Monthly Archives: March 2013

Kudos to Chronicle Books

First of all, thanks to Chronicle publicist Lara Starr, I’m finally going to be one with the rest of the world with their Fifty Shades of Grey because, at a recent preview, she gave me this neat Pantone: Fifty Shades of Gray Journal.  Pretty darn clever, I say.


But more exciting is the following press release.  Congrats to everyone at Chronicle!


Chronicle Books Wins First Ever Bologna Prize
for the Best Children’s Publisher of the Year, North America

SAN FRANCISCO, MARCH 27, 2013: To mark the 50th anniversary of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Bologna Fiere and the Italian Publishers Association (AIE) launched BOP – Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year. Chronicle Books, who is serendipitously celebrating their own anniversary of 25 years of children’s publishing during 2013, is proud to be the recipient of the BOP Award for the North American category. The award, given in six geographic areas, highlights the editorial projects, professional skills and intellectual qualities of work produced by publishing houses all over the world and is designed to foster reciprocal knowledge and mutual exchange of ideas among different countries, diverse areas and cultural identities across the globe.

Chronicle Books President Jack Jensen accepted the prize at the anniversary gala in Bologna. “It may well take a village to raise a child, but I know for certain it takes a large cadre of multi-talented book professionals coming to the always welcoming environment of Bologna to create world class children’s books. There is no greater praise than that which comes from your peers. We are humbled and honored by this award,” says Jensen proudly, inspired by a quote from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The prize-winners were chosen by the publishing houses participating in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair on the basis of a series of nominations made by the international Publishers Associations and cultural institutions representing book publishers worldwide.

Chronicle Books is dedicated to maintaining their commitment to releasing the best, most innovative children’s publishing and the entire team looks forward to a year-long celebration of the past 25 years and a rich future.


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Young Adult/Adult in Contention: Green versus Ware at the Tournament of Books

My main problem with these books is their inherent juvenilia—one is a comic book, the other is designed for children.

Left to my own grown-up devices, I will always choose a novel that has a more adult sensibility. What is an adult sensibility, you ask? Like pornography, you’ll know it when you see it. So much of our culture has already been ceded to the grubby hands and blunted tastes of teenagers, I refuse to surrender my reading choices to them as well. Those sext-addicted little monsters already seized the movies from us—The Avengers is a stupid movie, and shame on if you are old enough to menstruate and think otherwise—must we also concede literature?

So begins Natasha Vargas-Cooper decision for yesterday’s Tournament of Books round in which she took on John Green’s  The Fault in our Stars versus Chris War’s Building Stories.  This is the second time the ToB has included a YA title in its contest (did so a few years back with E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks) and it makes for mighty interesting commentary, both by the official ones of the ToB and the tourney’s followers.  I particularly appreciated what Kevin Guilfoile had to say, beginning with this:

I like the way Judge Vargas-Cooper approaches The Fault in Our Stars as a novel, as opposed to a YA novel. We can acknowledge that John Green writes stories about young people knowing that young people will be his primary audience, but let’s also admit that adults can enjoy, and profit from, reading his books. Green takes observations and truths about human nature and puts them in a context that young people will relate to, but that doesn’t mean those observations and truths are necessarily obvious or less profound to people over 30.

I don’t have a problem with genre labels, as long as those labels aren’t used as a white glove to dismiss books before we read them. Given all her concerns about nurturing a grown-up aesthetic, I’m happy she didn’t do that with Green’s novel.

Unfortunately, as he goes on to point out, the judge isn’t as fair to Ware’s work, setting up a very problematic dichotomy between the two books around the idea of what young people read.

But then we have the other part, in which she dismisses Building Stories as being “twee” and, because it’s a comic, inherently juvenile.

I don’t need to go very much into why that premise is false. The question of whether graphic novels can be created for adults was asked and answered before Judge Vargas-Cooper was born, and her preemptive defense that she can’t be biased against them because some of her best friends are comic books doesn’t pass the field test. Some opinions aren’t really opinions at all. If Judge Vargas-Cooper had said in her judgment that she believed the earth to be only 6,000 years old, I would be compelled to say that she is provably wrong. And so it is with the suggestion thatBuilding Stories is kid stuff.

I know Judge Vargas-Cooper is being cheeky when she describes the contempt she feels for people younger than her, but her (presumably sincere) claim that teenagers would enjoy Building Stories more than grownups makes me wonder if she’s ever met a teenager. Perhaps she lives in some Children of Men section of Southern California where no babies have been born since 1993. I live in the suburbs, John, where the streets are crawling with teens. I have seen today’s youth do remarkable things. They are constantly surprising me with their enthusiasm, intelligence, and maturity. But one thing I have never seen a teenager do is eagerly consume a $50 box of longing, mortality, and regret, no matter how artfully done.

I recommend reading the decision and all the commentary as there is a lot of thoughtful stuff going on there as to what is literary excellence.

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Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books

Ironically I put off reading the first Flavia de Luce book for some time purely because of the title. The Sweetness at the  Bottom of the Pie sounded to me like a syrupy Southern sort of thing, something I don’t naturally gravitate to. As I now know it is not that at all. Far from it. I finally got into the series with the second book,  The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, for which I had an ARC and was completely and utterly hooked. The books are delightful, not children’s books as such, but I would imagine those young readers who enjoy other adult mysteries, say those of Agatha Christie, would also enjoy these.

Their appeal is because of Flavia, a winning and wonderful character. She is eleven as the series starts, living in a small 1950’s British village (shows you how you shouldn’t judge a book by its title, at least I sure shouldn’t:), complete with the standard tropes and inhabitants of those sorts of literary places. Flavia is smart, tough, loves chemistry, lives in an Gormenghast-sort of home, is treated horribly by her two older sisters (and gets back at them in some pretty nasty ways), and sleuths her way through each book with vim and vigor. Each in the series has its own mystery and also takes us a little farther along on Flavia’s big mystery — what happened to her mother?

I’m both nervous and excited about the television series Bradley is developing with Sam Mendes. Fingers crossed that it does right by Flavia and her creator. To learn more about her, I recommend this interview with Bradley.


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Novel-To-Screen Film Festival Featuring “Hugo”

I’m thrilled to be part of a panel that will follow a screening of the movie, “Hugo” as part of  the Novel-To-Screen Festival here in New York, April 4-5, 2013.  The festival is a partnership between the National Book Foundation and Pratt Institute. All screenings are free and open to the public, but seats are limited. To reserve your seat, send an email to Sherrie Young with “RSVP for Novel-to-Screen” in the subject line.  Here’s a bit more from the website:


The Invention of Hugo Cabret was written by Brian Selznick and nominated for a National Book Award in Young People’s Literature in 2007. The film “Hugo” was directed by Martin Scorsese and released in 2011. With a screenplay by John Logan, the film stars Asa Butterfiled, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Christopher Lee.

Panel discussion to follow screening.


Peter Patchen is the Chairperson of Digital Arts at Pratt. He has exhibited at the Beecher Center for Technology in the Arts at the Butler Institute of American Art, Siggraph Art Exhibitions, Luco Film Festival (Rome), Kalisaar Computer Art Exhibition (Tel-Aviv), and various other solo and group exhibitions.


Monica Edinger is a familiar presence in the world of children’s literature and the author of several books for educators. She contributes to a variety of publications, including The New York Times Book Review and The Horn Book Magazine in addition to blogging at “educating alice” and “The Huffington Post.” She has helped select the winners of several awards, including the Newbery, and originated and co-runs School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. Her first book for children, Africa is My Home: A Child on the Amistad, will be out from Candlewick Press this fall. A committed educator, Monica began her teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone and currently teaches fourth grade at the Dalton School in New York City.

Brian Selznick is the author/illustrator of the #1 New York Times bestselling novels The Invention of Hugo Cabret andWonderstruck. “Hugo,” the 3D major motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret,won five Academy Awards. His books have received many awards and distinctions, including being nominated for a National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and the Caldecott Medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and a Caldecott Honor for The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins. He divides his time between Brooklyn, New York and La Jolla, California.


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Learning About Africa: Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History

Abina and the Important Men is a compelling and powerfully illustrated “graphic history” based on an 1876 court transcript of a West African woman named Abina, who was wrongfully enslaved and took her case to court. The book is a microhistory that does much more than simply depict an event in the past; it uses the power of illustration to convey important themes in world history and to reveal the processes by which history is made.

The above is from the publisher’s description of Trevor R. Getz and Liz Clarke’s Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History  which has just been honored by the Africana Awards as one of its “2013 Best Books for Older Readers.” It is an outstanding presentation of the complexities of slavery in late 19th century West Africa as well as remarkably clear and thoughtful consideration of the difficult work of doing history. Additionally, it also brings to us one of the “silenced,” the many in history we just don’t learn about because there isn’t  enough of the primary source paper trail that we tend to rely on when piecing together the past.

Here’s what I just wrote about it on goodreads:

Outstanding. This book seems to have gone under-the-radar in the broader world and it shouldn’t have. I had seen something about it a while back and finally had the time to read it and it is fantastic. It is, as the subtitle indicates, a graphic history. That is, it is a history book and one unapologetically didactic. And as far as I know, pretty unique.

The book consists of several parts. The first is an illustrated “graphic history” (so described in the flap copy) based on the 1876 court transcript of an attempt by Abina, a young West African woman in what is now Ghana and was then termed the Gold Coast to convince the “important men” of the court (jury, judge, lawyers, etc) that she was a free woman not enslaved. It might seem to have been a simple case, but it was not. What the author and illustrator do remarkably well is articulate the complexity of the situation. That is, while slavery by then had been long ostensibly been outlawed in the British Empire (of which the Gold Coast was part) there had also been tacit overlooked versions of it being maintained by wealthy men who helped supply the palm oil then eagerly wanted in Europe. The graphic novel part of the book is moving, compelling, and riveting. The art is well done and artist and author have done an excellent job weaving together what they know with what they imagined about the case and Abina. ( The author says this isn’t historical fiction and I suppose it isn’t a novel, but he and the illustrator have had to imagine things so I’m not sure what it is then.)

But that isn’t all. The graphic story is followed by a facsimile of the transcript, and then a section titled “Historical Context” that provides a clear series of essays on a variety of relevant topic such as “The British Civilizing Mission,” “Slavery in the Gold Coast,” and “The Atlantic Slave Trade and Abolition.” Next comes a section titled “Reading Guide” that is fantastic. The author unpacks the many troubling aspects of attempting to consider the many aspects of the story. And so he considers “Whose Story is This?,” “Is this a ‘True’ Story?,” and “Is This ‘Authentic’ History?” Finally, there is a section on “Abina in the Classroom” with different ways of using it. While the focus is on college teaching, it is clearly accessible to high school students too. The book closes with excellent back matter including the preliminary sketches by the artist for the comic.

There are many, many reasons to find and read this book and to get it into the hands of teens, those who teach high school world history, and more. Not to mention it seems perfection for those needing to address Common Core issues.  (For those interested in classroom use I recommend exploring H-Net’s Abina Forum which has a number of posts related to its use in the college classroom.)

The most important reason for me is that this is a smart and beautifully done attempt to bring to life one of the silenced. As the author notes, history is told by use of material that we have about the past and too often we don’t have anything about so many because they did not leave paper trails. We happen to know about Abina because someone left a transcript of her court case. And because Getz made it his mission to get it out to us.


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Keep Listening and Keep Trying

I just came across “Plain and Natural,” an excellent post by editor Wendy Lamb exploring the issues around diversity definitions. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I do worry about my use of terms, that they are the right ones. As those Wendy consults for her post point out, the answer is complicated.

Wendy concludes:

And now I see that I was after the wrong thing—clear, direct language.  The language is often awkward because the discussion itself is still awkward.  The fact that we’re puzzling, and tripping up, over our words is a good sign. Change can be clumsy. Earlier terms were less convoluted, but not inclusive. Plain and natural: That’s not going to happen for a while. Keep trying.

Dear reader: I’d love to hear what you think.

What I  think it that we need to listen. Most importantly, to the young people whose ways of self-identifying are constantly changing. What might have been a way a young person self-identified thirty years ago may be different today. We need to pay attention to this.  We also need to listen to parents, librarians, teachers and others who work closely and directly with children. Mind you, to a broad, broad, broad swath of voices. Urban, rural, north, south, central, poor, middle class, and more. We need to be open to as many view points as possible.

Finally, I agree with Wendy that the conversation is awkward and will continue to be for a while as society keeps changing. But that we must keep listening and keep trying.


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Lemony Snicket and John Klassen’s THE DARK

The Dark is a fantastic about-to-be-released picture book by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by John Klassen. Congrats to whoever paired up those two as they are a stellar match, together creating something original and unique with the sort of scary nighttime issues of so many (of all ages, I would say, though this book features a very young man).  They don’t shy away from their hero Laszlo’s fear of the dark even as they celebrate his bravery in addressing it.  Here’s the book trailer which does a fine job of conveying the atmosphere of the book:

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In the Classroom: Battling Books

Tomorrow the fifth annual Battle of the Kids’ Books gets underway with a match between Bomb and Wonder judged by Kenneth Oppel.  Now some, I know, are uncomfortable with the concept of books in battle, but I wish they wouldn’t be.  In fact, the idea is for sixteen well-lauded books from the year before to be highlighted and admired again in a new and different way. What our judges do is thoughtful and  in-depth, considering the two books they have been asked to judge and, in a variety of ways, coming up with a winner for this contest. Just with any tournament, all the contenders are great and it is just how things play out on this particular day that makes for a particular match winner. Another day and different judges and a different winner might well be the result (as is the case with pretty much all awards and contests).

I’m writing about this within a classroom context because this contest has been a terrific one for young people. Roxanne Feldman and I (the two-person Battle Commander) have been involving our students in the Battle for the last two years.  Last year we introduced two very fine Kid Commentators (who will be back this year) and this year we had 5th-8th graders write introductions for the contenders.  That is, each assumed the role of one of the actual books, and did a terrific job with it.  (Those are here, here, here, and here.) This is something any teacher or librarian can do! In fact, we hope to expand this beyond our own students and school next year.

And that isn’t the only thing that is possible in schools and libraries.  A high school library in Texas contacted us to let us know she was running the contest in her school. Others have told us of displays, bracket pools, and more.  Every time we hear of this we are delighted because we’ve always hoped for the involvement of young people. Most of all I aspired to a Shadow BoB like the Shadowing Site done for the UK Carnegie Award (comparable to our Newbery).  In that, young people read and vote and often come up with a completely different winner from the official judges.  It would be so cool to do something like that for the BoB.

Meantime, I do encourage teachers (especially those put off by the battle metaphor) to take a look and think about how they might want to use it in their own teaching and schools.  And let us know if you do!

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Authentic for Real?

Why are we so obsessed with the pursuit of authenticity?

Take your pick: indie café or Beyoncé’s lip-syncing? We’ve become obsessed with authenticity and differences between echt and ersatz — but why bother doing anything for real if no one believes that you did?

Very interesting New Statesman piece reflecting on the concept of authenticity now and in the past.

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Matilda the Musical on Broadway


Last night a bunch of us children’s lit types (that’s Betsy Bird above) were fortunate enough to be invited to the second preview of the new Broadway show Matilda the Musical. Having loved the London production I saw last August I was curious what this one would be like and I’m happy to report that it is just as good. In particular, Sophia Gennusa, for whom last night was her very first as Matilda, was outstanding.  As in London, the kids stole the show; they are absolutely remarkable, every single one of them. For me standouts among the adults included Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull (he was gone by the time I saw the London production), Lauren Ward (who shocked me as she seemed exactly like the Miss Honey I’d seen I London and then I read that she WAS the same person,)  and Gabriel Ebert –new to the show–as an incredibly supple, slippery, and somehow still appealing-at-the-very-end Mr. Wormwood.

I feel the same about it as when I first saw it last summer when I wrote:

 The heart of Dahl’s book is maintained beautifully with some lovely adjustments that simply strengthen it overall for the stage. Say a lovely running theme of Matilda’s storytelling prowess along with a new character who is a librarian.

Thank you, Penguin Young Readers, so much for inviting us.

Here’s the television spot:

And here is another promotional video I posted once before, but am again because I like it so much:


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