Friday, April 29, 2011

He sings, too?

As you may recall, I've got a bit of a crush on author Neil Gaiman. Today I’ve been obsessively listening to “Nighty Night” by 8in8, the self-described “world’s least super supergroup" (comprised of lyricist Gaiman with musicians Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds, and Damian Kulash). The album was written, recorded, released for download, and performed live—all in about 24 breakneck hours for Berklee College of Music’s Rethink Music conference. It is actually pretty super, with six fabulously quirky songs on such varied topics as origami, Nikola Tesla, and squirrel suicide. Neil Himself sings the final track, “The Problem with Saints,” in which a resurrected Joan of Arc causes a ruckus in the park. Proceeds benefit Berklee City Music Network; set your own price/donation to download here.

In other Neil news: the deadline for submissions to win a part in HarperCollins's full-cast audio recording of American Gods is Monday, May 2. Learn more, enter, and vote for your favorite contestant here.

—Katie Bircher

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Books for Darfur

What You Wish For, a collection of short stories exploring the topic of wishes, will be published this September by Putnam and The Book Wish Foundation. Book Wish will be contributing their share of the proceeds and all donations to UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR to help fund libraries in Darfur.

The deadline to donate and have your name (or child's name) included in What You Wish For—alongside the book's impressive line-up of contributors, left—is Friday, April 30.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How pleasant, indeed.

Chronicle has just published His Shoes Were Far Too Tight, a collection of Edward Lear’s poems, selected and introduced by author/NPR commentator Daniel Pinkwater. The collection is illustrated by Calef Brown, a fabulous children’s poet himself.

With the book we received a CD of the euphonious Pinkwater narrating five of the poems. My favorite is the collection’s opener, Lear’s self-effacing self-portrait “How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear!”:

How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!
Who has written such volumes of stuff!
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few find him pleasant enough.

His mind is concrete and fastidious;
His nose is remarkably big;
His visage is more or less hideous;
His beard it resembles a wig.
He sits in a beautiful parlor,
With hundreds of books on the wall;
He drinks a great deal of Marsala,
But never gets tipsy at all.
He has many friends, lay men and clerical;
Old Foss is the name of his cat;
His body is perfectly spherical;
He weareth a runcible hat…

I think Mr. Lear and I would get along quite well, actually, amid our cats and hundreds of books.

Chronicle has also made the audio tracks available online. Add a little nonsense to your day by listening to “How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear!” along with “The Pobble Who Has No Toes,” “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “The Jumblies,” and “Some Incidents in the Life of My Uncle Arly” here.

—Katie Bircher

Monday, April 25, 2011

Three threes and an overworked hen

We (and Fuse #8) have been complaining about the current dearth of new picture book editions of folktales. I mean, wouldn't you love to see Mo Willems take on "The Three Billy Goats Gruff"? Bryan Collier do a "Hansel and Gretel"? An Erin Stead "Cinderella"? Hey, being a picture book casting agent is fun!

But in the meantime, have a look at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's reissues of Paul Galdone's Three Little Kittens, The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and The Little Red Hen. Originally published by Clarion in the 1970s and 80s, the four books (more will follow later in the year) are now available in a uniform paper-over-board edition at the nice price of $8.99 each. Galdone was a refreshingly modest illustrator: his retellings are straightforward and his unassumingly loose-lined, color-separated pictures (Lolly says) provide just enough embellishment, as when the lazy cat in Little Red Hen lolls on the couch, dreaming of a tin of sardines. And oh, the white space! Plenty of it on the page gives the stories all the room they need to do their stuff.

—Roger Sutton

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why is it always the redhead? —or— How to use stock photos sparingly

While perusing Cliques by Toney Allman, part of Lucent Books’ long-running Hot Topics series for middle-schoolers, I noticed this poor girl, presumably being teased about her hair.

“Why is it always the redhead?” thought I. From Anne Shirley (and doesn’t it look like this little lady’s ready to break her slate over somebody’s head?), to that other beloved little orphan with a similar-sounding name, to Ron Weasley, and Julianne Moore’s Freckleface Strawberry alter ego, we gingers must develop a thick, if easily sunburned, skin. But wait; don’t feel too sorry for stock photo girl. Here’s a different picture from the same book:

Little Red looks like the aggressor; just another fiery, hot-tempered one of us.*

Which brings me to my point: if you’re going to use staged photos in your books (I’m talking to you, endless nonfiction series), first try to mix it up a little; don’t assume your readers won’t recognize the same kid in two different pictures. Next, please, oh, please put a little more thought into your audience. We say this over and over again in reviews, but what teens are going to take seriously a book—purportedly aimed right at them—that uses such totally square (and in the case of the aforementioned Angry Carrot, too young) supporting images? Another example, this time from Jenny MacKay's Hot Topics title Gangs:


A group of Abercrombie-wearing kids sitting around an outdoor mall does not a street gang make, and no teens—be they “queen bees,” “goth kids,” “nerds,” or “floaters”—will be fooled into thinking otherwise.

—Elissa Gershowitz aka Pippi

*(see Facebook page: “Why Are Bullies in Movies Always Fat Red-Headed Kids with Freckles?”)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making Over Uglies

Digging through a box of books the other day, I came across what I thought was a new Scott Westerfeld book. “Yay!” said my brain—until I realized the title read Uglies. “Wait, what?” I thought. “This isn’t Uglies!”

The "trilogy plus one" is receiving a full redesign (in hardcover, no less) by publisher Simon Pulse, from the covers to trim size and page design. While the new jacket for Extras does pay homage to the original, the new Uglies cover with its haunting covered face bears a closer resemblance to the opening credits of the (adult) TV show Dexter than it does to the original cover. The new Pretties cover reminds me of another grown-up show, Nip/Tuck, making me wonder if the makeovers are an attempt to market the books to an older audience. Though the new covers don’t appeal to me personally, I’ve seen plenty of positive buzz about them online from adult bloggers.


I feel these remakes lack the pizzazz of the original books: their smaller size, mysterious teenaged faces, and eye-catching spines. And while the images on the new covers are startling (as is the use of sterile white), they just don't do justice to the uniqueness of Westerfeld’s dystopian world. Ironically, the new versions look like New Pretty Town–style extreme makeovers of the originals—sexed-up and stripped down. I’m the first to admit I can be averse to change, but in this case, change seems unnecessary and a little compromising. What do you think?

—Cindy Ritter

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


As Roger reports, PoetryTagTime is a new ebook-only anthology of 30 original, interrelated poems. Each distinguished children's poet "tags" the next poet in line, connecting each poem topically (moon to sun, sun to sunflower, etc.) to the ones before and after it. The PoetryTagTime Tips blog offers ideas for sharing the poems with kids one-on-one or in a classroom setting.

The 30-poem collection is just the right length for sharing a poem a day during National Poetry Month, but with contributors including Douglas Florian, Calef Brown, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Nikki Grimes, it's sure to be a hit with budding poets and poetry lovers any time.

And April's not over yet! For more poetry, check out Roger's post about Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets: 100 Poems to Rip Out and Read and the recommended poetry booklist on our website.

—Katie Bircher

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Very First App

From coloring books to flash cards, baby journals to stuffed animals, adaptations of Eric Carle’s tissue collage illustrations seem endless. Night and Day Studios has reshaped Carle’s work for the iPad, releasing My Very First App in December. This was the first of the company’s two apps adapting recognizable artwork into children’s games (see January's Peekaboo Forest, featuring the artwork of Charley Harper).

My Very First App turns images from Carle’s My Very First Books series into matching games. In "Easy" mode, the screen is divided in half; players scroll through sets of images to find corresponding concepts (e.g., purple and grapes). The "Medium" level requires users to flip over cards two at a time and pair images directly (grapes and grapes), while the "Hard" level asks users to pair different but related images (again, purple and grapes) while a narrator explains the relationship between the two.

In virtualizing the real-world card-matching game, Night and Day Studios has eliminated the possibility of lost cards and the necessity for pick-up, and the dimension of matching related but nonidentical images extends the app’s playability. Though children may quickly tire of matching the color and animal cards that come pre-loaded, there are additional card sets for purchase (but at $1.99 for the app and $.99 for each additional set, this could quickly become one of the pricier apps on your iPad).

From the chewed-through pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the twinkling lights of The Very Lonely Firefly, Eric Carle's books revel in both whimsy and envelope-pushing. Comparatively, My Very First App is a beautiful but somewhat underwhelming take on a traditional card game—and has lost much of Carle’s magic in the process.

—Elizabeth Parks

Friday, April 15, 2011

"I'll clean up my act when I'm good and ripe!"

Karl Beckstrand's bizarrely funny picture book Bad Bananas (Premio, June) shows how good bananas go wrong. Fresh from the grocery store, they're sweet and "conform nicely to the bunch," but before you know it they're "borrowing" the fruit bowl for joyrides and loitering in "dimly lit lunchboxes." The fair trade and organic labels of their innocent youth are replaced by tattoo-like stickers proclaiming Del Malo, Un-Organic, or Dull. When rival fruits try to stand up to these hoodlums, insults fly: "Your mother's a raisin!" Most of illustrator Jeff Faerber's illustrations style the bad apples bananas as gang-banger types or skate punks—but some go fully Dark Side, like a Darth Vader-ish villain and a pirate banana walking the plank into a frying pan.

Just when you think there's no hope—they're just a bad bunch—salvation appears in the form of banana-based recipes. Cookies, fruit salad, pancakes, and more give these bananas a second chance. I made "banana redemption muffins" (with the "optional" chocolate chips, of course) and brought them into the office. A little dense (probably from my forgetting the baking powder rather than any defect in the recipe), they were still delicious, and an excellent use for the overripe bananas stinking up my kitchen. And while I can't say my baking received "four stars from The Banana Post," I'll take an appreciative "mmm" from The Horn Book staff any day.

—Katie Bircher

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April Notes is here!

Look for the new Notes from the Horn Book in your inbox this afternoon, chock-full with
- five questions for Franny Billingsley
- fantasy for older readers
- spring animal antics in picture books
- nonfiction picture books
- truthiness in middle-grade fiction

Sign up for free here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Guide now online

We've just added the final Spring 2011 Horn Book Guide reviews (1,551 of them!) to the Guide Online database. Take a peek at the newly added titles, authors, and illustrators.

Subscribe to the print Guide and Guide Online here.

Monday, April 11, 2011


After some fierce competition—including a first-round heartbreaker storming back from the dead!—Jonathan Stroud’s The Ring of Solomon won School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. To get the inside scoop, we caught up with Battle Commentator Jonathan Hunt.

First things first: Did the best man win?
I certainly think you can make a case that it did; I'm a huge Bartimaeus fan, and I thought this one was just as good as the previous ones. I probably would have opted for A Conspiracy of Kings, personally, and I'm on record as being a big fan of Keeper, too. So it's hard for me to be objective.

Which book did you vote for in the undead round?
I voted for A Conspiracy of Kings. I was tempted by Sugar Changed the World, but didn't think it would be a serious contender to come back from the dead.

Whose true colors came out over the course of the contest? What were those colors?
Everybody showed just how nice they are—almost too nice. I wouldn't mind seeing some old-fashioned cattiness.

Did you have any knock-down, drag-outs with Battle Commanders Roxanne and Monica? If so, over what? (Extra points if it’s not a book.)

We don't fight about specific books as much as we fight about issues of balance. Do we have too many books in one genre? Do we skew very old or very young? Do we have enough under-recognized genres such as poetry, nonfiction, or graphic novels? Do we have too many books from one publisher?

What can you spill about next year’s contenders? Judges?
We typically don't start discussing possibilities until the fall, but I can't imagine that we won't be seriously talking about such spring titles as Chime by Franny Billingsley, Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, and Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming. SLJ recruits and assigns judges. I keep waiting for them to run out of big, impressive names—but it hasn't happened yet.

Don’t think, just answer: The Ring of Solomon vs. Marching for Freedom [last year’s winner]. Oh, and why? (Now you can think.)
The Ring of Solomon... because my twelve-year old self is a bully!

—Elissa Gershowitz

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wimpy Kid and beyond

Rick Detorie’s The Accidental Genius of Weasel High (Egmont, April) comes hot on the heels of the latest movie adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s popular series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (currently in theaters). This paperback original will appeal to Wimpy Kid fans in both its format and its angsty content. Accidental Genius poses itself as the “notebook blog” (what we called "a journal" in the old days) of protagonist Larkin Pace—a project assigned by his freshman English teacher as a result of the students’ “overall poor writing skills and penmanship.” Larkin chronicles his ninth-grade, girl, and family dramas through witty entries and frequent lists of things he hates, e.g., “Ten Things I Hate About Being 14” and “Top Ten Things That Bug Me About My Dad” (#7 on the Dad list: “He’s old”). Accompanying Larkin’s “blogging” are cartoon illustrations similar in style and sophistication to Detorie’s nationally syndicated comic strip, One Big Happy. Though the drawings enhance the text, they tend to feel like the adult Detorie's art rather than teenage Larkin's personal sketches.

Larkin’s fourteen-year-old ambitions and cynicism will wet the whistles of Wimpy Kid followers who’ve been yearning for more every-kid heroics since the publication last November of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth (Amulet). Though Larkin bears more than a passing resemblance to Kinney’s Greg Heffley, Accidental Genius is far from a wimpy addition to pubescent boys’ bookshelves.

—Katrina Hedeen

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Get "The Goods"

from Adam Rex's "Abraham SuperLincoln"
Venerable-yet-irreverent multimedia publisher McSweeney's recently announced a new project: "The Goods," a weekly newspaper insert offering "a gallimaufry of games, puzzles, comics, and other diversions" created by children's authors and illustrators. Looking at their line-up—headed by such heavy hitters as Mo Willems, Laurie Keller, Lane Smith, Bob Shea, Adam Rex, and Children's Literature Ambassador emeritus Jon Scieszka—I predict lots of breakfast table scuffles between kids and parents over who gets "The Goods" first.

While we're on the topic of kids' books and newspapers, The Guardian's new kid-friendly children's book site also looks like a good time, with news, kids' reviews, and forums.

—Katie Bircher

Sunday, April 3, 2011

No foolin', thank you

Thanks to everyone who conspired in our little April Fool's prank, especially Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes who created the images (and some of the funniest titles), Elizabeth Law of Egmont (whose author Allen Zadoff came up with Enwraptured) and Kitty Flynn and Katie Bircher of here for pulling it all together. I am a little worried about the woman who wrote that she had searched WorldCat and Amazon for a copy of YA Mafia with no success. Friday must have been a hard day for her.   

Roger Sutton

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Horn Book Magazine starred reviews

Higher! Higher!
by Charlie Sheen
At the playground, young swinger Charlie gets so high that he breaks through Earth's atmosphere and high-fives a fellow rock star from Mars.

Mommy Loves You More than Your Grades (I Promise)
by Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua
A tiger cub is herded through a jam-packed day of school, homework, violin lessons, tutoring, more violin practice—ending with the much-needed reminder that Mommy pushes her daughter so hard only because she loves her so much.

Tiger Babies
by Sophia and Lulu Chua
When Mom dictates one violin lesson too many, these mischievous twins show their claws!

Tiger Juice
by Charlie Sheen
Hijinks ensue when the irrepressible Charlie talks the gang into offering something special at this summer’s lemonade stand.

Teachers Aren’t Any More Special Than You
by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
A much needed antidote to the unchecked teacher glorification in children’s literature.

You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry: An Autobiography
by Kris Kringle
How the man we now know as “Santa” turned childhood trauma into joy for children worldwide.

Quit Reading and Get Moving!
by Michelle Obama
The First Lady breaks the mold in this inspirational ode to the virtues of exercise, “so much more rewarding than some stupid book.”

i steal becuz i’m sad, a novel in verse
by Lindsay Lohan
An achingly sensitive first novel explores the pain of a naturally reclusive young woman forced against her will into the spotlight.

Our 15 States: Just the Important Ones
by Lerner Capstone
So many states, so little time—what’s a busy child to do? Our 15 States cuts to the chase, providing information only on the really, really important ones.

Glitter, Glitter, Everywhere
by Kate Middleton
How much of a princess are you? Enough to have glitter and mirrors reflecting your image on every single page of the books you read? Glitter, Glitter Everywhere is for you.

Kate Digs for Gold
by Sarah, Duchess of York
Part of the duchess’s Helping Hands Book series. Auntie knows best!

I Ate Number Five
by Pittacus Lore
More revelations about James Frey convinced the publisher to quit while it was ahead, resulting in a satisfying series closer.

YA MAFIA, a collection of short stories
compiled by E. Lockhart and John Green
The cool kids rule in this anthology of tales that leaves the losers behind. And unpublished.

Enwraptured: Book One in the Mummies of Darkwater Falls trilogy
by Elizebeth Raw
High school student Alison Klutze can't believe she finally has a boyfriend. But when Alison and hottie Derek are finally ready to do it, she's in for quite a surprise when Derek starts to take off his clothes...

with thanks to Travis Jonker @
image credits: