Monthly Archives: January 2010

A Few Moments at ALA Midwinter

After a relaxing journey on the train to Boston I dolled myself up and went off to a very special dinner with the one and only Megan Whalen Turner (who is as witty in person as in print).  My great thanks to HarperCollins for inviting me.

And then came Saturday, a day I spent eating, gathering ARCs, talking, and walking, and having a wonderful time.  Some highlights.

A breakfast that included my fellow sisters of Candlewick and Foundry: Betsy Bird and Laura Amy Schlitz (with the urn). Thank you, Candlewick, for a lovely, lovely time! (Betsy, I know you liked the other photo better, but Laura looks good in all of ’em and this is the only one where my eyes were open so sorry!)

A stroll through the exhbits with my agent Stephen Barabara and then a visit at the Candlewick booth with my editor (still hard to believe I can type that!), Sarah Ketchersid.

After many other lovely (and fattening events) I dropped by the arguably hoppingest event of the conference, the tweetup organized by Mitali Perkins and others.  I hadn’t been sure I’d get to  it and am only sorry I didn’t have more time (and missed many people I wanted to see) as it was amazing!  A big hand of applause for pulling it off, Mitali and co!  Here I am with @hbook and @EgmontGal.

Now off to Sunday and more.


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Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer

My New York Times review of Rita Williams-Garcia’s excellent One Crazy Summer is here!  Please check it out and then the book itself pronto.


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The House on the Rock, American Gods, and Halloween 2010

I’ve wanted to go to the House on the Rock ever since first encountering it in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  It seemed to be one of those crazy places individuals with wild imaginations, time, and sometimes lots of money created. (Others that come to mine are this one, this one, and this one.)  So now I’ve got an even greater wish to go.  Evidently plans are afoot for an American Gods Halloween event at the very site.  And they may even let people ride the carousel!


Filed under Neil Gaiman

Historical Fiction, Fantasy, and Fable

J. L. Bell has questions about whether this year’s Scott O’Dell winner is historical fiction.  While I’ve yet to be convinced by his arguments, they are definitely food for thought.  Check out this series of posts (and join in the commenting — I seem the only one doing any).

Fantasy and the Bounds of Historical Fiction

Half Magic and History

The Storm in the Barn as Fable

A Different Standard for the Dust Bowl?

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Filed under Historical Fiction, History

History and Art

Ann of bookwitch is struggling with a very difficult problem, a variation of one I’ve grappled with many times over the years — the historical fiction conundrum.  In a book about a time in history Ann knows well the author has changed things so that  “… what the adults did in the real event, has now been done exclusively by the children in the book.”    Is that okay?  Or is it not?  I’m going to be following the comments on this post closely.

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Filed under Historical Fiction, History

Thoughts on Newbery: Seven Distinquished Books

Since the Newbery Committee members had to come up with seven nominations, I’ve decided to go with seven too.  Seven potential winners among the many other titles I admire from this year. Seven that may or may not be recognized by this year’s committee.  Seven distinguished books.

Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me

Here’s the first paragraph from my New York Times review.

In this era of supersize children’s books, Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me” looks positively svelte. But don’t be deceived: In this taut novel, every word, every sentence, has meaning and substance. A hybrid of genres, it is a complex mystery, a work of historical fiction, a school story and one of friendship, with a leitmotif of time travel running through it. Most of all the novel is a thrilling puzzle. Stead piles up clues on the way to a moment of intense drama, after which it is pretty much impossible to stop reading until the last page.

Philip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Here’s what I wrote in a post I did about seeing Philip and Claudette speak to a group of teens in Harlem a few months ago:

Hoose’s research is remarkable, but it is the way he seamlessly interweaves Claudette’s own memories with his third person account (sprinkled with other quotes) that makes this book so outstanding.  Hoose does a beautiful job bringing in Jim Crow, the players, the situations, the trials, the arrests, and so much more while keeping Claudette’s own words front and center.  I think this book does an extraordinary job helping young readers today get a sense of that time through Claudette’s words and experiences.

Brian Floca’s Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Since I haven’t written about this before let me do so now.  I so appreciate the way Floca uses spare poetic text to communicate the sounds, the feelings, the drama, the moments of tedium, others of stillness, all the various aspects of this singular event.  Most of all, his words convey the awe of this spectacular moment in history.

Candace Fleming’s The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman PT Barnum

From my blog post:

Candace Fleming does it again!  She brings yet another larger-than-live individual from America;  this one is a wild ride of a biography of the Barnum that many young readers may well recognize from the circus that still has his name.  Filled with great stories, amazing primary sources, this is one terrific book.

Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant

From my post about this enigmatic book and the Where the Wild Things Are movie:

Decamillo’s book is also full of beautiful and moving images and language.  It has the feel of something from an earlier century — not just the setting, but the style too —in the tradition of certain sorts of literary fairy tale writers —   say Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. There is the developing of an unconventional family by the end that reminded me of one of my favorite books, Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and his Child.

Marilyn Nelson’s Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World.

From my post about it:

Through the voices of the instruments, Nelson’s series of poems capture the story of this band as they performed throughout the United States in the 30s and 40s.  From fancy ballrooms to dusty picnics, these girl musicians were heard by a huge swath of the American population during a very challenging time period.  Nelson does a spectacular job with each separate poem slipping in historical facts about life in that time, the individual performer, the band, and the music.  Jim Crow, war and peace, pain and happiness, a myriad of fascinating details of 30s and 40s life suffuses these poems. And boy do they shine — bouncing, crooning, tootling, moaning, and blaring by way of those instrument storytellers.  Nelson respects her young audience, using big words and big ideas that swirl amidst sound, rhythm, pain, joy, and history in these captivating riffs of verse.

Rosanne Parry’s Heart of a Shepherd

I haven’t written about this one till now because I avoided reading it. Despite all the good things I heard about it  the description made me feel it wasn’t for me.  I was wrong. I finally read it this past weekend, thought it was superb, and now here it is, on my list of seven Newbery contenders.  I finished it in tears because Parry so perfectly brought the pain and joy of the story to a fitting conclusion.  Faith, community, family, ranching are all beautifully brought to life by this first time writer.  Most of all, I admired how she shows her main character Brother grappling with big ideas, the kind that are not always easy to sort out and the kind I well remember thinking about at his age. There are a lot of books out just now about war and absent military parents. This one gets it just right.


Filed under Newbery

One Lovely Blog Award

I was blithely reading through bookwitch’s list of ten favourite blogs, intrigued that I didn’t seem to know any of them, when — bam— I came upon mine!  So first of all, thanks so much, Ann! Now it is my turn.  I’m going to avoid my usual well-known and beloved suspects (as they already get plenty of love in our world) and highlight some other blogs I also like very much.

  1. Heavy Medal Nina Lindsay has been doing an online Mock Newbery blog for a number of  years now, for the last couple of years over at SLJ.  This year, rabble-rouser Jonathan Hunt joined her and the discussion has been fast, furious, and smart.  Today is the day for their in-person deliberations and it will be fascinating to see what they decide.  Nina has also asked about how it might be possible to do such a thing online and I’m hoping they can figure something out for next year.
  2. Story Sleuths Writers Meg Lippert, Allyson Valentine Schrier, and Heather Hedin Singh are reading, “…like writers, investigating award-winning children’s literature for clues about how to improve our own writing.”   Clever, thoughtful and insightful.
  3. Curious Pages I came across this one a few months back and still think it is terrific.  Hosted by those two subversives, Bob Shea and Lane Smith.
  4. Achockablog Michael Thorn’s achuka is one of the oldest children’s lit sites around and his blog is equally filled with valuable info from a British perspective.
  5. Under the Green Willow A birthday blog for the venerable Greenwillow imprint that started in this new year.  So far the posts have been fascinating; hope they keep it up!
  6. Shaken & Stirred Gwenda Bond and her blog are already familiar to many, but I don’t believe I’ve ever expressed my appreciate for them here.  So, better late than never, let me say that in addition to enjoying the varied links she posts, her range of interests, her commentaries, I just like her voice, lively, opinionated, and intimate in just the right way.
  7. Light Reading Jenny Davidson is an eclectic blogger after my own heart. An English Lit professor at Columbia, YA writer, an athlete, and just fascinated by a whole range of things that she puts into her blog.
  8. Kidsmomo I came across this site last fall and think it is excellent.  Not only for the aged children’s book appreciator, but for kids too.  A remarkably clever range of videos, podcasts, reviews, and more.  Beautifully done.  Want a taste? Check out Juicy Jeremy.
  9. Cockeyed Caravan This is Matt Bird’s (spouse of this familiar blogger) new blog about underrated movies and, while I may not agree with all of them, I sure enjoy his reasoned posts.  One I do agree with wholeheartedly is The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T.
  10. Steamboats are Ruining Everything I just smile every time I see this blog title.  Today I suppose instead of steamboats it would be ereaders, perhaps? But I digress. This guy writes about language, about lit, about contemporary issues, all sorts of stuff.  Worth dipping into now and then.


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The Exquisite Corpse Adventure: Episode Eight Now Available!

Natalie Babbitt takes a turn with The Exquisite Corpse Adventure and daffodils are involved.

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Is this Year’s Scott O’Dell Winner Historical Fiction?

I was delighted to see Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn win this year’s Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction. Since historical fiction is of particular interest to me and since I  was wowed by the book from the get go, I found  J. Bell’s argument that it is not historical fiction most interesting.  He concludes:

I see The Storm in the Barn as a fable that’s set in the Dust Bowl, just as Edward Eager’s Half Magic is a fantasy set in the 1920s. Both books are informed by their historical settings, but that doesn’t work the other way around: they don’t offer a reliable view into history.

I can’t agree.  I felt the anguish and pain communicated in Phelan’s work was not unlike that in Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, the Newbery verse novel, also about the Dust Bowl.  In Phelan’s case, he took historical material, vividly presenting the historic suffering, and then played with a fantasy resolution for the immediate situation confronting that community.  I think Phelan does give a sense of what individuals and communities were dealing with at that time just as Hesse does in her book. The specific resolution is poignant since clearly there was no such thing in real life — something I an confident child readers would understand.

On the other hand, while Edgar Eager does indeed set his tale in the early years of the 20th century, I don’t see that as particularly significant as far as the story goes.  And the going-back-in-time-adventure to that of Camelot seemed to me to be Eager playing with the child protagonists’ reading material, using some widely familiar tropes of readers at the era in which he was writing (1950s)  to put the four siblings in perilous situations from which they need to extract themselves (as was the case with his inspiration, E. Nesbit’s Story of the Amulet).  I remember reading this book over and over as a child and later aloud to my classes as a young teacher — never did I consider the historical aspects of the adventures as they were not central to the theme of the book (arguably “be careful about what you wish for”).

As for me, a fable points to a specific moralistic message and I  don’t get that with Phelan’s story.  That is, I don’t see it as a cautionary tale, pointing out things we today could do to avoid what happened in the thirties.  Rather I see it very much as historic, giving us a sense of the feeling of that time for one child, one family, one community.

It seems to me that there is a very long continuum as to what is historical fiction. At one end is the book I’m working on, about a child on the Amistad.  In order to make it more accessible to child readers I went from telling the story as nonfiction to fiction; however, it is mostly based on the facts of the time and event.  It is in first person with emotions and scenes that I made up.  So it is pretty close, as close as I could make it, based on fact throughout.  At the other end of the continuum there are works like Eager’s where the history is background and serving the tale not vice versa.  And in the middle, veering more to one end or the other, are works like The Storm in the Barn, groundbreaking ones that open the way for more innovative presentations of historical times and places.


Filed under Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Mrs P W’s Sunset Years

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle needs to pick herself up, give herself a first name (Peter suggests Peggy) , dig up the pirate loot in her backyard, buy a condo in Boca (I mean, how many years can you live in an upside down house?), and enjoy the good life.

Thanks to Betsy for pointing me to Laurel’s wonderful short story.

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