The Horn Book Publications about books for children and young adults Mon, 27 Jun 2016 10:54:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Jerry Pinkney’s 2016 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award speech Mon, 27 Jun 2016 10:04:40 +0000 Jerry Pinkney Author Photo_300Good morning, and congratulations to my fellow honorees. Let me begin by saying how special this morning is to me and my family. Over the years, I have attended many of the Coretta Scott King breakfasts, and these events always leave me feeling filled to the brim with admiration for the CSK Book Awards Committee. All of us here this morning celebrate your hard work in bringing attention to books by and about people of color. Thank you for presenting me with the Virginia Hamilton Award. It’s an honor.

I knew Virginia Hamilton well, and over the years we would often share thoughts about the state of Black books, as well as our own work. In 1980, we collaborated on the book Jahdu, which is still a favorite of mine. After that, I would go on to illustrate covers for five of her novels, and we became close. Virginia, her husband Arnold, my wife Gloria Jean, and I often shared meals together, and our conversations would turn toward each other’s lives — our children, our marriages. As it turns out, we shared the same wedding date: March 19th. I felt there was a kind of kinship between us, and this award is a great tribute to those times that I hold in my memory bank. I miss Virginia deeply, and I know Gloria Jean feels the same.

I’ll share a little of my back story. I was born in Philadelphia in 1939 and raised and educated in the city. There were no African American Studies classes back then. However, my mother thoughtfully enrolled me in an all-Black elementary school, and because of limited opportunities for people of color, Hill Elementary attracted the best Black teachers. I had the good fortune to be taught by an elite faculty of dedicated educators. They would help me navigate the rough waters of being a person of color in Philadelphia in the 1940s and, most importantly, teach me about Black pride.

After graduating with honors from Hill, I attended Roosevelt, an integrated junior high, and then made the decision to attend Dobbins Vocational Technical High School, majoring in commercial art. It was there that I met Gloria Jean.

This past March, Gloria Jean and I celebrated fifty-six years of marriage. During our high school courtship, did I read in her eyes a willingness to venture into an unknown future together? At the time, neither of us had the slightest inkling of what our lives would shape up to be, that’s for sure.

I received a full scholarship to the Philadelphia College of Art, but dropped out after two and half years, as Gloria Jean and I decided to marry and start a family. After leaving PCA, I went back to share my portfolio with a professor, in the hopes of getting some advice on how I should pursue my art. In the meantime, though, I had to provide for my new family, and so I was driving a flower delivery truck, still blind to what might open up for us.

One year later, I received a call that changed the trajectory of my life. The professor I had met with at PCA remembered me and wanted to see about my interest in a job interview at Rust Craft Greeting Card Company. It was in Dedham, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Gloria Jean and I jumped at the opportunity to poke holes in our old expectations, and we moved our family hundreds of miles up the coast to pry open a new future.

How fortunate we were to be living in Boston in the 1960s, when the country was on the verge of change. The civil rights movement was well on its way, bringing to light a need for social justice, and art became one of its many voices. In Boston, I met fellow artists of color who were making work that sprang from being Black, using their gifts to interpret the deep, textured community of people of African descent. Through them, I discovered the ways that visual arts could help change perceptions. Seeking an understanding of our past and what was needed to move forward, I joined the Boston Action Group. There, I became an advocate for open job opportunities and fair housing, for inclusion in all areas, and for recognizing the contributions of people of color. This meant getting folks out to vote, having face-to-face conversations, engaging my neighbors and my community.

The connections I was making in the visual arts community led to other prospects as well. After two years, I left Russ Craft to begin working at Barker-Black, a design and illustration studio, where I would go on to illustrate my first picture book, The Adventures of Spider by Joyce Cooper Arkhurst.

As it turned out, picture books would become my way to make my artistic gifts useful. I thought of the book as a vessel that could hold my interests, passions, desires, and hopes for my children and their children. Between its covers, it would hold histories as well as futures, truths and flights of fancy, my mother’s smile and my father’s pride. Books also enlarged and enhanced my interest in Black culture, allowing me a way to express my artistic impulses while sharing the adventures of John Henry and the courage of Harriet Tubman.

I have collaborated with some of the very best authors, including Valerie Flournoy, Eloise Greenfield, Virginia Hamilton, Patricia McKissack, Julius Lester, Gloria Jean Pinkney, and many others. Thank you all for your spirited narratives, which became springboards and inspiration for my visual storytelling.

Thank you to the publishers and editors for your guidance, trust, and care, especially Phyllis Fogelman Baker and Anne Schwartz. Phyllis, a talent well known by the CSK Book Awards Committee, was publisher of Dial Books early in my career, and she was ahead of the curve in seeking out and publishing Black writers and artists. I worked with Anne on my first full-color picture book, The Patchwork Quilt, in 1984, and it was that milestone that truly placed me in the landscape of publishing.

Thank you, Shelly Fogelman, for your friendship and guidance, and for that memorable day in your office when you asked if there was a project that I felt needed to be part of my body of work. I’d always loved hearing the legend of John Henry growing up, and thanks to your nudge, my version, with Julius Lester’s text, was born. John Henry became that core project that pushed me to reimagine other stories that had fired up my imagination as a young boy.

Many of my books celebrate the Black family, and I would not be where I am without my family. Thank you Andrea, Brian, and Gwen Davis for your support, and for being here to celebrate with me this morning. Gloria Jean, again, thank you for your role in my body of work being recognized this morning, for always being there for me, and especially for your willingness to take risks.

Lastly, I want to thank the Hamilton committee and the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee of ALA once more for this recognition. When I was a child, stories were everything to me. They were my bus ticket, my subway token to a larger place. You are the community that allows me to continue to travel back and forth to that place where dreams live. Thank you.

Jerry Pinkney is the winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2016 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. His acceptance speeches were delivered at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Orlando, Florida, on June 26, 2016. From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles click the tag ALA 2016. For more on Jerry Pinkney, read these Horn Book articles by and about him.


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Week in Review, June 20th-24th Fri, 24 Jun 2016 20:36:28 +0000 Week in Review

This week on…

Christopher Myers’s powerful essay “Orlando”: “We walk in, by ones or twos, flash IDs, and smiles. If you are lucky the dance floor is already crowded and you can simply slip between the sounds, into the movement…”

From the July/August Horn Book Magazine:

From the May/June 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: “What Makes a Good Storytime?” by Julie Roach (don’t miss her on this week’s podcast episode!)

For LGBT Pride Month, we’re highlighting articles about LGBTQIA+ characters and children’s book luminaries — one a day throughout June. This week’s picks:

BGHB-themed Horn Book Herald: video announcement and press release5Q for Committee Chair Joanna Rudge Long; Horn Book reviews of the Nonfiction, Fiction, and Picture Book winners; extras on the Nonfiction, Fiction, and Picture Book winners; and more

New boards and pins over at our Pinterest!

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: Potter’s Field redux: Revisiting Harry Potter

Out of the Box:

Lolly’s Classsroom:

Podcast: 1.17 – Special Guest Librarian Julie Roach

Events calendar

2016 Summer Reading

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to keep up-to-date!

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Orlando Fri, 24 Jun 2016 16:02:37 +0000 MyersDancePic_550

Art by Christopher Myers

We walk in, by ones or twos, flash IDs, and smiles. If you are lucky the dance floor is already crowded and you can simply slip between the sounds, into the movement. There are colored lights spinning over skin, over carefully chosen outfits, over movements practiced in home mirrors, over moments of joy and sweat and laughter. The DJ is a painter, she mixes songs deftly as colors, a lushness of drums with an intellect of melody. There is a moment in every club when the thumping bass replaces the heartbeat of everyone in the room, and for a moment we all share the same heart; the same rhythm moves our bodies; and the dance floor itself becomes one being, with many faces, hearts, ideas, souls, all unified for a brief moment in that movement.

This unity, expression, and grace has some kinship to the ticker-tape parades commemorating the end of war, the celebrations that coincide with the liberation of a country. When Obama was elected the president of the United States, I walked the celebrating streets of Harlem, strangers hugging each other, men and women with tears in their eyes. There was joy dripping out of windows, not so much because of the politics of the man, but, as a ninety-three-year-old woman told me that night, “It is just so good to be people, finally!” And every weekend across this country, in clubs with strange names like DeVille’s, Crazy Nanny’s, or Warehouse, people gather, bodies gather, dancing, moving, flirting and find the strange miracle of “being people, finally.”

Now imagine in that same miracle, the heartbeat of the dance floor interrupted by the thunder of bullets. The orchestra of carefully planned outfits, sly smiles, colored lights, and music is broken by the splatter of blood, multiple voices wailing in pain. Days ago, this is what happened in Orlando at Pulse. And young brown bodies, full of future, dropped to the ground. Police sent to investigate the scene could not shake the sound of cell phones ringing in lifeless pockets, as mothers and fathers, lovers and friends called and called hoping that their children and loved ones would answer.

What happens next, in the wake of these sorts of tragedies, I’m sorry to say, has become increasingly familiar. News outlets scramble, desperate to find narratives that they can apply like inadequate bandages on wounds too deep and too intricate to articulate in Band-Aids. All of the popular notes are played in this peculiarly American symphony of retelling. Religious fundamentalisms compete for airtime. Race and culture and sexuality are erased or highlighted depending on the audience. We will learn the names of guns, and various experts will be called to testify on television about their relative importance to the shooting. An odd sleight of hand will be attempted, to recreate a shooting in which a gun plays no real role. The life of the person who did it will be examined at length; armchair experts will explain a dead person’s motivations. We will see endless selfies and search the corners of them for clues. The name of the city will for a short or long time become synonymous with killing (think Charleston, Sandy Hook, or Columbine).

This kind of death scrambles through our imaginations like a pack of rabid dogs, salivating and tearing at flesh, attenuating our fears, and rendering our safety into illusion. The news outlets, in all their reactionary conclusions, their tabloid analyses, reflect our desperation. Public opinion swoons from shadowy international conspiracy to troubled individual mired in self-hatred, with no real attachment to either theory. The myriad narratives applied to the loose facts of this tragedy demonstrate our desire. We want, more than answers, a story. We want to find a reasoning that can contain such senselessness, a narrative that can fence our terrors, that can provide our hearts with solid ground. We want to turn the pages of this horror and see the comforting fairy-tale phrase, “The End.”

This weekend, librarians from around the country will gather just a few miles from the scene of this latest wound across our collective consciousness. They will get dressed up and will give out awards for children’s literature, people will give speeches, sign books, and applaud one another (as well they should). They will have important discussions about how to imbue young people with a love for language, how to gift them with membership in the world of reading, how to bring them to the understanding that literacy is a conversation that has been going on since the dawn of writing, and how young people’s voices are needed in that conversation. In many ways I have had this community with me since I was a child and my father would return from the conference with arms full of books and a heart full of stories that he needed to tell. He used the conference as a way of touching base with the only people who knew intimately, and cared as much as he did, what kind of books contemporary young people needed. When I describe dancing in a club as a sort of utopia, I also know that my own utopia would be necessarily incomplete without this gathering of like-minded souls, another sort of home amongst many that I claim no less passionately.

In the past week, in the wake of the shooting at Pulse, I have read many essays about what kind of home a club can be. Some writers have chronicled their own journeys of self-discovery on dance floors; others have spoken of them as unorthodox churches with their rituals of belonging; invariably there is a sense of refuge, clubs as a safe haven for queer folks. Occasionally, people recognize their spaces as revolutionary, politically, as in the case of the Stonewall Inn, but also culturally, like the Paradise Garage. These are places where long ignored human stories found their public voices.

Names are stories too. When soldiers are trained for war, for killing, enemies are often given nicknames. The fighters are taught to use derogatory slurs so as to make their gruesome task easier, to strip the humanity from their enemies, to flatten the wholeness of their selfhood. Violence strips away the personhood of those who are affected by it, reducing our humanity. Narratives like the ones we steward, as storytellers and people who care for stories, return people to the fullness of their selfhood. This is the revolution that we can effect. As each of the bodies that fell at that club regain their names, as we see pictures and hear testimonies of grandmothers and lovers and friends, the humanity that was taken from them by the rage of bullets comes back.

In the aftermath of incidents like what happened at Pulse or in Charleston, Ferguson, Steubenville, or anywhere around the world where violence becomes the chosen language to translate inequality or difference or the desire for power, there is a need for stories to contain, to comfort, to process, to prevent. Each time a body falls, there ought to be a story there to catch them. Those stories will serve the humanity of their readers even better if we can get them into the hands of young people even before the bodies fall. Well-told stories can make it so that no slur, myth, or bias can flatten the humanity of black boy, or Asian girl, transgender teen, poor family, or queer Puerto Rican dancing his cares out on a hardwood dance floor.

So I am thinking today of the relationship between two places among many I have called home and of the work that can be done between them. I am thinking of the worlds we open to young people when we foster stories that recognize the fullness of their humanity. How this fullness isn’t easy, how flattening happens in even the best-intentioned tales. But I know that there are gathered a bunch of librarians, folks who care for story, who are about the business of asking hard questions. They are at a conference, a place where revolutionary thought can not only happen but be embraced. They stand not far from the site of a great tragedy, knowing that we have a part to play in preventing the next one.

*   *   *

Please also read Christopher Myers’s 2013 Horn Book article “Young Dreamers“: “Last night, the man who shot and killed a young brother, Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty. I have since been vacillating between emotions — sadness, frustration, an acute sense of my own vulnerability as a black man…and finally a sense of responsibility…[more]

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Horn Book Magazine – July/August 2016 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 16:00:33 +0000 July/August 2016 Horn Book Magazine

Table of Contents

Special Issue: Awards


“Happy Birthday, Ashley Bryan” by Nikki Giovanni
A poem written on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday (three Julys ago).

2015 in Review
Two critics consider the books, the awards, and what we were all talking about.

“The Year in Pictures” by Julie Danielson
“The Year in Words” by Betsy Bird

Wilder Medal Acceptance by Jerry Pinkney

A profile of Jerry Pinkney by Barbara Elleman

Caldecott Medal Acceptance by Sophie Blackall

A profile of Sophie Blackall by Susan Rich

Newbery Medal Acceptance by Matt de la Peña

A profile of Matt de la Peña by Jennifer Buehler

“The Enduring Footprints of Peter, Ezra Jack Keats, and The Snowy Day” by Kathleen T. Horning
Looking back at a seminal 1962 picture book—and forward, too.

Coretta Scott King Author Award Acceptance by Rita Williams-Garcia

A profile of Rita Williams-Garcia by Deborah Taylor

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Acceptance by Bryan Collier

A profile of Bryan Collier by Tamar Brazis


“Last Stop, First Steps” by Roger Sutton
A wider vision for the Newbery, redux.

“2016 Mind the Gap Awards” by Horn Book Editors
The books that didn’t win.

From The Guide
“Celebrating Music”
A selection of reviews from The Horn Book Guide.


Book Reviews

Audiobook Reviews


On the Web
July/August Starred Books
Index to Advertisers
Index to Books Reviewed

Cover © 2016 by Sophie Blackall. Page 2 art from Last Stop on Market Street. Illustration © 2015 by Christian Robinson.


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Stuff millennials like Fri, 24 Jun 2016 16:00:27 +0000 alessio_year of programs for millennials and moreAt The Horn Book we review books for children and young adults. That said, adult books still end up in our mail on a pretty regular basis. A Year of Programs for Millennials and and More by Amy J. Alessio, Katie Lamantia, and Emily Vinci (ALA Editions, May 2015) just passed across my desk.

Now, I knew enough to know that millennials are not children, which meant this book wasn’t for us. But I didn’t know what a millennial actually was. I looked it up.

Google’s definition:

millennial (n.): a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000; a Generation Yer.

Guys! I am a millennial. Me my own self.

Which is probably why I find this book so funny.

Now, I’m not a librarian. I imagine programming for an adult audience is tough, and I’m pretty sure the smart people at ALA Editions are giving a many hard-working librarians a hand with their A Year of Programs series.

But what I find hilarious about this book: the millennial stereotypes. Stereotypes that hit awfully close to home, actually…

what you looking at

I’ll share my favorites.

1. ’80s Night!
Millennials love nostalgia items. They especially love nostalgia items when used or worn ironically. I was born in the ’80s. I was six when they ended. I did not grow up in the ’80s. But does that mean I won’t play the hell out of some Battleship? Or decide that I very much want to wear a ring pop? No. No, it does not.

A note: there is also a ’90s Night program which suggests participants can make “dirt cups” with pudding snack cups, gummy worms, and crumbled Oreos. To which I ask, “IS THIS NOT A THING KIDS DO NOW?” And then I wail for the loss of childhood joy.

jennifer lawrence wailing2. Craft Brewing!
Millennials like craft beer. We all know this because we’ve seen the Budweiser ad. As the Bud commercial shows, millennials are basically just nerds who hang around in their plaid shirts with their big mustaches and their tattoos, fussily drinking microbrews and talking about their bikes and vegan lifestyles and city chickens and stuff. “THAT’S WHAT THE YOUTH IS DOING TODAY!” this book proclaims, “THE MILLENNIALS LIKE THE BEERS. GIVE THEM THE BEERS.” And thus, the Craft Brewing program (suggested age range: 21 to 40s).

A note (or several):

a. I work in a craft beer bar.
b. I’m totally serious, I do. We have something like a hundred beers in the bottle and thirty drafts. (@thepublickhouse)
c. I also have a half sleeve (and ::mumbles:: maybe some other tattoos and piercings ::cough::).
d. don't judge me

 e. Also, a small brewery made their own commercial to respond to Bud. It’s pretty good.

3. Summer Reading Program!
The librarian is warned about the problems of a summer reading program with this age group because “it’s difficult to generalize what constitutes ‘particular appeal’ for this demographic.” They suggest that this group of craft-beer-swilling, nostalgia-loving youngsters might like books “by authors who don’t have huge commercial appeal and who write about topics that might not be covered in more traditional library book clubs. In other words, think about ‘safe’ book discussion books and go in the opposite direction.” Millennials are all about weird things! They ride ridiculously tall bikes! They like kombucha! They love Mac products! They don’t want any of your normal books — they want non-traditional books!

A note: It appears I am our resident “weird book” reviewer and I love it. Does it feature a protagonist who is androgynous, and also possibly a lizard? Do the kids live in an abandoned laundromat while forced to work for The Man in a future in which everything is controlled by big companies? Is there an invisible helicopter?

give it to me now

Librarians: get this book.

Get out there. Brew some beer. Dance to some Whitney Houston. Read some weird books. Bring in the millennials.


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Editorial: “Last Stop, First Steps” Fri, 24 Jun 2016 16:00:09 +0000 When I arrived at the Horn Book in the spring of 1996, it was in the midst of a dustup caused by that January’s editorial, “A Wider Vision for the Newbery,” written by then–senior editors Lauren Adams and Martha V. Parravano. They decried the Newbery-winning predominance of middle-grade fiction by white people about white people, asking for more genre and ethnic diversity.

Well, as Dorothy Parker wrote, here we are. The 2016 Newbery Medal goes to Matt de la Peña, the first Latino to win since Paula Fox in 1974, for Last Stop on Market Street, the first picture book to win since A Visit to William Blake’s Inn in 1982.

When Martha and Lauren were writing, novels had claimed seventeen out of the twenty previous medals; in the twenty years since, eighteen such have won the prize. Mildred Taylor in 1977 had been the last writer of color to win the Newbery until Christopher Paul Curtis in 2000; in all, five nonwhite authors have won the prize since 1996. (Yes, simple arithmetic will show you that just six Newbery winners in the past forty years have not been white, and a survey of the entire span supplies only three or four more, depending on where you put Elizabeth Borton de Treviño. We have a long way to go.)

The responses to the 1996 editorial in the Letters to the Editor column — back when we had a Letters column — were divided, but they all took up the same point: skin color. Some called for an increased awareness of racism, while others sneered about “political correctness,” and Sid Fleischman thundered about how we might have cost Karen Cushman the Newbery. (We didn’t.) But no one, until Milton Meltzer weighed in some months later, took up the issue of the Newbery’s (and the Horn Book’s!) persistent penchant for novels. As we see above, that hasn’t changed at all, even while umpteen “nonfiction renaissances” have come and gone since then.

I am happy for Last Stop on Market Street, for itself and its author(ship), but mostly happy for its reminder that the Newbery Medal can indeed go to Something Else. That there were more winners by nonwhite authors in the last twenty years than there were in all the seventy-some years before that is indeed some progress. (Enough? No, never. I’m reminded of what the Notorious R.B.G. said when asked how many female Supreme Court justices would be enough: “Nine.”)

So without suggesting that we have accomplished the ethnic and cultural diversity we need, I would like to take the happy occasion of a picture book winning the Newbery to voice the hope that it happens again soon. In fact, I would like to throw all restraint to the wind and suggest to ALSC and ALA that the criteria for the Medal be rewritten to allow illustrated books of all kinds to compete in their totalities — pictures as well as words — for the Newbery. The award is for the year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” and under current Newbery criteria illustrations figure into the discussion only “when they make the book less effective.” That seems like a shame, especially given the increased fluidity graphic novel innovations have brought to children’s books generally, and given what the award is nominally doing: as Martha Parravano has pointed out (“Alive and Vigorous: Questioning the Newbery,” July/August 1999 Horn Book Magazine), surely the 1964 Caldecott winner Where the Wild Things Are is a more distinguished contribution to American literature for children than is It’s Like This, Cat, which won the Newbery Medal the same year. And yes, because of the pictures. And yes, I wish we lived in a world where the Newbery Medal could go to a wordless book. A boy can dream.

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Awards.

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While the cat’s away, take 2 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 16:00:06 +0000 It’s that time of year again: all our “grown-up” colleagues are away, variously attending ALA, working from home, or on vacation (eat some beignets for us, Kitty!). Even our fellow millennials are off gallivanting in exciting places.

Shoshana, intern Courtney, and I are holding down the (book) fort with the second annual — but equally unplanned — Millennials’ Day in the Office. This year, the festivities include Mumford & Sons, Florence + the Machine, and Coldplay.

And a box fort.

shoshana box fort

Don’t miss Siân’s blog post “Stuff millennials like.”


(Shoshana is a really good sport.)

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Toca Dance app review Thu, 23 Jun 2016 17:20:05 +0000 toca dance titleSo, you think you can dance? Bust a move with Toca Dance (March 2016). Much like Siân’s fave Toca Band, this latest Toca Boca app is weird and wonderful, with an emphasis on creative, exploratory play. (I also love the quieter Toca Nature.)

First choose your performers, then outfit them with costumes and accessories. Then it’s off to rehearsal, where you create a phrase of up to six movements for choreographer Ebi to drill with your dancers. Just drag Ebi’s full body or specific body parts to indicate movement. Each part of your sequence can be as brief or lengthy as you like; you can easily redo an individual movement or reorder them. The movement possibilities are somewhat limited — head and arm movements, side-to-side traveling, and level changes such as squats and vertical jumps — so don’t expect much in the way of fancy footwork. But, given that these are two-dimensional dancers we’re talking about, you can still create a pretty sweet choreography (and Toca Boca promises they’re “gonna keep working” on the app for more options).

toca dance rehearsal

choreographing your piece: each colored dot represents one movement

Once you’re satisfied, put your dancers on the stage to perform your piece. They repeat your phrase until the end of the upbeat song, then take an elaborate curtain call. Participate as an audience member by applauding or booing, throwing roses or eggs throughout the performance. You can even add pyrotechnic or smoke machine effects. At the end, the app gives you the option to save a video of the show.

toca dance performance

The free version provides three performers (humans K-Boy and Märta, and bunny Sahar), eight costume pieces, and one song. That should be plenty to keep you dancing for a while…but if groove is in your heart, upgrade to the full version for many more, wackier options in each category (robot dancers! pizza costumes!) and additional staging effects. The locked parents’ section gives some usage tips, such as the suggestion to dance your brand-new choreography in real life.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later); free to try, $1.99 for full version. Recommended for primary users and up.

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What’s in those leveled book boxes? Thu, 23 Jun 2016 10:01:02 +0000 Leveled readers #2Recently, I was reading an article called “The Character of Our Content” in an archived issue of Rethinking Schools. In this piece, a concerned mother critiques representations of gender and race in a basal anthology that her daughter was reading at school. The article got me thinking how incidents such as these are likely very common, as all too often nowadays, classroom texts come pre-packaged in kits, neatly labeled with seemingly-scientific level information designed to make the teacher’s job of selecting a “just-right” text easier.

For busy teachers burdened with so many mandates, it is easy to understand what makes pre-bundled leveled books enticing – they are often short (ideal for a guided reading session), they (particularly the non-fiction books) can seem new and exciting with vibrant illustrations and photographs, and those letters or numbers on the back of the book make it easy to feel good about using such “scientific precision” in selecting a book that will be appropriate for a developing reader.

But are these leveled books high quality reads for our developing readers? When it comes to providing students with leveled books, there seems to be two approaches. The first is to try to approximate the level of pre-existing texts in a classroom library and the second is to use books designed by a publishing company with the specific intention of coinciding with a particular level. In my experience, I have found that most classrooms and schools use some combination of these two approaches.

The first approach, leveling books that already exist in a classroom library seems more likely to lead to students reading high-quality texts. For example, in a classroom library that I visited recently, I found classic books by Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Judy Blume sorted into their corresponding leveled baskets. These books feature dynamic characters, interesting plots, and prompt students to stretch their thinking about the world around them. More often than not, titles falling into the pre-existing book category were written with an emphasis on providing a captivating or meaningful story with far less consideration given to monitoring the language and types of sentences used to make sure that it aligns with a certain text level.

The second approach, on the other hand, often results in students reading books that are written by people commissioned by the publishing companies, rather than professional authors who are producing Horn Book Award winners. Quite simply, the purpose in writing these books seems likely to be to fill out a leveled reading set, not necessarily to write an outstanding book that will stand on its own. Are there some interesting and high-quality books contained in leveled reading kits? Of course. But, the majority of the ones that I have encountered often tell simplistic stories written in unadorned language that fail to fully captivate students and get them excited about reading.

Like any books, it is to be expected that pre-packaged leveled books will vary in quality. However, when making selections for guided reading or other instructional practices, it is easy for the level of the text to become the primary factor in text selection, particularly when the pool of books at that level is rather shallow. While teachers clearly need to take into account whether a text is at an appropriate challenge level for a given student, the level of the text is just one factor that should be considered alongside reflections on how interesting students will find the text, how it connects to other things being studied in the classroom, and how it might resonate with students’ lives. Additionally, these books must be analyzed for obvious bias or stereotypes with the same degree of scrutiny given to any text invited into a classroom.

In a given year, students are only able to read so many books in their classrooms; thus, as educators, we must ask ourselves how we can make those reading experiences count. This is why it is critical than when we approach the shelves of a classroom or school library to seek books to incorporate into our instruction, quality and relevance should count at least as much as the word count and the letter or number on the back cover.



Holliday, J. (2012). “The Character of Our Content” in Rethinking Schools, 27 (2).

Part of a four-part series on leveled reading.
You can find the others here.

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Apply for a fall Horn Book internship! Wed, 22 Jun 2016 16:15:16 +0000 Summer 2016 intern Courtney

Summer 2016 intern Courtney

Interested in learning more about the children’s book industry, book reviewing, or how magazines and review journals operate? A Horn Book internship is a great place to start.

Our editorial interns are an invaluable help in managing the gazillion books that enter and leave our office (and if the phrase “gazillion books” sounds appealing to you, you’re probably a good fit). They unpack boxes from publishers, shelve books, and send mailings to reviewers — all while becoming familiar with publishing trends. They also write blog posts, comment on whether books are worthy of starred reviews, and participate in meetings. They take on oddball projects like poring over back issues to track down an old editorial. Oh, and sometimes they get free books.

Design interns help with various aspects of Horn Book design including scanning, formatting articles, and taking the lead designing a Magazine article. It’s a great opportunity to see how collaborative design work is, particularly working with editors and authors as well as cover artists. Special projects vary depending on skills of the current intern. (And they can get free books, too.)

We offer spring, summer, and fall internships. The next application deadline, for 2016 fall internships, is July 15. Both editorial and design internships are available; each internship is approximately ten hours per week and pays $10 per hour. To apply, send a resume and cover letter to Shoshana Flax (sflax at hbook dot com).

More information is available here:

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