Fuse #8

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Review of the Day: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers. Illustrations by Yoko Tanaka. Houghton Mifflin Company. $16.00.

It took me a little while to review this one, but better late than never.

Things That Are Difficult To Do:

1. Eating broken glass
2. Changing a baby’s diaper for the first time.
3. Digesting aforementioned broken glass.
4. Selling a boy on a great adventuresome novel with a female heroine.

It’s a bit of a stereotype but one with at least a grain of truth to it. Certain boys of a particular literary persuasion will offer an unpleasant amount of resistance to reading a book when its protagonist is of the feminine variety. This is understood. Few quibble the point. As a result, nine times out of ten a hero who discovers a fantastical world in a fantasy novel will sport a name like Harry or Percy or Sebastian (no one said they had to be manly names). This can make it difficult for girls heroes. Either they have to share the spotlight with a boy (and is pictured on the cover with him if the publisher has their way) or their heroine already exists in a world of her own when the action begins. The latter is the case with one Theodosia Throckmorton. If you called her “spunky” to her face she’d probably grind your foot beneath her boot heel. Theodosia isn’t cute or plucky or wide-eyed. She’s sly and clever with just half a sandwich more intelligence than her fellow man. "Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos" is not a perfect creation, but it has enough originality and sheer verve to make up for those imperfections a reader might find.

When you’re living in Edwardian England as the child of easily distracted museum curators, you have to do a lot of growing up on your own. Theodosia Throckmorton, for her part, has done her fair share. While her mother has been scouring Egypt for artifacts to send to the family’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities, Theodosia lives in London at the museum in question with her father and cat. What’s more, she has a purpose in life. Unlike anyone else she knows, Theodosia can physically sense the horrid curses and black magic seeping from the artifacts on display. Her job? Remove the magic and keep away from her father’s meddling curator Clive Fagenbush. And everything would have been perfectly fine had her mother not brought home that wretched Heart of Egypt. Legend says that should this amulet ever leave its native soil it will curse the country that takes it in and topple the kingdom itself. Now WWI is looming, evil forces are conspiring to steal the amulet for their own means, and it’s up to Theodosia to foil the bad guys, find herself some allies, and return the Heart of Egypt to its rightful home.

The book lends itself to love. First off, there’s the fact that LaFevers has such a flair for names. It’s just a pleasure to read someone who can create her own unique characters without sounding like a slightly sickened Dickens novel. So it was that I found myself chortling over monikers like Sticky Will, Dolge, Sweeny, and Wigmere. The very voice of the book was also a pleasure. I’m rather taken with any heroine who mentally labels her brother a “cad” when he threatens her with imminent education. And I liked the shout-outs to other works of children’s fiction. E. Nesbit’s, “The Treasure Seekers” gets a mention, which pleased me to no end. A pity the author is never named.

Best of all, “Theodosia” works on more than one level. It is my personal belief that LaFevers is making a rather slick anti-colonialism statement couched in an otherwise innocuous fantasy. Theodosia’s parents are stealing a country’s treasures without so much as a drop of guilt. Heck, her mother even alludes to a possible bribery of “local officials” so as to remove the artifacts from the country. And while you’d never accuse Theodosia of being anything other than a patriot (she even goes so far as to say that she would never “betray” her country) that doesn’t mean she can’t be at odds with what the nation, as well as her very own parents, does.Less effective perhaps is the tie made between pre-war Germany and this “curse” upon England. Says Theodosia, “ Germany was using the power of Ancient Egyptian magic to topple its adversaries. Just like Thutmose III and Amenemhab had.” Anti-colonialism I’m willing to buy. The Kaiser using magic? I guess it works in the same way that the Nazis in the Indiana Jones films work. It just seems a little clunky for an otherwise nice book.

There are problems here and there. There are no surprises regarding the true villain of the book. You probably won’t mind, but LaFevers makes it fairly evident. Another complaint I’ve heard lodged against this title is that it doesn’t effectively take you into Edwardian England. The smells and tastes and sensations aren’t there. You can appreciate the plot and pacing, but it’s not an evocative novel. I agree with this to some extent. Obviously that wasn’t what LaFevers was going for. For the kind of book that it is, you can enjoy the story without feeling you have to have traveled back in time with the author. For all that the author doesn’t try to conjure up distinct sensations, she’s thought through numerous tricky details. I loved the idea of long-term exposure to curses seeping into a person’s soul like radiation into cells. Plus the illustrations by Yoko Tanaka are used sparingly enough to give the book just enough oomph without detracting.

I’m trying to gauge the level of innate kid-appeal in this book, and I’m having a difficult time coming up with anything. What it really feels like is a child-version of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody novels like “Crocodile On the Sandbank”. Same level-headed heroine. Same magic and vibe. Same exciting Egypt-based fight/flight sequences. You can hardly recommend a book to a kid on the basis of the adult novel it reminded you of. In the end, I’m just going to wait for the child who comes up to me and wants a good adventure story with a bit of fantasy for flair. It won’t be a book for every kid out there, true. But when paired with titles like the “Enola Holmes” books by Nancy Springer, “Theodosia” should prove popular with any kid attracting to the intelligent and the arcane.

On shelves now.

Notes on the Cover: Houghton Mifflin is apparently unafraid to make it clear to the world that this book is a historical fantasy. I know that amongst some there is a belief that if kids see anything even faintly antiquated on a book cover that they avoid it like the plague. It's nice to see a book reveling in an original look. The colors are one-of-a-kind, the image of Theodosia more than a photographed and dismembered head or torso, and the font pleasant. Altogether, this is a cover that makes children and adults want to pick it up. Well played.

First Line: "I don’t trust Clive Fagenbush."

Other Blog Reviews: Jen Robinson's Book Page, bookshelves of doom, lindajsingleton, nichtszusagen, Dee and dee Dish, Menageriemom's Musings, corrinalaw,

Futher Info: The Theodosia Throckmorton Homepage and Theodosia's Journal (blog)

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A Fuse #8 Production: Digest Edition

Digest [v. di-jest, dahy-; n. dahy-jest]:

1.to convert (food) in the alimentary canal into absorbable form for assimilation into the system.
2.to condense, abridge, or summarize.
3. to plunk together in a veritable hodgepodge.
4. to give the author of a particular blog the excuse she needs to work the word "hodgepodge" into one of her postings.

Here are some trinkets and tidbits of an especially shiny nature that I've not had time to properly digest this week. Between this and that my brain is not working to its full capacity. Fortunately that means that the brains of others work where mine has ground to a rusty dusty halt.

Less excuses. More postings.

First on the list is Roger Sutton. You all know Roger. Editor of Horn Book. Bearer of the sacred throat vinculum. This week, he mentioned that the Horn-Book Globe Book Awards committee is beginning their deliberations and you are invited to offer your bets on who the winners might be. So exciting! I side with the commenter that suggested that A Drowned Maiden's Hair finally get its due. Roger also done went and linked to the article Circle of Cliches via The Daily Telegraph. I'll have to speak more on this later this week. It talks about the words or phrases reviewers love far too much. I know that for my part there are certain comfort turns of phrase that I'll reuse more often than I really should. Give the piece a glance alongside Roger's response.

Thanks to Children's Illustration we got a glimpse of some remarkable movie posters from back in the day. Blogger Michael Sporn also offered this great bit of info:

Through Aug. 1, the Posteritati Movie Poster Gallery (239 Centre St.) lets New Yorkers escape into the past with a collection of art from fantasy films ranging from 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to modern-day favorites like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Incredibles.”

Gallery hours are Tuesday - Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.

If that means I get to see posters like this 1960 Czech image of Dumbo then I'm in.

Those of you in town for Book Expo might want to consider making a side trip.

The Longstockings may have a lock on the Pippi blog name, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't shoot on over to the excelsior file to read David Elzey's view from an adult perspective of Sweden's hitherto best-known redhead. Great opening sentence too. "Pippi scared me when I was young."

If the webcomic Questionable Content is unknown to you, watch and learn. This one goes out to all the librarians out there. I've never heard the term "shush" sounds so very very dirty.

And because of Mo Willems I now know that Jon Scieszka has a new website. It's very nice. I'm particularly fond of the map that shows Population That Wishes They Were Reading Scieszka Books. The one thing I would change? I want that big scary picture of Jon at the top to say "Gleep" unexpectedly and without warning. Is that too much to ask?

Finally, I've been memed. I'll meme it right back tomorrow. Cross my heart.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Random House Preview: Notes From the Inside

Last Thursday I hauled my exhausted carcass from my bed at the ungodly hour of 7:15 (on days that I work 12-8 I usually get to sleep in a little) and high-tailed it over to the Random House building on Broadway for their Librarian and Reviewer Presentation: Fall 2007. You know, every publisher's preview has something to recommend it. Little Brown may wipe the floor with everyone else foodwise (and they do) but Random House wins for frequency. Every single season they pull out all the stops for a fabulous production. It's like watching a show. You plunk your tookus down in a seat and stare as imprint after imprint parades onto the stage to present a Powerpoint of upcoming books and titles. I've come to terms with knowing that of the books I think look fabulous I will probably never see them until they come out in stores. Lackaday.

First up was a bit of a surprise. A new imprint called Robin Corey Books presented by a Robin Corey (coincidence, no?). She's starting off nice with a new Sandra Boynton called What's Wrong, Little Pookie? Otherwise she hasn't quite found her core author/illustrators yet. The bulk of good books coming out this year, hands down, goes to good old Schwartz & Wade. Sometimes I'm not entirely taken with the seasonal selection of S&W, but this particular list seemed especially choice. First of all, the author of the book Riding in Cars with Boys has a picture book. I'll rephrase that. The author of Riding in Cars with Boys has a picture book and it looks fabulous. For Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary the illustrator is Barbara McClintock, which was quite a "get" right there. The book parallels the lives of two girls, one human and one a mouse, as they live near one another without knowledge of one another. Their daughters, however, meet near the end and a friendship blooms as a result. Ms. Schwartz (Ms. Wade was elsewhere) compared it to The Borrowers and there's some legitimacy there. Not the least of which is the fact that Ms. McClintock's style is not too different from that of Borrowers illustrators, Beth and Joe Krush. The book also apparently proves that there is a picture book trend this year concerning mice who go to college.

S&W also got their hands on a new Ana Juan. The author's unknown to me (Monique De Varennes, anyone?) but the feel and illustrations of The Jewel Box Ballerinas is typically gorgeous stuff.

There was also a book called Waking Up Wendell by April Stevens that is illustrated by everyone's favorite Tad Hills of Duck and Goose fame. Two points recommend themselves with this book. 1) The endpapers have a dreamy distance to them typical of his other work. 2) There's a scene where (I think) the cat is slamming itself against the family's bedroom door in an effort to get in. You see everyone in bed and as they look around in confusion while the words, "WACK-SLAM! WACK-SLAM! WACK-SLAM!" are punctuated overhead. My old cat used to do this. And I can attest that the sound was exactly the same.

Wendy Lamb then came up to talk about her own imprint's books. The term, "Volcanoes, vampires, and love," summed up her titles this season. First book, Night of the Howling Dogs, almost wins my award for Best Powerpoint Byline: "From a Scott O'Dell Award winning author, it's just another camping trip - until the tsunami." Oh, Graham. Somehow Mr. Salisbury could make you seriously believe that Hawaii was the most dangerous place on earth. If the Japanese aren't bombing you one moment, you're suffering earthquakes AND tsunamis the next.

Good news on the fantasy front. Peter Dickinson (Eva) at the grand old age of eighty has written a sequel to The Ropemaker. It's a 512 page sequel entitled Angel Isle (British cover featured here) and takes place 200 years after the first book.

Moving on, I came to the conclusion that Random House gets 30-some new editors every season. Why else would I not recognize these people? Well the Random House Golden Books division was mighty pleased to present a new Leonard Marcus title, I can tell you. It was described as the third in Leonard's series on the history of picture books. The first was Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon. The second Dear Genius: The Collected Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. And now he's created Golden Legacy which looks at, "How Golden Books won children's hearts, changed publishing forever, and became an American icon along the way." Veeery informative stuff. Mr. Marcus himself came to the podium and explained how the idea behind Golden Books in the midst of the Depression was to create affordable children's books for all. Many of the artists who worked on the books had fled Europe during the war. . . . or they fled Disney studios. Ho ho. Leonard went on to call the clever marketing of the books in drugstores as "democratizing". Businesses today should latch onto that lingo themselves. Some mention was made of the library community "vilifying" the books, though I can attest that NYPL is purchasing collected editions of the titles these days. Sidenote That I Didn't Know: Simon and Schuster were young Jews in the 30s who couldn't get jobs so they started their own company.

I got a bit distracted after this by, of all things, Happy Healthy Monsters: Grover's Guide to Good Eating. On the cover is Grover in his standard waiter gear with the now ubiquitous Elmo at his side. It got me to thinking. The cover just proves that even when a book references a classic Grover sketch, he just can't hold his own without Elmo anymore. What if they were writing The Monster at the End of This Book today? Would someone force the author to smuggle in some horrid red monster at some point? Oog.

We looked at some of the standard series titles, including a new Magic Tree House Research Guide called Polar Bears & the Arctic. After mentioning that polar bears eat more humans than any other animal, one of the editors said offhand, "The perfect book for your collection if you want to see an 8-year-old cry". Good sense of humor, those editors.

A big deal was made about a new fantasy series in town, and at first I wasn't interested. Read the byline: "When Max has a cryptic vision he learns that destiny has great plans for him." *yawn* Oh, and the name is The Hound of Rowan (The Tapestry Trilogy #1). *double yawn* Then they started to describe it and it got kind of interesting. Author Henry H. Neff quit his high-powered job to become a high school teacher (!?) and wrote this book on top of all that. He also illustrated it and his illustrations actually look cool. But then I got thrown back to my yawns when I heard that it was set in a school like Harry Potter and worked in Celtic mythology. BUT, and here's the kicker, this is a book where the hero is not "The Chosen One". That would be his roommate. Our hero is, in fact, a kind of bodyguard instead. And that is why I may actually wish to read this book.

About this time editor Alice Jonaitis mistook The Awful Truth for Ball of Fire but allayed the error by talking up Dinosaurs by Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. Why should you care about yet another dinosaur book? Well I don't suppose you're hoping to find the penultimate dinosaur title for your collection, are you? This book has the most up-to-date information and covers (according to them) every conceivable topics regarding dinos. I was actually kind of excited to hear about this one.

No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer was another title I didn't much care to read at first (byline: "The story of a boy, a book, and believing . . .") but was described nicely in person. Set in Camden, N.J. (which according to the main character is the armpit of the nation), this is a title for the 9 to 13-year-old crowd in which a kid gets a Big Brother. A gay Big Brother, who the kid really likes but is worried that the bullies at school will find out about. No Castles Here looks as if it might have a lot to say about race and sexuality. We'll see if that's actually the case. I was pleased to discover later that A.C.E. Bauer is a Class of Y2Ker. Well done there.

Alongside The Wednesday Wars we've another Shakespeare-inspired boy book coming out this year. Jake Wizner's, Spanking Shakespeare was described to us as written by an author who could be, "the love child of Judy Blume and Woody Allen". Chew on that image in your mind for a while and then get back to me.

I was delighted to see The Listening Library folks troop up to the stage next. This is what separates Random House from other publishers. Because they let Listening Library do the spiel you get to hear about books from a wide wide array of other publishers. So check out what's coming out soon!
  • I Am Not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos. I simply couldn't be more excited.
  • Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke. Looks like The Princess Knight gone novel-length.
  • Garden of Eve by K.L. Going. A dead mom, but I like the author a lot and this one sounds really good.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher - Yay, hometown hero!
  • Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine
  • Who Discovered America? by Russell Freedman
The Bantam Delacorte Dell Young Reader group came up just about the time I realized that my gift bag contained chocolate. Some smart pookie had wrapped milk chocolate bars in advertisements for Libba Bray's upcoming The Sweet Far Thing. When I looked back up it was just a sea of plunging necklines. The Bantam ladies have it going on, it seems.

Delightfully enough, Judy Blume as a new early chapter book out. A sequel to The Pain and the Great One, we now have Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One. This book has been paired with James Stevenson for the illustrations which is both a simple idea and a great one. And the gift bag, to my delight, actually had a copy of this in it. Score! Lucy Rose: Working Myself to Pieces and Bits by Katy Kelly is also coming out soon. So why the heck isn't Adam Rex doing the illustrations? He did the first two Lucy Rose books and then, suddenly and without warning, they've hired Peter Ferguson. I got nothing against Mr. F, but it seems a very odd switcheroo.

Bantam next had a hard time convincing the dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers that a book about rats was viable kiddie fare. For my part, Vasco, Leader of the Tribe by Anne-Laure Bondoux looked good if a bit familiar. Vasco = Rasco anyone? I was also a little surprised at the speed with which Kiss My Book by Jamie Michaels has come out. The premise is basically the Kaavya Viswanathan Story from her point of view. Actually, it makes for a fabulous YA novel. I can't blame Michaels for going there. I'm just a little awed at how quickly it's coming out, that's all.

And I'm actually kind of tentatively excited, against my will no less, by Grimpow: The Invisible Road by Rafael Abalos. The Templar Knights have never really appeared in a big-time fantasy novel. Surprising, when you think about it. I liked the idea of tying them into the Philosopher's Stone and I had high hopes for this book. Then the editor introducing it invoked the name of Eragon not once but TWICE. The kicker? When she said it was, "Part DaVinci Code and part Eragon". These sweet editors need to start adjusting their descriptions of these books for their librarian audiences. That kind of talk probably gets corporate bookstores and fellow publishers all hot and bothered, but you could actually see the audience cringe as they heard the dreaded "E" word invoked repeatedly.

Now I'm not usually lured by teen novels but when an editor described Before I Die by Jenny Downham as, "one of the most accurate views of what it feels like to fall in love as a teen," I was hooked. It's a dead heroine book (terminal disease, no less) but I couldn't quite tear myself away from that description. Next, without ever invoking the name of Rainbow Fish (branch #2 on the Triumvirate of Mediocrity), Leo Lionni's, Tico and the Golden Wings sounds at the outset like Pfister's original inspiration. Bird gets golden wings. Bird give away golden feathers. The difference is that when Tico gives away his feathers (ala Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince more than anything else) the ending makes it very clear that though he now looks the same as everyone else, his experiences have made him different on the inside. Reprints of this book have made Tico's wings look a dull yellow. Random House, then, is going to use golden foil to make the books as shiny and enticing as it was when it was first published. And since the word of the day in the marketing departments is "Shiny Shiny!" this manages to be both a good publicity stunt and entirely faithful to the original publication of this classic work. Janet Schulman's a smartie.

A Song in Bethlehem by Marni McGee is another nativity story, albeit a whitey white white one. The next Max & Pinky book is coming out (The Adventures of Max & Pinky: Superheroes by Maxwell Eaton) and I am horribly excited about it. I love those books! I was happy to see a mention of Sue Stauffacher's Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson. Unfortunately, since I've already reviewed the book, I could tell that they somehow failed to put the coolest paintings from its pages (illustrated by Greg Couch) in the Powerpoint slideshow. Tsk tsk tsk.

The upcoming reprint of Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree was just a delight to me. Look at that cover. They don't hardly make 'em like that no more. Some mention was made of the fact that Ray Bradbury was once friends with Chuck Jones and that they made a movie together. If anyone has any additional information on this, I'd like to hear it.

Edward Bloor has a new novel coming out called Taken. It does the idea of a "near future" right by placing its events squarely in 2035. That's the way you do it. None of this silly 2011 crap. The future should be within our lifetime but far enough away that when child readers reach it they are no longer children.

Finally, to round out the presentations, author Jerry Spinelli came up to the podium to speak. He called everyone "Bookies" and spoke about his Love, Stargirl, which is due on shelves this coming August. Spinelli, it soon became clear, is a natural born public speaker. He seems so laid back, but give him a question with a little bite to it and watch him tuck in. It was odd seeing him so soon after reviewing his other book out this year with Little Brown, Eggs. Still, he's was a good "get". Everyone, I think it is fair to say, had a remarkable time. So! Awards!

Some Good Covers:
My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick - The byline read like a zombie novel but the title is just another vampire book. Why are there not any great YA zombie books? I'd show you the American cover but they haven't posted it online yet. Bother.

No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer. Actually, this is unfair. You really have to see the full cover, front and back, to appreciate it.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac - Listening Library introduced this one.

Worst Covers: A Bridge to the Stars by Henning Mankell. One of the editors loved it too. The problem is that it's sporting an adult font for the author and title and if it's "A magical mystery that leaves readers spellbound," then why not make it look less dreamy and more exciting? The American cover is not yet available for viewing online. Hopefully there is time to change their minds about it.

Most Familiar Cover: Wow. This here is a Lisa Yee lookalike. I didn't even know they made Lisa Yee lookalikes. Let's play a fun game now. Which one of these covers isn't a book by Lisa Yee. Look carefully now...

Did you find it?

Best Celebrity Lookalike On a Cover: With One Trick Pony by Daniella Brodsky (it's, oddly enough, Chocolat for teens via coffee) we have an Anne Hathaway impersonator.
They were selling this book by telling us that 75% of teens report daily coffee consumption. Really? Really really?

Best Phrase: Of illustrator Greg Newbold it was said that the artist, "Gives good Santa".

Worst Phrase: Ironically it was for the same book (The Barnyard Night Before Christmas) which some ill-advised editor mentioned had equal doses of, "hilarity and heart". *shudder*

Most Enjoyable Powerpoint By-line: I can't help it. I loved the one for Louise Plummer's Finding Daddy: "Mira opens a Pandora's box from the past and unleashes a horror of a daddy." So wrong it's right? Or just wrong?

Best Use of the Term [Blank] Meets [Blank]: I was a little disappointed this season. Last time I went to a RH preview they were pulling out the "meets" like it was nobody's business. They closest they got this time was a half-hearted "The Devil Wears Prada meets Ugly Betty". Which is to say... Ugly Betty. It was meant to describe Susanna Sees Stars by Mary Hogan. FYI.

Best Description of a Book: I'm not biased. Karen Breen herself said he was a remarkable speaker. Yes, Jack Linkey (or whatever his name is) described When Randolph Turned Rotten by Charise Mericle Harper so well that if they'd been selling copies before us I think every person there would have bought themselves a few. It looks great, sounds great, reads great, and is great. I. Want. This. Book.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kidlit Drink Night - Book Expo

Originally uploaded by Stefan DW.

By executive decision, I hereby declare the following:

We shall meet at the Landmark Tavern located at 626 11th Ave. (@ 46th St.) this Friday at 5:00. The place is seven blocks north of the convention center, which shouldn't be too terrible a walk. Then, at 7:00 or so, those folks who are attending the ABC 7:30 dinner can take off and the rest of youse can stay.

Here's how Landmark is described:
This bar might as well be in New Jersey it’s so far west. But its history alone is worth a visit. The first beer, costing a nickel, was poured during the Johnson Administration (that’s Andrew, not LBJ), and rumor has it the tavern is haunted by an Irish girl and a Confederate soldier. During prohibition, Landmark was closed for 30 minutes, or the time it took to move the barrels of whiskey upstairs. The bar, carved from a single mahogany tree, is original, as are the floor tiles and stamped tin ceiling. Even the men’s bathroom with swinging saloon doors has a kind of old world charm. If that isn’t enough of a walk down memory lane for you, you’re better off at the Intrepid. The rest of us who like our history in the form of stories told by bartenders will stay put and enjoy a Magner’s Irish cider and an Anglo-Irish dinner menu that suits the surroundings perfectly.
So those of you inclined to have a meal will have the option of doing so too! Hopefully the volume will be less than it was during the drink night at Bar 9 back during the SCBWI Conference.

And if anyone's looking for an explanation of what Book Expo is and what it's like for your average author/illustrator, take a gander at the Mo Willems piece Book Expo American Schedule.

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Picture It. Secret of the Andes: The Graphic Novel!

Neil Gaiman reported it and Monica Edinger followed up on it. It seems that images from the upcoming Coraline graphic novel are available for viewing. This is an interesting move on Gaiman's part. Recent children's novels for the middle grade set have been adapted into graphic novel formats with reasonable success. Until now, however, most of these have been series. The Baby-Sitters Club. The Warriors. Now we've a stand alone fantasy novel in a GN format. Will this confuse those readers assigned the book in school? If other stand alone books follow suit will they all be fantasies? Or will we see things like graphic novel adaptations of things like Penny From Heaven and Rules? Frankly, the thought of GN Newbery books excites me quite a lot. One would never replace the other, but I love the idea of tackling serious children's books with new formats.

*cough* Of course, only REALLY smart and forward-thinking publishers would attempt this *cough*

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Mmm. Social Poison.

He's so cute when he's mad. According to The Guardian, Philip Pullman recently opened up a can of whoop-ass on children's television broadcasters with phrases like, "Children are regarded by broadcasters as a marketing opportunity at best, a dangerous and feral threat at worst, and an expensive nuisance otherwise" and "This social poison goes much deeper than broadcasting, of course, but it's particularly visible there". Unfortunately the article in that reported this news was a bit lacking in the where-exactly-did-Pullman-say-this? department. Ah well.

It's nice to see that Pullman doesn't finger any specific country with these statements. I just shiver with delight when I hear him say things like, "There used to be ... a sense of responsibility among broadcasters: a feeling that this extraordinary medium ... should be used to make things better, richer, more interesting for those who made up the audience - especially for children." We're sailing dangerously close to Old Fogey Territory (where all the When-I-Was-A-Kid topics tend to surface), but I'm happy to see that somebody remembers how television once served a purpose above and beyond marketing.

Thanks to Big A little a for the link.

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Talking Polar Bears

Speaking of Pullman, I thought this was something I'd seen before but obviously I was wrong. Here we have the brand spanking new trailer for The Golden Compass all pretty and bright in its shiny shiny glory. Niiiice.

Thanks to Rosie for the link.

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You Go Pogo?

This is a new one on me. Check out this cry of help that the publisher Fantagraphics recently sent out:

We are requesting the help of Pogo collectors who may have original art or high quality reproductions of Walt Kelly’s Pogo strip.

We are currently assembling Walt Kelly’s POGO: The Complete Daily & Sunday Strips. We are looking for the best possible black-and-white reproduction of both Sundays and dailies — especially the Sundays. If you have original art or proofs that you would be willing to let us scan, we would be grateful if you’d contact us. You may e-mail me directly at groth@fantagraphics.com

(Please put POGO in the header). Thank you.

Wow. I love the Fantagraphic collections of Peanuts n' such and I'd been really really looking forward to seeing the new Pogo editions of their books. I just never dreamed the original reproductions would be difficult to find. Fascinating.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Have a Seat. I Have Something to Tell You.

This isn't going to be easy.
I'm moving.

No no no no no! I'm not moving from New York. That won't happen for a good year and a half, if ever.

No, I'm talking about Fuse #8. It's moving. I thought about waiting to tell you this until the day in question, but I figured it might be a better idea to let you know ASAP. We've had some fun times together here on Blogger, haven't we? The pageantry. The fact that Blogger will randomly, and for no apparently reason, shut down when you least expect it. The random nature of the comment selection. But for all that, I'm going to miss the old place.

You see, School Library Journal expressed an interest in the old Fuse. So they offered the following: Appear on their website and do exactly the same thing I'm doing now but with pay. Negotiations were made. They're going to lift all my archives and put them on their site. I retain the right to leave them insofar as I give them a month's notice (and vice-versa). When I leave, the posts I've made are my own, though they have the right to use them however they please.

There is, however, a requirement. Hold onto your seats now. To appear on their blog I must write...

... drumroll please ...


I don't know if I can handle that kind of pressure.

So basically I'm going to get paid to do exactly what I'm doing now, but on a website which may raise my visibility. Here's a FAQ or two, though you can definitely pummel me in the comment section if you like (and I'm certain you do like).

You say they're not going to touch your content. Really? Even if you wrote a scathing expose of SLJ? Even if you wrote reviews that contradicted the ones written in the magazine?

A: Actually, SLJ informed me that they'd prefer that I contradict them in my reviews. They want a variety of opinions on their site. As for scathing exposes, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. I write on the news and nothing is going to affect what I do or do not comment on.

Q: So the blog is going to look exactly the same as it does now?

A: Oh... uh. Um. About that. Okay, so here's the deal. We're switching from Blogger to Wordpress, so that'll change things right there. And of course, there won't be a banner (which is fine since it's out-of-date with the whole review a day mention). There will be a picture of my mug with every post. And this, in turn, will affect my posts because, quite frankly, as much as I love my mug, I don't really want to see it over and over and over, five times a day. So I might start consolidating my pieces a little. And, most importantly, there are my links to consider. At this moment in time, I can't create any for the side of my blog. However, I have been assured that in time they'll find a way to allow us to modify our links. When that happens I'll reinstate everything. It'll just take a little time.

Q: You've sold out, old man! You're going to have ads on your site, won't you? Won't you?

A: (Old man?) Yeah. There will be ads. SLJ ads for books n' stuff. There are worse ads to have and I've never found the SLJ ads to be intrusive. So that's too bad but there's nothing to be done. Hopefully you won't find them distracting.

Q: What's to stop people from thinking that your reviews of books are the official stance of SLJ?

A: Nothing. SLJ and I talked about this. There's bound to be confusion and complaints, but that's life. If they don't mind, I don't mind.

Q: Oh, bloody hell. Am I going to have to change your URL on my website?

A: Probably you will if you have a RSS feed or LiveJournal link. For those of you who link from blogs and websites, I've been told that SLJ will link the site in such a way that Fuse #8 will immediately redirect clicks to the new site. We'll see how that goes.

Q: When will this happen?

A: Early June. The end is near.

Q: I don't like this. I fear change.

A: So do I, sweetie. Don't worry. We'll just have to see how it goes.

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night Redux

Editorial Anonymous has just opened a Worst of the First Contest for you creative types out there. And I quote:
This will be your chance to enter both real first lines of manuscripts (for you gluttons for punishment) and made-up-just-for-the-contest first lines.

I'll offer a Bulwer Lytton Prize for overall, overwritten awfulness, but remember, this is the easy one. It's tougher to write first lines that are bad in ways that many people achieve accidentally--but those are the ones I'll really be on the lookout for.

There will also be a Seuss Prize for poetry as rhythmic as a pounding migraine, a Drivel Award for uninspired use of cliches, a Robert Munsch Citation for most dysfunctional relationship in a first line, and other honors based on the varieties of dreck you foist upon me.
My eyes stray longingly towards a couple self-published items I received last year. We'll see if I ever give in to temptation. As for yourself, go wild.

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The Demented Children's Book Photoshopping Contest

The website Something Awful has a Photoshop Phriday piece of mildly twisted children's book covers. What I appreciate about these is that with a couple exceptions here and there they've limited themselves to just changing the titles. There are the usual groaners and infantile natterings, but I do appreciate some here and there. Particularly "Sly Little Bear Undresses You With His Eyes" and "A Child's Guide to the Eurovision Song Contest".

Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.

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Party Time

Hey, New Yorkers. Or, as I like to call you, Norkers. It's time to go ah-partying with author/illustrator Meghan McCarthy. To celebrate the most fabulous publication of her remarkable Strong Man, Meghan is throwing a shindig and you are personally invited. Be good. I will be present as well, and it is your chance to visit fabulous Williamsburg at a beautiful time of year. How can you pass it up?

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New Blog

I've grown a bit fond of a new blog out there that hadn't really caught my eye until now. Kid*Lit(erary) is penned by author Laurel Snyder. Her blog is a nice mix of personal opinions and professional information. I was particularly taken with the post that mentioned that her mother's friend from church is Laura Amy Schlitz. Ms. Snyder then ties that into the work of Joan Aiken (justifiably, I'd say) and continues on from there.

Worth a peek in any case.

Thanks to Cynsations for the link.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Video Sunday: The In-Laws Are In Town Edition

Which is to say that I didn't have much time to rustle up anything. Still, enough cool items popped up this week to make up for the loss. The best known of these is the first. By now I'm sure that many, perhaps most of you have already seen copyright law described with the sole use of Disney clips. Well, if not, here it is. Some people say it makes their teeth hurt to watch, but you can't deny that it's skillfully done.

You know I'd sooner die than link to an ad. Then I saw this. I didn't know it was an ad until I hit the end. I think that shadow plays have enough kid cache (though, to the best of my knowledge, no picture book has ever taken advantage of them) to include them here. Thanks to Megan for the link.

For the aspiring authors amongst us, the Great American Children's Novel is Holes. Nuff said. You may not agree with this assessment, however. If that is the case then consider writing one of your own. This video shows you how.

And finally, last week I linked to Spiderman in Japan. This week it's Bollywood and Spiderman's been... uh... chickified. I could only really watch about a minute of this, but it was a good (if painful) minute. Voila.

Via BoingBoing.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Children's Books That Defined an Era

When The Guardian requested that readers vote on the books that defined each successive era of the 20th century, that got Monica Edinger thinking. Asked she recently:

"...would it be possible (or has it been done already?) to come up with similarly defining children’s books of the various 20th century decades?"


My boss came up with the following:
1900s: Wizard of Oz
1910s: Anne of Green Gables
1920s: Millions of cats
1930s: Caddie Woodlawn
1940s: Curious George
1950s: Cat in the Hat
1960s: Snowy Day
1970s: A tossup between Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret and The Outsiders
1980s: Arnold Lobel’s Fables
1990s: Harry Harry Harry [he means Mr. Potter]
2000s: Man Who Walked Between the Towers
Not bad. Not bad at all. I mean, it really all comes down to how you want to define said eras. If you want to show how the course of children's literature has changed over the years, this is a darn good collection. Personally, my sole objections lie with the 80s and 2000s. My boss explained that Fables was one of the few titles he was familiar with that really delved into the notion of making fables accessible in a quite format (or something to that effect). As for Gerstein's book, it's impossible to get a hold on changes in kidlit publishing in this particular century. I might opt for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus since Mr. Mo is particularly good at wrangling the old marketing machine. Pigeon sort of defines how it is that we're selling books to kids these days. But if I wanted to be snarky, I guess I could find a book covered head to toe in glitter and spangles and say that IT was the defining book (The Fancy Nancy ripoffs, perhaps?) but I could never be so cruel.

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Just Another Kidlit Attraction

Speaking of Monica, not long ago we were discussing the cult authors you read voraciously as a teen. Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony, Orson Scott Card, Douglas Copeland, etc. Tom Robbins was one of my favorites back in the day. So naturally when I heard that he was proposing writing a book for children about beer, I was . . . . would it be appropriate to say "elated"? Probably not.

Well, it's not true. Just a joke, it seems. A good one though. He had me going until I started reading his written sections. Just smack me upside the head with the term Gullible McGee.

Thanks to Bonny Becker for the link and for saying that she's relieved that he isn't actually writing for kids (less competition that way).

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Hot NPR Action

Skimming the blogs. Minding my own business. Then, suddenly, I stumble on ShelfTalker and see that she has written the following:

Mark Peter Hughes shared some uber-cool news with the Association of Booksellers for Children's list-serv today, and I am thrilled to be passing that news along!

First let me say that Mark has (as of March 30th) quit his job to write full time. As if that wasn't brave enough, he is currently planning a seven-week road trip with this family to travel across the country visiting bookstores (mostly independents) and promote his most recent novel, Lemonade Mouth, which I've mentioned previously. Here is where we come to the biggest piece of news: National Public Radio has asked Mark to record "audio postcards" during his road trip -- "audio postcards" that will be broadcast to the 12 million regular listeners of All Things Considered!! Wow, wow, wow! How fantastic is that?!

She goes on to explain how one goes about proposing this kind of thing. It's ironic that I heard about this today since I had just learned too about Jon Scieszka's recent obit for the great Lloyd. Alexander. Apparently noses come into the conversation.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Poetry Friday: The Collected Works of Susan Ramsey

This one's going out to the ladies and lad-inclined boys out there. It's a sonnet, hitherto unpublished with an honest-to-god kidlit reference smuggled in there.

Crone's Delight

Down at the shop we call them Junior Mints.

Just a tongue-tip of sugar and eyelashes,

chocolate and cheeks and mint and muscled forearms,

broad shoulders tapering down to the hollowed

small of their backs under baggy t-shirts.

They're Junior Mints because you wouldn't want

to make a meal of them, have to hear them talk.

There's no nutrition there, no tendon, fiber

into which to sink long, yellow teeth

and hold on, bucking--

just a smear of sweetness

to idly smash against the roof of your mouth

We stare at them from under level brows

or with one eyebrow cocked ironically

all we want. We are invisible

to them, their mother's or grandmother's age.

We look them over. We are not their mothers.

You could eat a whole boxful, thinking of something else,

and never even notice what you were doing,

until you shook its hollowness, surprised.

Hansel had a delectable lower lip.

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The Shocking Truth About the Slushpile

Don't look at me. That's just the name of this article I found via Bookninja. Here's a taste:
Often, the most awful stuff was written by aspiring children's authors. It appears to be a widely-held notion that anthropomorphising pavements, natural disasters or household appliances is the way to secure a place in the children's canon. But while your grandchildren may appear to really enjoy Tommy the Tenacious Toaster, the chances of it charming anyone else are slim.
It may be preaching to the choir, but it's just so good to hear. Read the rest.

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"Are You Saying My Apples Aren't What They're Supposed To Be?"

A finely-honed, well-crafted pounding of a picture book is a beautiful thing. I scour the Internet for such items day after day but they're far more difficult to find than you might think. Thank God for Your Neighborhood Librarian then. In her post One meatball, our hero takes a good long look at the Eve Bunting title One Green Apple and she dinna no like what she see.

And while we're on this site, this librarian also has a post on hipster kidlit material that's worth a glance. This may well be my favorite new blog (new = blog I just found).

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Hey! I Know Her!

With the demise of Miss Snark, you may be suffering from literary agent-withdrawal. I don't know where you might get a permanent fix, but here's something to hook up to in the meantime. Agent Rebecca Sherman is interviewed on Cynsations and it's a particularly keen look into the profession. Required reading for anyone foggy on what exactly kidlit agents actually do.

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Silver Screen Skeletons

I'm so easily distracted. Wave a piece of shiny aluminum foil in front of my face and suddenly I can't seem to remember what my first name is anymore. Anywho, somehow I got the wrong impression about that new fire-throwing skeleton, Skulduggery Pleasant. When I heard that his movie rights just got sold, I thought that this was old news. Turns out, I was incorrect in my assumptions. Remember, Derek Landy did make a ton of money, but that was just when he signed with HarperCollins in the first place.

So I reread this old Times Online article on the topic and ran into this amusing quote:

"Derek Landy, 31, from Lusk will now follow in the lucrative footsteps of Cecilia Ahern, John Connolly and Eoin Colfer after HarperCollins signed him up to write three children’s books."

And by gum it put them on the map!

Thanks to Dark Horizons for the link.

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Boobwatch '07

We turn our eyes to Scotland now where the topic of the day is boobs. Boobs in children's books, that is. The fact of the matter is that statistically, the number of women breastfeeding their children is down since 2006 and the Highland health board has turned to kidlit for help. They've hired children's author Mairi Hedderwick to promote breastfeeding. I understand that it's to show kids how breastfeeding is natural, but I like the idea that her books are being written to convince babies that it's a good thing. And wouldn't a rah-rah-rah / drink-babies-drink kind of book make for amusing bedtime reading?

Thanks to Achockablog for the link.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Review of the Day: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (a division of Penguin). $16.99.

I'm going to be honest here. Mr. Eric Berlin is no stranger to me. In 2006-07 he served on the judging committee of the Cybil Award's Middle Grade Novel category. He has a blog of note and I often steal his postings when they're particularly choice. It would logical for you to think then that because of all this I might be more inclined to like his book than I would that of your average anonymous joe. As far as I've been able to ascertain, however, the opposite is more often true. I have a very very hard time reviewing the books of anyone I've come into contact with. Certain authors and illustrators may publish and publish until they're old and grey but if I know them personally and don't think their work is superb, I will not immediately. A book must actually be good, if I know its creator beforehand. Hence, the following.

When adults start reminiscing about the books of their youth, they can grow eloquent in their praise. Amusingly, when those same adults starts comparing said books to the ones coming out today, they are in very great danger of suddenly contracting a case of Old Fogeyism. “Why when I was a kid we had GOOD mysteries. With lots of clues and puzzles and clever dialogue. We had ‘The Westing Game’!” (slams down cane) “I’d like to see you whippersnappers come up with a book like that today. Hah!” If that sounds like you (or, rather, the 108-year-old part of you that comes to life whenever the subject of “kids today” crops up) then I have good news. It's good news for actual honest-to-goodness child readers as well, now that I think about it. First-time newbie kidlit book author Eric Berlin (a crossword creator for The New York Times) is a fan of puzzles. Such a fan, in fact, that he’s worked them into the narrative of, “The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.” You have an old-fashioned treasure hunt on the one hand, puzzles galore on the other, and some fun dialogue, memorable characters, and an action sequence or two just for spice. Hard to resist.

Twelve-year-old Winston isn't like a lot of other kids out there. He loves him his puzzles. Mind games, riddles, crosswords, you name it. So it was only logical that when his little sister Katie discovered a hidden puzzle in the old antique box he bought her, she thought he put it in there on purpose. The two siblings soon learn, though, that there's more to these three wooden pieces than immediately meets the eye as they find themselves involved in a real life treasure hunt. Glenville's richest resident Walter Fredericks died years ago, and now his puzzles have reemerged. That means that Winston and Katie need to solve some puzzles alongside an ex-cop, a librarian, two untrustworthy hooligans, and a news reporter. The only problem is, someone else wants the reward at the end of this game. Someone who's willing to do almost anything to get it. Along the way, readers can solve puzzles alongside Winston, checking their answers in the back of the book.

I liked how the novel framed the book in such a way that Winston was trying to puzzle out the real life mystery (i.e. Who broke into a local librarian's home and threatened her?) alongside the real puzzles. It's kind of a pity that Winston doesn't figure out the villains before they reveal themselves. It's always good to have a proactive protagonist. Berlin makes up for this missing piece though by then allowing his hero the chance to solve the book's central mystery instead. Still, the last line of the book would have made a little more sense if Winston exhibited crime-solving as well as puzzle-solving skills. I do love that this is a book that requires that kids get actively invested. Besides the puzzles themselves, Berlin foreshadows his action nicely with a newspaper article near the beginning of the book that mentions various robberies that later turn out to be our villain's work. And I’m pleased to say that I didn’t see the real villain of this book coming until it was too too late. I don’t know if Mr. Berlin means to lead you astray, but a guy who can fool a child and an adult reader has his elements firmly in place.

Berlin's particularly good at keeping potentially dark elements kid-friendly. At one point the local librarian has an out-and-out breakdown when Winston shows her something by accident. But how do you justify that kind of a reaction without suggesting that the victim (in this case, a librarian) has had something terrible happen to her. Berlin instead explains that it would be easy to harass someone. "Phone calls in the middle of the night, notes left in the mailbox, perhaps a stone tossed through a window. Small, nasty things that individually would mean little, but taken all together could make someone very afraid." It's a clever way to convey darker elements without compromising the appropriateness of the narrative.

Now the stats. Total number of puzzles/riddles I successfully solved in this book: 3. Not that I tried to do every single one, but of the ones that I did try, I only got three. I liked the sheer variety of puzzles in this book, to be honest with you. Some are skewed easy and some are skewed very very hard. One puzzle on page 68 is "explained" in the back of the book, but the explanation ends up being just as difficult to understand as the original question itself. Still, the thing about the book is that it has something for everyone. True puzzle fans will be adequately challenged and for those kids who don't know the answers immediately there's at least one or two they might be able to stumble through. It's funny to say, but this book awakened a kind of visceral thrill whenever I flipped to the back to read the solution to one question or another. It was as if I was reading an old Encyclopedia Brown novel, with the answers just waiting to be looked at in the back. Visceral thrills such as this are not cheap.

Berlin's careful with his details too. It used to be that a villain could kidnap a hero and you'd truly feel the kid was in dire straits. Now we live in a cell phone age. Some authors ignore the contraptions. Others work solely in the genre of historical fiction. A cell phone is a recipe for disaster when it comes to dramatic tension. That's why clever authors work them into the plots, flukes, flaws, and all. For example, at one point Winston is in a bit of a pickle and he manages to get his hands on a cell. Unfortunately, he's underground at this point and that means he's not getting any reception. Slick storytelling uses these kinds of complications to their advantage.

A librarian’s motto mimics that of a Boy Scout. We try to be prepared. If someone comes up to me and asks for books that are similar to their favorites, I need to have a complex array of smart sounding titles in mind to recommend instantaneously. And until this moment in time I was empty in a particular area. If someone, a fan of Ellen Raskin’s, “The Westing Game”, came up to me and asked for similar books, I would have been stumped. Stumped and perhaps inclined against my will to recommend “Chasing Vermeer”. Berlin’s book maybe isn’t on the same level as Raskin’s, but it’s probably more fun to read anyway. Clever kids will adore it. Mediocre kids will enjoy the treasure hunt. And those children that only like non-fiction reads will probably skip all the narration and just solve the puzzles. Nothing wrong with that. This book offers quite a lot to an array of different readers. Definitely worth a peek.

On shelves September 20th.

Notes On the Cover: I'm going to give a thumbs up to this one. You may remember that artist Adam McCauley did the new Wayside School covers, so this seems an appropriate match. He's worked in elements of the book that are consistent with the narrative. Interestingly enough, I'm having a bit of trouble with the title, and I think I've pinpointed why. The phrase "The Puzzling World of Winston Breen" is not dissimilar from "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". Which means that when I'm discussing this book in polite society, I have a tendency to refer to Winston as Walter. But that's just me.

Other Reviews By: Jen Robinson's Book Page.

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She Is: The Translator

Translation! How come we never talk about it? We're always jib-jabbering on about editors and authors and the like. When do translators of children's books get their due? How come there isn't an award for Best Translation of a given year? Yes yes, we all know about the Mildred L. Batchelder Award. But that goes to the book, not the translator. If you were to ask me to name my favorites, the only person to come to mind would have to be Anthea Bell, best known for her work with Cornelia Funke.

Fortunately for us all, Criticas Magazine recently published an interview entitled Yanitzia Canetti - The Silent Task of the Good Translator.

Wouldn't "The Good Translator" make a great film title? Sorry. I'm easily distracted.

Anywho, this is an interview with the aforementioned Ms. Canetti. She's considered quite the "get" as she has the ability to translate Seuss. No easy task, I'm sure.

The interview is a fabulous look at the challenges facing translators. This exchange particularly caught my ear:

I have received some translations and bilingual books that are awful: they have grammatical errors, strange syntax, and typos. Why do you think that is?

Unfortunately, many English-speaking publishers or editors who outsource translations cannot judge the quality of the final product. More times than not, they hire a Spanish proofreader, but they are not able to judge that person’s work either. They tend to go with someone who has a decent résumé. Some even think that if someone speaks Spanish, that’s good enough. This underestimation of a foreign language only results in terrible translations.

Give it a glance.

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My Buddy and Me?

If blogs were books, then this topic would tie-in nicely to the overarching theme of Fuse #8. Mainly, whether or not hanging out with the workers in the publishing industry is a good or bad thing. I think good. Some think bad. A similar, if unrelated, topic comes to us via Nextbook. In an article entitled On Literary Love the byline reads, "What happens when the writer you admire most becomes your friend?"

It's different for writers. If you're particularly inspired by a single individual, how odd would it feel to not only meet them but to suddenly become their buddy? Surely this happens in the kidlit world on occasion. Only with us, it becomes a little more extreme. If you read someone and were shaped by their books as a child and then became their pal, how would that affect your writing as a whole? I wish I could pull out a piece talking about just that, but nothing comes immediately to mind. Anyone know of a story that runs along these lines?

Thanks to Shaken and Stirred for the link.

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I Spy With My Little Eye, Something That Rhymes with Vaughnfest

I don't suppose that this sort of thing is limited to librarians, but certainly members of my profession would take an interest in the prizes. DK Publishing is riding the publicity machine via a contest. Whaddaya win?
One grand prize winner will receive 100 Eyewitness books* of their choosing!
(*based on availability)

Five Runners-Up will receive a set of the four new Eyewitness titles, plus a set of the eight re-launched backlist titles!

25 Third Place winners will receive a set of the four new Eyewitness titles!
Eyewitness has its charms. Nobody in their right mind would ever use it as a reliable reference text, but for those kids who bat their long lashes at you and plead for something ANYTHING on one topic or another, they tend to do very well. Go wild, pretty kitties.

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Penguins Skim Across the Pond

I showed a patron yesterday a copy of Mr. Popper's Penguins for the very first time. She was unfamiliar with the title, having never heard of it before. To sweeten the deal I told her that penguins were very "in" right now. You've your Happy Feet. Your March of the Penguins (not to be confused with March of the Emperor, of course). And now Silo and Roy, of And Tango Makes Three fame, are appearing on English bookseller's shelves for the very first time. The Guardian has the skinny in their piece, March of the penguin protesters.

Oh. And Melvin Burgess is quoted. Because he... gets banned a lot? No idea.

Thanks to Big A little a for the link.

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Beckoning You Towards the Becker Man


How talented an Art Director is Chad Beckerman anyway?

Check out some of the covers he's worked on. Puh-retty amazing.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Maternal Feelings and my Poor Little Maggot

Colleen Mondor and I don't intersect very often in the blogosphere. She dwells on adult and YA topics. I stick to kidlit with the occasional YA aside if I'm feeling distractable. But when it comes to insightful analysis from a cool clever head, there are few places better to head towards than Chasing Ray. Colleen recently wrote out a rather beautiful piece entitled A Question About the Big Picture which takes in hand the recent kerfuffle surrounding the notion of blog reviews vs. print reviews. The focus of the article is a Critical Mass entry that seemingly came out of the blue by a less than wholly talented critic. I read Critical Mass when I've a chance but I missed this particular smackeral of tripe when it aired. Take a glance at Ms. Mondor's piece if you've a chance to do so. One of the finest pieces of writing I've seen in quite a while.

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Little Women: Now With Guns!

So I'm following a lovely little website located via Kids Lit that was created to accompany the upcoming PBS documentary on Louisa May Alcott's life. It's called Louisa May Alcott: The Real Woman Who Wrote Little Women. The site is beautifully done. There's a Timeline, great Links, a portion on Ms. Alcott's life, and so much more.

I'm searching through the Gallery of images, when I come to an odd link. In the lower right-hand corner is an odd little Anime picture. The caption reads, "March sisters as superhero anime stars."

Um. Come again?

Oh, it is true. So horribly wrongly true. And in an interesting twist, Beth is completely done away with. I guess it wouldn't be any fun to watch the show if you expected her to die each and every week.

That said: Whaaaaaa? What odd times we live in. What odd times indeed.

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Bing Bunny and the Shrunken Head

Ladies and gentlemen I assure you that no worthy news story passes before my eyes without a thorough, rigorous process of testing for quality and human interest. We are a classy operation here at A Fuse #8 Production. Only the best will do.

And thus it was that I learned that children's author and artist Ted Dewan had offered his head to be shrunken and donated to an Oxford museum. I think the byline says it all:
An artist has offered to donate his own head to an Oxford museum - if a collection of shrunken heads has to be returned to South America.
Unimpressed? Would you be heartened to know that Mr. Dewan has already created his own mock-shrunken head that approximates what he thinks he'd look like?

All that aside, I had to check up on the man's credentials. You can bet that if Lane Smith or Jon Scieszka went about offering their heads for shrinking it would stir up a bit of interest, no? So how much of a children's author/illustrator is this guy? Well, here's his website for a start. It finally led me to a book series that made me go, "Oooooh! THAT is how I know the fellow!" He can leap from Bing Bunny to donating his soon-to-be teeny tiny cranium. That's called "range", chickens. And who's got some? That guy.

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Didn't See That One Coming

I take back what I said. When I learned that Al Roker had paired with Scholastic Books to bring us his new bright n' shiny summer reading thingy (I think he went and called it Al's Book Club) I got all snarky and started trying to predict what books he'd do. Needless to say, and I don't think this was much of a stretch, I said he'd do all Scholastic titles. And certainly book #1 was Hugo Cabret, just as I thought. Now they've announced book #2 though, and my pet theory has taken a dive head-first out the nearest window.
The second book for Al’s Book Club for Kids is Rick Riordan’s book, “The Lightning Thief.” This is the first book in his “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. The main character is a 12-year-old dyslexic boy who discovers that he is the modern-day son of a Greek god. For the series, Riordan draws upon his experience teaching kids Greek mythology. “The Lightning Thief,” chosen as an American Library Association Notable Book, was optioned for a feature film to Twentieth Century Fox.
Well, you can just knock me over with a feather then. That's not a Scholastic title! That's Miramax's baby. I can attest that it is also a great bookgroup book. I did it with my homeschooler group a month or two ago. It went over like gangbusters too.

So let's do a quick search here. If this announcement came out on May 18th then how many holds are on The Lightning Thief in the New York Public Library System? Survey says: 9. And five of those are for the large print edition. Perhaps Al is not the mover and shaker I supposed him to be. I remain very impressed that his Book Club is doing more than Scholastic titles, though. Very impressed indeed.

Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

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There Is Nothing Like a Dame - Off Topic Posting of the Day

You want to know why so many blogs link to online quizzes? It's a space filler. Oh sure, I could write a review of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. OR I could find out what kind of classic dame I am. The sad fact? There's no contest as apparently I am a ...

Rosalind Russell

You scored 9% grit, 71% wit, 23% flair, and 2% class!

You are one wise-cracking lady, always quick with a clever remark and easily able to keep up with the quips and puns that come along with the nutty situations you find yourself in. You're usually able to talk your way out of any jam, and even if you can't, you at least make it more interesting with your biting wit. You can match the smartest guy around line for line, and you've got an open mind that allows you to get what you want, even if you don't recognize it at first. Your leading men include Cary Grant and Clark Gable, men who can keep up with you.

Find out what kind of classic leading man you'd make by taking the
Classic Leading Man Test.

Wow. 2% class. That sheds some light on my inexplicable love of the word "yowse" and "yowza!". This quiz was thanks to Shaken & Stirred who apparently doesn't want me to get any work done. Unfortunately, just when I thought I was in the free and clear, the How Rare Is Your Personality? via Becky's Book Reviews cropped up on my horizon.

Your Personality is Very Rare (INFP)

Your personality type is dreamy, romantic, elegant, and expressive.

Only about 5% of all people have your personality, including 6% of all women and 4% of all men
You are Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving.

I love it when two quizzes contradict one another so perfectly.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Review of the Day: Numero Uno

Numero Uno by Alex Dorros and Arthur Dorros. Illustrated by Susan Guevara. Abrams Books for Young Readers. $16.95.

You know what instantly sounds like an awful idea for a picture book? A father-son writing team. Even worse, a father-son writing team where the son wrote a book when he was twelve and then the dad signed on later and got it made. Sounds icky-sticky sweet without any possible redeeming qualities, doesn’t it? And your mind probably wouldn’t be changed too much if you knew that the author in question was Arthur Dorros of “Abuela” fame either. Even good authors of picture books have been known to be suckered into poor writing decisions at the hands of their darling beloved offspring. But then, what if I told you that the illustrator was Susan Guevara? Which is to say The Great Susan Guevara? The woman who brought Gary Soto’s “Chato” books so swimmingly to life? Certainly you’d be swayed neither way when I told you that the book, “Numero Uno” was a fable, but then you might actually get a chance to pick up and read the book. And in doing so your skepticism would just melt out of your ears, I assure you. Dorros and Son (as they shall hitherto be known) make a pretty good team. Add in a magnificent illustrator and a solid storyline and what once felt like an awful idea for a picture book turns into a fairly swell idea instead.

In a small village in Mexico lived two men of monumental ego. On the one hand was Hercules. He thought himself a pretty primo guy due to his manly physical prowess. On the other hand there was Socrates. He’s scoffed at the notion of muscles, placing his trust entirely in the realm of the cranium. As it happened, Hercules was in the construction business and Socrates the architectural side. So when a bridge needed to be built across the local river, both fellows felt they were of the greatest importance to the villagers. So vehemently did they fight about this that a contest was thought up by a local boy. Both men would leave the village and the people remaining would try to build the bridge without them. Whoever they missed more would be of the greatest importance to everyone. Well that’s all well and good but that means that these two rivals have to spend time together in the wilderness. Bickering all the way, they find food, warmth, and shelter with a combination of brawn and brains, never realizing how much they rely on one another. Inevitably, when they return home they’ve both been equally missed. The bridge is completed with their help and there is at least one thing everyone can agree on. They may have missed their intelligence and strength but when it comes to arguing, nobody missed Hercules and Socrates one little bit.

The writing doesn’t feel like a twelve-year-old came up with it. Obviously Dorros Sr. did some cleaning up in that particular area, leaving a tidy little story in his wake. Spanish words are worked effortlessly into the text, cropping up best where they make the most sense. There’s also enough repetition to keep the story hopping along. The old man in the village often says, “Basta!”. Socrates and Hercules rely mostly on the word, “Yo!” And I can’t help but think that this kind of repetition would make for a pretty good readaloud. Just get half of the kids in the audience to say whatever Hercules says while the other half takes the side of Socrates (the parents or teachers could take the part of the old man). Not only would that make for a more interesting reading, you’d actually get the kids actively interested in who’s going to win the contest. After all, they’re going to believe that they will either end up the winning side or the losing side, as chosen by the book.

I don’t know if I would have immediately have thought that this was a Susan Guevara book if I hadn’t been told. It’s a quieter effort on the artist’s part. Guevara’s paintings for “Numero Uno” don’t have the raw intensity of her Chato books. That’s due in part to the change of location. Instead of gritty city streets and back barrios we’re in the countryside now. According to the bookflap, Ms. Guevara has been studying plein air painting with the Canadian landscape painter Ian Roberts. “Numero Uno”, therefore, gave her a chance to try her hand at capturing hills, valleys, streams, and fields. It’s a quiet cool style that shifts perspective constantly. One moment you see Hercules and Socrates being rowed out onto the river by a clearly jaded young boy. The next we’re soaring high, just above an owl with a world of greens and blues, and yellows stretching away below us. In this particular scene we can also see several different versions of the two men on their own separate paths, trying to reach their destination before the other. Whenever they talk, words leap from their mouths. Of course, being the fellows they are, that usually consists of the “Yo!”, “No!” and “Si!”. Guevara’s is a blotchy style and won’t be to everyone’s liking. For this book, however, it matches the narrative and dialogue just fine.

The moral is nothing new and kids will guess at it long before the self-absorbed heroes do. The ending could have stood a little more oomph, but as it stands this is a lovely little book. Insofar as the human race continues to argue the brains vs. brawn question (and they will) this book will continue to have a lot of cache in the years to come. An worthy addition to any folktale section of libraries, both personal and public.

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