The Horn Book » Read Roger http://www.hbook.com Publications about books for children and young adults Mon, 24 Nov 2014 18:11:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.5 Being a White Guy in Children’s Books http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/white-guy-childrens-books/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/white-guy-childrens-books/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:04:28 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43405 Don’t get me wrong. White guys working in children’s books have it good. In fact, it would be fair to say we have it pretty much made. But in the wake of host Daniel Handler’s remarks at Wednesday’s National Book Awards, I find myself thinking about the privileged but peculiar position white guys have in […]

The post Being a White Guy in Children’s Books appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
BadBeginning Being a White Guy in Children’s BooksDon’t get me wrong. White guys working in children’s books have it good. In fact, it would be fair to say we have it pretty much made. But in the wake of host Daniel Handler’s remarks at Wednesday’s National Book Awards, I find myself thinking about the privileged but peculiar position white guys have in this field. (Some of what I have to say applies to the non-white guys, too, but I am not going to generalize that far.)

I wasn’t at the event and can’t bring myself to watch the video because I know it would have me writhing in empathetic embarrassment. So all of my information is from the transcript and subsequent internet outrage. And what I’m left with—even more than my happiness at Jackie Woodson’s win—is how sorry I feel for Handler, and how easily I could have fallen into the same trap. (I confess to some impatience with all the talk of him stealing Her Moment because Woodson is getting a way longer moment than any children’s National Book Award winner has ever gotten before. Quickly, who won last year?)

The main thing about being a white guy in children’s books is that you get a lot more attention—not to mention Caldecott Medals!—than you would otherwise, and than is really good for you. Award committees want you as a member. Conferences want you to speak. People look to you for a “male point of view”—especially when they are seeking to solve the perennial problem of The Boy Reader, attention to whose needs getting far more ink than the needs of his sister. If you’re good-looking—and here I speak from observation—you are really set. Molly Ivins would have said that you were born on third base, and, professionally speaking, she would have been right.

It’s a nice life that’s easy to get used to. But as Handler learned, it can bite you in the ass. There he was in the spotlight, doing what he’s been amply rewarded for doing for years, and he overreached. He was trying to show us that he was as cool as we’ve long been saying he was: I am so cool I can get away with a racist-not-racist watermelon joke. He couldn’t, and I’m sorry there was no one to tell him he wouldn’t. Or maybe he didn’t think to ask? It’s the least a guy can do.

The post Being a White Guy in Children’s Books appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/white-guy-childrens-books/feed/ 98
Reviewing race http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/reviewing-race/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/reviewing-race/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 17:19:23 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43123 Over on Facebook, illustrator Shadra Strickland asks a good question: “Why is it necessary for a reviewer to identify the ethnicity of a character in their review when the plot has zero to do with race…especially in picture books? A friend just told me that in her latest pb, her family was identified as Caucasian. […]

The post Reviewing race appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
Strickland Reviewing race

illustration by Shadra Strickland from A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Reneé Watson, Random House, 2010

Over on Facebook, illustrator Shadra Strickland asks a good question:

“Why is it necessary for a reviewer to identify the ethnicity of a character in their review when the plot has zero to do with race…especially in picture books? A friend just told me that in her latest pb, her family was identified as Caucasian. It is a multi-racial family. The story is universal enough in plot, that the family could be any color. In PW’s review of Please Louise, Louise was also multi-racial but labeled as “an Asian girl”. I think it is dangerous for reviewers to assume race in pbs without being certain. Why mention ethnicity at all when the ethnicity of the characters do not inform the storytelling in picture books?”

GREAT question, and one reviewers are asking themselves all the damn time. The sub-query about misidentifying the ethnicity of a character is easy to answer (don’t do it and DON’T GUESS), but we are always trying to figure out where and how to mention ethnicity, especially in reviewing books in which skin color plays a part only in the illustrations and goes unmentioned in the text.

ON THE ONE HAND: if a story is about some universal experience unrelated to race, why even bring it up? ALL readers should be able to empathize with a story about, say, moving to a new neighborhood and making new friends. True enough, but . . .

ON THE OTHER: . . . by not identifying the ethnicity of a non-white protagonist, the review runs the risk of failing to catch the interest of the book buyer who is looking specifically for stories about non-white kids whose race plays no part in the story, and who might skip over the book assuming it was about white kids. Ms. magazine, for a few issues, identified all subjects by race including whites, who were labelled “European-Americans.” But that didn’t last at Ms. or elsewhere, and, however deplorable it may be, American readers of all colors tend to assume a character is white unless told otherwise.

SO: since we know the Horn Book has readers who are actively seeking books about non-white characters, we mention their presence in a book whenever we can. We’re helped a bit with picture books, as the Magazine runs an illustration with every picture book review. Otherwise, it can be very awkward sometimes to get a character’s ethnicity into a review of a book in which ethnicity is not a plot point. “European-American Roger was walking his dog before work one day when he was abducted by aliens.” “Our main character, a white boy named Roger, was walking his dog one day . . . .” It’s not easy or always graceful but I think it’s worth doing.

TWO corollary issues: one thing you risk when mentioning ethnicity in reviewing an otherwise “universal” book is that white readers will say “oh, not a book for me.” Unfortunately, the Magazine does not come packaged with a Slap Machine™. Second, in a discussion of books in which “the characters just happen to be African American” an African American colleague said to me “nobody in this country ‘just happens’ to be black.” We need to continue talking about both those things.

The post Reviewing race appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/reviewing-race/feed/ 18
Default in our stars http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/default-in-our-stars/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/default-in-our-stars/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 17:08:05 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43062 This week’s Entertainment Weekly has a list of “50 Books Every Kid Should Read” (view PDF here). Given that it strives to contain both classics (Where the Wild Things Are) as well as modern favorites (The Fault in Our Stars); and pop hits (The Hunger Games) along with critics’ darlings (Roll of Thunder, Hear My […]

The post Default in our stars appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
50bookseverychildshouldread 550x816 Default in our starsThis week’s Entertainment Weekly has a list of “50 Books Every Kid Should Read” (view PDF here). Given that it strives to contain both classics (Where the Wild Things Are) as well as modern favorites (The Fault in Our Stars); and pop hits (The Hunger Games) along with critics’ darlings (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry), it’s a good list spanning more than eighty years of publishing.

What is sometimes peculiar are the age-level designations. Shaun Tan’s The Arrival for 6-8-year-olds? The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe for 12 and up? Why is Wimpy Kid for 6-8-year-olds and Captain Underpants for 9-11-year-olds? Proceed with caution.

I’ve been thinking a lot about reviewing and age levels as I’ve been engaging with a California lawyer who has called several times with detailed questions about how the Horn Book makes such decisions. She’s very nice and not crazy (unlike the lawyer for publisher Mitchell Lane who said our negative reviews of their books were defamatory and thus actionable) and I don’t think she’s going after us for anything. At any rate, she said she was also calling a number of our peers with the same questions. It all apparently has something to do with a school district and The Fault in Our Stars, and the lawyer wanted to know how we arrived at the “High School” designation in our review. “Was it the sex?” she asked. What sex, I replied, forgetting not just how far the kids Went in the book but that I had written the review (the lawyer reminded me). So many books, so few gray cells to remember them.

But it hadn’t been the sex that caused us to label the book as for grades-nine-and-up, although designating it as such meant we didn’t have to spend any time describing it. YA publishing’s “14 and up” label only dates back to the mid-eighties, and then it was still a curiosity rather than the default it is today. Back then, “YA readers” were mainly middle-school kids. I think of Fault in Our Stars and so much other contemporary YA as being for 14- and even 16-and-up not because of the inclusion of sexytime (God, is anyone else old enough to remember Spiro Agnew going on talk shows to discuss  ”the obligatory sex scene” in his novel The Canfield Decision?) but because that’s who the implied reader seems to be. “Implied reader” didn’t go very far with this lawyer, unfortunately, who really seemed to want the assurance that “High school” meant sex scenes and “Middle school” or “Intermediate” did not. (Remember how The Canning Season lost the Newbery with “you little fucks”? Good times.)

All of this is just my longwinded way of saying that the Horn Book does not assign grade levels on the basis of subject matter, “language,” or sex scenes, obligatory or otherwise. We’re just trying to suggest who might best appreciate the book.

The post Default in our stars appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/default-in-our-stars/feed/ 3
Reviewing from under a rock http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/reviewing-rock/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/reviewing-rock/#comments Tue, 04 Nov 2014 21:36:23 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42850 I loved Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White (try the audiobook if you want something immersive and long) and am looking forward to his Book of Strange New Things. But there was a passage in Marcel Theroux’s extremely laudatory NYT review last week  that’s driving me crazy: “Since the critical and commercial triumph […]

The post Reviewing from under a rock appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
RodneyDangerfield Reviewing from under a rockI loved Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White (try the audiobook if you want something immersive and long) and am looking forward to his Book of Strange New Things. But there was a passage in Marcel Theroux’s extremely laudatory NYT review last week  that’s driving me crazy: “Since the critical and commercial triumph of Hilary Mantel, the historical novel is newly respectable. One hopes that Michel Faber can do something similar for speculative writing.”

One hopes, does One? But does One read? I, who in private life pretty much run away from anything labelled speculative fiction, can easily reel off the names William Gibson, Octavia Butler, Kazuo Ishiguro, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami as examples of writers who have made the genre respectable to non-specialists. To evince hope that Michel Faber might finally get speculative fiction some respect is like saying it’s about damn time that people started enjoying chocolate.

The post Reviewing from under a rock appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/read-roger/reviewing-rock/feed/ 2
What’s Going On http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/whats-going/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/whats-going/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 16:46:39 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42302 Some things going on at hbook.com: John Green loved The Babysitters Club. Who knew? New books for Halloween. And my favorite. On Calling Caldecott, Lolly is discussing how/whether to review your friends/more-than-friends/enemies. This is why I like to be able to count the number of writers I am actually personal friends with on the fingers of […]

The post What’s Going On appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
MarvinGaye Whats Going OnSome things going on at hbook.com:

John Green loved The Babysitters Club. Who knew?

New books for Halloween. And my favorite.

On Calling Caldecott, Lolly is discussing how/whether to review your friends/more-than-friends/enemies. This is why I like to be able to count the number of writers I am actually personal friends with on the fingers of one hand. (You know who you are. And now you know why I don’t review you.) Anita Silvey once said that her favorite writers to work with were dead ones, and, boy, do I see her point.

Selfie Sweepstakes update: I have received four submissions, each not as great as you might want but not as bad as you might think. Final deadline is 12/15/14.

And over at our little sis:

Betsy Bird gets a TV show.

Nina and Jonathan are wondering whether the graphic novel El Deafo could pick up a Newbery. (No. I mean it could, but it won’t.) Now that I’ve recused myself from ALA Medal deliberations, Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott make me itch to publish a retrospective: “The year was 2000. What won: Bud, Not Buddy; Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. What should have won: King of Shadows; Hush, Little Baby.” Like that. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t need ANY fingers to count my friends by the time I got through.

 

 

The post What’s Going On appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/whats-going/feed/ 1
I don’t THINK anyone is trying to hunt me down http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/dont-think-anyone-trying-hunt/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/dont-think-anyone-trying-hunt/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 15:27:42 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42057 Last weekend my friend Lori was in town and we took the dogs for a walk in the schoolyard across the street. Three tween girls were hanging out on the jungle gym and as we passed they started whispering ostentatiously in our direction and laughing meanly. ‘Girls that age” said Lori, a middle-school math teacher […]

The post I don’t THINK anyone is trying to hunt me down appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
heathers01 I dont THINK anyone is trying to hunt me downLast weekend my friend Lori was in town and we took the dogs for a walk in the schoolyard across the street. Three tween girls were hanging out on the jungle gym and as we passed they started whispering ostentatiously in our direction and laughing meanly. ‘Girls that age” said Lori, a middle-school math teacher in the Bronx, “are the worst.”

That encounter stayed with me as I started exploring the saga of YA author Kathleen Hale and the Goodreads troll, which Hale described at great, great length in the Guardian. What did the editors think to let her go on for 5000 words? Perhaps they are part of the great catfishing* conspiracy erected to oppress Ms. Hale, because while you begin the essay thinking “poor her,” as Hale unravels you start to smile nervously and look for an exit. It’s far away.

Then I went to a blog that Hale cited as an ally in her fight against the Dark, Stop the GR [Goodreads] Bullies, which I thought would be, I don’t know, some kind of manifesto about maintaining decency in book discussion. Instead I soon felt like Jennifer Connelly discovering Russell Crowe’s crazypants chalkboard diagrams as pages of scans and proofs and links and trolls and catfish whirled about each other with manic glee. Here, as in Hale’s confessional, I saw no victims, just bullies on all sides.

I know it’s unlikely — or NOT, he adds, as the madness infects him — that any of the participants in this circus are twelve-year-old girls, but watching the accusations fly and the drama being whipped up reminded me of those kids at the school, a big helping of attention-seeking with a side of hostility. I’ve avoided Goodreads only because it was too much like work, but it always seemed like such a nice place. Now it looks to me like those spy novels I love, where the apparent placidity of daily life and ordinary citizens is completely at the mercy of the puppet masters. If you want me, I’m in hiding.

*as Liz Burns points out, that word does not mean what Hale thinks it does.

The post I don’t THINK anyone is trying to hunt me down appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/dont-think-anyone-trying-hunt/feed/ 8
It’s not on any chart / You must find it with your heart http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/chart-must-find-heart/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/chart-must-find-heart/#respond Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:32:16 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42027 Please join me on Saturday the 25th at the Boston Book Festival for “Masters of Fantasy,” a panel discussion with Soman Chainani (A World Without Princes), Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (The Iron Trial), and Gregory Maguire (Egg & Spoon). We’ll be talking about–well, I guess I should get on that right quick, as I’m […]

The post It’s not on any chart / You must find it with your heart appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
345px PP MaryMartin Its not on any chart / You must find it with your heartPlease join me on Saturday the 25th at the Boston Book Festival for “Masters of Fantasy,” a panel discussion with Soman Chainani (A World Without Princes), Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (The Iron Trial), and Gregory Maguire (Egg & Spoon). We’ll be talking about–well, I guess I should get on that right quick, as I’m the moderator–but FANTASY. 1:00-2:00 PM, Emmanuel Church sanctuary, 15 Newbury Street, Boston. FREE.

The post It’s not on any chart / You must find it with your heart appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/chart-must-find-heart/feed/ 0
Two possible explanations for all the zombie books http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/two-possible-explanations-zombie-books/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/two-possible-explanations-zombie-books/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 18:09:13 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41904 Holy shit became the slogan of the day at HBAS after Julie Strauss-Gabel used it to describe her initial reaction to reading the ms. of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle (winner of the BGHB award for fiction). Her point was that this was the reaction an editor should have in making a decision to acquire a […]

The post Two possible explanations for all the zombie books appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
17 HBAS14 publishingpanel21 Two possible explanations for all the zombie books

Ginee Seo hoping someone passes her the popcorn

Holy shit became the slogan of the day at HBAS after Julie Strauss-Gabel used it to describe her initial reaction to reading the ms. of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle (winner of the BGHB award for fiction). Her point was that this was the reaction an editor should have in making a decision to acquire a manuscript. Other speakers picked it up to the general approval (and occasional wincing) of the audience.

It has a ring. But as  thrilling as it might be to imagine a publishing world made up of the results of such epiphanies, I don’t know if that is actually such a good idea. But when I wondered aloud how much it even actually happened, and that some books seem to be published by way of calculation rather than inspiration, Arthur Levine got all up in my grill and accused me of being cynical. He insisted that even the kind of books that I was dismissing as “copycats” were published because an editor had been excited by what he or she read.

I say, then we need smarter editors. What say you?

(Poor Arthur, though. Earlier in the day he–and I–had to listen to a librarian’s daffy explanation–based on something someone told her–that Jews get books published because other Jews, richer ones, subsidize the costs via donations made to the publisher. ‘Like an art patron!” brightly added another librarian.)

The post Two possible explanations for all the zombie books appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/two-possible-explanations-zombie-books/feed/ 2
Running the gamut from A to V http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/running-gamut-v/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/running-gamut-v/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 11:42:07 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41810 While I think Nick Hornby is overstating his case, the idea that “every time we pick up a book for a sense of duty and we find that we’re struggling to get through it, we’re reinforcing the notion that reading is something you should do but telly is something you want to do” is worth […]

The post Running the gamut from A to V appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
Dont Make Me Running the gamut from A to VWhile I think Nick Hornby is overstating his case, the idea that “every time we pick up a book for a sense of duty and we find that we’re struggling to get through it, we’re reinforcing the notion that reading is something you should do but telly is something you want to do” is worth considering. Where we part company is his belief that a book that makes you “race through it” is a book worth reading. Speed freak. A book that makes you miss it when you’re away from it, that’s the ticket.

Richard always finishes a book he starts, and my mother was like this, too, but I have no trouble walking away with no regrets from a book that isn’t doing it for me. Unless I’m at work, of course–I’ve finished p l e n t y of books under the duress of professional responsibility. Two I’ve never managed, though, despite the enthusiastic cheerleading of fellow readers I respect and whose tastes I generally agree with, are The Westing Game and A Wizard of Earthsea. They will just have to do without me, and they famously do.

The post Running the gamut from A to V appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/running-gamut-v/feed/ 7
Clearing the brush http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/clearing-brush/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/clearing-brush/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 16:25:34 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41684 The New York Times’ sensationalizing of the practice of abridging adult nonfiction titles for a younger audience rather misses the point, which is about commerce, not censorship. The main difference between the adult and juvenile editions of these titles is that the latter are shorter, provide less background material, and are less detailed. As an […]

The post Clearing the brush appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
lumberjack Clearing the brushThe New York Times’ sensationalizing of the practice of abridging adult nonfiction titles for a younger audience rather misses the point, which is about commerce, not censorship. The main difference between the adult and juvenile editions of these titles is that the latter are shorter, provide less background material, and are less detailed. As an avid young reader of adult biographies I would have delighted in abridgments that skipped all the stuff about the subjects’ forbears. Of course, I could just do it myself and did. Maybe if we all loosened up a bit about just what “reading a whole book” means, more kids might relax more at the prospect of “difficult” books.

But if Laura Hillenbrand was so hot to rethink Unbroken for a new audience–or even just for me–she could have used the second chance to lose what is possibly my least favorite metaphor of 2014: “Forests of men had gone down at the sight of her.”

The post Clearing the brush appeared first on The Horn Book.

]]>
http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/read-roger/clearing-brush/feed/ 6