Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good article on Salinger

In the New York Times.

I have had one indirect experience with Mr. Salinger’s representatives. An author whose book I was editing really wanted to quote Catcher, and so she wrote for permission. Well, not only was she not permitted to quote Catcher, but the letter insisted something to the effect that she had to write back stating for the record that she would not quote any Salinger in her book. Perhaps this is an editorial right of passage, but I was a little shocked.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Angel Girl

This press release went out last night.

December 29, 2008



MINNEAPOLIS—Lerner Publishing Group is shocked and disappointed to learn that the widely publicized Holocaust love story of Herman and Roma Rosenblat, which inspired the children’s picture book Angel Girl, is not entirely true. After investigation by The New Republic, Mr. Rosenblat and his agent, Andrea Hurst, released statements on December 27, 2008, saying parts of his story were fabricated.

Mr. Rosenblat first told his story in the mid 1990s, when he entered a newspaper contest. Over the years his story—which he consistently represented as being true—has been covered by countless newspapers, magazines, and online media. He also appeared on Oprah in 1996 and 2007.

In Angel Girl, author Laurie Friedman retold the portion of Mr. Rosenblat’s story about surviving a work camp during the Holocaust by receiving food from a girl from the other side of the fence, and then meeting this same girl many years later on a blind date in the United States and marrying her. According to Ms. Hurst’s statement, although Mr. Rosenblat’s stories from the concentration camps are true, “(he) invented the crux of this amazing love story—about the girl at the fence who threw him an apple.” Mr. Rosenblat also revealed that he made up the chance reunion with this girl on the blind date.

Ms. Friedman first read Mr. Rosenblat’s story in an online newspaper. She was so moved by the article that she contacted the Rosenblats. Over a period of several months, she spent many days interviewing the couple and gathering as many details about their Holocaust experiences as possible. “After reading Herman and Roma Rosenblat's story, I wanted to find a way to share what I felt was an important and inspiring message for children,” says Friedman. “My goal in writing Angel Girl was to communicate that even in the darkest of times, no one should give up hope.”

Based on Mr. Rosenblat’s consistency and level of detail, and the long-running coverage of this story in the media, Ms. Friedman and Lerner Publishing Group had trusted the accuracy of his story. “Throughout the development of this book, the Rosenblats reviewed my manuscript and assured me of the authenticity of the details of their story,” said Ms. Friedman. “Unfortunately, I, like many others, am disappointed and upset to now learn of Herman’s fabrications.”

“We are dismayed to learn about Herman and Roma Rosenblat's recantation of part of their Holocaust survival story, said Adam Lerner, President and Publisher, Lerner Publishing Group. “While this tragic event in world history needs to be taught to children, it is imperative that it is done so in a factual way that doesn't sacrifice veracity for emotional impact. As a children's and educational publisher for 50 years, correctly representing the facts is of paramount importance to us. We are saddened that we failed our readership with Angel Girl in this regard. We have been misled by the Rosenblats, who had given us what we had believed to be an authentic and moving account of their lives.”

Lerner Publishing Group has canceled all pending reprints and is issuing refunds on all returned books. The company is no longer offering the book for sale and is recalling the book from the market.

For additional information, please contact Lindsay Chall, senior publicist, at 800-328-4929, x385.

Many of you have now seen this story in the news and have read about the role our book, Angel Girl, plays in it. It's unfortunate all around, but I am pleased with the decision we have made to pull the book, and Adam Lerner's statement makes me proud to work here. I feel very badly for Laurie Friedman and Ofra Amit, who took in good faith the story as the Rosenblats had been telling it for years. Laurie and Ofra’s efforts were sincere. They believed they were taking an important true, first-hand story to a larger audience by making it into a picture book. And while we as publishers must take the opportunity to examine our processes for publishing this kind of book, we also  remain committed to supporting our authors and illustrators and their stories.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Hope everyone has peaceful and relaxing holidays.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Books I Wish I’d Published

Taqwacores, The - Click Image to CloseWell, not really. It seems like The Taqwacores was published exactly as it should have been—like a punk rock album. But it is (so far) a very interesting book. I don’t know if it’s The Catcher in the Rye for young Muslims, maybe Paula Jolin’s In the Name of God through a Nick & Norah’s filter. Either way, have Wikipedia open when you read it unless your Koran and your punk rock lexicon are totally up to date.

Check out the piece in The New York Times and then go find the book.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nonfiction Monday (Kinda)

This will be a post of tenuous connections and half-formed notions. Advance apologies (it’s the holidays, after all).

Maybe this should be temporarily re-titled “Fiction-Nonfiction DMZ Monday.”

The Rider by Tim Krabbe: Book CoverI’ve been rereading The Rider a loosely fictional novel by Dutch author Tim Krabbe about bicycle racing. As a reader of novels and as someone with a pretty sizeable obsession with cycling and racing, this is the only book I know that satisfies both interests. I have yet to hear from a non-rider about whether the book works—my hunch is that  it will for readers how enjoy unadorned, unsentimental books about voluntary human suffering and athletic achievement.

As a reader, I find this work of fiction much better explains my nonfictional obsession than any of the several works of non-fiction I’ve read about bike racing.

Anyway, as I was rereading, somehow The Rider got me thinking about Solzhenitsyn's classic One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a novel that was very important for me in high school.One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Book Cover I know I was not alone in my adolescent love for this tale of a day in a Soviet prison camp. A good friend in college quite correctly put his finger on the book’s appeal for a certain kind of high-school student (myself thoroughly included) when he said, with appropriate undergraduate self-awareness and irony, “that was me in high school. I was Shukov.” Indeed.

Aside from the astonishing and wonderful ability of my teenage self to compare (with a straight face) the dreary tedium and “suffering” of high school with that of the most notorious and lethal prison system of the 20th century, there is something about this kind of novel, the kind that swerves very close to nonfiction and the author’s experience, that I find enormously appealing now in The Rider and that I found appealing in the Solzhenitsyn as a teenager fifteen years ago. I think adolescence is full of borderlands and gray areas (many bounded with barbed wire), so I’m not surprised to find this popping up again here. I knew life was real, of course, when I was fifteen, but it also frequently had the feel of fiction, that it was being created and made up as I went along.

It’s interesting to think about this in light of a book like Elie Wiesel’s Night (which I never encountered in high school but a colleague happened to bring it the other day). Night is emphatically not a novel according to its author (and thus to library card catalogs), but that assertion hasn’t protected it from a fairly vigorous “novel or memoir?” debate. I would think that as adolescents come into their own as readers, this would be one of the many important issues to struggle with (just as we must struggle with things like narrative reliability, metaphor, intent, etc.). And so it’s a pity the popular version of this debate has been so thoroughly consumed by the irrelevant and ultimately unilluminating James Frey vs. Oprah incident, where supposedly intelligent adults get stupidly indignant about truth and lies in popular, commercial books, sue publishers, etc.  As a reader, I don’t think these distractions get to the important matters at all.

So, like I said, this is a rambling post; thanks for the indulgence. But acquiring and editing nonfiction has been like throwing a new flaming torch into the juggling act of how I think about books, and every time I really examine how a specific kind of book can mean something to a specific audience, I feel like I’m less likely to send one of those torches flying into the audience.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Poetry Friday

It has been cold--very, very cold--in Minnesota this week. I have lived my whole life here in the upper Midwest, so I know from cold. And since it has been so cold, I feel that I won’t be penalized for dipping back into Wallace Stevens’ catalog (Stevens is so versatile—poems about cold and poems about Florida):

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

I’d also like to post one of Stephen Gammell’s wintery illustrations from Swing Around the Sun, but I’m not able to get at the files just now, so maybe next week.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The New Yorker discovers Y.A. (finally)

My friend Brian pointed me to the discussion of a Kathy Koja novel called Headlong (which I haven’t read) over on one of The New Yorker’s blogs (I can barely keep up with the magazine, so I don’t regularly read the blogs).

If you’ve been reading good contemporary YA for a while, this is bound to be a little painful, but it’s worth it for John Green’s excellent comments on the first section of the discussion. 

Personally, this reminded me of a rather famous quote of Madeleine L'Engle's: "You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."

Now here's my rant. Shouldn't critics of all people realize that where a book ends up in a bookstore and how it's marketed is more often than not a function of business necessities and very human hunches? Come on. These categories don't come from on high and they're certainly not set in stone. Be critics. Look at the books critically before you generalize. It seems a grave sin against good criticism to assume so much about so many books based on so much dim memory and so little actual reading. Do you assume that In Search of Lost Time is a book about a cookie because that's what everybody talked about when you were a kid?

End rant.

Now that they’ve discovered YA, can they start spelling “teenager” correctly?

Blue Ribbon Monkey

More good news for Chris Monroe! The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books has awarded Monkey with a Tool Belt a Blue Ribbon. Congratulations, Chris!  


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thanks, Fuse!

Fuse #8 is looking forward to Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem. I cannot blame her. It's got banana canons. It's got an elephant named Clark. It has a laundry chute. And it has a monkey with a tool belt. Joy, indeed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Attention YA novelists. I'm putting out a call for submissions. Details here.

This could end up being a big deal

Online publication will be fair game for Best American Short Stories [via GalleyCat].

Friday, December 12, 2008

Poetry Friday: On the embarrassment and earnestness of adolescent poetry

A friend from high school who was the victim of a great deal of my adolescent poetry found me on Facebook recently after years of noncommunication. When she reminded me of the poems and I reflexively (and digitally) shuddered, she (digitally) tsk-tsked me for being ashamed of my adolescent work. Fair enough. While I'm correct that it was often Very Bad Poetry, she's also correct that it was Very Important to Me at the time. I think this is a fairly common thing.

Perhaps one of my other adolescent obsessions, Edward Abbey, was correct: "Poetry--even bad poetry--may be our final hope."

No poem this week. I tried once again to read Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet who I have for years thought I should like (no idea where I got this notion). It didn't go so well.

M.T. Anderson

The incomparable M.T. Anderson was in town last night. Sadly, I couldn't get to his reading, but he gave a great interview on Minnesota Public Radio.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nonfiction Monday

My interest in all things food is pretty apparent to anyone who knows me, but I'm obviously completely alone in this regard. We are a nation that is of necessity at crossroads in our relationship with food. We got a taste of it last year when unenlightened energy policy showed us the costs of putting corn in almost everything from soda cans to gas tanks. And thoughtful writing about food policy has made Michael Pollen and others bestselling authors, and it looks like Pollen is going to get some high profile company from one of my favorite cooks, Mark Bittman, who was recently profiled in the New York Observer:

“I didn’t see an opportunity for me to write about issues in the food world until recently,” he said. “I was just writing about recipes and having my cute little witty New Yorker sarcastic voice. But now I can pretty much find a platform for anything I want to say, so I’m saying what I think.”

What he thinks is that the American diet has been largely destroyed by the industrialization of food production and the massive amounts we eat as a result. “There’s a huge change going on in the way people look at food,” Mr. Bittman said. “I think it’s unavoidable, and I want to be a part of that.”

This is very exciting, but I do want to offer a piece of unsolicited opinion on this matter. Think carefully about audience, Mark, Michael, et. al. You who have those rare and magical platforms that all authors seek can afford to do things a little differently--can set the agenda--so don't miss the opportunity. Here's a modest proposal: write for children.* I think creative, thoughtful nonfiction about food is at least as essential for children as it is for adults. Children are huge targets for food advertising--it's a huge share of all the advertising they encounter on TV, and most of it is for what Pollen would call "food-like substances."

What you write can take any form--I'm not just talking about picture books about farmers and their animals. If Cory Doctorow can work cryptography and Linux into a wildly popular YA novel, then food should be easy.

Really, Michael Pollen and Mark Bittman, if you want to make a huge difference, aim young.

And, for anyone who wants a fascinating, tragic, ripped-from-the-pages-of-history, food-centric story prompt, I have one word for you: Vavilov.

* Don't think this is entirely an unintentional pun. Swift knew that kids were a good way to get people's attentions.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday

One of my favorite college professors was fond of shocking a class of freshman by reciting Philip Larkin's "This be the verse," which is a wonderful poem that I won't quote here, but it's a dark, cold Friday and it wasn't an entirely cheery week for the world, so let there be Larkin (also, I often reread his Church Going):

Sad Steps

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness.

Four o'clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There's something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate -
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.

Writers, heads up

Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

How ya gonna pay?

I am not a Rent person; let's just get that out. I've only ever seen the appallingly bad movie version that came out a couple years ago. However, my wife and my sister can sing the whole thing, etc., so I know Rent people and so I know there are bound to be some people who are pissed off about this:

Red Wing [Minnesota] High School Says No to "Rent"

I love the last bit:

Superintendent Stan Slessor and Red Wing High
School Principal Beth Borgen say the play's homosexual elements were
not behind their decision. Instead they say the main problem was the
issue of drug use.

A new musical will be selected. The last time a musical was
rejected by the administration was in the 1990s, when "West Side Story"
was struck down.

"West Side Story"? Really!?! Somebody should write a musical about a high school that can't find a musical to perform....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

You will pay for eugenics . . .

... because you want to feel like a good parent.

Or so suggests this piece in The New York Times, which begins:

"When Donna Campiglia learned recently that a genetic test might be able to determine which sports suit the talents of her 2 ½-year-old son, Noah, she instantly said, Where can I get it and how much does it cost?"

I have said before that the reason why Feed  is the best dystopic novel for young adults is because it captures so well how inclined humans are to clamor and even pay for the hallmarks of an Orwellian society, especially if it benefits their children--something neither Orwell nor Huxley quite captures. The government won't have to install the two-way TV in your house. You'll buy it and pay a monthly fee because you've heard it's got good programming for your toddler.

I don't mean to sound paranoid or generally anti-genetic testing. I'm not (as a parent, I can sympathize with this); but I find it fascinating and troubling that parenting and retail genetics are so often two peas in a pod.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nonfiction Monday

While I'm jumping on bandwagons, I think "Nonfiction Monday" might be an interesting one. For obvious reasons, I don't review books here, but I like the idea of blogging about topics in nonfiction--ideas and trends, that kind of thing.

First, I was really interested to read this review at Fuse #8 of Dark Fiddler, a new picture book bio of the great violinist Nicolo Paganini. It sounds like a brilliant book, but Betsy points out that, like many books that stand out, it's a challenge--"a difficult beauty, to say the least." She poses the question: "Where would you put it in your library? In a biography section, tall tales intact? In the fictional picture book section, despite the true subject matter and the fact that the majority of this book is true? It's a puzzlement." Indeed. I think the hallmark of quality in most kinds of art is a certain difficulty in categorization. I found this in practice when I tried to track down M.T. Anderson's picture book about Handel, Handel, Who Knew What He Liked. It was supposedly on the shelves in picture book fiction, but I never found it there and was only able to obtain it by request (no, I was lazy and didn't ask a librarian). When it finally did show up on my hold shelf, it proved worth the wait (hardly surprising). I've got Dark Fiddler on request, but I'll note where it's shelved.

Good things come in threes, right? So where is my next excellent picture book bio of a musician? Since I was once upon a time a French horn player, I do hope that it turns out to be a picture book bio of Ignaz Leutgeb, who was Mozart's favorite horn player in Vienna and to whom he dedicated many of his works for the instrument. One gets a sense that their friendship was a bit rowdy from the notes Mozart left for Leutgeb in the manuscripts: "Wolfgang Amadé Mozart takes pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox, and simpleton, at Vienna, March 27, 1783." He also wrote "helpful" and profane encouragement for Leutgeb in the margins of the scores in multicolored ink. Very little else is known about Mozart's friend (he did live with his cheese-monger uncle for a time, which lead some to believe that he was also a cheese maker by trade--a combination I find very appealing), so one could really go to town on his story, if need be.

In other nonfiction news, I've got an advance final copy of Sally M. Walker's latest, Written in Bone, in my hands now and it's great. Lerner is extremely proud of Sally's success, especially her Sibert Award for Secrets of a Civil War Submarine : Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley.