The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide are the most distinguished journals in the field of children’s and young adult literature and the core of our company. Founded in 1924 by Bertha Mahony to herald the best in children’s literature, more than eighty-five years later, we are still following her lead.
by Daniel Miyares; illus. by the author
Primary Schwartz & Wade/Random 40 pp. g
5/18 978-1-5247-6572-9 $17.99
Library ed. 978-1-5247-6573-6 $20.99
e-book ed. 978-1-5247-6574-3 $10.99
Boarding school (or perhaps it’s some kind of residential institution) is lonely for the solitary boy in this magical after-dark adventure. We see only one instance of his separateness from the other boys — a dining-room scene in which he eats alone — but it’s enough to establish his isolation and heartache. One extraordinary night (even the glowing full moon looms larger than life through the window), he spots an invitation leaning against the terrarium that houses his pet turtle — who seems to have left the building. Sneaking out under cover of darkness, the boy bikes through the tall school gates and across a wooded landscape to meet a giant turtle (presumably his pet magically enlarged). Astride his friend, the boy is delivered to a cave, where other animals (a goose, hare, bear, owl, and fox) have gathered for tea and some foot-stomping. It’s a boisterous jamboree, complete with the fox on banjo and the hare on harmonica. As the sun rises, the boy sneaks back into the room he shares with his roommates and regales them with the story of his nocturnal exploits. Whether or not it was all a dream is irrelevant; the boy’s telling is compelling enough. Miyares’s atmospheric illustrations at the start of the story display a muted palette, which then blooms into light and color when the boy dines and kicks up his heels with his new friends. The text — short phrases and brief dialogue — is spare but almost unnecessary, as the illustrations tell us all we need to know about the power of story to bring people together.
I decided when I was a teenager that I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. I’d always considered myself an artist, but when I was in high school I narrowed my focus. Children’s books would be my life’s work. This decision came to me, in part, because of Barbara Bader’s book American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within.
It was Nancy Elsmo, director of children’s services at the Racine (WI) Public Library, who introduced me to Barbara’s book in 1978. If memory serves, Barbara’s book was kept in the office, out of circulation, on a shelf of reference books for the staff. Mrs. Elsmo not only showed me the book, she let me take it home. Many times.
What a revelation. Barbara’s book was a big, thick, gorgeous, smart exploration and celebration of American picture books. It convinced me that children’s books were serious and substantial. They were art. Barbara’s book legitimized my career choice.
I couldn’t get enough of it. Unlike other large-format art books, which I loved, I actually read Barbara’s book. And, of course, I looked and looked and looked through it. I think it became part of me.
Barbara’s book was filled with reproductions of both illustrations I knew and loved and those I was seeing for the first time. This was where I learned about Jean Charlot — now one of my favorite artists. Although I’d recognized some of his illustrations, I hadn’t known his name nor his body of work. There was an entire chapter devoted to Jean Charlot, as there was to Crockett Johnson. I’d long admired Crockett Johnson. I’d loved his work since I was a boy and tried to copy it many times. I couldn’t believe that someone else shared my feelings so strongly.
Barbara’s book became my guide throughout the time I was preparing for my first trip to New York to search for a publisher. Looking back, it seems strange that I didn’t buy a copy of Barbara’s book, but it was too expensive for me at the time. So I checked it out of libraries where I lived if they had it, and I pored over the non-circulating copy at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Years passed before I realized that Susan Hirschman, my first editor, was the editor of Barbara’s book, too. More years passed before I met Barbara — and I was awestruck and shy.
And, then, nearly twenty years after my introduction to Barbara’s book, the story came full circle. For my thirty-fifth birthday, Susan gave me a copy of Barbara’s book. It was inscribed by Susan and by Barbara.
Maybe my life would have turned out the way it did, with or without Barbara’s book.
Dr. Seuss sketched the spiritual background of my childhood — particularly in books such as If I Ran the Circus, If I Ran the Zoo, and On Beyond Zebra! As a kid, I loved weird beasts, and each of these books featured a menagerie of goggle-eyed, fanged, tufty mammals with bizarre and hilarious habits. But really what they taught me was a lesson of the imagination: in each, a boy in a humdrum spot (a vacant lot, a dull zoo, a muddy pool) casts his imagination further and further afield, transforming his white-bread world into something dazzling, alien, and glamorous. The boy becomes a ringmaster, a world traveler, a chef, a celebrity. This, it felt to me, was what I did through “pretending,” transforming the scrap of Massachusetts forest behind my 1970s suburban house — oak suckers, white pine — into a fantasy land replete with menace and wonder. These books taught me the intoxicating lesson that anything, anywhere, can be transmogrified into the stuff of dreams, and for a lonely boy in a dull suburb, that was important.
But there are other lessons these books taught me, too. Yes, they provided a model of a certain American “go-getter” attitude — but not only are we dreamers, we are empire builders. The whole globe seemingly submits itself to the jovial young American male for use. (At the Circus McGurkus, the workers all cry, “Work us! Please work us!”) These books imagine a world where rare animals yield their young up to the boy entrepreneur gladly, smiling, to be eaten or caged. Given that the books are such pure fantasy, I think that wouldn’t have mattered so much except that, by age nine or ten, I couldn’t help but notice their national and ethnic stereotypes. In If I Ran the Zoo, for example, the inhabitants of the “African island of Yerka” had top-knots and giant nose-rings that circled their puckered lips; the monster-catchers “who all [wore] their eyes at a slant” drew on traditional Asian stereotypes. (The “Chinaman” in And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street still wore a Qing-era queue when I read the book.) At best, Seuss’s representations of the “other” were backward, provincial, and stereotyped. And this was not simply about nationality: all the apparently American visitors to these dream-zoos and vision-circuses — all the figures dressed in modern suits and trilbies in his books—were white. This was about race.
As a ten-year-old, I tried to reassure myself that it didn’t matter: after all, the white characters were “cartoons,” too. But that clearly was not a sufficient answer, though I was not yet deft or clever enough to figure out why there was a disquieting difference in how the caricatures read.
So I learned from these books not simply the lesson of the transformative power of the imagination but also the pernicious assurance that a certain kind of suburban white-male America was the only legitimate ground zero for dreams, the epicenter of human experience. The rest of the world was exotic, peripheral, and faintly ridiculous, merely by virtue of not being me. I still appreciate these Seuss books for the feelings they engendered in me of youth, imagination, and possibility — though now I am much more wary of the far-reaching havoc wrought by McGurk’s risible, rideable Organ-McOrgan-McGurkus.
But my real affection gradually shifted to the books Seuss wrote later, which seemed almost to be renunciations of those earlier fantasies of entrepreneurial control: in The Lorax the protagonist is also a young male who rides anapestic rhythms of go-getter expansion — until he depletes his bright, comic world and is left in a blasted, apocalyptic zone where nothing but the Grickle-grass grows. In Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? the narrator, an older, wiser man, tells a young dreamer about far-fetched failures; we traverse the globe only to witness landscapes of Yves Tanguy absurdism and desolation and learn melancholy lessons of limitation and need. These are the other side of the dream of expansion, and I am so glad Seuss wrote about them, too. This sadness was also a lesson I learned.
And so, from Seuss, I learned of both giddiness and melancholy — the lessons of vision and the lessons of blindness, and how, for the empire-builder, they just might be one and the same.
In a Venn diagram of people who have reached the notable age of one hundred, and of outstanding artists and illustrators, the intersecting circle would be quite small, and would include Joe Krush. Joe celebrates his centenary on May 18, 2018. Along with his wife Beth (1918-2009), he has left an indelible imprint on literature for children, having created the pictures for the American edition of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, as well as those for Virginia Sorensen’s Newbery Medal winner Miracles on Maple Hill and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown. The Krushes also collaborated with Beverly Cleary, who recently turned one-hundred-and-two, on her young adult novels Jean and Johnny, Fifteen, and Sister of the Bride. Their illustrations complement Cleary’s words in presenting portraits of girls on the verge of adulthood, learning that independence and confidence matter more than the approval of boys.
Perhaps because the Krushes did not illustrate picture books, but rather books with pictures, they may seem to play a secondary role. Yet in a recent interview in The New York Times Book Review, Brian Selznick, Caldecott Medalist (for The Invention of Hugo Cabret), cited The Borrowers as the “most influential book” he read as a child. Selznick’s affectionate tribute, including the confession that he had experienced the book as nonfiction and built furniture for the Borrowers, was a welcome reminder of the Krushes’ relevance today. They gave us the memorably detailed world of Arietty and her family, dependent on survival by appropriating objects from “human beans” and adapting them for their own scale. Children are conscious of the smallness of their own world relative to adults. The Krushes validate that sense of vulnerability, and their intricate black-and-white drawings of Arietty portray her courage and persistence through specific elements: using a huge pencil to record her thoughts in a makeshift journal, or holding a sack as she accompanies her father on her first “borrowing” expedition.
The Krushes’ other works also embody the partnership between author and illustrator in books for older readers. Jean and Johnny’s Jean Jarret becomes frustrated by her feelings of attraction for a manipulative and self-centered rich boy. The Krushes capture, not only her fifties plaid skirt and cat-eye glasses, but her facial expressions of confusion and anger as she realizes how worthless his attention is. Immigrant life in Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown is full of teeming activity, reflected in the Krushes’ busy scenes crowded with all the particulars of holiday celebrations and settlement house activities. Each sister’s carefully differentiated clothing and gestures make her stand out as an individual within these scenes.
Joe Krush served as a courtroom artist at the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War. His images of the unspeakable evil of Nazi defendants, and the persistence of prosecutors and judges, may seem distant from his later career as an illustrator for children. Yet Joe Krush’s gift for capturing character and using pictures to add dimension to a story was the same one which defined his work for children. As we congratulate him on his birthday, it would be a wonderful time to revisit his work.
Our recommended books for summer are here; may you and yours find among them choices for true free reading. For my own, I’m finishing Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed and see that there is a sequel. It’s a start. You?
Pie Is for Sharing
by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard; illus. by Jason Chin
Preschool, Primary Porter/Roaring Brook 32 pp.
5/18 978-1-62672-562-1 $17.99
This idyllic, joyously inclusive picture book takes an ordinary concept — sharing — and makes it extraordinary. A boy and his family bike to a lakeside picnic, bearing several homemade pies. Then the text begins: “Pie is for sharing.” Turning the pages, we are introduced to more shareable things, such as jump ropes and books; and things shared less tangibly, such as rhymes and time. As Ledyard’s text (simple and child-focused, with overtones of A Hole Is to Dig) continues to muse on the nature of sharing, Chin’s detailed watercolor and gouache pictures take us through the sunny day at the lake, mostly centering on the experiences of the boy and his little sister but expanding to include a host of others. Kids climb trees, build sandcastles, throw sticks for the dog; the little sister scrapes her knee and requires a hug and multiple, creatively applied bandages. (Yes, there’s humor in these tender illustrations.) Shadows lengthen, and the reader begins to realize that this picnic isn’t a random event: it’s a Fourth of July celebration. As the community gathers on blankets, ready to watch the fireworks, Chin zeroes in on the faces, and as different as they are from one another — a true diversity of races and genders and ages — they share the same rapt expression. “Many can share one light,” says the text, poignantly. “And a blanket? A breeze? The sky? These are for sharing.”
From the May/June 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.
As a former librarian and teacher, I have seen the power of books and their ability to change lives—and save lives. A book is a place to fall in love with words, the first seeds to grow into a garden of imagination. The book that changed my life was Virginia Hamilton’s
Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed. It follows a little girl named Willie Bea Mills and her large, extended family in late-1930s rural Ohio. Although it’s set during the Great Depression, instead of being a tale about overcoming economic hardship it’s about Orson Welles’s infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast and a little girl who thinks aliens have landed on her family’s homestead.
I won’t here answer the question of whether aliens did or did not visit Willie Bea, but that question in itself kicked open my childhood worldview. Aliens didn’t just visit white folks like in the movie E.T. There was a possibility that a puffy-haired black girl in the DC suburbs could also, potentially, receive a visit from them. That they didn’t discriminate. All kids could get into mischief and encounter something extraterrestrial.
This book later opened up possibilities for me as a writer. It reminded me that anything was possible for little black kids in the pages of books. It didn’t just have to be slavery, the Middle Passage, and civil rights. It could be all those important things and magic and make-believe and adventure. Hamilton planted a seed in my reader heart, one that blossomed in my writer life. Returning to this book reminds me that all kids are looking for a good story and a little magic to make sense of the big, messy, and complicated world around them. Or maybe, an alien to visit them, like my child self.
Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.
Kirby Larson. Photo: Meryl Schenker
I met Kirby Larson when she won the Scott O’Dell award for Historical Fiction for her 2014 book Dash, about a girl separated from her dog when her family is forced to move to an internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII. Code Name Courage is another home-front story set during the war, this one about a girl, Billie, who acquires a dog thanks to her brother’s service buddy, Denny, a recruit in the Marines’ code talker communication program in the Pacific theater.
Roger Sutton: What gave you the idea for your Dogs of World War II series?
Kirby Larson: I wish I could tell you I had a little crystal ball and saw that this would make a wonderful series, but really what happened was the first book that I wrote, Dash, was the second book published. My editor, Lisa Sandell, had asked me if I had another idea because they would like to do that book first — the book that wasn’t written.
RS: Oh, that’s helpful!
KL: I know! But you never say no. You always say yes, I have an idea. The dog plays such a big role in Dash, I thought, okay, I wonder if there are other dog stories out there. As I did the research, I learned about the organization called Dogs for Defense, which recruited family pets — 25,000 of them — for the war effort. That became Duke. When those two books were out there, kids just ate them up. It became clear that there was an opportunity to do more. By that time I had four or five more ideas, and of those, my editor decided on the one that would become Liberty and on my idea for honoring the Navajo code talkers, which became Code Word Courage. I was so drawn to the code talker story because these were men who had once been punished for speaking the language that turned the tide in the Pacific. The Navajo young men had been so mistreated by our government, and yet they enlisted in droves—that was, to me, an amazing story of sacrifice. My books are not so much about war (though they are set during WWII) as they are about people who not only survive tough times, but find ways to thrive.
RS: Did you feel nervous about taking the topic of the code talkers on?
KL: Yes. But, like with all my books, I did a tremendous amount of research. I was able to find a Navajo code talker — Dr. Roy O. Hawthorne — who was ninety-one years old at the time we began our conversation, and he was very supportive and encouraging. He was helping me with it, but then his health became an issue, so I was connected with the son of another code talker. That man’s name was Michael Smith, and he read the manuscript for me and helped me be sensitive and aware of what I was writing about outside my own culture. So yes, I was nervous, but my heart was so touched by this story. Chester Nez’s book Code Talker is probably the best-known adult book, but there aren’t many stories told from the perspectives of the code talkers themselves for younger readers. I felt that was important. I did a lot of research and had a lot of knowledge about the World War II era. With the help of Dr. Hawthorne, Michael, and some other resources, I did move ahead.
RS: World War II was big in pop culture when I was a kid, because that was my parents’ generation. When we played war in the early 1960s, we all went back to World War II for our scenarios. We were fascinated with it. How do children today, from your experience, think about that war? Is it still a big deal to them?
KL: If you ask any elementary school librarian today, World War II is huge with young readers. There are so many facets to the story — librarians cannot keep books about that topic on the shelves.
RS: That was true when I was a librarian twenty-five years ago.
KL: During WWII, young people were actually involved in the war effort, so today’s kids can really see what yesterday’s kids were doing.
RS: And because it was a world war, I think that kids — regardless of their ethnic background, political affinity, religion, nationality — find different ways into it.
KL: That’s very true.
RS: And dogs. When I started reading Code Word Courage, and we meet Bear for the first time, and he’s quivering and injured, I’m like, oh, no, I can’t take it. What is it about dogs in distress that immediately grips us?
KL: Dogs are very loyal and will stand by us, even if they have been treated badly. In stories, you can deal with a lot of issues through animals — issues that might be very difficult for a child reader to look at straight on, but seen through a dog’s experience, somehow because it’s not right in front of them, it’s a little less frightening, an easier way into that story.
RS: Billie has this dog with her to help her through things, and as a reader you can feel like that dog is with you too. Is that relationship drawn from your own experience? Are you a dog person?
KL: I have a dog. I am owned by a dog. I’m a new dog person. Dogs are just so forgiving of us, and they’re always there. Cats are a little more independent.
RS: My dog is very quiet and judgy.
RS: Yeah. His name is Brownie, but we call him Brownstone, because there’s just no affect. He is affectionate physically, but feed him, don’t feed him, he stares at you the same way. He does love to run. He gets outside, and he’s like, let me go in a big circle. That’s when we know he’s happy.
KL: Having a dog in your life changes you. That’s one reason kids get hooked into this kind of story. Even if they aren’t allowed to have a pet themselves, they feel that having such a creature in their home could do something different for them.
RS: And Bear certainly does something different in his moment of magical realism. Is that something you’ve tried before?
KL: Yes and no. I hint at it in the Audacity Jones series. She has a “slightly magical” cat, is how I describe Miniver. But actually the inspiration for that moment — not to have a spoiler in the interview — as part of my research, I read every single narrative written by a code talker that I could get my hands on. One man, looking back, told about a vision he’d had of a beautiful young woman wearing a necklace of shells, and when he woke up, he had a shell in his hand. It gave me such a chill. I wasn’t going to appropriate that particular story, but I thought there was room in telling this story for something in that vein. That’s where Bear’s particular moment comes from.
RS: That moment is so grounded in realism that you could say it’s a dream, if you wanted to. The plot doesn’t turn on this magic, which could have gotten you in artistic trouble. If that was the only way to resolve the story in an otherwise realistic novel, I think you’d have a problem, but I don’t think that’s the way it works here.
KL: I’m going to hold onto that lovely compliment. Thank you, Roger.
RS: One of the great things about this book is that you throw so much at your heroine, but not in an overbearing way. She has a lot of things she’s trying to deal with. She’s got this father, she wants to know where he is. She periodically loses her dog, she wants to know where he is. She has an older brother off in the war in the Pacific. She has troubles at school with her best friend. It really bubbles along quite nicely. But when you come to the end of the book, you find some of her wishes granted and some of them not. How do you decide how much to give your main character, in terms of what she wants?
KL: That’s a terrific question. If you read stories of kids on the home front from that time period, many of them had similar experiences to Billie, in terms of a loved one being overseas—think about how many families were impacted by that. This is on the tail end of the Depression. I was just at the Tenement Museum in New York and heard stories of men leaving their families because the stress of trying to provide for them when there weren’t jobs available was too much. Think about being in that fifth- or sixth-grade age period, when kids are trying to figure out who they really are. As a girl, I remember the girls who wanted to be “girly” and others who didn’t. Billie is impacted by larger events in the world, as well as smaller but equally powerful events that are part of growing up. I think kids are essentially very resilient and like to read about other children who are figuring things out, solving problems—and that might help them figure out things for their own lives.
RS: So this is the last of your dog books?
KL: I won’t say it’s the last of the dog books, but I’ve written six books about World War II, and I felt ready to move on to a different time period. And I was also ready to explore a slightly older character. So with the book I’m working on now, I’m back to a character who is more the age of Hattie in Hattie Big Sky. You can do more with an older character. I love writing middle grade, but I was ready to try something a little different.
A Round of Robins
by Katie Hesterman; illus. by Sergio Ruzzier
Primary Paulsen/Penguin 40 pp. g
3/18 978-0-399-54778-2 $16.99
Sixteen poems follow a pair of robin parents as they raise not one but two sets of baby robins in this factual and funny volume. The story begins with “Defender Dad” telling three annoyed-looking birds on the ground to “Back away, / ’Cause Mom and I are here to stay!” It continues with “Home Sweet Home”: “Mama is an architect; / With skill and patience, she’ll collect / Bits of twig, string, wool, and hair / To form a tiny, twiney lair.” Hesterman’s poems are brief, informative, highly entertaining, and very easy to read, with little jokes but also using correct terminology, such as calling the group of four eggs in “EGGcessories” a clutch. Ruzzier’s personality-filled and amusing pen-and-ink and watercolor pictures build on the signature orange of a robin’s breast, extending that color to tree limbs and hills; his robins feature correct bird anatomy but add ways of standing and angling their wings that are comically reminiscent of humans. Individual poems stand alone, but the book is also short and lively enough for a full read-through. Sharp-eyed kids at story times may notice that the eggs from the opening endpapers are hatching on the closing ones.
From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.