Week in Review, March 19th-23rd



Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Remembering Russell Freedman

Brian Selznick & David Serlin Talk with Roger

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

Out of the Box:

Family Reading: Marching for their lives

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Find us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to keep up-to-date!

My boss Betsy



With Betsy at the Eric Carle Museum a few years ago.

As a student, I only knew Betsy Hearne from her occasional swanning in to talk to Zena about her dissertation in progress, a history and analysis of “Beauty and the Beast,” from Cupid and Psyche to Robin McKinley*. Betsy was then children’s book editor of Booklist, where she had been reviewing since 1968. But everyone knew she was the Chosenest One of All, and that Zena expected Betsy to take over her professorship and her beloved BCCB when Zena was compelled to retire in 1985 (mandatory retirement being still legal in those days).

The relationship between Zena and Betsy would eventually become fraught–given circumstances and the strong personalities, how could it not?–but back in the early 80s, Betsy could do no wrong and was constantly held up by Zena as a role model for the rest of us. It was like having an older sister who did everything better than you did. While Zena regularly knocked Horn Book, SLJ, and Kirkus, Booklist she respected, because Betsy, along with Barbara Elleman, was running the children’s side of things. And Betsy returned the respect and affection, initiating the funding for the Zena Sutherland Lecture (May 4 this year, Rita Williams-Garcia, Chicago Public Library) with a festschrift for Zena, Celebrating Children’s Books, co-edited by Betsy and fellow Zena-student Marilyn Kaye and published in 1981 by Lothrop, #bringitback.

So Betsy took over in 1985, with Zena still very much on the scene as the now associate editor of BCCB, member of the Advisory Committee, and chair of the Scott O’Dell Award. Betsy hired me in 1988 and we worked together for the next eight years. I  I have never had a better boss nor known a more generous and expert reviewer. Most reviewers excel (when they excel) at one or two things: they are practical, or maybe they’re deep; they write smartly about YA novels or poetry; they know a lot about dinosaurs, or they have the rare gift of writing well about pictures. Betsy could do all of it, at whatever length a book and the journal required, and she is the most respectful observer of deadlines I know. And respectful, always, of the books she reviewed. Writing a nasty review is easy; it’s much tougher to praise a book without boring your reader into a coma by the use of words like charming, beautiful, and interesting, the three words Betsy cautioned her students would be “allowed on a one-time basis only.” Betsy’s understanding of the way books work is informed by her understanding of the way books are written–I don’t know a person with greater empathy for the writer’s heart.

Betsy was the first to make me aware of the generations of women (mostly) who created and maintained the ideals of children’s literature and youth librarianship. She was very conscious of her own mentors–Zena, Edna Vanek, Sally Fenwick–and of the work countless women did and do to make the field flourish. We even kept a special shelf of their handbooks and memoirs in the BCCB office. We called it the Foremothers Collection.

What I miss most about working with Betsy is the ride home from Hyde Park to the North Side she gave me at the end of the day. Our conversations rambled among books, work gossip, library school drama (the GLS closed while we both were working there), love, and family. If you’ve ever been blessed with as good enough a listener as Betsy, you have been blessed indeed.



*Once, after Betsy had explained to us how some contemporary novel related to B&B (as we had learned to call it), my coworker (and now BCCB editor) Deborah Stevenson turned to me and whispered, “everything goes back to Beauty and the Beast.” To hear Betsy tell it, that is true; to hear Betsy tell it is also to be convinced.

My friend Hazel



I met Hazel Rochman when I was Zena’s assistant and Hazel was a member of her Advisory Committee for The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: Hazel, Isabel McCaul, Yolanda Federici, Ellin Greene, and Bob Strang. Every Wednesday afternoon this gang would come over and read the freaking twenty-something reviews Zena had written that week and look over the attached book. Each advisor would initial agreement with the review and assigned rating–R, Ad, M, NR. There were few debates but plenty of talk–I remember the time Zena and Isabel were competing over which of them had been meaner to, in both their cases, a (deserving) child earlier that day.

A few years later Hazel and I were on YALSA’s (then YASD’s) Best Books for Young Adults committee along with great people like Betty Carter and Mike Printz. Any book committee veteran reading this knows lifelong friendships grow out of those arguments, and such am I lucky to have with Hazel. I know no one who is a fiercer defendant of the value of reading to life and culture. (She says her husband is fiercer, and watching Hazel and Hymie argue, nay, shout at one another about some book or idea has been one of my joys.*) She became known in the profession, first through an SLJ article and then a book published by ALA, for “booktalking the classics.” This meant assembling a group of books–YA and adult, old and new, fiction and nonfiction–and presenting them in an informal address to teenagers, something she did at her job at the Lab School’s high school library. In demonstrations of this technique, Hazel’s charisma would twinkle, her South African accent definitely working in her favor, and she would speak so well about the virtues of a given book that you wanted to read it immediately. At Booklist, where she soon went full-time as a YA editor, her reviews did the same thing (when she wanted them to). I hear there’s a rubber stamp still someplace in that office that prints the words Hazel liked it on any review copy, because that was all the argument you were ever going to need.

Hazel’s influence on children’s and YA book reviewing is immense, most notably via a Booklist editorial she wrote about the necessity for nonfiction authors to cite their sources. “That damned Hazel Rochman,” Milton Meltzer opined, but everybody did it and still does. (You can read the recently departed and deeply missed Russell Freedman politely grousing about it here.) YA reviewing then was different. YA books were aimed younger, had at least nominally a social conscience (until teen romances became a thing again), and they were fewer and shorter.  Hazel’s specialities included books about South Africa**, and she consistently reminded herself and her readers that expertise in an area is terrific, sure, but it should also remind us of how much we are missing when we review a book about a topic (a culture, notably) with which we have less familiarity. The discussions Hazel and I have had about the politics and ethics of reviewing children’s books have been some of the most fun I have ever had, and I learned a lot. In her reviewing, Hazel was always challenging herself as much as the book and her readers. The whole lot of us are better for her work.


*Their best argument is a lifelong one. Each claims that, as a child, he or she had been out in the bush, and a giraffe poked its head into the car. Each also claims that it only happened to him or her, and that he or she had told the other the story. (Phew. Where’s a good plural pronoun when you need one?)

**She and Hymie hid Nelson Mandela for a time, how badass is that?

Love, Simon movie review



One of my most anticipated films of 2018 is finally out in theaters! Love, Simon (Fox, March 2018; PG-13), based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 YA novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, is a coming-of-age story about sixteen-year-old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) who has a huge secret: he’s gay. His life is turned upside down when classmate Martin Addison (Logan Miller) blackmails Simon into convincing his best friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp) to go out with Martin. If not, Martin will out Simon using personal emails between Simon and the mysterious Blue, another closeted teenage boy Simon falls in love with.

I was fortunate enough to attend an advance screening and went in with few expectations (other than hoping it was amazing). Becky Albertalli had been tweeting updates throughout the film’s production, expressing her love for the script; though new scenes and characters had been added, it still remained faithful to the book. This was reassuring. But Simon and Blue’s relationship in the book was one that I loved so much (OTP!), I hoped the film would portray them well. I was also nervous about getting emotional, and I went prepared with tissues.

This adaptation, in my opinion, was sheer perfection. It’s the coming-out story that needs to be told because everyone deserves a great love story. (And it’s just as important for those who identify as heterosexual to see the movie because they will have a better understanding of what a family member, a friend, a classmate, an acquaintance may have experienced.) More than that, it’s a story about identity and embracing who you are. Teens and younger kids alike need this movie — and hopefully more like it — featuring characters going through a similar experience that they are. I can’t speak from experience, but it’s clear from both the book and the movie what a burden it is to keep such a huge part of who you are under wraps. You feel scared and alone; uncertain whether you’ll be accepted by those you love or by the rest of the world. Nick Robinson’s performance, plus those by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents, conveyed these emotions so well.

It showed as I witnessed the audience’s reaction to the film. There was a huge response: they laughed at Ethan’s (Clark Moore) one-liners, empathized with Simon, booed Martin, praised no-nonsense drama teacher Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell), and cheered enthusiastically for Simon’s happy ending. It was obvious from people’s reaction to the revelation of Blue’s identity that most of them had not read the book, but that was okay. To me, it meant screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker did their job exceptionally well and that the film can stand on its own. Director Greg Berlanti, along with the entire cast and crew, treated the story with the respect it deserved. Of course I will always say “Read the book first” because it’s an experience all its own, but the movie versions of Simon and Blue won their way into my heart alongside their book counterparts.

Marching for their lives



Art by Friend of The Horn Book Innosanto Nagara.

This Saturday, March 24th, will see many communities around the world participating in youth-led March for Our Lives protest demonstrations. Here is the information about our local Boston March.

The topics of guns, gun safety, and especially school shootings can be difficult to broach. Here are a selection of books that could help get these vital conversations going. Reviews are from The Horn Book Guide Online and were written at the time of each book’s publication. See also Shelly Shaffer’s 2016 YA Wednesday blog post “Humanizing and Understanding School Shootings: How YA School Shooting Literature Provides Multiple Insights“; find more from The Horn Book here.

Older Fiction

Brown, Jennifer Hate List
408 pp. Little 2009. Trade ISBN 978-0-316-04144-7

Bullied by their classmates, outcasts Valerie and Nick compile a “hate list.” To Valerie’s horror, the list serves as a roster for Nick’s school shooting spree. Set post-massacre and powered by flashbacks, the story intimately explores Valerie’s struggle to cope with the tragedy, including coming to terms with her complicated feelings for Nick and understanding her role in the violence.

Cart, Michael Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns
355 pp. HarperTeen 2015. Trade ISBN 978-0-06-232735-2

Sixteen acclaimed authors explore how teenagers interact with guns in this provocative anthology of essays and short fiction. Marc Aronson’s strong preface establishes a historical and social context of gun use in America; while the pieces that follow rarely feel moralistic, all turn a clear and critical eye toward the dangerous connections between guns, toxic masculinity, and power.

Deuker, Carl Gutless
329 pp. Houghton 2016. Trade ISBN 978-0-544-64961-3

High school football player Brock Ripley understands the perks of being in the circle of quarterback (and vicious bully) Hunter Gates. But Brock’s new friend Richie Fang is Hunter’s victim. Does Brock have the guts to stand up for a friend? Sports action plays second string to Deuker’s gritty depiction of the dark side of high school athletics and gun violence.

Garden, Nancy Endgame
287 pp. Harcourt 2006. Trade ISBN 0-15-205416-2

A victim of relentless bullying, Gray slowly loses perspective and compassion — and one day he brings a gun to school. His first-person narrative is framed as a post-arraignment interview, itself sandwiched between third-person glimpses of Gray’s life in jail, heightening the sense that by the end of Gray’s story, there’s barely enough of him left to tell it.

Hutchinson, Shaun David Violent Ends
344 pp. Simon Pulse 2015. Trade ISBN 978-1-4814-3745-5 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-3747-9

A boy walks into his school with a gun and fires, killing and injuring schoolmates. The stories in this novel/anthology hybrid–each written by a different YA author–tackle the events leading up to the tragedy from different perspectives. The focus on tangential connections leaves readers with a sum greater than its parts and room left for them to fill in gaps.

Mazer, Harry Twelve Shots: Outstanding Short Stories About Guns
229 pp. Delacorte 1997. Trade ISBN 0-385-32238-0 1997

This generally strong collection of original stories offers variety in both content and style, from Walter Dean Myers’s chilling tale of a messenger boy’s paranoid rage to Richard Peck’s comical “Shotgun Cheatham’s Last Night above Ground.” Two stories involving World War II — Mazer’s remembrance of a buddy killed in Europe and Rob Thomas’s entry about a crusty veteran —have an especially powerful impact.

Myers, Walter Dean Shooter
225 pp. HarperCollins/Amistad 2004. Trade ISBN 0-06-029519-8 Library binding ISBN 0-06-029520-1

Myers’s novel takes the form of a “Threat Analysis Report” following a high school shooting and consists of newspaper articles, police and medical examiner’s reports, the journal of the shooter, and a series of interviews with his friends and alleged co-conspirators. This exacting look at the many possible players and causes involved in the horrific events makes for a compelling story.

Nijkamp, Marieke This Is Where It Ends
284 pp. Sourcebooks/Fire 2016. Trade ISBN 978-1-4926-2246-8

At Alabama’s Opportunity High, four students give their accounts of a harrowing fifty-four minutes as former student Tyler opens fire on the morning assembly. With narration firmly rooted in the moment and smooth transitions in and out of flashbacks, each first-person account reveals an intricate web of betrayal and pain that connects the four to Tyler and to the horror he has unleashed.



Blumenthal, Karen Tommy: The Gun That Changed America
232 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. Trade ISBN 978-1-62672-084-8

Middle school, high school. This biography of a gun traces the Thompson submachine gun (a.k.a. the Tommy) from its 1918 invention — by former Army officer John Thompson as a potential military weapon — to its use by crooks and bootleggers terrorizing people throughout the next two decades. With thorough research and impeccable documentation, Blumenthal also examines the history of American gun laws, showing the complexity of gun culture. Bib., ind.

Hand, Carol Gun Control and the Second Amendment
112 pp. ABDO/Essential Library 2017. Library binding ISBN 978-1-68078-395-7 Ebook ISBN 978-1-68079-748-0

Middle school, high school. Special Reports series. This volume offers a balanced exploration of gun control and the Second Amendment, examining the topic’s past and current history, outlining the issues involved, and discussing possible solutions. Statistical data is included when relevant (though much of the information will be quickly dated); photographs and sidebars (many with tiny type) extend the text. Reading list. Bib., glos., ind.

Harrison, Geoffrey C. and Scott, Thomas F. Lethal Weapons
48 pp. Norwood 2013. Library binding ISBN 978-1-59953-592-0

Gr. 4–6, middle school. Great Debates series. This series entry explores questions surrounding gun control and the Second Amendment through the lens of history. The material is organized chronologically, and the debate format provides two sides to each topic. Sidebars include relevant quotes and further questions for consideration. The writing is serviceable, and the format, which includes stock and archival photos, is approachable. Reading list. Glos., ind.

Hasday, Judy L. Forty-Nine Minutes of Madness: The Columbine High School Shooting
48 pp. Enslow 2012. Library binding ISBN 978-0-7660-4013-7

Gr. 4–6, middle school. Disasters — People in Peril series. Illustrated with effective stock photos, this book offers an overview of the Columbine High School shooting tragedy that shattered America’s sense of security in the 1990s. Relying heavily on popular magazine articles and news websites, the author recounts the immediate mayhem, touches on the aftermath, and presents biographical sketches of the perpetrators, concluding with gun control arguments. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.

Kevin, Brian Gun Rights & Responsibilities
32 pp. ABDO 2012. Library binding ISBN 978-1-61783-315-1

Gr. 4–6, middle school. Gun Education and Safety series. This is a brief introduction to constitutional and legal aspects of gun ownership and use. Two-page spreads on the 1934 National Firearms Act taxing the sale of guns, the 1968 Gun Control Act limiting gun sales, and the 1993 Brady Law instituting a background check for buyers provide historical background to this simplified, even-handed discussion. Captioned photos help break up the text. Glos., ind.

Nakaya, Andrea C. Thinking Critically: Gun Control and Violence
80 pp. ReferencePoint 2013. Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-606-9

Middle school, high school. Thinking Critically series. Diagrams and sidebars support this well-organized model for classroom discourse. The first chapter introduces the debate surrounding gun control; subsequent chapters present pro and con responses to four key questions. Despite lots of graphic elements, the text-heavy pages may be somewhat off-putting. Two pages of facts and a list of related organizations are appended. Reading list, websites. Ind.

Brian Selznick & David Serlin Talk with Roger



Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.

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Brian Selznick. Photo: Slimane Lalami.

At only 192 pages, Baby Monkey, Private Eye is modest by Brian Selznick’s standards, but probably the biggest beginning-reader book you’ve ever seen. Written with his husband David Serlin, Baby Monkey, Private Eye is yet another challenge by Selznick to the limitations of genre.

Roger Sutton: Brian, this is a very young book for you. And, of course, David, it’s a very young book for you, as it is the first time you’ve written for children. I’m wondering where it started?

BS: Early on in our relationship, twenty years ago or so, I noticed that when David is tired, he looks very much like a baby monkey. For a long time we’ve had a joke about it, and at some point we started talking about what types of jobs would be funniest for a baby monkey to have. We settled on private eye. After I finished The Marvels, I was talking to Tracy Mack, my editor at Scholastic, and she asked what I wanted to do next. I already had an idea for one of my “big books,” as David says — another six-hundred-page illustrated novel. Tracy asked, “Do you maybe have anything that’s a little shorter or for younger kids? Something a little different?” It takes Tracy and me around three years to make these big books, and I thought to myself, “Tracy wants a bit of a break.” Again, as a joke — because I didn’t have any other ideas — I said, “Well, David and I have this little character we call Baby Monkey, Private Eye…” Her eyes lit up, and she said, “I want that book.”

DS: We thought it would be funny if Baby Monkey was a genius at solving crimes, but there were certain things he just did not know how to do. He would solve a jewel heist, but he could barely climb a wall. Or he was able to crack a code, but he didn’t know how to get from the ground into a tree. The through line that seemed to make us laugh the most was the idea that he could solve any crime, but he had a hard time putting on his pants.

RS: Little kids are going to adore that. The mysteries, too, in this book are young. There’s no detection. He sort of looks at the footprints, and aha!, there it is. There’s the zebra all trussed up.

DS: Luckily, all the criminals happen to be right outside his office. We wanted to focus more on the idea that he just can’t get his pants on. For him, the solving of the crimes was super-easy.

BS: And then we started thinking about beginning readers and repetition. Kids can sound out a word the first time, and by the second, third, fourth time, they know what the word is and feel like they’re mastering the reading. This is an almost-two-hundred-page beginning reader with very few words! And we’re trying to tell the story with the pictures as well, in a way that grows out of some of the stuff I’ve been doing with The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck and The Marvels. The first three stories in Baby Monkey have the exact same repetition; then we break the pattern with the fourth story, and wrap it up with the fifth story. The book feels like it has a satisfying arc.

David Serlin.

RS: It almost feels sculptural to me. There’s so much repetition, not just in the language, but in the events. Kids can predict most things before they turn the page. It’s like watching a pattern or a dance.

DS: Seeing those repeated patterns makes us laugh, but it also offers a comfortable familiarity. If that can be translated into the experience of reading, then it’s a great accomplishment for a kid. The book is pleasurable, but at the same time it has a certain — I don’t want to say didactic — a quality of teaching kids something about the process of reading and experiencing art.

BS: Using repetition also allowed us to incorporate the element of surprise in big and little ways. You know by the second or third story that Baby Monkey is going to have another snack, but you don’t know what the snack is going to be. And there’s the surprise of the pattern breaking, which means you recognized there was a pattern in the first place.

RS: And Baby Monkey gets better at putting his pants on.

BS: Practice makes perfect.

DS: The first time it takes about eight pages, and by the end it takes only about four.

BS: David posed for every single one of the characters in the book, so if you ever need any blackmail material, I have pictures of him trying to put on his pants in all of those positions. He’s also the opera singer, the pizza chef, the astronaut…

DS: The clown.

BS: And Mother Monkey.

RS: To me, Else Minarik and Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear is all over Baby Monkey, Private Eye. Am I wrong?

BS: No. Little Bear is a very big influence. Maurice Sendak has been a huge influence on all of my books. Every children’s book that was made after Where the Wild Things Are owes a debt of gratitude to it. The mother at the end of Baby Monkey is very consciously designed after the mother in Little Bear. I felt like I had no choice but to go to Little Bear and hold hands with Maurice across time with the mother.

RS: For Little Bear — the first I Can Read book — Ursula Nordstrom thought it was important that a beginning reader had chapters, that it should be as much like a “real” book as possible. And all the stuff that you included at the end—notes, bibliography, index—adds to this idea.

DS: One of my frames of reference was the scholarly books that I do in my professional life. [David is an associate professor of communication and science studies at UC San Diego.] Baby Monkey is reading a book in each of the five scenarios — books like Famous Babies I Have Known and Famous Pizza Crimes — and at some point we said, “Let’s make a bibliography.” From there it was like, well, if we’re going to have a bibliography, then we should have an index.

BS: I thought David’s idea to have academic back matter for a beginning reader called Baby Monkey, Private Eye was hilarious. The more he came up with, the more there was to make up — it wasn’t just the book titles, it was the authors and the publishers, too. And if you go to the Baby Monkey website, David has written biographies for each of these authors, who have names like Melissa Eyelash and Barbara Bathtowel. It was just fun to treat this as if it were a nonfiction title. David thought we needed a key to the drawings, because the office of Baby Monkey’s detective agency subtly changes from case to case; the art on the wall and the book he’s reading reflect the case he’s about to undertake.

DS: I really like the idea that the key, the index, and the bibliography give the book a sense of gravitas.

RS: It’s also fun to have a beginning reader that’s big.

BS: We wanted to leave kids with that sense of accomplishment. A new reader can walk around with a two-hundred-page chapter book. It’s hardcover and the paper is really thick, so the book is properly heavy.

One of the things I love about something like Sendak’s Nutshell Library is that you get this little box, and you look at all of the details on the box and each of those individual little books. So much obvious care and time have gone into the design. That’s definitely been something that has always been on my mind, the consciousness that time and love and care have gone into making this book for you, the reader. We do want you to laugh. But it’s hard work to be funny, and we want you to know that we’ve taken it all very seriously.

RS: Well, reading is hard work. Brian, when I think of your last three books, plus this one, each in a different way teaches us how to read it as we go. I remember when I started Wonderstruck, I thought, “All right, this is going to work like Hugo Cabret.” But not really — sure, in some ways it’s like Hugo Cabret, but in other important ways it’s different. It seems to me that with every book — particularly for a child learning to read — you’re learning the rules as you go. The rules are going to change, but there are some constants across an artist’s oeuvre — or even across every book a person reads.

BS: Hugo Cabret started as a 190-page chapter book, and while I was working on it I got the idea to replace some of the text with picture sequences, which is why the book got longer and longer. Because I had never seen a book do anything quite like that in the form of a novel, I opened Hugo with a page that’s part of the story, but it’s actually directions for how to read the book. The first page essentially says welcome to this book. What you’re going to see is the story of this boy. You’re going to see a train station. You’re going to find a boy. Follow him. This is Hugo Cabret, and this is his story. That opening made me feel confident that readers would feel comfortable with the format as they moved into the book.

By the time I did Wonderstruck, it became clear that readers were comfortable jumping into the story, so I started right from the beginning going back and forth between pictures and text. As you pointed out, Wonderstruck is doing something entirely different from what Hugo was doing, and then The Marvels, again, is something conceptually different. But they’re all created with the idea that the pictures are needed to help tell that particular story. It’s about finding out why you need the pictures and what the pictures are doing.

DS: It also treats the book like a kind of technology that teaches you how to use it as you use it.

BS: Right. And with Baby Monkey, Private Eye you open the book to an entire double-page spread that just says “WAIT!” We thought that would be a great way to begin the book — you see a word that’s really big, and then you get a series of questions (“Who is Baby Monkey?”) to lead you into the book. I love the idea that every book teaches you how to read it. Sometimes there are hints, like in Hugo Cabret, and sometimes you just open the book and it does its work. Hopefully that’s part of the pleasurable experience of a book, figuring out how to interact with it.

DS: This book, had it been created by someone else, might have treated everything as a kind of ironic wink. I think irony — certain kinds of irony and certain kinds of winking — is too easy. We’re trying to take seriously the experience of kids who are learning how to read with their parents, their librarians, people in their lives. We’re not just making fun of the genre because we are making Baby Monkey into a little film-noir monkey; we actually care about what it means to read and also to explore a book. Having a book that you hold in your hand as opposed to a Kindle, something that you want to return to over and over again — we’re treating this book as an object that you play with, you grow with, you spend time with. That’s how people often respond to Brian’s books. It’s not just: I read it, I put it back on the shelf. There’s this eagerness to return to it and take a look, and oh, I totally forgot about that, or I don’t remember if I learned that through words or through images. It might seem like a wink to have put in the index and the bibliography, but it’s actually the opposite.

RS: The only thing that felt like a wink to me — but I could be convinced it’s just me — is that the drawing of the zebra looks kind of kinky.

BS: It’s just you, Roger. It’s just you.

DS: Roger, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

I will say this: Baby Monkey in all of the pants sequences and all of the victims of the various crimes are based on me, but the snake, I think, looks like Brian. Especially the page showing the newspaper with the headline “SNAKE GUILTY” — there’s something about that picture that makes me think, “Brian has done a little self-portrait.”

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Review of Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918



Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918
by Albert Marrin
Middle School, High School    Knopf    198 pp.
1/18    978-1-101-93146-2    $21.99
Library ed.  978-1-101-93147-9    $24.99
e-book ed.  978-1-101-93148-6    $11.99

Between 1918 and 1920, three waves of a very aggressive influenza virus swept around the globe, killing tens of millions of people. World War I was in full swing when the flu pandemic began, and it was abetted not only by the widespread movement of troops but also by the limited medical knowledge of the time. The focus here is tighter than in some previous Marrin books (e.g., Flesh & Blood So Cheap; Uprooted, rev. 1/17), but there are plenty of interesting digressions into the history of science and medicine, such as a review of previous plagues in history and a primer on basic virology. The narrative is enhanced by primary source quotations, black-and-white photographs, and maps, all revealing the toll the pandemic took on soldiers, families, cities, and nations. Recent waves of swine flu and avian flu serve to remind us that, despite the best efforts of the medical and scientific communities, an influenza pandemic of a similar magnitude could happen again, yet the ethics of preparing for such an event (restricting movement, quarantining victims, etc.) are clouded with debate and disagreement. Source notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended.

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

“How Does Jane Yolen Write a Book?”



Author and poet Lesléa Newman wrote the following appreciation (with apologies to the How Do Dinosaurs? series) in honor of her friend and colleague Jane Yolen’s 365th book — a remarkable achievement. And what better time than Women’s History Month to celebrate it? For more from The Horn Book on Women’s History Month, click the tag hbwomenshistory18; also look for #kidlitwomen on Facebook and Twitter.

How does Jane Yolen
write a book?
Does she kvetch and complain
like a shlub or a shnook?

Does she sigh, does she moan
does she weep, shake her head?
And then crawl back upstairs
to shlep back into bed?


With her butt in her chair
and her pen in her hand,
she pours out each word
to create something grand.

Poems, novels, stories,
picture books, too
Is there nothing, Jane Yolen,
that you cannot do?

You’re kind to each writer
you meet on the way,
convincing us all
we have something to say.

You remind us on days
we are feeling forlorn,
“The editor who loves you
may have yet to be born!”

So here’s to you, Jane,
and 365 more,
you’re a wonderful writer
and friend I adore.

Lesléa Newman reads her tribute poem to Jane Yolen (left) with Barbara Diamond Goldin (right).

Russell Freedman (1929-2018)



Photo by Evans Chan

We were sad to learn that Russell Freedman passed away earlier this week. The prolific nonfiction author — winner of the 1988  Newbery Medal for Lincoln: A Photobiography — wrote over sixty books, beginning with Teenagers Who Made History and including Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor; Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery (winner of the 1994 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award); Give Me Liberty!: The Story of the Declaration of Independence; Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and 2016’s We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler and Vietnam: A History of the War. Freeman won the 1998 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for his “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”

Read Roger Sutton’s interview with Freedman from the November/December 2002 Horn Book Magazine and “Changing Times” by the author.

My editor Lillian



LNG at right, with fellow great ladies Trev Jones and Madeleine L’Engle

My first professional writing about children’s books was for School Library Journal, beginning my reign of terror with a letter to the editor about–my critics will love this–what I saw as excessive feminist ideology used in the SLJ review to bring down a book I had found awfully good, Sue Ellen Bridgers’ Notes for Another Life. (Writers: when your publisher tells you not to respond to a bad SLJ review, listen to them, because it generally means you’re just going to get hammered twice.) That letter led to some book reviewing, which led to SLJ’s longtime EIC Lillian N. Gerhardt calling me in Illinois to see if I would take over their monthly young adult column, “In the YA Corner,” which I went on to write through the early eighties.

Like Zena, Lillian was a product of the University of Chicago’s Graduate Library School, but she left the leafy quadrangles of Hyde Park for a career in library journalism, first causing trouble at Kirkus, then taking SLJ from supplement status in Library Journal to becoming its own roaring, independent self. Lillian taught me about deadlines, about newsiness, and about the ALA political drama she enjoyed so avidly. (I’ve never been much of the fan of the last, but Lil also taught me how to drink Manhattans, so her lessons were imparted painlessly.) I can’t drink Manhattans anymore (and how I miss saying “dry, and lose the fruit”) but I’ll always be grateful to Lillian for the great grounding in journalism she gave me. Thanks, Lil!