Monday, February 23, 2009


Please don't stop reading this blog if I say... I didn't think Coraline was very good.

I haven't read the book, and I plan to; I expect to like it. The movie was very pretty and well-put-together, but I thought the plot development was off--that it took a long time for anything exciting to happen, and then when it did, those scenes went way too fast without enough exposition. And not that this is a question of "good" or not, but I didn't think it was that scary, either--not compared to, say, Sleeping Beauty--and neither did the kids in the theater, as far as I could tell.

I did think Teri Hatcher (whom I have liked ever since I saw her in MacGyver; Love Boat is before my time) was fantastic, and the hands-made-out-of-needles were awesome.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Newbery Roundup 2009

I actually finished my last book of this year's Newbery list a few days ago, but I've been reluctant to write up the roundup because I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about one of the books. Now I understand the rest of you book bloggers better. When I started this I vowed to myself that I would review both books I liked and books I didn't like; I never know whether to trust a reviewer who's always positive, and anyway I like reading thoughtful negative reviews as much as (maybe more than) positive ones. But it just feels WRONG, doesn't it? I blithely post negative reviews on Goodreads--I think there's sort of an illusion of privacy there, even though I have more people following my reviews there than I do here. Or maybe it feels all right because I know that even though I'm posting a bad review there, the author or lover-of-that-book can find a dozen stellar reviews with a mere click.

WINNER: The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)

I was really trying to read every possible book that might win the Newbery, but I didn't get to this one, which I thought had some pleasing mild irony. The public library system in my city is troubled, it takes forever to get new books in, and this started life with a lot of holds on it. After it won, I gave in and bought a copy, as a souvenir of my year of Newbery reading. (I almost never buy books I haven't read before.) Yes, I thought it was terrific--funny and scary and complex; squarely in the Newbery age range, which was pleasing. The structure and magical realism reminded me of Mary Poppins. It won't bounce anything off my Newbery top five, and I can't really say whether I would have chosen it over my own top Newbery pick, The Porcupine Year, but I can see well why it was chosen. My sister Laurie's thoughts are here, and don't miss Monica Edinger's New York Times review.

I thought about updating the Newbery Statistics, but I think I'll leave that as it is. But the effect of this winner: boy protagonists increase their lead further, historical fiction takes a tiny step back in its domination, male authors gain a point.

Honor: The Underneath (Kathi Appelt)

What I found distinguished here: the poetic and mesmerizing writing, which really gave us something different; the sense of place. I thought the story was a bit muddled, but this is a special book--the kind of thing the Newbery Honor is made for.

Honor: The Surrender Tree (Margarita Engle)

This is the other book I didn't read beforehand, but I found it astonishing. This is a powerful book, a fascinating exploration of Cuba's history. Unlike most novels-in-verse I've read, each passage in this book is a whole, complete poem in itself. It doesn't matter if you're not that interested in Cuban history; after reading this you will be. The Spanish-American War suddenly made sense to me, and it makes you think about occupying forces in general. I might have been tempted to vote for this for the gold medal.

Honor: After Tupac and D Foster (Jacqueline Woodson)

I enjoyed this, but it was really the other participants in the Oakland Mock Newbery who pointed out the distinguished features to me--a strong voice and, in a very different way from The Underneath, the sense of place. Previous thoughts here.

Honor: Savvy (Ingrid Law)

Savvy has a fast-paced, of-the-moment plot, and possibly the best first line of the year: "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it." A movie is in the works for 2011.

I love that there's such a mix of book types on this list (and was surprised to see a blogger claim that except for The Graveyard Book, they're all girl books again. For one thing, except for the winner? That doesn't really work. For another, neither The Underneath nor The Surrender Tree are "girl books". And for yet another, "again"? Except for 2007, there's just... no way). Thanks to the committee.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Non-Fiction Monday: Sibert 2009

I'm not sure yet how I feel about the Sibert Medal, which was first awarded for excellence in children's non-fiction in 2001. There's an eternal complaint that non-fiction doesn't get recognized enough with the Newbery, which, okay, is maybe true, if not as true as I think most people assume.

(I count about eight non-fiction books among the medalists, not including poetry and folktales, but including Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! which is sort of half non-fiction, and Amos Fortune: Free Man, which if we're being honest is as much or more fictional than The Witch of Blackbird Pond or Johnny Tremain (hmm, there's an interesting idea); come to think of it, it's not unlike Island of the Blue Dolphins--but Amos Fortune is shelved as biography. I haven't read all the honors, but there appear to be quite a few non-fiction books among them. Not a LOT, but I wouldn't call them rare.)

But does the existence of the Sibert just give us an excuse for continuing to leave non-fiction out of most Newbery discussions? Does it imply that non-fiction Newberys are an almost-lost cause and move on?

And then, much as I'd like to see more non-fiction among the Newberys NOW, I can't forget my childhood disappointment when Lincoln: A Photobiography and Joyful Noise were chosen, when what I wanted was a good story.

I'm also disappointed to see that history still seems to dominate the Sibert winners and honors (all the Newbery non-fictions and almost all the Newbery honor non-fictions are historical). I love history, but I'd like to know what the most distinguished books in other categories are, too.

Anyway, I only discovered the existence of the Sibert recently, so I'm not familiar with discussions about it--I'm sure this has all been chewed over.


I was surprised to discover this weekend that I'd actually finished all of this year's Sibert books already, so now I can round them up.

How do they choose the winners? I can't imagine, even after reading the criteria. There are so many good books, and they're so dissimilar... the same kinds of things people say about choosing any of the awards, but I really think it must be harder to make choices and comparisons on this one.

Winner: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (Kadir Nelson).

I had hoped for a win here, because I really, really liked this book but didn't think it was right for either the Newbery or the Caldecott. As I was contemplating what I would say in this post, I wondered why, if I didn't think it was "good enough" for the Newbery, it should be "good enough" for the Sibert, because I don't think of the Sibert as being lesser or having lower standards. I think it comes down to this: I didn't find the writing, as writing, to be as distinguished as some of the other books we saw last year. But as non-fiction narrative, I think this book excels: Nelson didn't just research his subject, he digested it (a nod to Mr. Gaston for the distinction). The book has a feeling of authenticity that is rare in any kind of non-fiction; one could easily believe that it was written by actual members of the Negro Leagues who had gotten together to reminisce. The depth of information is incredible. It's those qualities that, I think, push this book to the top when we consider non-fiction for children.

Honor: What to Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! (written by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham)

I encountered this book when I was reading Caldecott possibilities, and I'm still sorry it didn't find a place on the Caldecott podium; the illustrations are lively, energetic, creative, superbly suited to the text. The distinguished quality I noticed about this one was that Kerley managed to sustain energy and interest throughout the entire story, even after Alice grew up and her rule-breaking had to take different forms. I've read a lot of children's biographies--granted, most of them were written before 1960--and I've often found that they're really interesting through the subject's childhood, but bog down once the subject grows up--as if the author isn't really sure how to make the person's actual adult accomplishments interesting. (This is probably why there was a whole series called Childhood of Famous Americans--the authors could skip that messy problem.) There's just enough back matter to interest but not overwhelm young readers.

Honor: Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past (James M. Deem)

I would have read this once I heard the title, even if I hadn't decided to read all the Sibert books this year. This is exactly the kind of non-fiction I loved when I was a kid--lots of informative tidbits, connections made around the world, constant drama, a bit of gore. (I was big on paranormal accounts, survival stories, and amazing animals.) I enjoyed it a lot, but I'm not exactly sure what makes this one stand out from the pack. Maybe it's the way it balances along the ooky/tasteful line. I used to tutor struggling readers for a Learning System company, and Deem's earlier Bodies from the Bog never failed to captivate, even when we could only make it through one page each day. I'm sure this book will be equally popular with both boys and girls.

Thanks to the Sibert committee for choosing such great, enjoyable books. They're all recommended.

For more Non-Fiction Monday posts, see Jean Little Library.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Age-Appropriateness, again

I've been really interested in the idea of "age-appropriate" books since I read a hilarious-to-me review from a mother who had read The Dark is Rising to her five-year-old (and, even though she didn't think it was good, recommended it for ages 6-9) a year or so ago. I don't have any children, but I have nieces who have been reading on their own for several years now, and I laugh at myself for sometimes being uneasy with them reading the kinds of things I read when I was their age. (Well, the oldest one is nine, so I'm projecting into the future a couple of years, maybe.)

Conversations about what books are and aren't appropriate for kids at particular ages seem to come up a lot on blogs and in the journals, so I take it a lot of people share my interest.

It occurs to me that I have stricter standards for what kids might see in movies than what they might find in books, and I'm comfortable with that. I think kids can roll over content they're not ready for in books much more easily.

I posted a while ago about a censorship article in School Library Journal; Justine Larbalestier wrote a terrific response to it, and many of the comments on her post are excellent. I especially recommend scrolling down to the two comments by "Lesley".

Since Justine, and others, have already written many of the things I might say, I'm going to ask a question instead. Is this really such an important topic? Did anyone here read anything during childhood that seriously upset/bothered/changed you, or made you lose your innocence too soon, because of content that someone might say was inappropriate for the age you were when you read it? (So, I'm not talking about things like the picture of raining gorgonzola cheese in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs; that's disturbing, all right, maybe nightmare inducing, but I don't think anyone could call it age-inappropriate.)

I'll be writing a post soon about my experience reading Gone With the Wind at age 11, but I'm still trying to think of any other examples. I can remember a couple of scary books, but I'm not concerned about my response to them. Mostly, I can think of books with possibly age-inappropriate content that I didn't understand until I was quite a bit older (like A House Like a Lotus, Madeleine L'Engle).

The only book I can think of that I really wish I'd never read, because it was too disturbing, was Apt Pupil by Stephen King (I know, it's really a novella or whatever), but I was 21 when I read THAT.

(I hope it's clear that it's totally okay if people do have examples to share--I hope you do, because that makes conversation more interesting.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Rainbow List 2009

OK, I'm a week late on this--actually, I'm really surprised I haven't seen more publicity; I knew this was coming, and I've been waiting for it--but the 2009 Rainbow List, featuring "well-written and/or well-illustrated titles with authentic and significant gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered/queer/questioning (GLBTQ) content for youth from birth through age 18" is out.

It's astonishing that this many books with GLBTQ content were published in the last year-or-so. Sometimes these books are too sad/scary for me to read, but it's great to have a list--especially for YA librarians, I imagine, if they don't know what to purchase or recommend.

As great as having this list is... I sort of wish they'd been more selective. They do mark four books that are particularly outstanding, but I think I'd rather see a list of maybe ten YA fiction books (that's the only section that's really long, unsurprisingly) along with the others. I'd also be interested in seeing some more generic nonfiction books that are GLBTQ-positive without being specifically GLBTQ--I haven't read Body Drama (Nancy Amanda Redd) yet, so I don't know if it's GLBTQ-positive or if that even comes into it, but books like that, or history books, and so on. I think that's another designation that would be useful for librarians--but maybe that falls outside the scope of the Rainbow List.

I may be biased on the issue of wanting fewer books, because there's a book on the list that I read and didn't think was very good or "authentic enough". Maybe everyone else thinks "the longer, the better", and I can see that point of view, too. Any thoughts?

Oh, and I definitely recommend Awkward and Definition by Ariel Schrag. It must read like historical fiction to today's teenagers... I read the older editions of these and loved them, so I'm really happy to see them in print and (I think) wider release.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Best Book Club Cheat Ever

I can't believe I didn't already know this, but apparently, the first Newbery winner--The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon, published 1921--was made into a movie featuring many of your favorite people. (Hedy Lamarr! Vincent Price! Peter Lorre! The Marx Brothers! Dennis Hopper!)

The best part? The Story of Mankind is the longest Newbery winner out there; in its original edition it had around 500 pages, I think.

Running time for the movie? 100 MINUTES.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Censorship or Collection Development?

There's an interesting article on the School Library Journal website this week (thanks to Debbie Reese for the tip) about library censorship. It corresponds with a quote I've mulled over: "If you don't have a balanced collection, it's just censorship disguised as collection development." (I could swear that I read that as a sourced quote from an author, editor, magazine publisher, or something? If anyone knows the source, please let me know. Google just shows it as a quote from an anonymous librarian.)

The idea of "banned books" is fascinating to me, because there seems to be so little information about what constitutes an actual "ban", and there's so seldom a distinction made (for the general public) between "banned" and "challenged". One of my favorite examples is the appearance of Go Ask Alice on a "challenged" list, because a parent had wanted it pulled from an eighth grade curriculum; as I've said elsewhere, unless they were using it as an example of how a publisher can try to manipulate readers to a make a point (and money), I'd agree that it had no place in the curriculum. I've also noticed that "reading banned books" is something that makes us all feel like we're supercool... without really doing anything.

Since I don't know much about collection development, maybe Laurie A-B will write a response to the article. I get the sense that there's a lot to unpack here. I appreciate that SLJ published the poll results (although, quibble: you have to deduce which columns are "yes" and which are "no"), though there's a lot more I'd like to know.

One point that annoyed me: "And it’s not just right-wing conservative Christians. Politically correct lefties challenge books, too. Like when a progressive mom asked that [Judy] Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Dutton, 1972) be removed from her daughter’s class because it included a scene with a dead turtle. “She said, 'Don’t you know that reptiles have feelings, and reptiles feel fear?’” Blume recalls."

Yeah, I'll agree that challenges come from all sides of the political spectrum, but the challenge above is not because of "progressive" political beliefs. That's just plain old crazy.

This article is of particular interest to me because of the issues I wrote about with After Tupac and D Foster a few days ago. It would be interesting to know how many school libraries are purchasing that book, and whether they're elementary, middle, or high schools.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Just like 92,954 other people...

Several days ago I became an official fan of "Aretha Franklin's Inauguration Hat" on facebook ("A glimmering vision of hope outshining the sun on a certain cold wintry day in January"), so of course I was delighted to see Peter's clever, clever, clever post of... various children's book characters wearing the hat.

My favorites are Hitty wearing the hat... Harriet the Spy wearing the hat... and the freaking GIVER, WEARING THE HAT. Awesome!

(Am also surprised to note that apparently Beverly Cleary wrote a Leave it to Beaver novelization, and I never knew about it.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Want to Feel Inadequate?

If you sometimes start to feel like "I've really accomplished too much for someone my age", check out Peter's list of how old authors were when they won the Newbery.

Unfortunately, it looks like I've just missed my chance to say "In your FACE, Elizabeth Enright! I won the Newbery younger than you did."

Also, can I say it doesn't surprise me at all that the writer of Miss Hickory was an elderly lady? If you told me her limbs were twig-like, that wouldn't surprise me either.

Hmm... should probably start some sort of Internet campaign, complaining that older authors are underrepresented among Newbery winners.