What Kirkus closing means for the average reader

You might have already seen today’s big publishing news: Kirkus Reviews is closing, according to Publishers Weekly and the ever-informative A Fuse #8. Kirkus, which has been publishing book reviews since 1933, is a print review journal mainly used by librarians and booksellers when they make their purchasing decisions. While other review journals like School Library Journal only come out monthly, Kirkus is (well, was) published every other week, so it reviewed a great many published books, and gained something of a reputation for Telling It Like It Is.

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Covers: The good, the bad, and the ugly

People have been talking a lot about cover art lately, what with all the Best-Of Lists floating around this time of year. When it comes to cover art, I’ve found that people are shockingly opinionated. Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can still judge the cover. Sometimes cover controversy is about larger issues, but more often than not it’s pure aesthetics: what looks good, what looks really bad?

I can usually guess when our production and editorial departments are meeting about a cover because they stay in the conference room for a looooong time. For a couple of reasons, I think children’s and YA covers can be more challenging to design than adult covers. First off, they sometimes have to appeal to a fairly wide age range, and the difference between a 6-year-old and an 11-year old is not the same as the difference between a 35-year-old and a 40-year-old. Older kids don’t want a book that looks babyish, and younger kids don’t want a cover that looks old. Plus, boys don’t want to read “girl books” and vice versa. Not to mention teenagers, who–as usual–have their own set of demands.

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This Week in Diversity: Jobs, Groups, and Cakes

I hope everyone had as good a Thanksgiving as I did! Now, we’re back with another batch of diversity-related links.

Last month’s job report was an improvement, but the recession is still keeping employment just a dream for many. Also keeping dreams of employment from becoming reality? Race, even now. The New York Times brings us an exploration of the difficulties faced by even college educated African Americans. Postbourgie responds with some points on the issues faced by college educated professional black women, and the unfortunate tendency to assume that black men’s experiences are representative of all black people.

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Green Tea KitKat

green tea Kit Kat
green tea KitKat

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Armando and the Blue Tarp School Hits the Stage!

guest bloggerToday we’re bringing you a guest post from authors Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson, authors of Armando and the Blue Tarp School. Their book tells the story of a young boy who spends his days picking through a trash heap in search of anything useable or sellable, until he is given a chance to learn when Señor David—a real-life volunteer—spreads a blue tarp on the ground and calls it a school. Now Armando and the Blue Tarp School is also a musical! The authors are here to tell us how their book was transformed into a play, and to share their experiences watching the production. Take it away, Edith and Judith!

Watching our book Armando and the Blue Tarp School transformed into a children’s musical has been magical for us. The sneak preview took place on November 14, 2009, at David Lynch’s Responsibility fundraising gala. With fresh, earnest faces and clear, bright voices, four eighth graders and one tenth grader presented the show to a large crowd of Responsibility supporters. It was a smash hit!

The songs drew directly from our book, with clever additions: Flaco the rat wove the narrative between the songs, with comic interruptions by his flamboyant sidekick, Gordo the rat, who elicited laughs from the opening moment when she threw a tortilla scavenged from the dump into the air. In “We Are Pepenadores,” the actors sang about the flies, heat, and stench, and of working the dump all day as pepenadores, trash pickers. The poignant “Someday, Maybe,” a duet between Isabella and Armando, conveyed his deep longing to learn at Señor David’s school. In “We’re Going to Build a School,” staccato music and lyrics pulsated as the whole colonia, the neighborhood by the garbage dump, worked together to construct the school. The actors mimed hammering and sawing as they sang, “Bam, bam, bam, hit that nail, bam, bam, bam . . . saw, saw, suh-saw, saw.” In “Fuego!” their worried faces portrayed the urgency of the fire with their waving arms representing flames. In the jazzy, upbeat “Blue Tarp School,” the audience clapped along, and in the finale, everyone joined in singing the chorus with the actors.

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This week is Thanksgiving! There’s lots to love about this holiday, and some of it doesn’t even have to do with food (although…pies! stuffing! MORE PIES!).

Thanksgiving is also a great opportunity for teaching and discussion. I know sometimes people have an adverse reaction to that–something like “Stop trying to make my holiday traditions politically correct!”–but so much of the Thanksgiving story is still relevant today. I like thinking about Thanksgiving as a celebration of a history that is still being written, a history that we can take an active part in.

On that note, Fourth World Journal points to a new teaching resource for Thanksgiving developed by a teacher and historian whose ancestors happen to be Quebeque French, Metis, Ojibwa, and Iroquois. He suggests that it’s time to move past some of the myths surrounding Thanksgiving towards historical accuracy, and insists that this will make the holiday more, not less, meaningful. I especially like some of the discussion questions, like this one:

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This Week in Diversity: Salad

I know, I know, salad isn’t a food we usually associate with Thanksgiving. (Stuffing is not salad. Nor is green bean casserole.) But in my reading this week, I came across a quote disagreeing with the concept of America as a melting pot. Instead, “Everyone keeps their different shapes and forms but still contributes something to the salad.” I like that; it’s both more accurate and a better ideal.

I’m still not going to eat salad on Thanksgiving, but we can give thanks for the great Salad Bowl of America, imperfect though it is.

And whence comes that great quote, you ask? From this great City Room post on a unique new college education program in a Connecticut prison. Selected for their essays and academic potential, these incarcerated students take classes from Wesleyan University professors, using the same syllabi and the same standards of grading as are used on Wesleyan’s campus. The classes are the same, but the students bring a much different perspective: a view from inside a justice system with, among other things, much higher rates of incarceration for Blacks and Latinos than for whites.

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Fact and Fiction

For the first time in its thirteen year history, the Young People’s Literature category of the National Book Award recognized a work of nonfiction:¹ Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. It’s great to see children’s nonfiction getting more recognition, both because nonfiction can have just as much literary merit as fiction, and because kids need ways to explore and discover the world, past and present. And behind every great work of nonfiction is a true, and truly great, story. Without that truth, it’s not nonfiction. Nonfiction is more than just facts, but it needs facts.

But what if fact becomes fiction, or fiction is presented as fact?

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The Heritage Month Dilemma

First, celebrations are in order for both Soichiro Honda and Isamu Noguchi, who share a November 17th birthday. It’s a nice little coincidence that two very different creative minds from Japan should share the same birthday.

A peek at the calendar reveals all sorts of other special days and notable celebrations this month: It’s National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short) and of course, National American Indian Heritage Month. But looking at the calendar always brings up the same question: are special months a double-edged sword?

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This Week in Diversity: A Miscellany

Friday afternoon: time to read up on diversity around the web! This week we have a rather miscellaneous batch of links for you, so dig in.

Ah, Hollywood, will you never stop provoking discussion on race in casting? Not this week, certainly. Racialicious looks at the Screen Actor’s Guild’s annual diversity research and explains why the state of minorities in major acting roles is worse than the numbers suggest.

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Exploring Children's Books Through the Lens of Diversity