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Notes From the Horn Book – August 2011

Notes from the Horn Book

V O L U M E  4 ,   N U M B E R  8   •   A U G U S T   2 0 1 1
In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.

Five questions for Marc Aronson

Marc AronsonAn experienced editor of books for young people (as well as the editor of A Family of Readers by Martha Parravano and me), Marc Aronson is also one of the genre’s most distinguished historians. His Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado won both the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and the inaugural Sibert Medal; he has also written books about the Salem witchcraft trials, Stonehenge, and Robert F. Kennedy. But I never thought to see Marc Aronson and Chilean miners in the same sentence. I just had to find out what spurred his latest book, Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert, which receives a starred review in the September issue of the Horn Book Magazine.

1. You are best known as a historian — what led you to write a book about such a recent event?

Marc Aronson: My real interest is always linking past and present and that is what happened with Trapped. Namrata Tripathi, my editor at Atheneum, said she thought the miner story might make a good book, so I began to see if I could weave together the drama of the events with larger stories about mining and the underground world, and the more research I did the more fascinated I became by both threads.
2. Why do you think kids — boys especially — are drawn to books about disasters? (I know we all are, but disaster books are the mainstay of the “reluctant reader” shelf.)

MA: As you said in A Family of Readers, if you don’t read much, whatever you read better be worth it — and a true story that pulls you along a tightrope between life and death is about as compelling (and stripped of meditations on the subtle vagaries of interior emotion) as you can get.

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert 3. What was the most foreign aspect of the research and story for you?

MA: Learning about mining, mine procedures, going into a mine, understanding the mentality of miners. Outside of singing earnest songs about the Cumberland Mine Disaster in my childhood lefty summer camp, I had never thought about their world. Mining always meant Wales, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, John L. Lewis — all completely alien from the life of a Jewish boy from an arty family on the Upper West Side in New York.

4. Which of the miners would you most like to talk to, and what would you ask him?

MA: Luis Urzúa, the captain. I would ask him: what did he think would have happened if they had not been reached for another week and how would they have behaved as men began to die? Or, as I asked the rescuers, what would he want to say to American kids reading about his story?

5. If you had been in that mine and they said they could send down one book for you to read, what would it be?

MA: In the mine I would have wanted something really long and really funny, maybe the collection of Mark Twain short stories that I loved as a child. But if I were on a different sort of desert island, not underground, maybe Proust or Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities or even Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — one of those really long books any cultured person is supposed to have read but which I’ve managed to skip.  

 —Roger Sutton

More new nonfiction

An illustrated book about an ocean voyage, a comic-strip biography of a Nobel physicist, and an examination of a controversial period of American history are just some of the new nonfiction titles hitting shelves alongside Marc Aronson’s Trapped.

FeynmanFeynman by Jim Ottaviani ingeniously uses a first-person narrative and the graphic novel format to present the life of a remarkable man. A brilliant theoretical physicist who worked on the atomic bomb, won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics, was married three times, played in a samba band, studied drawing, and hung out at topless bars, Richard Feynman approached everything with exuberance and a sense of play. Ottaviani’s and illustrator Leland Myrick’s enthusiasm infuses every aspect of the book — and they’re even able to provide clear explanations of complex physics. (12 years and up)

Bootleg:Murder, Moonshine, and the lawless Years of ProhibitionKaren Blumenthal’s Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition traces Americans’ drinking habits from colonial times to the present day to show how lack of moderation has caused this country to go from one extreme to the other and back again. She explains the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts that produced the Prohibition era. With an ambitious scope that includes anecdotes, quotes, statistics, photographs, and illustrations to complement the larger story, Blumenthal makes the subject matter relevant for modern readers. (12 years and up)

Far from Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean VoyageFar from Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage is Sophie Webb’s richly detailed account of her travels on a four-month-long NOAA research cruise studying the impact of fishing on two dolphin populations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Combining scientific information, field guide–like illustrations, and a thorough, realistic account of the day-to-day experiences of a field scientist, Webb provides readers with a closer look at the exciting science and the real-life minutiae of spending so much time at sea. (9–12 years)  

—Cindy Ritter


Dot-dot-dash — concept books with a twist

Three new concept books for preschool and primary ages play with the book form and go out of their way to keep kids involved.

DotNewcomer Patricia Intriago brings a strong graphic sensibility to her deceptively minimalist Dot. This book of opposites uses a brief rhyming text and a playful touch, setting up predictable patterns and then breaking them. The pacing and text are on target for three-year-olds, while older children will better appreciate the graphic gymnastics and some of the more subtle humor. Who knew circles could be so versatile? (3–6 years)

Press HereHervé Tullet also uses dots — hastily painted colored circles — and speaks directly to the reader in his app-like Press Here. Giving the iPad a run for its money, he invites the reader to interact with his book, providing a big payoff to those who suspend their disbelief. “Try shaking the book…just a little bit,” he suggests on one spread showing perfectly aligned red, yellow, and blue dots. Turn the page and voilà! the dots are all mixed up. This tactile, sturdily satisfying book invites repeated readings without wearing down any batteries. (2–5 years)  

Follow the Line to SchoolWhy should dots have all the fun? Laura Lungkvist’s Follow the Line to School (fourth in her Line series) encourages readers to trace a continuous line from spread to spread as it meanders through an elementary school. Sometimes the line forms parts of the picture and sometimes it just creates a path from one item to the next, roaming through class rooms, cafeteria, a playground, and more. The text asks direct questions that can be easily answered with a thorough look at the art (“How many balls do you see? What colors are the jump ropes?”). What better antidote to back-to-school jitters? (4–8 years)

 —Lolly Robinson

YA novels you’ve been waiting for

Another entry in a beloved series about a high school Everygirl, the follow-up to a novel about two very different characters and their unlikely attraction, and the gripping sequel to a futuristic science fiction thriller are books teens will want to get their hands on.

Incredibly AliceIn Incredibly Alice, the twenty-sixth book in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series, Naylor works toward a major milestone in her beloved character’s life: high school graduation. There are plenty of hurdles to jump before that event, not the least of which is a familiar rite of passage for high school seniors — the wait for college acceptance letters. Alice fans will see her through this installment’s tumult of emotions as Alice attempts to sort out who she is and what she wants. (12 years and up)  

Now Playing: Stoner and Spaz IIRon Koertge revisits the appealing odd couple from Stoner and Spaz in Now Playing: Stoner & Spaz II. High-school filmmaker Ben is freshly wounded by another flake-out by on-again/off-again girlfriend Colleen, who ditched his debut documentary’s gala opening to be with her dealer ex-boyfriend. Ben is powerfully attracted to heavily tattooed and super hot Colleen, the first girl to look past his cerebral palsy, despite the promises he knows she can’t keep. These two dramatically different but equally hurting teens give one another something each desperately needs. Readers will be pulling for them despite the odds. (12 years and up)  

The Fox InheritanceMary E. Pearson’s The Fox Inheritance is set 260 years after the accident that allegedly killed Locke and Kara in The Adoration of Jenna Fox. But Locke and Kara aren’t actually dead: their minds were copied by the scientist father of their best friend, Jenna Fox, whose illegal resurrection was the focus of the previous book. When their minds fall into the hands of an unethical scientist, the two are restored to new, improved bodies and they escape into an alien future world. Through Locke, we experience the confusing futuristic world, a suspenseful chase, the emotional reunion with Jenna, and the complex playing out of the issues of trust, ethics, and betrayal. (12 years and up)  

 —Kitty Flynn

Of interest to adults

For adults passionate about children’s books, these new biographical works will, through very different approaches, foster appreciation of two prominent figures in children’s literature.

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the PrairieAfter rereading the Little House books she loved as a kid, Wendy McClure renews her obsession with all things Laura Ingalls Wilder and chronicles it in The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie. Memories of her Wilder-fixated youth (“I wanted to do chores because of those books”), her sometimes-bizarre research findings (a Little House–themed Japanese anime series), and her experiments with churning butter and twisting hay as she searches for the elusive “Laura World” are quirky and laugh-out-loud funny. Luckily for readers, she proudly lets her “calico-sunbonnet freak flag fly” — and takes us along for the ride.  

The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life and the Birth of an American ClassicE. B. White’s life has certainly been examined, but Michael Sims gives us another, very worthy look in his tightly focused biography, The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life and the Birth of an American Classic. The focus on White as the author of Charlotte’s Web gives the book shape and flow, but is not limiting. Sims traces direct influences — love of animals and the natural world, deep-seated nostalgia, etc. — but he also tells a remarkably full story of the author’s life. In clear, graceful prose Sims entirely captures the essence of his subject: “…by the last page it had preserved in amber his response to the world.”

—Katrina Hedeen

Roger SuttonFrom the Editor

Katrina Hedeen, Cathie Mercier, and I are busy pulling together this year’s Horn Book at Simmons, a one-day colloquium on October 1st at Simmons College’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. Held the day after the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, the colloquium, titled “Engaging Worlds, Real and Imagined,” brings participants together with the BGHB winners and Honor Book recipients, Horn Book staff, and Simmons faculty to explore themes in literature, trends in publishing, and possibilities for bringing young readers and the award books together. Registration, which includes a ticket to the Awards ceremony on the evening of September 30th, is limited and filling up quickly. I hope you will join us.  

Roger Sutton

Editor in Chief

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Notes from the Horn Book, Volume 4, Number 8.
© 2011 by The Horn Book, Inc. A Media Source Company.

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