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Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online

Likely Stories

A Booklist Blog
Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

Thursday, January 23, 2014 4:00 pm
The 90-Second Newbery — NOT the 92nd Newbery
Posted by: Keir Graff

90 Second Newbery

At 3 p.m. on February 1, at the Vittum Theater in Chicago, while the world continues to bask in the glow of ALA’s Youth Media Award announcements—including, of course, the ninety-second annual Newbery medal and honor books—I will be co-hosting the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival.

Yes, I misheard that the first time as well, and, yes, it took awhile for the adrenaline to subside when I learned I would not, in fact, be introducing the 92nd Newbery Awards this summer at ALA’s annual conference. But I am still excited. (If you hurry, you might get one of the last tickets.)

Now, I am reasonably often invited to speak at libraries, schools, bookstores, and the inaugurations of towering skyscrapers in Chicago’s financial district. Actually, the last one has yet to happen, but I live in hope. (If you’re reading this, Rahm, my schedule is quite flexible.) Most such requests arrive via the traditional routes: email, U.S. mail, or in a locked briefcase, handcuffed to the wrist of a man whose scarred face bespeaks an intimacy with violence. The invitation to co-host the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, however, arrived via a parchment scroll clutched in a falcon’s talons—a falcon also armed with a small, gleaming sword. Needless to say, this raised questions in my mind about the festival’s founder and other host, James Kennedy. As soon as I had stanched the bleeding from where the falcon attached itself to my arm, I sent my response to Kennedy: a yes, conditional upon his answering a few important questions. The following exchange took place via carrier falcon over some of the coldest days in the history of Chicago.

In 90 seconds or less, what is the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival?

It’s an annual video contest in which kid filmmakers create movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery winning books in 90 seconds or less. Next question!

Answered with 82 seconds to spare. Are you an inherently efficient person?

My debut novel (The Order of Odd-Fish) came out in 2008. I haven’t published any books since. So you do the math.

Why, or how, did the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival get started?

James Kennedy

I was working at the University of Chicago as a computer programmer. I was in a meeting, my mind was wandering, and I sketched out some ideas for a really short film that would tell the story of A Wrinkle in Time. A few weeks later, I got my niece and nephew and their friends together, we shot the video, I edited it, and I put it online.

WIth the help of kidlit superblogger Betsy Bird, in a matter of days the video had been viewed more than a hundred thousand times. Word got around, and the rest is 90-Second Newbery history.

I gather that you’ve since become something of an expert on the Newbery. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about this venerable award? Can you bust any myths for us?

Perhaps the most pervasive myth is that children’s books are all written by harmless old ladies with three names. (That’s no knock on harmless old ladies with three names, by the way. Love ‘em. As for harmful old ladies with three names: BRING IT ON. I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU ANY MORE, MOTHER.)

That is to say, many authors of Newbery winning books have lived colorful lives, an indeed have spent a fair amount of time in the slammer! You may have heard how in his misspent youth, the Newbery Medal winner of 2012, Jack Gantos, spent 15 months in the federal pen for smuggling 2000 pounds of hashish from the Virgin Island to the U.S.

So I decided to investigate other Newbery winners to see if they also had unsavory pasts. Many of them did! Can you guess the answers to the questions below?

Ella Young

Will James

William Steig

Paula Fox

Answers: A, B, B, and C. All true!

What about Newbery the man? What is the second-most-important thing we should know about him?

Just in the same way that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, John Newbery was neither new, nor a berry. But a man. He was just a man. Think about it.

For me, the selection of A Wrinkle in Time epitomizes what the Newbery is good for: to make a place in the canon for a book that has great merit, but needs help finding its audience.

Do you have a favorite Newbery medal or honor book? A least favorite? Is there one that fails to instill you with any emotional response whatsoever?

My favorite Newbery Medal book will always be Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It’s rare to find a book that is so grippingly emotional while also being so unrepentantly weird. For me, the selection of A Wrinkle in Time epitomizes what the Newbery is good for: to make a place in the canon for a book that has great merit, but needs help finding its audience. Maybe that’s why I decided to inaugurate the film festival with a 90-second version of a A Wrinkle in Time. [An EMBED! Via carrier falcon!—Ed.]

A least favorite? I would not be so ungentlemanly as to cop to a least favorite Newbery winner, although I’ve read some real howlers. And not just those old racist Newbery winners, or the overwritten trudges from the 1920s or whatever—there are a couple of utter stinkers scattered among the winners from the last 10–15 years of Newbery history, too.

Instead of harping on that, though, how about a shout-out to one of the most whacked-out, puzzling Newbery Honor winners—that is, the 1929 Honor winner Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag? This is allegedly a picture book for small children, but at the climax, in a jealous rage to be chosen by an old man to take home, “millions and billions and trillions of cats” literally tear each other to pieces and devour each other until not a trace is left! That’s pretty much the plot! If you consider simply the sheer scale of the killing involved here—”millions and billions and trillions of cats” ARE GRUESOMELY TORN APART BY EACH OTHER within the space of minutes—it becomes clear that this is one of the BLOODIEST BOOKS EVER WRITTEN.

What standout videos have you seen over the years in previous festivals?

There have been so many, but I’ll keep it to three. A stop-motion clay animation of the very first Newbery Medal winner, The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Willem van Loon:

An amazing Muppet-style version of Frog and Toad Together:

Margi Preus’ Honor Book, Heart of a Samurai, done in Japanese, in the style of an Akira Kurosawa movie:

Finally, about the festival itself. What can attendees expect? A librarian friend said that, in performance, you are like Tim Curry in the movie Clue—I guess that makes me Michael McKean?

I’m more like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And you, honey, will be Susan Sarandon.

Seats for the Chicago screening are going fast—reserve yours right now!

Thursday, January 23, 2014 10:00 am
Book Trailer Thursday: A Street Cat Named Bob
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

It’s not news that Bob, the ginger (“orange,” in American) heart-stealing, life-changing cat has sat cozily curled on best-seller lists near and far for some time. (He stole Brad Hooper’s heart, for one, back in April.) It is news, however, that over the pond they’ve been enjoying The World According to Bob, which picks up where ASCNB left off, since last summer. Quelle injustice! Look for the Booklist review this spring and, in the meantime, get to know Bob’s on-screen persona a little better. Knit him a scarf, if you have the time.

Can you count the high fives?

Friday, January 17, 2014 9:30 am
Don’t miss Booklist in Philadephia!
Posted by: Keir Graff

ALA Midwinter Meetings and Exhibits 2014 PhiladelphiaIf you read my “Great Reads: The Mean Streets of Philadelphia,” you may be considering changing your travel plans to a destination such as, oh, say, Disney World—but, rest assured, the aisles of the Pennsylvania Convention Center will be 100% free of murder, skulduggery, and the visible effects of a troubling legacy of systemic economic inequality. (There may be a little backbiting and the occasional mean-spirited remark, but trust me, it will be safe for us bookish types.) If you do brave the unpredictable skies to attend, you’ll find it well worthwhile. And the folks in marketing inform me that I would be remiss if I didn’t share these essential appeals for a tiny bit of your time . . . .

  • Attend the ERT/Booklist Author Forum! Tonya Bolden, Brian Floca, Kadir Nelson, Steve Sheinkin, and Melissa Sweet join fellow author and Booklist Books for Youth senior editor Ilene Cooper to discuss award-winning nonfiction for youth. Friday, January 24, 4 p.m., PACC, Grand Ballroom A.
  • Take advantage of an amazing subscription offer! Stop by the booth, tell us how Booklist makes your job easier, and we’ll give you an additional 10% off the already reduced conference price. That’s a 30% discount on a new subscription! Booklist booth #821.
  • Avail yourself of free copies of Booklist and Book Links! Get your complimentary copies of the Editors’ Choice and Lasting Connections issues of your favorite go-to resource. Booklist booth #821.
  • Get acquainted with Booklist Online! Take a tour of the 135,000+ reviews, features, and articles in our archive, get a demo of powerful search capabilities, and set up the online access that comes bundled with your print issues. Booklist booth #821.

Safe travels, and I’ll see you at booth #821!

Thursday, January 16, 2014 5:00 pm
2013 Story Prize Finalists
Posted by: Tim McLaughlin

Each year Story Prize announces their choice for the best work in short fiction, and the winner of this year’s prize will be announced March 5th. The Booklist reviews can be found here, and for more information, check out Story Prize’s website.Archangel, by Andrea Barrett

Archangel, by Andrea Barrett
Bobcat, by Rebecca, Lee
Tenth of December, by George Saunders

Thursday, January 16, 2014 12:08 pm
Book Trailer Thursday: This Dark Road to Mercy
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Apparently, when you’re a writer who has a funny brother, you should let him be funny in your book trailer–no matter what the book is about. Michael Cart wrote a great review of Wiley Cash’s serious second novel This Dark Road to Mercy, calling the thriller, “a fine example of reader-pleasing southern storytelling,” with interest for suspense-loving teens as well.

The light-as-air trailer has Cash funnily answering questions from readers, with a “testimonial” from his real-life brother Cliff. Trailers that match a book’s tone can be art in their own right, but Cash proves that laughter is a currency that can go far in Trailerland, too.

“I always knew he was going to be a writer, ever since he told me he had a book coming out.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 5:44 pm
2013 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists
Posted by: Tim McLaughlin

Once again the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award are in. Enjoy reading these books if you can find the time, and if you don’t have the time, don’t worry; we read them for you. You can read our reviews by clicking on the links in the titles, and, for a full list of the finalists, you can go to the NBCC website. The winners will be announced March 13th.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieFICTION

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Someone, byAlice McDermott

The Infatuations, by Javier Marias

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri FinkNONFICTION

Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice, by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sherri Fink

Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, by George Packer

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright

Wave, by Sonali DeraniyagalaAUTOBIOGRAPHY

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala

The Book of My Lives, by Aleksandar Hemon

The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit

Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward

Farewell, Fred Voodo: A Letter from Haiti, by Amy Wilentz

Lawrence of Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott AndersonBIOGRAPHY

Lawrence of Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, by Leo Damrosch

Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner

Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore, by Linda Leavell

Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis, by Mark Thompson

White Girls, by Hilton AlsCRITICISM

White Girls, by Hilton Als

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations, by Mary Beard

The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen

Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, by Janet Malcolm

Distant Reading, by Franco Moretti

Metaphysical Dog, by Frank BidartPOETRY

Metaphysical Dog, by Frank Bidart

Stay, Illusion, by Lucie Brock-Broido

Blowout, by Denise Duhamel

Elegy Owed, by Bob Hicok

Milk and Filth, by Carmen Gimenez Smith

Thursday, January 9, 2014 10:15 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Henny
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Henny ain’t no ordinary chick. Unlike the wings all the other chicks have, Henny has human-like arms that drag behind her, but also allow her to ballet dance, fly a plane and–I’m just guessing here–maybe even do the hokey pokey. In her starred review, Ilene Cooper calls Henny “hysterical,” with “a good message about making the best of one’s circumstances and looking on the bright side.”

Friday, January 3, 2014 3:52 pm
The Best YA & MG Book Jackets of 2013
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

WingerYou cannot have a conversation about the best YA/MG covers of the year without starting with Andrew Smith’s Winger. I saw it long before publication and knew right away it was going to be iconic. Yes, it’s a big giant face, something the literati tends to look down upon. But instead of over-styling it to make it stand out, they went the other way — it’s an eff-you of upfrontness. 1) The model is overlit and staring directly into the camera. 2) It ain’t pretty, what with that bloody nose. 3) That font, so clean and centered, brutally focuses the eyes: Look right here, you.

(A worthwhile aside here is to mention gender. A lot of those aforementioned faces-on-cover books feature girls, in stories about girls, written by women. Too often male writers/designers/performers/etc/etc/etc get props for doing something that women have been doing for ages. Is there a cover out there that is the female equivalent of Winger? I bet there is, and I’d like to see it.)

Winger was a popular book, showing up in a number of previews and lists and roundups throughout the year. And here’s where covers matter. In a majority of those lists, Winger was used as the click-through image to take you to the full list. Did that mean Winger was every single writer’s favorite book? Of course not. It meant it had the most arresting image, and the result? Frequent face-time for Winger, which, I’d argue, significantly upped the awareness and conversation about the book. So, you know, designers and marketers take note.


(By the way, even the spine is fabulous, shouting past any book it’s stacked alongside. I have it in my bookshelves at home and when people enter, they gravitate right to it.)

The rest of my favorites follow.

39 Deaths

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway. Looks like an adult literary/crime book, maybe something written by Richard Price. A great balance of text upon photo, and it makes you dwell upon which kinds of death we’re talking about here.


The Ballad of Jessie Pearl by Shannon Hitchcock. There’s nothing here you wouldn’t find in an illustration from Little House on the Prairie, and that’s the brilliance — it merely provides an angle those illustrations would never dare, bringing a new intimacy to a familiar concept.


The Mermaid of Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea. The exceptional use of a muted color palette looks awesome on the physical book, which features no jacket — the art is printed directly upon the cover like an old textbook. The unusual-looking character and puzzling lack of mermaids makes this a big winner in my book.


The Twelve-Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs. For a superhero book (of sorts), it makes sense that the design would have all the stark iconography of a superhero logo. This one is nicely ominous, partially because of how those hands rise from so dark a forest.


The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick. This is a second entry from Carolrhoda Lab, which is no surprise to me, as they put out some of the best book jackets in the biz. This one is crime-scene-evidence-as-art: a yellowed letter, spattered with blood, and blissfully absent of any extra text or blurbs.

Winter of the Robots

The Winter of the Robots by Kurtis Scaletta. This gleefully embraces all things kid. Though it’s a long way from garish, there’s no trying to be subtle or evocative either. It’s a danged dinosaur! Made out of metal! In the snow! Hell yeah! There’s more fun in this than in fifty other covers combined.


symptoms final

HONORABLE MENTION: The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf. This one comes with a caveat. The cover on the left is the published one — nothing  wrong with it. But, in my opinion, it backtracks from the Advance Reader’s Copies, which featured a colorful and thematically apt collage that I thought did an admirable job of being most things to most people. Oh, well, I’ll always have my memories.

Thursday, December 26, 2013 11:22 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Bleeding Edge
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Easing back into things after a few days away from the ol’ desk ‘n screen? Here’s a book trailer for your post-holi-daze; Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge has made major waves since it was published in September.

The longer-than-your-average trailer features some guy saying, “Hi, I’m Tom Pynchon” via his tee-shirt, talking about book’s protagonist/investigator Maxine Tarnow, and exploring the natural exfoliation properties–the ones the beauty conglomerates don’t want you to know about–of lox. I can’t make it make anymore sense than that.

Thursday, December 19, 2013 9:58 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Little Failure
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

This trailer for Gary Shteyngart’s forthcoming Little Failure has been kicking around the internet all week, but it’s an officially unofficial policy at BTT that we feature every book trailer that James Franco touches. So, lucky you, watch again or watch for the first time, and earn extra points for naming every cameo.

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