bills itself as “both chunky and lightweight!” The inside pages are not cardboard but paper-covered flat boxes (I think).

So, is the intent to lighten parents’ tote-bag loads? Or have there been many reported injuries of babies clunking themselves in the head with heavy board books? Is this new configuration meant to alleviate parents’ safety concerns? If so, they won’t: the inside boxy pages have wickedly sharp edges, a definite no-no in board book land. Let’s hope this is just the beta version, and that it’s back to the drawing board for “both chunky and lightweight!”

-- Martha V. Parravano

Friday, February 4, 2011

A story worth hearing

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA will host an event (free with admission) with Jerry Pinkney on Saturday, February 12, at 1 p.m.

In "A Story Worth Telling," the Caldecott-winning author/illustrator will look back on his fifty years of picture book–making -- and, of course, sign his many beautiful books.

Anybody wanna carpool?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow day confessions

What did the Horn Book staff read during their snow day yesterday? You may be surprised!

I started listening to Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood. It’s the first in a detective series set in the 1920s; here our Bright Young Thing heroine the Hon. Phyrne Fisher, bored with London, goes to Melbourne and finds herself solving a few mysteries. Light and fun, at least so far.
I read Muppet comic books. A blog post about them is forthcoming!

I was going to say, "Nothing! What I wouldn’t give for a day at home to read for hours! Grumble grumble grumble..." But then I realized that’s kind of what I did yesterday. Reading to my kids counts, right? Let’s see, there’s “Sailor Dog” by Margaret Wise Brown, a weird story about a dog named Scuppers with the sea in his blood (but not as weird as some of her other stories in this Friendly Tales collection... “The Little Fat Policeman,” I’m looking at you). Then a couple Sandra Boynton books (Hippos Go Berserk and a wake up book), Higher! Higher! (a few times), Helen Oxenbury’s Tickle, Tickle, etc., Sleepy, Oh So Sleepy, Where’s Walrus, some concept board book that my daughter got at her last doctor’s appointment (thank you, Reach Out and Read), a bunch of Karen Katz’s board books, and that’s all I remember.

I read Guide proofreading pages. And browsed Vanity Fair (Beiber issue ☺).

I spent most of yesterday making my way through a pile of forthcoming novels, most of which were disappointing. One was kinda fun, though -- Jacqueline Harvey's Alice-Miranda at School, about a kind-hearted, take-charge newcomer to a posh but rather mysterious English boarding school. It's got spunk -- and it appears to be the first installment of a series (the ARC includes a glimpse of the next adventure, Alice-Miranda on Holiday). After that I wallowed in the extremely wallowable FitzOsbornes in Exile (sequel to Michelle Cooper's Brief History of Montmaray) -- which would have been an ideal way to spend the whole snow day. Can I have a do-over?

I finished Chime -- and immediately turned right back to page one to start re-reading. And I “read” Mo Willems’s My Friend Is Sad with my kindergartner, who read most of it to me, stopping midway through to say “Mommy, I’m reading! I’m really reading!” Very exciting -- thanks, Mo... and Gerald and Piggie!

I started Palo Alto, a book of short stories by James Franco (handsome, dashing movie star/Renaissance Man and son of famous children’s writer Betsy Franco). The writing bug must be genetic!

I finished Holly Black's creepy collection The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, read Fang-Tastic Fiction (a bibliography of paranormal novels), and started P.C. Cast's The Fledgling Handbook 101 (a "nonfiction" companion to The House of Night series). They'll all come back to haunt you (har-har) in later blog posts.

See the November/December 2010 issue of the Horn Book Magazine for snow day reading recommendations from some of our favorite authors, including Jack Gantos, Mary Downing Hahn, and Susan Cooper. Find them online in our Magazine archive, too.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow day seek-and-find fun

It's looking like we'll have a snow day again tomorrow, so we're loading up on projects to take home. I've got a stack of novels, audio books, and blog possibilities set aside that I probably wouldn't get through in a week of snow days, but hope springs eternal, right?

Two new picture puzzle collections from Candlewick offer a nice distraction. Where's Waldo? The Phenomenal Postcard Book features the eponymous hero in 30 postcards. Beloved, bespectacled Waldo appears in settings ranging from Dracula's dinner party to a Hollywood movie premier to a sinking pirate ship. There's one for every correspondent and every occasion -- if you can stop searching long enough to actually mail the thing.

I keep mixing up the characters of activity book MoshiMoshiKawaii: Where Is Strawberry Moshi? with the dessert mochi. Can you blame me, given the dumpling-shaped animals that populate Moshi town? Strawberry Moshi (named for her strawberry-print ensemble, not her flavor) is looking for her boyfriend, Super Moshi. But due to the huge number of Moshis, and all their different outfits, she needs help. The seek-and-find puzzles and mazes are good for kids too young for the more complex Waldo puzzles, even if they do sometimes feel like a book-long ad for MoshiMoshi merch. (OMG, Moshi activities online!!)

While Waldo, a long-time friend, might get preference for my snow day reading breaks, the bizarrely cute Moshi are growing on me. And making me hungry.

-- Katie Bircher

P.S. Kitty says Stephen Savage's Where's Walrus? (Scholastic, pubbing today -- click for brilliant trailer) has "a flipper up on that guy in the striped shirt." Look for her review in the March/April issue of the magazine.