Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gardening with The Lorax

As the public becomes increasingly worried by climate change and deforestation, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, originally published in 1971, may be more relevant than ever before. With its unforgettable characters and sentiment, the classic is an entertaining and informative way of introducing young children to environmental issues.

Unfortunately, The Lorax Garden app (Oceanhouse Media) pales in comparison. The aim of the app is to restore barren forests by digitally raising flowers and Truffula trees. The process of doing so is unnecessarily complicated and seems to involve more steps than growing an actual tree. First, you must choose one of five locations, each with a forest in need of a facelift. To be successfully revived, every forest needs a different amount of full-grown Truffulas, ranging from three to nine. In the world of The Lorax Garden, raising a Truffula tree requires a combination of “care hearts,” water, and time. When you enter a new location, you receive ten care hearts, but they run out quickly. Though the needed number varies, it can take more than half of your allotted care hearts to raise one full-grown Truffula tree. To get more care hearts, you must grow one of six varieties of flowers, requiring water, pollination, and weeding—all in under a minute, as the section is timed. Growing each type of flower differs in difficulty and in how many care hearts you earn. Are you confused yet? Me too.

Here’s what I know for sure: reviving one of the forests in The Lorax Garden is a fairly significant investment of time. Add the time it takes to grow flowers to that required to grow a Truffula tree and you’re looking at well over an hour to restore a forest of nine Truffulas. But don’t worry: you probably won’t finish. Unless you’re one of those people who have to finish what they’ve started, you’ll be frustrated and/or terribly bored after growing just one or two Truffula trees. And if The Lorax Garden can’t hold the attention of a book- and garden-loving adult like myself, it surely won’t be a pleasant experience for children.

So do yourself and your children a favor. Forgo The Lorax Garden app. Read the picture book with your kids and use the $1.99 the app would have cost to buy a sapling or some seeds—real ones, not the pixelated kind brought to you by the Apple device of your choice. Plant them in your yard and bring The Lorax to life. Dr. Seuss would have preferred it that way.

—Laura Marenghi

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Upcoming stars

Starred reviews appearing in the September/October Horn Book Magazine:

- The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories by David LaRochelle; illus. by Paul Meisel (Dutton) - A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka (Schwartz & Wade)
- Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Farrar)
- Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck; illus. by Kelly Murphy (Dial)
- The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf (Candlewick)
- Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin (Holt)
- A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young by Halfdan Rasmussen; trans. from the Danish by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland; illus. by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick)
- Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert by Marc Aronson (Atheneum)
- Orani: My Father’s Village by Claire A. Nivola (Foster/Farrar)
- Feynman by Jim Ottaviani; illus. by Leland Myrick; color by Hilary Sycamore (First Second)
- Drawing from Memory by Allen Say (Scholastic)
- Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Beth Krommes (Houghton)


Friday, July 22, 2011

Queen of the fake-out

“Nothing in Rosewood is ever really over,” reads the first page of Twisted (Harper Teen, July), the ninth book in Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars series. No kidding. Back in 2006, the Horn Book Guide’s review of the kick-off volume refers to Pretty Little Liars as the “first book in a planned series of four” (wrong). After that, not once, not twice, but three times have we described the book-just-before-a-new-one as the concluding volume. Most recently we say (in reference to 2010’s Heartless and Wanted): “Readers say goodbye to the PLLs in these final books of the series… Wanted introduces the final, crucial plot twist.”

In our own defense, that plot twist was a doozy; it really did seem like a wrap-up. However, I can’t deny that this whole thing is our own fault; after each story, a concluding missive by “A” tantalizingly warns readers that more mayhem could be on the horizon. From now on we’re taking that to heart, especially since the end of Twisted is so definitive: “Did you really think it was over?...Stick with me, kids. It’s about to get so good…”

Sara Shepard, can you pretty please whisper in the Guide’s ear how many books in this series you plan to write? I’d like to believe, as The Who song goes, “We won’t get fooled again.” However, I’m sure you—and “A”—have some tricks up your sleeve.

While waiting for the inevitable book 10 (titled Gullible, perhaps?), series fans can keep their memories sharp by rereading Wicked through Wanted, newly available in a paperback box set. They can also feel smug about spoilers by watching the TV show, an Entertainment Weekly guilty-pleasure darling.

—Elissa Gershowitz

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New voices speak up

YA librarian and current Boston Globe–Horn Book Award judge Robin Brenner hosts a panel of "New Voices in YA and Children's Literature" tonight, July 20th.

The up-and-coming authors—all recent grads of the Simmons MFA in Writing for Children program, including HB freelancers Natasha Gilmore and Shara Hardeson—will read from their work, then discuss their process and their publishing experiences. The event begins at 6:30 in the Brookline Library Teen Room and will be followed by a reception in the library's cafe. Additional info available here.

I'll be there to cheer them on!  See you there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two (spoilers ahead!)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two opened in theaters on Friday to the delight and trepidation of fans everywhere. Movie-goers be warned: there is no summary or introduction as in the previous films—they really did just split one long film into two—so it’s definitely worthwhile to re-watch Part One (review here) prior to seeing this last film. Part Two begins exactly where the first half left off, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione regrouping at Shell Cottage while Voldemort gains possession of the Elder Wand. From there, the trio races non-stop to find and eliminate the remaining Horcruxes before Voldemort discovers their plan or obtains all three Deathly Hallows.

With this final installment, the acting has done nothing but improve. Whereas in the previous films I felt Daniel Radcliffe generally showed, as Hermione would say, the emotional range of a teaspoon, here he delves deeper, showing more emotion than ever before. Helena Bonham Carter also deserves special recognition, although not for her role as Bellatrix LeStrange (she is, as always, fantastically creepy and demented). Her portrayal of Hermione, post-polyjuice potion, impersonating Bellatrix while the trio breaks into Gringott’s Bank is flawless. Bonham Carter captures every physical mannerism of Emma Watson’s Hermione, from her walk to the way her face arranges when she tries to hide her anxiety. This is one of my favorite scenes in the film.

The film is beautifully crafted from beginning to end. There are many notable scenes, like a sweeping shot of the trio running through the battle on the way to find Voldemort and Nagini, that emphasize the chaos and panic of the battle. On Harry’s walk through the courtyard on the way to the Forbidden Forest to face Voldemort, his path is illuminated to subtly suggest a cross. And, of course, there is the breathtaking, perfectly heartbreaking scene with the resurrection stone. Alexandre Desplat’s score is exquisitely melancholy and epic. The special effects of Gringott’s dragon are possibly the best in the series.

The past seven films have each had some parts that were spot-on while other parts disappointed, and this eighth film is no exception. During the final showdown between Voldemort and Harry, Harry’s lecture is replaced by showy tricks. There were laughably awkward moments—in one scene, Voldemort embraces Draco—and curious additions (a romance between characters Rowling clearly stated did not get together), uncharacteristic actions (McGonagall sending all of the Slytherins to the dungeons) and unforgivable omissions, including the scene leading up to the death of a certain ginger-haired character. However, even for die-hard fans these changes only dampen the generally satisfying film.

The movie is peppered with references to the earlier installments—a flock of Cornish pixies in the Room of Requirement, a chocolate frog on the window of the Hogwarts Express in the epilogue—that inspire welcome feelings of nostalgia to break up the relentless melancholy and adrenaline. Screenwriter Steve Kloves uses his screenplay to acknowledge the significance the franchise has had (and will continue to have) for so many people. Memorable statements from Dumbledore and Lupin remind us of the importance of convictions and the power of words. Through Neville Longbottom, Kloves provides the most comfort of all, reminding us that “It doesn’t matter that Harry’s gone. People die every day. Friends, family. Yeah, we lost Harry tonight. But he’s still with us, in here [gestures to chest]. So’s Fred, and Remus, and Tonks—all of them . . . Harry’s heart did beat for us, for all of us! It’s not over!"

—Kazia Berkley-Cramer

Friday, July 15, 2011

What a long, magical trip it's been.

Last night, like fans everywhere, I got gussied up in my best Hogwarts gear and went to see the final Harry Potter movie premiere at midnight.

Despite the fact that I'm running on about 3 hours of sleep (yawn!) and lots of caffeine today, I'm so glad I was able to be a part of the midnight madness one last time. The excitement was tinged with some sadness that it's all over, though... After my ten-plus years of fandom—including late-night movie premieres, midnight book releases (the last one as an indie bookseller), and Potter parties—it really does feel like saying goodbye to an old friend.

I'm prolonging the afterglow (and trying to stave off the sense of mourning) by listening to "LeakyCon Radio" over at Sirius XM, running live from the convention all weekend. Obviously, I'd brave a basilisk to be at LeakyCon in person, but since I can't be there I'm thrilled to be able to eavesdrop on the panel discussions and interviews.

Stay tuned for our movie review of Deathly Hallows Part 2, and in the meantime, feel free to share some fandom memories of your own in the comments.

—Katie Bircher

Thursday, July 14, 2011

At home with Kids and Home

Despite its title, RedactiePartners MediaGroep’s Kids and Home app ($.99, recommended for ages 4 and up) features no children and a wide variety of buildings, few of them actually homes. However, it serves as an adequate introduction for young children to different architecture around the world. The first part of the app resembles a nonfiction picture book; each screen introduces a particular structure, mentioning a unique feature of the building and how it differs from the narrator’s own house (for example, “This is the Taj Mahal. It is in India. It was built as a monument to love. My house was built to be lived in”). Only very general facts are given on the main part of each screen, instead giving focus to a photograph of the structure itself. A light bulb in the upper right corner, once tapped, becomes a pull-down fact sheet about the location with more detailed information and trivia. Each screen includes a related (if somewhat lackluster) interactive element; for instance, on the Big Ben screen a double-decker bus beeps and drives across the photo. Although so many—over twenty-five—pages become repetitive, they do allow the user to explore a diverse range of structures, from houseboats to cathedrals to the pyramids.

The second part of the app allows users to customize a home. Essentially a virtual sticker book, this feature lets users select the location of their home (e.g., Mars, underwater, a desert) to its accoutrements (e.g., columns, solar panels, and weather vanes). Another sticker book–ish section offers images of vehicles, animals, etc., to play with, while yet another section invites digital painting. I used the app several times and each time found the creative parts challenging to work with. I had trouble making the pieces of my home stay where I wanted them and saving my finished picture. Theoretically the user can send their "dreamhouse" by email or upload it to Facebook, but after I saved the image of my home I was not able to upload it. Overall, the app is less user-friendly—and less interesting—than I had hoped it would be.

—Kazia Berkley-Cramer

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Newest Notes out today

July's Notes from the Horn Book will be hitting inboxes in about an hour. Here's what to expect this issue:
- five questions for illustrator Sophie Blackall
- Sophie's recent picture books
- picture book bios
- brand-new middle-grade fiction
- fresh perspectives on tough topics in YA
- updates on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards ceremony and Horn Book at Simmons

Sign up here!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ALA Live Five round-up

Tomie dePaola and Roger
Over at Read Roger, our indefatigable leader has been posting highlights from his nine Live Five interviews with the 2011 Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Wilder, Sibert, and Printz luminaries, plus bonus interviews with superstars Brian Selznick and Rick Riordan. Head over and learn whose dog Roger wants and what he and Rita Williams-Garcia were singing about.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Alanna redux

As a Horn Book intern, I’m on the Out of the Box frontlines: I open the boxes and see what’s in them first. I recently came across the new paperback edition of Tamora Pierce’s The Woman Who Rides like a Man (left), the third book in the Song of the Lioness Quartet (Simon and Schuster, April). As a fan of the series, I was taken aback by the new cover, which features a photographed Alanna, the protagonist of the series, with magenta-dyed hair, in modern clothes and makeup, and flanked by two teenage boys. The Alanna I picture is a combination of my own imagination and Joyce Patti’s softly illustrated cover portraying a ginger-haired heroine (1997 Random House edition, right).

My discomfort with this new edition lies not in the decision to change the cover image, but with my worry that the new art does not accurately represent the story to a new generation of readers. If I were unfamiliar with the plot—about newly knighted Alanna’s journey to Tortall’s desert and her capture and acceptance by the Bloody Hawk tribe—I would guess from the new cover that it‘s about a contemporary teenage girl who has a magic pendant and is caught in a love triangle a lá Twilight.

Looking at this edition reminds me of some of my other favorite books that have been reissued with new covers, some of which I’ve grown to appreciate (the 2007 edition of Natalie Babbitt’s The Search for Delicious)

and some of which I have not (any post-Trina Schart Hyman editions of Patricia C. Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles).

Which original cover art do you think shouldn’t be tampered with? Which new covers are welcome updates?

—Kazia Berkley-Cramer