Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I have an agent!

I've said before that gratitude is a major theme for me this year. That continues to be true. Another theme? Stupefied amazement.

Back in April, before I had any clue of how much else would change in the near future, I submitted a middle grade realistic novel to Carrie Howland at Donadio & Olson, at the encouragement of my friend Susan, who was an intern there. And then I started work on another manuscript, and then I started working at The Horn Book, and the submission, to some degree, moved to the back of my mind. (Mostly.)

Fast-forward to last month, while I was settling into my new job, learning lots, and occasionally worrying that "the dummy" people kept talking about was me. (See? I make magazine production jokes now!) A very sweet email arrived from Carrie, who asked if I was still looking for representation. Many emails later, I find myself in possession of her very thorough and insightful editorial letter. I'm really impressed with her ideas for revisions; as I often hear authors say in situations like this, we've clicked.

For the uninitiated, what this means is that I'll work on revisions with Carrie's guidance, and when we both agree that the manuscript is ready, she'll send it out to publishers. It does not mean I'll have a book deal tomorrow. It does mean that the manuscript will get closer to being publishable, and will then be seen by people who might have a real interest in publishing it. It means that these characters I've grown to love may really meet the imagined readers I've also grown to love.

That'll do, 2014. That'll do.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thanksblogging 2014

Thanksgiving is among my favorite holidays. That's partly because of a deep-seated family tradition of dozens of us eating way too much at my Aunt Shirley's, but it's also because of the spirit of the holiday. Being alive is pretty amazing, and so is being healthy and having plenty to eat and a place to live and supportive family and friends, and I'm in favor of noticing that and celebrating it. A few years and an eternity ago, I spent November Thanksblogging about blessings specifically related to children's books, and I find I have enough new ones, and new perspectives on old ones, that it's worth revisiting.

I'm thankful for new endeavors. A heck of a lot has happened in the past four months, and I find myself scrambling to learn all there is to know about working on a magazine. In between checking the handbook and getting used to a Mac, I'm working with in-depth reviews and articles for a publication that's been "blow[ing] the horn for fine books for boys and girls" for ninety years. In terms of good children's lit discussion, it's a horn of plenty. (I'm probably going to get made fun of for that tomorrow.)

And I'm thankful for past children's lit contexts, too. I'd be a different person today without Brookline Booksmith or Simmons College, both of which got me talking and writing about children's books. There's no better way to learn about them, except maybe to read them with children. I'm thankful for the chances I've had to do that, too.

Oh, and I suppose the time I spent as a reading child is also worth acknowledging. Nostalgia for childhood reading has come up a few times recently (I won't even get into the whole Princess Bride debate, except to say I love how a book and movie about what stories mean to people mean so much to people themselves). The first books we love aren't necessarily the best books we'll ever read. But I know I reread my favorites (or dwelt in their series) much more than I reread anything nowadays. Kids watch the same movies over and over, and in many cases, they read the same books. If they're lucky, someone shares those books with them. We have time to get to know our favorites when we're young, to make friends with their characters, to let them teach us about the kinds of readers we are. I'm thankful for parents and teachers who read to me and handed me good books to read myself. I'm also thankful that they threw up their hands and let me read series they thought weren't as worthwhile, and sometimes even read those series with me. I don't think it's a  coincidence that this '90s kid, who ate up the series that were popular then (excepting Goosebumps, which wasn't my thing), grew up to be a realistic fiction reader and writer. 

Happy Thanksgiving. May your travels, if you make them, involve a good book.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Oh, you know the carols are coming.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Time for autumn releases.
The pile increases
as new books premiere,
books you must, truly must hand the cashier.

It's the fangirliest season of all.
The events are aligning.
The authors are signing.
They're friends, come to call.
There's your name in their authorial scrawl.

There'll be trends new and shiny,
books tiny and spiny,
to give and to keep and to lend
There'll be sequels and prequels,
and no feeling equals
the oomph of a well-crafted end.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Time for eagerly delving
and maybe some shelving
as more books appear!
It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A story with gaps

On October 11, 2008, coming off a happy summer that had involved a great internship and a lot of tree-climbing, I climbed one last tree on the Simmons campus. I sat for a while--it was quite a nice day for October--and read from the dual volume of Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward from my Nineteenth Century American Children's Literature class and from the copy of Much Ado About Anne I'd yoinked from The Horn Book's "No Shelf." When I finally decided to go inside, I guess I didn't properly mind the gap between the branch I was sitting on and the one I wanted to step onto.

Fractured spines and shoulders aren't fun, and the next few months were not my favorite time.

There were certainly good things in the gap between then and now. I graduated from Simmons. I healed enough to work in a great bookstore, and I got to know a lot of wonderful people. But I never liked October 11.

Here's how I spent October 11 this year. I spent it in thoughtful discussions of gaps in children's book content, and of logistical and economic gaps between books and the readers who need them. I spent it surrounded by people who care a lot about stories and how we tell them and how we get them to kids. I spent parts of it behind the registration table and behind bookcarts full of swag bags. I spent it (and the awards ceremony last night) with good friends old and new. And in case anyone requires reassurance, I spent it on solid ground.

These snippets of a story, meaningful to one individual with an overdeveloped storytelling impulse, don't have much children's lit significance. But maybe they mean Pollyanna was onto something.

And they definitely mean that I, like Anne, shouldn't walk ridgepoles.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anastasia returns! (No Russian royalty involved.)

Things I love:
-nerdy main characters
-even nerdier parents
-budding-nerd little brothers
-hilarity, especially when it has completely logical reasons for ensuing
-Anastasia Krupnik

Some months ago, a young bookstore customer interrupted my handselling pitch for Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik around "and she lives in Cambridge!" to ask, "Did you write that book?" I realized afterwards that, as I was wearing my glasses that day, I looked a bit like the cover photo. But initially, I thought he was asking because I was so excited about it.

"I wish!" I answered.

And I'm equally excited that the Anastasia books will be re-released starting in January! (Excuse me for a moment while I look askance at the term YA in the linked article and decide that an argument could sort of be made for the later books. Sort of. Okay, that's out of my system.) Maybe it's because realistic fiction is cool again. Maybe it's because the author finally got her Giver movie, though I think that's less of a good reason; the author's ability to do lots of very different things very well does not make for readalikes. (My 1992 printing of Anastasia at this Address - $3.50, by the way - boasts, "By the author of the Newbery Medal winner Number the Stars." That's lovely, but it doesn't mean readers who loved a Holocaust book will love a comedy about a preteen answering an adult's personal ad.) But whatever the reason, I'm very excited that these books might get into more young hands.

Anastasia pays attention to the world around her. She's a reader and a listener, and finds herself interested in language and concepts she doesn't fully understand (echoes of Green Gables, anyone?). She's uncool and wants to be cooler, and is terrible at it in linguistically fascinating ways. Her parents take her seriously enough - or maybe just love their own fields of interest enough - to get into discussions of Wordsworth with her when she's ten. Her little brother Sam gets his own series, and it's funny without being gimmicky. Madcap things happen in many of the books (exploding perfume! Gerbils everywhere! Postal dog doo!), but they happen for reasons that make perfect sense if you follow along with the characters' thought processes.

Welcome back, Anastasia.

ETA: I don't think I'll be mistaken for the Anastasia on the new cover...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I don't have the precision of language for all the feelings I'm feeling.

I have seen the Giver movie.

I can't bring myself to call it just The Giver. The Giver is a book, one that's meant a lot to me back and back and back. Back to, probably, early 1993, when an ALA-active family friend with access to this amazing thing called advance copies told me that Lois Lowry had a new book, very different from my beloved Anastasia books, and I agreed that the idea of suddenly seeing color without knowing what it was sounded fascinating. Back to my first reading, when I got to feel more informed than the characters as I figured out what information they lacked that was second nature to me. Back to the first time I reached the ending, when I realized agonizingly that maybe Jonas died and maybe he didn't, and either way, we weren't going to get to see what happened in the Community after Jonas released the memories. ("I hope she writes a sequel," I said to my mom. "Some books are better left on their own," she replied.) Back to the eighth grade essay I wrote about some of the big questions The Giver raised, something to the effect of, "The only way for it to be fair for people to be treated exactly the same is for them to be exactly the same." Back to my agony when sequels did appear and were interesting but didn't answer my questions about the Community's fate, and my further agony when early buzz about the movie made it look horribly commercial, and later buzz made it look not so bad.

Yeah. When I finally watched the first lines, I had more with me than two lovely viewing companions and a box of Junior Mints. But I was determined to give the film a chance.

The first few lines didn't do it for me. First-person narration has its place, but in this case, a Jonas apparently speaking from the future told us way too much. One of the best things about encountering this story in its original form is that Jonas doesn't know much about his world, and the reader gets to figure everything out. Still, the first half of the movie got some things right. It sped through a lot of revelations (um, maybe explain the Community's stance on twins so it can be knocked down?). But character ages aside, it preserved a lot of the important details of the Ceremonies. Jeff Bridges was perfect, and so, by the way, was Emma Tremblay as Lily. The emphasis on Jonas's love for Gabriel was just right, even if it had to fight for screen time with other things being emphasized.

Beyond that, the movie took some interesting directions. It made Fiona a completely different character - an interesting character, just not Fiona. Ditto the Chief Elder and Asher and Jonas's mom. The last third was an exciting action sequence with characters making exciting choices, but the action-packed parts were their own story, not The Giver's.

That's the thing about The Giver: it basically established the modern formula for YA dystopia, and in its relative simplicity, it raised lots of possibilities for stories of people attempting utopias and, well, dissing them. Remember the recent tidal wave of dystopian YA novels? Lots of people explored those possibilities and came up with new, if related, stories. Matched, for instance, is in many ways essentially The Giver with romance. The Giver is not.


I should add that as of a week and a half ago, I'm approaching the children's book field from a new angle, one I'm very excited about. After four and a half years learning a heck of a lot as a children's bookseller (whatever else I might say about the Giver movie, I know it will bring the book to lots of new readers), I'm now an editorial assistant at The Horn Book. I don't know exactly how this blog will evolve, but as always, opinions expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In a world where Bridge to Terabithia gives me hope for The Giver...

Remember the ads for the 2007 Bridge to Terabithia movie?

Bridge to Terabithia is not a fantasy. It is not about giant fantasy creatures leaving giant footprints. It is not the kind of story that calls for a power voiceover. It's Bridge to Terabithia, not BRIDGE. TO TERABITHIA.

The thing is, the movie turned out to be a faithful adaptation. The fantasy creatures showed up for about as long as they did in the trailer, and they played the same role that Terabithia played in the book: they we clearly creations of the characters' imaginations. Hollywood made a trailer using the moments it believed would put butts in the seats, but first it made a movie that respected the book and its fans.

Which brings me to this:

The studio has assured us that the movie will begin in black and white, as it should. We know that Hollywood has aged Jonas up and gathered a cast so all-star, it's made a few jaws drop. I'm not expecting a completely faithful adaptation; there's no beaming up in The Giver, but there is in this trailer. Maybe, though, the beaming up is less significant than it looks. Maybe it's a dream sequence.

The source of my renewed optimism is this article. Clearly, there've been some changes to the story (Jonas has a "girlfriend," huh?), but the reporter seems to have viewed a story that's very recognizable as The Giver in both theme and plot. (The Washington Post deserves kudos for its informed writing about YA, here and elsewhere.)

I'm still going into this one warily, and I'm sure I'll find things to rant about, maybe even big things. But maybe, just maybe, the moments chosen to put butts in the seats don't represent the movie's essence. And whatever else Hollywood did, it kept the title, which means more people are going to read the book.

Friday, July 11, 2014

On religion and children's books

There's a scene in More All-of-a-Kind Family, the third book in Sydney Taylor's wonderful series based on her own childhood, when Henny begs her older sister Ella to check the nearly new Anne of Avonlea out of the library. Henny can't do it herself because the book is in the adult section, but that's a subject for another post. Today, what I have on the brain is religion, specifically religion in mainstream children's fiction.

If you've read L.M. Montgomery's work, you know that religion comes up pretty often, usually in a way that's irreverent toward minutiae but respectful overall. Most of her characters are Presbyterian, and characters' hangups over their differences with Methodists are played for comic effect, as are some anxieties about what is or isn't okay to think about on Sunday. But in serious moments, Christianity is taken seriously, and all this is just part of the fabric of life for the ridgepole-walking redhead. It doesn't seem to bother Sabbath-observing, kosher-keeping Henny. Fast-forward about eighty years, and much as I loved seeing my family's religious practices in the All of a Kind Family books, the Anne books felt just as much my own.

These days, there are religious publishers of religious books for religious kids, but there are fewer mainstream books that acknowledge religion. And just like books with characters of a particular ethnicity shouldn't just be for readers of that ethnicity, there's value in giving kids a chance to see what they have in common with kids from other religions. I would guess there's been some hesitation on this front because religion is so personal and sometimes so fractious, and mainstream publishers may be afraid to be seen as endorsing a particular set of beliefs. I wonder if it's actually easier to get a book like Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. or My Basmati Bat Mitzvah published than it is to include a more prevalent religion in a kids' book. (I'm speaking here of American publishers and American demographics.)

This is on my mind now because of two recent reads that I thought did this well: Julie T. Lamana's Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere and Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming (yes, I finally got my hands on an ARC). Upside Down follows a family from the Ninth Ward through Hurricane Katrina. Religion is not a major focus, but the Curtises are devout Christians, and it makes complete sense that in very difficult moments, they automatically take comfort in their faith. I'm pretty sure that if I had read this as a middle-grader (obviously an anachronistic hypothetical), I would've understood the emotions being expressed through religious language. Brown Girl Dreaming does something perhaps even more interesting, and being based on the author's life, it sort of had to. It portrays a variety of religious beliefs within one family - Jacqueline's grandmother is a Jehovah's Witness, and various members of the family embrace or reject her faith and practices to varying degrees, even evolving as time passes. An uncle adopts Islam, and young Jackie prays with him without abandoning her earlier beliefs. There's some push-and-pull over religion in the book, but it's not cataclysmic.

Religious differences don't have to be cataclysmic. That's all I'm saying.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Let fREADom ring.

Happy Fourth! As always, there's been a lot to talk about lately here in the American kidlit/yalit world. Maybe my perspective's a little skewed - after all, this is kind of the primary lens through which I view the world - but the discussions we're having seem like a good reflection of what this country is.

It's a place of incredible diversity, a place where not everyone has always been treated fairly, but where people step up and say what needs to be said for the sake of the future. It's a place where ideas get challenged, but where we can challenge those challenges. It's a place where it's okay to express unpopular opinions and to respond to them, and to read whatever the heck you want. It's a place where we're making progress.

And, especially in this weather, it's a great place to curl up and read.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nancy on My Mind

Flashback a couple of years: At a New England SCBWI conference, we'd just watched a screening of  Library of the Early Mind and listened to a panel discussion with some of the authors featured in the documentary. One of them, a small, elfin woman named Nancy Garden, was charming but a bit self-deprecating about her appearance in the film, which included images far more memorable than anything she might have done with her hair. Bonfires of her book, for example. On our way back to our respective hotel rooms, a few friends and I ended up in the same elevator as Nancy. Everyone was silent for a moment, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wanted to say, "Nancy, you're brave and amazing and important." I finally settled for, "Nancy, I thought you looked lovely."

Flashback a few years earlier. I checked out Annie on My Mind knowing it was an iconic lesbian novel, and feeling like I was doing something a little daring. But when (minor spoilers ahead) authority figures in the novel treated same-sex relationships as something people should get in trouble for, I knew enough to be angry, to want to jump into the pages and say, "you know these people haven't actually hurt anyone, right? Or harmed themselves? Or done anything wrong?" I missed out on the pre-Annie novels in which homosexuality always ended in tragedy, but I knew of their existence. And I knew that though this was a happy novel, a positive portrayal of a same-sex relationship, it also depicted a time and place where the world's reaction to such relationships was not okay. (In many cases and places, it still isn't.)

Flash forward to today.  Lambda Literary's obituary for Garden quotes her on why she wrote for teens, and points out the astronomical growth in young adult literature since the height of her career. I would add that YA with queer characters has grown in leaps and bounds. We're way past the point of discreetly checking out one or two iconic novels. We have a ways to go, especially in the area of casual diversity (hero or heroine of story is queer but the main plot is about other aspects of his or her life), but look. Look. Look. Look. Look what Annie hath wrought.

Thank you, Nancy.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Stealing a school election, revolutionizing the publishing industry, potato, potahto

I'll admit I liked the galley's cover better.
He's lean, he's keen, he's of color and not just 'cause he's Greene, and he's getting seen.

But the finished book's cover ain't bad!
We're most of the way through the Great Greene Challenge, a friendly battle among indie bookstores to sell as many copies as possible of a funny, well-written-and-characterized middle school caper to prove that such a book with a diverse cast depicted on its cover can be a viable publishing venture. I'm not expecting us to end up in first place (what's this I hear about some stores' campaigns involving costumes?), but I don't much care. We've sold plenty more copies than we ever would have if the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement hadn't brought it to our attention, and if that's true in other stores, that's enough to say to the publishing industry that books like this are worthy of editorial energy and of marketing dollars. Yes, we're pushing this one extra hard, but the fact is, customers are buying it.

In some ways, "challenge" is an appropriate word. This is a hardcover by a debut author, and one that, regardless of its characters' ethnicities, doesn't have a wildly successful readalike right now. This is not an "if you liked Wonder" book, or an "if you liked Wimpy Kid" book, or an "if you liked Percy Jackson" book. The Ocean's Eleven comparison is apt, but it does more to encapsulate it for parents than to align it with kids' other favorites. It's just a book with great characters and a complex plot involving sticking it to the principal. (Don't worry, the principal deserves it.)

People like context with their books. When they already know the author, or there's a movie coming out, or they can make an easy comparison with another favorite, they feel like they know what they're buying. I've found that when I just describe the plot of this one without attaching it to anything, it's been hard to handsell. But when I say, "we're competing with other indie bookstores to sell this and prove to the publishing industry that a great book with a diverse cast can do well," they take an interest. Some of them may know about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement; others don't but still know that we need diverse books. Some care deeply about indies, especially these days. Many, I suspect, like the feeling that they're participating in something current and important.

And they are. They're helping ensure that in a year or two, booksellers will be holding up other inclusive books and saying, "If you liked The Great Greene Heist..."

Friday, June 6, 2014

I'd let it go, but this is more fun.

The incredibly fresh suggestion that adults should limit themselves to adult books deserves an equally fresh response: a parody of "Let It Go."

The shelves bear tomes in some grownup homes,
not a youth read to be seen.
The books live in isolation.
It's your shelf, so you're the queen.

The masses howling that the fault lies in our stars
should be young and need fake IDs to bars.*

Don't crack the cover, don't you peek.
Let your age designate your brand of geek.
YA's a frenzy you won't feed.
Well, here's my creed:

Let 'em read, let 'em read.
Call it backward, call it down.
Let 'em read, let 'em read,
young and old and beige and brown.

I don't care
for your cold dismay.
Let the storm rage on.
The old never bothered me anyway.

It's funny how some distance
makes everything seem small,
and the power young adult has
can't get to you at all.

Come look at what YA can do.
A bunch of readers can break through.
If this is immaturity,
say we,

let 'em read, let em read,
raid our shelves for LGBT
let 'em read, let 'em read,
though they have a Ph.D.

Here I'll sit
on a bench by day
with my book of choice.
The old never bothered me anyway.

*Not encouraging this behavior. There's too much to read, anyway.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Children's-bookier than life as usual

I suspect I'm not the only one in this field who sometimes laughs at the concept of Children's Book Week. Celebrate by reading and talking about children's books, you say? Okay! While we're at it, we'll celebrate Breathing Week, and Walking and Talking Week, and Being a Carbon-Based Life form Week.

But then the calendar fills up with events, and there are organized opportunities to discuss children's books while concurrently breathing and being a carbon-based life form (and possibly walking and talking, depending on the nature of the event). This year, the highlight for me was A Place at the Table, a "speed-dating" event for rotating small-group discussions about the big topic these days, the conversation that I'm delighted people are clamoring to join: how #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

The Boston children's lit community has had discussions on this topic before, of course - even whole events on the subject that have raised important questions. But this event felt like a new step. The guidelines for the discussions asked that we keep the space safe by agreeing not to share specific people's sentiments without permission, so I'll only share my own, but I felt that the emphasis on "action steps" what each of us can take in our own spheres of influence forced us to start coming up with our own answers to the questions being raised lately. Can any of us solve the whole lack-of-diversity-in-kidlit issue single-handedly? Of course not. (For one thing, diversity by definition needs a variety of people.) But our store is getting more folktales from around the world in lately, and I can make it my business to familiarize myself with them so I'll be equipped to handsell them. I can handsell The Great Greene Heist even if Eight Cousins and Odyssey are going to beat the pants off us in the handselling challenge. I can be mindful of the need for diversity in my own writing. I can keep hanging out at the #WeNeedDiverseBooks party on social media, while bearing in mind that that's a fun and valuable first step, but it's only a first step.

And A Place at the Table was only one children's-booky part of a week that also included a galleylicious visit from our Candlewick rep, the kidsourced creation of a "we love books" poster for the store, and lots of reading and writing and children's book-related planning. (Apparently, I'm diversifying my writing by including made-up words. That's right, I said galleylicious.)

Now they tell me it's #IreadYA week! Guess I'd better get on that.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Oh, snap! Creating bravely and making our mark at NESCBWI14

"Oh, snap!" That was a friend's response when I told her the theme of this year's New England SCBWI conference: Create Bravely: Make Your Mark. The theme really was ever-present this year as keynotes and workshops focused on taking risks. I have nothing but admiration for the attendees who got up in front of every-freakin'-body and pitched their manuscripts for this new thing called Pitchapalooza. (Now that I've seen it and know what's expected, I could see myself doing it next year please don't hold me to that, but signing up without seeing examples? Oh, snap.) Peter H. Reynolds talked about making your mark even if you think you can't draw, and Laurel Snyder rallied us to share the stories only we can tell. Agents and editors urged us to submit manuscripts that don't look like what's out there, particularly in terms of diversity (woot!). Authors encouraged us to look beyond the age categories prescribed by the industry. A Bravery Posse gave out gold stars - literally.

I'm sure the conference partly felt like it was about stepping outside our comfort zones because I was constantly thinking about my own projects, in which I'm doing some of that and hoping I'm getting it right. (We're talking small steps in which I remain wholly myself, as Madeline L'Engle might put it. No murder mysteries are forthcoming from me or anything.) At the risk of being infuriatingly vague, I feel inclined to create at least a little bit bravely.

Who can worry around friendly faces like these?

Simmons reunion! Photo shamelessly swiped from Sandy, co-registrar extraordinaire.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks. It's kind of a big deal.

Just a quick note to say how proud I am of the children's lit community right about now. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign officially starts tomorrow, and people are so excited that it's already trending. I think part of what's made it so difficult to get major publisher support behind books about underrepresented groups is that many of those books have felt like homework assignments. I love historical fiction, including historical fiction about difficult times and places, but it's not my "this is fun!" side that loves it. Having this important discussion in a casual place like Twitter adds to the sense that this topic is not all academic, not all depressing, and definitely not all about the past.

How come my Twitter feed added 30 new tweets in the time it took to write that paragraph? Oh, that's right, it's because of that crazy-popular hashtag.

(Join us. Join us. Join us.)

On a somewhat related note, hope to see many of you at NESCBWI this weekend! Even if you're all attached to your phones.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Fault in Our Starmakers

(Expands upon a comment to Laurie Halse Anderson's post, shared by Jo Knowles.)

I've been pretty conflicted about the whole John Green controversy. To summarize said controversy: in any given week in at least the past few months, John Green has held a huge number of the top slots on the YA bestseller lists. Often, other slots go to authors he has mentioned on his blog or otherwise promoted. John Green is a straight cis white male, and most of his main characters fit into most or all of those categories.

My conflict: these complaints come from a place I respect. As you probably realize if you've read this blog before, it is very important to me that literature for young people and otherwise represent people who are not straight, not cis, not white, and/or not male. But at the same time, I respect John Green. I enjoy his work, I can't in all honesty deny that I'm at least a little bit of a nerdfighter, and I can't imagine he'd disagree that it's important to show characters who are not straight, not cis, not white, and/or not male. Becoming anti-John Green doesn't feel right to me, but neither does dismissing the representation concerns.

Here's the view I think I've settled on, and it's quite similar to Laurie Halse Anderson's: John Green is one of many good YA authors. (To add to LHA's impressive list: Sara Farizan! Benjamin Alire Saenz! Walter Dean Myers! e.E. Charlton-Trujillo! Nova Ren Suma! Jo Knowles! Laurie Halse Anderson!) And JG does write outside his own experience. Hazel Grace is a notable exception to the "male" category and is also a well-rounded portrayal of someone with a significant illness. One of the two Will Graysons is an exception to the "straight" category; yes, the wonderful David Levithan wrote half that novel, but I bet JG's involvement helped it reach many of its readers.

The problem is that when the mainstream media, especially the media outside of exclusively kid/yalit outlets, focuses so much attention on one author, it puts pressure on that author to be the answer to all of YA's problems. It's not necessarily JG's job to check off every representation box. It's The Damn Media's job, and it's our job as gatekeepers, to show the public how many choices are out there.

ETA: It was pointed out to me that many writers simply feel uncomfortable writing about the experiences of other races, which I think is reasonable. I've made some very tentative attempts at it in my own writing and hope to do more, but I'll admit that I second-guess myself constantly. To my mind, this is another reason why it should not be on one writer's shoulders to represent everyone who needs to be represented; it's also a good reason that we need to pay attention to a variety of writers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Make way for confessions.

Okay, fine. There’s no trilogy in the works to my knowledge, and I guess Make Way for Ducklings can survive as a standalone. While we’re at it, Twitter friends, I am quite seriously excited to hear Norton Juster speak at the BPL tonight, but the Phantom Tollbooth sequel is Justerumor.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I guess this was inevitable.

We all know that adults are reading YA. (Look at the "Age of YA Book Buyers" chart here: the largest chunk is a demographic that basically includes neither teens nor parents of teens.) We know that many of these crossover readers like suspense, and they, or the publishers catering to them, like trilogies. But it didn't occur to me until I saw the first galley today that publishers would take this knowledge a step further. Several steps, even - all the way into the picture book section.

Make Way for Ducklings is a standby everywhere, and it's a huge seller in the Boston area; at our store, at least, it's consistently the best-selling picturebook. I can't even imagine how sales will skyrocket once the push begins for the two sequels: The Ducklings Are Coming, The Ducklings Are Coming (Fall '14) and Seriously, Get Out of the Ducklings' Way (Spring '15). Drunk on the power of stopping traffic (not an unremarkable achievement - have you seen Beacon Street at rush hour?), the ducklings take over Boston. They convert the Swan Boats into Duck Boats, Fenway Park into Fenway Pond, and the Sam Adams Brewery into a bakery just for the bread crusts. Prolific author James Patterson, whose name will be on the project, promises that the whole trilogy will be appropriate for young children, but I'll be reviewing the galley of that last book carefully when it's available so I can help customers make informed decisions. Rumor has it someone tries to whack Oack.

Casting has begun for the first movie. Idina Menzel will be the voice of Mrs. Mallard, and I'm really hoping there'll be a show-stopping number called "Let Us Go."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

More paperback picturebooks? Please?

Genuine question, oh friends in various literary places: why aren't more picturebooks available in paperback? In virtually every other category of kidlit (excluding graphic novels and, obviously, board books and novelty books), the majority of books come out in hardcover first, but then come to paperback about a year later unless they're by Suzanne Collins or John Green phenomenally popular. But picturebooks aren't nearly as predictable. I don't know the percentage that are available in paperback, but I'd guess it's far less than half of those that have been out in hardcover for more than a year. Major classics - Goodnight Moon, Madeleine, Where the Wild Things Are - generally are available, and there are certain older authors who are paperback standbys - William Steig and Ezra Jack Keats come to mind. But newer backlist books are much less frequently available. (Anecdotally, Candlewick's books seem to be the major exception.)

I understand why in many cases, a hardcover is preferable. If a book aimed at readers under six is going to live in a school, a library, or even a home containing particularly destructive little hands, it needs to be sturdy. But there's a big difference between a two-year-old who's just learning how to treat books and a four- or five-year-old who should know better. If the parents of a toddler want to provide books in the home, it's relatively easy to do so; small board books run about seven or eight dollars. (All prices estimated here are original list prices.) But once that toddler ages into picturebooks, the selection around the same price gets narrow. It's a fairly common occurrence for a parent or gift buyer to wax enthusiastic about a hardcover picturebook until he or she sees the price, and then it's, "Eighteen dollars for ten pages?!?" (I avoid nitpicking on those occasions; to point out that it's actually thirty-two pages might come off as pushy.)

Remember that uproar a few years ago about the supposed death of the picturebook? Faulty though its premise may have been, if it was going to lament losses in picturebook sales (especially in 2010), why not examine the cost of picturebooks? Leveled readers, the next "step up" from picturebooks, are very often paperback originals and tend to cost four or five dollars. Most early chapter books either start out in paperback or get there soon enough; typically, we're talking six or seven bucks. Perhaps a push toward accelerated reading isn't the only reason Mom or Dad wheedles, "wouldn't you rather have this book?"

Publishers, my humble take: Keep printing those hardcovers. They make great, long-lasting gifts. Keep making those e-books, too; there's nothing sweeter than the dad I keep seeing on the bus who reads Curious George to his kids on a tablet. But please, don't forget the kids whose parents will rarely if ever bring home an eighteen-dollar picture book.

You might just see sales go up.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Home is where my books are

I've never thought of myself as a book-as-object person. I'm a reader of physical books, certainly, but I'm not the type to buy many books for myself, even if they're pretty editions or first printings of award winners or books that I've loved but only borrowed. I don't actually own books 2 through 5 of Harry Potter. The first Shel Silverstein collection I owned was a Where the Sidewalk Ends I got as a gift in college.

As many of you know, I'm preparing to move locally in the near future. (We're still looking for a place; we have some time and some prospects; you'll notice I'm spending time in the interim among comforting books.) I've amassed a lot of books in the past few years, many of them ARCs, and a lot of what I've read is being brought to the nearest donation bin, from which I sincerely hope it will find new readers who enjoy it. But as I root through my shelves (god, I'll miss the built-in bookshelves), I find myself lingering among the books that are not going anywhere except my new home, where-exactly-ever that turns out to be.
If you're at all surprised these are staying with me, nice to meet you. Welcome to Walk the Ridgepole.

All read in childhood, all far more than once, most also read in adulthood. The first chapter book I read on my own by choice was that copy of All of a Kind Family. That copy of The Devil's Arithmetic informed my views of Holocaust books as recent as Rose Under Fire. That copy of Cheaper by the Dozen smells like vanilla.

This 1927 printing of Eight Cousins, photographed very carefully, belonged to my late great Aunt Louella, a sweet lady who apparently enjoyed Alcott.
The bookplate on the left is my mom's, but I apparently felt the need to mark this copy as my own.

Don't put a bottle of orange juice in your bag at a conference, even if you think it's securely closed. Unless you want a really unique inscription from the keynote speaker.
Yes, that is a genuine Hanklerfish.

Signed first printing. Because when you know the author, that's how you roll.

This really just skims the surface (I will not picspam for every author event I've been lucky enough to attend), and it omits many books that are still in my parents' house. I own three editions of The Princess Bride, two of them wonderful recent gifts, but the family heirloom edition, complete with "reunion scene" letter from the '70s, was in no shape to travel. On a related note, if any archivist-type friends have tips for transporting old books, those would be welcome.

Maybe I'm not a book-as-object person, but a book-as-Receiver-of-Memory person? I am definitely that.

This wasn't my childhood copy, but it is the copy I will pull out to support my thoughts on the movie this summer.

Friday, February 7, 2014

But everyone knows Hermione belonged with Luna

It's been all over the children's lit websites. The publishing-industry media. The Muggle newspapers, and probably the Daily Prophet. J.K. Rowling regrets the Ron-Hermione pairing and thinks Hermione would've been better off with Harry.

(This post assumes that spoiler warnings for the Harry Potter series are, at this point, irrelevant.)

At first, the ship heard 'round the world sounded like another "Dumbledore is gay," but I realized quickly that this is something different, something even less powerful. The earlier revelation claimed that it had always been part of the HP universe's truth, just not overtly mentioned. It invited lots of "you don't get to say that now" objections, quite a few of them followed closely with "but why didn't you say it earlier?" And it would've been an amazing case of what I'm now seeing referred to as casual diversity if the series had contained an offhand mention of Dumbledore's orientation (more amazing for its not-that-long-ago time than it would be today). More focus on it than that would've been fascinating. Would Slytherins have been homophobic? Would the Ministry of Magic? Come on, J.K. of ten years ago, you were getting banned anyway. The after-the-fact announcement was something, but inclusion in the canon would've been something much stronger.

And this Hermione Steals Ginny's Man thing? I get why people are upset. If anything, I feel badly on poor underdog Ron's behalf. Harry gets everything; why shouldn't Ron get the brightest witch of her age? (I disagree with claims that Ginny lacks personality - the girl conjures a mean bat bogey hex, and she knows when to use it - but she's not exactly in the running for Ron.) What I think JK may not understand is that Hermione's choice of spouse isn't the major reason so many people were disappointed in the epilogue to Deathly Hallows. The romantic relationships in the series were sweet (and sometimes unintentionally awkward; who here didn't cringe at the monster in Harry's chest?), but they weren't the most important part of the story. So much of the anticipation for Book 7 was about finally finding things out, and the epilogue contained virtually no surprises. (Albus Severus. Cute concept. Poor kid.) Once we knew who lived, who died, who was good, who was evil, and who was Snape, we (okay, at least I) wanted to know what contributions these characters would make to the wizarding world as adults. Was Harry an Auror? Was Ron? What was a lone Weasley twin like? JKR answered some questions about the characters' career choices in interviews that got less attention than Dumbledore's sexuality, but I'd've loved to see the interesting stuff play out on the page, where it belonged.  As others have said, who Hermione married can't have been the most interesting thing about her life after Hogwarts.

One thing that disappointed many in the world of fandom about the epilogue was that it paired off so many of the characters in traditional couples. In fandom's imagination, many of the characters were gayer than a Grindelwald (was Grindelwald gay?). To have the author come out of the woodwork to say that after seven years, what bothers her about the series is that Hermione married one guy rather than another guy feels heteronormative.

It sounds like JKR has personal reasons for her change of heart, and that's the great thing about fan fiction. Anyone can write an alternate universe fic and make the story work for him or her; JKR basically just did that in interview format. But if she does that, or Cath Avery does that, or anyone else does that, all it does is allow for interesting speculation. It doesn't change what "really" happened.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Holy partially anticipated occurrences!

First things first. In one truly unanticipated occurrence, that creepy adult-eyed look at youth The Ocean at the End of the Lane did not win an Alex Award. As promised, I am about to eat a bug.

I'm glad to have just learned that spider-shaped  fruit snacks are tastier than they sound, because I own a box of them now.  But they don't rival the deliciousness of the Newberys-and-blueberries ritual I've carried out since a 2009 brunch at the home of several Simmons classmates. This year, in the bowels of the bookstore, I popped blueberries like a moviegoer pops popcorn as I stared, riveted, at the Twitter ticker at the bottom of the ALA website, sorted through the reactions to weed out the new information, and rushed to plug titles and suggested quantities into a Google doc for the intrepid buyer across from me. (Note to ALA: if you tweeted Honor books in addition to Medalists, those of us hoping to order the books could do so more efficiently.) (Note to self: Twitter did not exist in 1922, and booksellers managed.)

It speaks to the strength of this year that the only big surprises, to my mind, were in what didn't win anything. There were no moments of "Seriously? That won?" (There were a few moments of "Okay, add that to the TBR list," but there's always some of that.) I'm super-excited about Flora and Ulysses, and the appropriately grandiose Locomotive should be held up next to The Stinky Cheese Man as an example of why book design matters. I'll admit I'm rethinking the idea of a Caldecott-based story time; three wordless Honor books and a very wordy Medalist might not be the most practical combination. But I'll happily handsell all of the above; Journey in particular is a staff favorite.

Other thoughts:
I need to read Midwinterblood.
We had Navigating Early shelved in Intermediate next to Moon Over Manifest, as I imagine many stores and libraries did (or still do), but I'd been recommending it as a transitional book. And now here it is with a Printz Honor... let's try it in YA!
Hooray The Year of Billy Miller! Hooray P.S. Be Eleven! And the completely un-shocking Nelson Mandela! Ditto Eleanor and Park! And Better Nate Than Ever!

If anyone's looking for me, I'll be catching up on the winners I've missed. And probably eating Spiderman fruit snacks.