The Horn Book Publications about books for children and young adults Fri, 23 Sep 2016 17:46:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Week in Review, September 19th-23rd Fri, 23 Sep 2016 17:37:38 +0000 Week in Review

This week on…

Monika Schröder Talks with Roger

From the September/October 2016 Horn Book Magazine: Fall 2016 Publishers’ Previews featuring Adam Gidwitz, Brian Won, Laurie Halse Anderson, Sharon Creech, Helen & Thomas Docherty, Robin Roe, Brendan Wenzel, Ed Vere, Kevin Sands, Jennifer Mathieu

Reviews of the Week:

Out of the Box:

Calling Caldecott:

Family Reading:

Podcast: 1.29 – Special Guest Anastasia Collins

Events calendar

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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Books for Bisexual Awareness Week/Celebrate Bisexuality Day Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:07:41 +0000 It’s Bisexual Awareness Week, an annual celebration and awareness-raising campaign which includes Celebrate Bisexuality Day (also called Bisexual Visibility Day; this year’s is today, September 23rd). The following YA novels and series span genres and tone, but each features main and/or secondary characters who are bisexual or whose sexual attraction is fluid. All were recommended at their time of publication by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide. Reviews reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online.

For more LGBTQIA+ resources from The Horn Book, click on the tags LGBTQIA+ and 2016 LGBT Pride. For even more LGBTQIA+ reading recommendations (for teens and adults), try Bisexual Books, Gay YA, I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?, and Reading While Queer. If you have recommendations of your own, let us know in the comments!

block_love-in-the-time-of-global-warmingAfter the devastating Earth Shaker, Penelope sets out into the brutal Los Angeles landscape in search of her family in Francesca Lia Block’s Odyssey-inspired Love in the Time of Global Warming. She meets an intriguing boy named Hex who joins her on her journey. Block’s imagery is remarkable in this sophisticated melding of post-apocalyptic setting, re-imagined classic, and her signature magical realism. Look for sequel The Island of Excess Love. (Holt, 2013)

bray_beauty queens hc Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens follows teen beauty pageant contestants whose plane has crashed as they use their “can-do” spirit to survive on what they assume is a deserted island. (Actually, it’s home to a government conspiracy.) The book is a smart, wickedly funny send-up of pageant culture; Bray also goes deeper to show how our culture’s insidious focus on female perfection keeps girls from being who they are. (Scholastic, 2011)

bow_scorpion rulesIn Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules, Pan Polar Confederacy princess Greta and the world’s other royal children are held hostage: if a leader goes to war, his or her child is killed; if that child survives to eighteen, he or she is released. There’s a welcome spin on the damsel-in-distress-falls-for-rebellious-boy trope — Greta’s love interest is Da-Xia, Daughter of Heaven, rather than insurrectionary hostage Elián. A smart, compelling Hunger Games read-alike.(McElderry, 2015)

chambers_postcards-from-no-mans-landSeventeen-year-old Jacob visits the family in Amsterdam that helped his grandfather during WWII. As he hears bits and pieces of a gripping story about a love affair between the young maiden, Geertrui, and an English soldier, Jacob recognizes himself in his grandparents and in the now-terminally-ill Geertrui, as well as in various companions and lovers. The reader closes Aidan Chambers’s novel Postcards from No Man’s Land resolved not to prettify human choices, nor simplify them. (Dutton, 2002)

cooper_vanishedKalah, protagonist of E. E. Cooper’s Vanished, is devastated when her bestie Beth — with whom she had a secret romance — runs away. Then rumors about Beth begin flying, and the third member of their trio, Brit, also disappears; Kalah gradually realizes the pieces don’t add up. The mystery and the question of how Kalah will react are compelling. Characters’ ethnic diversity and bisexuality are integrated lightly and matter-of-factly. (HarperCollins/Tegen, 2015)

duyvis_otherboundWhenever seventeen-year-old Nolan closes his eyes, he’s transported into the body of Amara, a mute slave girl on an alien world who acts as decoy against would-be assassins of a princess. After years of being a helpless witness, Nolan suddenly becomes a player in the action. Duyvis keeps tensions high in both Nolan’s Arizona and Amara’s Dunelands. Corinne Duyvis’s Otherbound is a humdinger of an adventure. (Abrams/Amulet, 2014)

heppermann_ask me how i got hereIn Christine Heppermann’s Ask Me How I Got Here, Catholic-school sophomore Addie loves running cross-country, writing poetry, and having sex with her boyfriend. Then Addie gets pregnant. Her choice to have an abortion, although significant, is just one of many in her larger coming-of-age story. Addie muses on morality, religion, and sexuality; her observations are thought-provoking, wry, and bitingly smart. Addie easily outshines the “issues” in this remarkable verse novel. (Greenwillow, 2016)

The Summer Prince Four hundred years after nuclear war devastated the world, the Brazilian city of Palmares Três thrives as an isolationist matriarchy. In The Summer Prince, author Alaya Dawn Johnson’s precise prose evokes an utterly foreign setting complete with technologies that push at the limits of what it means to be human. The relationships that delineate the social landscape are intriguingly unconventional and startling in their intensity. (Scholastic/Levine, 2013)

Ask the PassengersAstrid would be the quintessential Q-for-Questioning girl in her high school’s LGBTQ support group if her small-town school had such a thing — and the gay question is only one of many weighing her down. She sends her questions to the passengers in planes she sees overhead; each time, readers get a glimpse of a passenger’s own struggle with Astrid’s question. A. S. King’s Ask the Passengers is a furiously smart and funny coming-out-and-of-age novel. (Little, 2012)

lo_adaptationWhen birds start intentionally crashing into airplanes, Reese is stranded at the airport. Later, after crashing a rental car, she wakes to discover mysterious repairs to her extensive injuries. Malinda Lo’s novel Adaptation, set in a just-future United States, is absolutely compelling, and a sharp twist at the climax makes everything that happened an even more satisfying puzzle to unravel. Look for sequel Inheritance. (Little, 2012)

lo_ashIn Ash (also by Lo), Ash lives in a pseudo-historical Celtic society in which magic is just starting to be regarded as superstition. She first meets Sidhean, a handsome, seductive fairy, then forms an unlikely friendship — and falls in love — with the king’s huntress, Kaisa. The juxtaposition of Kaisa and Sidhean as Ash’s suitors invites readers to consider the nature of fictional and folkloric constructs of romantic ideals. Look for prequel Huntress. (Little, 2009)

mesrobian_cuts-both-waysAs his dad’s addiction gets out of hand, Will, protagonist of Carrie Mesrobian’s Cut Both Ways, starts fooling around with his male best friend Angus (even though Will is “not gay”). At the same time, he begins a relationship with female sophomore Brandy. The fully realized characters and their stories are captivating, but readers should be prepared for a mature tale of sex, obsession, and emotional turmoil. (HarperCollins/Harper, 2015)

moskowitz_not-otherwise-specifiedHannah Moskowitz’s tell-it-like-it-is book Not Otherwise Specified questions labels of teens who live on the edges of high school social groups. Etta, the unpredictable, authentic protagonist, is many things at once: smart, a recovering anorexic, bisexual, a theater geek, and black. Her Nebraska town is becoming too small for her New York City aspirations. The dialogue holds true to the gutsy characters, and the plot is believable. (Simon Pulse, 2015)

rowell_carry onIn Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl companion novel Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow, Simon Snow, the most powerful mage in centuries, uncovers secrets that call into question his beliefs about good and evil. He also realizes that his obsession with his probably-a-vampire roommate Baz may not be purely antagonistic. The novel is longer than it needs to be — just kiss already, Simon and Baz — but there’s much to enjoy along the way. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015)

russo_if i was your girlEighteen-year-old transgender woman Amanda goes to live with her previously unsupportive father in Tennessee, where no one knows her from her pre-transition life. She finds unexpected friendships and a blossoming relationship with tender and respectful Grant, who has a complicated past of his own. Amanda’s story is neither overly sentimental nor didactic. Author Meredith Russo, herself a trans woman, crafts a thoughtful, truthful coming-of-age tale in If I Was Your Girl. (Flatiron, 2016)

ryan_empress-of-the-worldAt a summer institute for gifted high-school students, Nicola finds herself attracted to another girl. Nic’s uncertainty about whether she’s either lesbian or bisexual is believably conveyed, and the dialogue is convincingly realistic. Despite a flimsily constructed conflict, YA readers are sure to embrace the believable passions in Sara Ryan’s summer-romance novel Empress of the World. (Viking, 2001)

sanchez_boyfriends-with-girlfriendsIn Alex Sanchez’s Boyfriends with Girlfriends, Lance (gay) and Sergio (bisexual) have feelings for one another, but both are afraid of getting hurt. Lance’s best friend Allie (ostensibly straight) has a boyfriend (straight), but she’s feeling attracted to Sergio’s gal pal Kimiko (lesbian). There’s some uneven dialogue and the four main characters’ voices aren’t very well distinguished, but readers may relate to this happily-ever-after tale of shifting identities. (Simon, 2011)

sharpe_far-from-youSophie was there when her best friend, Mina, was murdered, but she doesn’t know by whom, or why. So Sophie launches her own investigation, knowing that Mina’s death isn’t related to Sophie’s painkiller addiction, as everyone else seems to think. A tense, tragic page-turner, Tess Sharpe’s Far from You has plenty of chills, but just as compelling is the depth of Sophie’s physical and emotional pain. (Hyperion, 2014)

stiefvater_raven-boysIn The Raven Boys (the first book in The Raven Cycle series), a legend claims a medieval Welsh nobleman named Glendower vanished to avoid capture after the English defeated his army. Fast-forward to present-day Virginia, where four boys believe that Glendower is eternally sleeping and was brought over to the New World along “mystical energy roads.” Maggie Stiefvater’s prose falls flat in places, but the fast pace and intriguing concept make up for any flaws. The story continues in sequels The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and The Raven King. (Scholastic, 2012)

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Jazz Day Thu, 22 Sep 2016 16:01:29 +0000 orgill_jazz dayIt’s so exciting to see a book by a new illustrator that doesn’t look like anything that came before. It’s much more common to notice clear influences (Maurice Sendak, Quentin Blake, Leonard Weisgard…).

In case you haven’t seen this book yet, it’s about that famous photo by Art Kane, “Harlem 1958,” showing fifty-seven jazz musicians in front of a row of brownstones. Some of Roxane Orgil’s poems tell about that day and some give background information about the musicians depicted (and one who couldn’t make it).

Francis Vallejo’s art is such a good match for a book about jazz. Several of his compositions show large, bold foreground images with intricate line drawings in the background. To my eye, these compositions read like brass solos backed up with lighter repeated patterns from piano and drum.

Each spread tells the story of the poem on that page, but taken as a whole and in sequence, they also provide a 360° view of that particular street and moment in time. Vallejo plays around with point of view, just as the poems do. On one spread about a girl looking out her window at the assembling musicians, the perspective is from just above and slightly behind her head, so we can see the backs of the musicians and they prepare for the photo.

There is so much to notice in this art. Did you see what’s behind the jacket? I’d love to know what others found especially memorable.

This book will be receiving a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for picture book next week, but I wonder whether the Caldecott committee might need to discuss the place of the Art Kane photo. Despite the cover’s use of combined photo and painting, Vallejo never incorporates actual photographs in the interior art. Instead, the complete photo appears on a separate pull-out spread near the end of the book. There is a line in the Caldecott criteria that reads, “The book must be a self-contained entity, not dependent on other media (i.e., sound, film or computer program) for its enjoyment.” Back when Me, Jane was eligible, we had a lively discussion here about McDonnell’s use of the famous photo by Hugo Van Lawick. That committee chose to honor the book anyway, and I certainly hope this one does, too.

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Toca Builders app review Thu, 22 Sep 2016 15:55:31 +0000 toca-builders-titleToca Builders (Toca Boca, May 2016; iOS and Android) opens with a choice of an empty platform or one of several options where work has already started. That work involves constructing towers (or whatever you want) with colored blocks and painting these structures and/or the space around them. Each grid floats in what appears to be water; neither the builders nor the blocks are able to move beyond the edge.

The six builder characters (whose names and attributes are listed in the section for parents) have different construction-related abilities. The Vex character jumps, releasing blocks from its feet. Blox can lay out blocks from an apparently limitless supply in a backpack, or smash them with mallets into a cloud of realistic-looking dust. Stretch has exactly the sort of neck you’d imagine from that name; turn a dial to expand or contract it and place a block anywhere, even in midair. If Stretch is below an existing block when you tap the block icon, it will explode. Connie, a crane-like builder, took me the longest to figure out: in order to lower blocks onto a surface, those blocks have to be retrieved from elsewhere, which means moving back and forth between a source of blocks and your current building site.

Cooper and Jum-Jum are painters. Cooper balances on a ball of paint, which you can roll to paint the ground. (You can also turn off the paint function so that the character can move without releasing any paint.) Jum-Jum sprays paint at a target, which you can move onto your block creations or anywhere on the platform. To select the color of your blocks or paint, tap an icon in the top right corner to access a color wheel.

Here’s the thing about this app: it’s not immediately obvious how its controls work. My initial instinct was to play with the circle-and-arrow icon that appears around the selected character, thinking that would make the character move. It doesn’t — but it does allows you to rotate your perspective around that character. You can see more of the construction platform, check out the other side of a structure, or, perhaps most helpfully, view everything from above. But to do things, instead of just looking at things, you have to get to know the controls on the sides, which vary depending on the characters’ abilities. In many cases, rolling a trackball in the corner makes the character move; others can be moved, lifted, or lowered using levers.


toca-builders-from-above two views of Blox at work

The bouncy music and unobtrusive sound effects made for a pleasant experience while I figured out how everything worked, even if the first few minutes were frustrating. It took some time to build my self-confidence, but once I got the hang of it, I was actually pretty proud of myself. This is an app that rewards patience; once you understand what it can do, the building possibilities are endless. (As long as you stay on the platform, that is.)

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and Android devices; $2.99. Recommended for primary users.

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Picture books for International Day of Peace Wed, 21 Sep 2016 19:49:21 +0000 Today is the UN’s International Day of Peace, an annual day “devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.” Celebrate — and share a hope for peace for all — by reading these picture books about compassion, community, and interconnectedness with a child in your life. All were recommended at their time of publication by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide. Reviews reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online.

campoy_maybe-something-beautifulHoping to brighten her “gray city,” Mira gifts her art to the diverse people around her in Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell. Her quest expands when she meets an artist; together they involve the whole neighborhood in filling every surface with art and poetry. The mixed-media illustrations — created by Rafael López, one of the founders of the Urban Art Trail movement on which this story is based — joyfully celebrate creation and community. (Houghton, 2016)

frank_lend-a-handIn each free-verse poem in John Frank’s collection Lend a Hand, a child narrator recalls acting generously (sharing a sandwich, spending time with a lonely neighbor, etc.). Coupled with expansive, freeze-the-moment acrylic, colored-pencil, and pastel illustrations, frequent line breaks invite readers to move slowly through each poem and linger in the moments of kindness. London Ladd’s art particularizes the diverse array of narrators, themes, and settings. (Lee, 2014)

gandhi_grandfather gandhiGandhi explains that he, too, feels anger but has learned to channel it for good. Unusual for its child-centered portrait of Gandhi, the graceful narrative of Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus’s Grandfather Gandhi is matched by Evan Turk’s vivid mixed-media illustrations, rendered in watercolor, paper collage, cotton fabric, yarn, gouache, pencil, tea, and tinfoil. (Atheneum, 2014)

graham_vanilla-ice-creamWhat’s the relationship between a samosa stand somewhere in India and an outdoor café somewhere in Australia? What’s the link between young Annisha and Suhani, playing hopscotch in the dust, and baby Edie in her stroller? The answer: one small sparrow. In Bob Graham’s quiet book Vanilla Ice Cream,  his signature theme — connection — remains vibrant and joyous; his loving portraits portray people of all shapes, sorts, and conditions. (Candlewick, 2014)

halperin_peace2With kaleidoscopic images and spare text — supplemented with related quotes from writers and world figures — each double-page spread of Peace gives readers a different way to think about peace, from a world view to the home level. Wendy Anderson Halperin’s quiet, detailed colored-pencil and watercolor illustrations depict scenes of people living in harmony with other humans, animals, and the environment. Children’s drawings are also integrated into the book. (Atheneum, 2013)

lawson_sidewalk flowersIn Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, a man and child walk through a rundown city and through a park. The man listens to his phone; the child gathers wildflowers from pavement cracks, then begins giving them away. Ambiguities are subtly hinted at in this wordless book. The pen-and-ink art by Sydney Smith is well paced, with broad, assured lines in dramatic black enhanced by gray wash. Significant details appear in increasingly vibrant watercolor. (Groundwood, 2015)

lebox_peace-is-an-offeringWith many examples of humane behavior, Annette LeBox’s simple, quiet rhyming book Peace Is an Offering features a diverse group of youngsters going through their activities in an urban setting, sharing, helping, consoling, laughing, and truly listening to one another. A subtle reference to 9/11 will require explanation. Stephanie Graegin’s pencil and watercolor illustrations have been digitally manipulated but have an old-fashioned, comforting look. (Dial, 2015)

rockliff_chik-chak-shabbatEvery Saturday Goldie Simcha prepares cholent (stew) to share with her neighbors on the Sabbath in Mara Rockliff’s Chik Chak Shabbat. When Goldie is sick, her neighbors create their own (somewhat stereotypical) multicultural feast. It’s the embodiment of community, warmth, memory, and tradition — i.e., the Jewish observance of Shabbat. Kyrsten Brooker’s oil and collage pictures evoke a cheerful urban setting through small details about the apartment dwellers. Recipe appended. (Candlewick, 2014)

sanabria_as-time-went-byA luxury liner is downgraded to a freighter, then abandoned. A once-wealthy family ends up in an impoverished village, which is then cleared by the landowner. Mixed-media illustrations become muted as circumstances grow more difficult. Happily, the villagers make a new home, filling the ship’s deck with bright tents. José Sanabria’s affecting picture book As Time Went By is an excellent reminder of the value of belonging when all seems lost. (North-South, 2016)

scanlon_all the worldIn All the World, a family visits the beach, a farmers’ market, and a park, then hosts a gathering of friends and family. Liz Garton Scanlon’s rhyming text has a child-friendly simplicity around which Marla Frazee’s illustrations build a satisfying narrative. The West Coast seaside setting showcases not only Frazee’s affectionate mix of people but also her familiar skyscapes, glowing with color and shaded with horizontal lines. (Simon/Beach Lane, 2009)

families_shannon_one-familyAuthor George Shannon and illustrator Blanca Gómez’s One Family is a loving concept book about the multitudes contained in the number one (“One is five. One bunch of bananas. One hand of cards. One family”). Lyrical text and warm illustrations depict diverse families ranging from one member to ten. A final spread brings the families together, their interactions underlined by the conclusion that “one is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.” (Farrar/Foster, 2015)

stead_sick day for amos mcgeeEvery day kindly zookeeper Amos McGee plays chess with the elephant, keeps the penguin company, reads stories to the owl, etc. When Amos stays home one day, his friends have just the right medicine: they make time to visit their pal. In Caldecott Medal winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Erin E. Stead’s attentively detailed pencil and woodblock illustrations reveal character and enhance the cozy mood of Philip C. Stead’s gentle text. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 2010)

thompson_forgiveness-gardenIn Lauren Thompson’s The Forgiveness Garden, Sama is hurt by a boy from the enemy village, but she decides to end the cycle of hate by building a “forgiveness garden” instead of retaliating. Christy Hale’s mixed-media collages in a limited palette of natural colors beautifully illustrate this gentle but profound parable. An afterword addresses the Garden of Forgiveness in Lebanon and the movement to spread its peaceful message. (Feiwel, 2012)

watkins_love will see you throughSally Wern Comport’s colorful mixed-media art illustrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s six precepts, focusing on peace-filled love over violence in Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs. Angela Farris Watkins, King’s niece, cites specific examples of victorious actions, including the desegregation of Alabama buses and his famous “Letters from the Birmingham Jail,” explaining with “love and respect” the importance of the fight for equality. The foundation of King’s philosophy will resonate with all ages. (Simon, 2015)

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On Ashley Waring’s “Reading on the Spectrum” (from Sept/Oct 2010) Wed, 21 Sep 2016 16:00:35 +0000 The_Story_of_Ferdinand “Many people see Ferdinand as a pacifist. I see him as a bull on the autism spectrum: confined to a private world, comforted by his rituals.”

Children’s librarian and mom of a son with autism, Ashley Waring writes about her struggles with and strategies for engaging her child in books in her article, “Reading on the Spectrum,” from the September/October 2010 issue of the Magazine. Helping her son connect with books offers many benefits, including – thanks to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – a way to connect with each other:

“One day, he came up to me with one of his many foam letter toys. He had bent the O with his hands, and held it up to me saying “O is twisted.” A new word! A personal interaction initiated by Alden! We were both overcome with happiness.”

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Review of Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide 
Herrmann, Queen of Magic Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:00:21 +0000 rockliff_anything-but-ordinary-addieAnything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic
by Mara Rockliff; 
illus. by Iacopo Bruno
Primary, Intermediate    Candlewick    48 pp.
4/16    978-0-7636-6841-9    $17.99

Rockliff and Bruno (Mesmerized, rev. 1/15) bring the now-all-but-forgotten female magician Adelaide Herrmann back to center stage. Bold and spunky, Addie, in Rockliff’s strikingly vivid depiction, was always eager to stand out from the crowd, to “ASTONISH,” “SHOCK,” and “DAZZLE.” These three verbs pop up repeatedly in the eye-catchingly arranged text, where words slant and curve and grab attention thanks to larger type, decorative fonts, or placement (say, on the front of a drum). After stints as a ballet dancer and a bicycle-tricks performer, Addie met magician Alexander Herrmann. Addie proposed, they married, and she became his assistant: “He set fire to Addie. He chopped off her head. He made her vanish — (poof!) into thin air. The two of them got along splendidly.” After Alexander’s untimely death, Addie continued performing for more than thirty years, well into the early twentieth century. Rendered in pencil and colored digitally, Bruno’s illustrations are rich and dramatic and theatrically staged. Playful borders — velvet curtains, circus tent flaps, ship rigging — frame each spread, and thick white outlines create the look of paper-doll cutouts. It’s a memorable and, yes, I’ll say it, magical picture-book biography that will captivate audiences, young and old. Further biographical information and details about Addie’s memoir are appended.

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Emma and Julia Love Ballet Tue, 20 Sep 2016 16:00:26 +0000 emma-and-juliaIt’s always an interesting exercise to look closely at a book that isn’t a top favorite. Don’t get me wrong: I love this book; I just wasn’t thinking of it as a Caldecott contender. But Julie Danielson named it (here) as a book she’d like to see considered. And, in fact, the actual Caldecott committee will be looking at many books suggested by another committee member, books that aren’t necessarily favorites of every committee member, or indeed even on some of their radars.

Unlike both Robin and Lolly, I’ve never served on the Caldecott committee, but I have served on the Newbery, and the process is similar: before committee members submit their limited number of official nominations (beginning around this time of year), they’ve suggested tens and perhaps hundreds of titles to one another, ALL of which need to be taken seriously by the others.

That’s the position I find myself in with Barbara McClintock’s latest picture book: taking it seriously because another person has suggested we all take a look.

The first thing I noticed is how effectively and cleverly McClintock uses color to focus our attention on the two main characters, and to link them visually. Check it out: we never see either dancer without some touch of yellow, pink, or purple—a yellow leotard, a purple hoodie, a pink ballet costume. McClintock introduces readers to her palette on the first spread, in which we see Emma waking up in her pink bedroom with yellow ballet poster and lamp, and Julia waking up in her yellow bedroom with purple mirror and sheets and pink slippers and pointe shoes. From here on (until the final page on which Emma and Julia’s parallel tracks finally meet), we see both characters solely in small vignettes and spot art, participating in their parallel activities throughout the day—and those pinks, purples, and yellows absolutely help readers locate Emma and Julia in each illustration.

I noticed the intentional lack of ballet-associated grandeur in the art. As I said, we get mostly small, homey views, meant to keep our attention on the people and the process, not on ballet as performance. The two sweeping double-page spreads in the book are of the spaces associated with the performance, not the performance itself: the grand concert hall; the stage. In other words, this is a book for readers who already love ballet. It’s not inspirational; it’s conspiratorial.

There’s a nice tension between art and text. Although the book is propelled by the similarities in Emma and Julia’s days, there are of course points of departure. Sometimes it’s the text that carries those points (“Emma’s mother drives her to her [ballet] lesson. Julia takes the bus by herself”), and sometimes it’s the art. On the spread where the text says, “Emma’s teacher begins class. Emma loves her teacher. Julia’s teacher begins class, too. Julia is devoted to her teacher,” both classes are lined up at the barre, but Emma and her classmates, wearing ballet slippers, vary in ability and toe-pointing prowess, whereas everyone in Julia’s class is wearing toe shoes and executing a perfect tendu.

One more thing: I know there has been an uptick in picture books featuring “casual diversity,” but I feel like it’s more than that here: that having Emma aspire to be just like Julia (as well as showing several other adult dancers of color) is more intentional than casual. It counts as subtext, not just window dressing.

Well, I’m really glad I spent time looking closely at this book. Thanks for suggesting it, Jules!


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Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon Tue, 20 Sep 2016 15:00:23 +0000 barnhill_girl who drank the moonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
Intermediate, Middle School    Algonquin    388 pp.
8/16    978-1-61620-567-6    $16.95

Every year, the people of the Protectorate steel themselves for the Day of Sacrifice, when the elders take the city’s youngest baby and leave it in the woods to appease the witch — a witch no one has seen, but whose reputation has become a means to control the populace. In fact, a witch does live in the forest, and she rescues and finds homes for the babies; she even adopts one, the particularly magical Luna, whom she brings home to live with her own family that already includes a beloved bog monster and a dragon. Meanwhile, the true and malevolent Witch of Sacrifice Day, hiding behind the identity of a respected person in the city, secretly feeds off the grief of the bereaved parents until, thanks to adolescent Luna’s emerging magic, the sorrow-burdened Protectorate begins to rebel. Barnhill’s fantasy has a slightly ungainly plot, with backstory, coincidence, insight-dumps, and shifting points of view maneuvering its hinges of logic into place. But in theme and emotion, it is focused: love — familial, maternal, 
filial, and friendly — is its engine and moral, with Luna’s connections with her adoptive grandmother and unknown birth mother a poignant force. With all story elements and characters interrelated through “infinite love” (the story’s theology), there’s plenty for readers to puzzle out here.

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Fall 2016 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for Kevin Sands Mon, 19 Sep 2016 20:19:36 +0000

Publishers' Previews

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2016 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

Sponsored by
Simon & Schuster


Photo: Thomas Zitnansky

In Kevin Sands’s Mark of the Plague, apothecary’s apprentice Christopher (star of The Blackthorn Key) now faces the plague epidemic sweeping 1665 London.

1. The books in this series are part historical fiction, part mystery, with heaping doses of both seventeenth-century science and superstition. How do you balance the various elements?

KS: It comes down to: What would Christopher think? He matter-of-factly presents accepted scientific explanations from his era. But there are other things that, because of superstitions of the day, he views as supernatural. This gives a balance that I think is both entertaining and captures the spirit of the time.

2. Those bird-mask plague-doctor get-ups were something else. If you were a plague patient, would you be frightened or reassured?

KS: I find it hard to imagine anyone would find them reassuring! Then again, this was a time when tying pigeons to the soles of your feet was considered effective medical practice. Though not, I suppose, for the pigeons.

sands_mark-of-the-plague3. What would you carry in your apothecary’s sash?

KS: Everything Christopher does, plus a Swiss Army Knife, a Snickers bar, and several vials of Archangel’s Fire (for settling disputes).

4. Even after his death, Master Benedict’s teaching has a profound influence on Christopher. Was he based on someone in your life?

KS: No. I never base characters on people I know, because a) you end up with a story that serves a character, rather than the other way around, and b) I don’t want to get sued.

5. Have you had any helpful messages from beyond the grave?

KS: The ghost of an old sea captain once visited me in my dreams and gave me the winning numbers to the lottery. I just wish he’d said which lottery.

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